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Curried cauliflower steak with tomato jam at Terrain

Featured Article

Where Chefs Eat

Before You Plan Your Next Night Out, Here's Some Food for Thought

Article by Jen Berniker

Photography by John Videler

Originally published in Westport Lifestyle

Whether you’re a foodie in search of a multi-course meal or a date night dinner craving a perfect cocktail and some apps, Fairfield County's dining scene has endless options. To help narrow down that restaurant bucket list, we asked the experts where they like to eat. For these three accomplished local chefs, food, flavor and quality ingredients are everything.    

Bill Taibe, chef/owner of Jesup Hall, The Whelk and Kawa Ni

You must be busy running three restaurants. Do you have time to eat out?

All the time. I'll just get up and leave the restaurant later at night. Last night I was at Tavern at GrayBarns at Silvermine. It's absolutely one of my favorite restaurants. I’ll eat whatever new dish Ben [Freemole] has on the menu. I had the scallop crudo and a Nonino spritz, which I like because it's less sweet and more bitter than an Aperol spritz. The crudo and spritz and I'm happy. 

Where does the owner of Kawa Ni go for Asian food?

Pho Saigon in Bridgeport is my most "craveable" restaurant.  To me, their bowl of pho is the most flavorful food item we have in Connecticut. I order summer rolls [inside out rolls, which usually have shrimp and pork inside] served with a super delicious peanut sauce. For my main, I go with house special, Pho Saigon, which is their beef broth with lots of funky kinds of beef mixed in. For Chinese food, I don’t think people realize how good Shu is in Fairfield. It's Chengdu-style food, and it's really authentic, not like the Americanized version we usually get.

Where do you go for lunch?

I’ll sneak out to Los Portales on Fort Point Street in Norwalk for tacos, or the Dilly Duck Shop in Norwalk is phenomenal. I’ll have the rotisserie-roasted pork, sliced really thin, with a vinegary coleslaw. Their grilled cheese is just so good. It’s about as New York City as you can get for a lunch spot in Fairfield County.

What’s your favorite meal right now at your own restaurants?

The kani crab salad at Kawa Ni. I’ll make a small portion and put it on top of plain white rice and mix it together.  At the Whelk, steak tartare with two fried oyster deviled eggs is still my favorite after seven years.  

Ben Freemole, executive chef at Tavern at GrayBarns  

What’s your top dinner spot for a night out?

With two kids under 3, we don't get out as much, but when we do, Jesup Hall is one of our favorites. They are known for meat, but I go for their vegetable work. I had a citrus salad with grapefruit, rosemary oil, shaved lardo and some fennel frond—beautiful and refreshing.  

What’s the most fun meal you’ve had recently?

We stopped at Redding Road House to play corn hole and have some oysters, then went to Tap Root for their monthly Izakaya Japanese pop-up restaurant, Bushido. The menu is a surprise, always some raw seafood and different Japanese-style dishes. Jeff [Taibe] had done a delicious Arctic Char crudo, aggressively seasoned, and I had two orders of E\eel and foie gras mousse hand rolls. Fig and eel are two of my favorite things, and he was smart enough to put them together. Then I took a nap.

Favorite quick and local?

Jeera Little Thai kitchen. I spent a month in Thailand so always have a hankering for something spicy. Usually, order a Thai salad and Pad See Ew and then chop up the leftovers for my kids the next day. If I’m picking up, then A&S Fine Foods, Fairfield. I’ll pretend like I’m going to the gym and go there. They have long hots [specialty fried yellow peppers with a kick] that are delicious.

What do you eat at GrayBarns?  

We are trying to produce really great food that has a root in comfort. I love our pan-roasted chicken breast with a white miso corn puree—sautee some kernels lightly and cook the corn so it’s just warmed through, still with crunch. We add a pickled corn relish and finish with fresh shaved truffles. My mom made amazing canned creamed corn and chicken, so that was the focus of that dish. The scallop crudo combines super fresh day-boat scallops with domestic caviar and some summer truffle from eastern Italy, and we don’t fuss with it too much. It’s a dish that’s the sum of its parts. You get the ratios right, and it’s just perfect.

Jess Bengston, executive chef at Terrain Garden Café

How do you eat healthy when you are always on the go?

I’m a big fan of really easy food like rice bowls and smoothies. My go-to is Organika Kitchen in Southport. I’ll order an acai bowl there three times a week. I eat meat, but their vegan California burger will blow your mind! You can get a salad or smoothie for $8, and you’re getting all organic, non-GMO ingredients. Or I’ll hit The Stand in Fairfield and grab an avocado toast with heirloom tomatoes, feta cheese and balsamic reduction on top. I am hyper-focused on purchasing local, sustainable and plant-based goods and supporting chefs who are trying to get people to eat healthier and get away from straws and single-use plastics.

Where do you go for a nice night out?

G-Zen in Branford is worth the trip. People think vegan will be a hippie, weird place, but this is an award-winning restaurant with beautiful decor. They serve the best cheese board I’ve had anywhere and a vegetable lasagna that’s unreal. I will drive 30 minutes just for their no-bake cheesecake. The husband and wife chefs grow the vegetables at their own home farm.

What’s your comfort food?

Pizza, beer and a salad! At home, I’ll do Trader Joes frozen cauliflower pizza crust, add some sauce and cheese and whatever veggies are in my fridge—perfect dinner!  

What are you loving right now at Terrain?

We’re doing a ricotta and corn fritter with a maple brown butter—very indulgent and sweet, the best of what you’d get at a carnival but made with local corn and ricotta. It’s light and fluffy deliciousness covered with butter and pure maple syrup.

On the dinner menu, we have a curried cauliflower steak with tomato jam. Even guys used to a rib-eye and a mashed potato can enjoy this dish.  

  • Kani crab salad at Kawa Ni. Photo by Bill Taibe
  • Bill Taibe. Photo by Julie Bidwell
  • Ben Freemole
  • Scallop crudo at Tavern at GrayBarns
  • Curried cauliflower steak with tomato jam at Terrain
  • Jess Bengston