Monday, March 14, 2011

Dinner and a Show

by Linda Kavanagh

Like peanut butter and jelly, a snow day with hot cocoa, and outdoor concerts and picnics, one of the most universal pairings is dinner and a show. As Westport Country Playhouse has evolved over the years, so has the dining scene throughout Westport. What was once a three-pub town has blossomed into a genuine food destination.  The Playhouse continues to partner with many of the fabulous restaurants in town, ensuring those perfect days and nights out on the town.

Rizzuto's Wood-Fired Kitchen and Bar
Rizzuto’s Wood-Fired Kitchen and Bar, located in the Saugatuck neighborhood of Westport, combines fresh, classic Italian fare with a high energy atmosphere, a great bar scene, and a lovely outdoor patio. Known for their signature Neapolitan pizza, house made pasta, raw bar, and extensive antipasto menu, Rizzuto’s offers exquisite wines to match and specialty cocktails made with a rotating selection of house made infused spirits. Owner Bill Rizzuto, a former hotelier, is indeed in the hospitality business, genuinely enjoying the neighborhood gathering place he has created and offering the Italian food of his upbringing. One of the liveliest happy hours in town, Rizzuto’s has become a local favorite as a place to unwind and enjoy great food and wine. 

Tavern on Main
In 1813, Mr. Levi T. Downs ran a grocery store in a newly constructed federal style building which inevitably became the gathering spot for neighbors and shoppers. Today the building is in the form of Tavern on Main, a classic New England-esque restaurant and gathering place in the heart of Westport’s retail district. One story up from street level, this delightful restaurant has maintained its New England charm replete with rickety wooden floors, cozy seating, a blazing fire, an intimate bar, and a charming patio that overlooks bustling Main Street. The menu is a fabulous reflection of the seasons, along with favorites that have stood the test of time such as their award-winning clam chowder. Signature dishes include the grilled salmon and brown rice salad with capers, olives and herbs; juicy certified Angus burgers; buttery lobster rolls; and Farmstead cheese selections.

Dressing Room, adjacent to The Playhouse, is a “Homegrown Restaurant”, reflecting their commitment to neighborly hospitality, local, natural and organic ingredients and regional American heirloom food. Chef / Cookbook Author, Michel Nischan has created a menu of fresh, clean flavors, vibrant colors, and simple preparations. The farmhouse interior is accented with vintage theatre / movie prints and old style farming paraphernalia. Seasonal menu highlights include “small” and “medium” dishes such as; local Millstone Farm mix salad; kettle macaroni and cheese with farmstead cheddar, cured pork belly, and breadcrumbs; and fresh fish such as parsley and lemon crusted tilefish. Pre/post-show cocktails can be enjoyed at the bar, and dining al fresco at Dressing Room is quite special.

Matsu Sushi
Matsu Sushi, overlooking Jessup Green and the tranquility of the Saugatuck River in Westport, offers some of the finest Japanese cuisine and the freshest sushi grade fish in Fairfield County. Spearheaded by Executive Chef Michael Cao, Matsu Sushi’s mantra, “Freshness You Trust” is more than just a tag line. The menu focuses mainly on sushi and sashimi, with additional fresh vegetable, seafood, poultry and meat preparations such as teriyaki, tempura, hibachi, and noodle dishes, which are traditional in Japanese cuisine. Many of the ingredients are imported from Japan, ensuring the highest quality and authenticity.  Matsu Sushi takes advantage of the towering space with a second floor dining room, large windows and a cascading water wall. Co-owner Paul Teah is a strong supporter of the Playhouse, and the town of Westport as a whole, continually donating his time and food to local events and charities – taking the term “Restaurant Partner” to a whole new level.

La Villa Trattoria is a local gem featuring regional Italian cuisine prepared by Chef Michael Sornatale. The petit space is elegant with a touch of whimsy. The decor illustrates waterfront dining in Portofino via stunning wall murals painted by local artist Kim Salander. The seasonal menu highlights fresh produce and market fresh fish, as well as pasta and meat dishes. Tiny hearts notate heart healthy options – but all of Chef Sornatella’s food is light and flavorful, allowing quality ingredients to shine. Favorite dishes include; tuna carpaccio with arugula and shaved Tuscan cheese; veal scaloppini with onions and capers in a lemon sauce; spicy chicken scarpariello; and fresh fettuccine with crabmeat, lobster meat, shrimp and cherry tomatoes in a red white wine sauce. Stay and linger over creamy tiramisu and a bold espresso before heading to the show.

Chef Prasad Chirnomula continues to demystify the art of Indian cuisine, while creating restaurants that are fun and unique. Thali, Chef Chirnomula’s newest installment to the already impressive Thali Empire, is a slight departure from his other 4 locations. The Westport restaurant features the bold and aromatic flavors of India - served tapas style. That’s right; choose from over 30 menu items that cross land and sea and India’s popular spice trail. The menu is presented in a check-off list format, offering two portion sizes / price points. Specialties include; Tibetan style steamed chicken dumplings; sesame crusted chicken skewers; multi pepper-crusted breast of duck; jumbo lump crab samosa; Indian style shrimp tempura with soy chili sauce; spiced pan-seared scallops with fennel and fenugreek crust and chili cilantro oil; pepper and ginger skirt steak with mint raita; and little buttons of steamed lentil and rice cakes. Creative cocktails and a fabulous wine selection are available.

Manolo Restaurant
Chef / Owner Pedro Garzon brings his own style and sensibility to Manolo Restaurant. Named after Garzon’s great grand uncle who served in the Spanish Army and is responsible for exposing his nephew to numerous cuisines throughout Spain, Portugal, France and Italy, Manolo is that comforting respite where good food is matched with service and a sense of being transported to a European brassiere. The below street level space has a speakeasy cavernous feel to it. Folks enjoy lingering at the antipasto bar while sipping wine, a fabulous pre and post show gathering destination. The menu is a virtual tour of Europe and includes such favorites as; crisp veal sweetbreads with frisse lettuce, smoked bacon, red wine shallots, and a soft poached egg; pan seared Atlantic cod with basque piquillo peppers, chorizo and cockle broth; and risotto with forest mushrooms, asparagus, spring peas and black summer truffle.

We’ve crossed a few continents and oceans with our wonderful Restaurant Partners and hope that our subscribers will take advantage of their generous discounted offers designed especially for our theatre enthusiasts and supporters. Learn more about the many Playhouse subscription offerings so that you, too, can become a dining enthusiast and enjoy all that the Playhouse and these fine restaurants have to offer. 


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