Thursday, June 5, 2008

Who here can say they had dinner with Paul Newman? I can't.....(but I did eat at his restaurant).

For the last few years I have been visiting a project we have in Pound Ridge, NY. When I go to these places I always scope out potential restaurants of interest. The Dressing Room in Westport, CT has been at the top the list for quite a while. Typically, when I've had a long day I usually say, "Screw it. I'm tired and I just want to go back to the hotel." Once I've taken a shower and checked emails I usually end up eating somewhere nearby. By nearby I mean less than a quarter mile. Finally on Wednesday I had a thunderstorm shortened day that left me with nothing to do the rest of the day. This was my opportunity to hit the Patagonia store and finally eat Michel Nischan's healthy, sustainable and culturally significant food .

The Dressing Room is a joint venture between Michel Nischan (who is currently a candidate for a James Beard award) and Paul Newman. The two men are using this restaurant as platform to showcase the local food producers and raise awareness of sustainable food production.
I'll start by saying that I really liked the menu. Not just what was on the menu, but was actually in the menu. What I found cool was that the front page of the menu had about 6-8 small blurbs about individual food types of food information about actual food producers, and local goings on (they hold farmer's markets on Thursdays and Sundays). One thing they talked about was how they eliminated both spring and sparkling bottled water. They bought a reverse osmosis machine that purifies water and also carbonates it so that it doesn't need to be shipped in.

Since I had a long drive ahead of me I wasn't interested in eating a big meal. That being said, I ordered the Spring Pork Platter that had pork prepared three ways roasted, braised, and a piece of pork belly. This was served with fiddle head ferns, stone milled grits with ramps. What can I say other than it was absolutely delish. The braised pork tasted like it had been slow cooked for a really long time (think melt on your tongue). The fiddle head ferns were the other highlight.

My impression walking away, is that in terms of the local food and sustainability aspect these guys walk the walk. I really think their approach is maybe the best I've seen. They do a very good job of talking about what they do and why they do it. I think too many times we hear chefs talk about fresh ingredients and sustainability and that's great. But how about making a connection between the restaurant and the grower? Tell me about these people. I'm just as interested in supporting local growers as I am local restaurants. If the food I'm eating kicks ass it probably started growers. That way when I see something on the menu that came XYZ farm and I've liked it in the past I'm probably going to like it again (provided the kitchen does their job). I think the education part of the equation is usually missing. The server had an answer for all of my questions. I'm impressed by that because the chef felt it was important enough to require them to know this stuff.

I would recommend a visit to Westport. Yes, it is very affluent (there's a Tiffany's downtown) but it's not uncomfortable. If you do go to Westport you have got to stop at The Dressing Room. I think it's a great example of how to get people interested in the local sustainability movement.

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