The two delicious dishes I tried at The Whelk in Westport
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It was a perfect summery Friday in Westport when I went to The Whelk. The previously humid weather from earlier in the week had subsided, paddle boarders were floating along on the Saugatuck, and a gentle breeze slipped in and out on the boat-lined dock. Sounds just picturesque, doesn’t it? It was the absolute perfect day for seafood (which we all know I enjoy) from what was conveniently voted the Best Seafood restaurant in Westport. What could be better?
For those of you who have never been to The Whelk...well, you should go. The menu is eclectic, yet, somehow familiar at the same time. Please readers, if you will, lend me your ears (or your eyes, I suppose, unless you happen to be reading this aloud) as I may expound upon this theory. For instance, we have probably all had meatballs once or twice in our lifetime. But have you ever tasted lamb meatballs with almond-cocoa picada, a cabbage salad and Parmesan cheese, as they are served at The Whelk? Or how about the southern classic, shrimp and grits? A dish normally prepared with just its namesake staple ingredients, The Whelk gives their rendition of the dish a twist with southern ham, ramp pickles and lobster butter. You see? The Whelk is able to serve recognizable food with an added and unexpected (and often complex) element, which takes your taste buds on a surprising and satisfying epicurean journey.
For my appetizer I started with the octopus, which was served with potatoes, parsley, olives, chickpeas and harissa. As a brief sidebar, if you are unfamiliar with harissa, it is a hot chili pepper paste that is often used in Northern African cooking. It has a wonderful chili flavor without being excessively spicy and, prior to dining at The Whelk, never thought of it as an ingredient to use with octopus. The octopus was perfectly tender, and the harissa added the perfect subtle element of chili/peppery flavor without fighting the octopus’ traditional sea-like flavor. The olives in the dish added a wonderful briny and salty component, and the chick peas were a great addition for texture and flavor. The octopus was served atop a salad of a purslane, which is a fresh and earthy tasting green. If you haven’t heard of it, don’t be alarmed. Apparently purslane is considered to be a weed in the United States (not sure why, actually) and is much more widely used in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. See, that’s what I mean about The Whelk. You order octopus over greens, and you get it, but you are also getting something completely unique, new and innovative.
The black chick peas. Yes, they're really chick peas!
The end result