Hidden Gem

Photographs by Julie Bidwell
Above: Chef Ian Vest • Organic salmon with asparagus, fiddlehead ferns, cannellini bean and basil puree.

Whether you’re a diehard food-stagrammer or you think that snapping your supper is déclassé, you’ll have to admit that the dishes at Back 40 Kitchen come out ready for the paparazzi. The vegetables and fruits starring on the menu here—many sourced from Back 40 Farm up in Washington, Connecticut—dazzle with their color. Even if I wasn’t taking notes, I’d be tempted to sneak a screenshot of the vibrant green fiddleheads nestled against the pink salmon and the strawberries and sorrel mixed into the beet salad. In the hands of Chef Ian Vest, who’s newer to the restaurant, these beautiful ingredients translate to big flavor.

Left: Grass-fed beef with cauliflower and confit potato
Right: Black bean and beet veggie burger with fermented vegetable slaw, hand-cut fries and fresh greens

Since Chef Ian took the helm in the kitchen, he has introduced a six-course tasting menu with an option for wine pairings. It’s a chance for him to connect with guests one on one, first discussing their preferences and dietary restrictions and then turning out a creative meal to suit, working with the freshest ingredients that day. When you’re ordering from the main menu à la carte, as we did on a recent Friday night, everything from drinks to dessert can also be customized to your tastes and needs—whether you’re gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan or you simply don’t like lima beans.

The setting for this personalized, farm-driven restaurant is intimate: a rustic space set on the second floor (main entrance is behind the Avenue) with farmhouse décor, reclaimed wood walls, a giant blackboard mural of vegetables and a cupola ceiling. It’s a spot for lunch or dinner with friends, a date night or a family meal when you want to be able to hear your conversation; there are just twelve individual tables plus bar seating and two communal tables. On the night we went for dinner, seats were filled by around 7 p.m., with a mix of families and couples, including one that brought along a bottle of red (corkage fee is $35). From our table by the window, early evening light flooded in from the skylight and we could spy the old weathervane that tops the building.

Beet salad with strawberries, sorrel, fresh ricotta, spiced pecans in a citrus vinaigrette

Cocktails, like the rest of the menu, reflect the season, and we sipped on a summery white sangria with citrus and lots of apple pieces and The Alpaca, a blend of ginger beer with lime, basil and Barsol Pisco. There’s a nice list of mocktails including a coconut “no”-jito. Every meal begins with warm mini corn bread muffins, and we also ordered a roasted beets salad and charcuterie board to start. That bright and beautiful salad won over a friend who was beet-skeptical; we loved the textures and flavor combination of the lush strawberries, roasted beets and sorrel leaves with creamy ricotta and crunchy pecans. Served on a wooden plank, the charcuterie appetizer includes a mix of hard and soft cheeses, chorizo and a sweeter sausage (both house-made), onion jam, spicy pecans, delicious pickles and toasts—enough to enjoy a taste of cheese but not spoil your appetite.

There’s always at least one vegetarian entrée on the menu, but we gravitated toward the seafood and beef dishes. Pan-roasted salmon was cooked perfectly with that just-right crispy skin and paired with lovely fiddleheads, asparagus and a basil puree that’s like spring on a plate. The grass-fed beef, with its pinkish center, was completely tender and flavorful, accompanied by potatoes, cauliflower and arugula with a hint of Moroccan spice adding interest. I’m a fan of squid-ink pasta, and the slightly spicy spaghetti nero lived up to my craving: the black spaghetti tossed with grilled octopus, roasted peppers, green olives and capers.

Desserts are a definite, whether you sip on a mint-julep milkshake or choose straight-up sweets, as we did. The chocolate chip cookie in a mini cast-iron pan was warm from the oven, gooey and amazing, topped with vanilla ice cream; share if you want just a bite or two, otherwise order your own—it’s that good. I enjoyed the mixture of berries on the Pavlova, but the texture of the meringue was chewier than expected.

Blackberry Smash: Litchfield County Bourbon, muddled blackberry, lemon, bay leaf syrup.
Bees Need Honey: Bar Hill Gin, rose hip, turmeric honey.
Smoky Paloma: mezcales de leyenda, lime, ginger liqueur, grapefruit and smoked paprika popsicle
Right: Pavlova’s Meringue, mixed berries, mint, berry coulis

Whether you end your meal here with a post and hashtags or simply decide to tell a friend, it’s a farm-to-table experience destined to be shared.

107 Greenwich Avenue, 203-992-1800; back40kitchen.com


QUICK BITES

CHEF’S SPECIALS
This time of year, one of the chef’s favorite ingredients is morel mushrooms. “He loves the vibrant color of peas and anything green! It’s nice to feature something bright
on the plate,” says General Manager Susan Mason.

FRESH SIPS
Guests can’t get enough of the Farmer in the Jungle cocktail, a mix of Prairie Vodka, hibiscus, mint and lime served in a glass rimmed with pink peppercorn; and the lush Blackberry Smash with muddled blackberry, lemon juice, bay leaf syrup and Litchfield County Bourbon is a summer must-order.

VINO VALUES
If you eat out on Win(e)down Wednesdays, every bottle of wine under $100 is half-price

HOURS
Tuesday–Friday, lunch,  11:30 a.m.–3 p.m.; dinner, 5–9 pm;
Saturday, lunch, 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m.; dinner, 5–10 p.m.

 

 

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