Above: Chicken Paillard
Photographs by Andrew Sullivan
Second-born children tend to inspire comparison to their older siblings. And Le Fat Poodle, which recently opened in Old Greenwich as sister restaurant to Le Penguin, is no exception. The family resemblance is striking, both places serving up joie de vivre, with playful animal mascots and lively atmosphere. But Le Fat Poodle possesses a quirky personality, an intentional design by owners Antoine Blech and Anshu Vidyarthi. The menu includes French standards, but it’s a modern, eclectic bistro with international dishes such as Thai mussels and Korean sticky wings. While Le Penguin is enveloping and warm, Le Fat Poodle is open and airy with pale yellow walls, palm plants, indigo-blue upholstered banquettes and beachy fans circulating from the high ceiling. Gold-leaf sconces dress up the walls, the back adorned with a painting of Le Fat Poodle raising a glass of red wine. A semi-open kitchen affords views of the chefs at work.
Weekend nights require advance planning for reservations. When calling five days ahead for Saturday night, the only table available was at 9:45 p.m. and even a six-inch snowstorm didn’t open seats due to cancellations. Fans of Le Penguin expect this to be a strong addition to the Old Greenwich dining scene, but it attracts customers from beyond the eastern side of town. At our weeknight dinner we sat next to a top interior designer who lives in backcountry and says she’s a regular. Part of the pleasure of both restaurants is their fairly intimate size—you’re part of the scene in a mostly full dining room.
As at Le Penguin, the meal begins with warm bread brought to the table in paper bags with olive oil for dipping. The tables have the poodle motif stamped onto craft paper that tops the white tablecloths. During a Thursday lunch service, the place was half full; on a Wednesday evening, all but one table was occupied by 7 p.m.
Two starters I recommend: the tuna tartare and the wedge salad, favorites well executed. Light, fresh chopped tuna is blended with watercress, tiny flecks of red onion and cool avocado, all served with crispy wontons and lime. The wedge salad, with finely chopped tomato and plenty of bacon, is treated to a creamy dressing that’s not heavy, as some blue cheese dressings tend to be. Though I’m partial to French classics, I went with our server’s advice and tried dishes with regional or international flair. Shrimp and grits for lunch? Why not, when it’s a heartwarming dish with a lightly spicy sauce, an ample portion of shrimp and extra kick from the andouille sausage. We loved the Greek-inspired grilled octopus salad, a blend of frisee and mixed greens with finely chopped tomatoes, olive and feta along with the seafood.
The red snapper entree didn’t jump out as a must-order, but I was glad I took the recommendation: The fish was moist and flaky, lightly crusted and topped with thin slivers of coconut, paired with a wild rice pilaf laced with pistachios and a yellow curry sauce. If you’re craving standards, you can indulge in those, too. We were happy with the duck a l’orange, slices of Hudson Valley duck served over spinach with crispy, matchstick potatoes on top. The lovely orange sauce permeates everything, including the greens. For the steak frites, slices of lightly charred hangar steak are partnered with thin, crispy fries, and a pitcher of bordelaise sauce, intended for the meat but equally good for frites dipping. Service at both of my meals was pleasant, a bit leisurely at lunch, but at another meal, our editor and her party of seven felt rushed.
The noise level, which is fairly high but not conversation-busting, only amped up as the servers brought out a dessert with lit candles for a birthday guest and Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday to Ya” was piped into the room. This made us smile, a sign that the place doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Retro dessert to feed your gang? Dig into a banana split, complete with caramelized bananas, loads of whipped cream and salted peanuts. But my favorite is the Tres Leches cake, a version drunken with cream and topped with a lime; add a squeeze of the citrus and it’s reminiscent of a Cuban version.
The village of Old Greenwich has an increasingly international population, and this newcomer to the neighborhood reflects the trend. But no matter where you’re from originally, who doesn’t welcome a spot for creative cuisine and fun close to home?
20 Arcadia Road, Old Greenwich, 203-717-1515; lefatpoodle.com
Hours: Mon.–Fri., lunch, 11 a.m.–2:30 p.m.
Sat. and Sun., brunch, 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m.
Sun.–Wed., dinner, 5:30–10 p.m.
Thur.–Sat., dinner, 5:30–11p.m.