Above: Pan-roasted halibut – Photographs by Wes Tarca
When a restaurant opens with a splash, it faces the challenge of living up to the initial hype. The owners of Eastend took the opposite tack, quietly letting in guests in December and relying on word-of-mouth to work its magic. Those owners are
Z Hospitality Group, who also created Terra and Mediterraneo in Greenwich and other popular spots around Fairfield County, so they know a thing or two about running successful eateries. Unlike the group’s other Avenue restaurants, which have an Italian-Mediterranean emphasis, Eastend is all-American, a sophisticated melting pot of ingredients and influences (everything from a spicy shrimp-and-andouille chowder to a spa salad with avocado and edamame) on a moderately pricey menu created by Executive Chef Albert DeAngelis.
In contrast to that under-the-radar beginning, on a recent Friday night crowds had descended on the dining room and the bar, with its gleaming, backlit display of bottles and view to the filled tables and kitchen in back. We arrived ten minutes late for our 7:30 reservation, after circling the block in search of parking, and the hostess offered us a table in the bar immediately or a short wait for the main dining room. We opted to wait while one of our friends squeezed her way through the four-people-deep bar crowd to fetch us drinks.
Within five minutes we were ushered to a comfortable booth in the stylish, understated dining room, which features caramel leather banquette seating, wood farmhouse tables and a trio of mirrors. Giant artsy photos of farm scapes give a subtle nod to the cuisine and the seasonal menu. I like the simplicity of that menu—printed on light brown paper with one column for starters and one for the main course—as well as the rich selection. You can find an enticing dish whether you’re a vegetarian on a diet or a carnivore on a mission. Since our party of four falls into the latter category, the bourbon-glazed pork belly made our short list of appetizers, along with calamari and arancini, all recommended by our server. We were happy with his suggestions. That pork belly is decadent and satisfying served over “popcorn” grits with pickled red onion on top. Wild-mushroom arancini with a crispy coasting and warm, hot rice inside pick up extra flavor from black truffle butter and shavings of parmesan—pure Italian comfort food. Better-than-average, crispy calamari derive interest from a coleslaw-like side that’s actually celery root salad with harissa vinaigrette.
Among the seventeen main courses available (not including entrée salads with a range of greens and protein options), our meals reflect the variety here. Scallops a la plancha came heaped with pomegranate seeds along with butternut squash and pistachios that bring crunch to the equation. Duck tacos are served on a round silver tray with a solid black rice and beans side, pico de gallo and salsa verde; the chipotle braise gave the meat a pleasant kick. Spicy lobster spaghetti is a colorful rendition that blends cherry tomatoes with ample pieces of lobster and a bed of arugula on top. For those craving a simple steak, that’s available too: This one came out medium pink as requested and paired with crispy fried onions on top of broccoli rabe and baby potatoes. Throughout the meal, our servers were knowledgeable and speedy. Our only gripe was the noise level, which made it hard at times to carry on a conversation.
One restaurant trend I applaud: retro desserts. Who can resist a Baked Alaska? This one looks like a mini igloo of meringue that surrounds chocolate cake and ice cream; it was quickly devoured. We also enjoyed the old-school banana split (though the bananas are caramelized) with vanilla ice cream, nuts, cookie pieces and chocolate sauce. Like the desserts here, this new restaurant is comforting but cool, a place that seems as though it should have been here all along.
Sunchoke and crabmeat stuffed shrimp, stout-braised short ribs, spicy lobster spaghetti, Niman Ranch pork chop with Brussels sprouts and apple mustard.
The bar crowd can’t get enough of the Don Johnson (a blend of Tito’s Vodka, grapefruit, lime and mint) and the Round Hill Road Martini (with Grey Goose Le Poire, Gruet sparkling brut, St. Germain and apple).
French doors in the front of the restaurant fold to open the area to the sidewalk, and there are plans for at least four to six outdoor tables once the weather’s warm.
409 Greenwich Ave.
Mon.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m.
Fri.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–10:30 p.m.
Sun. 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m.
Mon.–Sun. Bar open late