Above left: The sleek yet welcoming design; Above right: Tuna Crudo; Photographs: Nicole Franzen
The National is Geoffrey Zakarian’s hot addition to the Avenue. The sister restaurant to The National in Manhattan is located a block from the train station and is primed for commuters seeking post-work cocktails—and there’s quite the cocktail list. This new American café, the latest opening for Geoffrey and Margaret Zakarian with partner Lou Ceruzzi, serves modern takes on classic dishes with emphasis on the wood grill. Though Geoffrey is an Iron Chef who presides over top restaurants in New York and Miami, judges on Chopped, cohosts The Kitchen and writes cookbooks, he logs many hours in Greenwich. In fact, he’s a regular at his own bar and was holding court on two of the three evenings I went for dinner.
The understated-but-glam space consists of rows of rounded banquettes, white oak panels, mirrors studded with porthole sconces, and large parlor palms. In the back, a glassed-in dining room is dressed with white linen drapes and doubles as a private dining area (sit here to peek into the kitchen). Lighting dims as the evening progresses, and one night we read menus with help from the table candle. Designed as a neighborhood café, the place feels sophisticated yet comfortable, so much so that at a recent 6:30 dinner with friends we lingered over multiple courses and coffee until nearly 11, yet never felt rushed.
Where to start? With a signature Greenwich Means Thyme cocktail, a blend of gin, lemon, honey and muddled thyme served in a dainty glass that’s straight out of The Great Gatsby. Special requests were handled with finesse, the bartender amping up the spice on a virgin mojito, and our server bringing out several tasting glasses of wine to help a friend choose (she opted for Bernard Defaix Chablis). Two gluten-free eaters in our group, one who also has a nut allergy, had no trouble navigating the menu. We began with our server’s recommendation: a zingy beef tartare flecked with pieces of egg white and laced with mustard. It’s served with garlic toasts and lettuce leaves if you prefer wrapping up the tender meat sans carbs—a distinctive opener. Brussels sprouts are technically a special, but they’re available most nights and a must-order. They’re lightly fried, leaving the tender-on-the-inside veggies with crispy crinolines of leaves, balanced with bites of julienned apple and mustard crème fraiche. Shishito peppers are standard issue, but salads intrigue. The flavors of a squash salad with feta and pomegranate seeds are enlivened by fragrant cilantro dressing, while crunchy gem lettuces with radishes, cucumbers, pistachios and ricotta get dressed in a light tarragon cream with snips of fresh tarragon and dill on top.
Eric Haugen, Culinary Director for The National (and other Zakarian restaurants), was recognized by Zagat as a “30 Under 30” chef.
A few of Geoffrey’s lunch picks: Chicken Mango Salad with Quinoa; Wood-Grilled Kabobs; Crabcake Tartine. Margaret Zakarian’s faves: “I am loving the Grilled Prawns with Avocado and the Kale and Tabbouleh Salad. For brunch, if I am still hungry after eating all of the fresh pastries, I go straight for the Huevos Rancheros.”
Margaret Zakarian’s go-to is the Smokin’ Margarita. “It’s one of the best cocktails that Brian Van Flandern, our mixologist, and Geoffrey make,” she says. “They put it on the menu for me—thanks guys! The lava salt on the rim gives it a little twist.”
Seafood stars on the menu, everything from oysters and tuna crudo to specials such as wood-fired langostines and a luscious monkfish entrée with artichokes. One grilled standout: the whole roasted branzino with marble potatoes, fennel bulb that’s almost caramelized and lemony watercress. Yes, you have to work around a few bones—or request having them removed—but the tender, flaky fish striped from the grill is well worth it. Glazed Colorado lamb shank drew raves from our group, the falling-off-the-bone meat served with polenta being compared to ‘short-rib candy’ with its decadent slightly sweet sauce. This is one place where it’s worthwhile to order chicken, moist pillows of organic grilled Amish poultry served with a citrusy chimichurri. The ugly burger, in fact, is carnivorous beauty, a mound of beef with crispy shallot, cheddar, lettuce and a pink sauce on a fluffy brioche bun with a fresh pickle skewered to the top. Messy but delish.
Bourbon ice cream makes a sweet alternative to an after-dinner drink. But fans of peppermint ice cream will want to indulge in the sundae, topped with meringue and brownie, caramelized banana, strawberries, cherries and more. Giant cookies of the day could feed the table; we brought home most of our gooey chocolate chips, cinnamon-y Snickerdoodles and chocolate mudslides. The bar stays lively until late and the kitchen’s open until 1 a.m. on weekends—finally, late-night dining in town—so as you exit through the velvet drapes surrounding the door, you’re likely to pass another party coming in. The night is still young.
376 Greenwich Ave.
Mon.–Sat., 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m.
Sun., 10 a.m.–3 p.m.
Daily, 3–5 p.m.
Mon.–Sat., 5–11 p.m.; Sunday 5–10 p.m.
Thur., 11 pm–12 a.m.; Fri. and Sat., 11 pm–1 a.m.