By Eileen Weber
Imagine a golden ball of crusty brioche sitting pretty on a stainless steel spoon. It looks dense and chewy. But when you take a bite, it almost disappears in your mouth leaving only a hint of caviar and fresh red beets.
That’s how Chef Brian Lewis kicked off his press preview party on Friday, March 2 for his new restaurant elm in New Canaan. From there, it was even more enticing. He served a foie gras mousse on grilled bread topped with leeks from Wilton’s Millstone Farm. After a quick overview of the open kitchen, we were surprised with blue corn popped on the cob. It was like a Girl Scout camp trick.
To end, we savored pastry chef Caryn Stabinsky’s citrus candy. At first glance, it was a simple gumdrop—nothing more than a gel of grapefruit, lemon, and orange juice. But instead of extolling a mouthful of gumminess, it was light, sweet, tangy, and melted instantly in your mouth. To top it off, it packed a little kick with a dusting of pink peppercorn. If candy were a smile, it would be this little drop of joy.
And, the best part of this yummy tasting menu? It’s as locally sourced as possible and you can have all of it when the restaurant opens on March 20. Admittedly serendipitous, Lewis pointed out that their seasonally local restaurant will open on the first day of spring.
“I don’t like to use the word omen,” said Chef Lewis, “but it’s a nice hallmark.”
Millstone Farm’s Master Farmer Annie Farrell was on hand. She noted that Lewis could stop by and pick up a few things on his way to work. Only minutes away, her farm will be the main source of meat and eggs for the restaurant.
“It’s great to have a chef like Brian so close by,” said Farrell. “It’s energizing for both of us. There’s a real sense of community. We can share ideas and get our creative juices flowing.”
While Lewis might be set with his meat supply, he’s still in the market for a great dairy farm to source milk, cream, and butter. His attention to detail shows in the quality of the ingredients he chooses. The taste of the food and the whole restaurant experience is what Lewis wants you to walk away with.
“The last thing I want people to say is ‘fine dining,’” he said of his 85-seat space. “I want people to say ‘delicious dining.’”
Lewis came by cooking honestly. He joked that necessity is the mother of invention. Because his own mother was such a lousy cook, he had no choice but to learn how to do it himself. At the tender age of 13, he had found his calling.
Lewis graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the Culinary Institute of America and a business management degree from Johnson & Wales. He went on to work in some of the best restaurants the area has to offer: Lutèce and Oceana to just name two. His last position was collaborating with celebrity owner Richard Gere at The Barn and the Farmhouse at the Bedford Post Inn in New York. But now, he is his own boss at Elm.
“Being the owner is a big difference. I mean, you’re cooking with your heart and soul every day,” he said. “But working for someone else versus working for yourself is like a brand new day.”
Chef Lewis’ menu consists of both common ingredients like fennel and apricot marmalade and exotics like fermented black garlic and Osetra caviar. The first page lists fish, meat, and pasta, which is handmade. The second page gets a little crazier. It gets broken down into fish and meat, but with a bigger play on ingredients. Take the beef tenderloin roasted in hay. Yes, I said hay. The very grass that the cow eats is dried and wrapped around the meat and roasted. In a way, it’s a funky play on the cycle of life.
His Farm Tour menu consists of ingredients that come from the fresh catch in the bay of Narragansett, RI, hydroponic greens from Two Guys from Woodbridge in Hamden, hormone free meats from Four Story Hills in Honesdale, PA, and organic vegetables from Riverbank Farm in Roxbury, CT.
He also offers a seasonal and “spontaneous” menu with seven courses. Prices for each of these menus vary from around $70 to as much as $140 depending on the wine pairing. (Main menu items are reasonably priced: appetizers are $11-$21; pastas are $15-$19; entrees are $19-$35; desserts are $8-$10.)
If the press event was any indication of what diners will find at Lewis’ new venture, it’s certainly worth a reservation. There is seating for 45 in the main dining area, 10 at the bar with 15 additional booth seats, four at the tasting counter by the open kitchen, and a chef’s table for 12 with a private screen.
Elm opens on March 20. Restaurant hours are Tuesday through Thursday from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. and Friday and Saturdayfrom 5:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Call 203-920-4994 and have them set a table for you or visit them online at www.elmrestaurant.com.
73 Elm Street
New Canaan, CT 06840