By Analiese Paik
Drive too quickly down Danbury Road and you’ll miss Bistro 7, a casual and unassuming eatery serving seasonal fare and craft cocktails. Local, organic sourcing is a priority for owner Breno Donatti, so much so that the staff uniform is a black t-shirt emblazoned with “Your Local Farmers Present: Locally Sourced Comfort Food”. These custom-designed, organic cotton tees are so stylish you’ll want one for yourself.
Breno Donatti is a long way from his native Florianópolis, Brazil where he was raised by an Italian father and Brazilian mother. Donatti graduated with a degree in nutrition from the Federal University of Santa Catarina, but his instincts clashed with what he was taught. “Food is good if you source it right and you prepare it simply and eat in moderation. Forget about everything else” said Donatti, who is fluent in three languages. He came to the US nine years ago, attended business school at UCONN, and began his career in the restaurant business. He is married to rising opera star Jeanette Vecchione, an American from Long Island.
A natural-born entrepreneur, Donatti launched Bistro 7 to do things his way. It was a series of dining experience at Café Centro in Paris that shaped his concept for a low-key, American bistro with an emphasis on local sourcing. “Main courses on the menu are stable, but sides change seasonally” said Donatti. “We buy produce and fruit from Sport Hill Farm, Ambler Farm, Sloane Farm, The Hickories, Millstone Farm, Holbrook Farm, Riverbank Farm, and 2 Guys from Woodbridge.” A staff member responsible for local sourcing works off weekly harvest lists supplied by farmers. Donatti also frequents farmers’ markets and orders online from cropups, the online marketplaces for buyers and sellers of CT Grown food started by Dina Brewster of The Hickories. They were growing some of their own food in a garden at the edge of the property, but are reduced to growing tomatoes, basil and mint in containers this year because their gardener is away in Italy.
The Farmer’s Cow supplies the restaurant with milk, cream and eggs for the pancakes, French toast, and crepes on their Pajama Brunch menu which also features jams made with fruit from Red Jacket Orchards and other local farms. Goat cheese from Beltane Farm and farmstead cheese from Sankow’s Beaverbrook Farm, used throughout the menu, are purchased in half wheels. Diners are encouraged to “come as they are” to brunch on Sundays from 10- 3 pm and if you need a pajama top, they sell an adorable one designed by the same Brazilian team that designed their swanky tee.
Donatti’s the first to say he’s not a chef, but he still has his preferences. He is a big fan of Redding Roasters’ coffee, the only brand served. I made a pledge to return in the winter when they roast and grind hazelnuts to prepare a simple syrup for hazelnut cappuccino. Tea drinkers will be pleased to find a wide selection of Arogya teas that can be ordered by the cup or pot.
Sustainable sourcing doesn’t stop with local farms. A brick wall lining one side of the dining room is made from bricks salvaged from the East Village. Beautiful, chestnut brown floor and ceiling boards were reclaimed from a barn. Sidea, an Italian water purification and filtration system employing reverse osmosis, is used to create Bistro 7’s eco-friendly bottled water. And the staff tee shirts celebrating local farms and food are made of organic cotton.
Bistro Shack, their pop-up beach shack at The Shore and County Club in Norwalk, is open seven days a week from May 21 through the end of summer. There by invitation from the establishment, the food is a hit with members. The Saturday I visited Bistro 7, Executive Chef Tony Kalmanidis was working at the shack so Sous Chef Marcelino Martinez, aka Batman (ask to see his tattoo), was running the kitchen.
The tasting began with Sidea water, bread from New York Bakery in Norwalk, and Bistro 7’s private label extra virgin olive oil. Donatti spent a month in Abruzzo, Italy last year harvesting the olives at his father’s orchard that were used to produce this oil. A bottle of Bistro 7’s EVOO proudly graces every table and is sold in the restaurant’s market and Wilton Village Market. As we dipped our bread into the golden hued oil and savored its freshness and flavor, Donatti told me that he’s also making Certified Organic wine from grapes grown in in Paso Robles, California. The 7, as the wine will be labeled, reflects not only his lucky number, but also the seven varietals of grapes used to make it. Donatti has chosen zinfandel, a vinifera grape popular in the US since the early 1800’s, as the primary grape for the blend. When the wine is released, he plans to challenge diners to guess what the other six varietals are and the percentages used in the blend. Ancona’s Wines & Liquors in Ridgefield will be the exclusive retailer of The 7.
When Chef Martinez brought out the beef empanadas, I was transported back to Buenos Aires, Argentina where they are ubiquitous. These were fantastic. The tender beef and cheddar filling- well-seasoned with red onion and scallions- was enveloped in a thin, flaky crust in just the right proportions. Drizzled with cilantro lime sauce, they’re simply irresistible. It came as no surprise that the cilantro lime sauce is so popular they’re considering bottling it.
A smoked kale Caesar salad featured organic baby kale from Sloane Farm in Washington, CT. One-woman fruit and vegetable farmer Debra Sloane contract grows the kale for the restaurant in two raised beds and makes deliveries twice a week. Studded with bacon bits, Parmesan, and croutons, the salad was lightly dressed to avoid weighing the leaves down or smothering their flavor.
Mixologist Amanda Bogdanowiz visited our table twice to share her summer cocktails. Sixth Sense – a great choice for the whiskey lover – is made with Woodford Reserve Bourbon, an outstanding small batch, hand-crafted American whiskey; agave nectar, muddled blueberries and IPA float. Juniper Peach, served in a martini glass with a twist of lemon, is a refreshing and delicious mix of Juniper Green Organic Gin, house-made peach blueberry glaze, lime juice and peach schnapps.
Pasta dishes are few, but ravioli is house made (when available) and a well prepared Orecchiette Bolognese uses organic De Cecco pasta. A glass of The 7 would have been perfect with this dish. Meat is one of the most challenging ingredients for restaurants to source locally, simply because there isn’t enough supply. Donatti sources meat from Butcher’s Best in Newtown and other local sources.
Chef Martinez’ last dish of pan seared mahi-mahi, an Atlantic fish that is not overfished according to NOAA, reminded me of what Donatti had said at the beginning of our meeting: “I give my chefs free reign.” An elegant and beautifully presented filet topped with red wine, lime juice and cilantro-marinated strawberries, roasted jalapenos, and red onion was perched on a square of yellow rice then finished with a pineapple-mango sauce with red pepper flakes. The fish, a delightful departure from typical bistro food, became that night’s dinner special.
The last item on the tasting menu brought the biggest news. Donatti and I discussed his latest project, DNA Natural, while polishing off upside down banana walnut cake with ice cream. A friend of his from Florianópolis founded DNA Natural and in six years has opened eighty-two locations and will have one hundred by year end. “It’s everything that I believe in one concept” said Donatti. “I’ve known the founder for twelve years. She’s a passionate human being that has a mission: bring healthy fast food to the masses.” As the US franchisor partner, he will open three DNA Natural locations in Florida by June of 2015. Clean and modern, DNA Natural location include kiosks, quick service, full service and specialty food stores.
991 Danbury Rd, Wilton, CT 06897
Hours: Monday-Wed 4 pm to 10 pm; Thursday-Fri 11:30am to 3 pm, 4 pm to 10:30 pm; Saturday 10 am to 3 pm, 4 pm to 10:30pm; Sunday 10 am to 3 pm, 4 pm to 9 pm