Art Meets Food

True artists keep growing and exploring, and Art Space Café is Chef Bill Taibe’s new medium. Set in the vibrant Art Space Museum, this contemporary spot is a creative oasis on busy West Avenue in Norwalk. Chef Taibe curates locally produced, high-quality coffee, tea, nut milk, bread, pastry, cheese and chocolate, to create an all-day menu that hits every flavor note. Embracing healthful trends, the chef and his team have created indulgent vegan and gluten-free “light fare” with plenty of fruit, greens, nuts and grains. Good news for omnivores: eggs, cheese, fish and meats are given the Taibe touch too.

Half of the menu is devoted to refreshing hot and cold beverages: locally roasted ILSE Coffee prepared by drip or in a full range of espresso-based drinks, loose Arogya Teas, Cross Culture Kombucha and artisan nut milks from the Hudson Valley. Art Space Café’s got it covered—cold brews, espresso ginger tonics, matcha lattes, and the Itariahito an east-meets-west blend of matcha latte and espresso.

left: sous chef Danielle Mailhot, Bill Taibe, Andrea Dinan, cafe manager Kelly Clement and executive chef Caitlin McGowan; right: Overnight oats with maple, almonds and dried fruits and berries
left: The What’s Bill Having—matcha, espresso, pistachio milk and luxardo cherries

First, we just had to try the “What Bill’s Having.” If anyone can bring unexpected ingredients together into a mysteriously delicious blend, it is chef Taibe. Matcha, pistachio milk, cherry syrup and espresso, this is a cold drink in tones of khaki, tan and cream that tastes creamy, nutty and just-sweet-enough, with a strong caffeine kick. For non- or pre-caffeinated folks, the most refreshing cold drink is an old-fashioned shrub. The base is fruit steeped in sugar and vinegar. We tried the raspberry shrub. It was light, bubbly, with a thirst-quenching sweet-sour fruitiness.

Here you could start the day with a cup of cafe au lait or a fine Earl Grey tea, accompanied by a warm baguette, butter and matcha pear jam, and feel like you’ve found a touch of Europe in Norwalk. But try a bowl of rich, creamy chocolate coconut “yogurt,” topped with raspberries and raspberry dust over a layer of espresso granola (puffed and toasted grains, bits of chocolate, and a hint of salt). With its smooth and crunchy textures, fresh fruit and dark chocolate, sweetness and essential touch of salt, this was dessert for breakfast or lunch, and we’re all in.

left: Avocado tofu with queso blanco, sprouts and alp blossom
left: the mixed berry shrub; right: Caitlin McGowan shows off two popular dishes.

Many of the salads bring together greens, grains and fruits. Heirloom melon salad hit every note, the sweet melon dressed in a berry vinaigrette with pink slivers of pickled onions that brought a taste memory of melon and prosciutto—without the cured ham. That’s our kind of vegan. Pea shoots were treated as vegetables rather than garnish, and why not? Sweet, green, fresh and paired with blueberries and black berries and the vinaigrette, the salad was large enough to share and a welcome addition to the table as it balanced the richer, hearty sandwiches.

The grilled cheese sandwich was a rich, grilled croissant, filled with good cheddar and smoked strawberry-onion marmalade. Plan to cut this in half to share (or take half home). Smoked turkey comes from Hoodoo Brown BBQ in Ridgefield, which was paired with golden kimchee (made with turmeric) on thick slices of black raisin bread. To our taste, the avocado toast didn’t need the upgrades of kimchee and cottage cheese. The mashed avocado is seasoned with lemon, scallions and Za’atar, a Middle Eastern spice blend. There are a lot of alluring sweet toasts on the menu, like strawberry covered chocolate toast and almond butter on chocolate malt bread. The pastries, which come from Flour, Water, Salt in Darien are superb. Kouing-Amann, a fat, sweet, sticky croissant baked in a muffin tin, is a wonder of buttery layers of puff pastry. Pain au chocolate, bombolini, and artistan chocolate bars from House of Knipschildt also tempt.

Gluten-free salted chocolate chip cookie with a Cortado

Chef Taibe is known for cooking with the seasons; the ingredients may change, but the flavor profiles always pop. Like any real artist, he doesn’t just want to repeat his greatest hits. On the afternoon we stopped in, the chef and his team gathered around a table to taste a new recipe. At another table, chocolatier Fritz Knipschildt was having lunch. He recommended the tuna sandwich with sweet pepper conserves on artisan bread seasoned with herbs from the Alps. It was the second time he’d ordered it. A family with children pulled two round tables together and ordered peanut butter and jelly croissants. The vibe was friendly and cool, a place we’d come back to. Put Art Space Café on your list of places to meet.

Strawberry covered chocolate with strawberry butter on chocolate bread

455 West Ave., Norwalk

Crafted coffees, teas, baked goods and light fare

Wednesday—Sunday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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