Hometown Haunt: Charlie’s Tavern Opens in Darien

On the corner of the Boston Post Road, Charlie’s Tavern brings life back into a local Darien dining landmark.

The din of children at the old Sugar Bowl has been replaced by the buzz of sophisticated diners at the newly opened Charlie’s Tavern in downtown Darien. Peter Crawford knows who he is as a chef, and now he’s showing Fairfield County what he calls “my cuisine.” Chef Peter worked in New York City for groundbreaking chefs such as Charlie Palmer, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and the late David Bouley. For the past eight years, the Darien native has been running Darien Butcher Shop (DBS), and the underground dining experience The Charles.

Poached King salmon over sunchoke puree, French lentilles du Puy, asparagus and more.

His cuisine is classic French with a New American emphasis on top-quality ingredients. That means velvety purees of celeriac, sunchoke or potato; bright, blanched vegetables; and wine sauces finished with truffles. At dinner, the biggest indulgence is Tornendos Rossini, a dish everyone with a primal urge for meat ought to indulge in at least once in their life. Filet of beef seared in butter and topped with a slice of seared foie gras and surrounded by deeply flavored red wine black truffle sauce. A sourdough crouton beneath the tender combination absorbs rich sauce and buttery juices. Perfectly blanched asparagus crunch slightly, and the potato puree is dreamy. Steak frites gets a new look with New York Strip sliced into thick hearty strips and served with similarly thick rectangular potatoes that (foodies rejoice!) are fried in beef tallow. It’s accompanied by crisp haricot vert.

In the evening, tables are lit with tabletop lamps.

Cod with poached oyster in Champagne butter sauce and black trumpet mushrooms, a classic dish, will transport diners back to Paris. King salmon, a pink, poached slab over puree of sunchokes and thick, blanched asparagus spears, and enhanced with sautéed morels that burst with buttery, earthy umami flavor. A mini copper pot of spring beans revealed fresh green garbanzos, favas, baby spinach and a touch of French tarragon.

Fresh seafood starters.

There’s plenty of lighter fare at Charlie’s Tavern as well. Shrimp, squid and scallop seemed to have relaxed into the salad of greens and heirloom tomatoes dressed in citrusy yuzu vinaigrette. Beet and goat cheese salad, sweet and earthy, creamy and salty, is elevated with whole toasted walnuts, walnut oil vinaigrette and charred shallots. Burrata and lentil salad features those choice little French lentilles du Puy.

The old-school atmosphere.

Lighter options can be found among the starters too. Big eye tuna roll combines the crunch of a spring roll wrapper and the clean, cool feel of sushi-grade tuna rolled in Savoy cabbage, and seasoned with ginger and wasabi. Buttery roasted oysters topped with spinach and a touch of cheese are always a treat, and Chef Peter’s steak tartare with quail egg is truly special. Note to readers: When the chef owns a butcher shop, order the tartare.

Classic cocktails with creative garnishes.

At lunch, the atmosphere is more casual and the menu is pared down, with some dinner salads crossing over. On a recent Friday afternoon, a table of ladies ordered warm seafood salad, croque monsieur on a blanket of béchamel, and the Charlie’s burger, formed from a special high-grade brisket mix. (Chef also makes a Burger Royale, which is topped with foie gras.) At the 12-seat bar, two men ordered steak frites and a chicken paillard, a pounded chicken filet topped with seasonal vegetables, greens and lentils, tossed in hazelnut-sherry vinaigrette. Desserts are house-made and the chef is proud of the warm Valrohna chocolate cake with Morello cherry sorbet.

The art pays homage to local shorelines.

Charlie’s has a full bar with a variety of cocktails, wine options and craft beer. The coco-jalapeño margarita adds coconut milk to a favorite spicy summer cocktail. Aperol spritz, layered shades of orange, is mellowed with orange juice. The bartender is especially creative with garnishes, spearing berries, fruit and citrus. (Pro tip: If the bartender isn’t on duty at lunchtime, opt for wine or beer.)

Warm seafood salad with heirloom tomatoes.

The appealing design of Charlie’s Tavern combines an old-school feel with a contemporary sensibility. It’s both casual and sophisticated, with a black and white checkered floor, white tablecloths and lots of paintings of local shorelines. A long hunter-green banquette lines one wall and the lighting is enhanced by sconces and tabletop lamps, which can be set to a whiter reading light and or a warmer atmospheric light. We used both.

Steak Frites is a DBS NY Strip with beefy fries.

Charlie’s Tavern has different moods at lunch and dinner, and Chef Peter’s cuisine truly shines at dinner.

Craft cocktails are garnished with spears of fruit and zest.

1031 Boston Post Rd

Wednesday–Saturday, starting at 4:00 p.m.Sunday, starting at 4:00 p.m.

photography by venera alexandrova

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