Food for Thought

above: Seamore’s Baja Seared Fish tacos served with a side of corn esquites + polenta

PHOTOGRAPHY BY KYLE NORTON
CREATIVE PRODUCTION BY VENERA ALEXANDROVA
ON LOCATION AT CORBIN DISTRICT & DARIEN COMMONS

As more people move from New York City and into Darien, the restaurants they know and love are following suit. From fabulous seafood to quick and healthy salads, there are more dining choices than ever in town—with even more places to open in the months to come. We couldn’t wait to try the lastest. Here’s what we found.

above left: Seamore’s Fish + Chips with tartar sauce, malt vinegar, pickled veggies; bottom left: The Granola Bar’s Grilled Peach & Ricotta Toast – grilled peaches, ricotta, hot honey, mint on sourdough; right: The Ganola Bar’s NY Happy Meal – Martini of your choice + fries.

WHAT A CATCH

Fresh sustainable seafood spot SEAMORE’S opens in The Darien Commons

BY ELIZABETH KEYSER

When Seamore’s landed at Darien Commons in Noroton, it seemed like the whole town came out to see what this sustainable seafood mini-chain is all about. From the moment it opened in June, Seamore’s (which at press time has seven locations in New York City, and Arlington, VA) was slammed by a wave of local families and groups of friends. On a recent Wednesday, the accommodating staff seated them as fast as they could, while suggesting we (walk-ins) grab a small round high top in the crowded bar area, and start by ordering cocktails (passion fruit margarita) and mocktail (fresco apricot cucumber honey) and appetizers. Good idea.

Seamore’s at work, serving up fresh sustainable seafood.

Crispy Rice is the signature appetizer. A more indulgent version of sushi on a bed of fried sushi rice laid over triangles of nori, it comes three to an order. Ginger salmon crispy rice makes an arresting visual, topped with black sesame seeds and micro cilantro. A starter of fried squid was served in a parchment-lined deep-fry basket full of rings and tentacles covered in a light, crisp, shattery coating.

Seamore’s concept is grounded in the understanding that worldwide over-fishing as decimated many wild fish populations. So they source carefully—everything is approved by the Monterrey Bay Seafood Watch. Most is caught off U.S. Coasts, in a way that minimizes by-catch and destruction of the eco-system. A floor-to-ceiling black-board style art work titled The Daily Landing evokes both a fish store and a school chalk board with simple, evocative drawings of fish and fun facts about them.

Chef Shannon Sturz

The New England clam chowder, topped with crumbled bacon, mini croutons and chives, was traditionally rich and contemporarily smoky. Seamore’s Salad was a big crunchy affair of romaine, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, a touch of mint, and toasted peanuts. It can be topped with Norwegian salmon, blackened shrimp, Montauk scallops, or the Daily Catch. (And yes, chicken is an option.)

The Daily Catch is the most interesting way to explore the heart of Seamore’s menu, which is called The Reel Deel (grilled fish with two options for sides). It’s an opportunity to learn about fish other than those familiar and often over-fished species like blue fin tuna and Atlantic cod. The website expands on that in an entertaining way, while giving location, habitat, identifiers, and most important for diners—flavor and texture.

clockwise: Equadorean Shrimp, Copps Island oysters Norwalk, Montauck yellow fin tuna New York, Point Pleasant Blue Fish New Jersey, Norwegian Salmon farm raised on Faroe Islands, Point Judith squid Rhode Island.

Black bass filet was seared golden, the sweet flesh laid over Option two: a bed of butternut-rosemary spaetzle, the traditional south German noodle given a healthier make-over with squash, and creamed spinach pureed to silkiness. Perched in the bowl was a smaller bowl filled with my choice of sauce, lemongrass aji. Amid the European, Asian and South American ingredients and flavors, the simply grilled fish was the star of the plate. And I learned something new: Black bass can change sex in certain environments, according to seamores.com.

From the Daily Catch, my dining companion chose Golden Tilefish, not because it is known as “the clown of the sea,” but because of its mild, delicate buttery flesh. She ordered it with Option one: cauliflower mash, seared green beans and pickled eggplant. She chose the chimichurri sauce, an Argentinean-inspired, vinegary dressing with oregano.

Chef Shannon Sturz and team

Fish and chips was spot-on, packets of golden browned batter covered steaming white fish. Atlantic pollack, a firm, but sweet and delicate fleshed fish, replaces cod here, and it’s served with malt vinegar and tartar sauce. The fries were thin and crunchy. There’s much more to explore—lobster roll, fish tacos, Korean chicken BBQ tacos, steak frites, smash burger and chicken Milanese.

For dessert, the signature churro ice cream sandwich is a shareable plate of a big scoop of caramel chocolate chunk ice cream between two cinnamon-crunchy deep-fried churros, resting on a thick swath of caramel sauce.

The few bumps in the evening (lukewarm soup, cold fries) were easily fixed, and easy to understand given the restaurant had just opened.

Be warned that high ceilings, open layout, and lots of voices, makes for a noisy place. Even as the room emptied out, we continued to lean in to hear each other.

“Busy night,” we said to our server. “Oh, this isn’t busy,” she replied. Seamore’s has caught the crowd.

left: Smoked salmon benedict – poached eggs, hollandaise, english muffin, served with brunch salad or hashbrown; right: Norwegian salmon with rosemary butternut squash spaetzle and creamed spinach

DARIEN COMMONS

NOW OPEN

SEAMORE’S
11 Heights Rd., Darien
203-202-2648
seamores.com

Cuisine
Sustainable seafood

Hours
Wednesday—Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Friday and Saturday bar service until 11 p.m.

 

COMING SOON

MOLTO
Italian specialities with pizza at the helm

left: Watermelon basil spritz; right: Spicy salmon crispy rice and crispy calamari.

 

SWEET LIFE

VAN LEEUWEN brings fresh, exciting flavors to Darien through the craft of artisian ice cream

If health is happiness, as Van Leeuwen Ice Cream says, their new shop in Darien Commons is a source of bliss. The brand that began as a yellow ice cream truck in 2008 on the streets of Manhattan, and expanded to shops in NYC’s coolest neighborhoods, is known for both traditional rich, French ice cream and vegan frozen desserts, all featuring well-sourced, real ingredients—from a base of milk, cream and egg yolks, or alternative vegan milks, to artisan ingredients like Sicilian pistachios, Big Face Coffee, organic Earl Grey tea. Van Leeuwen is a local artisan food success story, produced in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and distributed to supermarkets across the country and shops in seven states.

left: Watermelon basil spritz; right: Spicy salmon crispy rice and crispy calamari.

The Darien Commons shop offers scoops in cups or waffle cones, with or without toppings, and pre-packed pints to take home (bring a thermos bag cooler.) Tasting is encouraged, and necessary, given all the choices, and the friendly staff offer them on small metal spoons, rather than plastic. (Yay!) The menu notes any possible allergens.

From our sampling, we’d hearty recommend peanut butter brownie honeycomb, Sicilian pistachio, chocolate fudge brownie, and affogato. Selection of toppings range from traditional hot fudge and rainbow sprinkles to salted caramel sauce and praline pretzels, and real and vegan whipped cream.

Vegan ice creams are made from oat or cashew milk, and the flavor selection is just as decadent tasting as in the (yolk-rich) French ice cream, including a version of the peanut butter brownie honeycomb. Other popular vegan favorites include mint chip, strawberry shortcake, and cookies and cream caramel swirl.

Pete Van Leeuwen

Van Leeuwen’s staff will mix, whip and assemble floats, Sundaes, milkshakes, and ice cream sandwiches. Mini trends can start quickly. We watched a customer order whipped cream on top of her scoop. Seeing that fluffy light topping, a group of ladies standing behind her all ordered whipped cream on top of their scoops too. There’s limited seating inside, but more in an outdoor patio shared by incoming Gregory’s coffee shop.

One other thing, the name marionberry ice cream might cause a quizzical look from those who remember a certain corrupt DC Mayor from the 1980s. But the mayor and the berry have nothing to do with one another. Marionberry is a type of juicy black berry that Van Leeuven’s Marionberry cheesecake ice cream has made more popular.

Tasting is encouraged, & necessary, given all the choices.Tasting is encouraged, & necessary, given all the choices – Photograph: top right by Lacy Kiernan Carroll

DARIEN COMMONS

NOW OPEN

VAN LEEUWEN
114 Heights Rd., Darien
718-701-1630
vanleeuwenicecream.com

Hours
Sunday—Thursday 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Friday and Saturday open until 11 p.m.

 

COMING SOON

Gregorys
A New York-based coffee roaster and shop

Chip City
Craft cookies in 18 rotating flavors


 

ON THE GO

New healthy options for those needing a quick bite

NOW OPEN

NAYA
146 Heights Rd., Darien
203- 552-2717;
eatnaya.com

SWEETGREEN
126 Heights Rd., Darien
203-330-3500;
order.sweetgreen.com

 

COMING SOON

Bareburger
Organic, grass-fed and vegan American fare

 

Naya
This Middle Eastern addition to the fast-casual, build-your-own-bowl trend, offers choices of fresh greens and vegetables, meat and v egetarian proteins, starches, sauces, and pickles. NAYA has lots of vegan and gluten free options. You can load up on a falafel bowl, choosing romaine, rice-and- vermicelli, hummus, cucumbers and yogurt, cabbage salad, onions-parsley-sumac salad, fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, kalamata olives, pickled turnips, and spicy green sauce. Or go a more sedate and salt-conscious route with a bowl grilled marinated chicken breast over brown rice, mixed seasonal greens, babaganoush, and lemon tahini. The individually plastic packaged “pita” is spongy, tasteless, and not the next best thing to pocket bread. With indoor and outdoor seating, NAYA can provide a quick, satisfying meal for hungry people looking for lots of color and variety in a bowl.

A salad bowl with chicken and side of falafel with all the fixings

 

Sweetgreen
This fast-casual salad chain, became known as much for its ordering app as it is for its sustainably-sourced organic salad bowls. Those glued to their phones can order customer favorites kale Caesar (kale and romaine, chicken, parmesan crisps and Caesar dressing,) or Guacamole Greens (chicken, avocado, tomatoe, red onion, shredded cabbage, tortilla chips and lime-cilantro-jalepeño dressing), and also view calorie, carb, protein and fat contents. More detailed nutritional information for each component, which includes sodium contents, is on the website.

The Darien Commons location is its second in Connecticut (the other is in Greenwich), East Coast from Massachusetts to Florida, the Mid-West, California and Texas. The ingredient-driven focus is clear from the see-through windows to the walk-in refrigerator, where clear containers of vegetables—sweet potatoes, cucumbers and kale are marked with use-by dates. A list of purveyors from across the country is written chalk-board style on a wall.

Photographs: Naya and Sweetgreen by Venera Alexandrova; contributed


 

RAISING THE BAR

The new GRANOLA BAR in Darien offers everything from giftable granola to a full day-to-night restaurant concept

BY GEORGETTE YACOUB

Good food is all about skillful preparation, high quality ingredients, and top-notch preparation by trained chefs who work elusively in the background. But great eating—the kind that becomes an entire experience—can only happen when a restaurant masters its ability to be a reflection of the customer, not the chef. The founders and co-CEOs of the Granola Bar, Julie Mountain and Dana Noorily, figured that out quickly. The entire staff—from hosts to chefs—sit at the same table pitching ideas for new dishes and craft cocktails until they come up with offerings that they feel their friends and family would want to eat.

Julie Mountain & Dana Noorily, The Granola Bar Founders and Co-CEO’s

“We feel like sometimes restaurants are too severe,” says Mountain. “When we go out, we want to share 18 different things. We don’t want FOBO or fear of better options. So don’t call ourselves tapas, but we’re shareable.”

And while sharing is the idea, sometimes it’s not so easy. The cinnamon roll pancakes were hard to share. They had a touch of crispiness around the edges and were plated with the same care as a dinner plate at an upscale New York City restaurant—on a matte black textured plate with sliced strawberries artfully arranged around a dollop of whipped cream.

Speaking of New York City dining—this new Granola Bar in Darien manages to transform from a bright, daytime cafe to a chic NYC-feeling dinner concept with just a change in music and lighting.

The transformation is subtle but effective enough to feel like you’re in a whole new restaurant once the sun sets—testament to Mountain and Noorily’s ability to design a white space that can live a double life.

Julie Mountain & Dana Noorily, The Granola Bar Founders and Co-CEO’s

It’s not customary, but it is encouraged, to start with the New York City Happy Meal, a martini of your choice served alongside garlic parmesan fries and an herb aioli.

Other fan favorites are the seared sesame crusted tuna, tuna tartar mini tacos, and the crispy brussels, which is Noorily’s “hands down” favorite dish.

The idea for the Granola Bar started just over a decade ago, when Mountain and Noorily were at a kid’s birthday party in Westport and Mountain noticed that her daughter wasn’t eating her pizza. She approached Noorily and said, “What am I missing?”

That led to a conversation about food that led to a lunch date to talk about a business idea.

Mountain was in music and Noorily was in finance before leaving New York City and making the move to Westport to raise their families. “We had a mutual feeling about losing our identity and our connection with adults,” says Noorily, remembering the lunch that started it all.

left: Marinated olives, pull-apart sliders, Gochujang shrimp tacos, seared sesame crusted tuna, baby kale, avocado, watermelon radish and miso ginger dressing; right: Mushroom pappardelle with sauteed Cremimi mushrooms in a creamy sauce with black truffle and parmesan; right: Afternoon Delight Parfait with Greek yogurt, vanilla almond granola, dark chocolate chunks and berry compote.

That is when the idea for a chef-driven, giftable granola business was born. After seeing big success, the two decided to expand their model. The Granola Bar flagship opened its doors in December 2013. Since then, the concept has evolved, from a daytime cafe to a day-to-night-concept offering dinner and cocktails, catering business and even a food truck. In all, there are six restaurants in Westport, Fairfield, Greenwich, Stamford, Rye and now Darien. There’s also Old Mill Grocery & Deli, which just opened last year.

“A corporate mandate for us is to treat people with kindness and respect,” says Mountain. “That trickles into the customer experience. When our staff is happy, our customers are happy.”

Noorily adds, “We want people to walk into our space to feel they are cared for and feel joy. It’s designed to be one of the simplest, joyful parts of your day.”

CORBIN DISTRICT

NOW OPEN

THE GRANOLA BAR
1020 Boston Post Rd., Darien
475-328-0994
thegranolabar.com

Cuisine
Healthy and indulgent
modern diner

Hours
Monday 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Tuesday—Friday 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Saturday 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Sunday 8:00 a.m. to 5 p.m.

 

COMING SOON

ROOTS OCEAN PRIME
A steakhouse from New Jersey moves into the old Melting Pot space.

GREEN & TONIC
Fresh smoothies, juices, salads and other healthy eats.

CHOPT
Bowls and salads, to stay or go.

 

 

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