New Haven ‘Restaurant Week’ is here and now

Now that my head is a bit less fuzzy (from drinking six glasses of Joe Bastianich‘s Italian wine, topped off by one–and that’s one too many–glass of grappa), I want to recap the wonderful wine dinner I had last night at Zinc.

Zinc is one of New Haven‘s brightest stars on the culinary scene. Now, this modest town, sandwiched between its big brothers Boston and New York, can easily be forgotten as an increasingly exotic and vibrant foodie destination. But I would say, like the general renaissance that is New Haven, this town’s food scene really deserves to be on the national radar (at least least on the radar if you’re in New England).

New Haven’s makeover could get bogged down by its reputation as one of the original homes of pizza (Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana) and hamburgers (Louis’ Lunch). That’s where the city’s first Restaurant Week comes in–but more on that later and how you can get some of the country’s best dinners, including what the New York Times called the best Spanish restaurant in the states, for $29.

Take Zinc, which serves modern American cuisine that chef Denise Appel (and co-owner) describes as “market inspired and globally infused.” What sets this place apart is the cuisine is top-rated and sourced from local ingredients. That, however, doesn’t mean you’re just left with potatoes and whatever else Connecticut grows (I’m not even sure we grow potatoes).
Last night’s four-course meal started with an airy Bastianich Rosato from Friuli, Italy (his family’s hometown). The first course was a Maine Diver sea scallop (paired with a Sauvignon Blanc and Picolit, also from Friuli), followed by an absolutely delicious wild boar ragu (a white wine that was pretty good), a hangar steak with golden raisin caponata and fried capers (a full-bodied La Mozza “Aragone from Grosseto, Italy), and one of the best desserts I’ve had in recent memory: a honey cake with Mascarpone gelato and lemon marmalade (there was olive oil mixed in, which I had doubts about .. but not after I had stuffed my face). Oh, and then some grappa. Yeek!

For lunch, I was over at Union League, which is always a safe choice if you’re looking for top-rated cuisine. Their coffee ice cream dessert is particularly memorable (if you haven’t guessed, I have the palate of a six-year-old). Ted Sorenson, JFK’s close adviser, was there giving a very captivating Q&A on his thoughts about the Cuban missile crisis, this election, Obama’s first year, etc.

Info on restaurant week

Running Nov. 9 to 14, the week features prix-fixe lunches for $16.38 (a spin on the town’s year of birth) and three-course dinners for $29 (taxes and gratuities not included). Some of the 18 restaurants involved are tried-and-true favorites – Pacifico, Thali, Zinc. Others are new to the scene – the much-anticipated fromagerie Caseus and the upscale lounge 116 Crown. They range from Italian (Consiglio’s) and Spanish (Barcelona) to experimental Japanese (Miya’s) and spicy Malaysian (Bentara).

“Restaurant Week was designed to showcase New Haven’s very diverse culinary offerings,” said Anne Worcester, of Market New Haven, the event’s organizer. “There’s no denying the city’s recent culinary boom.”

She said the promotional menus represent an average 20 to 25 percent savings. Some solid-value dinner entrees: the duck breast in a coriander sauce at Ibiza, the 10-ounce New York strip at Central Steakhouse, the pan-roasted pike fillet with leek fondue at Union League Café. Intriguing lunch options include the Mee Istimewa peanut-based soup at Bentara and salmon teriyaki at Miso.

At Zinc, Donna Curran, the co-owner, said her chef designed a special menu for the week. For lunch she recommended the roasted salmon with a house-made vindaloo sauce (“so much flavor”) and the chai crème brûlée for dessert. “We certainly didn’t dumb our menu down,” she said.

For a complete list of restaurants and their prix-fixe menus, see here. Reservations strongly recommended.