An insider's view of the Connecticut dining scene
Sep 3, 2013
07:33 AMThe Connecticut Table
From-Scratch Le Bistro by Avila Celebrates Its First Year in Torrington
Editor's note: Restaurants come and go—the failure rate is notorious—and when a from-scratch restaurant with serious ambitions opens in a tough location in a city with its share of struggles and not known as a fine dining haven, the odds seemed stacked a certain way. So it was heartening to see the email arrive this morning from Le Bistro by Avila in Torrington, announcing the celebration of its first anniversary. Below is the still fresh and tempting story from the spring 2013 issue of a sister publication, Passport magazine of The Litchfield County Times, which profiled the restaurant shortly after it opened. Enjoy—and maybe make a discovery, or more than one. For a long list of dining and lifestyle amenities in the Torrington area that are the best of the best, see our brand new Best of Connecticut 2013.
In the international coterie of folks who like to eat well, there’s a badge of honor among many hierarchical distinctions. It involves knowing about, and frequenting, places in odd, unlikely or challenged locations where the food is great, and often a bargain. (Right, Hector Avila marking the first anniversary in the kitchen.)
It’s the difference between going with the establishment flow, and being pampered in four-star establishments where everything is carefully manicured, and preferring a rough-around-the edges joint down some back alley where the chef makes what he favors that day and it’s always amazing. Being a denizen of places that live in the margins signifies a different type of culinary sophistication; anyone with the means can dine well, but only those with a true palate, independence and a sense of adventure will connect with the outlying gems.
A renaissance-minded but struggling city like Torrington, Conn., is not the first Litchfield County locale that comes to mind when one thinks of places for great restaurants, but it is the perfect place to find some under-the-radar gems.
The newest restaurant on that list, Le Bistro by Avila, has taken up residence in a less-than-obvious location in a nondescript plaza hard by busy East Main Street (Route 202). If the look and feel of the site is pure Torrington, the experience guests have upon stepping inside is nothing like what’s to be found at such neighbors as Panera Bread and Applebee’s.
The husband-and-wife owners, Hector and Diane Avila, offer customers at their Mediterranean-inspired eatery cuisine that accentuates freshness and quality. “If people come in and they want their food out in three minutes, well that’s kind of hard when you’re making good food,” said Ms. Avila.
The dishes are all made in-house. From the bases to the toppings, Mr. Avila, a self-educated chef, puts in the hours, and carefully chooses the ingredients, to ensure a signature outcome.
On a Friday afternoon, before the doors opened for dinner, Mr. Avila could be found making his own chicken stock. Since it’s the core of so many dishes, it is imperative that his stock be just right, and though he concedes it would be easier and less time-consuming to get a good quality stock from a vendor, doing so would defeat the philosophy of Le Bistro by Avila.
“I could buy it high-end,” he said, “but why?” The same goes for the Balsamic vinaigrette. Mr. Avila makes his own using a total of 10 ingredients, and in that same spirit, he makes fresh sauces every day.
“Because doing it every day the parsley never loses something,” Mr. Avila remarked of his refusal to gamble with freshness or risk diminishment of a flavor profile. “Yeah it could be good the next day, but I guess I’m just anal that way.”
When his wife is asked if a signature dish has emerged from the restaurant since it opened in the fall of 2012, she names the Gambas al Ajillo entrée. It consists of white Gulf shrimp served with garlic sauce over mashed potatoes, and then topped with spinach that comes so incredibly fresh it could have been picked that afternoon.
Anyone who takes a bite will understand the true value of taking such meticulous care with the dishes.
It follows that the same experience will come from digging into such appetizers as Potato Croquetas, with organic peas, chorizo and Manchego cheese, the Cuban “eggrolls,” the Spanish-style “calzones” with chili Thai sauce, or salmon cakes with citrus vinaigrette.
Tempting entrees include linguini with mussels in a handcrafted chardonnay sauce, seafood paella, fresh cheese raviolis with a handmade tarragon cream sauce, and a grilled ribeye steak with pommes frites.
When it comes to dessert, the mousse au chocolat, a rich and creamy concoction handcrafted with Belgian chocolate, was pretty dazzling.
Mr. Avila has no formal education in the culinary arts. The younger of his two sons, Cortlandt, was just accepted to the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in upstate New York, but the father learned through a lifetime spent in the kitchen.
“He doesn’t have official training,” said Ms. Avila, “but say he’s better than most people that do.”
His training was in his native New York City, inside the kitchens of his friend’s families, so many of whom brought with them the culinary traditions of Spanish and Italian heritage. Mr. Avila considers French technique the foundation of his cooking.
The Avilas, whose other son, Miles, is at Boston University, met while working in the financial industry in her native Fairfield County. Ten years ago, they moved to Torrington.
Mrs. Avila kept commuting from Torrington to Fairfield County, while he stayed up here to raise the children and handle various jobs in food service. Throughout it all, Mr. and Mrs. Avila had the notion that one day they would open their own restaurant.
“It’s always been a vision, something we knew we wanted to do,” said Ms. Avila. “We knew to wait until we got older because you can’t open a restaurant and have family time.”
Le Bistro by Avila is located in the Top of the Hill plaza along East Main Street, and is open for lunch and dinner from Wednesday to Saturday and for brunch on Sunday. To learn more, see the Web site at www.lebistrobyavila.com. The phone number is 860-618-5566.