May 4, 2012
07:21 AM
Café Connecticut

A Mecca for Foodies in Westport

 

I finally got to The Whelk in Westport, and was pretty much blown away by Bill Taibe’s bravura spin on New England oyster bar fare. There are something like 35 offerings—small plates and large--one more exotic than the next. When did YOU last see dishes like “Romaine Lettuce, White Anchovy, Soft Eggs, Smoked Walnuts,” “Tender Escarole, Red Beets, Ewe Blue, Pepitas, Blackened Pigs’ Ears” or “Periwinkles on Pumpernickel, Garlic Mayo, Black Truffles.” Ewe blue? Periwinkles on pumpernickel? (It’s fun just to say!)

We started with Roasted Copp’s Island Oysters and those Periwinkles on Pumpernickel (both excellent), moved on to Jumbo Green Asparagus and Peekytoe Crab with Russian dressing (inspired), and wound up our meal with a bowl of Blue Lip Mussels with verjus, celery and garlic (astounding) and an order of the Whelk’s divine French fries, the skinniest little slivers of golden potato you can imagine.

The ambience is very casual, but service was impeccable throughout—waitpersons were well-trained and knew their stuff. So—superb food, excellent service—sounds like a home run, right? Not quite. A couple of things kept us from succumbing to pure bliss. One was the uncomfortable slatted seating—an unsubtle way to ensure you don’t linger, thus freeing your seat for the next guy?

More serious was the decibel level. With no table linens, carpets or sound baffling of any kind, this place is designed to be noisy. This gives it a buzzy, happening vibe, but it’s an impediment to enjoying chef Taibe’s creative brilliance. We found that even an hour of this continuous din impinged on the most important sense when eating: taste. It literally became more difficult to savor the remarkable food in our mouths while defending against the assault on our ears.

So go to The Whelk early. You owe it to yourself. Chef Taibe is a high-wire performer, a virtuoso, a wizard, an artist. His medium is food. And with any luck, he’ll be dazzling us with his technical brilliance and creative flights of fancy for years to come.

The Whelk, 575 Riverside Ave., Westport, 203/557-0902, thewhelkwestport.com.

A Mecca for Foodies in Westport

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