Nicholas Roberts, Norwalk

 

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And dining at Nicholas Roberts is definitely fun. The flurry of opening your own wine, lightweight tables and chairs that are moved around to turn tables for two into tables for four or six or more—any number can play—break the ice and pretty soon everybody in the room is relaxed, chatting away and enjoying the food.

Kevin, who’d arrived in a bad humor, brightened considerably when a plate of pulled-pork spring rolls showed up. Piping-hot, flaky and light, with a moist, lively filling, they disappeared in the proverbial trice.

Chicken liver pâté, a golden oldie that’s suddenly turning up everywhere, was the centerpiece of a sparkling composition of dark bread triangles, quince paste, red onion marmalade, cornichons and mustard.

The spinach salad with shiitake mushrooms, slices of avocado, crisp, lean bacon and shallot vinaigrette was a work of art—copious and super delicious.

A simple French bistro staple, hanger steak frites, was a knockout. The steak, juicy, tender, with the rich flavor this cut is noted for, came with a giant haystack of french fries, hand-cut, sizzling-hot and scented with rosemary. Luxury doesn’t need to be fancy. 
I expected great things of the coffee-rubbed-and-stout-braised short rib (a dish Nicholas Roberts is famous for) but this time it fell short. It was an impressive sight, a chunk of boneless beef glistening with dark, rich-looking sauce and topped with curls of pickled celery root. But the meat was neither fork-tender nor melt-in-the-mouth. A bit dry on top, it may have been plated too far ahead of time so that it dried out, but that’s only a guess.

“Anne’s organic chicken,” however, delivered more than it promised: roast chicken at its most succulent, the dark meat tender, the white meat juicy, nestled beside a “ratatouille” of fall vegetables and roasted asparagus—a low-key delight, and only $18.50.

Equally pleasing was an entrée of pan-roasted pork loin served with beets, carrots and onions sliced paper-thin and roasted so expertly that, like layered flower petals, they formed a flavorful vegetable napoleon. The pork was fine-textured and lean. 

When our waitress recited the dessert list, she assured us that they were all house-made. The cheesecake was so photogenic that was hard to believe, and more delicious than any I could remember. Turns out it was made with goat cheese. The lemon tart, intensely lemony in a pine-nut crust, was lovely, tarte tatin was excellent, but the heavy-hitter of the lineup was a potent chocolate pot de crème laced with a jolt of coffee and the second-most expensive spice in the world (after saffron), cardamom. Clearly, we were in the hands of one heck of a chef.

Back story: Robert Troilo, who owns a wine shop in Darien and has a flourishing catering company called Nicholas Roberts Fine Foods in Norwalk, loves to cook. So without fanfare, he opened a little eatery where he could create fabulous dishes for a few dedicated foodies. He christened it Nicholas Roberts Gourmet Bistro and found himself with a hit on his hands. Word of mouth gets around fast when it’s this delicious.

Nicholas Roberts
75 Main St. , Norwalk (203/229-0035; nicholasroberts-finefoods.com)

Monday through Wednesday 8 to 3, Thursday through Saturday 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday 9 to 8. Wheelchair access. BYOB, $5 corkage fee. Cash only. Price range: appetizers $5.50 to $12.95, entrées $15 to $22.95, desserts $5 to $7.

Nicholas Roberts, Norwalk

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