Restaurant Review: Post 154, Westport

 
Post 154’s Hamburger Experience, with pork belly, Cheddar cheese, avocado and enchilada sauce.

Post 154’s Hamburger Experience, with pork belly, Cheddar cheese, avocado and enchilada sauce.

Thomas McGovern

★★½ [Very Good-Superior]
 

The character of a city or town, our sense of it, what we remember and carry away derives in large part from its buildings. The British Museum and the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, but also lesser buildings in the aggregate. Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter. The walled towns of the Dordogne. Old as they are, they still exist to instruct and enchant us because people have cherished and worked hard to protect them.  

Connecticut’s historic buildings have their champions, too. Case in point: Post 154, a new restaurant in what was formerly Westport’s main post office. Attention should be paid. Gratitude is due.  

The exterior of the white-limestone-and-brick building looks the same only better. Step inside and it’s fast-forward to the future, no holds barred.

The surprisingly spacious interior can comfortably seat over 250 guests in a series of spaces cleverly delineated by lighting and furniture. On my first visit I find myself gravitating to the banquettes facing the brightly lit kitchen, which spotlights cooks in action whipping up dishes that are offbeat, vaguely Latino, modern and fun.

The executive chef is Alex Rosado, whose most exciting dishes reflect his special take on places where he’s cooked. Rosado’s a Puerto Rican native and graduate of Oglethorpe University’s School of Culinary Arts in Atlanta, who’s cooked at some pretty prestigious places and accumulated impressive awards—most recently at Little Palm Island Resort in the Florida Keys, where he won a Best Chefs of America honor awarded by fellow chefs. Before that, he held chef positions at the Caribbean Grill in San Juan, The Ritz Carlton in San Juan and The Biltmore Hotel in Miami. Always creative, often with a Latino beat, this is his personal culinary milieu. He’s not only comfortable with it, he makes it sit up and take notice.

A press release tells us that “the chef is fearless.” Good. We are, too, and Westport foodies have a taste for adventure—witness the popularity of chef Bill Taibe’s restaurants, LeFarm and The Whelk. The menu at Post 154 is peppered with hip culinary jargon but the Portuguese Octopus with Red Chile Sauce EVOO, for example, is fabulous, whether or not you realize that it’s named for Rachel Ray’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil sauce. What I want to know is how the chef manages to find, cook and serve octopus so tender you can cut it with a fork, yet pleasingly firm and with a flavor like a freshening sea breeze. My friends speculate. Marinated? Sous vide? Never mind, it’s delicious.

An eggplant meatball dish is one of those games chefs like to play and I often enjoy. It doesn’t work too well here because eggplant, unlike ground beef or pork, is watery and soft, giving the teeth nothing to bite into and making a mush of the sauce. The robust tomato flavor and the tangy taste of the cheese topping, however, might tip vegetarians in its favor. Golden corn bisque is a pleasant surprise—a jolt of sweetness, followed by a soothing touch of velvety crème fraîche accented with toasted, almost burnt corn kernels strewn on top.

When it comes to mussels, for me it’s all about the sauce—which puts chef Rosado’s subtly scintillating dish on the top of my list. Listing the ingredients—chorizo, shallots, roasted garlic, saffron and white wine—only begins to do it justice. The whole is definitely more than the sum of its parts.

Quesadillas, ubiquitous street food in Mexico, are dolled up for their Post 154 debut with lobster, huitlacoche (corn must) and queso Chihuahua (a soft white cow’s milk cheese named for the state of Chihuahua). The menu, for all its punctilious detail, makes no mention of the fiery blast of hot spices that lurks within the benign-looking little triangle of dough. Jalapeño? Harissa? “Who cares?” the fire-eaters at my table cry. Hot is hot, and they love it. For me, the incendiary blend of spices in the filling overwhelms the delicate flavor of the lobster.

So off we go for Argentinean-style churrasco with chimichurri. At Post 154, it’s made with Kobe beef. How luxe is that? Don’t tell my friends in Argentina but it’s better than some I’ve had in Buenos Aires. Guava adds an elusive sweetness to barbecued pork tenderloin that, as tradition dictates, is served with black beans and cilantro-laced mojo sauce.

Moving right along we order scallops and grits vaguely reminiscent of the deep South, with ham jus and Tabasco-flavored crisps. Departing from the playbook altogether is Atlantic Salmon with Lime and Maple Syrup, unexpectedly terrific. It may be farmed but it tastes wild, flaking away from the fork in silky petals, and the lime-and-maple-syrup glaze is inspired.
Halibut served with creamed celery and Creole shrimp fondue is so good I order it again on a second visit. Listed as an entrée, this is not a hearty dish—just a little gem in every way.

The dessert list, with its voluptuous tres leches cake, intense chocolate fudge torte and apple empanadas with red-hot cinnamon dip, is hard to resist. On weekends, when Post 154 tends to be jammed, it gets loud—very loud—but it’s a high-energy din, and it’s fun to know we’re saving a building by going to the post office for dinner and a jigger of history.  
 

Post 154
154 Post Rd., Westport, 203/454-0154, post154.com
Open daily. Lunch 11:30 to 3. Dinner 5:30 to midnight. Wheelchair access. Major credit cards. Price range: small plates $8 to $14, entrées $14 to $38, desserts $10.

 

Restaurant Review: Post 154, Westport

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