Chef's Night Out


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Carole Peck, Carole Peck’s Good News Cafe, Woodbury
“I go out every Tuesday night because it’s our night off,” says Peck. “We go to Bar Bouchée in Madison and Community Table in Washington.” Of the former, she says, “It’s teeny, teeny, teeny. They do the classical French bistro thing, sweetbreads and all those things I love.” At the Community Table, chef Joel Viehland, who once worked at Quilty’s and Gramercy Tavern in New York, “is pretty much doing all sustainable stuff. It’ll be a four-item or three-item menu. He’s cooking what he can get.” She applauds the environmentally sensitive cuisine and the “nice flavors.”

Chris Eddy, Winvian, Morris
Eddy is part Spanish, so his choice, he says, is easy. “Ibiza in New Haven. The food is just on point all the time. My mother is from Spain, and [Ibiza’s food is] pretty much authentic stuff. I have to get the squid cooked in ink, the potato with piquillo pepper on it. And the rib-eye is always insanely great.”

Manuel Romero, Ibiza, New Haven
For a chef who has family in New York, nights off are typically spent there enjoying home-cooked fare. But when Romero dines out here, he finds himself at Café Routier in Westbrook. “The food is very decent,” he says. “The menu is seasonal, the atmosphere is nice and the music is not too loud. You don’t need to be screaming. It’s near the outlets, Clinton Crossing and Westbrook. There is nice service. For me, there should be a balance between the service and the food.”

Billy Grant, Restaurant Bricco and Grants, West Hartford, and Bricco Trattoria, Glastonbury
One night a week, Grant makes a point of cooking at home for his family. If he has another opportunity to get out of his restaurants’ kitchens, he chooses Polytechnic On20 for lunch and Firebox, both in Hartford, for dinner. “Firebox is very seasonal, and they do a lot of Connecticut Grown. I always find inspiration when I go there,” he says. Grant applauds On20 for “its balance of innovation and technique. I think Noel Jones is the best chef in the state.”

Steve Cavagnaro, Cavey’s, Manchester
“We don’t get out that much—and we eat in lots of little ethnic places—some good, some not so much,” says Cavagnaro. “But of the big namers, we probably like Firebox in Hartford the best and eat there most often. We enjoy the live music on Sunday and the food is usually very good. We like the bar menu and the dining-room menu as well, and the bartender makes a very good lemon-drop martini.”

Mark Shadle, It’s Only Natural, Middletown
As proprietor of a vegetarian and vegan restaurant, Shadle seeks out vegan cuisine on his nights off. He frequents Miya’s in New Haven. “There are no other sushi restaurants that have this much vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free stuff,” he says. “You can order 10 courses of vegan sushi, and they can do that. Bun Lai is a self-taught sushi chef. It’s sustainable sushi, which is No. 1, and he uses a lot of local ingredients, too. He makes his own sake. He’s supercreative. I always order the Kiss the Smiling Pig—he has a lot of fun with the names. It’s udon tempura noodles wrapped in a sushi wrap with spicy mango chutney in it. That’s one of my favorites.”

Kara Brooks, Still River Café, Eastford
The freshest imaginable seafood lures chef Kara Brooks and her husband Bob seasonally to Abbott’s in the Rough in Noank. The seaside eatery—open from spring to early fall—“is right on the Sound,” she says. “The oysters—especially the Big Dam when they have them—are fantastic, as are the clams on the half-shell and the steamed lobster. Bring a nice bottle of chilled Chablis, and it is just the perfect experience.”

Lily Zhao, Char Koon 1800, Canton
“Ichiban in West Hartford,” she says. “I go there pretty often because I love Korean food, and there’s not much around. I order a seafood stew, Seafood Chagae. It has tofu and different seafood, shrimp, clams and some vegetables. It comes in a big pot with a fire underneath so it’s really hot.”

Jean Pierre Vuillermet, Union League Café, New Haven
When Vuillermet escapes the kitchen, he goes looking for pizza, but although he’s in New Haven, a city famous for its pies, he finds what he likes in North Madison at Pizzeria Portofino. “They have very good pizza I really like. I get the one with the eggplant, garlic and basil.” He also likes Liv’s Oyster Bar in Old Saybrook. “It depends on the mood. Sometimes I can go for pizza, sometimes for oysters.”

Dino Cialfi, Peppercorns Grill, Hartford
Cialfi gets in the car on his nights off. “One restaurant I went to recently, and I’m going back, is LeFarm in Westport. A customer recommended it, and I worked with chef/owner Bill Taibe at a charity event at Farmington’s Hill-Stead Museum. I’m taking my parents. You know the whole farm-to-chef thing, well, Chef Taibe is living it.” Cialfi recalls having octopus with harissa and chorizo, carpaccio “to die for,” pork shoulder (“one of his specialties”), rabbit, quail and a dessert of cornbread with sweet bacon.

Brian O’Rourke, O’Rourke’s Diner, Middletown
A Middletown loyalist through and through, O’Rourke stays in town when he goes out for a meal. On a recent mission to procure soup, he made three stops: Pho Mai, a Vietnamese restaurant, Udupi, a South Indian vegetarian, and Typhoon, a Thai place, all steps from his diner. The soups? “All delicious.” If he ventures farther, O’Rourke goes “anywhere that Billy Grant is cooking on the line that night.” That means Restaurant Bricco or Grants, both in West Hartford, or Bricco Trattoria in Glastonbury.

Chef's Night Out

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