Sarah's Wine Bar, Ridgefield
At Sarah's, frisée aux lardons comes with a twist–a twist of pastry with a duck egg inside.
Sarah’s Wine Bar ★★★ (Superior)
For a decade, Bernard’s in Ridgefield has been a shimmering example of fine dining at its finest, showcasing the considerable talents of its French chef-owner, Bernard Bouissou. I love the silver, the serenity, the fresh flowers, the foie gras, and hope this special-occasion restaurant stays as special as it is forever.
But wouldn’t it be nice (I have often thought) if there were some way Bernard could whip up a little something for us on a plain old ordinary day? A soup, a salad, cheese fondue, perhaps, or, dare we say, a burger?
As if summoned by my wish, Sarah’s Wine Bar has arrived. Named for Bernard’s wife and co-owner, the new venue is more adventurous, more exciting and more fun than I could have imagined. Installed in a romantically lit upstairs room, this new addition is an affordable paradise for the discriminating diner: serious wines by the glass; hip martinis, ranging from the French Kiss made with orange vodka, Lillet and Triple Sec to Almond Joy with coconut rum and Godiva liqueur; a culinary romp of a menu, proof positive that there is a trained French chef in the kitchen. Yet every dish (except steak béarnaise and a daily special) is priced under $24.
They don’t take reservations so we arrive early on a rainy Thursday night. The place is packed. We snag the last table and settle in to enjoy the pleasant buzz of conversation backgrounded by live music—guitar, bass and sax—riffing dreamily, blessedly un-miked.
We ask if we can order a few things to start with, then more later. Our waitress goes along with the idea, and we order whatever, whenever as the mood strikes. We start with cheese fondue for the table, a terrific choice. Where else would you get a fondue like this—a heady blend of Emmental, Brie, cheddar and champagne served with toast, apple slices and big seedless grapes for dipping—and for just $15?
At Sarah’s Wine Bar, charcuterie is a far cry from a plate of cold cuts from the corner deli. Chef Bouissou salts, dry-cures and smokes everything from salami to salmon in his own kitchen. The results are a revelation. Coppa, which is pork shoulder, dry-cured and thin-sliced, is almost creamy in texture, mild and slightly sweet in flavor. Salami sings a song of spices. Pancetta, salted but not smoked, retains its meaty flavor. Pâté and rillettes in tiny pots along with some Dijon mustard and Bernard’s tart cranberry compote complete the feast. All we need is some bread, preferably thick-sliced and grilled, and voilà!—it’s here.
I spot one of my favorite salads, frisée aux lardons. Traditionally this Lyonnais bis-tro classic consists of chicory, bacon and a poached egg, with vinaigrette. What could be more straightforward? But Bernard has a trick up his sleeve. He tops the prickly greens and diced lean bacon with a duck egg wrapped in pastry, like an oversized wonton, fried to a golden crispness that shatters at the touch of a fork. When I break this pretty little package open, golden egg yolk pours out to combine with oil and vinegar to form a mayonnaise-style dressing for the salad. How in the world does one deep-fry a pastry-wrapped egg without hardening the yolk? It takes a French chef.
But all is not French at Sarah’s Wine Bar. While we are nibbling and noshing, Sam orders a big, fat sirloin burger, which arrives juicy and red-rare as ordered on a soft, superfresh bun. With cheese and bacon, lettuce and tomato, it’s an all-American tradition done right. The handmade fries alongside are great, too. Hurray!
I’m a tad less enthusiastic about the trout amandine. While it’s fresh and crisply fried, the fillets are too thin for my taste and topped with too few sliced almonds to impress. Served with sautéed spinach and basmati rice, however, it does constitute a pleasant choice for folks trying to eat light.
Lamb stew is more robust, with chunks of lamb, tender but not falling apart, awash in a luscious sauce scented with orange and rosemary. Tiny whole onions bob around in the brew, which arrives in an individual china casserole dish. Fragrant and filling, this is true bistro food.
Desserts, at $12, nudge the price barrier but are well worth considering. Sarah Bouis sou is a pastry chef who studied in France and trained at Le Cirque. Her forte is beautiful renditions of classic desserts, each with more than a soupçon of excitement stirred in or added on. Her pineapple upside-down cake offsets the sweetness of the brown-sugar-glazed pineapple with a layer of not-too-sweet white polenta cake. With blueberry-maple compote and vanilla-bean ice cream alongside, this nostalgic mom’s-kitchenlike dessert goes lightheartedly glam.
Lime cheesecake is similarly transformed with the addition of mixed-berry compote and lime custard. Crème brûlée turns out to be a satiny threesome of compatible flavors—banana, apricot and vanilla bean. Even tarte tatin takes an exotic turn with anise ice cream and fennel confit. I vow to return and order nothing, absolutely nothing, but desserts. At Sarah’s that would be totally okay. It’s that kind of place.
Sarah’s Wine Bar
at Bernard's, 20 West Lane, Ridgefield (203/438-8282)
Dinner Wednesday and Thursday 5 to 9, Friday and Saturday till 10, Sunday till 8:30. Wheelchair access. Major credit cards. Price range: appetizers $6 to $10, small plates $10 to $12, entrées (except steak béarnaise) $15 to $24, desserts $12.Sarah's Wine Bar, Ridgefield