Infinity Music Hall & Bistro, Norfolk
★★ (Very Good)
A monumental Victorian white elephant of a building built in 1883 and rescued from demolition for the umpteenth time, kicking up its heels to jazz, rock, blues, funk, hip-hop, Gypsy Zydeco and country music—in Norfolk, Connecticut?
Hard to believe. But here it is, Infinity Music Hall & Bistro, wood-shingled, painted jelly-bean green, and jam-packed on a Thursday night with fans and foodies who have come from afar to catch what’s hot on the stage and cool in the bistro. Roseanne Cash? Todd Rundgren? Lobster hushpuppies? Hibiscus crêpes? I kid you not.
The music hall, which in one of its incarnations was a theater, retains its original proscenium stage, seats 300 and presents weekly concerts featuring groups, bands and solo acts, local and nationally known stars, doing their singin’, swingin’, foot-stomping, electric-pedal thing. Dining is done in the ground-floor bistro and upstairs on the theater mezzanine, where tables face the stage.
The menu, like the music, is free-spirited. Nostalgia and blue-sky riffs get equal time—rib-eye or crêpes, edamame burger or a Reuben with sauerkraut on rye. The fact that the menu strays in interesting ways from same-old is one reason I’m here. I also know that Dan Fortin, the executive chef, has cooked at award-winning restaurants like Stone Terrace on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Mantra in Boston and here in Connecticut at Apricots in Farmington and Trumbull Kitchen in Hartford.
So while I’m tempted to throw myself into the whole dinner-and-a-show experience, I forgo the show, and with three friends choose a table in the bistro and order a round of appetizers. Of course, I have to have hushpuppies. When in living memory have you seen that deep-South icon on a Connecticut menu? After all, not many Nutmeggers go coon hunting and sit around bonfires with a passel of hound dogs yapping in the dark waiting to be pacified with a scrap of fried corn pone. “Hush, y’all puppies.”
I went to a Southern college so I know things like that. I even half expect a paper-napkin-lined basket of the deep-fried golf balls we used to polish off before cholesterol became a four-letter word. Instead we’re presented with tiny, golden-brown croquettes filled with lobster, sweet corn and poblano pepper—hushpuppies à la Infinity. I love them.
Warm goat cheese spread is a pink-and-green surprise, chopped roasted beets and goat cheese mixed with chopped pistachios served side by side with grain mustard crostini alongside. This we all like so much that Ed, who ordered it, has a hard time getting his share.
A tuna-cashew spring roll—not your usual fish-and-rice composition—is simply fresh high-quality tuna in a wonton wrapper pan-fried and served with soba noodle salad. The wasabi caviar, mentioned on the menu, is too minimal to taste, which is fine with me. This delicate dish needs no jolt of fire.
On the other hand, the Garden Salad suffers from the lack of mimolette, a cheese the menu promises and which I, just back from France, was looking forward to. As you may know, mimolette is also called boule de Lille because it resembles a boule ball and comes from Lille. Be that as it may, the Infinity’s salad (chopped veggies, greens and a quartered hard-boiled egg doused with Thousand Island dressing) would be infinitely more interesting with a little (or a lot) of that tasty French cheese.
The special of the day is brook trout, but it’s gone. As if to console us for the missing fish, our waitress sings the praises of ginger-carrot soup. Sans cream or flour or apparent fat, it’s full of healthy flavor, and proves to be a portent of things to come. Without making a big deal of it, Infinity’s menu steers clear of rich sauces, fatty meats and gut-busting portions, favoring instead fresh, local farm food whenever possible.
Ed says the only scallops he likes are those he himself cleans and cooks, then goes ahead and orders sea scallops . . . and loves them. I do, too. Four plump, tender, lightly pan-seared beauties served with a smear of creamy avocado purée and a tumble of crispy leeks share a plate with a scoop of slightly spicy crab salad—in every way a felicitous combination.
Salmon, however, falls a little short—mushy in texture probably because it’s farmed rather than wild. Nicely cooked, with char from the grill adding flavor, it’s served with salsa, pea tendrils and an interesting pilaf of basmati rice and toasted coconut.
Next, I’m delighted to be served the prettiest piece of halibut I’ve seen in ages. Snow-white, perfectly cooked, crispy at first bite, silky in the mouth, it rides on a little raft of—what? We consult the menu. Hibiscus crêpes? But hibiscus flowers are pink and red. These little logs are gray. We unroll one. Nothing inside. We send for the waitress. All is illuminated. The flowers are pulverized, added to an egg batter, cooked in a crêpe pan and rolled tight as a good cigar. The taste? Subtle and mysterious. Who could guess?
Note to carnivores: Relax. Infinity is not all pea tendrils and flowers. There’s rib-eye steak, a grilled tenderloin, spicy beef kebabs and burgers made with all-natural beef.
There’s also dessert—big, fat, eye-popping creations like a banana split with mango strawberry salad and candied pecans, and Chocolate Temptation, a decadent triple-play of fudgy chocolate torte, creamy mousse and a truffle deliriously infused with Godiva liqueur. Key lime cheese cake with caramelized pineapple is slightly less opulent, but the fresh berry trifle is over the top, gloriously so, with strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blood-orange Bavarian, pound cake and a ton of whipped cream.
Lavish as these dessert extravaganzas are, we demolish them without regret. When it comes to music, or food, let the good times roll.
Infinity Music Hall & Bistro
20 Greenwoods Rd. W. (Route 44) Norfolk (860/542-5531; infinityhall.com)
Wednesday and Thursday 11:30 to 9, Thursday and Friday till 10, Saturday 10:30 to 10, Sunday 10:30 to 9. Wheelchair access to street-level bistro. Major credit cards. Price range: appetizers $4 to $12, entrées $18 to $27, desserts $7 to $8.Infinity Music Hall & Bistro, Norfolk