After much anticipation this latest Italian eatery lives up to its culinary buzz
photographs by gus cantavero
Every city has its culinary stars. In Stamford, esteemed restaurateur and Napa & Co. owner Mary Schaffer shines near the top of the list. So when she announced plans for a new Italian restaurant—with former Harvest Supper chef Dan Kardos running the kitchen—it was a marriage as hotly anticipated as a royal wedding.
Inquiring diners wanted to know: How would it differ from the abundant Italian options in the area? Would it live up to Napa’s reputation? The Schaffer-Kardos pairing was well worth the wait. Bar Rosso’s menu delivers a contemporary twist on Italian food, emphasizing exceptional ingredients and encouraging casual meals, with pizza, bar snacks and panini in the mix.
After an impressive renovation, the restaurant’s sidewalk tables and double-height dining room draw in diners and drinkers alike, some four deep at the bar on a Saturday night. Taking the place of the old Bennett’s, which was popular with the finance crowd, the restaurant retains some masculinity in its design. There’s a massive stone wall behind the bar, and modern steel-and-glass pendant lights dangle from the high ceiling. In the back corner, a brick pizza oven commands attention with its large stainless hood, and on the opposite side of the dining room, a brick wall is embellished with photographs of old cars. Tables are set with old-fashioned, red-striped tea towels as napkins.
True to the restaurant’s name, the bar occupies prominent real estate. While sipping on a glass of wine, a Campari and soda, or even a house-made orangecello, you can get a taste of what’s in store by ordering from the “Italian Bar Snacks,” everything from whipped ricotta to roasted summer beans or sautéed broccoli rabe. I love menus with small bites since they promote grazing and dipping into different flavors.
A dramatic stainless steel bar runs the length of the space.
Some friends and I started an early Saturday night dinner here by ordering the meatballs and gravy, polenta fries, and anchovies and peppers; bar snacks are priced three for $18 (or three for $14 at lunch), a good value. The polenta fries topped with coarse salt and tiny snippets of chives have a crispy coating with velvety polenta on the inside; the snack is presented as two large fries, enough for a tasty morsel for each of us four. Meatballs are served in an old-fashioned Ball jar, and once the lid is flipped open, this amazing aroma is unleashed. The meatballs are incredibly tender in a light tomato sauce, and you can really taste the veal in the mixture. The anchovy bar snack is a plate of silvery-white anchovies with assorted peppers; it’s incredibly light tasting and would probably please even those who consider themselves no-anchovies people.
Spying the brick oven from our table, we knew that pizza was a must-order. We opted for white pizza with broccoli rabe and hot sausage. The vegetable and meat rests on a bed of ricotta with a touch of mozzarella on top. We loved the spiciness and the crust, which is crispy on the outside but chewy and bready at the end. Next time I want to try the pepperoni and summer tomato pizza, which is prepared with pickled ramps, ricotta and a sunny-side farm egg.
Our table was near the bar, which I didn’t mind—we like people-watching. But as the evening wore on, the bar crowd started to encroach on our space and made for some noisy conditions. So if you’re bringing a date or planning a special meal, you may want to request one of the upstairs tables for more privacy.
Once our entrées arrived, any chatting at our table ceased as we dug in. The bronzino is excellent and light with a crispy skin and served with snow peas and wax beans. My favorite pasta dish was the white veal Bolognese over tagliatelle, which is actually in a pink sauce with a slight spice to it—outstanding! For a lighter dish, try the shrimp with linguini and tomato; the pasta is delicate as is the blend of flavors. The osso bucco was the top pick at our table; surrounded by tiny pasta and artichokes, the meat is tender enough to cut with a fork.
While the food won raves all around, the service was less than stellar because we were rushed along. An overly eager busboy tried to remove our entrée plates when we were slightly more than halfway through. He lifted them up without asking and we had to request that he put them back on the table. While waiting for dessert, wine and drinks glasses were hoisted away too soon as well. Granted, it was Saturday night, but being the eager eaters we are, we were moving right along.
To cap off your meal, there’s a fabulous selection of cheese, sweets, gelato, sorbet and coffee as well as homemade liqueurs, limoncello and orangecello. Restaurants seem to be trending toward novelty desserts lately, and Bar Rosso plays on this idea with a fried dough dessert that channels the carnivals fare but with European flair, adding Nutella dripped with hazelnuts. We also sampled a trio of gelato: dark chocolate, basil and sea salt with caramel, the latter being the front-runner. Now that Volta Gelateria and Creperie is open next door, diners may opt to stretch their legs and grab a gelato there instead.
But with the diverse and enticing menu at Bar Rosso, they’re bound to be back soon. Stamford loves its Italian eateries and the city has fallen hard for this new twist on comfort food.
24 Spring Street
Mon.–Wed., 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m.
Thurs.–Fri., 11:30 a.m.–midnight
Sat. and Sun., 5 p.m.–midnight1