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Zaza Gastrobar

With a broad menu, hearty portions and a rocking bar scene, this Italian gastrobar adds zest to Stamford’s nightlife

Tuna Tower

Tom McGovern

Building on the popularity of Molto in Fairfield, the Racanelli family brought the Italian gastrobar to Stamford. And when we walked into the Broad Street bistro one recent Thursday night, it was clear that the crowd came with them. In the words of Fats Waller, this joint is jumpin’! Even before 7 p.m., the marble-topped bar was lined with patrons, some waiting for a table, as the restaurant doesn’t take reservations.

So what’s the draw of yet another Italian eatery within a five-block radius? The thin-crust, brick-oven ’za, as the name implies, is certainly part of it. Other attractions are the sea of choices on the menu (you could eat here daily for a month and not order the same thing), an extensive selection of wines by the glass, generous portions and reasonable prices. Plus, there’s the thriving nightlife, including a deejay and dancing on Wednesday nights.

The décor is what I would call glam diner, complete with tiled floors, red leather booths and Gothic chandeliers with red lightbulbs and dangling crystals. A number of the booths are placed side by side, so you may get to know your neighbors well. With a jazzy track playing in the background and buzz from the bar, the noise level prevents any intimate conversations. But during the warmer months, you can grab a seat at one of the sidewalk tables out front or on the comfortable and quieter back patio, which is where I sat for a recent dinner to celebrate a friend’s birthday.

We started with small plates, picking a few of the waiter’s suggestions from the long list. Not so small after all, these appetizers were also some of the most memorable bites of the evening. The lobster polenta was buttery, creamy and heartwarming with large pieces of seafood. The dish wowed everyone at the table; one friend says she found herself Googling “lobster polenta” the next day in hopes of recreating this savory treat. I recommend the mozzarella sampler too, which lets you compare the subtly different flavors and textures of the cheese varieties partnered with eggplant, prosciutto, roasted peppers and olives. Crispy artichokes were very tasty and juicy on the inside, though I wouldn’t call them crisp. Eggplant rollatini was a satisfying, basic version of the dish. With all the small plates, the portions were substantial enough that all six of us could go back for seconds. A couple eating here could easily make a meal out of a few small plates plus a salad or pizza.

For pizza we tried the margherita, which has a sweet tomato sauce enhanced by a few roasted tomatoes, plus a generous layer of cheese and a crispy crust. At another dinner here I dug into the bufala pizza, which was equally good, dripping with cheese and a light tomato sauce on a very thin crust. Among the salads, the peppery arugula with shredded carrots, shaved fennel and mozzarella cheese along with crunchy roasted hazelnuts and a bright, lemony vinaigrette was the crowd-pleaser.

Our top-pick entrée: the baby lamb chops served with fresh zucchini, peppers and spinach. This succulent grilled meat gleaned extra flavor from a dusting of herbs on top. Zaza’s menu boasts a bevy of rustic pasta dishes, and we opted for Orecchiette Campagna, with creamy tomato sauce, spinach and sausage—very rich and filling, with ample left over to bring home. The familiar veal parmigiana was just so-so. “I’ve had better,” remarked my Italian-by-marriage friend, and I had to agree; this version was a bit too bready.  

While the waitstaff was coping with a packed house, service was brusque at times. On a few occasions, the waiter poured the rosé wine in such a hurry that he splashed the edge of our glasses. He also forgot the small plates for shared entrées and desserts. Still, the food came out promptly and a friend received a free glass of Pinot Grigio after waiting far longer than she should have. All in all, these minor problems didn’t disrupt our fun evening.

To cap off the festivities, we indulged in dessert. Cannoli chips and dip were a hit with several of my friends, who actually worked together at an Italian bakery long ago; these girls know their cannoli! I’m always eager for a good tiramisu, and this one lived up to expectations—creamy, light and not too sweet, served in a martini glass. Another happy ending to our meal: a classic tartufo split into quarters for easy sharing.

We plan to share at Zaza again soon. Next time we’ll come for small plates and pizza—and stay for wine and good times.

Zaza Gastrobar
122 Broad Street

Cuisine: Italian

Mon.–Thu., 11 a.m.–1 a.m.
Fri.–Sat., 11 a.m.–2 a.m.
Sun., 11 a.m.–1 a.m.

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