A piece of Paris in the heart of New Canaan
by Ann Kaiser
New Canaan has an inviting bistro on the scene that offers authentic French fare, along with some American favorites. “We wanted to create a great neighborhood bistro that invokes Paris or even Greenwich Village establishments, where most of the patrons are regulars who are very comfortable and feel at home,” says Steven Semaya, co-owner and general manager of the restaurant located in a historic building on Main Street. (It was a church in the 1800s.)
The space features a welcoming bar area just beyond the front door and a large outdoor patio where guests can enjoy their meals al fresco in the warmer months. In the dining room, elegant red booths and a perforated tin ceiling make the interior feel cozy and perhaps a little romantic. The music is friendly and intimate, too, with a mix of Edith Piaf, The Roots, Frank Sinatra, John Coltrane and Bob Dylan. Even on a weeknight, by 8 p.m.—when I visited—the place was packed with stylish diners.
Though the menu features mainly classic French fare—think escargot, croque madame, and moules frites—dishes like fried chicken and the Strada burger (with caramelized onions and cherry peppers) are also options. The mixed menu and dressed-down servers (ours wore jeans) give the restaurant a more relaxed vibe. I wouldn’t recommend bringing the kids though, unless yours can appreciate a good onion soup au gratin or grilled octopus, which are two appetizers on the dinner menu.
If you’re into wine, you’re going to like Boulevard 18, which offers about 120 selections, all from France, and many of them small production. The idea is to encourage diners to be more adventurous in their wine choices. “There are so many wonderful wines from a variety of regions in France that many people just don’t consider,” says Semaya, who notes they taste all of the wines offered.
Boulevard 18 is owned by the same group as South Norwalk’s Italian favorite Strada 18: David Raymer, executive chef; Luciano Ramirez, chef d’cuisine; Henry Rosenbaum, beverage director; and Semaya. Though diners see a very different menu at the New Canaan bistro, some things that don’t vary between the locations are the top ingredients used in the dishes. In addtion, just about everything is made in-house. “We try to get as much of our produce from farmers’ markets as we can when it’s available, we only use certified black angus or better for our steaks, and we make all of our desserts—including the gelato and sorbet,” says Semaya. From butter sourced from a Vermont creamery to the best in olive oils and vinegars, the team here invests in quality ingredients.
To start the meal, our trio shared an order of deviled eggs that had a great subtle flavor and the salty and indulgent shoestring fries, which I’d advise using a fork to eat. We also ordered a bacon and leek tart that while tasty struck us as having been reheated.
Our server was very pleasant, well-informed and attentive. My sister was offered four sauces with her New York strip steak that was juicy and flavorful. I also enjoyed my heirloom tomato and polenta cake salad, one of the specials that evening. It had a light touch of pesto mixed in that complemented the polenta, which had nice texture and made for a more filling alternative to standard mixed greens. We also tried the fried chicken and mashed potatoes. Next time, we’ll take Semaya’s suggestion and order the potato-wrapped sea bass. “The potatoes are cut very thin and form a crisp shell that keeps the fish very moist,” he said. “The Bordelaise sauce it’s served with makes the dish even more special, as it’s rich and delicious without being heavy.” He suggests pairing it with the 2005 Bitouzet-Prieur Volnay.
For dessert, we decided on the chocolate mousse and profiteroles. I liked the mousse’s faint espresso flavor, and you can’t go wrong with this rich and chocolaty choice. The pastry part of the profiteroles was a little dry, but that did help it hold up to the creamy ice cream inside each puff.
Boulevard 18 truly shines with its classic French fare, but it’s also worth visiting for the interesting wine selection, good service and unbeatable location. Consider it a comfortable spot for a dressed-down happy hour or even a first date. And with over twenty-five wines sold by the glass, plus a Small Bites menu that was specifically created to accompany them, it’s an ideal spot to meet for that after-work drink. Or, if you have a Francophile in your life, bring them to Boulevard 18. They won’t be disappointed.