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8 Church Lane
Westport, CT 06880
Price (main dish): $16-25
Moffly Media Review: A cozy European brasserie in downtown Westport.
Mary Kate Hogan
Photograph by Bob Capazzo
Tucked below church lane is the warm, yellow sunken dining room of manolo, the restaurant recently opened by Pedro Garzon, a former chef with the Barcelona Group and Beacon in New York. Garzon enlivens his Westport menu with dishes based on his family’s travels around Spain, France, Italy, and Austria. These culinary adventures were guided by Garzon’s uncle, Tío Manolo, for whom the restaurant is named. Though you can taste the Spanish influence here—particularly in the seafood dishes—the word that may best describe the place is German: gemütlich.
With its entrées made for sharing, unfussy menus and cozy interior, Manolo makes you feel at ease. It’s a comfortable sort of place that invites you to linger. The food showcases fresh ingredients (much of the produce comes from Cherry Hill Farms in Newtown) with simple preparations. The menu changes daily, and each dish is available as small and large plates; it’s as though your own uncle prepares a special meal each time you visit.
At a recent weeknight dinner, some friends and I started with the steamed mussels, prepared very simply in a light broth with white wine, shallots, and herbs. Nothing heavy, just fresh seafood. I had to try the fresh sardines too. The whole sardines are tasty, garnished only with sea salt, lemon, and parsley oil. The cured meats and cheeses, such as sweet sopressata and a truffled pecorino, are more tempting options for starters. You could make a whole meal out of just charcuterie and a few small plates. Other outstanding appetizers include giant prawns in a garlicky sauce with chili flakes and grilled Portuguese octopus.
Throughout the meal our waiter was attentive, but we ran into a bit of a ser-vice snafu over our request for extra bread to dip into the mussel broth. First we were told that the bread was warming up in the oven. Then, when we asked again, the waiter said they had run out of bread—perhaps because we were eating on the late side, at 9 p.m.? A few minutes later, however, he came back with a plate of crusty, toasted croutons. So in the end, the waiter’s desire to please trumped an odd situation.
Good news about the wines at Manolo: They’re affordable. Wines are poured in quartinos (third bottles) priced at $10, and all bottles on the wine list are under $70. If you prefer to bring your own, the restaurant charges a modest $10 corkage fee. We opted for a Cono Sur pinot noir from Chile to go with our entrées.
On a chilly evening, nothing could be more heartwarming than the roasted lamb shank with carrots and potatoes. The succulent, falling-off-the-bone meat was glazed in a simple au jus sauce that had a slight sweetness to it. The risotto with morels, asparagus and acorn squash was also comfort food extraordinaire, so creamy and rich. One of Manolo’s signature dishes, jumbo scallops à la plancha, received raves from everyone at our table. The scallops, topped with slow-roasted tomatoes and leeks, were perfectly cooked, and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. For our fish we chose the whole dorade with parsley, onion and fennel, which was tasty once we got past the bones.
The side of spinach with pine nuts and raisins was fragrant and flavorful.
Desserts are not an afterthought at Manolo. I enjoyed the traditional flan during my first dinner there. But the indulgent treat I’m still dreaming about is the chocolate pot de crème with gelato and caramel. It is out-of-this-world sensational. No wonder I’m already planning my next visit to this welcoming place.
Hours: Lunch: Wed.-Sat., 11:30-1:30 p.m. Dinner: Tues.-Sat., 5:30 p.m.-close
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