Last Saturday night, which, as we all know, was precisely seven years ago in terms of both temporal and emotional distance, I had an idea. We had cancelled plans with friends because the whole Coronavirus thing was getting a bit too real, so I thought I’d ask my husband on a date to our dining room. We called up Elm, ordered three courses, and I put on a fancy dress and dusty high heels while my husband drove into town to pick our dinner up.
The service at Chez Ault, our hot new dining room restaurant, is terrible. That’s because the service is me. There are dogs underfoot and no butter for the bread and the courses are poorly paced while I check my phone for the latest, exponentially terrible news of COVID-19. But the moroseness of the service is forgivable when you turn your focus to Elm’s wonderful food. We started with a longtime favorite staple from their menu: tuna tartare in ponzu sauce. Served in a shallow soup bowl from my mom’s wedding china in lieu of Elm’s dark stoneware, it became a sort of intergenerational novelty, all bright color and cool, delicious umami. We followed it with that fantastic roasted carrot & grain salad they make, sweet with dates and chewy with bulgur. Then we shared a plate of lobster bucatini, which really needs no hype, because lobster and pasta already have pretty good PR people, but it was creamy and unctuous and the leftovers made a truly incredible breakfast the next morning.
Did I say three courses? I meant four. For some reason, the server was exceptionally attentive at refilling my wine, and our two-hour dining odyssey ended with Elm’s smoked half chicken with silky polenta and mushrooms. I struggle with the witless old adage to never order chicken in a restaurant, because is there anything you can make at home that replicates the flavor of smoked chicken? Maybe, if you’re some sort of Big Green Egg hobbyist, but let us laypeople enjoy our poultry in peace. It was fabulous.
Date Night Chez Ault was a resounding success. Next month, for our wedding anniversary, we look forward to staying at L’Hotel Down the Hall. They have free HBO, but, alas, no heart-shaped hot tub.
I’m sharing this not to focus so much on a single dining experience as to frame the experience of takeout in a new way for New Canaanite readers. We are all saddled with new anxieties, fears, and a creeping sense of existential dread every day. It will one day lift, but for now, this, an inexplicable lack of toilet paper on market shelves, and homeschooling, are what we live with. Our restaurants and small businesses depend on a daily influx of cash, and when we can’t patronize them, their margins shrink, they have to lay off staff, and they might be forced to close. I don’t know about you, but when I see a newly vacant retail space in town, I feel personally culpable and wounded, wishing I’d done more to help them. Now is the time for us to all dig down deep and find that more. Whatever you choose to call it—a civic duty, a human obligation, or simply an attempt to reinvent ‘normal’ in a troubling time—it might be the most satisfying part of your day.
Nearly every New Canaan restaurant has creatively and thoughtfully found ways to feed our town, while following Health Department mandates for takeout and curbside-only service during this pandemic. Below are a few of my personal standouts, although I truly hate to play favorites and plan to get to them all. You’ll find a current list of open New Canaan restaurants here. Call your favorite, and spread the love around.
Rose Bonura is the sweetheart of New Canaan, and her airy, casual breakfast-and-lunch spot Rosie is our town’s everyday spiritual center with unforgettable muffins, kickass tacos, and a liquor license. Check their Instagram for daily takeout specials. My husband called in for her curbside quesadilla special on Tuesday, not realizing it would be family-sized, and brought home a tray of chicken and shrimp-corn-black bean quesadillas that would have readily fed a J.V. football team. They were delicious, piping hot and perfectly spiced, and came with a side of her dreamy guacamole, fresh pico de gallo, and plantain chips. I’ve always thought that Rosie has a particular knack for flavor: everything is bright and spicy, but not so much as to terrify the children. We were happy to support her, and we finished the quesadillas in three separate meals. Who even knows what a mealtime is anymore, right? What is time?
Wilson Rodriguez, proprietor of Pesca Peruvian Bistro, is also a beloved figure in our town for creating a beautiful restaurant with a transportive, beachy vibe. He and his team serve wonderfully inventive riffs on Peruvian classics to an adoring crowd—I’ve never seen anyone have a bad time at Pesca. They make the food we never knew our town needed, but now, we could never do without: zingy ceviche, smoky octopus a la plancha, and Lomo Saltado, a wok-sauteed beef dish that draws on the Chinese influence that abounds in Peruvian cuisine. Pro tip: Pesca is now offering free delivery to homes in New Canaan, and our friends with kids recommend that you add a bulk order of their fantastic empanadas for a readily available snack.
Greens on the Go announced yesterday that they’ll be offering family-sized meals for takeout after a brief period of closure. As someone who developed a chemical dependency on their Greek salad and Moroccan bowls over the winter, I know I won’t be alone in cheering their return. Check their Instagram for the daily specials, and while you’re picking up, grab a stellar poke bowl from Miyuki or a marvelous thin-crust pizza from Dante’s. I don’t know who will benefit from this information, but Dante’s chopped salad has salami in it. You’re welcome.
Delivery apps like Uber Eats and GrubHub have extended the reach and availability of our local restaurants for sure, but please make every effort to call the restaurant and get curbside pickup instead. In addition to charging you for delivery, these apps take a commission of roughly 30% off the top of every order, which often obliterates the restaurant’s own profit margin and their ability to pay their workers. Even if they’re temporarily deferring that commission, as GrubHub’s CEO announced recently, adding a driver introduces another potential vector into the mix. Calling yourself and picking up is always the better option—it keeps profit in our community.
The notion of doing without is painfully prevalent right now. We’re without our schools, our offices, any sense of normalcy, and we don’t get to see people we love on a daily basis. New Canaan is a town that is, on the balance, both quite fortunate and quite generous. Let’s do our absolute best every day to support the businesses and individuals who have made this town the wonderful place it is. The idea of doing without any of these institutions, once we’re on the other side of this crisis, is a little too much to bear. So fire up your phone, call your favorite restaurant, and remember that for as long as food has been central to community, so has love.
Stay human, New Canaan.