$39 Special Menus/Fridays - Still River Cafe
On their website I noticed that all through July 2009 - they have a special $39 Tasting Menu on Friday nights. 2-3 Amuse and then choices for first, entree and dessert. There are supplemnets (in the $4-6 range )for duck, lobster and some other luxury items.
Sounds like a great deal - made reservations last night. Looking forward to a good evening.
Hi there! SRC was featured on the cover of the "Flavor" section in today's Hartford Courant--specifically talkin' about beets. The red and golden beet soup is visually stunning. I still need to get here. Enjoy the article (and recipes!):
The Still River Café
134 Union Road/ Route 171
Eastford, CT. 860 974-9988
November 14, 2009
A TRULY GREEN RESTAURANT?
Inspired, perhaps, by Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, or Michael Pollan's book Omnivore's Dilemma, the proprietors of the Still River Cafe pride themselves on serving only the best of local produce. I first heard about Still River in a review from the NY Times, and the reviews sounded too good to be true. A first-class restaurant not far from my home in Worcester Massachusetts? It was described as an organic-based restaurant opened by locavores who actually grew their own food in their own gardens! The restaurant features farm-fresh produce and 'locally' procured meats and seafood. With eager anticipation, I made reservations a week in advance for 6 PM. My wife Elizabeth and I drove down to Eastford on a rainy, windy night to celebrate our thirty-seventh anniversary.
We were greeted warmly at the door by the owner himself, and were seated quickly.
The space is a converted old barn, with large oak beams spanning the interior space. The entire color scheme is white on white, with upholstered chairs that were off-white, and almost beige in tone. I would describe the atmosphere as modern and airy, certainly worth a visit in the spring and summer when the garden-views would be more advantageously enjoyed. Since we were early diners, the room was only half filled, but by 8 PM, the noise level rose as all the tables were filled.
Our waiter promptly filled our water glasses, and presented us with menus and a wine list. The menu was informally printed on one sheet of paper; (at the bottom of the menu in fine print: "Our menu is printed on 100% FSC certified recycled paper.) Seven appetizers and nine entrees were listed. The emphasis on regional ingredients was evident:
Appetizers included: "North Ashford Farm salad, Blue Hill Mussels, Maine Lobster, Georges Bank Scallops, Manchester Farms Quail, Amish Organic free-range chicken, New England Pasture-Raised Beef, etc." The wine list was surprisingly lacking in local wines, and moderately-high priced. The least expensive wines started at $32 and were as high as $90. I selected an Oregon Merlot that was fruity and luscious, and complemented our meal.
For my appetizer, I selected a Kobe Beef Carpaccio, and for the entrée' the Trio of Duck.
Elizabeth selected the 'Slow Roasted Beets' and the 'Tasting of Mushrooms' entrée.
While we waited for our dinner, we were presented with an 'amuse bouche.' (gifts
)…a delicate foamy mousse that tasted of mushrooms, accompanied by some gravlax on a crispy cracker. This taste treat was a pleasant surprise.
The freshly made bread arrived in a napkin-covered basket still warm to the touch. They were soft and delightful.
My Beef dish appetizer was described as 'house-smoked Kobe beef carpaccio dumplings filled with Parmesan custard, with baby arugula. The beef was meltingly tender, and close to perfection as a first course (but, I should add, not a locally produced food item.) Elizabeth's dish was a "Bush Meadow farm goat cheese parfait," which was light, delicately scented, and served in a beautiful egg-shell cup with a tiny silver spoon, together with roasted ruby, golden and chioggia beets, toasted pistachios. The texture and color of the beets promised a rich, complex flavor. She was not disappointed!! I thought the presentation beautiful, but after tasting the beets, was surprised that the beets were slightly crunchy in texture, I would have preferred them to be fork-tender.
My entrée featured three versions of duck: 'Pan-Seared Duck Breast with Baby Carrots, house cured duck leg confit and a duck liver mousse with house-made flatbread.' My duck breast was delicious, though not terribly juicy, and slightly over-cooked. The breast portions were fanned over perfunctorily mashed garlic potatoes. The liver mousse was vekvety and well-seasoned. The duck-leg confit, however, was wonderful, crispy, and tasty, and the best part of my dish!! Elizabeth's mushroom trio dish was tasty, rustic, and earthy in flavors, accompanied by their home-made crackly bread. Sauteed mushrooms topped with an elegant farm-fresh egg is much more delicious than it might sound. The mushroom tart was toothsome, and the porcini mushroom mousse was definitely worth the trip six miles into a deep woods!! The risotto was perhaps a little dry from sitting too long on the plate before being served.
Dessert: We chose "A Tasting of Chocolate" ~ a mini-chocolate cake, ice cream, and bon-bons. Elizabeth and I requested one plate-for-two. The flour-less chocolate cake was to die for!! The flavor was intensely rich. My favorite: the chocolate bon-bons that snapped and oozed chocolate syrup when punctured; these were cold and sweet, off-set by some sea salt sprinkled near the caramel sauce; a very nice touch.
Sipping freshly brewed coffee, Elizabeth and I lingered and relished our waning moments at Still River. Feeling satiated by our meal, we vowed to return when the weather turn warmer so we could experience the restaurant during daylight hours.
All in all, this restaurant is a gem.
SERVICE : Four stars
AMBIANCE: Three stars
FOOD: Four stars
Plan to spend about $65 a person. Well worth it!!
Still River Cafe
134 Union Rd, Eastford, CT 06242
tiaotse, first, happy belated 37th anniversary! That's truly something to celebrate. :) Second, I so appreciate your detailed review. It's nice to see places like this inspire posters to really delve into their dinners and share all the good parts (and even the parts that are less inspired) with the rest of us lucky readers. Between the two of you, you covered some of the dishes I've read about that I might like to try when I finally get to SRC--and, until I do--reading other reviews of SRC by "real people" like you and the other posters above, are, for me, the next best thing. Cheers!
I won't try to elaborate on the reviews by Daniel and Gordon: we just got back from having "lunch" at Still River Cafe, and I have to agree it's one of the half dozen or so best restaurants I have ever eaten at. And given the focus on local things, as opposed to trying to replicate French, or Italian, or other food, I would say it is the single most serious restaurant I've been to in Connecticut.
I had pickled (Wagyu beef!) tongue as a first course, figuring that if I was ever going to like tongue, this might be the place. And it was. My wife had the beef carpaccio "dumplings" (slices of raw beef wrapped around a horseradish cream sauce, not made into something bready). Then I had the rabbit (two ways, loin slices rolled with mushrooms, and rillettes) and she had the quail. For dessert, she had the crème brulée and I had a plate of three cheeses. I was not as pleased with the cheeses as with everything else: I know it's hard to keep two dozen different cheeses available for random casual service, and one of these was not in its prime. Apart from that, though, everything was wonderful. And the number of little side touches (e.g., the cured and dried olives with the tongue, the little leek-filled crèpe with the rabbit,...) was quite remarkable. I should say the wine list is also quite good, varied, reasonably priced and with some interesting things I haven't seen elsewhere.
Still River Cafe and Le Petit Cafe in Branford are the two places in Connecticut I've eaten that were rated "Extraordinary" in the NYT. I was very happy for Roy when he got that review, but what makes me sad is the realization that if he really tried, he could be as good and as creative as Still River .... and that just isn't anywhere near the case.
I'm glad previous posters had a great dining experience, I don't want to be a wet blanket-drag but my experience was the complete opposite. The service was fine. The amuse was an unusual combination that seemed more like a 'utilization project'. The carrot soup was very dark and had no finesse. The saffron risotto in my entree was thick and gloppy, the mushrooms had little flavor, the poached egg was over cooked. The desserts were boring and forgettable. It seemed like at least one or two of the cooks had no clue what they were doing. I wanted to like it, was hoping for a meal that lived up to the hype, it didn't happen.
Still River Cafe is offering a ten course tasting menu starting in August. The cost is $75 with an optional $50 wine pairing. They will also be open on Thursday nights for the month of August, with the $39 four course prix fixe available both Thursday and Friday nights. Here is a sample tasting menu:
Daniel's review was an excellent account ..... we had an equeally impressive experience. Four of us went for dinner ....... got there a bit early to wander through the gardens and see the grounds before we went inside. We were greeted by Robert, the host and resident gardener ...... our table was ready right away. The rennovated barn overlooks the gardens and pastures / forest. High ceilings give a feeling of spaciousness - along with the large windows. Simple decor keeps the focus on the food. Our waiter was knowledgeable - giving us good wine advice and answering all our menu queries. The amuse plate consisted of three elements: a bouillabase topped with a chive foam, a goat cheese ball with celery stem and a french radish on a green puree with black Hawaiian sea salt. The bouillabase had a deep seafood flavor and a creamy texture - the foam didn't add to much to the flavor but didn't detract either. The goat cheese ball was dusted with ground pistachio? - featured a nice well balanced flavor . The radish rested on some fava bean puree? with a sprinkle of black salt. This trio along with the enticing bread sticks/chive butter made for a good start. We tried four different first courses: the Maine Blue Hill mussels, the Kobe Beef Carpaccio, House made Gnocchi and Pickled Wagyu Beef Tongue. The Mussels had a delicious saffron sauce that demanded to be soaked up with bread. The Carpaccio "dumplings" were filled with a Parmesan custard and wrapped with smoked beef - accompanied by some arugula to cut the richness. the Gnocchi was one of the richer firsts ....... sweetbreads encrusted with polenta and a rich porcini cream adorned the feathery light gnocchi. The richness of the pickled wagyu beef tongue was offset by the pickling/lemon zest but it was still delicate/smooth. The pea tendrils were a bit more substantial than the ones I'm used to in Chinese food. All in all, much to like and admire in our first courses. We were glad to be here and obviously in good hands.
Entrees consist of three related elements ...... The Rabbit trio was a roasted stuffed leg, poached saddle of rabbit medallion and a chilled rillette of rabbit. Peas, a leek filled crepe, baby carrots and turned potatoes filled out the plate.....a nice range of cooking techniques and textures - not to mention a generous portion of food. The Rhode Island Striped Bass presentation featured a dukkah dusted Striped Bass on a bed of mushrooms & chard with mushroom consomme. Along side was a panko encrusted fish cake and a bass/clam chowder. The chowder was particularly good.
The Tasting of Mushrooms was a substantial offering - a beet and saffron risotto topped with a saute of mushrooms along with a perfectly poached egg, Porcini mushroom mousse had a noticeable depth of flavor along with a smooth texture. Hen of the woods mushroom tart features a deeply savory/carmelized filling in a crisp, buttery puff pastry.
Lastly, the Scallop trio featured two hazlenut crusted sea scallops, a scallop ceviche and four pan seared scallops over buttery mashed potatoes along with small whole onions and scallop jus. The pan seared scallops were tender and sweet - the potatoes were rich and adorned with the scallop jus. The acid of the ceviche provided some refief from the richness of the other two preparations. We were all well sated by now but still looking forward to dessert. A note on prices ...... the Scallop entree has a $4.00 supplement but all the others we ordered were part of the $39 deal. Lobster and Beef options also include supplements.
Desserts were not quite as elaborate as the entrees but still had multiple components:
The cardomum ? poached pear had a spiral of poaching syrup along with some blue cheese and two biscotti. The berry dessert featured a biscuit with a blueberry compote? and a scoop of strawberry/blueberry sorbet garnished with sugar encrusted blueberries.
Two of us ordered this berry dessert but only one came with whipped cream on the berries/biscuit. Not sure if they just forgot or if the waiter overheard my preference to avoid dairy and made it so?
The service throughout the evening was relaxed but professional. The food was an impressive bargain at this price but worthy of a visit at even higher prices. I'll definitely look forward to returning next time I'm in CT. Envious of you folks who live nearby and get to dine there year round.
re: gordon wing
Gordon and Daniel, thank you both so kindly for your detailed reviews! I appreciate the time you took to share your experiences with us. As a fellow reviewer who is into detail (!), I really appreciate what it takes to capture the meal in a way that gives other readers a taste of what the experience was all about and know it takes time (especially with pictures!), so BIG THANKS to you both! And I'm glad to hear you both enjoyed your meals so much, too.
I took advantage of this deal on July 3rd. This was my second time at Still River Cafe, and I would not hesitate to place this among the five best restaurants at which I have eaten in my life.
The design of the restaurant is fantastic. It is small enough that you can be sure Chef Kara Brooks is able to maintain a high level of control over ever dish coming out of her kitchen, but it is by no means a cramped space. The dining room is on the upper level of a renovated barn. While I might have personally preferred that the original wood tones had a stronger presence in the color scheme, their use of white creates a cleaner, more modern look more appropriate to a fine dining establishment. The exposed timbers do retain the rustic character of the barn, so that the dining space is as appropriately New England as it is fine dining. There is a casual feel to the space, separating it from establishments of equal food quality in the city.
When entering, you will pass by some of the garden space, which helps to set the right mental state. The bar is located just inside the front door, such that Bob Brooks is able to function as host, manager, and bartender. We arrived early, and on entering, were offered drinks while we waited at one of the tables on the deck. This was a sort of a serendipitous thing, as, in nice weather at least, a glass of wine while looking out on their beautiful property is a nice prelude to the meal.
Service was impeccable. Again, there was a casual air to it, but one that did not stray from fine dining standards. I cannot recall the name of our server, but he was the son of Kara and Bob Brooks, and probably college aged or slightly older. There was none of that pretentious, "Tonight, I have a delightful...," garbage that you find all too often in New York fine dining. He had a perfect sense of when to come to the table to check in, and when to hang back and let us enjoy our meal and conversation.
I have a minor complaint about the amuse bouche before I get to the lavish praise. The menu is described as a $39 four course prix fixe. Those courses are: amuse bouch, appetizer, entree, dessert. Yet, the amuse bouche was presented with the traditional styling of being a "gift from the chef". A minor incongruity, but also one which reveals the care the Brooks family has gone to a train servers in traditional fine dining service.
The amuse itself, or trio of amuses, was fantastic. They are traditional, one bite sized, resisting the modern trend of tapas sized amuses. I started with the asparagus soup, served in a hefty shot glass. I normally find asparagus soup to have too much of that overcooked asparagus sort of flavor, but this had none. It was a very deep asparagus flavor showing off not only the chef's perfect execution, but the gardener's skill in having grown such perfect asparagus. The soup had clearly gone through a strainer, but did retain a slight coarseness, avoiding that homogeneous, almost syrupy quality creamy vegetable soups are often given. The miso foam topping the shot was very subtle - a little too subtle for a miso lover like myself, but objectively just the right accent of flavor to not interfere with the asparagus. I usually don't care for foams, but this one had the right level of stability and was presented in an appropriate dish. Next was the goat cheese ball with celery. This was nicely paired, if fairly plain. A very high quality cheese, perhaps from Bush Meadow in Union, with a coating I can't recall. The celery stick, stuck into the cheese ball to serve as a sort of handle, had the best ration of bold celery flavor to lack of stringiness of any piece of celery I have ever eaten. The third item was a carrot puff, which I don't recall much about beyond it being delicious.
There was also bread either before or after the amuse, which was very good. They were served with a scallion butter. The butter itself was rich and would have been delightful on its own, but the scallions and salt accented it very nicely.
My appetizer was the garlic scape vichyssoise. This soup could be used to convert anyone who doesn't believe in cold soup. I was expecting the soup to be just a little bland, as even the best vichyssoise often is, but it was not. The cream was well balanced against the stronger flavors. The potatoes used had a depth of flavor I expect from a good, waxy roasting potato, and was surprised to find in a soup. The garlic scapes worked perfectly in place of - or possibly in addition to - the leeks, giving the soup a sweet, mildly garlicky, bright but subtle vegetable flavor. There were so many subtle flavors here that the lack of any bold flavors still left the soup very far from bland.
I also tried the sweetbreads and gnocchi appetizer, which could be used to convert non-believers in offal. The porcini cream had just enough earthy nuttiness and richness to the gnocchi without at all offsetting the flavor of the sweetbreads, which were coated in cornmeal and fried. The sage added an earthy herbaceous quality, balancing everything remarkably.
My entree was quail. The entrees all feature three variations on a theme - I'd say three presentations of one protein, but one of mine was quail egg, and I think I remember a couple on the menu that were not protein centered. The pan seared quail breast was the highlight, I think. I'd have preferred it a little less done, but medium is probably the lowest temperature they can get away with without most people sending it back. The sear was perfect, preserving most of the flavor of more rare quail and yielding a very juicy breast. The kale was perfect: soft without being mushy, not unpleasantly bitter, and infused with the flavor of the quail. The frisee aux lardons with poached quail egg was perfect. I have not had frisee this good since the last time I was in Paris, nor have I seen it dressed this well in the United States. The bacon used was slightly smoky, which lardons are not - though I was pleasantly surprised to see if was cut as lardons are, which I do not often see in the US. It may have been boiled first to cu the smokiness, but at least some remained. I found this to be a pleasant variation, giving a decidedly New England style to this French bistro classic. The stuffed quail was the only part I have even minor complaints about. It was wonderful, with both meat and stuffing moist and well seasoned. Two things could have improved it for me, only one of which is practical. The first is that the cranberry in the stuffing was not prominent enough. This did not detract from the flavor of the stuffing, but did set up expectations in calling it cranberry stuffing which were not met. Also, whole quail should always be served with the heads on. The brain is delicious. I realize this will turn people off, however, and would not seriously suggest Chef Brooks should make this change.
I tried a bite of two of the three parts of the bass trio. One was a perfectly cooked, silky piece of bass scented with a mushroom consomme. The other was a piece of bass that used clam chowder as a kind of sauce. I won't hesitate to say I have never had clam chowder that surpassed this. The amount of flavor packed in to a single bite frankly just didn't seem possible.
For dessert I had the poached pears. They were wonderful, though the cardamom flavor was a shade more subtle than I'd have liked. I could also have used a little more of the cheese, which was Cato Corner's bleu, but also understand that it would be tough to keep the price down while adding more of an ingredient this expensive. The accompanying biscotti was great. I didn't try it, but the cheesecake tasting was reported to be fantastic.
I don't remember the wine list in much detail, but it was good. It is not enormous, but it hits all the right bases. It might not please a wine geek, but the rest of us should be able to find basically what we're looking for. The prices were also very good, with more bottles under $50 than I'm used to seeing at a restaurant this good.
All in all, I can't express well enough how fantastic this place is. The menu is not full of big, bold flavors or 25 ingredient dishes. The emphasis is classic technique, with mostly subtle flavors balanced well in perfectly executed dishes. That balance is key to the success here. Some of the dishes could have been ordinary or even bland if not executed well and balanced perfectly. But the technique and balance exhibited made every dish extraordinary. This is not the first restaurant to work towards a new New England cuisine, but it is undoubtedly the finest example to come along yet.
Hi there! Thanks for sharing this--I agree it sounds great. Just curious, did you make reservations last night for this Friday? Wondering how far in advance they're booking up. Please report back and let us know how it goes. I've heard a lot about this place, but haven't heard from anyone who's been there personally. Bon appétit'!
re: gordon wing
I know what you mean! Sometimes the hype surpasses the actual experience. While you're in our neck of the woods, I highly recommend a visit to Sharpe Hill Vineyard in Pomfret, CT. Please call soon to make a reservation. You can even go for lunch and sit outside under the umbrellas. It's beautiful AND delicious and one of my favorite spots in CT for a special meal:
Another stop in that area is Heritage Trail Vineyard in Lisbon, CT. Even if you just stop in for a casual lunch and wine tasting, you'll be glad you did. I'm a home gelato maker and I seriously love/admire theirs.
Enjoy your stay in the Land of Steady Habits! All this rain is supposed to let up by the beginning of the month--just in time for your visit! :) Safe travels!
Here's a review (with pics) of a lunch I had with my mom back in April. I was very happy with our pizzetta. One of those is plenty for two people! There are other options, too, including panini (which I can't find on their online menu, but am sure they still serve).
And here's a link to Heritage Trail's website:
Heritage Trail Vineyards
291 N Burnham Hwy, Lisbon, CT