Joining a vibrant neighborhood dining scene, a new seafood restaurant has landed a prominent spot in Saugatuck.

The Whelk is a venture of two local restaurateurs, Bill Taibe and Massimo Tullio. The former is owner and chef at the Post Road East restaurant LeFarm, while Tullio is co-owner of the Fat Cat Pie Co. pizzeria in Norwalk.

The Whelk launched last week with a soft opening in a 1,200-square-foot space in the Saugatuck Center complex at 575 Riverside Ave.

"The concept with the food is the south of France meets Maine," Tullio said. "Anyone is welcome who wants to have a great time with great food, great wine and some of the best ingredients that you'll possibly ever get in Fairfield County."

The Whelk's name reflects its fare. A whelk is a marine sea snail, and an item offered on The Whelk's menu is a whelk chowder.

The Whelk is the latest tenant to arrive in Saugatuck Center, a mixed-use development on Riverside Avenue owned by Hamilton Development, the development arm of the Saugatuck-based energy business, Gault Inc. Other businesses housed in the Saugatuck Center's "Marsh" and "Tide" buildings, which overlook the Saugatuck River, include Downunder kayaking store and the Saugatuck Craft Butchery shop.

The restaurant's opening also reflects Saugatuck's emergence in recent years as a popular dining destination in Westport. With more than a dozen dining establishments at its commercial core, Saugatuck now rivals the town center upriver as a focal point of evening activity in Westport. Saugatuck has also attracted attention from out-of-state culinary luminaries such as celebrity chef Mario Batali, whose latest Tarry Lodge restaurant opened last year on Charles Street.

Despite its proximity to other Saugatuck restaurants, Tullio said he did not view those establishments as competitors, but rather as "complementary" to The Whelk.

"Being on the water here is so beautiful," he said. "It's an old Irish-Italian neighborhood, and there's a great vibe down here."

As the restaurant's management seeks to forge neighborhood ties, The Whelk has already teamed with Saugatuck Craft Butchery, using products from the neighboring butcher shop in its dishes.

"I've been talking to Bill Taibe about doing a space near or with him for a couple of years. It worked out perfectly," said Saugatuck Craft Butchery owner Ryan Fibiger. "It's a business that's extremely complementary to what we're doing. We share a similar vision on sourcing sustainably and locally and having relationships with the people we source from."

The Whelk has a 56-seat capacity and a staff of about 10 employees. It is currently open for dinner from Tuesday through Saturday. Lunch service is scheduled to start within the next few weeks, and the restaurant plans to set up outdoor seating on an adjacent patio in the spring and summer, Tullio said.

"With the sourcing of Bill's food and my knowledge of wines, it's a good marriage," Tullio said of his new restaurant. "It's a cool little playground."

Contact Paul Schott at pschott@bcnnew.com; 203-255-4561, ext. 118.