Finally, finally the temperature has risen just enough to make al fresco dining an option again. After a long, hard winter, there's nothing that can compare to that first just-warm-enough evening when you can sit outside and enjoy a cocktail and a relaxing dinner.
Although we've only had a few really nice days so far this spring, it seems as if everyone is jumping at the chance to score a patio seat at area restaurants. One particularly nice evening, the wait at Bar Taco in Westport was over an hour, but people didn't seem to mind. Propane heaters produced just enough heat to take an edge off the chill, and it was just so nice to finally be outside.
It used to be that only a handful of restaurants in the area had outdoor seating -- old favorites like Fairfield's Centro, Old Post Tavern (and its previous incarnations) and Osianna, and Westport's Splash, Viva Zapata, Blue Lemon and Tavern on Main. But now that zoning laws have loosened a bit, particularly in Westport, and competition for dining dollars is getting fiercer, there are more outdoor options than ever before.
Post 154, the restaurant created out of the old post office in downtown Westport, has an expansive outdoor patio. Rive Bistro also has a large, lovely patio alongside the banks of the Saugatuck River.
In Fairfield, Molto, The Chelsea and Baro all offer outdoor dining with a festive atmosphere.
On one of those nice recent evenings, I wanted to try something new, and I really wanted a great view, so we found ourselves at Arezzo, located on the banks of the Saugatuck River. I'll admit, I was always a bit intimidated by the location. Previously, the space was home to Bridge Cafe, then Napoli Sul Fiume. The entrance on Riverside Avenue is dark and inset, giving it almost a private, club-like feel. Also, because the one front window doesn't look directly into the restaurant -- it looks into the bar area -- an air of mystery always surrounded it.
The bar area is small but cozy, and the dining room is pleasant and welcoming, but the VIP seating is the outdoor patio with the view of the Saugatuck River and the bridge. It's so picturesque, it's like a mini vacation without the hassle of packing a suitcase.
The menu at Arezzo was surprisingly accessible. With such a stunning view, the chef could easily go the route of a super fancy menu (with super fancy prices), but fortunately that's not the case. Don't get me wrong; you can certainly enjoy an upscale, celebratory dinner. You can also, though, relax with a bottle of wine and some of their pizza made in the brick-faced, wood-fired oven that recently was installed. And this is where I have to say, if for nothing else, go to Arezzo for the Focaccia Robiola di Arezzo. Thin slices of crusty, chewy dough are filled with robiola, a soft Italian cheese similar to ricotta, only creamier and with a little more edge, and they're finished off with a drizzle of white truffle oil. Amazing. Pair the Focaccia with one of the excellent salads on the menu and you've got a great meal. Watercress and pear salad with gorgonzola cheese, almonds and red wine dressing was a wonderful mix of tastes and textures. Likewise, the shaved artichoke and radicchio salad with truffle vinaigrette was crunchy and flavorful, and a welcome change from kale salad.
As one might expect, the house-made pastas are fresh and creative. We tried a trio of pastas; my favorite was the artichoke and fresh fava bean ravioli with yellow tomato fondue. It tasted like spring.
If you go for a full-on entree, you have plenty of choices, from organic chicken with Brussels sprouts and fingerling potatoes with fresh herbs and olive oil, to roasted rack of lamb with goat cheese, with mashed potatoes, glazed carrots and red wine, and rosemary lamb jus.
If, by chance you save room for dessert, don't try to choose between the Nutella pizza or the rustic apple tart with olive oil ice cream -- just order them both.
With warmer weather on the horizon, and plenty of restaurants to choose from, there's no better time to take a seat at an outdoor patio and enjoy some good food and beautiful scenery. And you'd better do it soon, because the way Mother Nature has been, it just might get too hot very quickly.
Patti Woods is a freelance writer. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Is dining alfresco on the menu for you? There is a lengthy list of outdoor options in the area, and although this is by no means a complete list, it will get you started:
55 Wine Bar: 55 Miller St.; 203-256-0099
Artisan: 275 Old Post Road, Southport; 203-307-4222
Avellino's: 1813 Boston Post Road; 203-254-2339
Barcelona: 4180 Black Rock Turnpike; 203-255-0800
Baro: 1229 Post Road; 203-292-9560
Centro: 1435 Post Road; 203-255-1210
Flipside: 1125 Post Road; 203-292-8233
Martel: 2316 Post Road; 203-292-6916
Molto: 1215 Post Road; 203-292-8288
Old Post Tavern: 1418 Post Road; 203-292-8631
Osianna: 70 Reef Road; 203-254-2070
Quattro Pazzi: 1599 Post Road; 203-259-7417
Southport Brewing Company: 2600 Post Road; 203-256-2337
The Chelsea: 12 Unquowa Place; 203-254-8200
Acqua: 43 Main St.; 203-222-8899
Arezzo: 5 Riverside Ave.; 203-557-9375
Bar Taco, 20 Wilton Road; 203-222-8226
Pane e Bene: 1620 Post Road East; 203-292-9584
Positano: 233 Hillspoint Road; 203-454-4922
Post 154: 154 Post Road East; 203-454-0154
Shake Shack, 1849 Post Road East; 203-682-6570
Splash: 260 Compo Road South; 203-454-7798
Spotted Horse Tavern: 26 Church Lane; 203-557-9393
Tavern on Main: 150 Main St.; 203-221-7222
Via Sforza Trattoria: 243 Post Road West; 203-454-4444