Rebeccas restaurant wins AAA’s 4 stars for 8th year in a row
There is only one Reza Khorshidi. And that’s a pity, because we surely could use more of him in our restaurants. Few chefs, however, can measure up to a man who insists on the finest ingredients available, who demands excellence from his cooks, who has turned his kitchen into a culinary school’s equivalent of an MFA and whose cuisine repeatedly reaps accolades from national reviewers.
Now 20 years old, Khorshidi’s restaurant, Rebeccas, has recently been awarded four stars by AAA’s Diamond Association for the eighth year in a row. It’s a prestigious award, signifying an outstanding dining facility. Criteria measured “meticulous attention to detail, creativity, outstanding service and memorable guest experiences,” and AAA ranks Rebeccas as among “the best of the best restaurants in the Northeast.” Zagat lists it as “one of Connecticut’s top 10 most popular restaurants since 1999.”
Take one item to prove the point: Caviar. It’s everywhere. It first appears capping a smidgen of sour cream positioned ever so carefully on dollhouse-size corn blini. It shows up on sweet, succulent kumamoto oysters that float above opulent creamed cucumber remoulade. It tops scrambled eggs, velvety soft with heavy cream, the whole of which is cushioned into an eggshell. The top of the shell has been scissored off to one point so that it stands upright, as stiff as a butler in “Downtown Abby” serving Lady Mary her breakfast. Best of all, decadent caviar is showered over a dumpling in a black truffle broth. The dough is so sheer that shredded cabbage and finger-size foie gras are clearly visible beneath its diaphanous skin. And these are just the appetizers.
Every dish sings an operatic aria. Golden beets, roasted to perfection, may seem familiar, but not the way Khorshidi prepares them: a circle of beet disks leaning against a mound of colorful microgreens shielding Saint Andre cheese. It’s dressed with an exhilarating ginger vinaigrette much like the wasabi dressing skirting a sashimi of filleted kanpachi (yellowtail fish) shaped like a lotus flower adorning a seaweed salad.
Khorshidi is a master of subtle nuances in his cuisine. With an innate culinary wingspan that embraces many cultures, he constantly hones his recipes. He has known about food since his early years. Born in Azerbaijan, he was orphaned at a young age and developed an inclination toward a professional restaurant career while in boarding school. His path took him to acclaimed restaurants in Los Angeles and eventually to the executive chef position at the famous La Goulue in New York, which caught the attention of Gourmet Magazine and of Rebecca Kirhoffer, an aspiring chef who he would soon marry.
Vivacious Kirhoffer is full of electric energy, a people person. She’s public relations liaison, flower arranger, caterer, interior designer, sommelier and her husband’s biggest fan. A chef in her own right, she helped Sanford Weill develop a dining concept for Smith Barney. Shortly after she and Khorshidi were married,, they opened a restaurant in Greenwich, Kirhoffer’s hometown.
Rebeccas is an ultra-modern minimalist environment with white napped tables. Black-and-white photographs of celebrities hang on two cream-colored walls and a third wall is a bank of windows facing a firehouse that provides some drama on occasion. You can sit at a bar as you dine and watch the cooks in the open kitchen, or slip in for a daiquiri at a bar discreetly tucked off to one side.
The place looks much the same as it did when it opened in December 1997. I still remember six of us in those early days ordering the same first course: two soups in one bowl — acorn squash and butternut squash. How precisely the two were poured into the dish without sneaking a single rivulet into one another. A customer favorite, it’s still on the menu, with the addition of roasted chestnuts to amp the flavors.
Sometimes it’s hard to get your head around all the unexpected dishes Khorshidi creates, like Canadian elk chop over a green peppercorn sauce, duck foie gras terrine with an artichoke salad, Muscovy duck with a pomegranate sauce, short-rib ravioli with ginger. Where else do you find such creativity? He is quite fussy about his truffles — black ones with fettuccine in the colder months and white ones during the summer (with tongue-in-cheek, his menu begs guests to refrain from using their cellphones “as it interferes with the cooking of the white truffle risotto”).
As your glass of pink champagne dwindles down, consider short ribs burnished a deep burgundy, the meat cooked to succulent tenderness. Or the rack of lamb, served over a luscious ringlet of eggplant, zucchini and tomato in a rosemary garlic sauce. Flavorful fillets of true Dover sole and of black sea bass march like conquering heroes across their plates, regal in their execution.
Forget calories when it comes to not-to-be-skipped desserts of carrot cake with crème fraîche ice cream, a beautiful Pavlova clothed in raspberries, or blueberry pie escorted by dulce de leche ice cream.
There are memories to be made at Rebeccas. Ours are 20 years old and still counting.
Rosemarie T. Anner is a frequent contributor to Sunday Arts & Style.