I adore farm-to-table style cuisine, and was so very excited to hear that a new restaurant, Millwright’s, was opening in the same Connecticut town as my workplace. After I discovered the identity of the chef opening the establishment, I knew I had to try it out ASAP! Chef Tyler Anderson was a winner on Food Network’s “Chopped”, and I sampled his creative PB&J bites at the Taste of the Nation: New Haven. He cooked at the Copper Beech Inn restaurant Brasserie Pip, a spot too far from me to have allowed time for a visit yet (it’s on my ever-growing list of places to hit), but a glance at that menu and my too-brief experience in New Haven told me I was sure to be impressed by the creativity Tyler was bound to bring to the Millwright’s menu. He and the rest of the courteous staff were kind enough to host my friend Chris and I for a well-rounded tasting of that menu’s offerings – and more.
Millwright’s is housed in Simsbury, CT’s Hop Brook Mill. Upon my arrival I spent a little bit of time “searching” the grounds for the old mill’s waterfall, but didn’t have any luck seeing it (I certainly could hear it!)
Good thing I had no problem seeing the waterfall from my perfectly-located table. Chris and I also had another dining buddy – a beautiful heron that had been, according to our waitresses, hanging out by the waterfall all day!
Millwright’s could easily coast along on its beautiful outdoor views, but that would be too easy. The rustic, charming interior matches the restaurant’s woodsy surroundings and barn-red exterior perfectly! I felt right at home the moment I walked through the door and saw the shelf stocked with mason jars of “preserves” and old cookbooks next to the hostess stand.
The dim lighting at the entrance builds the perfect amount of suspense, then brightens into a dining room filled with natural light coming from the floor-to-ceiling windows you see on the left in the photo below.
Chris and I were given cocktail/beer menus and the wine list, which is housed in a binder. Don’t be too intimidated though…not only does the menu contain notes from the sommelier and maitre d’ Brent Bushong, but wines by the glass are also conveniently arranged on one page and wines by the bottle are grouped by taste, not by region or type (something I always prefer, because patrons are going to TASTE the wine, yes?) The cocktails caught my eye immediately – I am a cocktail connoisseur (self-declared, so you just have my word to take on that one) and those with simple yet unique ingredient lists are the very types that Chris, the head bartender, is creating at Millwright’s daily.
Chris (my dining partner, not bartender…this could get confusing!) and I decided to let Chef Tyler and his maître d’, Brent, take the reins for the evening. Between the two of them, Chris and I were served a fantastic assortment of dishes with drink pairings. Before we received anything, we got the below assortment of glasses, an occurrence which clearly both excited and astounded me.
First up…no courses. Now we still got food, but these THREE dishes were palate cleansers, all paired with a French Pommerey Blanc de Blancs Champagne.
I’m not usually much for champagne, but both Chris and I enjoyed how mild this glass was in terms of fizziness. Also, we appreciated the fact that it wasn’t too sweet at all. The flavor complemented each palate cleanser, as opposed to taking away from it.
This probably goes without saying for anyone who just looked at the above photo, but the tomato gazpacho shooter with crème fraiche was made differently from any other gazpacho I’ve had thanks to the addition of a blackberry (meant to be flicked into the glass before “shooting”) and a flower!
An outstanding flavor combo! I never would have expected fruit (or a flower…) to go with gazpacho!
Next up Chris and I classily cleansed our palates with two New England oysters from East Beach in MA (Millwright’s goes as local as possible on all ingredients) and rhubarb mignonette.
I am not the biggest oyster fan – for some reason, every shooter I’ve EVER tried tastes like all salty shell to me! However, I could tell from my oyster’s taste that it was of high quality; my best descriptive word I can come up with is “pure”. Definitely fresh, definitely local.
How wonderful is the presentation with the granite slab?!
The third and last palate cleanser was my favorite. Best for last…third time’s the charm…which cliché should I insert here? Doesn’t really matter, because I think a description of the dish will do it justice: foie gras torchon on Boston brown bread, paired with a stone fruit jam.
Again with the amazing presentation! I wish I’d had more “bites” of the foie gras and brown bread, and it was painful to eat both in one mouthful, but I had to do so because I knew they were meant to be paired! I also dipped the combo into the jam – so heavenly. I’m a sucker for any app involving a pate and fruity jam.
Time for course one! Fluke tartare with buttermilk, pickled blueberries, puffed wild rice, and shiso. Brent asked us to guess what the fruit was on this dish and I am bummed that I never gave him my guess, because I totally suspected blueberries! Not sure if he would believe me now.
The fluke was paired appropriately, though unexpectedly, with a chilled Japanese sake called Junmai Genshu. I am a huge advocate of sake drinking (though not as much when it is room temperature or warm) and can definitely see myself seeking out a bottle of this stuff and keeping it in the fridge at home to pair with an appropriate dinner. If you ever see that sake on the menu at any restaurant, I highly recommend ordering a glass – or you could just go to Millwright’s, since you know it’s there!
I swear when the second course (pictured above) came out, I let out a “squeal” of delight. Ask Chris…he’d probably agree that that’s what I sounded like. All day leading up to my visit I had been hoping I’d be served a cut of fantastic fish, but also knew I wanted Millwright’s to choose the best of their best for my tasting, so I held back on asking for a grilled seafood dish. Brent and Tyler read my mind! The above pictured grilled swordfish melted in my mouth and the white bean puree to its left tasted like hummus on steroids. The cubanelle peppers and green olives on the puree were the perfect complements, and I crafted as many “complete” bites (with everything ingredient) as possible because all the flavors just tasted as if they were born to be experienced together.
Thankfully Chris and I got to try one of bartender Chris’s amazing cocktails…and get a photo with the mixologist himself. His take on the Hemingway (white rum, cherry, and citrus) had me doubtful at first because I wondered if it’d taste too sweet…I shouldn’t have doubted him for a second and don’t think I ever will again! I enjoyed sipping on the classic beverage’s frothy top as well as the way the rum’s flavor still shone through, but was cut down the perfect amount by the cherry, whose sweetness was balanced nicely by the citrus. Sounds complicated, but with just a few simple ingredients combined using the ideal ratios, Chris created a cocktail that tasted timeless. I’m so very excited to order another when I go visit the Millwright’s Tavern in the building’s bottom floor (after it opens Monday, 9/4!)
I’d never heard of or tasted a dish like course three’s before…that is what I love about innovative, creative eateries like Millwright’s! The white wine in my glass above is a French Domaine Desvignes Chablis, a wonderful Chardonnay possessing the perfect level of dryness to balance the moist veal sweetbreads with zucchini-three-ways, absinthe froth, almonds, and mint (pictured below).
I pulled a faux paus and thought the almonds were peanuts – oops! Either way, I appreciated the creativity it took for Chef Tyler to add nuts to a veal dish. I’m also a HUGE zucchini fan, so the not one, not two, but THREE ways it was displayed (and tasted) certainly played up to the veggie lover in me. I can’t really describe the taste of the foam in a way that would do it justice, but suffice to say that taste as well as the texture played up next to the flavorful veal very nicely. Oh man…the veal. It melted in my mouth, it really did! It’s rich flavor reminded me of one of my favorite meats ever, duck.
Our table’s third and final shape of wine glass was filled next with Vina Alarba Garnacha (one of my favorite red grapes) from Calatayud, Spain. I’m jokingly calling the shape a “bubble”…in reality, the large wine glass used to house our fourth course’s wine is of the Burgundy/Grand Cru/Pinot/Nebbiolo variety and is shaped in that way to give the “big, closed red wine…maximum exposure to air”. The website linked in the previous sentence also admits that the glasses are that big to give a “note of drama”…at least they’re being honest!
Would you believe me if I said the above pictured medium-rare lamb loin with roast eggplant yogurt, confit tomatoes, and grilled fennel was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten? No? Well then you must not know me very well, because I love meat that’s practically bleeding. I love anything Mediterannean-tasting, like yogurt sauce and eggplant. I love juicy, local tomatoes. And I love fennel. So really, Chef Tyler put together a dish that was the perfect storm of Caitlin, and created a total J’adore La Vie moment for me.
Chris and I had just one request for Brent and Tyler – dessert. Consider it done. Not only did dessert, a honey semifredo chocolate sorbet with chantilly cream and toasted almonds, blow us away, but it was paired with one of my most favorite alcoholic libations ever…DESSERT WINE (the non-sparkling kind).
The Equifera Vidal Icewine from Niagara, NY was another beverage I’m so glad Brent picked out for us, because I can see myself buying it and keeping it on hand at home to have after dinner. The perfect almost-syrup consistency that went well with every single component of the dessert, including that HOMEMADE MARSHMALLOW perched at the top.
I like to experience the bread of every restaurant I visit. We were not brought any in the beginning of the meal, so once we finished dessert, I (hesitantly) asked one of our waitresses to bring out a couple of rolls with butter for Chris and I to sample. To me, bread says a lot about a restaurant because it can cover a wide spectrum, from the very worst (stale, served with cold/hard-as-rock butter, falls apart when you try to spread that butter on that staleness) to some of the best I’ve ever had (like the wheat sourdough with soft pastrami butter at J. Gilbert’s). I’m pleased to report that Millwright’s is in that best-end of the spectrum! I was quite psyched when our waitress didn’t call it bread…she called it “biscuits”. They had a sweet edge to them and the butter (doesn’t it look like a candle in the photo above?!) contained HONEY and SEA SALT. Ahh contrasting flavors FTW!
There’s nothing like sandwiching biscuits between two courses involving chocolate, oui? The last dish we were served, homemade chocolates, was certainly my kind of palate cleanser.
After our meal, Chris and I were lucky enough to get a tour of the kitchen, the work-in-progress Tavern, and the wine “cellar”. It meant a lot to me that I was able to personally thank Tyler and his team for providing such a fabulous experience for Chris and I. I had already profusely thanked Brent throughout the meal with each course. He is the best maitre d’ I have ever encountered – just constantly ready to cater to every Millwright’s guest and make sure he or she enjoys the experience as much as possible. He even made up a custom menu for me to take home so that I would not have to worry about writing down all I was eating. I was able to just concentrate on tasting – and be in the moment!
Millwright’s uses an iPad to keep inventory in the room where they keep all their wine and spirits. I also spotted my faves, Onyx Moonshine!
The coffee (served in a French press!) Brent has selected for Millwright’s is roasted in RI and is only kept for use as coffee (the beverage) for a week. After that, the beans are still used, but in cooking. A restaurant that takes its caffeine seriously is one that I will, in turn, take seriously!
The members of the waitstaff at Millwright’s were just as hospitable as Brent. I truly felt comfortable making any (reasonable) request of them. They even had left us the sweetest card when I came back from our kitchen tour!
The card…the customized menu…I can’t get over the personalized service Chris and I received at Millwright’s last Wednesday night. I could even tell that Brent had read my blog! That’s the reason behind my decision to title this post the way I did. Millwright’s has the ability to make every single customer feel special, which is what every single one of them deserves. If you are looking for a place to celebrate a special occasion, or treat yourself to a meal that can also be called an experience, I recommend you visit Millwright’s as soon as possible. Like their Facebook page too…I’ve seen them give out fan-only specials!
Thank you so very much to Tyler and his kitchen team, Brent, Chris (the bartender), Mariah, Amandalee, Rachel, and everyone else who made the evening unforgettable for Chris and I. I cannot wait for the Tavern’s 9/4/12 opening, and will be back then and many times after!
Have you ever had a dining experience that made you feel truly special?
Which dish would you have wanted to try the most? Which drink?
Do you have any experience with pre- and/or post-meal palate cleansers? Tell me about them!