This is the start of a new series we’re launching, under the banner “GMW’s Local Likes.” We want to highlight local businesses–shops, restaurants, salons, etc.–that deserve not only the community’s financial support but also patronage ‘just because.’ Because what they contribute to the local scene is valuable aesthetically or culturally. Because they give back to local groups and charities. Because they’re owned by people who live in Wilton. For whatever the reason, we want to highlight the many good local spots too valuable to lose–but who are in danger of being overlooked.
We’ve been having frequent conversations with local business owners, which have, in part, prompted the idea for the “Local Likes” series. Discussions about how things are sometimes hard for them because Wilton can be a little off the beaten track for anyone other than people who live here; how zoning regulations sometimes make having adequate, eye-catching signage complicated; how rents and monthly expenses are high, and how even one snow day–let alone three or four–in one month can seriously threaten a small business’ chances for survival. Just think about recent business closures–Green Leaf Organic Bakery, Swizzles and Athletes Foot–and you can see what we mean.
Today’s inaugural ‘Local Like’ is Bon Appetit Cafe, a gem of a restaurant located right in the heart of Wilton Center, at 5 River Road, in the Stop & Shop Plaza. Step through the doors, and it feels like April in Paris, all year round. It helps that the kitchen is manned by two Frenchmen, Lionel Arnal and Dominique Arrighi. These two men are culinary magicians who seek one thing: to prepare really good, authentic food that pleases everyone who walks through their front door.
My family visits Bon Appetit somewhat regularly–it gives my husband, who was born in France, a genuine taste of home. But whether we’re there with the kids or out for a night with friends for a more grown up experience, we’re always satisfied if not gastronomically transported to a slice of Gallic heaven.
It honestly starts with the bread–a basket of just-made-from-scratch baguette slices placed on the table, with a just-right crispness to the crusty outside and a doughy, warm delicious inside that says it’s very real and very reminiscent of France with every delicious bite. But then, you look at the menu…
Gorgeous onion soup that’s as traditional as it gets. The moules mariniere, mussels in a buttery white wine shallot sauce, is magnifique. Steak au poivre and salade niçoise do more than rhyme, they make the perfect meal companions. You’ll find all the classic French fare: escargot, paté maison, smoked salmon or cheese plates, duck confit or a l’orange, and a chicken normandy that my 7-year-old picky eater finishes and licks the plate clean. I have friends that take a moment of silence just thinking of the tarragon mustard sauce that coddles the clams.
But what makes this bistro even more of a treasure is what’s off the menu, nightly specials written on the boards in chalk around the restaurant. That’s where Dominique and Lionel really shine. They find the freshest products from local purveyors–venison, lamb, an array of seafood, sometimes even wild boar–and pair them with seasonal vegetables and inventive sauces. We have long loved the sea scallops in a honey balsamic sauce–now I know where my daughter learned to lick the plate, she watched me do the same; imagine blackfish in vanilla sauce; a hearty venison or lamb stew; of course bouillabaisse, coq au vin or cod au four, trout almondine… No matter what night you visit, you’ll have difficulty figuring out what to choose and may even consider ordering more than one main dish. Appetizers too appear on the specials board, with broccoli rabe soup with shrimp, clams casino and mushroom cassoulet some of the more famous.
I could go on, as could Dominique, if you ask him about the way he crafts the food, with years of experience in restaurants and private catering (which Bon Appetit also offers). He’ll talk to you about the value on the plate, especially if you think you’ve heard that they’re pricey. There’s no cutting corners on anything they make, and the craft and creativity that lovingly goes into each dish is well worth the treat.
Speaking of treats, ooh la la, there are the desserts! There’s heavenly crème brulée, tarte tatin, profiteroles, and so many other beautiful concoctions with spun sugar and pastry and sweet beauty on a plate.
Bon Appetit Cafe is one of those gems of a place you don’t find in every Fairfield County town, so we should consider ourselves fortunate that it’s here in Wilton, especially as our choices in restaurants are more limited than, say New Canaan, Westport or Fairfield. Dominique has invested a lot of himself in the restaurant, especially since doubling the bistro’s size and renovating it in the summer of 2012. Considering they scored a “Very Good” from the New York Times shortly after opening in 2009 and received a three-star review from Connecticut Magazine in 2011, it’s wise to keep Bon Appetit on the short list, both to support them being able to stay open as well as to benefit our taste buds.
But don’t just take it from me, especially with the full disclosure that the Cafe has been an early advertiser with GMW. We recently met friends for dinner there, friends we consider pretty knowledgeable about food since one works for a well known chef in NYC and is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. Her take: “Don’t forget about this place. The food is really good, and they care about every meal they make.”
Or as my daughter once put it, “Mama, I want to hug him, it was that good!”
Bon Appetit Cafe is open seven days a week, for lunch and dinner. They have a full bar, and the service is excellent. Check out their Facebook page for more pictures and information, and call them at 203.563.9002 to make reservations. They also do catering and private parties.