Anytime Wilton residents would start a conversation with, “I wish there was a [blank] in Wilton…,” quite often what they’d hoped for was, “Indian restaurant.”
Not only has that wish now come true, but Wilton may have won the lottery at the same time with Athithi, the Indian restaurant that opened late last year at 14 Danbury Rd. in the Gateway Plaza shopping center.
With Athithi, Wilton can now also lay claim to having a restaurant with a Michelin-starred chef. The creative force behind the delicious menu is Executive Chef Hemant Mathur, the first Indian chef to receive a Michelin Star, a feat he topped off by earning another star after opening a second restaurant. Now Wilton is getting a taste of Mathur’s 30 years of culinary experience — along with his reputation as a master of traditional clay ovens and the nickname “the Yo-Yo Ma of tandoori cooking.”
Mathur was lured to Wilton by resident Princelal Chiriyankandath, who spent 16 years working in the restaurant business in New York City and Fairfield County. But the Covid pandemic made Chiriyankandath — who tells people to call him ‘Prince’ — decide it was time to work closer to home and open up his own restaurant.
“I thought, why not in Wilton? Wilton didn’t have any Indian restaurants,” noted Prince, who has lived here with his family for six years. “I thought of doing [something more] authentic — a change from what all the other Indian restaurants used to have.”
As part of his research, he spoke with friends and colleagues from his years in the business. Some were owners of well-known Indian restaurants that have had success in Westport, New Canaan, Darien, Stamford, Fairfield and beyond.
“I did some digging before with people who thought of doing something in Wilton. When I talked to [one], he said, ‘Wilton, it’s a very small community, and also it’s very tricky.’ Several well-known restaurant groups backed off. I asked, ‘Why you didn’t open in Wilton?’ He said, ‘Oh, no, it’s not easy,'” Prince said.
But that still didn’t deter Prince. He knew finding a location in the Gateway Plaza on the Wilton-Norwalk border was strategic for capturing residents from both towns as well as people traveling on Rte. 7. But first he had to prove it to the shopping center’s owner who was already renting to Ren Dumpling House, Outback Steakhouse, Pokeworks and Boston Market.
“When he heard [we wanted to open] a restaurant,” Prince recalled, “initially he said, ‘Oh, no, no, no, I have already four restaurants. I don’t need another one.’ But when I explained my passion as well as my experience, and our Michelin-rated chef, then he agreed for that. You know, I [recently] got an email from him that said, ‘I heard you guys are doing a very good job!”
Athithi certainly is doing well since opening three months ago. Getting a reservation is a wise choice for anyone who wants to dine in, and the restaurant is doing a steady takeout business as well. Prince credits his two partners, Executive Chef Mathur, as well as Chef Chandrumohan Krishnasamy, who adds his own extensive culinary background — and magic — to execute Mathur’s vision daily, (and who decided to move to Wilton with his family as well).
Food and restaurant interior photos: @NYCFoodPhoto; center top: Chef Hemant Mathur
So what is it about the menu that makes Athithi stand out? There are several dishes that diners won’t find elsewhere.
“This is a new menu and we have introduced lot of more authentic [dishes]. We divided India into six regions, and from each region, we bought four main authentic dishes. I’m from the south, the chef is from the north, and south dishes like Kerala Shrimp Moilee and Lamb Madras and Cochin Black Pepper Chicken and stuff like that. I need to do something different than other restaurants,” Prince said.
He has already started seeing the support from his Wilton neighbors. “Once they like, they start loving,” Prince added. “From my perspective, now we are doing good.”
Our friends at CT Bites, the culinary roadmap of Connecticut, featured contributor Kristin L. Wolfe‘s recent visit to Athithi, and they’ve graciously allowed us to share their review here (including some of their photos) — which, of course, means Wilton residents should make those reservations even faster now that the word is out to the foodies from Fairfield County and beyond about the gem we’ve got in Wilton.
Excerpt courtesy CT Bites, written by Kristin L. Wolfe; read the whole story on CTBites.com
Drooling even before the crispy Papadum and Chutneys arrived, I knew we’d want help with the menu. Of course, there are numerous recognizable dishes many of us had like your Tikka Masalas, Samosas, Dal, and Naan, but wanting to dive into as much of an array as possible, we were thankful the staff was like mini Ph.D.s with their extensive knowledge of each dish. After our lesson, we were ready to fill the table with the notorious colors and aromas connected with Indian cuisine. We started with the highly recommended Beetroot Cutlet, which is a less-than-pretty name for a wonderful full mouth of flavor; it was bold and bright, especially once hit with a drop of the Tamarind Aioli. We moved on to another appetizer of Shakarkandi Chaat made with a charcoal-smoked Japanese sweet potato and Tamarind Chutney. It is hard to comprehend, but this plate hit every sensory element possible. In addition to the Samosa Tasting plate — which was made with the lightest, flakiest batter I’ve ever had — the Lasooni Kebab (chicken thighs with cilantro, garlic, chili, and pineapple chutney) had everyone at the table swooning over the combination of flavors; it was a true “circus in the mouth” to beckon our inner Kramer from Seinfeld.
We moved on to Upma, a rice flour porridge, served with sweet and sour eggplant, which was bright and light; then a Pistachio Chicken that may not have looked very pretty with its green hue, but was smooth and more subtle than I expected. For old-time sake, I had to get the Sag Paneer, which to me, is a must; like having bread with butter, I have to have Naan with Sag. Somehow we found a way to fit in bites of two more recommended items: the Tandoori Tiger Shrimp, made with yogurt, Garam Masala and ginger garlic served with a lemon chutney; and the piece de resistance, the dish that had us all baffled in the best way — the Tandoori Lamb Chops served with mustard potatoes and pineapple chutney. First of all, the presentation and the char on the chops were certainly noteworthy, but the flavor and texture really threw me for a loop. I am one of those diners who usually does not order the lamb since it seems every time I do, it is very gamey and tough. Everyone at the table was blown away at how tender they were.
The restaurant uses the phrase Athithi Devo Bhava which roughly translates to “The Guest is God.” That is quite a powerful statement, and yet, after an experience there, one might better understand the emphasis placed on impeccable service and a beautiful display of passion and cultural pride. The restaurant enlisted the talents of designer Soudi Amini out of Stamford; they asked for a warm, inviting space that captures Athithi’s vision, and Amin’s design team certainly delivered. When I asked the team about the overall reception since they opened in the fall, they really beam with pride. “From the food and decor to flavors and textures, we’ve had an excellent response. We’re so happy we have been able to maintain a high level of consistency and in just three months, already had many repeat customers.”
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