Despite its size and fairly cosmopolitan corporate population, Stamford's dining scene has always felt a bit soulless to me. That has changed significantly over the past year or two with the addition of restaurants like Barcelona and Tawa Indian Bread Bar and a newly refreshed Market. Meanwhile, it's Napa & Co. that's been singlehandedly holding the fine-food fort here for several years. A recent visit found the pretty, wine-themed bastion of excellent cuisine still firmly rooted in the game, thanks to sparkly young chef Arik Bensimon. He sources locally wherever possible and pairs his dishes brilliantly with the exhaustive wine options offered at the restaurant.
We started a tasting menu with superlative, velvety-creamy burrata cheese, its craggy form holding tiny pools of drizzled, fruity, organic Sicilian olive oil. Served with a thick slice of griddled bread and sprinkled with minced chives and tiny, bell-shaped, lavender-hued chive blossoms (from Urban Oaks Farm in New Britain), I'll dream of this cheese forevermore, perfectly paired with a glass of bubbly Barcino Cava brut from Spain. A local arugula salad, blanketed in shaved, whole slices of buttery and earthy raw porcini mushrooms and delicate shavings of sharp parmesan, was dressed with an Orleans mustard vinaigrette and sprinkled lightly with toasted, oily pignoli nuts. It paired beautifully with a honeysuckle-nosed glass of Argentine Torrontes that I'd like to have a case of to carry me through summer.
Soft shell crab season makes my heart sing and at Napa & Co., Bensimon does the young crustaceans proud. They are perfectly, gently cooked, their crispy shells giving way to juicy tender crabmeat. Covered in a sweet tomato sauce, lightly infused with licorice-scented tarragon, the little beauties rest on a yellow mound of sweet creamed corn. Couple them with a very dry Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, chardonnay with a vague bell pepper overtone and you've got summer ringing on your palate.
Hudson Valley foie gras, cooked in a brandy, 25-year balsamic, and a similarly aged port wine reduction, is served over fresh cherry sauce. Matched with a woody-sweet, figgy 2006 Chateau Padouen French Sauternes, the rich, gamey liver is the stuff of kings. House-made cavatelli, a bit of a play on carbonara, is also exceptional. It's topped with a very soft poached egg from Holbrook Farm in Bethel, studded with smoky pancetta and flavored just so with salty pecorino cheese, the dish creatively veers from the standard recipe with the addition of shiitake mushrooms and roasted cabbage. A smooth, dry Argyle Pinot Noir from the Willamette in Oregon makes for a pretty partner to the lovely, chewy, pasta dish.
A perfectly medium-rare, vintage sirloin steak caps our meal with its confetti of fresh corn, toothsome fava beans, sweet, peeled cherry tomatoes, and wispy, caramelized fennel fronds. A 2007 grassy, olive-y, house label Cabernet, appropriately hailing from Napa, is our companion wine.
Pursuers of culinary excellence take note: It's time to hit Stamford for some serious and inspired food.