The Whelk (Westport) – Neptune’s Nirvana

I finally experienced a deep dive of the seafood at The Whelk in Westport and it was an extraordinary culinary experience, showcasing the James Beard Nominee Bill Taibe’s talents of intertwining various flavors and textures into a cohesive presentation that will challenge and please palates.

We started our journey with the Sunburst Farm Smoked Trout dip with roe skin potato dill bread. The smoked trout offered a large variety of textures and flavors and it disappeared too quickly. Be careful, the bread disappears first and you may need to ask for more. This was a great way to start the evening.

A selection of oysters hit the table next  and each presented a different flavor and texture but as one old time oyster fisherman once pointed out to me, when you eat an oyster you also need to focus on the level and differences in the salinity. You can almost tell their origin. And each of the oysters was so different in creaminess, flavor and salinity.

It is a little hard for me to believe that the first dish on my “extraordinary top-3″ was the sweet and sour Brussel sprouts with white soy sauce, pumpkin seeds and rosemary. The flavors were over the top. The saltiness of the soy sauce complemented the sweet sprouts and the crispiness of the latter was perfect. Growing up I would never eat Brussel sprouts but this dish could make a convert of anyone.

The fried oyster on deviled eggs with onion pickles ain’t what you see at a Sunday social. The soft texture of the egg, the crunchy sweetness of the oyster and the onion pickles were fantastic. My only regret was that before I knew it the half-egg disappeared with two bites; I craved for more.

The warm Jonah crab claws with pepper relish, Benton’s ham and old bay was not on my “must have another” list. I admit that I am not a big crab claw fan and while others at the table raved about them they are just not my cup of tea. I just do not like the texture of crab claws, so it is my prejudice since others at the table loved them. For me I do need to point out that the Benton’s Ham is something that I had never tasted previously and I was an instant convert to this great addition.

As the table moved to the “crudo” portion of the meal the bar was raised even higher. There was slight disagreement as to which of the two earned the extraordinary status, I thought the cherry smoked cobia with warm cabbage and squash, barrel aged fish sauce, onions and butter was one of the best dishes ever. The first aspect that grabbed my attention was the texture of the cobia, with its firm, moist flesh, served in bite-sized cubes that accepted just a touch of the smokiness, and when the saltiness of the fish sauce kicked in and the other ingredients joined, the flavors brought an incredible smile to my face. The other dish, the crudo of “black bass with a blood oranges-lime Kosho sauce, fennel and sesame” was the clear choice of others at the table. At this point we were discussing “how high is up” with the level of deliciousness (not a bad place to be at dinner). The blood oranges offered a delicious sweet complement to the thinly-sliced fish and the Kosho brought just a touch of heat.

The last two dishes the table enjoyed were the Beer battered fluke fishsticks with celeriac, apple and kohlrabi slaw and creamy horseradish and the Squid ink cavatelli with red shrimp, Mexican chorizo and preserved tomato. The fishsticks were like none any of us have ever eaten. The crispy coating was delicious and the fluke was moist, flavorful and the texture was soft and delightful. The accompanying slaw was fantastic…it was difficult not eating more than two. Then I tried the pasta and the third slot in the trifecta now had a resident. The texture of the skid ink pasta was just delightful, and combined with the sauce would have made this dish fantastic, but Taibe added a few perfectly prepared shrimp to raise the bar even higher and finally hid a few thin slices of chorizo in the dish to grab your attention. One of the best pastas dishes anywhere.

For me all of the dishes were in an ultra-premium league but I need to call out the Trifecta Nirvana with the Brussel sprouts, the Cobia and the Squid Ink Pasta. These three dishes were extraordinary, all so different, all so perfectly composed and all so perfectly divine. But when you are eating at this level, it is all good, no let me rephrase, it is all great.

575 Riverside Avenue - Westport, CT 06880 -  203.557.0902

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