Chef Luke Venner has been at the helm of elm Restaurant for several monthsand was invited to participate at the Greenwich Wine and Food Festival as one of the Innovative Chefs. The two small bites that he prepared at the festival were delicious. In hopes that these were reflective of his newly revised menu, CTbites returned to the restaurant to sample other dishes on his recently introduced Autumn menu. The appetizers and entrées that we enjoyed highlighted the inherent flavors of the ingredients utilizing Chef Luke’s balanced vision and delicate touch.
We shared three dishes from the “smaller” section of the menu.
With the arrival of Fall, menus are featuring soups to showcase the season’s harvest. Chef Venner’s Pumpkin and Apple Soup was a sweet-spice combination mellowed by the pumpkin’s earthiness. These Autumnal flavors were a fantastic combination and the preparation included interesting back-notes from a smidgen of star anise. The spicy marshmallows were a playful inclusion for additional sweetness and a sudden burst of spiciness from the chili pepper.
The Tuscan Kale salad was served with thinly sliced honey crisp apples, intermingled with chunks of Cheddar cheese and bacon. This good-sized portion paired the mild bitterness of the shredded kale with the sweetness of apples. The presentation was further enriched by the Cheddar cheese and chunks of some of the best bacon I have eaten in some time.
The Delicata Squash Tartine started with a slice of toasted bread that was topped with ricotta, slices of roasted squash and sprinkled with spiced pecans. The squash rings were first caramelized to heighten their natural sweetness and were perfectly complemented by the wonderfully smooth ricotta. The pecans added more earthiness and a textural difference. This was a delicious start to the meal that I would describe as a more petit starter.
The entrées, “larger” plates, I sampled included two of the steaks and the risotto.
My favorite of the entrées was the Smoked Shortrib, which shared the plate with pureed carrots, slices of charred cucumber, and a dollop of chimichurri. The beef was first brined for two days, smoked and then pressed to remove all of the inherent fattiness of this cut. The filet was finished with a mild sear. The result was incredibly tender with a deep, rich flavor that required nothing more than a fork to cut. The charred cucumber slices added an interesting sweetness, the Sriracha enhanced carrot purée offered a touch of spiciness and the chimichurri complemented the other ingredients with sour notes.
Elm’s Wagyu Rib Eye is purchased from the 7X Ranch in Colorado. A little background of this ranch and its beef is important. While the requirement in the US for Wagyu designation is at least 25% from a Japanese Wagyu steer, 7X is 100% derived from Japanese Wagyu steer. The result is a softer, well marbled steak. The Wagyu rib eye was glazed with a Bordelaise sauce and served with a large marrow-filled bone. The meat was mild in flavor and presented more of a strip steak texture than rib eye…and was delicious. The portion was sufficient for two to share or for a single with a very hearty appetite.
There are numerous risottos offered throughout the area, most with a certain amount of heaviness. Elm’s current Risotto is delicate and pairs creamy Carnaroli rice with wild mushrooms, black truffle enhanced mascarpone and topped with thin slices of orange peel. The focus was the truffle infused mascarpone elevated by the brightness from the orange peel, a combination that I have never experienced, plus the mild earthiness from the mushrooms. It was outstanding and a much lighter version of this traditional Italian dish.
To accompany the entrées we also shared a side of Brussels sprouts. A bowl of baby sprouts was topped with honey and lavender that delivered a very sweet interpretation with a touch of floral notes. They were also excellent.
Pastry Chef Kara Koehmstedt recently joined elm to oversee its dessert and bread program. Chef Kara was trained at the Culinary Institute of America before joining the culinary team at The Peninsula Hotel and Blackbird Restaurant in Chicago and Cosme in NYC. She prepared four of her desserts from the current menu.
The highlight was the Zeppoles, which now rank as my favorite rendition in the area. The interior was moist from the Ricotta cheese and presented a wonderful texture to complement the crunchiness of the crust. Each was encased with cinnamon-sugar that offered the perfect balance to the zeppoles. They were paired with peach jam and maple ice cream and everyone at the table was craving a little chocolate sauce for their portion.
The Pumpkin Cheesecake delivered a rich creaminess reminiscent of NY-style cheese cake. There was additional smoothness from the formage blanc mousse, while the crumbles of specaloos (ginger biscuits) added a crunchy textural difference. As much as I loved the textures the pumpkin filling, the dish was a little heavy with nutmeg and the specaloos contained a little too much ginger.
The elm Brownie was several bite-sized pieces served with Crème fraiche ice cream and roasted blackberries. The highlight of the dish was the blackberries that were very sweet and delectable. The brownies were mild in flavor as was the ice cream and I prefer a more chocolatey brownie.
The Boozy Sundae is the newest addition to the dessert menu and included a large dish of soft brown sugar Bourbon ice cream topped with swirls of chocolate and caramel sauces and finished with pecans. The ice cream and sauces were excellent but the pecans were much too salty and overwhelmed the other ingredients.
Overall the appetizers and entrées were some of the most creative and delicious food I have eaten in Fairfield County. The subtleness of the combinations were fantastic. I look forward to returning to elm and taste many more of Chef Venner culinary compositions.
Prices range from $12 to $21 for the smaller plates and $21 to $36 for the larger plates (with the exceptions being the burger at $18 and the Wagyu ribeye at $62). I found most of the portion sizes in line with those at other high-end restaurants in Fairfield County.
- Tuscan Kale ($19)
- Pumpkin and Apple Soup ($12)
- Smoked Shortrib ($34)
- Carnaroli Risotto ($21)
- Zeppole ($8)
- Delicata Squash Tartine ($14)
- Wagyu Rib Eye ($62)
- Pumpkin Cheesecake ($8)
- Boozy Sundae ($8)
- Brownie ($8)