After several visits, 323 Restaurant & Bar in Westport is a bar/restaurant looking for an identity. It is unclear whether this is a bar with a dining room, or vice versa. Equally unclear is the cuisine which includes Italian, Seafood, Southern, and simple grilled meats. The interior was converted from a neighborhood bar, Bogies, and now includes with a 66-seat dining area to the right and an equi-large room to the left with a U-shaped bar and tables. The décor is eclectic-rustic-formal with wood beams overlooking tables covered with clothes. HDTV with a ballgame on the wall in one room and art on the walls in the other. But most important was the experience. On a recent weekend night visit there were limited guests (4 tables) and the vibe was dull but the service was alive. I hope they can decide on a direction before it is too late.
As far as the cuisine was concerned I enjoyed some of the dishes, a few of the components in the others required a little attention (some of these items have already been modified from when I originally sampled) and others were not at all to my liking.
The “New England Clam Chowder” on one visit was one of the best chowders I have tasted…a great start to the meal. The creamy bisque was rich in flavors from the fish stock and included an abundance of clams. On a subsequent visit the broth was overly pungent, the clams were very chewy and the potatoes were mushy, almost as if it simmered too long.
The “Grilled Octopus” with Chorizo hash and olive tapenade delivered some excellent flavors and textures. The octopus was braised and then finished on the grill. It was extremely tender and the olive tapenade was a good complement. The hash lacked the appropriate spiciness and would have benefited from more chorizo to add additional spice. The menu subsequently eliminated the hash. The “Salad of Thumbelina Carrots,” et. al. was a big hit. Included in the potpourri of colors were breakfast radishes, beets, kumquats and avocados. Each was sweet and incredibly delicious; I loved the textures and flavors of each of these vegetables. I was not as fond of the ginger yogurt that accompanied the salad and thought it did not complement, and almost fought with, the sweetness of the vegetables.
The grilled meat entrees were the highlight. The best overall dish was the 323 Burger. Eight ounces of short rib and brisket blend was served with pancetta, onion jam, American cheese, pickles and 323 sauce served on a Wave Hill brioche. Served with French fries or onion rings, the burger was perfectly prepared, delivered great flavor and the accompaniments were delicious. The hand-cut onion rings were delicious but on my two visits the seasoning was uneven. The “Dry Aged Boneless NY Strip” was fantastic. It was served with broccolini with raisins, and pignoli duck fat potatoes. The steak, from Pat LaFrieda in NYC, was prepared perfectly and delivered great flavor and texture; this was one of the best steaks in the area. The potatoes were delicious; crisp on the exterior and creamy on the interior; I was not fond of the broccolini and raisin accompaniment which was undercooked. The “Salmon a la Plancha” with spring vegetable ragout, julienned pear and a black truffle sauce was flavorful. A simple salmon filet sat atop a variety of beans, peas and onions and hidden beneath the vegetables was the highlight of the dish, a truffle sauce. The sauce was earthy and delightful when paired with other ingredients.
Unfortunately there were an equal number of very disappointing dishes. My least favorite dish was the “Hand Cut Fresh Tagliarini” with Guanciale, English peas, spring onion and Parmesan cheese. The pasta was overcooked, gummy in texture and the sauce was lacking the richness I would expect from the description. The “Chicken Saltimbocca” was incredibly bitter and was returned to the kitchen. The Lobster Roll was non-memorable with limited meat and flavor and it almost joined the chicken in a return to the kitchen.
The desserts were all disappointing. On one visit the “Chocolate Torte” with butterscotch, sea salt and vanilla gelato was served with burnt edges and on a subsequent visit, the flavor and texture were lacking; the Panna Cotta with crumble was served two different ways. On one visit it was delicious and on a subsequent visit the crumble topping had a burnt flavor.
Overall the grilled meats and burgers that 323 served were delicious while the non-“grill” items did not deliver the same level of satisfaction.
323 Restaurant & Bar · 323 Main Street · Westport, CT. · 203.222.0323