Worth a Trip: Still River Cafe
Last week, I spent a lovely long weekend down in Connecticut with my family. My mom and I are very close, and it was great to have some “girl time” to talk with her and to spend time with her and my Dad, both of whom I don’t get to see as often as I’d like now that we live 5 hours away in Ithaca. Time we spend together is usually centered around laughing, eating, and more laughing and eating — not a bad way to spend a visit!
On Friday night, we drove to our current favorite restaurant in the state to have dinner: Still River Café. It’s in Eastford, CT, which is kind of near Storrs, in the northeastern part of the state. It was dark when we arrived, but the drive off of the highway to the restaurant is beautiful; about 15 minutes through thick woods and past old New England farmhouses and stone walls. Those surroundings are one of the things I loved most about growing up in Connecticut.
And there’s a reason the restaurant is currently our favorite: the cuisine is all locally-produced, delicious seasonal food. Yup, you know I’m all about that! And in fact, it doesn’t get much more local — almost all the vegetables are grown right in back of the restaurant, on the 27-acre farm where the restaurant sits. The husband and wife who own it are a great partnership: he does much of the gardening, and she’s the chef!
The restaurant itself is housed in a 150-year old barn with beautiful exposed beams (actually, the inside of the restaurant reminds me a bit of where B and I got married.) I really love old barns or farmhouses with exposed beams and a rustic, nature-inspired feel.
view outside the back of the restaurant
lights over the pergola by the front door
inside of the restaurant is open, airy, and rustic-elegant (is that a style?)
The tables were set with vases with gently blushing dried hydrangea blooms, I’m guessing from the bushes on the property. In the summer when we’ve eaten there, they have vases with riotous wildflowers and perennials, also from their gardens.
When I was thinking about writing this post, I was trying to put my finger on what it was that I love about this restaurant (besides the locally sourced, seasonal food and the atmosphere.) And I think I figured it out: the next two pictures will give you an idea…can you guess?
glasses of wine are served with their own individual carafes
dinner starts with a small plate of fresh mini-baguettes and chive butter
each table has small dishes of Hawaiian red salt and large, flaky sea salt (okay, definitely not local but delicious sprinkled on the baguette)
It’s the little touches. Like, the fact that if you order a glass of wine, they don’t just pour you a glass of wine – they pour a little in your wineglass, then leave a miniature carafe at your place, so you can refill your glass over the course of the night (yes, they’re generous with glasses of wine there.) And the miniature baguettes: I love any kind of miniature, individual serving-size food (especially desserts), but the idea of a miniature baguette is a great touch. It just makes you feel kind of special to have your own little baguette to munch, slathering each piece with delicious chive butter.
Now, onto the dinner! First, the chef sent out three amuses: ginger-and-sake marinated salmon, miso soup with miso foam, and a shrimp spring roll. My favorite of these three was the salmon, which was velvety and luscious and just gingery enough. The miso soup was a close second, and made me wonder why I never make miso soup at home…I like it every time we have it out. My parents loved the miso soup, which was fun to see because I don’t think they’d ever tried it before.
For my starter, I ordered the housemade gnocchi with porcini creme fraiche, polenta-encrusted sweetbreads, and crispy sage leaves. The verdict: this was, I think, my favorite course of the whole night. The gnocchi just melted in my mouth and were so unbelievably light, which is often not the case with the little potato dumplings. The porcini cream was (as you can imagine) so rich, earthy, and woodsy…and the crispy sweetbreads were a nice texture contrast. I just finished eating dinner and my stomach is rumbling again thinking of this dish…it was that good!
gnocchi of my dreams
My mom started with slow-roasted beets that were topped with walnuts and olive oil, and served with a local goat cheese custard — we loved the presentation on this one! The goat cheese custard was served in an eggshell and topped with goat cheese foam (yes, the chef seemed to really love the foam preparation, as it showed up in a number of dishes, but it never seemed out of place or overdone.)
looks almost like dessert!
Dad started with the house-smoked Kobe beef carpaccio “dumplings” that were folded like little purses around Parmesan custard and another cheese. Luckily I snagged one of these off his plate, and it was delicious – smoky, beefy, but light and with a little burst of the parmesan custard. Not sure what the sauce was, but I’m guessing it was some kind of mustard sauce. He really enjoyed the dish (as did I.)
little purses of beef and cheese; how could that be bad?
Next, it was onto the main courses. The restaurant seems to like the “protein 3 ways” preparation for most of their entrees, which I think is a nice idea for the fact that it allows you to try almost three separate dishes, with the same theme running through. Seeing different ways things were prepared and what they were paired with was inspiring for me.
I chose the (local, farm-raised) quail three ways: stuffed with cranberries and apples, a pan-seared quail breast with sauteed spinach, and a traditional “frisee aux lardons” topped with a poached quail egg. The latter is one of my favorite salads, something I make for lunch myself sometimes, and I loved the tiny quail egg topper. The breast was just okay, but the stuffed quail was absolutely delicious. Actually, I was starting to get stuffed myself at the end of this plate; I couldn’t stop eating the cranberry and apple stuffing.
quail, 3 ways
Mom went for the free range, organic chicken. It came as a breast pan-roasted with baby carrots, a drumstick “lollipop” on roasted eggplant, and a sate with tzatziki dip. She liked it all, but I think one of her favorite parts was the tiny, tiny brussel sprouts nestled under the chicken breast…they were adorable, the size of a small marble, and sweet.
chicken, 3 ways
Dad went with the rabbit, which I was happy about. He had planned to get it from the start, and I kept endorsing his decision just to make sure he’d order it. I’ve only had rabbit once before, at Scutra in Boston, but I loved it there and I think I loved it even more here. It came as poached saddle of rabbit medallions with farm onions, a roasted stuffed leg, and rabbit rillettes, with a leek-filled crepe alongside (continuing the purse theme in Dad’s courses!) The medallions were delicious, juicy and moist. So tasty.
Rabbit, 3 ways
By now, we were of course pretty full…but wait! dessert was still to be had. I think sometimes I have a separate “dessert stomach.”
I went chocolate all the way: a “chocolate tasting” plate, with thick hot drinking chocolate, 3 small fudge cakes, and homemade marshmallows. The drinking chocolate was my favorite thing on the plate, but the marshmallows were really interesting, too, made with some chili powder to give them a little kick. I love my chocolate with a little chili, and this was a nice surprise.
drinking chocolate, chocolate cakes, and spicy marshmallows
This next picture didn’t come out so well, but it’s Mom’s dessert: she ordered gingerbread (on the right), paired with apple raisin spice bread pudding (on the left.)
warm spicy desserts
And Dad, true to his nature as an egg-based dessert lover (is it any wonder I’m his daughter?) went for the duo of crème brûleés: one was infused with cinnamon and other warm spices, and the other was infused with rosemary. Both were delicious, especially the cinnamon spice one…I realized upon thinking about this dessert that I have only one (?!) crème brûleé recipe in the EoS archives!! How can this be?! I love crème brûleé, and will be rectifying this dire situation soon.
duo of crème brûleés with a beautiful sculptural cookie in the middle
Topping off the night of “special touches,” I ordered their signature coffee, which came in an individual French press (coincidentally, this is how I’ve been making all my coffee lately) and was infused with cardamom, orange peel and cinnamon. It was FANTASTIC. We’ll be doing this at home next weekend.
orange, cardamom and spice-infused coffee in my own french press
And when the check came, the final touch: 6 meringues, 3 scented with rose and 3 with lime. By this point I was feeling a bit like that roly poly stuffed quail and didn’t know if I could eat another bite, but I managed a few nibbles of both kind of meringues. All in the name of research, of course.
So all in all, it was an absolutely lovely meal and if you’re ever in that part of Connecticut (or, heck, even another part of Connecticut – the state’s not that big!) it’s well worth a trip. I’d really like to go back each season to see what they’re growing in the garden and serving in the restaurant.
Still River Café
134 Union Rd