There’s a hidden gem tucked away in the Saugatuck section of Westport called The Whelk, but it won’t remain hidden for long.
In fact, even before this weekend’s stellar NYT review, the place was already trending pretty hot, thanks in large part to the bona fides of chef Bill Taibe, he of Napa & Co. in Stamford, and another highly-rated Westport joint, Le Farm.
The only way we were able to get in was through a personal connection to one of the owners, a bright, affable, engaging guy I’ll call M. We sat at the chef’s table, immediately adjacent to the kitchen, a busy, bustling but comfortable space which, coincidentally, if fairly close to the loo. When M offered to order for us, we gave ourselves over completely. Good call.
What ensued was an onslaught of some of the best food we’ve enjoyed in recent memory. Delicious, inventive, carefully prepared and beautifully presented dishes that ran the gamut from seaside-town staples with a twist (delicately fried oysters with creamed ramps — only briefly in-season — ham and cheddar) to unexpected masterpieces (fried chicken sandwich with pimiento cheese and bread & butter pickles). It was, to be frank, a civilized food orgy, if you can imagine an orgy where everyone’s really, really attractive.
About a quarter of the way through the meal, we were introduced to the notion of a woman named Ingrid. Her name came up as we ordered a second round of cocktails (there would be more, plus a round of aperitifs) — these amazing, delightful, complex, wonderful drinks that served as perfect complements the food. We’d end up meeting (and hugging) the elusive Ingrid, who, like everyone else who works at The Whelk, takes great pride in what she does, and does it exceedingly well, but is solicitous of every guest, incredibly welcoming and gracious.
Desserts were similarly awesome and imaginative, but I’ll cut to the chase and talk loo, which is tastefully set off from the main dining area. Guys and dolls enter through a common oversize doorway (no door) and go their separate ways. The men’s room is big; cavernous, even, with a pretty friggin’ sweet framed Pearl Jam poster on one wall, an oddly placed but lovely coat hook behind the door, Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day products and very cool faucet fixture. The place was neat and clean and, as mentioned, spacious. What more could you want?
Rating of chew: 5 out of 5
Rating of loo: 4 out of 5 (only because something super funky would’ve been a fun contrast with the rest of the place, which is beautifully designed and tastefully put together)