By Cornelia Fortier, Contributing Editor
The joy of being surrounded by family and friends, in front of a table laden with mouth-watering food, is how most of us imagine our Thanksgiving celebration will be. But the reality, at least for those hosting, is much more often focused on finding extra dessert forks by Thursday, or getting around to hoisting the folding chairs out of the attic.
Even as guests, many of us feel Thanksgiving dinner has settled into a pallid sameness; from year to year, the same menu, same setting and even, the same timetable. Hard to get excited over something so very predictable.
That's why lots of Fairfield County families are shaking up Thanksgiving and making the thoroughly modern decision to eat their Thanksgiving dinner, out. And many Fairfield County chefs have leapt at the chance to show how their own special flair and skill can reinvent this most traditional American meal, with exciting, new versions of the old standbys as well as surprising and tantalizingly additions.
Choosing to have Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant, however, not only banishes hours of work and disruption to house and home, it also means everyone's special tastes and requirements, from youngest to oldest participant, will be satisfied. The restaurants below have generous holiday menus, with a range of finely prepared and imagined signature dishes. So, even little celebrants, who may not have wanted turkey to begin with, will find something pleasing. Yet another reason to give thanks.
Some of the Best Places to Have Thanksgiving Dinner:
St. Tropez Bistro Francais, 52 Sanford Street, Fairfield, 203-254-8094
Rated "Very Good" by the New York Times, and "Excellent" by Zagat, this chic and colorful restaurant is a happy setting in which to gather family and friends for a memorable meal. St. Tropez owner Patrick Jean and chef Etienne Menozzi have devised a varied menu for their Thanksgiving dinner, with several succulent, signature main course choices. "Our Thanksgiving meal is traditional, yes, and at the same time, very French," Mr. Jean says. And though there is roast turkey, of course, there are several other main course selections of meat, like the roast beef and the pineapple-glazed Virginia ham, which many people prefer. For fish lovers, another main course offering is filet of trout stuffed with root vegetables. Appetizer choices include oysters Rockefeller, salmon and pate, among many others. A children's menu is available on request. $46.95 per person. Thanksgiving dinner will be served from 1 to 8 PM. For reservations, call (203) 254-8094.
Redding Road House, 406 Redding Road, Redding, 203-938-3388
In the tradition of the best New England restaurants, Redding Road House dazzles with fine American food served in a cozy, fireplace-filled environment. Families will love the historic feel, especially on such an American holiday, and children will be amazed by the Lionel Trains and antique rifles dating back to the Civil War that decorate its intimate interior. For their Thanksgiving dinner, Redding Road House is offering traditional holiday platters, featuring turkey and honey-glazed ham (diners can have both) with all the trimmings, as well as alternative main courses of grilled filet mignon, salmon filet, Alaskan King Crab legs or butternut squash ravioli. Soups and salads are also part of the holiday meal, and pumpkin, old fashioned apple and pecan pie, a la mode, are the dessert choices. The platters are prix fixe at $36.95 for adults, $17.95 for children. The price for other entrees varies. Call 203-938-3388 for reservations.
La Colline Verte, 75 Hillside Road, Fairfield, 203-256-9242
Fresh flowers punctuate La Colline Verte's elegant interior, which, along with its top-flight service and exquisite food, combined to win it a "Top Ten" Zagat ranking. Chef/owner Jean Pierre Rudaz says of his carefully considered Thanksgiving dinner menu, "There are people who don't want turkey so we have three courses with five selections in each course." Diners can choose lamb, beef, fish or, of course, turkey as their main course. Butternut soup, salad with crabmeat, warm smoked salmon and fingerling potato salad with shallot dressing are just some of the other selections. Dessert has a French touch, with chocolate, Grand Marnier and raspberry souffles being served - everyone gets all three! The introduction of a much-anticipated new Beaujolais makes Thanksgiving dinner at La Colline Verte "a double celebration," Mr. Rudaz explains, adding that this new wine "goes very well with turkey" as well as other dishes. Seatings are from noon to 4 PM. A children's menu includes tried-and-true favorites like pasta and french fries. $65 per person for adults; $12 to $15 for children. For reservations, call 203-256-9242.
Bernard's, 20 West Lane/Route 35, Ridgefield, 203-438-8282.
The New York Times described Bernard's food as "beguiling" and the Thanksgiving menu this polished French stand-out has created for their holiday feast fits that description. Although there is more than just a nod to the traditional American meal, a main course selection of roasted turkey with stuffing and gravy, for instance, it is made new with haricot verts (green beans), celery root, sweet potato purée, and cranberry chutney that accompany it. Other main course selections include roast stuffed lamb saddle, potato crusted halibut and beef wellington. "The beef wellington is one of Bernard's signature dishes," says Sarah Bouissou, who owns and runs the restaurant with husband, Bernard, its chef. "It is beef wellington in a duxelles of mushrooms along with foie gras in a puff pastry with a truffle sauce and winter baby vegetables," she adds. A trio of desserts, still being worked out by the pastry chef, will also be on the menu. "Our Thanksgiving menu epitomizes the end of fall richness," Mrs. Bouissou says. Thanksgiving dinner will be served from noon to 8PM. Adults are $65; children under 12 are $30. For reservations, call 203-438-8282.