The culinary landscape of New Canaan expands into the Iberian Peninsula with the opening of Picador, the second restaurant owned by Alan Basaran.
Located in the space formerly occupied by Harvest Supper, the interior's decor offers a warm and inviting environment to serve the region's vibrant cuisine. A single leather-covered banquette fills the entire back and one of the walls, and several copper-topped tables occupy the remainder of the space. All of the seating is covered in dark leathers and the walls are adorned with plates, mirrors and sconces, depicting the restaurant's Spanish influence.
Overseeing the front of the house is Basaran's cousin, Ender Erhan, and the kitchen is under the direction of chef Regis Saget. Born and raised in France, Saget brings his passion for fresh ingredients and simple preparations to the menu. A graduate of culinary school in Morlaas, France, Saget worked in many notable Fairfield County restaurants, including Versailles Restaurant, La Colline Verte and St. Tropez in Fairfield and was the opening chef at New Canaan's Savvy Restaurant.
Picador's menu includes a wide selection of tapas, plus ensaladas, entradas and postres.
The flavors of seared gambas flambees al ajillo, piquillos, Jamon Serrano are the most vibrant of the tapas. The traditional garlic shrimp are accentuated with piquillo peppers, adding a spicy-sweet flavor, and diced Jamon Serrano adds a salty component. The dish is finished with a pinch of red pepper flakes, giving the sauce a mild level of heat. This is a great dish.
The beef tips a la plancha with walnuts, green peppercorns, and Calabrese cheese is a choice for the carnivore at the table. I enjoyed the textural contrasts of the crunchy walnuts against the smoothness of the cheese, the latter leaving a peppery aftertaste. After the terrific flavors of the gambas, the beef tips are a milder dish and could easily handle more boldness. The scallops over cauliflower puree were very good. The scallops were seared to a crispy exterior, while maintaining their soft interior texture and finished with just a touch of salt. The dish includes roasted cauliflower for earthiness, and the puree adds a mild and creamy finish to this combination.
These three tapas represent the range of flavors on the menu, from bright and bold in the shrimp, to the milder scallops and cauliflower.
The roasted beets with grapefruit, goat cheese, arugula, fava beans and tossed in orange blossom vinaigrette was my favorite of the ensalada. The large pieces of beets are sweet and maintained their earthiness and are complemented by the creaminess of the cheese. The citrusy acid of grapefruit elevated all of the flavors and the fava beans brought a slight crunchiness to the dish. Each of the ingredients in the avocado with orange segments, olives, cherry tomatoes and Marcona almonds offered great flavors, but I found the ingredients were almost fighting with each other. This dish would make for a delicious lunch in warmer weather on the outdoor patio with a crisp glass of wine.
Although billed as a tapas restaurant, Picador's menu truly shines in its entrees.
The braised beef short ribs with chestnuts, mongetes blancas and figs are outstanding. The dish includes several slices of slowly braised beef accompanied by the reduced braising liquid. The meat is incredibly soft, yet maintains its structural integrity and the sauce concentrates the flavors into a robust accompaniment. The addition of the chestnuts and figs adds both earthy and sweet nuances.
The roast pork chop over rhubarb compote and orange, with deglazed cooking juice is the perfect fall dish. The chop is prepared, with a slight exterior char, moist and tender. The sauce is a delight, accented with nutmeg, cinnamon and coriander. The accompaniment of the rhubarb, peas and mushrooms present a fantastic flavor complement and the potatoes are soft and crisp on the exterior.
The roasted half Cornish hen, Catalan-style, with eggplant, peppers, zucchini and roasted potatoes arrives on the bone, surrounded by a spicy tomato broth with pieces of eggplant, peppers, zucchini and roasted fingerling potatoes. Served in a bowl, it was difficult removing the meat from the bone, but once combined with the flavors of the sauce, is well worth the effort. The sauce is fantastic and I admit dipping pieces of the bread for every last drop.
The seafood paella with mussels, scallops, clams, calamari, shrimp and thin slices of chorizo has great flavor. The dish is beautifully presented in a single-serving traditional paella pan with a large portion of saffron-infused rice that has a good level of spiciness. The seafood is moist and succulent and absorbs the bold cooking juices. The dish has an abundance of rice (less might be better), and I prefer a crustier bottom to concentrate the flavor and give different textures.
There are several excellent desserts. My favorite was the Arroz con leche, a vanilla-y rice pudding topped with a delicious apricot lemon sauce. The apricot-lemon curd is delicious, creamy and abundant with citrus flavor to complement the texturally different rice. The crème Catalane brulee is an enjoyable dish slightly different from its French cousin with the addition of a touch of orange blossom water in Picador's version. The pan perdido with caramelized peaches and apples is full of flavor. The sauteed fruits sit atop slices of moist and sauteed slices of bread and completed with a delicious caramel sauce. All of the desserts are pleasing ends to the meal.
Overall, I enjoyed many of the dishes at the newly opened Picador. There are several tapas and ensaladas that are excellent as a preamble to some great flavors in many of the entrees.
Picador, 15 Elm St., New Canaan, can be reached at 203-972-9999.