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South End: Fine food in a really pretty setting

Updated 2:16 pm, Wednesday, January 9, 2013

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  • Friedn Semi-Boneless Quail with shaved brussel sprout slaw, pine nuts and mustard dressing at South End restaurant in New Canaan on Wednesday, December 19, 2012. Photo: Lindsay Niegelberg, Niegelberg / Stamford Advocate
    Friedn Semi-Boneless Quail with shaved brussel sprout slaw, pine nuts and mustard dressing at South End restaurant in New Canaan on Wednesday, December 19, 2012. Photo: Lindsay Niegelberg, Niegelberg

 

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Just might be that "three is the charm." South End is the third restaurant to occupy this New Canaan space in as many years. Though at the south end of the bustling village, a distinct advantage here is the plenty of parking.

Also a plus is the abundant space inside, allowing for nicely spaced tables. The new owners have further opened up and brought warmth with reclaimed barnwood paneled walls. Soft beige linen drapes both the windows and serves as chair upholstery, softening both the decor and the noise level.

Character is enhanced with huge, misty rural landscape prints and a contemporary feel is evoked with excellent, spare lighting. Added to all this is a lively, separate bar area with high-top table seating and even a private dining room. Coupled with fine service throughout, South End is a very inviting place.

The management partnership here has experience, talent and a dedication to creating a menu that is for diners passionate about what they eat. Ingredients are carefully chosen, especially evidenced in the array of farmstead cheeses offered as appetizers.

One can assemble a lovely nibbler of Bayley Hazen Blue, Old Chatham Camembert and buttery Tumbleweed. Add to that a selection of such cured meats as porchetta and jamon de Serrano, coupled with a little bowl of addictively spiced pecans or marinated olives. A communal party table is the tasty result.

For those looking for more traditional starters, crab fritters are our top choice. Pure crabmeat is lightly tempura battered and fried, then served with peppery chipotle aioli and crunchy celery root slaw. Move over, crab cakes. These are our new favorite.

Also original and tasty is a heap of crisply-fried baby artichoke leaves tossed with fried lemon "chips" and rich roasted garlic aioli. Unfried options of note are the chef's family heritage meatballs, a homey mix of pork, veal and ricotta cheese, and a tasty take on a 1950s favorite of wedged iceberg lettuce showered with good bacon, Maytag blue cheese, cucumber slivers and a tangy buttermilk ranch dressing.

Steamed mussels are accented with a fennel broth and grilled garlic bread for dipping. Other starters include several salads, especially the chopped salad of seasonal greens and vegetables.

The chef's Italian leanings are further noted in the homemade pastas, especially tagliatelle Bolognese with a deeply flavored ragu or peppery sausage and broccoli rabe with orechiette.

Main courses follow a traditional theme with roasted Amish chicken accompanied by mashed potatoes, spinach and mushroom gravy. Very nice, but a bit pricy at $25.

Ditto the grilled pork chop with fingerling sweet potatoes, mustard greens and mustard fruits. Satisfying but a slightly smaller chop would have been even more flavorful without the $29 tag.

Other main courses are braised lamb shank with curried couscous, wild striped bass prettily presented with an eggplant "Napoleon," sauteed Swiss chard and "minestrone" vegetables, or grilled chicken paillard topped with endive and mozzarella salad, cherry tomatoes and rosemary lemon vinaigrette. This one was our favorite.

Desserts are all homemade and the crowd-pleaser is warm ricotta doughnuts with lemon curd dips and chocolate sauce drizzle served with a single shot of espresso.

Less showy, but quite nice, is the South End sundae with pistachio and vanilla ice cream, fudge and luxardo cherries, almonds and a wedge of anise biscotti. Pear and apple cobbler is really warm, sauteed fruit sprinkled with a crisp, crumb topping -- not really a traditional cobbler, but mighty tasty.

South End serves fine food in a really pretty setting. Prices are a tad on the high side, but we bet that the savvy and talented chef will add more homey dishes from his rich culinary background.

 

SOUTH END

36 Pine St., New Canaan, 203-966-5200, www.southendnewcanaan.com

HOURS: Dinner Tuesday-Thursday, Sunday 5-10 p.m.; Friday, Saturday 5--11 p.m.

RESERVATIONS: Accepted

CREDIT CARDS: AE, V, MC

PRICES: Appetizers $15-$5; main courses $33-$23; desserts $10-$6