CONNECTICUT DINING INFLUENCERS BRANDON AND ISABELLE HAVE JOINED FORCES TO CREATE AN INSTAGRAM MATCH-UP MADE IN CYBER HEAVEN.
CHECK OUT THEIR VALENTINE’S DAY RESTAURANT ROUND-UP!
Appétit Bistro serves delicious modern French cuisine in an urban and stylish modern French bistro. The drinks, the food, the service, and the décor all make for the perfect romantic Valentine’s Day setting! The restaurant will be offering a 4-course Prix-fixe menu for Valentine’s Day.
Isabelle: The moment I walked into this gorgeous restaurant, I felt like I was being transported to the heart of Paris, aka the city of love (the perfect setting for a romantic Valentine’s Day date, ladies)! The inside of this cozy restaurant is so beautiful, and the food is incredibly dreamy! My mouth is still watering thinking back to the food we tried! First of all, they have octopus on the menu which is automatically a winner in my book! Like Brandon, I was also very excited to see the Escargot en Croute on the menu and I was so tempted to devour each of the heavenly buttery bites myself. But, me being the sweet and caring girlfriend that I am, I ended up splitting them with him…it is Valentine’s Day after all! For entrees, I highly recommend the Poulet “Scarpariello” which is a beautiful vibrant chicken dish served with roasted potatoes, cherry peppers, butter, and garlic. Not only is the presentation impressive but the flavors are out of this world!
Brandon: As much as I love romance and cute dates, what I love the most is a great cocktail, and Appetit Bistro had my favorite cocktail — the frothy-without-being-heavy French martini. While the French martini is one of the simplest cocktails to mix, if not done right, it can be a huge disappointment. However, when you’re in a modern French bistro featuring some of the best food and drink from the Mediterranean, you can order your French martini with confidence or do it as I did, and order three of them. In addition to the cocktails, when you grow up with a grandmother who is 100% French, you learn to love all French cuisine. This includes my favorite appetizer, the Escargot en Croute which was smooth, buttery, and delicious, and the Steak Frites which was topped with a creamy peppercorn sauce.
OAK + ALMOND
Oak + Almond is a farm-to-table, wood-fired New American restaurant in a warm and open dining room with a beautiful outdoor bar and patio. They source the best artisan ingredients and offer a selection of organic wines that complement the dishes on their delicious menu.
Isabelle: What I love about Oak + Almond is the wide variety of shareable dishes they have. Usually, I have the hardest time deciding what dish I want to order, so that’s why I love it when a restaurant has a ton of dishes that you can just split and share with your partner. From the raw oysters to their wood-fired chicken wings to the brussels sprouts and even the various flatbreads, there’s something for everyone. But most importantly, be sure to save room for dessert when you’re there. Their Lemon Ricotta Cheesecake, Tiramisu, and Pecan Pie are literally what dreams are made of! I could eat each of those every day and be very happy!
Brandon: When we first went to Oak + Almond, I had just wrapped up my first workout in a year at Norwalk’s Orange Theory Fitness and I was celebrating the fact that I survived. I was so proud that I actually earned my calories for once that I dove right into their Wood-Fired Chili Honey-Glazed Wings with scallions which were easily some of the best-flavored wings I’ve ever eaten. I then ate everything from wild mushrooms flatbread to wood-roasted salmon before ending with smooth and creamy blueberry cheesecake. On the way out, I ran into one of my oldest friends from high school who, along with his wife, had made a rare escape from their two boys for an elusive date night. I asked if they had been here before and he said, “Oh this is our date spot anytime we can get out. Having the two young boys, we don’t get to go on dates a lot. So, when we do, we come here because we know we are going to have the best food and experience consistently every single time.”
It would be impossible to make a guide for Norwalk dining without mentioning the award-winning Washington Prime. When you’re featured representing CT as one of Food Network’s “50 States of Steakhouse” you know that you are going to have a special dining experience. Washington Prime is a classic American steakhouse featuring land and sea plates done with creativity and precision. You will enjoy the perfect bite in every dish, no matter what you order. Menu items that stand out from every other steakhouse include Blue Crab Nachos, Gnocchi di Tartufo, and the Cauliflower Steak. In addition, it’s one of the few CT restaurants that has perfected the art of the timeless Beef Wellington, all in a charming location on the corner of picturesque Washington Street and Water Street.
Isabelle: Their cute heated enclosed terrace makes for the perfect cozy and romantic setting. I love that it brings their nice warm interior to the outside. Brandon is a big seafood guy, but I am the type of girl who will always choose a big juicy steak over anything else. The 22 oz. Ribeye is one of the best steaks I’ve ever had. It’s cooked to perfection and incredibly juicy. The meat practically melts in your mouth – it’s that good! You can even enhance your steak by adding a lobster tail, bone marrow, melted blue cheese, or melted parmesan. Pair it with a red wine from their award-winning wine list and you’ve got yourself the perfect Valentine’s meal in my book!
Brandon: You would think that I would have jumped at the chance to get a nice big steak at a place like this, but I was honestly hoping that Isabelle could only handle around 16 ounces of her 22 oz. Ribeye so that I could get some of Washington Prime’s mouthwatering seafood and still leave room to finish up the last 6 ounces of her steak. I started with the Thai Mussels in the most colorful creamy Thai yellow curry sauce that is so flavorful, I wish I could buy it in a bottle to bring home. For my entrée, because I wanted seafood but was at a popular steakhouse, I compromised and went with the Ahi Tuna Steak which was perfectly prepared with miso hot mustard and a sesame-soy reduction. And in case you were wondering, Isabelle did not leave me six ounces of her steak, so I already booked a return visit to get one of my own!
It doesn’t get more classic Italian than Osteria Romana. Owned by brothers Maurizio and Graziano Ricci, Osteria Romana features their family’s traditional recipes straight from Rome. They specialize in homemade pasta, fresh fish, veal, and chicken plates, in addition to Italian wine varietals and from-scratch Italian desserts. Osteria Romana will be offering several Valentine’s Day specials including a Chocolate Enrobed Mini Heart Cheesecake that sounds absolutely incredible!
Isabelle: Carbs and pasta are the keys to my heart! And I LOVE that all of the pasta at Osteria Romana is made fresh in-house every single day! You can taste that freshness! I highly recommend the Orecchiette Aldo Moro with sauteed broccoli rabe and sausage in a roasted garlic sauce. There’s something about this combination that makes my heart (and stomach) very happy! Another must-try pasta dish is their Bucatini Amatriciana, a classic Roman dish loaded with pancetta, onions, basil, plum tomatoes, and pecorino Romano. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention their oh-so rich and decadent Chocolate Lava Cake. It’s hard to go wrong with a warm gooey chocolatey cake. Osteria Romana truly makes you feel like you are dining in Rome – you really do get a taste of Italy right in the heart of Norwalk!
Brandon: I had previously been to their Monroe location and learned pretty early on that while both owners are brothers who love and support each other, there is also a little friendly competition between the two locations. So, I was excited to try the Norwalk location and see how it compared. What I found is that they are both amazing date night spots with two owners full of passion for fresh homemade Italian food and seeing the smiles on your face as you eat what they create! Growing up with an Italian mother who made homemade Italian food every day, I am always a tough critic when it comes to pasta, but the pasta here is so good you literally feel like you are in Italy. It was tough to convince Isabelle to pass up on the calamari which is one of her favorite go-to apps, but I had heard that the Clams Casino and Polpettine (mini meatballs) from Osteria Romana were two of the best apps in Norwalk. I can honestly say that they were absolute perfection just like every plate we ate that night and the service that came with it.
Having Valentine’s Day take place in the winter doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a gorgeous and romantic waterfront view while dining on the delectable land and sea dishes of your choosing. Harbor Lights in Norwalk has reopened after a month off and has prepared a wonderful menu filled with their best surf and turf options with a side of coastline splendor.
Isabelle: Brandon loves a good boozy bar, but my kind of bar is a Raw Bar! And my love for raw oysters runs deep! One of the things I love about Brandon is that he shares a love for oysters on the half shell, so he’s always down to order them with me. There’s something special about eating oysters while sitting waterside – you know they are fresh! And what’s more romantic than a Valentine’s Day date with a beautiful view of SoNo Harbor? A perfect date place in my book!
Brandon: Going to Harbor Lights in the summer is an experience all on its own. The gorgeous patio overlooking the water makes for a calm and peaceful meal with friends or a loved one. But the winter dining experience has its own charm in their gorgeous dining room with all the views your heart desires. Isabelle and I visited before Valentine’s Day so we weren’t able to experience the red velvet bombe or the raspberry mousse but we were able to dive into some of our favorite classics that reminded us of those warm summer days. As soon as I saw Oysters on the menu, I knew Isabelle would immediately turn to me and say, “Oooooooo they have oysters,” because that’s what she does every time. This time was no different. We also ordered the crab cakes which were all the things you want in a crab cake — crispy outside, creamy crabby inside with a fresh vibrant flavor with a spritz of lemon on top. We finished with his-and-hers hot buttered lobster rolls and I’m not embarrassed to admit we did a “cheers” with them. The sidewinder fries are my new favorite type of fries too!
Brandon and Isabelle’s MUST TRY List
BLACKSTONE’S STEAKHOUSE – NORWALK
We already have our reservations booked to visit Blackstones Steakhouse this week and we will be featuring them on our Valentine’s Day guide on our Instagram page – @ctdateplates. What we’re really looking forward to trying is their French Onion Soup, Blackstones Lobster Bisque, the Branzino Sea Bass and the Lobster Mac n Cheese to name a few. If you’re looking for a nice upscale steakhouse to enjoy this Valentine’s Day weekend, this one’s for you!
PONZA ITALIAN KITCHEN
We’ve heard nothing but great things about this Italian kitchen in Norwalk which is why it’s also on our list to check out for Valentine’s Day! Plus, what makes Ponza extra unique is their live ficus tree with branches cascading throughout the entire restaurant. Sounds like a pretty unique and romantic dining experience if you ask us! Their menu features mouthwatering appetizers including Seafood Stuffed Clams and Arancini filled with gouda cheese. We’re excited to dive into their pasta dishes – such as the Gnocchi al Gorgonzola with broccoli and sausage. Did someone say yum?!