'Chopped' Judge Geoffrey Zakarian Dissects New National Desserts

The popular Greenwich Avenue restaurateur unveils sweet summery treats and dishes on area favorites



Trust us, it works.

Photos courtesy of The National

The National opened last fall to a bunch of hype, and it’s no wonder, considering the man behind it is famed restaurateur, chef, and Food Network alum Geoffrey Zakarian. Now almost a year old, The National is a sure-fire hot spot that has really hit its stride on busy Greenwich Avenue. It’s a standout in the area due to its stellar cocktail program, cuisine that ranges from hand-made pastas to wood-fired American dishes, and an overall seasonally inspired menu.

It’s easy to overindulge in their savory small plates and then dive into your entrée, all while enjoying multiple adult beverages, but save some room for dessert, as those items too have are rotated by season.

I was invited to sample four of The National’s brand new treats; two that scream summer, one where sharing is mandatory, and another that’s a take on a classic. In one way or another, each dish will satisfy your scream for ice cream.

First up is the almost cheesecake-like blueberry ricotta tart that’s light and fluffy with a hint of lemon to balance out its richness. If you’re looking for something a bit different, try the slightly denser but neutral olive oil cake that’s contrasted by a mouth-puckering lemon sorbet and citrus segments. Then there’s an English classic, and my personal favorite, the incredibly moist (sort of like a brownie/cake hybrid) sticky toffee pudding with candied walnuts, raspberries, and Mascarpone ice cream. If you’re with a date, or a few people just looking to share, The National Sundae (lemon pound cake, rhubarb, strawberries, strawberry ice cream) will transport you back to childhood. It’s a big sundae, but doable, and you’ll want to dig in after your server pours chocolate sauce all over it, tableside style.

After sampling all these sweets, Zakarian was happy to answer some questions and dish on everything from desserts to his favorite area restaurants, what he’s got coming up, and what he does when his busy schedule lets up.

There are lots of extreme desserts out there now (i.e. gourmet milkshakes). What’s a good dessert according to you?

I think the best desserts are those that create a feeling of nostalgia, and that remind you of a happy memory. For me that means perfectly ripe fruits, freshly made pastries, rich ice creams—simple flavors with classic techniques. That's what you'll find on my menus.

 

It’s a busy night at The National Greenwich, and you’re done for the night. What do you do to unwind?

I sit down and order some seasonal vegetables and our signature chicken—always my favorite here, because it's so hard to find a deliciously cooked chicken. After I finish, I'll head home as quickly as possible to see my family.

 

Besides your restaurant, where do you go out to eat in the area? And what dishes or treats can you not get enough of?

I love anything Bill Taibe does—the Whelk and Kawa Ni are fantastic restaurants. When we only have a few minutes, my family likes to stop in Green & Tonic for a juice pick-me-up. I'm also heading to Greenwich Polo Club, where we have a pop-up bar, on the weekends—August 28 I'll be there for a book signing too.

 

Fast-casual dining is on the rise. You’re known to some as a “fine dining guy.” Would you consider opening a spot à la Shake Shack?

Actually, I own three casual restaurants and only one fine dining spot, The Lambs Club. I think people know me for that because we are always technique driven, which sometimes can seem like it is “fine dining.” However, a piece of meat should be cooked perfectly regardless if you are in a fancier setting or a more casual one, like The National. But to answer your question, yes, I actually have a fast-food concept in development.

 

It’s a movie night at the Zakarian household. What simple dishes are your constants? What are you drinking? And what guilty pleasure junk food do you bust out during the movie? 

When we eat at home together, it's a family-style event. Big family-style salads, chili, braises...anything that can be cooked and served in the same dish, so everyone can just dive in. My kids love popcorn for a snack, so we'll pop our own in olive oil and sprinkle on some sea salt.

 

Speaking of free time, you’re a busy guy. What do you do when you take a break?

Playing golf for sure, or cooking. I know this may sound funny, but I like to relax by cooking in my own home kitchen. If I only have a short amount of time and it's not time to cook something, I will sit down and play the piano. 

 

You just opened Georgie and The Garden Bar in Beverly Hills this summer. What else do you have going on in the near future? And what can we look forward to at The National Greenwich in the coming months?

I'm thrilled with Georgie and The Garden Bar—it's a wonderful community out there and I'm thankful to have been welcomed into it. In Greenwich, we're coming up on our one-year anniversary, so you can look out for some exciting initiatives, including our recently launched lunch program, as well as a series of curated dinners, focusing on a different theme each month. On top of that, I'll be opening a new ocean-side restaurant in Hollywood, FL this winter. Outside of the restaurants, I am launching my first product line, Pro For Home kitchen storage containers. I am extremely excited about these, as they translate the sensibilities I use in the restaurants to store food for food storage in the home pantry and fridge. Look out for them debuting on HSN September 7!

 

The National

376 Greenwich Ave, Greenwich

(203) 861-6851; thenational-ct.com

 

 

 

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