An ex-Picholine chef brings an exciting dining experience to Greenwich

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Restaurant Review: Gaia

An ex-Picholine chef brings an exciting dining experience to Greenwich



Almost Paradise

An ex-Picholine chef brings an exciting dining experience to Greenwich

 

Gaia’s soaring vaulted ceiling creates a majestic space that is so inviting and uplifting, it would be hard to feel burdened by life’s difficulties in such a lovely place.

 

And so it was easy to forgive the young lady who showed us to our seat but failed to pull out our table in order to allow even the slimmest human to be seated. But when the couple next to us was also shown to their table with no mannerly assistance, we recognized a trend, which was to continue through the evening.

 

The service at Gaia is, in a word, poor. The quality of the service is not due to lack of staff, but to inadequate training. How else to explain that diners at a table next to ours were told of a special and we were not, or that they received each course long before we did, though we were seated well before they were? Our wait between courses was ridiculously long, and wrong dishes came several times. In fact, diners nearby had finished their meal when the waiter brought them a side dish of haricot verts. We later found it on our bill, rather than the side dish of spinach—which we had not ordered but which was brought to us.

 

Don’t worry if you didn’t follow all that: We barely could. Let’s focus instead on the interesting menu and the food we chose. First about the contemporary, French-accented menu and Gaia’s chef, Bjorn Van Der Horst, whose impressive background includes a stint as chef de cuisine at Manhattan’s highly respected Picholine. The sophisticated interpretations of classic techniques and flavors are evident throughout the menu, in dishes such as the frisée and watercress salad pocked with chewy, salty lardons and tempered with the wonderful rich, runny yolk of poached egg served whole atop the lettuces.

 

Some of our favorite dishes were similarly classic: a perfectly seared, moist Hudson Valley duck breast; thick, broad pappardelle, with the musky flavor and heady perfume of wild mushrooms, truffle and tender braised rabbit; and creamy cod fish brandade.

 

While the signature dishes at Gaia, which are cooked and served in jars, may seem new and unusual to contemporary diners, these offerings are based on an old technique called sous vide, which means “under vacuum.” Most tables around us ordered at least one or two sous-vide offerings. You could tell every time the macaroni with truffles was served. The jar would open and, in a whoosh, the air was enlivened by the intoxicating aroma of the truffles. The taste was equally intoxicating. The sous-vide technique, however, left some of our pasta slightly crunchy.

 

Foie gras confit, hailed as one of Gaia’s signature dishes, was an expensive starter at $20. It is important to know that the foie gras is served beneath a layer of fat which should be scraped off, yet we saw servers show diners how to eat it only about half the time. The foie gras itself was sensational: the rich, earthy flavor floods your senses, draping your entire mouth with its silken coating. At the bottom of the jar was a layer of screamingly sweet figs in sauterne—a classic combination that lost its balance here.

 

Cheesecakes are also served in jars, and to wonderful benefit. The caramel and sea-salt version was a harmonious interplay of flavor and texture, from the thick, smooth and sweet caramel to the crunch of the coarse salt to the slightly grainy creamy cheesecake.

 

Gaia is an interesting restaurant with structural beauty, an impressive, credentialed kitchen staff and unusual presentation and technique. The service problems and unevenness in the fare are real, but something new is being tried here, and we need to keep a watchful eye (and ready palate). If Gaia learns from its mistakes and shortcomings and blossoms into its full potential, it could become one of the most exciting restaurants in our area.

 

GAIA

253 Greenwich Ave., Greenwich, CT

(203) 661-3443

 

HOURS:  

Lunch, Mon. to Fri. 11:30 am-3 pm

Dinner, Sun. to Wed. 5:30-10 pm, Thurs. to Sat. 5:30-11 pm

Brunch, Sat. and Sun. 11 am-4 pm

 

PRICES:

Appetizers: $9-$15

Entrees: $17-$35

Desserts: $7-$8

 

 

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