Sunday, June 15, 2008

Restaurants: Zest, Westport, CT

UPDATE: Unfortunately, as of April 21, 2009, Zest will be closing due to the economic downturn. It will be greatly missed, but many of the signature dishes will now be available at its sister restaurant, DaPietro's, also in Westport.

Zest Cafe & Restaurant opened its doors in 2006 in the vault of the former Westport Bank and Trust on Church Lane. Owners Pietro and Janine Scotti, who also own Da Pietro's in Westport have created a unique physical space in which they serve up a nice variety of modern, yet not outrageously unfamiliar dishes. They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

The decor is fresh and crisp, mixing bright spring greens with muted browns and rich black. Despite being below sidewalk level, the L-shaped space manages to be bright and airy. The menu consists of what the Scottis call "global cuisine", as it is a rather eclectic mix of flavors and styles. However, the chef's Italian roots are definitely evident, as there is a Mediterranean flair throughout many of the offerings.

When I visited for a late lunch, the waitstaff was attentive and very patient with my talkative group of friends. The menu itself was mouthwatering, and I literally couldn't decide between several dishes. The "composed salads" were interesting and included combinations such as Salmon au Citron Salad with poached salmon, organic mesclun, orange segments, and citrus salsa. My friend ordered the Steak Lover's Salad which was studded with bright grape tomatoes and avocado slices.

Although the wraps looked delicious (in particular, the Bayou Wrap caught my eye---which included marinated shrimp, avocado, cucumber, julienned carrots, and Bibb Lettuce), but the signature Zest Panini was calling my name. Grilled eggplant, prosciutto, fontina cheese and pesto were layered between grilled bread and included a small salad of mesculn greens. It was wonderful. They also have a nice selection of burgers, club sandwiches, and "main dishes" for those wanting something more substantial like lasagna or steak frites.

The dinner menu is even larger, and features a nice variety of starters (don't miss "Pietro's Priceless Meatballs"), salads, pastas, plus "sea" and "land" selections (the Veal Osso Buco and Lasagna were two of my favorites). Be sure to check out the nightly specials too. On a recent visit there was an appetizer of fresh grilled sardines. Sardines tend to get a bad rap, but you need to think outside the can! Fresh sardines are out of this world if prepared correctly, as they were at Zest. Grilled whole (yes, that means head and tail still on---very European!), they were served over a bed of greens and slathered in a wonderful lemony olive oil. They were absolutely divine, and that is not a word I use very often.

My most recent visit was for brunch, at which time both breakfast and lunch items are available. The full breakfast menu (available until 11am) was definitely more extensive, but everyone in my family was perfectly happy with the pancakes, fritattas, and eggs available during brunch. I was also happy to see notations indicating that the eggs are organic, as are the bacon and sausage (which are also nitrate free).
Lastly, Zest even has a very nice children's menu. Yes, there is still mac and cheese, spaghetti and meatballs and "chicken bites" for your picky eaters, but for kids whose palates may have evolved a bit, there is a petite fillet mignon, a petite fillet of salmon, and fish and chips for any mini-anglophiles out there. I loved that the kids menu included "raw vegetables and dip" as an option too---- a quasi-salad for the little ones. Although I wouldn't initially have thought of Zest as being a kid-friendly restaurant, the whole concept of being inside a former bank vault is a hit with the kids. PS: There are a limited number of etch-a-sketches available for little ones to use while at the restaurant. How very green of Zest!

Zest is a great addition to Westport and Fairfield County. I love the space, I love the colors, I love the vibe. Most importantly, I love the food. Definitely put a little Zest in your life!

8 Church Lane
Westport, CT
Monday-Saturday, 8:00am-10:30pm (breakfast, lunch, and dinner)
Sunday, 8:00am-9:30pm (brunch from 11-3)

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