Head down Rt.9 from Hartford about 40 min and you get to a small town called Chester Connecticut. As a Connecticut native growing up in a town like Bristol and spending the last eighteen or so years in the Hartford area, I have developed a certain love for towns like this. Quaint, charming, quiet and nestled right on the Connecticut River, Chester could easily be transplanted into the northwest corner, the Berkshires or Hudson Valley. I find that little towns/villages like this always have something to offer in the way of dining. These establishments are usually hidden gems, but the certain restaurant in question here is no secret. River Tavern and Chef Matthew Wick are two names that I have been hearing a lot about recently, and they have been nothing but good things. I traveled down couple weeks ago to sample Chef Wick’s seasonal offering off of River Tavern’s ever-changing menu and then again for a Seasonal vegetable menu tasting called “Spring Awakening.” I will say that Spring Awakening was awesome but there were a lot of thumbs in the pie that night, today’s review will showcase Chef Wick’s talent as he flexes his muscle on an everyday menu. The following is a small bio on the ins and outs of River Tavern taken directly from their website.
This was an excellent meal, shall we?
First was the guanciale, if you don’t know what that is, it’s pork jowl. This guanciale was served on grilled bread and it had some awesome flavors to accompany it. Pine vinegar and anchovy stood out the most. Thinly sliced, this was a perfect sized dish. Second was the octopus. Three words, FERMENTED CHILI YOGURT. I’ve never heard those three words used together in my stupid goddamn life. This octopus was cooked perfectly, if you fail at cooking octopus I will spit it into the napkin and give it back to you. I haven’t had octopus cooked this good since Dirty Habit. Now for a vegetable milestone, River Tavern has the best yucca I’ve ever had. I’ve never had it in slices, only julienne or thick cut French fry style. The center of the yucca was stuffed with pork liver mousse, this was absolutely outrageous. This is the kind of thing that I like to see, so innovative and almost unthinkable to do but when it comes together it’s perfect, that is how you get people in the door and that is how you keep an asshole food snob like myself interested. The last of the small plates was the crudo. Raw Stonington scallops and a little yuzu kosho buttermilk was all I needed to hear. This was another citrusy clean yet almost tart, vibrant flavored dish. I could have sat there all night and eating small plates but it was time to move on.
I have a rule that has never steered me wrong, that rule is never get anything that is a straight up Asian plate from a non-Asian restaurant. Asian INSPIRED, that’s fine with me, but don’t tell me you’re putting sushi on your menu if you specialize in burgers or something. The same rule applies to ramen or pho. Ramen in the new hipstery cool guy thing to put on a menu and yes, I too have been feeding in to the ramen epidemic. LOTS of places are trying to ride this train, many fail. Don’t put fucking ramen on your menu that specializes in New American UNLESS YOU CAN DO IT. Matthew Wick did it; this was my favorite dish of the night. This was so tasty that when I return I hope to see it or a close variation of it on the menu. This was a mix of chicken and pork and it was excellent, there were even little pieces of fried chicken in it. Egg, spicy sesame oil and pickled shitake! I hate shitake mushrooms, gimme a woodear any day but man these were on POINT! Insert praying hands emoji here __. Next was the monkfish, something I have been let down by many a time. I once got monkfish from a restaurant in Portland Maine called Hugo’s and it smelled like fart. I needed to be reset, I needed a new experience. This monkfish was awesome, topped with oyster mayo and some confit parsnips and other vegetables, this restored my faith. The only problem I had with this dish was that it was HUGE. I would gladly pay the same amount for half of the fish on this plate. I hope they weren’t like, “Yea, see that tall fat/skinny guy out there, yea hit em with the big piece.”
Time for dessert! River Tavern had two desserts on the menu this night that when ordering need to be ordered in advance, the fig pudding and the soufflé. I love fig pudding so that was a shoe in. As you can see its not the prettiest of plates but that is not the point. Made with some fresh whipped cream and dark rum caramel, this was a most decadent dessert, and I ate it all. If you know anything about me then you know that I am a flan purist. I would make a religion around worshipping flan, start a cult, start practicing polygamy, home-school all my children and ultimately have the ATF kill me, all over tasty flan. This was not a traditional flan, this was chocolate and caramel but I still needed to test the waters. This flan was outside my flan comfort zone, just like coffee flans, but damn if this wasn’t good. Throwing a bunch of peanuts on top of something is also a sure way to get me to turn my nose up at it, but paired with the right amount of sea salt, this worked well, bravo to whoever prepared this dessert.
I hereby give River Tavern…
This was an exceptional meal, River Tavern falls in line with restaurants like Millwright’s and Firebox. Matthew Wick is the kind of chef you need to be watching. I am super excited to return to River Tavern as their menu is similar to a rubix cube. Please, check this place out, perfect for a food adventure or a sexy date night.
This has been another installment of Benn Breaks Bread. Thank you for reading and join me next week when I review Bondir, a quaint farm to table restaurant in Cambridge, MA.