A couple weeks ago Meg and I took a ride down the Rt 9 corridor to the small town of Centerbrook. I actually worked here years ago working at a flower delivery call center, very boring, unlike the review I am about to unleash on all yall. I’ve been hearing a lot about The Essex and I finally found time to go explore the menu and hang with Chef Colt Taylor. The Essex is part market, part restaurant. The market offers fresh local produce, locally caught fish and shellfish and an array of charcuterie and dry aged steaks. We took a quick look at the market and then took a seat at the bar where we explored some cocks and mocks.
The Essex has a bar program that I would put against any other bar in CT. Drink Master Michela Zurstadt blew my F-ing mind with the creation and execution of every drink she brought us that evening, she is definitely one to watch. We took our seats and strapped in for the Cinco de Mayo, Omage to Mexico Omakase tasting menu but we also enjoyed a fair amount of the regular May 2018 menu also, so, shall we?
First we began with the Santa Cruz Kampachi Ceviche with Aji Lemon Kellu Uchu Chile, otherwise known as a lemon drop pepper. This was a perfect cold appetizer to begin with. We also indulged in an order of the Salmon Belly Poke on the side of that. The Essex has an array of cold appetizers, something you don’t see enough of.
Next was the smoked Conger Eel Aguachile with roasted Serrano and squid ink. Aguachile is a Mexican dish made of shrimp, submerged in liquid seasoned with chili peppers, lime juice, salt, cilantro, and slices of onion. Fresh vegetables such as cucumber are usually added, this was chef Colt’s take on that Mexican classic. This dish was paired with the dry aged beef tartare served with warmed rice pudding and tortillas. This was very cool because the rice pudding acted as a queso almost that I dragged the chip through while eating the tartare
Next was the mussel tostada en escebeche with pistachio, pasilla, mussel ju and dill. This dish was paired with the bacon and shellfish bisque served with a huge shrimp, soft egg and ramen-like noodles. The mussel tostada was one of my favorite dishes of the night, I folded it in half and ate it like a taco. I could have had about 4-5.
Next was the Chile Rellenos con mushroom adobo with guajillo, queso fresco and walnut. This dish was paired with one of may favorites from the regular menu, the Seascape with miso black cod and “shellfish explosion.” Didn’t even think to ask but whatever that entailed, it was good. The seascape was a mélange of all things fish and shellfish, excellent.
Next was the lobster and beef taco with a ramp tortilla, black garlic and black bean. This dish was paired with the fluke meuniere served with brocolli, olives and brown butter. I remove olives off of all my food, I’m predominantly Italian so don’t as me why. Once I removed the olives I inhaled this dish, now don’t get me wrong, I like olive “essence,” just not olives. The taco was sick because it was made with a house made ramp taco that was to die for.
Next we had two more dishes but Chef colt snuck in a little treat, a few slices of the 60-day aged Kobe beef, this was insane. The beef fell apart in your mouth and Chef laid it atop a sort of berry smear that gave a cool little extra flavor, mouth watering! Once that was out of the way we were served the dueling moles, Oaxacan verses Puebla served with some of the best pork belly I’ve had in a while. Since there was pork belly already on the table, we had the other one off the regular menu served with beet barbeque sauce, jus and kimchi, both were excellent.
Dessert was next, we had three, technically four. First were two that were off of the regular menu. First was the Tasting of Winter Citrus. This dish consisted of orange air, lemon curd, grapefruit granita, almond lime cake and blood orange sorbet. This was very cool, served in a glass surrounded by a steel cylinder to keep cool, this dish embodies it name. Next was the bread pudding served with house made Nutella and roasted banana gelato. Finally, the last dessert was the most simple, but my favorite. I could not get enough of this dish. Pastry Chef Meredith Sowell won my heart with this. Corn Pavlova, charred husk, corn pudding and Mexican oregano. Pavlova is a meringue-based dessert named after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova. It is a meringue with a crisp crust and soft, light inside, usually topped with fruit and whipped cream. This dessert was shaped like a horn and the pudding was on the inside. This was my favorite dessert in 2018, this shit was so good, I can’t even begin to tell you. We were then left with a chef’s selection of house made chocolates and we wrapped it up.
The Essex is doing something that a lot of restaurants are not doing, and that is offering house recipes for sale via their market, I think this is genius. You have something on the menu you like, and you can take it home. I left with watermelon-radish relish that I’ve been putting on burgers all week. I look forward to returning to The Essex because of the excellent caliber of food, the bar menu and the market, a true culinary trifecta. Check them out for dinner or lunch, say hi to Chef Colt, he will probably stuff your face like he did mine!