By Elizabeth Keyser
1:25 PM EDT, October 9, 2013
Turnips. The day after eating at the new Bailey's Backyard, I couldn't stop thinking of the baby turnips in the scallop dish. Plump, heart-shaped, a bit of their bright green stems showing, they'd vied for attention with the delicate bay scallops in thyme butter over a soft bed of sweet-savory carrot purée. The dishes on the revitalized menu of this American restaurant in downtown Ridgefield shows a light touch and balance of fresh, seasonal, local ingredients under new executive chef Forrest Pasternack.
After 14 years, it was time to revamp Baileys. Chef-owner Sal Bagliavio closed, redecorated, and re-opened with a new team in the kitchen (Pasternack and sous chef Kristina Rogers) and dining rooms (waiter Brian, who knows a lot about wine). Bagliavio is now in the front of the house. He recently hosted a tasting menu to show food writers the new look and fall menu.
The main dining room is New England charming, in a tony, understated, taverny sort of way. It's intimate, just 22 seats, with a contemporary and timeless feel in the gray-pickled wood walls, and wood floors painted black checkerboard. High-backed booths have a country look, without the austerity. They're well padded.
Bailey's is a quiet restaurant. Its well-heeled customers aren't here to see and be seen. This is their neighborhood place, where they can chat and talk over dinner. And, unlike at so many Fairfield County restaurants these days, you find yourself lowering your voice. I admired both the look and sound-buffering effects of the burlap-covered acoustic ceiling tiles overhead. A second room, the all-seasons patio, has a more casual feel, and seats an additional 28.
Our personable waiter, Brian, paired our courses with one-ounce pours of wines. We appreciated the chance to taste without consuming too much. Brian's copious wine knowledge poured forth at such a fast rate, it wasn't easy to catch his words. He paired the scallop and turnip starter with a peachy and acidic Albarino. Talk to Brian. He'll give you the rest of the details.
Another starter, Golden Beet Salad ($14), featured goat cheese from Westfield Farm in Hubbardston, Mass. The sweet, tender beets were dressed in pumpkin vinaigrette and garnished with roasted pumpkin seeds. Pieces of sweet, buttery pistachio "brittle" were irresistible.
We tried two main courses from the fall menu. Cedar Plank Roasted Rainbow Trout ($29) was served on a thin, rectangular "plank." The components — roasted trout, fennel, potato "risotto" and butternut squash purée — were laid out like a fall landscape scattered with micro chard. We were struck by the balance of this dish, of clean flavors against rich, of crisp textures against soft, of savory and sweet. We were thankful the dish didn't hit us over the head. It didn't assault us with salt. It didn't overwhelm with sweet. Brian paired it with Poema rosé cava from the Penedès Valley in Spain.
The Berkshire Pork Shank ($29) was a lovely, comforting bowl of moist, tender, flavorful pork, collapsed over rich, sweet, parsnip purée and a meaty, red wine sauce. Mirepoix vegetables, that base of onions, carrots and celery, were elevated here into a vegetable component of the dish. Super finely diced, they retained a gentle crunch. It was a meticulous touch that fine-tuned the balance of meat to vegetable.
Deconstructed BLTs are always fun, and at Bailey's it's a salad of local arugula with a slice of rolled bacon, slow-cooked. A whole grain crouton, sweetish tomato jam, and topping of "crispy Hollandaise" are the other playful parts of a dish that cries "brunch" in a really good way. In fact the brunch menu is much more interesting than most, and even a standard egg dish is elevated in the omelet with local vegetables and camembert cheese from Arethusa Farm in Litchfield, with chives and a market green salad ($14)
Another reason for brunch is the homemade soda bread, soft-crumbed, flavored with caraway seeds and raisins. At the table, the waiter poured brown sugar butter over it. Its decadence called out for strong coffee or tea.
A fall dessert that seems like it could be brunch is the Brioche Pain Perdu with whipped pumpkin custard. But it's dessert, so why not pair it with a Pumpkin spice "martini" made with spiced rum, amarula liqueur and housemade pumpkin syrup. Amarula is a tree fruit that grows in Africa. It's also known as elephant fruit, because elephants love to eat it.
Fresh house-made coffee and donuts are powdered and drizzled with different toppings, chocolate-almond, dulce de leche and powdered sugar. The "coffee" is a strawberry-coffee sauce, which was hardly needed with the rich donuts and toppings. Maple cheesecake was very smooth and light, with hints of orange zest. It was served with thin slices of roasted pear and whipped cream.
Pasternack, whose stepfather was Japanese, grew up working in a Japanese restaurant in Danbury. The influences of the cuisine can be seen in his cooking, in the lightness of his touch, in his sense of balance.
23 Bailey Ave., Ridgefield, (203) 431-0796, baileysbackyard.com
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