At this time of year, the grapevines at Chamard Vineyards in Clinton have shed their leaves and given up the heavy clusters of grapes to the fall harvest. Even without the full bloom of the vineyard, Chamard draws visitors to the calm landscape and the tasting room, where the wood fire adds to the coziness.
Now there is another reason to linger. The Bistro @ Chamard, just steps away from the tasting room, serves a menu of classic French favorites using many local ingredients.
The rustic dining rooms feature many reclaimed items from the property. The host stand and the irregular-shaped tables in the lounge are topped with thick slabs of wood from a persimmon tree that fell during tropical storm Irene in 2011. Barrel staves form the bases for the tables, while sculptures made from staves and barrel tops decorate the taupe walls. In the tasting room, unique wine racks were built from more staves.
The restaurant, with oversized windows overlooking the vineyards, seats about 35 guests, and a private dining room can accommodate parties of eight to 10.
Executive chef Brad Stabinsky changes his menu weekly but frequently carries over best-selling dishes. A current crowd pleaser is the Baked Camembert en Croute served with a salted caramel sauce, pears and apples. A burger, made with ground beef from Old Lyme's Four Mile River Farm, also is a staple, although Stabinsky mixes up the garnishes. Guests like the current preparation that adds cave-aged cheddar, baby arugula and the chef's steak sauce to the burger. The pommes frites served with rosemary salt and aioli also move to each new menu.
The weekly menu is "all fresh and updated," Stabinsky says, adding that he tries to source as many locally produced ingredients as possible even during the off-season. He buys heritage chicken from GourMavian Farms in Bolton, which raises three varieties of chickens. "Their French red variety is a close as a Brest-style chicken that you'll find here," he says. Besides ground beef for the burger, he also uses hanger steak, strip steaks and some rib-eyes from Four Mile River Farm, seafood from Stonington, farmstead cheeses from Cato Corner Farm in Colchester and greens from Field House Farm in North Madison.
The menu offers salads and small plates ($4 to $16), sandwiches and panini ($10 to $13) and entrees ($11 to $25).
Stabinsky returned to restaurant cooking after six years as an instructor – and eventually culinary director – at Lincoln Culinary Institute in Shelton. He attended Johnson & Wales University and, as a working chef, was accepted into the prestigious Beringer School for American Chefs at the Napa Valley, Calif., winery. The legendary chef and culinary teacher Madeline Kamman, a perfectionist who expected only the best from her students, taught the two-week, hands-on classes. "It was the greatest experience of my life," Stabinsky says. "There were only four of us [chefs]. I fell in love with wine and food."
The chef feels like he has come full circle at Chamard, where he can create his menus to complement the vineyard's award-winning wines.
"I want this restaurant to reflect the bistro feel and style and the French [wine-making] techniques used here," he says. "I want people to come in and have some beautiful charcuterie and a nice bottle of wine."
For the cold weather months, the chef's menus will lean more towards hearty, slow-cooked foods such as duck confit, cassoulet and Choucroute Garnie, the Alsatian sauerkraut, sausage and meat dish.
After the first of the year, Stabinsky plans to offer wine dinners and special events such as a guest chef series or a "dinner and a movie" night. Chamard's Singer Songwriter Series continues in the heated barn, and Stabinsky's kitchen provides small plates at the events.
>>The Bistro @ Chamard is at 115 Cow Hill Road in Clinton. The restaurant is open Sunday and Tuesday through Thursday, noon to 6 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, noon to 9 p.m. Telephone: 860-664-0299. Information about events can be found at http://www.chamard.com or on Facebook.
>> Harry's Pizza, which specializes in a thin-crust, Naples-style pizza, has opened a new restaurant at 363 New London Turnpike in Glastonbury. Harry's also has a restaurant in West Hartford Center. Information: 860-633-7338 and http://www.harryspizza.net.
>>The historic Griswold Inn in Essex is once again decked out for Christmas. During the holiday month, the dinner menu will include serve special game entrees and New England classics. The costumed wait staff and the Royal Court Singers, who stroll the dining rooms and perform seasonal carols table-side, add to the mood. The inn is open daily except Dec. 24 and 25. Information: 860-767-1776.
>>Trumbull Kitchen in downtown Hartford will host a Brooklyn Brewery beer and small plates tasting Dec. 12 at 5:30 p.m. Five beers are paired with five hors d'ouevres prepared by executive chef Chris Torla. Cost is $25, plus tax and gratuity. Information: 860-493-7412 and http://www.trumbullkitchen.com.
>>A "N'awlin's Jazz & Blues Wine Dinner" will take place Dec. 11 beginning with a reception at 6 p.m. at Matthew's Restaurant in Unionville. The Colby's will provide the music, and guest speaker Steve Greenwood, New England regional manager for the San Francisco Wine Exchange, will introduce the wines. The three-course meal includes an entrée choice of seared lamb chops or espresso and pepper rubbed duck breast. Tickets are $65 plus tax and gratuity. Matthew's is at 55 Mill St. Telephone: 860-673-7373.
>>Here's something to look forward to in the dark days of February. IHOP restaurants will offer free stacks of pancakes on Feb. 5, National Pancake Day, from 7 to 10 p.m. In exchange for the buttermilk flapjacks, the chain will accept donates for the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals, which will celebrate their 30th anniversary next year. The restaurants hope to raise $3 million for the care centers. One hundred percent of the donations will benefit the charity. For more information, visit http://www.ihoppancakeday.com.
>>To prepare for Hanukkah, which begins Saturday at sundown, Maximum Beverage in West Hartford will conduct a kosher wine tasting today from 3 to 6 p.m. The event will be hosted by one of Maximum's distributor partners, Monsieur Touton. The shop also will sponsor two "Bar to Home" events during December. Mixologists from local restaurants will create their favorite Belvedere Vodka cocktails for patrons to sample. From 5 to 7 p.m., the bar team from Shish Lounge will be mixing on Dec. 11 and the bar staff from Grants Restaurant will be featured on Dec. 18. Maximum Beverage is located at 333 North Main St. in the Marshalls Plaza, Bishops Corner, West Hartford. For more information, visit http://www.maximumbev.com or call 860-761-2541.