Ask me where to meet for lunch in Fairfield and I'll probably say the Chelsea. This casual gastropub has a bustling atmosphere, and chef Matt Storch's stamp on its Latin-, Asian- and European-influenced American menu. The look — bright lime-green metal seats, dark wood tables and floors, and a raftered ceiling with big, bulbous glass filament-lit lanterns — evokes memories of early 1970s.
The tuna crudo, on the "app" menu, is thick slices of raw tuna topped with a chunk of avocado and a sliver of jalapeño. The fish lies on an umami-rich sauce of soy, sesame and truffle oils. Precise slices of crisp English cucumber alternate with crunchy rice crackers. This is a hearty dish: Its delicate Japanese roots disappeared on the way to the gastropub.
Garlicky shrimp is a homey app, an Asian take on the most-well known tapas. Plump shrimp perch on toasted baguette draped in sweet-spicy, glossy brown sauce touched with sherry vinegar and flecked with red chile and slivered garlic. A bouquet of mâche, fragrant, fresh greens, was tucked into the curl of a shrimp's tail.
Sandwiches are a big part of the menu, and over the course of a couple visits, my friends gravitated to the fish-of-the-day sandwich. Recently, it was mahi mahi. Well-seasoned, seared, and roasted to a juicy texture, the fish wore a generous dollop of tomato-dense puttanesca. The seed-topped roll was soft and sweetish, but my friend ate it as an opened-faced sandwich, with knife and fork, as I did this summer when enjoying the deep-fried softshell crab sandwich with corn salsa and sriracha mayonnaise. The lobster roll glistened with butter. It was served on a pretzel roll, with house-made chips and coleslaw. The fish-of-the-day sandwich comes with a heap of sweet potato fries, thin cut, exceptionally crunchy, and well salted.
Under the "more substantial" section of the menu are short ribs, steaks, scallops, chicken and pastas. Soft, homemade ricotta ravioli are substantially sauced with meaty (beef-pork-and-veal) Bolognese and showered with grated cheese.
To drink, we've been happy to find IPAs and a rosé. But recently, my wine glass had an old, cloudy residue around the inside rim and many drop marks on the bowl. The spicy Bloody Mary gave my friend, who was nursing a cold, the medicine she needed. It arrived chock full of stuff -- ribbons of cucumber, slices of jalapeño, a fat green olive stuffed with blue cheese, and wedge of lemon. The bartender, seeing how much my friend liked it, showed us the bottle of vodka he infuses with cucumber and jalapeño.
Chef Storch's partners in the Chelsea are Scott Beck (The Loft, SoNo, and formerly of Match) and Kevin McHugh (Spotted Horse, Westport, Grey Goose, Southport, The Barn, Westport). The professionalism of these seasoned restaurateurs comes through in the execution in the Chelsea's kitchen and the attentive service in the dining room. It's not a place to linger (the seats are hard) but with sunlight streaming through the window, we find ourselves doing just that.
THE CHELSEA is at 12 Unquowa Place in Fairfield. Hours are 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; and 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Information: 203-254-8200, thechelseaff.com.