Three months after Jeffrey Lizotte and Tom Gale first opened Present Company in the Tariffville section of Simsbury, they say they're finding their identity as a restaurant.
Day-to-day operations have been fine-tuned. The staff has figured out the flow of the intimate 49-seat space. The menu has already cycled completely, with light, summery flavors giving way to substantial fall and winter preparations.
"We know who we are in the room now," Gale says. "The food we can do, the service we provide, now we know who we are in this restaurant."
On Aug. 31, Lizotte and Gale opened Present Company's doors, welcoming guests to the building that most recently housed The Mill at 2T. The restaurant was a fixture in the greater Hartford dining scene for seven years before owners Ryan and Kelleanne Jones decided to sell and relocate to Charleston, S.C.
Present Company is a homecoming for the Simsbury-raised Lizotte, a Cornell graduate whose notable culinary résumé includes experience at David Bouley's Danube and Eric Ripert's Le Bernardin in New York City, along with Bordeaux's La Tupina and the Michelin-starred La Bastide St. Antoine in Grasse. He spent nearly nine years at Hartford's ON20, serving as executive chef for the last four.
Gale brings a wealth of experience as a veteran manager for the Billy Grant Restaurant Group, and he also worked alongside Lizotte as general manager at ON20. Though it's a first-time ownership venture for them both, Gale says he and Lizotte are well-prepared for the challenge, thanks to their extensive backgrounds.
"I think it's testament to us, working with the right people and at the right places, training under the right people," he says. "We were both trained to do this; that made that transition a lot easier."
They made only minor cosmetic adjustments to the 2T space, adding a few touches like family photos, and retained the open kitchen, which had been its signature attraction. Seats at the "chef's counter" continue to be a draw, as diners get a front-row peek at the culinary action while engaging with the chefs.
Gale calls the menu "very focused, with a lot of attention to detail"; it's based on seasonal availability and features local produce from sources like Starlight Gardens in Durham. Selections from its most recent iteration reflect the flavors of fall and winter, with starters ($10 to $15) like grilled chestnut soup, salad of autumn greens with oven-roasted red cabbage and Danish blue cheese, Rhode Island fluke crudo with green olive tapenade and crispy crab and cheese agnolotti with caramel apple sauce and shaved Brussels sprouts.
Main courses ($26 to $34) center on heartier proteins and preparations: braised lamb shoulder Paprikash with cosmic carrot carpaccio; buckwheat-crusted venison saddle with slow-grilled Vidalia onions and salt-roasted beet spaetzle; poached salmon with smoked maitake mushrooms and a Black Forest ham and Brussels sprout carbonara; roasted duck breast with foie gras and Swiss chard dumpling, griddled squash and five-spiced soubise; and cassoulet of broccoli with green chickpeas, glazed kohlrabi and melted kale.
Desserts ($8 and $9) are creative: apple en papillote wrapped in crispy bric dough with "milk soup" and cookie butter; banana bread with Nutella and chocolate chili ice cream; a duo of passion fruit sorbet and curd with black sesame tuile and finger lime; and a cheese course, featuring Mystic Cheese's Sea Change with cranberry chutney.
Gale said about 15 percent of guests choose to tour the restaurant's cuisine through its always-available tasting menu, which offers five courses for $75 ($100 with optional wine pairing.) A Tuesday night prix-fixe menu offers three courses for $35, with half-priced wine.
The partners emphasize that though Present Company serves refined fare, they don't consider it a fine-dining restaurant. Instead, they're focused on offering proper service in an environment that's casual and inviting, with lively music and waitstaff in red Converse sneakers.
"We think we built — and continue to build something here — that's an experience that's a little different," Lizotte says. "[Guests] know they're going to be amongst warmth and friends and familiarity and good food."
Present Company, 2 Tunxis Road, Tariffville, is open Tuesday through Saturday, 5 to 10 p.m. 860-658-7890, presentcompanyct.com.