Shrimp

Roasted shrimp over a caramelized onion quinoa cake with chorizo sauce. (Donna Young / July 2, 2014)

After a group of my friends reveled at a surprise party at The Spread, it was no surprise that so many of us returned to the restaurant within days. This hip, global restaurant and bar in SoNo converts first-timers to regulars.

The rustic-industrial design is full of charming touches, like mismatched vintage plates. Forks and knifes stand in a jam jar and a retro cream bottle holds sprigs of fresh mint. The floors are concrete, the music is pulsing (but not intruding), and there's a party vibe at the long bar.

In the dining room, our friendly waitress brought sweet, fluffy corn bread to our table. She was quickly followed by personable co-owner Chris Hickey, asking if we'd been to The Spread before.

Hickey told us The Spread is a partnership between four guys who've been working in the restaurant business for decades, at places like Bleu in Greenwich and Barcelona in Fairfield. Chef Carlos Baez cooked classic French at La Panetière in Rye, N.Y., and farm-to-table at Napa & Co in Stamford.

The four partners began their careers as bartenders, so we began with cocktails, too. A refreshing play on the gin and tonic is made with local, artisan Greenhook (N.Y.) beach plum gin, lime and celery syrup. (I didn't taste the beach plum, but enjoyed the drink.)

The Spread's conviviality starts with a fine selection of local farmhouse cheeses and cured meats in small, medium and larger plates. But let's try Chef Carlos Baez's cooking. Crispy, maple-syrup pork belly bites, sprinkled with red chili flakes, were crowned with pickled rhubarb. Light veal and ricotta meatballs, tender and light, were laid over course polenta. Roasted shrimp ($12), served over a crisp quinoa cake with caramelized onions, tasted even better when swirled through the chorizo sauce.

From the larger plates, brick chicken ($22), bone-in and crispy skinned, was a crowd pleaser. House made pastas had the right touch. Soft, pillowy ricotta gnocchi topped with a soft mass of braised veal. Orcchiette, the "little ears," caught the sauce of roasted tomatoes, broccoli and Romano cheese.

Or dinner was marred by one serious misstep — the pan-seared foie gras was ice cold. The parsnip puree, balsamic and cherries were delicious. The dish was whisked away, and we tried the grilled Portuguese octopus with potatoes and chorizo ($16) instead. As much as I love the flavor of octopus, and this was a tasty, good-textured dish, for the sake of these intelligent creatures, I hope the fashion for octopus passes.

Apple fritters – donut holes rolled in sugar and cinnamon, filled with soft, sweet, diced apples — are even better if you spoon some of the salted caramel ice cream on them. It's served in vintage tea cups.

>>The Spread, 70 N. Main St., South Norwalk, is open for dinner Sunday through Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 5 to 11 p.m.; and for Sunday brunch from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Information: 203-939-1111 and www.thespreadsono.com.