By Melanie Barnard
A place that calls itself Grand is either very confident or very conceited. Judging from the excellent, friendly, and down-to-earth service we had in this lovely new restaurant with its soaring ceilings and intriguing menu, they have every reason to tout themselves as pretty "grand."
Located in the heart of Stamford’s "restaurant row" surrounding Columbus Park, Grand distinguishes itself with its cutting-edge, highly sophisticated bi-level dining and drinking areas, as well as its cutting-edge, highly sophisticated, multifaceted menu. Minimalist, sleek staircases, long smooth bar and high-tech lighting along with modern plush hotel-lobby chairs and deep lounges give the restaurant an exciting, electric feel.
Up front, however, are the couple of reasons why Grand isn’t quite grand enough to earn the grand rating. It’s too noisy for dining. Even upstairs, the buzz from the bar is more like a din during peak times or on the weekends, making dinner conversation difficult and grating. It’s also too smoky. The magnificent bar, which really is a great place to see and be seen for the young professional crowd, is situated in the center of the first level, and smoke, chatter, and people spill out into the dining area. The smoke wafts upward to the second level as well.
But because the food is so good, the suggestion is to go early in the evening to dine, and ask to be upstairs toward the back or front, as far away as possible from the bar. If the bar scene is your reason to go, then forget the food and stay with the list of very sank drinks, wines by the glass and beers. Also go late for the nightclub setting complete with D.J. Finally, my usual quibble give us the daily specials in print, please.
All this said, I’d go back if only for the macaroni and cheese. Yes, macaroni and cheese. Here it is offered as a "small plate" as opposed to the list of "big plates." In truth, there isn’t too much difference in size since the small plates are very generous portions, as are main courses and even desserts (don’t miss dessert more later on that).
Back to the macaroni and cheese. Get visions of that card board box and powdery cheese right out of your head. This is perfectly al dente semolina elbows swathed in rich melted gruyere flecked with truffles and gratineed with panko crumbs crisped in rendered duck fat. Mom did not make this.
Indeed, executive chef Bill Taibe made the macaroni and cheese, and the rest of the contemporary new American menu is largely his inspiration as well. Taking American "comfort food" to a new level is the idea here.
There are other little plates as well, and one could easily make a meal on two or three of them. Tuna pizza, another wildly offbeat take on the familiar, is almost as winning. Ultra-thin, crisp flatbreads are spread with a tangy wasabi-spiked cream, then layered with paper-thin slices of barely heated tuna dribbled with miso.
What is more American home-style than iceberg lettuce? The crunchy, low nutrient stuff that we all hate to admit we love is presented with pride a dressed up in creamy blue cheese speckled with crumbled bacon. Mussels are sauced with saffron and garlic cream and served bistro-style with hand-cut french-fries. Crostini is heaped with sauteed wild mushrooms accented with marsala and set on a bed of whole mixed herbs. There is a grilled cheese sandwich ... with a hot tomato dip; a green salad ... with goat cheese fondant; shrimp kebabs ... with cucumber yogurt sauce; and a bruschetta ... with lobster and pancetta.
Bar plates, mostly sandwiches, include a hamburger with white Cheddar cheese, a BLT with lobster, homemade potato chips with blue cheese and garlic oil, and a cheese plate with cashew blue, ash goat, English Cheddar and reblochon.
The "big plates" of main courses follow the same familiar-with-a-kick theme. Fettuccine Alfredo with lobster is just plain fabulous. No calorie cutting here. Just the real thing. Duck breast is honey glazed and served with couscous studded with sour cherry sauce. Rib-eye steak is doused with garlic and herb butter. Mahogany brown meaty ribs are braised to fork tenderness, then served on a heap of horseradish-spiked mashed potatoes and a colorful melange of lightly buttered crisp-tender scallions, carrots and snow peas. Roasted chicken is pristine in its golden brown crisp skin and tender meat, served with fluffy freshly whipped potatoes and slim green beans. No way to upscale this tradition.
Desserts are as simply terrific as the main courses, and are also upgrades of traditional sweets.
Start with the ice cream cones, which arrive as three mini-sugar cones lined up in a stand and filled with three different homemade ice creams. Or how about the ultimate gelatin dessert, milky white stain-smooth pannacotta sprinkled with boozy diced strawberries, blueberries, and mint julienne. Apple tarte tatin is accompanied by caramel ice cream, while roasted mission figs have pound cake and vanilla ice cream. The ice cream sundae is big, rich and slathered in sliced bananas and real whipped cream. The only minor dessert disappointment (and it is minor) is the warm chocolate cake, which is fine but not exceptional. Give us the most American of all chocolate desserts a feathery chocolate layer cake with thick fudge icing and your dessert menu will be complete.
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