Oh my goodness, we found a real gem. A restaurant with a tasting menu so delicious – in every way – that our UK readers may well need to book a transatlantic flight just to try it. Nope, this isn’t central New York, Miami, San Francisco or Portland – this is Old Saybrook, Connecticut. Yep, it’s a quaint little town set in the spot where the Connecticut River meets Long Island Sound.
The Essex claims to mark the “transition between old New England charm and upscale elegance” inspired by a need for refreshment and rejuvenation. Having been there, and dined at the Tasting Counter on a Saturday evening, I can wholeheartedly confirm that these aren’t just buzz words. This place is brimming with passion, innovation and vision – it’s packed with happy people eating incredible food.
Things are ever changing and ever evolving here – with the seasons, with new produce, as new inspiration and ideas emerge. We were treated to Menu “Number 54” – and I ask the waiter how he manages to keep up. “These guys, they love to play around – new ideas, new dishes, it’s great” he replies, smiling.
We sit at the Tasting Counter which I’d definitely recommend. You’re up close and personal – the chefs chat to you, you’re often served the dish by the same hands that placed each thoughtful element on the plate for you.
You’ll be struck by the kitchen which is tiny, as in potentially smaller than your kitchen at home – yet the team here are calmly feeding an entire restaurant, many of whom are on the 7 course Tasting Menu. The logistics boggle my mind, yet not theirs – it’s all completely under control.
Starting a tasting menu with egg toast (complete with sous vide yolk, snake river caviar and milkbread) is great -especially when the waiter says “Pick it up and eat it with your hands I would”. Whilst completely unpretentious, The Essex is fully on the radar of foodies throughout the US and has a host of awards already to its name.
Highlights for me were the Blue Fin Tuna, the Miso Marinated Black Cod and the Octopus A La Plancha. All pretty fishy – but rest assured meat lovers aren’t neglected here and we also sampled Wagyu Gold NY Strip and a Foie Gras ‘Popsicle’.
It was an utter treat to get to meet and chat with Chef Colt Taylor – the mastermind behind this wonderous spot. Having worked around the world he’s returned to Connecticut and has not only survived the pandemic with a restaurant business intact (he owns Los Charros Cantina), he’s also become father to twins, and he’s opened The Essex. This guy has energy.
He’s also immensely knowledgeable. We had fascinating conversations about his commitment to full sustainability but his scepticism about the benefits of some of the produce that falls under the term ‘local’. Being a die hard foodie and advocator of eating well and looking at where food comes from, Chef Colt completely changed my ideas with well researched arguments that led him to source wagyu beef from the other side of the country and fish from as far away as Hawaii.
This restaurant works heavily on reservations (how refreshing). The outdoor seating gives a little extra flexibility but generally if you’re making the trip, you need to book your table – and book ahead. Oh, and do it soon – these guys are going places.