On December 12th, Chef and Restaurateur Graham Elliot opened the doors to his first East Coast adventure, Primary Food & Drink in Greenwich, CT. Elliot partnered with Executive Chef and Managing Partner Merlin Verrier to develop and present a menu of contemporary American seasonal cuisine in this refined, but casual atmosphere restaurant.
UPDATE: Unfortunately, Primary closed in June of 2014. See the Greenwich Patch for more details.
Primary Food & Drink opens nightly at 5:00 pm, serving dinner until 10:00 pm Sunday through Thursday and until 11:00 pm on Fridays and Saturdays. It is located at 409 Greenwich Avenue in Greenwich, CT.
Chef Verrier has worked with Graham for six years and up until this move he was the Director of Operations for all of Graham Elliot restaurants in Chicago. Verrier’s culinary path has taken him from the west Coast to the east Coast of the United States, starting in California with a stop in Denver to work with Chef Richard Sandoval at Modern Mexican, Chefs Max Macissock and Carl Kelin at Great Northern Tavern and Chef Jennifer Jasinski to Chicago working with Graham and now at Primary Food & Drink.
Verrier has stated: “We first fell in love with Greenwich by participating in the annual Food & Wine Festival. Being close to a seaboard and having access to ingredients you just can’t get in the Midwest was an exciting prospect,” said Verrier. “Once we connected with a Greenwich native as our partner, the pieces fell into place and Primary just made sense as a next step for the brand.”
Chefs Elliot and Verrier have created a menu that offers creative spins on traditional classic dishes such as Deconstructed Caesar served with brioche “twinkie,” Shortrib Stroganoff with truffle coulis, and Berkshire Porkchop with rootbeer BBQ sauce.
As we walked in the door, earlier that our reservations, we were quickly greeted and told we could enjoy a cocktail in the bar area or go directly to our table. When you enter Primary, you step into the “parlor,” the bar / lounge area with marble-topped bar, dark brown, wood, and mosaic checkered floor in shades of white and navy. We opted for our table and off we went through the dining area. The dining area is simply decorated with mirrors on the walls and rich, tan leather one-sided booths with chairs on the open side of the oak tables. A second dining room, which can be curtained off for private events, showcases vintage wallpaper and local artwork. We had the privilege of being seated at the “chef’s” table that was just in front of the open kitchen. The aromas existing the kitchen carried right over our table the entire evening, with the lovely aromas setting our taste buds afire with excitement.
Once we were seated, Chef Verrier came out and introduced himself and chatted with us for a few minutes telling us about his culinary history and path to Primary. He also shared his approach to food: playful, somewhat whimsical, full of flavor capitalizing on the freshest ingredients locally available for the time. We agreed that a sampling of his menu would be the best approach as that would let us enjoy and taste a variety of offerings. Some menu items are secret, available, but not on the menu, more about that later.
Jeffrey, our server for the evening, quickly made his appearance and informed us that he would talk to the chef and decide how our sampling will be presented to use. He and the other servers were dressed in blue plaid shirts, jeans, and oil cloth aprons, carrying on the laid-back atmosphere. Jeffrey asked if we wanted any cocktails to start and when we asked about signature cocktails he said he would talk to the bartender, Patrick, and deliver us his suggestions. Jeffrey informed us that they just starting offering a wine that the General Manager, Peggy Chung, was ecstatic about and would have her bring over a bottle.
Jeffrey brought with him a bowl of popcorn garnished with grated Parmesan cheese, truffle oil, and chopped chives in lieu of the traditional bread.
Peggy arrived with a bottle of 2004 Vina Ardanza Reserva. She explained that she was first introduced to this “red” a few years ago when the 2001 vintage was released. Ever since then she has been waiting to bring it to a restaurant. She was not able to get the 2001 vintage but did add the 2004 vintage to the restaurant’s wine collection. The Vina Ardanza Reserva was exceptional smooth with a slight oak and berry tones. We definitely suggest you try it when eating at Primary.
After the wine arrived, Patrick shows up with two of his cocktails; one from the cocktail menu and one soon to be on the menu once he has a permanent name for it. He proudly sat before us a Ambrosia Smash (short red drink in photo below) and what is temporarily calling the Lady of the Tide (in tall glass).
The Lady of the Tide was a smooth and delightful blend of Tito’s vodka, St. Germaine, Kiwi infused simple syrup, grapefruit juice, lemon wedge, and basil leaves. The basil leaves had been muddled with the simple syrup and grapefruit juice prior to the other ingredients being added. Wendy said she really enjoyed The Lady of the Tide because no one ingredient stood out, thus having a balanced taste. This drink is a keeper!
The Ambrosia Smash was Pusser’s Rum, B & B (Bénédictine and Brandy), poached Quince, Agave nectar, and a lemon wedge. I choose the Ambrosia Smash because I like brandy and we have a quince bush and wanted to see one way it is used. It had a bold, deep flavor that I really enjoyed.
Shhh, it’s a secret. I mentioned that Primary has a Secret menu. These Frois Gras and Pop Rock Froilipops are only available for Very Special People from the Secret Menu. This secret snack is only available if you ask for it.
Froilipops are foie gras mousse formed into a round lollipop shape then lightly coated with strawberry pop rock candy. The rich and buttery foie gras combined well with the sweetness of the candy, then the candy starting popping in your mouth to add a unique texture to the snack. Can you say playful?
Next, Chef Verrier presented to us the Deconstructed Caesar made with romaine hearts, Spanish anchovy, Parmesan fluff, and brioche “twinkie”. The twinkie was like a softer crouton filled with creamy brioche, quite unlike the typical, “did I crack a tooth”, hard croutons in most Caesar salads. This dish was surprise and seemed to be a hit among other patrons of the restaurant as well.
Moving on, we sampled the Fluke Sashimi that was surrounded by crisp Nori, bok choy, winter citrus, over soy paint. It was so well balanced that no one ingredient stood out. The fluke was nice and delicate without that fishy taste. You will be asking for more.
The stoneware dishes, silverware, and glasses are just as fun as the food at Primary in Greenwich. The Laguiole knives reminded us of a switchblade which seems to indicate Merlin and Graham have a slight rebellious spirit. The stoneware is from Craft.
If buffalo chicken wings come to mind when you read Buffalo Chicken (photo left) on the menu, put that thought out of your mind. Primary’s take on buffalo chicken comes with celeriac slaw, crumbled Roquefort , hot sauce, celery sprout. These are rolled chicken fillets filled with cheese, lightly battered and fried to a fine crispness then coated with a mildly hot buffalo sauce. The celery, four different ways, and cheese complement the chicken well.
Accompanying the chicken was a tasting dish of Toasted Gnocchi (photo right). It was served with fresh ricotta, foraged mushroom, brown butter, and grated Parmesan. The extremely light and slightly toasted gnocchi, were probably the best I have eaten. The Gnocchi is made fresh daily.
The first entree presented to our taste buds was the Lobster Schnitzel. Lobster served schnitzel style; who would have thought? The lobster was first cooked, then using the claw and tail meat formed into a lobster fillet, which was then coated with Panko breadcrumbs and pan fried to obtain the Schnitzel name. Shaved asparagus, lobster bisque, and cauliflower mousse rounded out the dish.
From the “Land” section of the entree menu we tried the Beef Stroganoff. The melt-in-your-mouth and rich, deep flavored braised shortrib sat on a bed of hominy, black trumpet, crème fraîche, and truffle coulis. Not your typical beef stroganoff, but a playful play on a classic.
Sadly, we did not have the opportunity to sample the Berkshire Porkchop with artisan grits, collard green, corn nut, and rootbeer BBQ. Jeffrey told us it was fantastic and that it is one of the most popular menu items. If you try it please let us know what you think.
Last but not least was the Scottish Salmon. The delicious salmon was nestled on a bed of wild rice and dressed with Brussels sprout (baby cabbage as some would call them), d’anjou pear, and grainy mustard.
To finish out the evening we were presented with a sampling of the four different desserts on the menu.
Carrot Cake: Hawaiian pineapple, ginger essence, neuchâtel gelato, walnut brittle
Chocolate Quartet: chocolate doughnut, chocolate cream, chocolate mousse, chocolate ganache
Creme Brûlée: caramelized banana, jamaican rum, muscovado sugar, créme anglaise
Mixed Berries: lavender short cake, green cardamom blueberry compote, raspberry curd
The words “playful and whimsical” are the appropriate description of the food we enjoyed from the start to the end at Primary in Greenwich. Every server we encountered was friendly and eager to ensure our meal and evening was enjoyable. As I looked around I noticed that each table was receiving the same level of service and attention that we were. We look forward to visiting Primary again, to see and taste what new non-traditional classics that Chef Verrier has created.