VClub enjoys a great relationship with Nômade Westport. Patrick and Ciara have created a destination restaurant in the heart of Westport. So whether you are dining, or just meeting for a drink at Nômade is an experience to behold. Our Rocky Lands range of wine is available By The Glass or in the Bottle, and a selection of our Vergelegen Wines are available on the Wine Menu (Just ask you server for "the South African Wine!!!!"). To celebrate our Partnership we are giving away a dining experience for 4 people to enjoy at Nômade.
CONNECTICUT MAGAZINE FOOD + DRINK
Nômade in Westport is a globe-wandering culinary adventure
James Gribbon - Dec. 30, 2022
A nomad is a wanderer, traveling from place to place, searching out the most nourishing land for livestock, far-off markets holding alluring goods. A nomad is a living storehouse, a repository for cultural knowledge. This is the inspiration for Nômade, where globe-spanning culinary traditions gather under one roof in Westport.
Partners Ciara Webster, Patrick Jean and chef Zoltan Kovacs bring international experience to Main Street. It’s no wonder lines form to the sidewalk as diners wait to enter the bright, attractive space. No concessions have been made to quality in the name of variety at this global sampler. “Ciara has traveled all over the world, and she wanted something from everywhere,” says chef Kovacs, himself a native of Hungary.
“I think the menu is so cool, because you can get escargot, but also fried rice. We had to make sure we covered as much as we could, lots of Asia, the Mediterranean, African dishes, plus a burger and steak to make sure everyone can find something they’d like to eat.”
When we speak, I note to chef Kovacs how many side orders of fries I noticed coming out to tables. Call them frites or any other name, it wasn’t the first order I’d expect at a space where salmon rillettes, hamachi crudo, and charcuterie boards are all offered starters. Kovacs laughs. “Yes, Americans love fries. I didn’t think of them as anything special, but they’re very popular here.”
Seeing those golden baskets whisking by make my eyes linger on an entrée of steak frites, with a peppercorn cream demi glace over Oklahoma Wagyu. This looks delicious, yet feels insufficiently exotic. We decide instead to start with spicy tuna crudo, and coquilles St.-Jacques.
The coquille — bay scallops served as a dip in creamy mushroom sauce and Gruyère — doesn’t look fancy. It’s more comfort food, an ideal way to come in from the cold. Little bay scallops are less prevalent in Northeastern food than larger diver scallops, but are the perfect bite size when spread on crusty French bread. It’s a good, hearty starter, and would serve as an excellent dish on its own over drinks at Nômade’s bar.
Kovac’s skill starts to become apparent when the tuna crudo arrives. The tuna is blended with Japanese mayonnaise, mirin, yuzu, sriracha and placed atop rice which has been formed and fried to make a single, large cube, each crowned with a tiny slice of fresh jalapeño. The rice is crispy, a little sweet, definitely chewy, and it’s impressive how well the tuna still manages to come through despite the additional flavors. There’s a lot going on in a small bite.
“The rice should be crispy, yet saucy inside,” explains the chef. “But you absolutely must begin with a high-grade tuna.”
Kovacs began his career at a culinary high school in his native Hungary before looking to expand his horizons in America. His sponsor was none other than chef Roland Olah of SoNo’s Bruxelles Brasserie.
“He mentored me in every single way,” says Kovacs, who worked as sous chef at Bruxelles for years before becoming chef at Black Rock Yacht Club in Bridgeport. Their connection is impressive, considering they’d never met each other before Olah picked up Kovacs at New York’s JFK airport.
Kovacs was able to use Webster and Jean’s concept as a springboard to create Nômade’s menu. “I feel like I have these creative moments, I’m always changing,” he says. “I like to use as much as I can from all different areas, cuisine wise, but with local ingredients, and I always want to cook as much as I can on the line, be with my chefs.”
“The idea is you come in and the space looks Mediterranean, it’s not too dressy, you can relax, the music is good,” Kovacs says of the vibe. “Some of the dishes match this look, but we just wanted good food made the proper way. It should feel like you do on vacation: just relax, no suit and tie, a little different from regular fine dining.”
Having only been open since August, Nômade has quickly built a guest list of regular locals, as well as diners coming in from all over Connecticut and New York. The demand for tables sometimes extends even to individual dishes, like an entrée of halibut collar in herbed butter, Meyer lemon, capers and basil over tricolor cherry tomatoes.
“Everyone loves halibut, and the collar keeps the price reasonable, while still giving people a really good quality of fish, and I think the collar has a better flavor than the filet,” the chef tells me. “It’s Italian in nature — wine, fish, tomato, lemon and caper — and it has this visual pop. The dish was from a previous season, but people liked it so much we were afraid to take it off the menu. It’s the same with the clams and fettuccine, it’s such a New York recipe, we took it off and people got upset! We had to put it back. You know you have a hit when that happens.”
We choose the porco alentejana as our main. The dish is inspired by the cooking of the Portuguese mother of one of Webster’s friends, and fine-tuned by chef Kovac’s wife who also happens to be Portuguese. Served as a rich stew of braised pork, Manila clams, and roasted fingerling potatoes adrift in an herbal, garlicky broth, the alentejana seems to touch all the right keys to spell out “craveable.” It’s no wonder it sticks in so many memories of home cooking.
The dish may have its own following at Nômade, and Kovacs was surprised to find out a significant number of Portuguese Americans have visited. “They say, ‘It’s like my mother made!’ so I feel I got it right. Pork stew, fresh cilantro, it’s such an interesting dish.”
We hunt for treasure in every last clam, and don’t stop before polishing the last bit of stew from the bowl with our bread. Not overly complicated, simply executed so well, and massively flavorful, the dish itself is worth a return trip.
Another bestseller? Beets.
In winter, “beets are always a good move, but I was surprised at how many we make,” says the chef.
The vegetable option is made with red and golden beets marinated in Cara Cara orange juice — a recent navel variety which is believed to have been born through spontaneous cross-pollination — and served with candied pecans and goat cheese. Honeynut squash with pomegranate gremolata is available as another vegetable option, along with, amusingly, aji amarillo, presumably as a side for the decidedly more carnivorous lomo saltado.
How does Kovacs manage to execute dishes from this many cultures in one kitchen? He’s quick to credit the people who trained him, at home, with chef Olah, and during his experience at Bistro Moderne by Daniel Boulud, and Le Bernardin.
“If you want to make it big, you have to do this learning, get it on your resume,” he says. “My first years in America, 2014, 2016, I learned pasta making, stocks, working with a variety of ingredients. These restaurants, they’re not greedy, they want to share with you. I was 20 when I moved here, thinking I could move to one of the coolest places in the world, and learn from the best chefs. I planned to move back to Hungary at first, but I stayed for this.”
We sip aviation and pisco sour cocktails from program manager Danny Campoverde’s menu, and I notice a well-thought-out beer list, with styles pairable with the host of flavors in the food. Connecticut IPA stalwarts like Sea Hag and Road 2 Ruin rub shoulders with Belgian-inspired Allagash White, and a crispy take on German pilsner from Norwalk’s Spacecat brewery.
Desserts swirl past in the hands of staff. In another twist of coincidence, Nômade’s pastry chef, Reka Csernus, is also Hungarian, and comes to Westport twice a week from her home in upstate New York.
“We always want to change desserts, stay up to date with the season and what we want people to experience,” Kovacs says. “I was surprised again! We sell a lot of desserts. It’s just another thing people have really picked up on.”
Fitting words for a restaurant which has been on the Connecticut dining scene for just a few months, but attracts hungry travelers, far and wide.
150 Main St., Westport
203-557-9577, nomadewestport.com, @nomade_westport on Instagram
Open daily for lunch and dinner; brunch Sat. & Sun.
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