I've been meaning to get to Michel Nischan's restaurant The Dressing Room in Westport, Connecticut, for years. I first met him when he was the chef at Heartbeat, one of the very first farm-to-table restaurants in Manhattan (at the W Hotel on 49th Street). He was really nice back then, and, guess what, he's still nice!
Honestly, I've met a lot of chefs over the years, and Michel's one of the nicest and best when it comes to cooking yummy, good food. That's probably why Paul Newman hired him to run his restaurant, The Dressing Room, which is right next to the Westport Playhouse, where Paul and his wife loved to perform (and lived nearby).
He's also the author of a beautiful book (published by Rodale) called Sustainably Delicious, and the founder of Wholesome Wave, a very important nonprofit that helps people who can't afford it get access to healthy organic foods and connects them to local farmers.
So my family and I stopped there for lunch a few weeks ago, on our way up to Maine (it's a mile off I-95, our route). And boy, oh, boy was it worth the stop! We ate the most amazingly delicious food--all with fresh ingredients--much of it from Michel and his lovely wife Lori's own garden. There was a cold cucumber soup, which was light and refreshing and divine. By the time the salad, which was filled with chopped seasonal vegetables, including delicate baby cranberry beans, was served, I had already eaten more wholesome vegetables in one meal than in most. Which is why I didn't feel guilty when it came to the smoky-good ribs, the crispy and warm corn bread with honey, and the organic burger. We were too full for dessert, but we got a plate of cookies to go and ate them before we even got to the Massachusetts border.
Michel and his wife embody the essence of hospitality--amazing food, served in a comfortable and unpretentious (and clean!) environment, surrounded with warm and friendly people. And honestly, in the middle of a long car ride it was so much better than stopping at a fast-food place (and didn't take more than an hour!).
The Dressing Room is definitely on the regular stops list now.
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