Trust me, you’ve never voluntarily wanted to be this close to a CT DMV in your life.
In the place of Tuscan Oven is the newer, more trendy, way more delicious (sorry Tuscan Oven groupies) Oak + Almond. As soon as word got out that Jeff Taibe was at the helm as executive chef I knew I had to get over there ASAP. You may recognize the name “Taibe” from Westport’s Le Farm and The Whelk owned by Jeff’s brother, Bill.
Having good experiences at a Taibe restaurant in the past, I was on the case.
When I first walked into Oak + Almond I remarked how open and well-lit the place was and it was not cluttered, but the décor was simple. Visible to diners is where the restaurant’s name comes from, a wood burning oven that is fueled by oak and almond wood that gives certain dishes some good, smoky flavor. Another cool addition is the enormous patio area that seats around 70 people and is sure to be a hit on nice weather days.
Immediately I glanced at Oak + Almond’s drink book and my plan of not drinking went right out the window once I read some of the descriptions of their high quality and creative cocktails. This drink list has something for everyone’s favorite type of hard liquor and a signature drink with Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon, Luxardo Triplum, almond syrup, lemon, bitters, and a smoked sea salt rim, appropriately named the Oak & Almond. My drink of choice that night was the Aged Hemingway Daiquiri; Diplomatica Reserva Exclusiva 12 Year Rum with grapefruit and lime juice, and a Luxardo Maraschino Cherry to top it off. I appreciate a good, rum drink and will have a tough time not ordering the Hemingway again but I would love to make my way around the entire drink menu, not to sound like an alcoholic or anything.
Along with your drinks at Oak + Almond, you must go H.A.M. (hip hop reference, anyone?) on the shared plates section of the menu. With everything from local oysters to octopus, and even flatbread options, you clearly have your work cut out for you, but whichever starters you decide on, it will be a wise decision. One dish you may want to share or not share (trust me), are the tender and juicy Pork & Ricotta Meatballs with a simple, but spicy tomato sauce that should get mopped up with bread afterwards. My favorite shared plate was the Pork and Pistachio Terrine. If you do not know what head terrine is, please don’t be freaked out when you hear that it is made by boiling a pig’s head in stock and spices and all that tender meat falls off to later be formed into a loaf. The addition of pistachios gave the terrine a textural component, plus it was lots of fun making mini sandwiches with the terrine, mustard, and those mini pickles. Oak + Almond also gets major point for their rustic presentation on this dish; truly well done.
And if you’re a salad person, order Oak + Almond’s Caesar salad along with your starters. Why, it’s just a Caesar, right? Wrong! The addition of bacon and a soft boiled egg just put this fresh, well-dressed salad over the top and the yolk with the dressing was very serious stuff. I was mad that I split it with someone! All mine next time.
As much as I loved the shared plates, the entrées took a small step back. The organic chickenwas juicy and tender but the polenta lacked a bit and didn’t take on the flavors of the juice from the chicken or the sauce, and the greens that came with it were a bit overpowered by slightly burnt garlic. However, the chicken itself was extremely good having been cooked in the wood burning oven. My guest ordered halibut with little neck clams, artichokes, and prosciutto broth and remarked that the clams were a bit tough. The rest of the dish was nicely cooked, especially the fish.
Bringing the overall experience back were the desserts. I always look for something light, gelato, or a pudding of sorts and Oak + Almond must have known I was coming with milk chocolate panna cotta on the menu. I am not a big fan of rich chocolate to end a meal and they got this one right. The panna cotta had a light chocolate taste, crunch from the hazelnuts, homemade whipped cream, and caramelized bananas on top. Bonus points earned for the presentation in a Mason jar as I was able to get a perfect amount of pudding, nuts, and whipped cream in every spoonful.
Even with a few minor issues, I am looking forward to my next visit to Oak + Almond. The entire staff was courteous and really knew about food as was evident in the many conversations I had with various managers and servers that night. Three things they kept mentioning were the porcini rubbed ribeye, the burger, and a pork sandwich I keep hearing so much about from many different people.
Oak + Almond should get plenty of folks to hang out on that side of Norwalk if they keep doing their thing.
Oak + Almond
544 Main Avenue
Norwalk, CT 06851