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Boulevard 18 Has French Twist For New Canaan

After making Strada 18 a success in South Norwalk, the owners try to make their mark in New Canaan with Boulevard 18.

If turns out to be anything like its owners, it should be a wildly successful addition to New Canaan's restaurant row. Chef David Raymer, Steve Semaya, Luciano Ramirez and Henry Rosenbaum are entertaining, courteous, diverse and passionate about their food and wine. On Feb. 17, they opened the doors to their French bistro located at 62 Main Street.

"The space and location were appealing to us," Rosenbaum said. "We had been developing a bistro concept for a few years and we thought with a little bit of work this would be a very inviting and comfortable place to be. That's what we saw more than anything else."

The bistro, which is next to the , seats up to 68 customers, has a Zinc bar and a menu that features potato-wrapped sea bass, steak frites and chopped salad.

"I call it gastro pub meets bistro, with two chefs who at one time worked at in Westport," said Raymer. "Most of the menu is what people know and love. I think it's going to be a very comfortable eating experience for the customers."

Every great French bistro has an impressive wine list and Boulevard 18 is well-stocked with 86 different wines by the bottle, "We started with an all French list," Semaya, who has an MBA from Columbia, said. "Our intention is eventually to get to 'le vins du français.' We want to give extraordinary value."

Added Rosenbaum, "We won't do half-price bottle night because every night is 25 percent off at Boulevard 18. You should be able to walk out of here, whether you had a $30 dollar bottle or $200 bottle, and say 'I had a great bottle of wine and it was more than I expected."

The owners of Boulevard 18 arrived in as a well-oiled machine. They cut their teeth and smoothed out the edges at their first restaurant, in South Norwalk, which opened in 2006. They have a plan, a successful venture and a vision for their bistro as it tries to stand out in a crowded restaurant market.

"We want to be a great neighborhood place where people gather. It's why we expanded the bar here and made sure the front room could be a meeting place," Semaya said. "In the dining room, we've found that everybody starts to chat with their neighbors and we've seen people sharing tastes from table to table. It's been a real convivial atmosphere."

Raymer was inspired to open Strada 18 when he was on his honeymoon in Italy and pulled into a truck stop that had a “wood burning oven, great food and wine.” He had a dream of creating a casual pizza place with “high quality ingredients and fine wine.” The name refers to a road that starts in Campagne, which is south of Naples and is know as the pizza capital of the world. As for 18?

"[The number] 18 is good luck in a lot of cultures," said Semaya. "One morning I woke up and my wife said to me, 'It should be Strada 18.' David gets a call from his mother that same morning and she said she had a dream that it was Strada 18. We figured it was meant to be. Strada 18 is a Italian road. Boulevard 18 is a French road. We're keeping our philosophy from the restaurant in Norwalk, but doing it with a French twist in New Canaan."

The owners of Boulevard 18 realize that New Canaan has become an oasis for eateries, loaded with all types of great restaurants. But they're not intimidated of the competition. In fact, they welcome it.

"We think we offer a unique product," said Rosenbaum. "And we believe the more restaurants, the better for everyone. The more people that come here is going to draw more interest for everyone, rather than detract interest from one restaurant or another."

Boulevard 18 is open from Sunday through Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. The owners say that the restaurant should be open for brunch in approximately three weeks.

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