Downtown New Canaan was a festival of free edibles on Thursday as hundreds of hungry pedestrians sampled elegant hors d’oeuvres during the “Taste of the Town Stroll” sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce from 6 to 9 p.m.
Twelve restaurants and eateries participated as a prelude to New Canaan’s first Restaurant Week (August 26-September 3), when they’ll be offering three-course prix fixe menus.
The Stroll benefited the at St. Mark’s Church.
“There will be one next year!” Tucker Murphy, the Chamber’s executive director exulted at Stroll’s end when she called out the names of raffle winners. Mimi Leahy won grand prize: two business-class tickets to any destination in the world served by American Airlines, which donated the tickets.
The event achieved all its goals: it raised awareness of the need of some local families for the Food Pantry and added stores of non-perishable food and personal items to its shelves. (Donations entitled the donors to go on the Stroll.)
It gave locals a chance to reconnect with friends after the summer hiatus, as vacationers trickle back to town.
It acquainted food-lovers with restaurants they might not have visited and piqued their appetites with dainty teasers, from nibbles of tuna tatare at to California rolls () to chicken souvlaki with tzatzi sauce () to a succulent combo of watermelon and buffalo mozzarella dunked in Balsamic ().
In the case of , a restaurant being readied for its grand opening just after Labor Day, it gave participants a chance to have an impromptu tour of the 103-seat eatery which will have with an espresso bar and food market in addition to atmospheric bar and dining areas serving Northern Italian cuisine.
For Patricia Moncure, the Stroll was a chance to nibble a delectable coffee cream-filled chocolate at at 88 Elm, her first visit to the award-winning sweets shop after years of living in town. (She also lucked out later, winning four tickets to “Mary Poppins" on Broadway.)
A dismal weather forecast led some participating merchants to underestimate the size of the crowd and some, including , ran out of samples. Bright sun brought out unanticipated hordes of people.
The Stroll gave Merritt Sheffield, 14 months, her first taste of pulled pork at .
“She’s number three and she takes what she can get!” remarked her mom, Amy. The Stroll was solving the dinner dilemma for the busy Sheffield family, which included Jack, 6, still in his Tae Kwon Do uniform.
Amanda Sorbara had meant to stop by Kouzina, the Greek and Mediterranean restaurant with outdoor dining plaza at 32 Forest.
The Tzatzi sauce firmed her conviction.
“It’s really good!” she said after taking a sample. “I’ll be back!”
Helen Richards and Kalthleen Miller were struck by the delicacy of the hors d'oeuvre offered up by — a pan-seared sea scallop served with a dollop of chive-mashed potato with truffle oil — as well as the graciousness of the staff there.
“Their attitude is revealing of a generous spirit,” Richards observed. “I’d love to come back.”
Leo Gaspar, owner of , despaired that few strollers seemed to make it to his shop where he had prepared a bounty of sliced wraps — rare roast beef, chicken salad and veggie selections within homemade spinach, sun-dried tomato, whole wheat and tortilla-flavored casings.
“I think a lot of people were scared by the weather,” he said, although his location was a bit of a walk beyond the neighborhoods denser with participating restaurants.
The Tuscan was on the list of participating restaurants, but strollers found a note tacked to the locked door informing guests of a post-Labor Day grand opening.
“Please enjoy what is left of summer,” said the note.
Unexpectedly, out of the darkness emerged Marc Minella, executive chef and owner, who led strollers on impromptu tours.
At 73 Elm, the premises are still shuttered but a sign announced the impending opening of Elm, a new restaurant “rooted in tradition, inspired by the seasons” to serve modern American cuisine when it opens in the fall. Renowned chef Brian Lewis will preside.
At , amidst a lively crush of non-strolling diners, Laura Budd and Kelly Kraus nursed a beer and a glass of wine as they reflected on the fun they’d just had, visiting shops they’d never entered before and running into friends just back from the summer.
“I registered for the , which is something I wouldn’t have done except for the stroll,” said the ebullient Budd.
Greeting strollers and diners with equal vivacity,Vito Deraria, general manager of Sole, cheerily directed strollers to the bar, where pizzas hot from the oven and melon/prosciutto/fig nibbles were set out for strollers.
“This is a great pairing of promoting restaurants and awareness of the Food Pantry,” remarked Frances Wilson, who was collecting donations for the pantry in front of The Pine Social. Her daughter, Sarah, and Danila Ostling and her daughter, Kirsten, were participating on behalf of the New Canaan Chapter of National Charity League.
“That’s a great reason to come out!” she said.
Participating restaurants offering prix fixe menus during Restaurant Week, in addition to those mentioned, include , , and .