The West Street Grill in Litchfield has a new fresh face in the kitchen: Carlos Perez, owner of La Palette Bakery in Watertown, has joined the restaurant as its new executive chef. Perez hopes to bring a new look and feel to the menu while still keeping with what restaurant-goers know and love about the West Street Grill.
“It was modern American cuisine, but the difference is we’re trying to bring a lot more of the molecular gastronomy into it,” said Perez. “A lot more science behind all the plates, we’re doing a lot with foams, we’re doing spherification.”
Perez began his stint at the West Street Grill about two years ago while working at his bakery.
Perez has done pastry most of his life. It wasn’t until he started helping out at West Street Grill a couple of years ago doing some breads with former chef Jimmy Cosgriff that he expanded his skills. Cosgriff taught Perez a lot of the stuff he now knows, he said.
“I’ve known [owner] James [O’Shea] probably for about the past nine years; we’ve always discussed food, I’ve talked about that kind of stuff especially the whole modern cuisine and farm-to-table, making everything in-house from scratch,” said Perez. “That is the similarities from the bakery and here.”
Perez worked for another restaurant, the Mill Restaurant Group: MRG in Hartford, doing pastry and was helping out with wine dinners there.
“I think it’s an easier transition from pastry to savory than it would be from savory to pastry because you get so much of the knowledge of the chemical reactions and the science behind everything,” said Perez. “In some of the dishes, you will see some of the pastry background there.”
It wasn’t until about December 2015 that O’Shea reached out to Perez and talked about him coming to West Street Grill as its executive chef. Perez started the first week of January.
“We’re doing everything in the house now,” said Perez. “We just remodeled the bar area; we now have seating at the bar and we’re launching a new bar menu.”
The bar menu has items like vegan dumplings, bistro sliders, Ahi tuna flatbread and Buratta salad.
There are also plans to keep the main menu fresh, with changes being made constantly throughout the year. The bar menu will also change seasonally, the chef explained.
“We’re really starting to get in a lot of out-of-box ingredients and protein,” said Dale Chasse, the sous chef.
Perez said it seems like every single menu just has salmon or tuna on it, so the restaurant has brought in monkfish and octopus. It is doing full-length Calamari instead of the cut tubes restaurant-goers continue to see elsewhere.
“The plating is definitely going to take a lot more time in different aspects,” said Perez.
Some of the restaurant favorites include the pan-roasted Faroe Island salmon, made in a sesame wok with sautéed vegetables, Udon noodles, ginger and blood orange miso sauce.
Another famous dish is the fresh, pan-roasted Georges Bank cod fish, made with tomato fondue, mushroom duxelles and mustard sabayon.
For meat lovers, there is the tenderloin of Omaha beef, cast-iron seared. This is served with amarilla and panca pepper sauces, crispy shallots, spinach, wild mushroom confit, smoked Gouda custard and onion tuile.
As spring approaches, Perez has begun to reach out to local farms for the menu.
“We’re definitely going to be utilizing that as much as possible, getting some local proteins in, local vegetables, fruits,” said Perez. “One of the things we want to go back to is lowering the prices to appeal more of the local clientele. Almost like bistro fare.”
Perez said he wants people that come to the West Street Grill to have a cheap lunch with good quality food.
All desserts at the West Street Grill are made in house. The menu will also keep the vegan and vegetarian background that has been part of the menu, since many people come just for that, the staff said. The roasted beet and blood orange salad made with red onion, shaved fennel, frisée with black garlic vinaigrette, for example, was recently featured on the restaurant’s Valentine’s Day menu.
“We’re trying to accommodate everyone – gluten-free, nut-free,” said Perez.
There are plans for doing some wine dinners, along with a tasting menu, the executive chef said. Perez also hopes to work with some of the other local restaurants and do pop-up events.
“There is a lot of passion behind what we’re doing now,” said Chasse. “We’re really grabbing this thing and trying to take it to the next level.”
There will be a full menu for Easter and Mother’s Day, they said, and for St. Patrick’s Day there will be a traditional menu offered.
Perez said the chefs make sure nothing goes past them, making sure they have a hand in absolutely everything in the restaurant.
“Not just the production of the food, but making sure once the food gets to the table, that the customer is 100 percent satisfied,” said Chasse. “There is a lot of care for the customer coming out of the kitchen.”
Perez said compared to a lot of the other places, the West Street Grill is a lot more personal. Owners O’Shea and Charlie Kafferman are always at the restaurant talking to customers.
“It’s not just a restaurant; it’s based on the local community,” said Perez.
Chasse said now that there are young faces running the kitchen, they hope to bring in a younger crowd.
Perez still runs his bakery in Watertown full-time; he is there every morning and works at the restaurant the rest of the day.
The West Street Grill is located at 43 West St. in Litchfield. For information, visit www.weststreetgrill.com or call 860-567-3885. The West Street Grill can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.