Atelier Florian, New Haven
I have a a love affair with Belgium. It began with being a life-long professional cycling fan and Belgium’s 100+ year devotion to the sport. The Tour of Flanders is my favorite race every year and I very much look forward to being able to spend a week there surrounding the Ronde van Vlaanderen. I like how Belgium is French and Dutch and German and Flemish. I like good chocolate and there’s just something about all those squat pollarded trees along the boulevards their that I enjoy.
I also love New Haven. I love it for many reasons, but one is that there’s a vibrant restaurant scene with cuisines from all over the world; certainly a hub for my CT Restaurant Tour of the World side project.
Atelier Florian isn’t a Belgian restaurant per se, but it is the Belgianiest I could find.
Our chefs work hard to bring you the freshest and most tantalizing seafood-centered masterpieces, the heartiest meats and poultry and the healthiest composed salads, vegetarian and gluten-free dishes, all with an elegant Belgian twist.
The restaurant’s owner, Omer Ipek, is Belgian. He and his business partner also own Rudy’s and Maison Mathis, both also in New Haven. (Maison Mathis has locations all over the world and is also “Belgianish,” but is more of a cafe type place. I can report that it’s wonderful though.)
Hoang and I came here to eat dinner before seeing Patton Oswalt a few blocks away. My plan was to have the most Belgian meal I could create – this being a stop along my CT Food Tour of the World thing. In case you forgot the point of this page.
It was a pleasant evening so we sat outside. The restaurant is on Chapel Street so you’re guaranteed some good people watching. The interior here is beautiful though, with a huge backlit wall behind the bar that was really cool looking. Upstairs is a large contemporary party room as well.
We began with the grilled octopus and Atelier Florian’s famous crispy Brussels sprouts. At some point Hoang told me that she had eaten here previously and all that she remembered from her meal was the Brussels sprouts. In fact, she claimed they were the best she’d ever had.
I don’t think grilled octopus is a Belgian specialty, but I love it when it’s down well. Here, it is very good but did not dethrone the king of grilled octopus: Treva in West Hartford. Okay, everything else from here on out was within the theme of the meal: Belgium!
The Brussels sprouts arrived and, okay, Hoang’s memory had not failed her. These were perfect; glazed with maple sugar, lemon, and topped with pecorino. Delicious and perfectly roasted.
There’s nothing better to complement these rich dishes than a Duvel Belgian ale. Atelier Florian makes an effort with their “signature” Belgian beer selection:
We feature blond and golden ales, hearty “double” and “quadruple” monk-produced Trappiste darker ales, and thirst-quenching, fruit-forward Lambics, all brewed in accordance with the excellence of centuries old Belgian standards.
Nice. The star of any Belgian bistro show is, of course, moules et frites. Mussels and french fries. It’s just what they do over there. So it’s what we both did over here in New Haven. Atelier Florian offers three broth choices: Marinére (garlic, white wine, mirepoix, and butter), Red Curry (coconut broth, kaffir lime, and lemongrass), and Provençale (tomato passata broth, olive, fennel,
capers, garlic, and saffron).
No matter which you order, they arrive in a massive, molten hot crock. Do not touch this vessel. Trust me. Oh, your server will warn you and tell you not to touch it. Please listen to them. They work there and have to carry these things, you don’t. They are not lying about this, I promise.
(Yes, I burned my fingers.)
I ordered a Saison DuPont beer and had a lovely chat with the server on how to pour beer into a glass. This was her first shift, ever, and had no idea. I feel as though I made the world a slightly better place now that there’s a new server in New Haven who knows how to properly pour a beer. You’re welcome, world.
Atelier Florian does not skimp on the mussels. I don’t know if there were too many mussels for the broth or too little broth for the mussels, but there wasn’t enough in either of our giant pots. Let me rephrase that. There was just enough, but we could both have used a little more.
I had the red curry version and Hoang the Provençale. Both were delicious and paired beautifully with the shellfish. There may have been a mountain of mussels, but we both ate them all. Most impressively, out of probably 100 of the buggers, only two or three had cracked shells. That’s nearly impossible! A Belgian secret I suppose.
Another Belgian secret is why “et frites.” Why French fries with mussels? I have no idea, but it works. And anyone operating a Belgian restaurant better know how to make proper fries. Here, they are not greasy, but rather achieve that perfect crispy coating with a warm, soft potato insides. I believe we also ate all of our fries.
All those mussels and fries meant we had no room for dessert. The options here are fairly limited to brûlée and sorbet. There you have it, a little bit of Belgium on Chapel Street. Brussels sprouts, moules et frites, Duvel, and Saison DuPont. (I’ve assumed my readers know that Brussels is in Belgium. Oh, and an “atelier” is a workshop.)
The New York Times gave Atelier Florian its Very Good rating, and Hoang and I agree. And for what it’s worth, Patton Oswalt was very good too. Another fun New Haven night.