An insider's view of the Connecticut dining scene
Aug 22, 2013
03:20 PMThe Connecticut Table
New Haven Open Tennis Tournament as Dining, Imbibing Hotspot? Yes, Indeed
Arnold Gold/New Haven Register
The Drop Box Combo at the Caseus Cheese Truck - A grilled cheese with tomato, bacon and arugula served with whole grain dijon and pickles - at the New Haven Open at Yale on 8/21/2013.
At one point during the New Haven Open at Yale tennis match Wednesday in which an under-the-weather Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark defeated Karin Knapp of Italy, guests seated on one side might have seen an exotic sight—a pair of Emirates Airline flight attendants, in their tan suits and signature bright red caps, from which a white silk scarf descends on one side, walking delicately in heels across the stadium’s upper deck.
The image points to just how cosmopolitan and international this U.S. Open warm-up women’s tournament is—and indirectly highlights how central and rewarding for guests are the Open’s cultural, entertainment and dining aspects.
Emirates, a Gold Sponsor of the tournament—the Presenting Sponsor is the bank First Niagara—presides over the glass-enclosed Emirates Garden Club, which not only offers a terrific view of the stadium court action but represents one of the best options for dining and imbibing at the Open, which wraps up this Saturday.
Tickets to all the remaining sessions are still available, and while top notch tennis among the finest women players in the world is the main draw, less obvious, perhaps, is the fact that the Open is a terrific day or evening out for those looking for a different type of lifestyle and dining experience.
Consider that the food court, a cozy area in which concession booths surround picnic tables and trees offer some shade, features a couple of Connecticut gems: The Cheese Truck of Caseus Fromagerie & Bistro in New Haven and the made-to-order crepes of La Petite France of West Hartford (shown at right).
“The grilled cheese truck is dynamite—and it’s a unique installation,” said tournament spokesman Matt Van Tuinen, who on Wednesday enjoyed a roast beef sandwich with horseradish sauce and an orzo pasta salad for lunch in the Emirates Garden Club.
“The pizza is pretty darn good,” too, said Van Tuinen, referencing an important consideration in one of the best pizza cities in the country, a city so blessed with great dining that a special Open initiative called the Mayor’s Passport to Downtown Dining allows the players to dine for free at lots of top New Haven restaurants (but more on that later).
The Caseus grilled cheese truck and the La Petite crepes cart are in a food court—located across (blocked off) Yale Street from the main stadium—that is strategically more consolidated than in past years when vendors were consigned to unused tennis courts beyond the area with the picnic tables. The goal was to create a more “lively” area that is more energetic and has some buzz going on.
With the cluster more confined and cozier, it’s easy to stroll around and visually sample options that include a large Joe Brandi Catering booth, a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream setup (a “big hit,” says Van Tuinen) and a Bud Light Lima-a-Rita truck, which purveys the national beer brand’s margarita with a twist—of Bud Light Lime.
One signature offering that’s new this year is the SVEDKA Vodka Lounge, where guests can enjoy a drink created specifically for the Open, the SVEDKA Orange Cream Pop Smash, which consists of SVEDKA orange cream pop vodka, white rum, orange juice and pineapple juice.
In addition to wine, beer and other beverages, there’s also the SVEDKA strawberry colada cosmo, which features SVEDKA strawberry colada vodka, triple sec, cranberry juice and fresh lime juice, and is garnished with a strawberry.
To pair with the drinks, how about fresh-made California rolls (four pieces, $10) and shrimp-and-scallop ceviche ($10)? The food at a tennis tournament where guest flow often and freely from the action to the lifestyle offerings may have to be portable, but the Open shows that it can also be delicious (though Van Tuinen will concede that “a hot dog is a hot dog,” while also singling out the French fries for praise).
Fare that obviously deserves legitimate praise comes from the Caseus truck and La Petite France—and folks Wednesday also looked pretty happy with the fare turned out by Joe Brandi Caterering.
Grilled cheese perfection is a sandwich called The Drop Shot, which features tomato, bacon and arugula ($8), or there’s the Bastille, with cheese, chicken and tomato ($8) and a classic but gourmet grilled cheese ($6). On Wednesday, the truck was also offering heirloom tomato gazpacho ($4).
Anyone who has been to La Petite France in West Hartford, meanwhile—a small space with cozy armchairs and charmingly mismatched tables—can attest to the fact that the staff communicates in French and does its heritage proud.
At the Open, in the sweet crepes category, for example, is a dark chocolate one ($6.50), and a ham, cheese and tomato crepe sounded lovely in the savory category ($8.50). A side salad could be added for $3.
The Grill by Joe Brandi Catering offers such fare as a shrimp and seafood salad sandwich ($9) and a chicken Caesar salad ($9.75), along with grilled chicken sandwiches, burgers and much more.
“We eat day and night here,” says Van Tuinen, who emphasizes that beyond taking pains to ensure the quality of the food, tournament organizers wanted to make sure it was also fun.
New this year as a way of enhancing the fun factor is the Ooh La La Wine Bar, which is strategically positioned right next to the tented but otherwise open air ESPN broadcast booth, which means in the evening “it’s a pretty fun, active spot,” Van Tuinen said.
Ooh La La, subtitled “wine’s new style,” is a fresh, easy-drinking line of California wines, and the Ooh La La Wine Bar features wines like Rex Goliath pinot noir, Ooh La La chardonnay and rose and Wild Horse chardonnay and merlot, at either $8 or $9 a glass. To accompany them, there are cheese boards ($10) and bites like chips, salsa and guacamole.
If wine and vodka-based drinks aren’t your thing, Goose Island Beer Company is the Open’s beer partner and its Chicago craft beers are featured. Van Tuinen notes that Stella Artois has brought a hard cider “that’s really nice.”
Guests who want to up the level a notch can opt for that Emirates Garden Club, and those with weeklong box seats enjoy the hospitality of the Boxholder Restaurant. In addition to suites, where food is ordered in—Carbone’s caters for the stadium, the suites and the players—the Open also has the Courtside Club, which Van Tuinen says is “more of an entertainment aspect for us.”
It was there Wednesday evening that one of the Open’s more popular events took place. The listing on the tournament website says it all:
“COMFORT FOOD & COCKTAILS (Session 7) 5:00-7:30pm. Satisfy your culinary and libation cravings in the Courtside Club, overlooking Stadium Court and sample the expert skills of New Haven's most exciting chefs as they put their own spin on comfort food. From sweet to savory, foodies will enjoy favorites reimagined by: Zinc, Ibiza, Heirloom, Union League Cafe, Caseus, Claire's Corner Copia, Basta Trattoria, John Davenport's and L'Orcio. Cocktails by 116 Crown and Ordinary. Tickets are $125 and include a Courtside Box Seat tickets. SOLD OUT!”
Above right, left to right, owner, executive chef of the Union League Cafe Jean Pierre Vuillermet, Jacques Pepin and Governor Dannel Malloy are photographed at the Comfort Food & Cocktails event at the New Haven Open at Yale on 8/21/2013.
And then there’s the Mayor’s Passport to Downtown Dining, which has 24 participating restaurants teaming with the Open to offer free meals to players—women used to sophisticated dining options in cosmopolitan places all over the world.
“It’s a way for the players to experience the great food in downtown New Haven,” says Van Tuinen, who admits that it’s both an incentive for the players to come back to play in New Haven and a bit of a drawing card for guests to potentially dine in the glow of some tennis world star power.
“Want to dine alongside the pros? Dine at any of the participating Mayor's Passport to Downtown Dining restaurants and you may be sitting close by to the players in the main draw,” the website description of the “very popular” initiative says in part.
The leading restaurants this year in terms of visits by players, according to Van Tuinen, are Miso, with 12 visits and Barcelona with nine visits. Meanwhile, the player in the lead, with seven visits as of Wednesday, is Yaroslava Shvedova, who has enjoyed Barcelona, Basta, Geronimo, Heirloom, Miso, Soul de Cuba and Thali.
As much as all that dining is a big draw for the New Haven Open at Yale, the tennis is still the main attraction, and for fans of the women’s game this has to be one of the best tournaments around. Only seats on the lower level are sold, meaning that everyone sees the action up close. As for matches on the outlying courts—like the doubles Wednesday in which Silvia Soler-Espinosa and Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain defeated Shuko Aoyama of Japan and Andreja Klepac of Slovenia —you can almost reach out and touch the players.
What’s the takeaway? Given all that—and given that it takes an hour or less to get to the tournament from a huge chunk of Connecticut—it’s the perfect pleasant surprise experience to connect with before it wraps up this weekend.
“It’s a summer outing” that’s also purposefully child-friendly, says Van Tuinen, who loves nighttime tennis under the lights, along with—yes—all that great food. Before the tournament ended, he vowed this week, he planned to enjoy at least one SVEDKA Orange Cream Pop Smash (shown here).
Everything you need to know to connect is online at the Open’s website.
New Haven Open Tennis Tournament as Dining, Imbibing Hotspot? Yes, Indeed