An insider's view of the Connecticut dining scene
Sep 16, 2013
01:00 PMThe Connecticut Table
ON20 in Hartford: Lofty Views, Gorgeous Food, Top Chef, New Prix Fixe Lunch Menu
The season we’ve just entered, that glowing, golden transition from high summer to early autumn, with cooler temperatures and the first blush of fall foliage, is the year’s best backdrop for fine dining—and here’s the season’s best invitation: ON20 in Hartford, a nonpareil Connecticut restaurant with a very talented young chef, is spicing up Farm to Chef Week by launching a new $30 prix fixe lunch menu that highlights locally-grown ingredients.
While Connecticut Farm to Chef Week (Sept. 15 to 21) will come and go, this menu of gorgeously-presented, heavenly-tasting farm-to-table cuisine will continue indefinitely—just like the unparalleled views of the cityscape and the Connecticut River Valley that guests enjoy at the restaurant, named for its location on the 20th floor of The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection & Insurance Company.
Close your eyes and order anything on the menus created by Executive Chef Jeffrey Lizotte, who, barely into his 30s, has worked with David Bouley, at Le Bernardin and at the two-star Michelin Restaurant, La Bastide St. Antoine in France. He’ll send out plates that are works of art, and bites that will leave you trying to put words to the rhapsody of flavor epiphanies with each forkful.
(ON20 is open Monday through Friday for lunch, Thursday and Friday for dinner, and hosts happy hours Wednesday through Friday. More later on how easy it is to connect with ON20; now, here’s more on the why to connect.)
Any conversation about a restaurant that has the distinction of owning the highest rating handed out by Zagat in Connecticut—a 29 for service—should start with the food, but the location of ON20 is so dramatic, and the views so unparalleled, that the conversation for most folks starts with that factor, which recently earned the restaurant recognition from OpenTable’s Diner’s Choice Awards for top 100 scenic-view restaurants nationwide. The views are simply spectacular, as this photo of the cityscape, with the landmark Travelers Tower as the centerpiece, demonstrates.
Tables in the main dining room look over the long blue ribbon of the Connecticut River—looking wide, sparkly and pretty from above—alongside I-91. The signature blue dome of the Colt Armory building glimmers nearby, and planes from Brainard Airport rise up into view, instead of descending.
Meanwhile, smaller spaces on the other side of the building reveal the Hartford cityscape, punctuated by the Travelers Tower, which, at 24 stories, was the seventh-tallest building in the world when it was built in 1919.
When you’re not looking at the views (or, presumably, your gorgeous companion or companions), you’ll be looking at the food—it’s as compelling as any dining partner.
Chef Lizotte has a knack not only for accentuating the flavors of core ingredients with creative pairings but also an eye for color and composition in doing so. First each dish looks fabulous, and then it tastes great.
One example at a recent event to unveil the autumn prix fixe lunch menu was a single-bite dish, served on a white ceramic spoon, that featured roasted beets rendered into shavings and paired with a housemade whole milk yogurt and a pistachio crumble. The marriage of earthy and smoky flavors with a bit of a crunch and subtle sweetness was heavenly—and this bite was a riff on a salad from the new menu, which features a roasted beet and radish remoulade, yogurt and horseradish.
Another small bite at the event that riffed on a menu item—this time from the bar menu—was a pork rillette, or variation on a pâté, served on a homemade chip. The bar menu features, under the heading Charcuterie, this small plate ($6): Mangalista Pork Rillette with Golden Raisin Gastrique. Other bar menu choices—important during those Wednesday-through-Friday happy hours—include a six-ounce burger with Comte cheese, a brioche bun, cornichon aioli and sweet potato fries ($12), a crispy friend Jonah crab with purple mostarda ($8), a selection of Jasper Hill Farm cheeses with intense flavors ($16), and a dish with a distinct Spanish heritage: saffron rice stuffed piquillo peppers with Romesco sauce ($11). (The new prix fixe lunch menu is shown below right.)
The dinner menu, meanwhile, is as creative as it is mouthwatering. Starters include chowder made with sweet potatoes and glazed ham, Asian pear and kaffir lime ($9), along with country style duck terrine with black mission figs ($13) and grilled octopus with roast potato and tasso ham remoulade ($11). Here the Jonah crab is served en croute, with crispy baguette, charred tomato mustard and tarragon salad ($14).
Entrees include swordfish—lemon grass-scented loin—with white bean chilli, Bangs Island mussels and coconut crustacean emulsion ($31), an olive oil roasted black bass filet, with tomato bread and summer squash-and-pancetta chowder ($32), and other main courses are built around grilled lamb shoulder, Muscovy duck breast and a marrow-crusted New York strip steak ($28 to $32).
Jeffrey Lizotte was just honored this month as Best New Chef in our Connecticut Magazine Best of Connecticut 2013. The editors who accorded the honor, with the “new” designation referring to Lizotte taking the helm at ON20 after the departure of Noel Jones, wrote, “Lizotte has thrived in the limelight, continuing ON20’s legacy of innovative and progressive cuisine, while adding his own fresh take to the menu, which continues to win accolades from Zagat and The New York Times, among others."
Lizotte grew up in Simsbury, and at 15 began washing dishes at a small family restaurant in his hometown, according to the bio on the ON20 website. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in 2004 from the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, and then was recruited by David Bouley to join the team at his former restaurant, Danube, in New York City. Lizotte subsequently worked under Eric Ripert and the staff at the three-star Michelin Le Bernardin. “While at Le Bernardin, with the help of Chef Ripert and the Jean Louis Palladin Foundation, Jeffrey was offered a job as sous chef at the famous bistro, La Tupina, in Bordeaux France. Determined to prolong his training in France, Jeffrey was then sought by chef Jacques Chibois of the two-star Michelin Restaurant, La Bastide St. Antoine, in Grasse France,” the bio says.
Lizotte came back to Connecticut in 2009 as Chef de Cuisine at what is now simply called ON20. He rose to the post of executive chef and is now working to turn a great restaurant into one that’s more vibrantly busy more often.
It’s the boring but essential part. Everyone who drives into Hartford for dinner and some culture has to park somewhere, but it’s understandable for folks from the suburbs and rural areas beyond—with much of Connecticut less than an hour’s drive from ON20—to perceive that it’s more difficult to connect with this restaurant, given its unique, and therefore secluded, location.
While ON20’s lofty exclusivity is a big part of its attraction, that exclusivity is highly accessible in all ways—Lizotte and his team eagerly want you to come and enjoy his contemporary culinary magic amid a canvas like no other, and doing so is as easy as making a reservation and mapping ON20 at the 400 Columbus Boulevard address.
Only a few turns off I-84, I-91 or Main Street in Hartford will get you there, making it as easy to access as any other restaurant in the city, or anywhere else for that matter. And the best part is that ON20 guests receive a discounted rate, $7, in the One State Street garage, which the folks at the restaurant can direct you to seamlessly.
The Ethos and More on Farm to Chef Week
Farm to Chef Week, according to a release, is a program created by the Connecticut Department of Agriculture with the goal of connecting Connecticut chefs with local growers. “With the agricultural industry accounting for more than 20,000 jobs in Connecticut, buying locally not only means fresher ingredients, but also plays a key role in supporting the economy,” the release says.
Sourcing ingredients locally is the ethos at ON20, which says in its press kit: “Lizotte develops all his creations from ingredients sourced from farms, bakeries, butchers and commercial fisherman in the region. ON20 cuts beef and fish in-house … .”
“This new [prix fixe lunch] menu serves a dual purpose: first, to emphasize the health and economic importance of utilizing local ingredients and, second, to offer ON20’s guests the popular prix fixe option for lunch,” Lizotte said.
Farm to Chef Week will be held from Sept. 15 to Sept. 21, but ON20’s new prix fixe menu will continue to be available for lunch throughout the fall.
More About ON20
In 1983, The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection & Insurance Company established a private restaurant on the 20th floor of its building at One State Street in Hartford, Conn. Then known as the Polytechnic Club, the restaurant served as a fine dining oasis with birds-eye views of the city and the Connecticut River. A decade ago, the Polytechnic Club—by then sporting a well-established reputation as Hartford’s finest restaurant—opened to the public as ON20. Today, ON20 maintains its singular mission: to offer guests the finest culinary and service experience. Under the leadership of Executive Chef Jeffrey Lizotte, named 2013’s Best New Chef by Connecticut Magazine, ON20 is known for innovative and progressive cuisine, and flawless service. It is one of OpenTable’s Top Ten Restaurants for outstanding service, Zagat’s top-rated restaurant in Connecticut, and one of OpenTable’s 100 most scenic-view restaurants in the country. For more information, visit www.ontwenty.com.
ON20 in Hartford: Lofty Views, Gorgeous Food, Top Chef, New Prix Fixe Lunch Menu