Restaurant review: Brasserie Pip in Ivoryton

Brasserie Pip is not the kind of restaurant you just pop into. Tucked into an old New England-style inn in the village of Ivoryton, you would have to want to get there. You're probably not going to notice it randomly driving by. It is a destination, acclaimed statewide for diners who are willing to spend a little more money and be all but guaranteed a great meal.

And yet, once you're inside on a Saturday busy night, the brasserie manages to maintain a simple, fairly laidback atmosphere. It has the feel of a place in a bigger city. The booth-and-table seating is spaced close together (which some people dislike, but it's great for people-watching and checking out what people are ordering). The walls radiate a buttery warmth, with vintage French posters, dark wood décor and a tiled floor.

The face of the kitchen, Chef Tyler Anderson, is knowledgeable and approachable about his food. A winner on the Food Network show "Chopped," Anderson oversees a menu that's a mix of French classics and modern cuisine that's not overwrought. He also commits to serving sustainable food that comes from a 150-mile radius of the inn and offers a full charcuterie curing room.

We selected first from the cocktail menu (comparable in price to the glasses of wine) and sampled a refreshing, minty mojito ($10) and a rhubarb margarita ($12), which the server pretty accurately described as tasting like a strawberry margarita but not as sweet. The flavor could have been a bit stronger though. Speaking of the server, she was attentive without being pushy and let us take our time between courses.

We started with an appetizer-sized duck confit ($12.50), which had meltingly tender, flavorful meat encased in a slightly crisp skin, with thin slices of plum on the side for a hint of tart sweetness. The veal sweetbreads ($14) were a first for us, but also enjoyable, lightly fried with a slightly salty outer layer and soft but firm inside.

The gazpacho ($10) was unlike any we'd had before. The traditional Spanish cold, tomato-based soup was instead green and earthy, with a dollop of ricotta in the middle. Instead of sweet, ripe tomatoes and strong garlic flavors, it relied more on subtle herbs that were interesting, though I personally prefer the original style.

The classic steak frites ($31) are a must if you want those addictive fries fried in duck fat to complement the steak. The steak, meanwhile, had good flavor but was a tad on the rare side, despite being ordered medium. The roasted shallots on top were a nice touch. It's pricey but a large portion.

We also tried a seafood dish of big chunks of lobster, mussels and cockles ($26.50) alongside delicate ricotta dumplings (something like a ravioli but without the pasta) flavored with a bit of fennel and "absinthe bubbles." The anise flavor was very light, which was a good thing.

Finally, for dessert, we were tempted by the "chocolate ribbon" ($8). We didn't know exactly what to expect, but it featured a sort of log of rich, fudgy chocolate with salted caramel ice cream and peanuts. We liked the idea of the salty and sweet combo, but we thought that idea worked better in a totally different dessert - the tasty new Ben & Jerry's flavor called Late Night Snack. We found ourselves yearning for some of that.

In all, Brasserie Pip is worth the trip, whether it's for a four-course meal, or just a drink at the bar and a plate of oysters, since its culinary abilities and atmosphere can accommodate any dining experience.

BRASSERIE PIP

46 Main St., Ivoryton

(860)767-0330

www.brasseriepip.com

Cuisine: French with a modern twist

Atmosphere: Inside the historic Copper Beech Inn, the brasserie is up-to-date, warm and busy.

Prices: Hors d'oeuvres, starters around $12; main dishes from $26-$31.

Reservations: Yes

Service: Excellent

Credit cards: All major

Hours: Mon.-Sun. 5 p.m.-10 p.m.

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