Life in the Kitchen with Present Company

Present Company Simsbury

Plenty of people were sad, present company included, when Ryan & Kelleanne Jones closed The Mill at 2t in Tariffville to seek fame and fortune in Charleston, South Carolina.But that closure set in motion a carousel of key figures from Greater Hartford’s reigning clique of elite chefs.
Former ON20 executive chef Jeffrey Lizotte teamed with former Billy Grant Restaurant Group and ON20 front man Tom Gale to open Present Company in The Mill at 2t’s place. Jesse Powers, sous chef at Millwright’s in Simsbury under Tyler Anderson, slid over to ON20 to replace Lizotte. Executive sous chef Cole Garrison left ON20 to become David Borselle’s chef de cuisine at Park & Oak in West Hartford. And so on.
Executive chef and owner Jeff Lizotte of Hartford, who grew up in Simsbury, sits at the counter in Present Company, his restaurant in Tariffville, with a dish of Pan Roasted Monkfish. (Jon Olson | Special to Hartford Magazine)
Present Company honored its predecessor’s outstanding gift certificates, retained its phone number and made only cosmetic changes to the restaurant, which is considerably more casual and neighborly than ON20 but nevertheless provides a high level of service. It’s an ideal Valentine’s Day destination.
Who could imagine celebrating such a romantic occasion without a bottle of wine? Present Company’s petite wine list ($9-$13, $34-$160) offers 31 selections drawn from the top four wine-producing nations—France, Italy, the United States and Spain. We enjoy a crisp, lively 2015 Prado Rey Verdejo, Rueda, Spain ($10/$38).
Grilled Chestnut Soup with celery root relish and a port wine reduction.  (Jon Olson | Special to Hartford Magazine)
Present Company offers diners both an apéritif and an amuse bouche (except on Tuesdays), generosity that should win it many devoted customers. A cordial glass of white port, tonic, thyme syrup and orange juice appears to be a delightful fixture. The amuse varies, like grilled salt cod with almond-parsley pesto and red wine tomato jelly, or a tiny jar of salmon rillette with yuzu, chives, brown butter crumble and crispy potato; or curried Hakurei turnip tartare with a vanilla turnip purée.
On Wednesday through Saturday, Present Company offers a small, focused menu of appetizers ($10-$15), entrées ($26-$34) and desserts ($8-$9) that changes at least quarterly plus a separate five-course tasting menu ($60 or $100 with matched wines). On Tuesdays, Present Company offers its regular menu or a three-course prix-fixe selected from it by the customer featuring somewhat smaller portions, which can be offset by Hartford Baking Company baguette slices served with spreads like apple butter or spiced butternut squash purée.
Prepping an evening meal in the kitchen at Present Company are, from left, Ethan Czarneski, of Bristol, chef du partie meat; David Awad of East Hampton, chef du partie fish; and Jeff Lizotte of Hartford, the executive chef and owner. Lizotte, the former executive chef at ON20 in Hartford, and Tom Gale, who was formerly with the Billy Grant Restaurant Group, opened the new restaurant in the Tariffville section of Simsbury. (Jon Olson | Special to Hartford Magazine)
Now his own master, Simsbury product and Cornell graduate Lizotte is completely free to do his thing. He uses color and composition excitingly, invitingly. A pretty yellow sickle-shaped swath of corn sauce frames, and leads the eye to, the delicate wild-mushroom-and-sweet-corn vol-au-vent ($10) that serves as its handle. An orange-and-white slice of cold-roasted squash terrine ($11) is dressed with a hazelnut-and-black-kale pesto and Concord grape coulis.
A block of poached salmon, with big pieces of smoked maitake mushroom, salsify purée and a Black-Forest-ham-and-Brussels-sprouts carbonara, is lacquered with pale orange carrot-ginger sauce. A ring of bright orange carrot slices encircles incredibly tender braised lamb shoulder paprikash ($30). Hanger steak ($31) and venison saddle ($33) glow purple-red. Stained magenta by a mix of purple mustard, vermouth and beet juice, snappy Stonington shrimp ($30) over toasted polenta just about jump off the plate.
Desert was Passion Fruit duo of sorbet and curd, black sesame tuile (cqed) and finger lime Present Company is a restaurant opened by Jeff Lizotte, (CQED) of Hartford, CT. and Tom Gale in an old mill building in the Tarrifville section of Simsbury. Jeff grew up in Simsbury. (photos by Jon Olson/special to the Courant) (Jon Olson/Special to the Courant)
Lizotte has a lively sense of humor and employs plenty of “trickeration.” Some ingredients take several forms in the same dish. That squash terrine has kale layered into it, a hazelnut-and-black-kale pesto and a crispy fried kale garnish. A grilled chestnut potage ($10) sports a smear of candied chestnut and port wine reduction on the side of the bowl to which a celery-root-apple-and-chestnut relish adheres.

Lizotte embraces both verbal and visual puns, and thus that celery root is echoed by celery leaves (same family, different plant) lily-padding the surface of the soup. Such echoes are everywhere in his plating. In his roasted duck breast ($34), duck reappears in a foie-gras-and-Swiss-chard dumpling. And he’s fond of cutting items in shapes that resemble other items, like the toasted polenta of that Stonington shrimp cut and cooked to resemble Bomster scallops.
Texture matters. It might be crisping the skin on sea bass ($29) in a black garlic bordelaise sauce or on slow-roasted Amish chicken ($28) in a pickled cherry béarnaise sauce, where yet another interesting texture is revealed in chewy toasted green wheat. It could be crumbly pistachio financier set off against silky hamachi crudo ($13) finished with green olive tapenade and preserved lemon, a reminder that flavor matters even more.
Present Company is a restaurant opened by Jeff Lizotte and Tom Gale in an old mill building in the Tarrifville section of Simsbury. Lizotte grew up in Simsbury.  (Jon Olson| Special to Hartford Magazine)

Nowhere do color, composition, form, texture and flavor come together better than with the desserts. Nori crackers and ribbons of candied celery complete a perfectly composed cheese plate ($8). Apple en papillote ($8) takes a milk soup and cookie butter bath. Chocolate mousse, ice cream, tuile and soil ($8) form an edible diorama.
Faults are few and far between. A salad of autumn greens ($12) comes out on a still-warm plate, is organized like clothes out of a dryer, retains a lettuce heel and needs more caramelized orange vinaigrette to balance its Danish blue cheese. Good to know our culinary “Tom Brady” is still human enough to miss the occasional open receiver.
Admission to Connecticut’s top restaurant echelon is most challenging. Present Company accepted.

2 Tunxis Road, Tariffville * 860-658-7890 * * Stars: Five
Copyright © 2017, Hartford Courant

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