Some restaurants earn a reputation for their food; others attract patrons with ambiance. The really good ones manage to score on both counts. The Orange Squirrel is one of the good ones. This new 50-seat restaurant in Bloomfield earned the distinction of receiving the most emailed tips to Baristanet from readers, telling us to go and check it out. Here’s just one of the raves…
Run…do not walk to Bloomfield’s newest restaurant, The Orange Squirrel. Located at 412 Bloomfield Avenue (at the site of the old Pad Thai and Oak Tavern), chef/owner and Bloomfield native Francesco Palmieri (a 2000 CIA graduate) works magic in his kitchen.
Like an oasis in a desert of car dealerships and auto body shops along a stretch of Bloomfield Ave., The Orange Squirrel beckons with its neon sign and big windows. Inside, you’ll forget exactly where you are. From the exposed brick wall with flat screen showing iconic movies (we caught Ed Wood, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and Edward Scissorhands on different visits) to the custom made Brazilian birch and limestone bar and vibrant orange seating, the restaurant redefines and unites the two separate spaces.
Combining an eclectic American/European menu with a chic, yet unpretentious design, The Orange Squirrel doesn’t disappoint. In fact, it surprises, with special touches like the homemade shot of silky-smooth “Bailey’s” that came to the table at the end of the meal. Or the amuse bouche at the start, a beautiful Prince Edward mussel one time, a miniature smoked salmon filled cannoli the next. And yes, even the bag of peanuts accompanied by a note to celebrate “Squirrel Appreciation” day. It’s the kind of place that makes you smile. Palmieri is like that, too, full of surprises and creative energy, as he meets with patrons and checks on tables. Just don’t ask him about the name of restaurant, or you might fall for one of his inventive tall squirrel tales.
We sat at a table on one visit and ate at the bar for another. Speciality cocktails like an orange-infused vodka with Orangina got raves; there’s a varied selection of wines, beers and a friendly bartender who offers you tastes so you can decide. We loved the selection of handmade pastas. Try the gnudi (pronounced “nudie”). The opposite of gnocchi — this light pasta is made from ricotta with just a hint of flour to give it shape. Served with wild mushrooms and parsley salad in a heady Parmesan consomme, it was a standout. Another hit was the cinnamon and sage accented kabacha ravioli (kabacha is a Japanese winter squash that’s similar to pumpkin but smoother in consistency). It’s the first time I’ve seen kabacha on the menu in Baristaville; at Orange Squirrel, it appears in two other dishes. The inspired pistachio-dusted lamb chops with mint pomegranate glaze were tender and flavorful; try them paired with any of the mix and match side dishes (we loved the pancetta brussels sprouts served in a miniature cast iron skillet or creamy mascarpone polenta). Savory, stick to your ribs comfort foods make choosing from the menu a challenge, but we couldn’t pass up a baby octopus stew with pancetta, turnip lemongrass broth and paper thin discs of fingerling potato, or the wood-fired pizzas. Palmieri’s wife Elaine insisted on adding the truffle pizza to the menu. Fetauring baby spinach, pignolia nuts, white truffle oil and black truffle shavings, it translates into slices of heaven. Save room if you can for the blood orange creme brulee or the just perfect for sharing cheese course.
For menu, hours and other info, visit website here. Note: carry out food, wine and beer are available. Salads/soups/appetizers, $6-$12; specialty pizzas; $12-$19; pasta dishes; $11-$17; entrees, $19-$37; side dishes; $8.
The Orange Squirrel, 412 Bloomfield Ave., Bloomfield, 973.337.6421