The Spread is one very cool place, one very hot place and with quite a Spread in between.
And South Norwalk, which is also very cool, very hot and with quite a bit in between, is probably just the right location
The cool part is the ambiance. A lot of effort has gone into making it very cool with a spattered-and-splashed glazed cement floor, a giant metal fan in the industrial-strength black and stovepipe ceiling, shiny metal chairs and stools in the ultra-hip bar.
All this is masterfully tempered with gleaming wood on the bar, old barn siding as tabletops and even a big barn door hanging on one wall and a giant vertical garden on another wall. It is very, very cool.
And if you think that is just too cool, then step back in time as all of the serving plates are beautiful -- vintage grandma's floral china -- and the silverware is stuck upright in a Mason jar filled with unpopped corn or black beans or rice -- all depending upon your table. Someone with real talent designed this place.
The hot part is that folks with real talent also cook in the kitchen and tend the bar. The food here is ambitious, rich and daring.
The bar is on the same par with an eclectic and interesting wine and beer list, as well as some pretty wild cocktails, such as bourbon and cilantro-infused gin with fresh lime juice and ginger beer called the Fog Horn.
The menu is heavy on rich meats and fowl, taking cues from around the world with emphasis on the French/Moroccan heritage of the chef.
Most dishes are served in small portions and most service is designed for table sharing. Despite being so hot/cool, food and libation here are reasonably priced.
The menu also runs hot and cool, both in content and execution. Appetizers, which are meant to be ordered for table sharing, are frequently lush and rich.
Duck terrine, with fruit chutney, foie gras with Armagnac soaked prunes, rich pureed salt cod in brandade and rosy slices of beef tongue are all intriguing and beautifully prepared and presented.
Steak tartare seems a tad lighter as the finely chopped beef is tossed with minced pickle, onion and a splash of excellent olive oil, then heaped with a side of perfect French fries. Velvety pumpkin soup is laced with yogurt and sprinkled with pepitas, but a heavy hand with cinnamon makes it seem more like dessert than a meal starter.
Your table can, of course, temper the richness with some tantalizing veggies, which are a real strength of the kitchen. Moroccan carrots are doused with cumin, garlic, lemon and cilantro. Beets are adorned with pistachios and blood oranges. But the best of all is shredded cabbage tossed with a truffle vinaigrette and toasted hazelnuts.
Main courses are equally diverse. Simplicity is found in a nicely grilled brick-flattened chicken served on a pool of milky polenta and a side of Caesar dressed greens, or a terrific cheeseburger with spicy mayo and more of those fab fries.
Gnocchi with wild mushrooms and gruyere is wonderfully rich with mushrooms, but gummy gnocchi and a heavy hand with salt tempers the enjoyment. Seafood is given interesting treatments, such as a lovely combo of cranberry beans, diced chorizo and shelled littleneck clams in a sort of stew, grilled swordfish with charmoula and spiced yogurt or tender octopus with mashed chickpeas, yogurt and mint.
Meat options continue the rich theme with such choices as deep-fried rabbit, griddled pork belly, sauteed calves liver or veal confit.
Desserts need work. The list is short and sweet, including apple crisp, crème brulee and dulce de leche flan -- all of which are unremarkable.
Chocolate cream, a flat dish of chilled ganache served with icy cold hazelnut biscuits has potential -- perhaps warm the ganache, ladle it over ice cream, then crumble up the cookies on top.
To add to the hot and cool of it all, The Spread has live music and entertainment several nights a week.
This is a place that's hard to fit into a single definition. It is hot and cool and a lot of in between -- you will just have to try it for yourself.