My father and I agree about one thing — we both love food. But our ideas about food couldn’t be more different. I love food that makes me wonder “Am I really supposed to eat this?” while my father prefers his food without question marks. Deciding where to eat this weekend will be nothing less than an ideological struggle.
Am I mildly resentful that nearly half of Yale will be wined and dined by their families while I’m resigned to the drudgery of dining hall food? Maybe. For the past three years, friends have come to me for advice on where to take their families for dinner on Parents’ Weekend, but I am always happy to help. Why? Because when it comes to food, I believe in choices — and New Haven’s food scene has a lot to offer.
It is disappointing to me that every year students and their parents go to the same boring litany of restaurants here in the Have. If that’s what you’re going for, fine — there is a good reason why these restaurants are consistently popular among students and their parents. But a handful of chefs in New Haven are taking some truly bold risks to redefine the city’s food scene, and I can guarantee that the more adventurous among you will find yourselves pleasantly surprised.
The tradition: Strange as it seems, feeling underdressed in a dining room full of stuffy waiters is some people’s raison d’etre. Despite its reputation, the Union League Cafe consistently delivers contemporary French fare with both precision and panache. True, Union League caters to gourmands who prefer to indulge themselves in high-mindedness and haute cuisine, but it also caters to people who simply appreciate good food. There is absolutely no reason you shouldn’t indulge in the restaurant’s offerings of fresh oysters, foie gras and rabbit terrine, duck leg confit, braised veal cheeks and summer squash risotto. And, let’s face it, it is Parents’ Weekend after all — you can afford to be a little ridiculous with mama and papa picking up the tab.
Something different: For atypical no-frills French fare, Gastronomique (“The Gastro”) gives you quality food at half the price of Union League. Be warned, there are no pretenses when you dine at the Gastro: the “restaurant” is a dingy take-out counter located on High Street. The owner and chef is a man with an unapologetically gruff personality. Daily specials are scrawled rather crudely on a blackboard. And the food is served in styrofoam containers. But don’t be put off by the Gastro’s rough exterior. Try some of their sweet or savory crepes, pumpkin risotto, steak with pommes frites, croque monsieur sandwich, classic steak tartare or nicoise salad with a side of poached salmon and truffle oil. For $12 at lunch or $19 at dinner, the Gastro also offers an epic prix fixe three course meal. Consider picking up grub from the Gastro, then heading out for a nice family picnic on Old Campus.
The tradition: Scoozzi is one of the most popular restaurants during Parents’ Weekend. But while the quality is reliable, their dishes have never been particularly impressive. The lobster risotto and papparadelle are noteworthy, along with the sesame lavosh served with your meal. Sunday brunch at Scoozzi is a charming affair with live music and special brunch items like frittatas — it’s just a shame many parents will leave New Haven never having experienced the best Italian food the Elm City has to offer. Be warned that Scoozzi always anticipates larger crowds during Parents’ Weekend and will raise its prices accordingly.
Something different: Some are acquainted with Skappo and their Saturday morning Italian language brunches, but this family-owned restaurant in New Haven’s Ninth Square has such a meaningful relationship to food and the Italian culture that — after only a couple of dinners — customers can’t help but fall in love with it. An extensive wine selection, spinach gnocchi, black truffle crostini, braised rabbit in white wine sauce and wild boar reflect the Sincavage family’s philosophy that life should be enjoyed to its fullest — and in good company. Daughter Yvette’s rustic desserts are themselves true labors of love. There’s no better place to share a dinner with family.
The tradition: Ibiza is the ultimate splurge for students and their families during Parents’ Weekend, but it is certainly worthwhile. And, if you’re going to be extravagant, why not go for the very best? Chef Luis Bollo is extremely passionate about the fine tradition of Spanish cooking, and the food at Ibiza reflects that. Bollo’s culinary oasis is not your run-of-the-mill upscale restaurant — it’s a place where people go for enlightenment. If you’re willing to spend the money, Bollo’s tasting menu is to die for: the veal sweetbreads, braised short-ribs and salt-baked halibut are truly inspired.
Something different: Barcelona Wine Bar is one of the best restaurants in New Haven. I am rarely so liberal with my praises for restaurants, but the food at Barcelona is just phenomenal. Food is served tapas-style and great for sharing — on average, plan on ordering about three to four dishes per person. To start, try the duck confit and wild mushrooms, potato tortilla with crème fraiche, and Gambas al Ajillo (sauteed shrimp). The roasted garlic bulbs pair nicely with the complimentary fresh baked bread and olive oil.