Conveniently located for Fairfield University students at 1460 Post Road right across from the Sherman Green sits Fairfield’s new favorite restaurant: Il Pellicano. Owners Massimo Tabacco and Matthew Balk bring a modern flare to traditional Roman cuisine with dishes such as the Cacio e Pepe, the Chicken Capricciosa and the Polpo, to name a few.
As you drive past Il Pellicano on any given evening since its opening on Sept. 23, it’s not hard to notice how busy it has been.
Walking into the restaurant, we were greeted by a warm, almost familial atmosphere from the decor and to the welcoming smiles of the hostess and Tabacco.
The sleek dark wood and stone fireplace forms a combination of elegance and coziness unique from many of the other Post Road restaurants the town has to offer. Directly above the fireplace hangs a painting of a “Pellicano,” a call to the restaurant’s name, which can also be seen on the placemats on each table.
To the right of the entryway is a grand bar that has gold accents that carry on a warm feeling to this section of the restaurant.
Il Pellicano is not an overwhelmingly large space, but there is a decent amount of seating without feeling as though tables were uncomfortably squeezed in. The dim lights also give a sense of intimacy to your dining experience and are one of the main elements providing the coziness.
As the aromas from the kitchen and other restaurant-goers’ plates filled the air, we couldn’t wait to sit down and try a bite for ourselves.
Tabacco says, “We didn’t make a huge menu … I hate that.”
Though the menu is not overpowering, as it is only one page, don’t mistake the conciseness of options for the quality of them, because it was impossible to decide which to pick.
It features piadine (flatbreads), small-tapas-style plates, pasta, mains and a specialty cocktail and wine menu which will be mixed by pro mixologists behind the bar. All ingredients are locally-sourced, described by Massimo as their “pride,” and, as a result, the menu will vary season-to-season.
To get a good feel of the menu, we ordered a few different starters: the Olive Oil Flight ($9), the Calamari ($17) and the Polpette Pomodoro ($15). I also knew I had to try one of the cocktails (as I am recently 21) from the creative list of drinks. I ended up ordering the Hugo, a wine spritz made with prosecco, crushed ice and St. Germain ($14).
Some of the other drinks that excited me and I will definitely try next time include the Colomba (diplomatico reserva, fresh grapefruit and basil; $14) and the Fig Wasp (bak’s bison grass, balsamic syrup and fig; $15).
Instead of getting a basket of bread when seated, each table receives a bowl of mixed olives – which, as an olive-loving-gal – did not disappoint. However, when you order the Olive Oil Flight, it comes with a basket of freshly in-house baked focaccia and three different sample bowls of olive oil to try.
Described by Tabacco as the “top olive oil in Italy” from a company that has been in business for 140 years, the three types included a classic Extra Virgin Olive Oil, one with nutty undertones and our personal favorite, a tomato-basil infused olive oil. The bowl with the tomato-basil oil was completely emptied by the time our waiter came to clear our table.
As we worked through our plates, we moved on to try the calamari, a classic appetizer at any Italian restaurant. Plated beautifully and accompanied by a lemon and classic tomato sauce for dipping, I was astonished on the first bite – it was so much better than any other calamari I had tried on Post Road as the batter itself was seasoned beautifully and the marinara was incredibly fresh and flavorful.
Although calamari is a fried dish, Il Pellicano’s version did not leave a heavy feeling in my stomach after eating it and we surprisingly felt light following my clean dish. We also loved that there was a fair amount of tentacles included on our plate, which is my preferred part of the squid.
The final starter we tried was the Polpette Pomodoro, Il Pellicano’s take on meatballs, which comes on a bed of perfectly sweet marinara sauce, coated in a pecorino snowfall and accompanied by three garlic crostinis.
This plate comes with four meatballs and you will not be disappointed. The meatballs were juicy to the point where they just melted in your mouth, and honestly, reminded us of our Italian family members cooking – a taste of home away from home, if you will. The crostini were also a great addition as we were able to use them for cleaning the dish clean of the extra sauce. Sometimes crostini can be too crunchy, but these were crisped to perfection.
The menu featured so many mouth-watering options, so an additional opinion was needed to decide which plate to choose as an entree. Luckily, our server Coltan helped us out and recommended the Short Rib Ragout ($26).
This dish features a generous portion of homemade cavatelli, braised short rib of beef burgundy, turnip mascarpone and nutmeg. All of the kinds of pasta are made fresh, in-house; which was obvious upon our first bite. This unique characteristic shows the true passion put into each and every meal, as well as its tie to true, authentic Italian cuisine.
The short rib was as tender as it was rich and matched beautifully with the sauce. We savored each bite of the braised short rib, and we cannot recommend it enough – if I wasn’t on the hunt to try every menu item, I would undoubtedly be satisfied if I ordered this every time I dined here. The dollop of mascarpone paired wonderfully with the cavatelli and rib, something I would never have thought would go together before. The melding of the flavors, however, sent chills throughout my body.
Even though at this point, we were nearly too stuffed to stand upright, we knew we had to find room to be able to try the best part of any meal: dessert. Short and sweet like the dinner menu, there are five dessert choices: Pellicanocello Olive Oil Cake ($12), Tiramisu ($12), Chocolate Budino ($10), Seasonal Panna Cotta ($10) and Formaggi e Salumni ($21). As well as several coffee and tea options and after-dinner cocktails and liqueurs, for any 21-and-older patrons.
It was impossible to pick just one dessert option, so we ordered the Tiramisu (my all-time favorite dessert) and the Pellicanocello Olive Oil Cake. The presentation was absolutely stunning as if they just came out of a food editorial photoshoot and the portions were generous. Yet, somehow both cakes were finished — they were simply that good.
While I preferred the Tiramisu to the Pelicanocello, it may only be because tiramisu has a sweet spot in my heart. In all honesty, it was one of the most magnificent pieces of tiramisu I have ever tasted, and I have been to the town in Italy credited with the creation of the famous dessert.
The flavors were not too overpowering, and the soaked lady finger crust melted on my tongue with each bite. The Olive Oil Cake was not overly tart from the lemon and was incredibly light. The berry compote complimented the cake wonderfully and the freshly made whipped cream added a special touch that completed the dessert. I would’ve never thought to include olive oil in a sweet dish, but the fresh ingredient added something to the dessert that I would’ve felt at a loss without.
Every dish that we tried had us begging for seconds, and if there was any space in my stomach for more, we would have ordered more. Beyond the fantastic food, the customer service was amazing, something that truly makes or breaks a dining experience.
Our server Coltan was attentive, knowledgeable and eager to ensure our first time at Il Pellicano was special. Owners Tabacco and Balk were present and hands-on in each customer’s dining experience. Balk could be seen in the kitchen — entirely open to the customers’ view — assisting with plating and adding final touches to each meal before it made it to the customer, ensuring perfection all the way to each table.
But most importantly, Tabacco checked in on each customer consistently, and his charisma proved to be contagious throughout the entire restaurant. The passion he feels for this industry and lifestyle is clear, and an overwhelmingly refreshing quality to see in this day and age.
Il Pelicano is currently only open for dinner from 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday and from 5 to 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
Tabacco revealed the restaurant is currently booked through November, but he has heard the demand for more hours and mentioned the restaurant will soon include lunch and, eventually, brunch options.
That’s not all that will be coming soon to the restaurant, as Balk and Tabacco seek to expand Il Pellicano to feature a rooftop patio — making them the only restaurant in Fairfield to have this feature. Inspections are beginning soon and the rooftop will hopefully be ready for the Spring and Summer.
In a town like Fairfield so densely populated with Italian restaurants, it may seem daunting to stand out.
Il Pellicano, however, has achieved this with ease as the excitement surrounding its official opening is rightly deserved. I have been anxiously awaiting their arrival since August when I first saw the posters on its exterior. And the wait was so worth it.
We both will be bringing our friends and family here whenever we are able to secure a reservation next, and I recommend you do yourself a favor by doing the same. It will only take one bite for you to see why Il Pellicano is our new Post Road favorite and why it is now yours too.