A Taste of Belgium on Chapel

This past weekend, the Chew Haven team enjoyed an elaborate dinner at Atelier Florian — located a stone’s throw from the Yale University Art Gallery at 1166 Chapel Street, the establishment has been serving a fine blend of upscale Belgian-French fare to its patrons since May 2015. In keeping with our policy of inviting one of our readers to participate in the review experience with us, we were accompanied on this visit by Ishana Aggarwal (a Yale College sophomore from Delhi, India). 

We were warmly welcomed by Mark, Atelier Florian’s new General Manager, upon arrival and shown to our table. Our table was well located within an open, airy space with high ceilings, soft illumination, and a modern geometrically patterned tiled floor; we faced the famous raw bar boasting a selection of European wines, the finest Belgian beers, and freshly shucked shellfish. 

Over our initial conversation with the manager, we learnt that Atelier Florian is owned by the same duo (Omer Ipek & Skel Islamaj) who operate Rudy’s Bar and the Yale student beloved Maison Mathis! Situated relative to Elm City’s other Belgian-French establishment, Atelier Florian is presented as Maison Mathis’ ‘sophisticated cousin’: prioritizing food, cocktails, and ambience over speed, coffee, and study spaces. Chew Haven was excited to revisit a spot which had previously been reviewed by the New York Times (a distinction only a rarified selection of New Haven eateries can claim), since a new Executive Chef and General Manager have taken up responsibilities at Atelier Florian this year. 

The new team have already introduced some reforms, the change most relevant to our student readers being a revamp of the restaurant’s focus from an exclusive fine dining feel to a more approachable yet still elevated dining experience. This allows Atelier Florian to better serve the large Yalie proportion of their clientele, who operate on student budgets, while not detracting from the quality of the experience that regulars have come to expect. Another change which caters to college students is the introduction of the city’s only ‘Social Hour’, which prioritizes shared group experiences under the restaurant mantra of ‘Eat, Drink, & Be Social’, instead of a ‘Happy Hour’. During Social Hour, the bar’s entire selection of draft beers, a choice of wines, mixed drinks, as well as a legion of appetizers is available at generous price points centred around $5!

Our initial conversation with Mark drew to a natural close when the array of starters arrived in quick succession: the Mushroom Arancini, Fish Tacos, and Florian Tuna Tartare. Plated beautifully, with delicious aromas, easy to eat, and light on the stomach, the starters were a feast for all of our senses. 

The Mushroom Arancini (fried risotto rice balls stuffed with mushroom, and adorned with Swiss cheese, marinara sauce, and pecorino) was unanimously our favourite of the three starters. Perfectly sized to consume whole, each serving was a gustatory experience which exploded in the mouth with a variety of wholesome complementary flavours. The ovine and Swiss cheeses paired well with the mushroom-rice substrate they adorned, while the marinara sauce added a tart tomato bite.

The Mushroom Arancini

The Fish Tacos (crispy cod, lemon aioli, pico de gallo) were undeniably the neatest tacos we’ve tried. The choice of a single ‘finger’ of crisply fried cod, the serving on metal holders which preserved the shape of the taco, and moderation in the use of lemon aioli sauce spared our pristine serviettes from the collateral damage one usually expects from taco consumption. Flavour wise, the strength of the lemon aioli made up for the restraint in its apportioning: the lime notes of the dish popped exuberantly, and the freshness of the cod was apparent as soon as one breached the crisp exterior. 

The Fish Tacos

The Florian Tuna Tartare (tuna, avocado, lemon, dijon mustard, soy sauce), arriving in a Martini glass, rounded up the selection. The soy pairing was reminiscent of poke, and the sides of garlic soaked bread which accompanied the starter were a perfect starchy base to heap the tuna tartare and avocado on and facilitate consumption.

The Florian Tuna Tartare

We sipped our drinks as we ate, sampling five hand crafted cocktails from a witty drinks menu which boasted a variety of puns: ‘Thyme Will Tell’ (Bourbon, local maple syrup, house made honey-thyme syrup, lemon, thyme, fresh squeezed lemon juice), ‘Curtain Call’ (Hennessy VS, Canton ginger liqueur, mint, fresh squeezed orange juice, celery bitters, ginger beer), ‘Mic Drop’ (Tequila, muddled blueberries, mint, agave syrup, fresh squeezed lemon and lime juice), ‘Fig-ettabout It Mule’ (Figenza vodka, lime juice, ginger beer), and ‘Pear Martini’ (Absolut pear vodka, Canton ginger liqueur, pear nectar). 

On an aesthetic level alone, each drink was a work of art; the Mic Drop, pictured above, was a true masterpiece. We enjoyed the perfectly balanced alcohol content of each hand crafted cocktail, which neither overwhelmed nor dissatisfied. Under the celebrated bar supervisor’s hands, the fruity notes played off against the chosen liquor in a medley of unique combinations. 

After a momentary pause for us to jot down our notes and ready our palates for the next round, it was time for our entrees: New York Strip Au Poivre, Seafood Risotto, and Faroe Island Salmon.

The moment The New York Strip Au Poivre arrived at our table, we could it was going to take its place among our all time favorites as the meat was cooked rare — leaving the center at the perfect shade of pink-red. As we took our first bites, the rich flavor and juiciness of the steak lived up to our expectations with the crisp outside and the tender melt in the mouth center. The cognac black peppercorn sauce and the sautéed garlic baby spinach the steak was bedded upon could have been dishes on their own rights, both being incredibly appetizing.

The New York Strip Au Poivre

Accompanied by a wide and generous selection of seafood from scallops to shrimp to clams, the Seafood Risotto plate was appealing not only to our taste buds but also to our eyes. The risotto was perfectly cooked, and complemented with the parmesan cheese that was blended evenly among the risotto, the dish was bursting with a rich umami flavor. 

The Seafood Risotto

The elegantly presented plate of The Faroe Island Salmon melts in your mouth within a matter of seconds leaving a remarkable fresh and rich taste of the salmon well balanced with the slight sourness of the lemon beurre blanc decorating the plate. As the chef mentioned later in our conversation, fish is always more dangerous to cook than meat as it needs to be cooked for the exact right amount. For the chef, the difficulty of perfectly preparing dish represents a chance to demonstrate his artistry in cooking rather than a cause of concern — the salmon was indeed cooked to the perfect degree. The mix of the delicate flavors and the craftsmanship involved in its preparation makes this dish beautiful inside and out.

The Faroe Island Salmon

We also sampled the popular Belgian mainstay Moules Frites (mussels and fries). The national dish of Belgium, and the second most popular dish in France, the moules frites was a dish we were excited to try prior to our visit. Atelier Florian offers four different preparations of this dish: Provencale (tomato passata broth, olive, fennel, caper, garlic, saffron), Mariniere (garlic white wine, mirepoix, herbs, butter, lemon), Red Curry (coconut broth, kaffir lime, lemongrass, nuoc cham), and Cajun (Andouille sausage, tomato, onion, celery, red bell pepper, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, paprika, cajun spice). An order of any of these preparations involves two whole pounds of mussels, and a generous serving of home-style potato fries on a separate plate. We were served the red curry preparation, and enjoyed the assorted complexity of spices seeped in the uber fresh mussels (freshly caught daily). Our fears that the strong red curry flavoring would overwhelm the delicate mussels proved severely unfounded; the light coconut broth and lime offset and balanced the spicy curry and the Vietnamese dipping sauces perfectly, and created a highly enjoyable fusion dish. 

Moules Frites

We were served a crisp, clear beer, Mark’s personal favorite, from Brauerei Weihenstephan (the oldest brewery in the world, operating in Germany since 1040 A.D) after we finished the entrees. The selection of draught beers and Belgian ales offered at Atelier Florian is formidable, and a delightful upgrade for any High Street fraternity frequenters’ palate. 

We wrapped up our review meal with a conversation with the Executive Chef (a charismatic Frenchman who came to America at the turn of the millenium) over dessert: Vanilla Flan, Pistachio Crumble Mousse, and Baileys Cheesecake. The flan was full of subtle flavour notes — predominantly vanilla and caramel, from the accompanying sauce. The Bailey’s Cheesecake (Bailey’s, cream cheese, graham crackers, cinnamon sauce) was decadently sweet and filling. The Pistachio Crumble Mousse was the most interesting of the three desserts we tried, with the pistachio gelato, the whipped cream, and the mouse. All the desserts were exceptionally light and fluffy, and quite easy to eat despite the generous sizing. 

From beginning to end, our experience at Atelier Florian was deeply satisfying. The delicate flavors and textures of the food, the aesthetics of the decor and the plating, the warmth of the service and management all made an impression on us that stayed with us long after we finally departed. We encourage our readers to consider Atelier Florian when their next opportunity to impress a date or enjoy a dinner with visiting family arises. Protip: make a Wednesday reservation, show up sporting your Yale apparel, and enjoy 15% off your entire cheque!

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