Chao Restaurant and Wine Cafe - New Haven
Veteran restaurateur Elaine Chao has opened Chao Restaurant & Wine Cafe in the cute Whitney Avenue space formerly occupied by Pot-Au-Pho, which apparently is reserved for restaurants with “punny” names. Chao is also a non-managing partner in Kudeta in New Haven and owner of the Little Kitchen of Westport. Going back a few years, Chao fans know she had proprietary interests in Chao in Sandy Hook, the original Little Kitchen of Westport, gorgeous Taipan in Westport and elegant Bali in Greenwich.
Chao’s restaurant design is often dazzling, but she has kept her eponymous restaurant simple and stylish, with a small wine bar area upstairs and dining room seating downstairs. Partner Steve Garrett manages the front of the house and is also a sommelier. The chef is Tony Dai, who had Uncle Dai’s Chinese Restaurant in Stamford.
Chao’s parents were originally from China’s Shandong Province, but she was raised in Taiwan. Her pan-Asian menu is authentic and eclectic, with a particular emphasis on Taiwanese cuisine and fabulous housemade dim sum offerings.
There are also elements of fusion, including dishes made with Chinese techniques but Thai spices. Everything is prepared from scratch—nothing comes from a box. Dumplings, for instance, are best eaten with a spoon because they’re bursting with flavor and liquid.
Serious foodies of all stripes will appreciate Chao’s chow. Seafood lovers may swoon over Bali prawns, black bean scallops or Szechuan-style fish. Meat lovers may melt over tangerine or Mongolian beef, lion’s head casserole (actually a giant meatball made with pork, scallop and crabmeat) or threecup chicken (a.k.a. Taiwanese coq au vin). Vegetarians, too, will find plenty to celebrate.
Chao likes being located at the northern end of downtown New Haven, where many professionals work and parking is usually plentiful. We rejoice because the restaurant is a stone’s throw from our offices. We can cha cha cha over to Chao for chow anytime.
Chao Restaurant & Wine Cafe, 77 Whitney Ave., New Haven, 203-745- 3021, www.chaonewhaven.com