There is no new concept under the sun. However, the Bartaco concept might be an exception to that rule. Bartaco Westport is an indoor-outdoor restaurant that offers a limited menu and more snack-like service. It has seating for 110 people inside and 25 outside facing the Saugatuck River.
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There are three Bartaco brothers in Stamford West Hartford, Port Chester, N.Y. Bartaco was created by the Barteca restaurant group, which is a mini-restaurant chain that spans the state.
Adam Halberg, Barteca’s culinary director, said in a telephone interview that he wanted to give me a new take on Mexican taquerias, but with healthier flavors.
The menu caters to small plates and quick bites. A $7 “kids’-adilla” platter features a child’s portion of tacos, roasted corn, and a fruit kebab. It’s amazing how delicious so many of these nibbles can be made into a complete meal.
There are 12 choices of fillings for tacos as a starter. Some fillings cost $2.50 per each, while others were $3.50 for three for $7 and three for nine dollars respectively.
I tried eight different fillings over three visits and didn’t miss a single one: Baja fish and curry shrimp, wild boar and spicy chorizo, Veracruz fish (wonderfully seasoned), pork belly, with sweet purple onions, red pepper, and lots of cilantro. Each taco consisted of three large bites with intense seasonings that were balanced with the main ingredient.
My favorite tacos were the fried oyster (crispy, lightly battered, and fresh), and duck (shredded and interwoven in garlic, cayenne, and tamarind).
Three small sauce bottles are provided for each table: jalapeno (a bit assertive), Roja, and habanero. However, most of the dishes I tried didn’t need this zapping boost.
The category “Not Tacos” featured 10 dishes. These included soup (a thick, chunky, and peppery gazpacho that echoed some of my favorite Andalusian varieties) and small plates such as tamales and cheese Aguadilla (piping-hot and filled with Oaxaca cheese).
Also, we ordered shrimp ceviche (a combination of red and green peppers and shrimp that is lime-tickled). As bracing as the shrimp ceviche were the three gorditas, which are three bite-sized morsels of cheese and batter-encased shrimp. Each one was a delicious mouthful.
All items are available a la carte. Even the freebies such as salsa and chips ($3) and guacamole ($5), the cost of everything can quickly mount up depending on how hungry you feel. The guac is thick and well-seasoned with a mild salsa verde.
We ordered takeout from a rotisserie chicken. It was delicately seasoned with whole garlic buds and rosemary inside its cavity. Chipotle slaw, black bean salad, and grilled corn were the chicken’s companions. The ears were swabbed in lime, cayenne, and salty cotija cheese.
There are very few desserts, mostly ice creams. The spiced chocolate pudding was tempting me, but I didn’t want to give up. The chocolate was rich, creamy, and sealed with a thick layer of real whipped cream to my delight.
The churros, three long, crispy, and lightly browned strips of dough were equally appealing. They came with a soupcon full of chocolate sauce to dip in.
Bartaco is a great neighborhood spot for lunch, casual dinner, or just about anything else.