A restaurant naming itself after the Italian word for octopus had better be confident in its abilities to cook one of the more difficult dishes of the sea. Polpo, a cozy, inviting gem hidden on a back street in Greenwich, Connecticut, lives up to its name, preparing Italian-inspired dishes with aplomb in a charming setting that invites you to sit back, relax and indulge.
As you walk inside the restaurant, your eye is drawn to the presentation of the catch of the day on ice—on a recent visit, it was barramundi, surrounded by oysters and sharing space with several large lobsters. Moments after we sat down, a waiter brought spicy eggplant caponata with crostini, a bold, inviting taste to prepare for what was to come.
As I sipped a tidy Bombay Sapphire Martini, I gazed at the architecture of the dining room, part of a hundred-year-old house that is now the restaurant. Polpo is made up of many rooms, including a clubby saloon with a huge mirror and a large bar surrounded by several tables; a narrow, enclosed balcony lined with tables looking out on to Old Post Road #3, one of the many winding streets in this tree-lined neighborhood not far from downtown Greenwich; and the two main dining rooms on the ground floor. All this division and separation works, giving this large restaurant the intimate feel of a much smaller one. Some walls are made of old stone, a model ship stands guard at the bottom of the stairs, and the bar is rich, weathered mahogany.
There is also a spacious outdoor patio for al fresco dining, where cigars are welcome year-round.
As the name suggests, the menu is heavy on seafood. The barramundi, a daily special, was cooked beautifully, served with a simple, subtle brodo accented with oregano and rosemary. I tried two versions of the restaurant's namesake; the cold, marinated baby octopus served with potatoes, olive oil and garlic was good, but it paled in comparison with the warm grilled octopus, which had stronger, richer flavor and perfect texture.
Polpo does a nice job on details. Slices of proscuitto and mortadella on a plate of antipasto were sliced thinner than I have ever experienced, giving the meat a texture like silk. Service is unhurried and professional.
Despite the calling of the sea, the pastas should not be ignored. Particularly good was Ravioli Cremosi, ravioli filled with cheese, shiitake mushroom and truffle, finished in a creamy, truffle cream sauce that is the sworn enemy of any dieter.
Polpo isn't cheap. Greenwich is a moneyed town, and Polpo is frequented by executives on expense accounts. Pastas begin at $24, and Lobster Risotto is $29. Fish entrées are around $30, and a Shell Steak costs nearly $50. The midsize wine list has few offerings on the other end of the spectrum, one for less than $60. There are several trophies, such as 1.5 liter bottle of 2000 Joseph Phelps Insignia, which was $480.
Proprietor Ron Rosa enjoys a good cigar, as do many of his clients. He keeps a selection of hand-rolled cigars made in a New York City chinchalle at the bar, which he sells. Connecticut law prohibits smoking in the restaurant proper, but there is little sacrifice in moving outside to the patio, especially with the current temperate days and pleasant nights in southern Connecticut.
On my visit, a nearby table of men fresh from the office finished their meal, selected robustos from a silver tray and broke into huge smiles as they walked out to light up.
After the type of meal served at Polpo, who could blame them?
Polpo Restaurant & Saloon
554 Old Post Road #3
Monday-Friday, 11:45 a.m.-11:30 p.m.
Saturday, 2 p.m.-12:30 a.m.
Sunday, 2-10 p.m.