The first thing to know about The Charter Oak, the upcoming casual restaurant from chef Christopher Kostow and partner Nathaniel Dorn, is that it is not “Meadowood 2.0.” Housed in the space that was home to Tra Vigne for over 30 years, the restaurant will be an exercise in restraint, and in meeting the expectations of locals and fans whose memories are deeply embedded in the property. It’s also a chance for Kostow, Dorn, and Charter Oak chef Katianna Hong to take a deep breath, and have a little fun with food away from the three-Michelin-starred environs of The Restaurant at Meadowood.
Layers and layers of paint have been stripped from the exterior walls of the restaurant, revealing stately bricks. As a side effect of the construction, the signature ivy that has grown around the restaurant for three decades had to be removed, as well as most of the foliage in and around the patio. Though it’s being replanted, Kostow jokes that he’s already looked into pre-grown ivy to replace it (it doesn’t work that way, apparently).
The patio, much loved for its ambiance during Tra Vigne’s reign, will now include firepits for sipping wine and cocktails al fresco, served from an indoor/outdoor bar. Inside, a large hearth will serve as the main focus of the high-ceilinged dining room. A spacious new kitchen is tucked behind it, with features like a cold room for whole animal butchery, and a separate pastry kitchen.
And last but not least, the historic winery on the restaurant property (which was used as a wine bar during Tra Vigne’s days), will be become a state-of-the-art research and development kitchen for both The Restaurant and The Charter Oak.
Food and Drink
“We already have one precious, highly orchestrated restaurant,” said Kostow. “We don’t want to do two.” For the chef that means keeping things as simple as possible, a difficult proposition when surrounded by a team as talented and creative as his. Chef Katianna Hong, former chef de cuisine at Meadowood, will be leading the charge in the kitchen. She has the challenge of truly keeping things “elemental,” as Kostow says, without accidentally adding too much technique.
The menu will be served family-style, and ordered by the portion, to encourage sharing and flexibility. Service will also be “a little bit dim sum,” with cocktails, desserts, and possibly more, delivered via carts rolled through the dining room. And unlike The Restaurant, where everything is seasoned to high perfection, Charter Oak already has its own hot sauce, a “shishito red.” Ultimately though, Kostow says “It should feel like your home, but the food is being cooked for you.” That also includes something special for children— but don’t expect chicken nuggets, or boring crayons and paper, either. Since Kostow and Dorn have families themselvs, they’re vastly familiar with the challenges of dining out with kids, and, in addition to cooking with their tastes in mind, will be creating extra special activities to entertain during dinner. One of the questions Kostow is trying to answer is “How do we do the quality we insist on doing and make it a really high energy, fun place?” Kostow and his family live in the neighborhood, so making sure things are truly family-friendly is high priority.
Examples of possible dishes:
Ham cured in spicebush
Clam dip and chips
Housemade multigrain bread
Salad of celeries
Onions with a chorizo bolognese
Beef ribs smoked over cabernet barrels
Braised leek with beef shank
Beets tossed in roasted marrow
The Restaurant at Meadowood’s nearby culinary garden will also provide herbs and produce for The Charter Oak, informing the menu with what’s in season.
Construction on The Charter Oak is in full swing, and the team expects to open at the end of May for weekday lunch, weekend brunch, and nightly dinner.