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Fearless Critic restaurant review
New Haven
Upmarket restaurant

Wed, Thu, Sun 5:00pm–8:45pm call ahead if later
Fri–Sat 6:00pm–8:00pm seating 1
Fri–Sat 8:30pm–10:30pm seating 2

Features Date-friendly, good wines
Bar Beer, wine, liquor
Credit cards Visa, MC, AmEx
Reservations Essential


225 Montowese St.
Branford, CT
(203) 483-9791
Le Petit Café
Amazingly, Branford’s legendary French prix-fixe just gets better and better

Never before in the history of The Menu and the Fearless Critic series has a restaurant won our #1 ranking for three consecutive editions. But records are made to be broken, and Branford’s intimate, unpretentious French bistro, with its quirky mirrors and warm lighting, has done it.

Dinner at Le Petit Café is prix fixe, but this menu is the furthest thing from fixed. It is a culinary journey that begins daily at the break of dawn, when chef-owner Roy Ip shows up for work and gets the stocks and sauces going. Every neuron in Chef Ip’s brain, every drop of his emotional energy, focuses on the everyday miracle of what that night’s lucky few will eat for dinner. He designs menus, orders ingredients, and watches over his staff with the tough love and obsessive genius of an artist; the simple process of cooking and serving, eating and drinking, is exalted.

As befits a kitchen this serious, the seasonal menu changes frequently. Lately we’ve encountered delicate, bright white Alaskan halibut filet, which pushes the French envelope with New England sweet corn, shiitake mushrooms, and roasted piquillo coulis; unusually well-balanced escargots with Roquefort and cognac sauce on puff pastry, a difficult dish that requires expert hands like these; and a subtle chestnut soup for fall. We wish Berkshire pork tenderloin were cooked a touch less, but the five-spice duck breast, as ever, is an explosion of flavor and tenderness. Lobster bisque is still some of the best we’ve seen, as is the rich, prodigiously portioned duck cassoulet.

The magic is also in the details, from the flecks of truffle that punctuate the ramekin of butter that’s offered with slices of crackly baguette to the house-made fruit jam that accompanies a tender duck leg confit. Peaches and brandied cherries have alternatively studded the country-style pork pâté, elevating it to something even greater. And sensational french fries sit humbly beside one of Connecticut’s best steaks au poivre. Desserts sparkle, too; our favorite, of late, has been what we refer to as “burnt caramel mousse.” And the wine list is just as a bistro’s should be: a small, carefully chosen, reasonably priced selection of Bordeaux and Burgundy bottles well paired with the food.

Le Petit Café’s artfully crafted bistro décor would feel at home along a Parisian back alley—except for the reasonable prices and the completely unassuming, open-armed attitude of Chef Ip and his staff. Reserve well in advance for one of the two nightly seatings—there are only 10 per week. Like the sauce that reduces into more than the sum of its ingredients, Le Petit Café is more than just a restaurant. To dine here is to transcend the mere notions of eating and drinking; it is to engage with the spirit.

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