Restaurants

Run to RSVP, Connecticut’s Secluded French Restaurant Designed Like a Private Dinner Party

There’s no menu—and nearly no staff—at this A-plus surprise secreted away in the countryside.


A peek inside the kitchen at chef Guy Birster’s RSVP. / Photo by James R. Anderson

The bad news: I quickly discover I have no cell service from the front-corner table at RSVP. The good news: Robbed of distraction, it’s even easier to settle deeply into a three-hour dinner at this charming French revelation in the remote Connecticut countryside.

The truth is, Twitter access is the least of what the restaurant lacks. For one, there’s no competition—RSVP is the only eatery in this small town (per the free local paper), and, a hunch tells me, the rare “hidden gem” that actually merits the phrase. There’s also no liquor license. Upon arrival, a corkscrew greets me and my BYO wine at one of nine tables in the pintsize room, decorated with things that look like they were rescued from an attic.

Finally, there’s no space—not more than a few inches, anyway—between me and the tiny open kitchen where chef Guy Birster moves around alone, silent between sips of white wine. He fills soup bowls that wait like empty mouths and shimmies a hot saucepan until it flares, coaxing into life another surprise for the night’s unlisted, multicourse menu.

A peek inside the kitchen at chef Guy Birster’s RSVP. / Photo by James R. Anderson

Each dish is delivered, one table at a time, by co-owner Charlie Cilona, the same Charlie who took my phone reservation for Saturday night’s single 7 p.m. seating before inquiring concernedly as to where in town this Bostonian was staying, and—firm but fair—making clear: Be prompt for dinner.

Now he describes every offering in hushed, reverent tones, clearly confident I’ll love what’s next. He’s right: Each spectacular plate reveals fine technique and finesse—not unnecessary flourish. Chicken, impossibly tender, sits atop quietly rich Parmesan sauce and under garlicky Basque-style piperade. The best scallops I’ve ever eaten arrive butter-poached until they melt, in a lobster sauce sided with lobster flan. Filet of beef bourguignon is truly something special; so are outstanding cheesecake beignets with nectar-sweet fresh strawberries.

At the end of this strange, wonderful meal off the grid, I discover one other thing that’s lacking: a credit card processor. I’m mortified. Charlie pats my shoulder, unfazed. “Mail me a check,” he says. Then he freshens my coffee. He remembers I have a long drive home.

A peek inside the kitchen at chef Guy Birster’s RSVP. / Photo by James R. Anderson

RSVP
West Cornwall, Connecticut
Miles from Boston: 144
860-672-7787, rsvp-restaurant.com.

STAY

RSVP may be in a very sleepy corner of Connecticut, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a spot to rest your head. Try the whimsical Winvian Farm (starting at $699 per night), 20 miles away, where the spa-equipped collection of 18 themed, high-end cottages and a historical suite includes a treehouse with a fireplace and jacuzzi.

860-567-9600, winvian.com.

PLAY

Hit up some of the area’s roadside antique shops, then toast your treasures at Litchfield Distillery, which offers tours and tastings of its craft gins, bourbons, and vodkas.

860-361-6503, litchfielddistillery.com.

Lighthouse, Winvian, Morris, CT, Relais & Chateaux / Courtesy photo

Read more about the Ultimate Five-Star Foodie Road Trip