The Restaurants Jacques Pépin Loves Near His Home In Madison, Connecticut

If Jacques Pépin didn't want to leave the house to eat, he wouldn't have to. This legendary French chef's home in Madison, Connecticut has two separate kitchens and four acres of property, including a bountiful garden — in short, his estate has everything he needs to develop new recipes and host lavish dinner parties. As a result, Pépin loves cooking at home; but when he's not cheffing up recipes, he has also been known to enjoy going out on the town for a more formal dinner. 

In his Madison, CT guide, published on in 2022, he was asked where he likes to eat when he does venture out of his homegrown paradise. He responded, "I do like to be with friends cooking together at home," then gave a comprehensive list of the best restaurants in the Madison area. We've compiled the restaurants that remain in operation here for your reading pleasure. Welcome to the best of Connecticut, according to Pépin! 

Clam Castle

The Clam Castle was the first restaurant on Pépin's lips when reciting his local favorites. This spot is located in the town of Madison, and it's actually now called Clam Castle featuring Taco Pacifico. Yes, that's right; this 60-year-old seasonal fresh seafood restaurant changed hands in summer of 2023, passing to new owner Greg Sharon, who decided to shake things up by introducing a Mexican edge to the Clam Castle's offerings. Before taking over the Clam Castle, Sharon had operated Taco Pacifico as a series of food trucks since 2009.  

Historically, Clam Castle was a fresh seafood vendor. Since Sharon's takeover, the old fan favorites haven't left the menu – you can still get Connecticut-style lobster rolls here, where the lobster meat is dressed with melted butter rather than mayonnaise, and the famous golden fried clam strips and golden fried full belly clams will have a permanent presence at this institution. However, now you can also order all the tacos your heart desires. The seafood tacos, topped with a lettuce cabbage blend and salsa, are the clearest place where the Clam Castle and Taco Pacifico flavor profiles collide; you can get tacos filled with cod, shrimp, scallops, clams, and even lobster.

Westbook Lobster

Westbrook Lobster, in nearby Clinton, Connecticut, is one of Pépin's favorites near to home. This is another old-school, traditional seafood shack turned professional restaurant. Originally opened in 1963 in Westbrook, CT, Westbrook Lobster was primarily a seafood market for the first twenty years or so of its life, shelling out fresh seafood to other local businesses for preparation elsewhere. In 1989, the business was bought by Larry and Joanne Lariviere, a couple who redesigned the business as a restaurant, moving it down Route 1 to Clinton, CT a few years later. The business remains in the Lariviere family today. 

The thing to order at Westbrook Lobster is, rather unsurprisingly, the lobster. You can order it whole, with drawn butter, served with roasted potatoes and a seasonal veggie on the side, or baked and stuffed with buttery seafood stuffing. If you're feeling New England-y, you can also get your lobster on what this restaurant calls a "mega lobster roll" — it has "2x the meat," according to the Westbrook Lobster menu. Pan-seared scallops, salmon, swordfish, and Atlantic codfish also make it onto the menu; and if for some reason you're not feeling like seafood, there are land-based entrées as well, like a buttermilk chicken sandwich and short rib mac 'n' cheese.

Taste of China

Another of Pépin's favorite restaurants is also in Clinton, but this one doesn't just serve seafood. Clinton's Taste of China is a restaurant serving Szechuanese cuisine, specifically from the city of Chengdu. Taste of China is proud that Pépin chose it as one of his favorite restaurants, and cites his endorsement on the homepage of its website.

The menu at Taste of China is not so large that it's intimidating, but you're definitely going to find yourself flipping through it like a magazine to get to all the glossy photos. The thousand years old egg is a must-order — this dish is an egg that has been aged up to several months in a mixture of quicklime, salt, and ash, with a striking black color. On the seafood front, there's a stunning stir-fried lobster with dry red pepper and black bean sauce. The food here is relatively inexpensive, and the quality is high, which is likely what appeals to Pépin.

Bar Bouchée

If legendary Frenchman Jacques Pépin approves of a French restaurant, you know it's legit; that's why his recommendation of Bar Bouchée is one you should take stock in. This French bistrot is located in Madison, CT, a block away from the downtown area. There's a genuine zinc bar imported from France in the space, and an outdoor patio area for more relaxed seating. The name of this restaurant is a gesture to the bouchon, a type of restaurant native to Lyon; as founder Jean Pierre Vuillermet explains on the Bar Bouchée site, "For me, a bouchon represents the heart of French cooking — homemade comfort food — and of French spirit — a lively game of 421 or pétanque." 

When it comes to ordering at Bar Bouchée, this place has all the French classics, right down to escargots served in Persillade butter. The menu is limited but thoughtful, an elegant mixture of French dishes like croque monsieur, and Americanized offerings like a domestic lamb burger. The dessert menu features profiteroles and a vanilla crème brulée made with citrus and honey-infused custard.

Oyster Club

The Oyster Club in Mystic, Connecticut is another of Pépin's go-to restaurants for a more formal dinner. You can tell from the Oyster Club's public-facing philosophy that this restaurant isn't messing around when it comes to dining. The kitchen is headed by Executive Chef Renee Touponce, who has been recognized by the James Beard Foundation and was nominated under the category for best chef of the year in the Northeast region and who believes strongly in running a kind kitchen.

At the Oyster Club, offerings change seasonally; there's a huge emphasis here on sourcing local ingredients and supporting the local food community, so the menu is built around whatever is freshest in the region at the time. There's a special outdoor dining area at the Oyster Club that this restaurant calls the Treehouse which offers panoramic views of the Mystic River. The Oyster Club's Treehouse has its own limited menu fashioned after New England shack food, featuring Connecticut lobster rolls and smash burgers, among other more traditional dishes.