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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Panel Discussion Introduces WAC’s New Media Lab

Panel Discussion Introduces WAC’s New Media Lab
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – As a lead-up to the opening of its New Media Lab in an auxiliary space at 42 Main Street, Westport Arts Center hosted a panel discussion Thursday evening in its Riverside Avenue gallery. Titled “Play Time / Games and the Theories of Play”, it pulled together new media specialists, scholars and artists to share views on the rapidly evolving new media landscape. The discussion complements the Center’s current “Toy Stories” exhibit, which features mixed media interpretations of toys and games.

“We’re venturing to capture an audience that we think can only grow,” said WAC’s Executive Director Peter Van Heerden. “New media is a very relevant phenomenon, and it’s changing every day. It’s time to get on the train and see where it goes.”

The evening’s moderator was Carolyn McKenzie, a Boston-based artist and filmmaker. “We’re framing this idea of playtime as a potential space for critical thinking and creative expression,” she said. “Many people think we’re not engaging ourselves productively when we play video games, however, many artists and technologists are doing some interesting things in this space.”

The panel featured three presenters – Steve Lambert, Michael Middleman and Renee Plato Van Heerden.

A conceptual artist and Text & Images Arts faculty member at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Lambert’s concentration was on play as a strategy for otherwise having challenging conversations about such subjects as social issues.

“An example of this focus is a sign at the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln, Massuchusetts,” he said. “It reads ‘Capitalism Works For Me’, with a true/false voting mechanism that keeps a tally.”

Middleman, a software developer and publisher of Aspect, a DVD periodical of contemporary art, spotlighted emergence as an art form. “Emergence is when we set up a series of simple rules and something more interesting or complicated happens,” he said. “There are two kinds of emergence: incidental and unintentional. An example of incidental would be Backgammon. A good illustration of unintentional is the rocket jump in video games. Players discovered that if they pointed the rocket down, it would allow them to jump higher – not an intended action by the developers.”

Van Heerden, Vice President of Digital Distribution for Disney/ESPN Media Networks, zeroed in on digital and online gaming – the business and distribution of it. “Online gaming attracted young male users in the past; now it’s attracting families, driven by Twitter, xBox, Wii and tablets,” she said. “Access drives awareness, which drives audiences, which drives usage then revenue. Revenue is way north of $10 billion annually in online gaming. ‘Call of Duty’ alone generated $2 billion and 1.2 billion hours of gameplay in 2011.”

In addition to the panelists, New Media Lab faculty members Michael Elsden, Bridget Dalen and Evan Neidich were on hand for attendees to meet. The three will lead camp sessions this summer. Elsden, a Westport photographer, heads a photography class July 30 – August 3. Neidich leads an animation session August 6 – 10. Dalen, from Fairfield University’s media department, will teach a film-video art class August 13-17.

For more information about New Media Lab programming, visit or call 203-222-7070.

Bands Rock the Stacks at Library Palooza

Bands Rock the Stacks 
at Library Palooza
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)

Fairfield, CT – Local teen bands turned up the volume Saturday night in one of the more unlikely of places – Fairfield Public Library.

Dubbed “Library Palooza”, the event featured three young bands and a deejay, set up in different areas of the Post Road facility, drawing dozens of fellow teens, fans and parents. Performances were staggered over a two-hour period, to allow spectators to rotate around and hear each gig.

“We developed this as a way to bring a younger audience here and give them an outlet for expression,” said Cindy Barich, Children’s Librarian. Barich’s colleague, Teen Librarian Nicole Scherer, initiated the concept.

The featured bands were Disable Time, Take Zero and Monolith Man, all Fairfield-based, while DJ Daysix manned turntables and led off the program. Daysix has been DJ’ing for three years and producing for four, and has hosted many large parties and even a mini festival at UConn Storrs. He was set up in the library’s New Books / Large Type Books alcove on the main level, and drew a visual bead with a revolving disco globe.

Disable Time, featuring Kevin O’Brien on guitar, Bryan Garbe on drums and Tommy Greenwood on bass guitar followed, vibrating the DVDs and tapes stacked in the Audio/Visual area. About 40 people gathered around them, bopping their heads, tapping their feet and breaking into applause.

“We’ve been playing for four months,” said O’Brien. “Our style is rock, influenced by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tool and Led Zeppelin. It’s funny to rock out in the library – it’s usually the quietest place in town. A lot of our fans are in college, so we hope to make some new friends here.”

O’Brien’s mom, Pam, was in the audience and was thrilled for the group. “This is a fantastic opportunity and neat that the library approached the boys,” she said. “I started Kevin with a guitar/amp package from BJs. He’s come a long way since then.”

A friend of the band, Zhian Saeed, 20, from Bridgeport, thought the site was a great environment for teenagers and “a way to stay out of trouble on a Saturday night.”

Take Zero held the evening’s third slot, with 16-year-old Richard Granger at lead, backed by Michael Orent and Julian Walker on guitars, Charlie LoPresti on bass and Josh Reedy on drums. They performed in the Periodicals room. “The quality of our music and the ambition we have to put on an entertaining show are very important to us,” said Granger.

Monolith Man, comprised of Ben Graney Green and Grayson Jeffries, put an exclamation point on the show. “We’re influenced by Black Sabbath, Earth and Krass,” said Jeffries. “We espouse humanist values by way of honest lyrics. This is our first show. It’s such a close space, we can all connect.”

Green’s mom, Maureen, was also on hand. “They’ve been practicing and writing music for a year,” she said. “This is an opportunity for them to make their debut and win some fans.”

As the groups played, a listener exclaimed, “I don’t think it’s ever been this loud in the library before!”

A larger follow-up performance is planned for July according to Scherer.

Kids Crazy about Feeding Frenzy at CT Audubon

Kids Crazy about Feeding Frenzy at CT Audubon
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)

Fairfield, CT – There’s nothing cuddlier than a fluffy rabbit, though turtles are terrific, too. Kids got a chance to pet – and feed – both along with an assortment of other mammal and reptile residents of the CT Audubon Society Center Friday afternoon.

Titled “Feeding Frenzy”, the program, held at the Center’s 2325 Burr Street property, allows young children to interact with and learn about certain critters. In all, this also included a trio of mice and a guinea pig.

“It’s a fun activity to break up the dullness of winter,” said program coordinator Linnea McHenry, “but also educates kids about what certain reptiles and animals eat, and how to feed them.”

A parent, Shaw Kassab of Fairfield, who accompanied one of about 12 children gathered, said about her reason for attending the program, “The kids love to feed animals, and it’s Friday and fun. We’re part of a mom’s club and look for entertaining activities to do with our children.”

Turtles were housed in plastic tubs set on tabletops and the tubs were either filled with water or not, depending on whether the turtle was land-oriented or water-oriented. A cage contained the mice, which mostly romped around on an exercise wheel. The rabbit, William, and the guinea pig, Henry, were held fast by program helpers Katy Parton and MacKenzie Brennan.

Children moved around the room to each of the displays, taking turns feeding and touching each.

“I like the guinea pig the best,” Fairfielder Isabella Jalet, 8, ultimately decided, “because it’s adorable. I gave him a piece of lettuce. He seemed to like it. I have two dogs at home. It’s my job sometimes to feed them. It’s fun to feed different animals, even the turtles.”   

Mirth in a Box Delivers Out of the Box Gift Ideas

Mirth in a Box Delivers Out of the Box Gift Ideas
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)

Fairfield, CT – Whimsical gift items in custom boxes. That’s Mirth in a Box, a new business recently launched by long-time Fairfielder Gay Gasser.

From her office in the lower level of Fairfield County Real Estate Co. at 200 Mill Plain Road, where she had worked as a realtor for 24 years, Gasser spoke about the start-up that is spreading smiles wherever it goes.

“My husband Paul and I would often get fruit baskets at the holidays,” she said. “People must have thought we needed the fiber and Vitamin C! These were very nice but the fruit flies got most of it – we just couldn’t eat that much fruit. They would come in towers of different sized boxes and I would empty and refill them with silly old S.S. Adams novelty items – fake dog poop, joy buzzers, snake-in-a-can – for my kids. They had tons of fun with them. We did it for years and called it ‘tower of tricks.’”

At a crossroads in her life, in 2007, Gasser decided to go to business school, and signed up for a course at New York University. The class required a business concept.

“I had 35 different business ideas, but had to pick just one,” she said. “I thought, for kicks, of pursuing the ‘tower’ idea and adopted the business name Mirth in a Box. ‘Mirth’ came out of the blue. I developed a structured business plan, and though my teacher and family thought it was great, I did not initially pursue it.”

Periodically, Gasser’s teacher would email her to follow up, which eventually spurred her to form an LLC in 2009. She also brought on two friends – fellow realtor and Fairfielder Jill Clarke, whose past life was project management and print at local marketing agencies, to handle logistics, and Anne Weinrod, as bookkeeper.

“I said to Gay, get me the hell out of real estate,” said Clarke. “She calls me the ‘Cerebellum.’”

The trio started figuring out box types and began to build a website, which was initially unsuccessful. “We put up a modified order site placeholder until we found SiteForm in Chicago, who saved us,” Gasser said. “They built the site we wanted, which launched in August 2011. During that long ramp-up time, we amassed an inventory of close to 500 products and 30 different box types.”

Gasser said they have only just started marketing through social media, magazines and online advertising. They have also developed a Blog –, to which they post amusing, frivolous articles – essentially associated entertainment.

As to the products, Gasser said, “They all amuse in some way, from highbrow to lowbrow and in between. We have the Cadillac of fart machines and Shakespearean insult mugs. Strip poker dice. Great drinker shot glasses. Therapy balls. Marie Antoinette action figures with removable heads. Embarrassing slogan pens. Deli sandwich coasters. Things to make people smile that a piece of fruit or cheese in wax won’t do. And you can build a box, buy individual items or order pre-made boxes.”

People are taking notice. “They have gathered together some really fun and silly items,” said Cristy Jones, of Orange. “They add new stuff all the time, so it’s lots of fun to shop.”

Southporter Ronna Kanaan said, “Gay creates wonderfully humorous gift boxes. Her Baby Box was a big hit with a family friend. Last Christmas, Gay even brought last-minute gift items to my door the same day I ordered them.”

For more information, visit , email Gay at or call 203-292-9290.

WHS Exhibit Focuses on 1950s TV and Film Writers Inspired by Westport

WHS Exhibit Focuses on 1950s TV and Film Writers Inspired by Westport
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – In the 1950s, Westport became a mecca for writers and actors. When they took their talents to Hollywood, the suburban enclave remained an inspiration and found its way into many films and TV series. Now these integrations, writers and artists are being celebrated in a new exhibit at Westport Historical Society.

“Next Stop: Westport” opened with a cocktail reception late Sunday afternoon, entertaining a full house that came to see photo stills, original scripts, props and costumes on display from leading TV and film productions with a common Westport element. An exhibit subset, “The Cold War in Our Backyard”, featured an archival film compilation by Lisa Seidenberg of 1950s programming, news items regarding a NIKE missile site once located in Westport and early space mission activities.

“We’ve done a lot of exhibits on artists but fewer on writers,” said WHS Exhibits Committee member Dorothy Curran. “There was a particular influx of writers to the area in the 1950s due to a variety of factors,” she said. “Dick Berg, who owned The Paint Bucket, an art supply store, and was a freelance TV writer, was instrumental in introducing writers and artists, forging relationships that led to a lot of creative synergy.”

In the late 1950s, TV moved from live to filmed content and writers work moved from New York to California. “However, Westport remained in these writers’ minds and became integrated into TV and film productions,” she said.

Writer Sloan Wilson, for example, set and filmed in Westport “Man in the Gray Flannel Suit.” Writer Max Shulman’s “Rally Round the Flag Boys” was based in part on an actual Civics Committee meeting at Westport Women’s Club in January 1955, wherein members met to discuss a NIKE missile site in town. Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward starred in a film adaptation of Shulman’s book.

Rod Serling moved to Westport around 1952 and won the first three of his six Emmy awards while a resident. Westport became a motif in a Twilight Zone episode he produced titled “A Stop at Willoughby.” Perhaps the most notable Westport connection was made by Bob Weiskopf, a writer on the “I Love Lucy” TV series, who suggested the Ricardos move to town in the show’s final season.

Forty-six still photos, a “Lucy” dress and other memorabilia from the last 14 episodes of “I Love Lucy” are a main feature of the exhibit.

“Lucy and Desi never actually lived in Westport,” said Bob O’Leary, who curated the exhibit with Larry Untermeyer, “but we get the impression from Hollywood that they did. The sets were patterned after a home at 1 Old Hill Road.”

Other main exhibit features were blow-outs of the aforementioned writers’ work, including Serling, Wilson and Shulman. The suit worn by Gregory Peck in “Man with the Gray Flannel Suit” is a highlight.

The overall show title “Next Stop: Westport” was adopted as train commuting was a common theme in the Westport-related storylines.

Westport Historical Society is located at 25 Avery Place, Westport. “Next Stop: Westport” is on display through April 28, 2012.

Calvin United Goulash Dinner a Tasty Tradition

Calvin United Goulash Dinner a Tasty Tradition
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)

Fairfield, CT – Traditions come in many forms, but few are more enjoyed than the kind celebrated at Calvin United Church of Christ Saturday evening.

As they have for the past 15 years or more, parishioners, their friends and members of other congregations gathered together at the church’s Calvin Hall annex for beef and venison goulash. The dinner attracted 150 people who sat in the brightly lit hall around tables, each with a center vase containing a single long-stemmed red rose. The event included a raffle for over a dozen gift items donated by local business – Whole Foods and Mama Mina among them.

The dinner was hosted by Rt. Rev. Bishop Bela Poznan, the church’s pastor, along with assistant pastor Rev. Tibor Kiraly. It essentially serves as a fundraiser to offset operating costs at the 901 Kings Highway East property.

“We’ve always held this dinner the last Saturday in January,” said David Heady, assistant chief elder. “Goulash is a traditional Hungarian stew, a favorite dish. The venison symbolizes a successful fall hunt. Beef is offered as an option for people that do not want to eat deer meat.”

Heady looks forward to the annual event. “We have a great time, with Hungarian music, dancing and friendly people,” he said. “We have other events during the year, though people tend to be attracted to those with food as we offer a home-cooked taste you can’t find everywhere.”

Heady’s roots run deep with Calvin United. “I was babtized in this church, and my mom and dad had their wedding here, so I have a long history.”

Dan Gombos, of Woodbury, had longtime connections with the church as well. “I used to be a parishioner here about 30 years ago, but still enjoy coming down for special occasions like this and seeing some familiar faces,” he said. “It’s good to keep in touch with one’s culture – associations of ethnic groups are diminishing, especially with mixed marriage among younger generations.”

Gombos remarked that Calvin Hall was built in the 1930s, and was very vibrant at the time. “It still comes alive on occasions like this,” he said.

With regard to the venison, Gombos wasn’t aware it was a Hungarian staple until 1996, when he and his parents traveled to Hungary together and saw that it was served all over. “My mother was a very good cook but we never ate venison,” he said. “Bishop Poznan has kept that aspect alive here.”

But it was actually George Tar, a former Hungarian Freedom Fighter and parishioner since 1956, who initiated the idea of the goulash dinner at Calvin United. “We started with venison, then introduced beef to give people a choice. I was a hunter and the first two or three years I supplied at least two deer each year. I told the reverend I was sorry I can’t help anymore.”

Earthplace Winter Program Takes on Spring Feel

Earthplace Winter Program 
Takes on Spring Feel
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – Mild temperatures and sunny skies made a “Warming Up to Winter” program at Earthplace Nature Discovery Center seem somewhat out of place Saturday. Despite the lack of a wintry setting, children and families pressed on with scheduled snow-themed activities while adding in a few Spring-like diversions to round out the day.

“This was intended as a family event for folks to get a break from the cold, though this winter has been pretty mild,” laughed Peter Fraboni, Associate Director and Naturalist at Earthplace, on 10 Woodside Lane.

All-day crafts in the Eco-Lab were scheduled as a focal attraction, while ice creations, a winter hike through the Sanctuary and campfire with cocoa and S’Mores was also planned.

One craft activity was creating makeshift Inuit snow goggles using yarn, paper and crayons. “In polar climates, there are wide expanses of snow and when the sun shines down on the surface, it can cause snow blindness,” explained Andrea Zullo, one of 15 junior staff volunteers onsite helping out with the program. “The Inuits use the goggles to reduce the glare – football players do the same thing with greasepaint under their eyes.”

Another craft activity involved drawing winter scenes with colored chalk on construction paper and adding mini paper snowflake accents. While her daughter Samantha Henske, 4, worked on her drawing, Westporter Stacey Henske commented, “This seemed like a fun thing to do on an ultimately not-real winter day, and we like to support Earthplace – it’s such a great center for the community. And it wasn’t a good ski weekend anyhow.”

At another table, junior staffer Erin Vallerie painted a silver snowflake on Oona Lundgren-Lahav’s cheek. Vallerie said she has been volunteering for the past two years and goes to the facility every Saturday October through June. “It’s fun to do different programs, learn about the animals and help other kids.”

Outside at a picnic table, eight-year-olds Spencer Henske and Drew Schwartzman were making ice sculptures, though the sun’s warmth was making it difficult for them to keep their respective structures intact. “I don’t think the Center expected it to be so warm today,” said Spencer’s dad, Tom. A fan of Earthplace, he added, “A program and center like this is the whole reason we moved to a town like Westport. It’s real and a relief from sports and video games. The kids are making great memories today.”

When it came time for the hike along Swamp Loop, led by Program Coordinator Becky Newman, dozens of families gathered. As the group set off, Newman remarked, “This is not so much a warm up to winter day as a warm up to spring. I’ve got the winter blues ‘cause I’m missing the snow. I want to take off my sweatshirt.”

Newman said bees have been seen flying around and bringing back pollen, indicating that there were flowers in bloom. Seed pods littered the trail, too, indicating growth. And all along there were sightings of deer tracks, red-bellied woodpeckers, white-throated sparrows and tufted tit mice – busy and scurrying to and fro – that indicated Spring was not far off.

The most telling sign though was when hikers returned to the main grounds -- they raced not to the campfire that had been started, but to swings, a slide and a visiting hot dog vendor – certainly not your usual winter attractions.

New Arts Center Exhibit “Toys” with the Imagination

 New Arts Center Exhibit “Toys” with the Imagination
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – Toys are often among our earliest memories. They inspire wonder, drive imagination and even help develop skills. Now a new exhibit of toy-related mixed media artwork is generating the same sort of energy at Westport Arts Center.

“Toy Stories”, curated by Helen Klisser During, opened with a cocktail reception Friday evening at the 51 Riverside Avenue Center and will be shown through March 18. It features the work of 33 artists, each of whom worked with a toy theme.

“With all the exhibitions, we look to tell a story,” said During. “And like all the exhibitions, the first day is the wrapped present. It really takes the duration of the exhibition and people’s reactions and takeaways to get a full picture.”

Focusing on the subject matter, During said, “Toys are age-old, representing innocence and play. They can be basic or very complex. They can trigger deep psychological memories but also imagination.”

A wide range of media is represented in the exhibit – from photos and sculpture to paintings and video. “There’s something for everyone – play, fantasy, childhood, memory, politics,” added During.

Standout pieces include Christian Faur’s “Melodie”, a portrait constructed using the tips of 10,000 hand-cast encaustic crayons. Margaret Roleke’s “Barbie in the War Zone” is comprised of dozens of plastic toy soldiers affixed to a fabric background. Nina Bentley’s “Born in the NRA” is a sculpture of three cherubs holding machine guns. Chris Dimmos’ “Sudden Death Typewriter Table Hockey” is constructed from two 1963 Olivetti typewriters.

The exhibit certainly had an effect on viewers, many of whom were inspired to have a go playing each other at a full-size foosball table, purposely set up for interaction. And while experiencing this sort of childish fun, patrons recalled favorite childhood toys.

“Some of my favorite toys as a kid were a Lionel train set and a water rocket,” said Westport First Selectman Gordon Joseloff. “I haven’t thought about those in years.”

WAC Board Chairman Lance Lundberg remembered his Erector set. “You could put to work a lot of ingenuity,” he said. “I like to assemble things. It seems there were more mechanically oriented toys when I was a kid than now. The exhibit here goes beyond to show how broad the definition of play and toys is.”

Joe Pucci, Principal at Bernstein Global Wealth Management, the overall exhibit sponsor, said, “I was a big G.I. Joe fan and, of course, had Matchbox cars. It’s fun to have these pieces of art evoke certain memories.”

Perhaps none were more inspired than the featured artists themselves, like Westporter Miggs Burroughs, with two lenticular pieces in the exhibit titled “Cracker Jackie Winkie”. “I enjoyed Tinker Toys as a kid,” he said. “I liked Legos when my kids got into them, too, and toy guns, inspired by Roy Rogers and Hopalong Cassidy. This show is a great opportunity to pretend to be a kid again.”

Kids Get Cabin Fever… and Like It

Kids Get Cabin Fever… and Like It
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)

Fairfield, CT – When planners at Fairfield Woods Branch Library developed their “Cabin Fever” program, they expected winter would be in full swing and some fun diversions would help relieve the winter blahs. Thus far, though, this winter has been tame and mild -- yet kids still turned up to enjoy activities.

Held late Friday afternoon in the Down Under Teen Space at the 1147 Fairfield Woods Road facility, the program took a cue from Author Jeff Kinney’s “Cabin Fever”, the latest installment in his very popular “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” book series. Geared to kids in grades 4 to 6, program fun included activities one might do indoors on a harsh winter day.

“We have activity stations related to food, exercise and brain stimulation,” said Teen Librarian Jennifer Laseman who, along with Diane Conroy of the Children’s Department, coordinated the hour-long event. “Specifically, we’re making mini edible log cabins, holding a snow clothes relay race and doing book-based Mad Libs.”

Participants, about 15 in all, were split up into three groups and each group took a turn at one of the three activity stations.

In one area, kids sat at round tables with a printed passage from “Cabin Fever” and pulled words from each other to fill in blanks Mad Lib-style. One Mad Libber, Dylan Shaw, 9, of Fairfield, said he had Kinney’s book at home. “The main character Greg Heffley is snowed in with his little brother Manny and they find stuff to do to pass the time,” said Shaw.

Another Mad Libber, Jessie Rutkauskas, 9, said, “It’s kind of fun to have a page to work with from a favorite book.”

At one long table, kids sat making – and eating – log cabins using pretzels, graham crackers and heaps of frosting. “This is yummy to make these,” said Nadia Roshenets, 10, as she completed her cabin. It didn’t last long, succumbing to eager fingers picking at frosting.

The largest part of the room was dedicated to the relay race. At one end, two children at a time put on layer after layer of snow clothes, balanced a Styrofoam snow ball on a long-handled spoon and raced down and around a stool, trying to beat each other back to the start and remove those same layers.

“That was kind of hard and sweaty because of all the different layers, big and small,” said relay racer Andrew DelAngelo, 9, who competed against Finnian Mobley, 11. “I think I had 15 pieces of clothing on.”

“Cabin Fever” is among a number of programs the Library offers for the age set. Others include a chess club on Saturdays, mock game show activities and a science series, according to Nancy Coriaty, Head Librarian. “The Library is no longer just a building that holds books. We’ve become a community commons,” she said.

Fairfield’s MESA the New Jewel in Palomino’s Crown

Fairfield’s MESA the New Jewel in Palomino’s Crown:
Restaurant serves modern Mexican in vibrant setting
By Mike Lauterborn

Fairfield, CT – Chef Rafael Palomino has been on a roll, expanding a restaurant empire that now includes Fairfield’s MESA, labeled a “Modern Mexican and Urban Taqueria”. The eatery, which opened in October at 2320 Black Rock Turnpike, has been growing in popularity with a local crowd that enjoys tasty Mexican cuisine in a relaxed vibrant atmosphere.

Palomino, who now resides in Bedford, NY, was born in Bogota, Colombia and raised in Queens, NY. He opened his first restaurant in 1998 – Sonora in Manhattan. Its success led to the opening of Sonora in Port Chester, NY, in 2000, followed by Pacifico in Port Chester. Several more restaurants have followed, including Connecticut locales like Greenwich Tavern in Greenwich and Pacifico in New Haven.

“For the market, I thought it would be ideal to open a Mexican restaurant,” said Palomino, about the MESA concept. “Mexican is underrepresented in the area.”

Palomino modeled MESA on Rosa Mexicana in New York, from which he also hired the chef. “Mesa” is the Spanish word for table, and the restaurant really knows how to set one. Tables are splashed with yellow and pumpkin-colored cloth napkins, wall d├ęcor features colorful masks and artwork – including a painting illustrating the Day of the Dead holiday – and cacti in mini pots line window ledges.

From May 1 to October 1, a patio will provide an added space to enjoy, while a large bar area, accommodating 45, is an inviting haven in the colder months.

“Family friendly, Miami oriented,” is how the chef described the atmosphere, so it’s no surprise that families and young professionals are the majority of patrons.

While the margaritas are popular, tequilas are numerous and there are a number of Mexican beers like Dos Equis, Negro Modelo and Tecate on tap, it’s the satisfying food that primarily attracts customers.

For Starters, which are priced around $9, chunky guacamole and chips is a hit, as well as quesadillas and empanadas. Tacos, at $9.95, include beer-battered “Baja” fish, Barbacoa with beef braised in chili, and Cochinita Pibil, which is pork marinated in achiote.

Sides include charro beans and grilled corn. Among soups, black bean and tortilla is available. Burritos, at $12.95 each, include beef, chicken and vegetarian.

Entrees range from $14.95 to $22.95, and are highlighted by the Fajita en Molcajete (steak, chicken or pork served in a volcanic rock dish with a cactus petal, scallions, Chihuahua cheese and red salsa), Carne Arrachera (grilled skirt steak marinated in epazote) and Costilla Bandera (short ribs braised in Negro Modelo beer).

A meal can be capped with vanilla flan coated with caramel sauce or churos (sweet fried dough with chocolate and raspberry sauces).

While established as a restaurant, MESA jockeys for attention as an entertainment destination as well. There is a happy hour every weekday, Thursday night is Ladies Night, a DJ spins tunes every Friday 9:30 to close and a Mexican brunch is offered every Sunday.

Trot on over to MESA, where there’s something for everyone in a relaxing setting.

MESA is located at 2320 Black Rock Turnpike, Fairfield, CT 06825. PH: 203-372-2909. Online:
Open 7 days/week, Sunday to Wed. 11:30am-10pm; Thursday to Sat. 11:30am-11pm; late menu at the bar Fri. & Sat. 11pm – 1am.