Archive

Archive for the ‘CT Bars and Restaurants’ Category

Why You Don’t Want To Miss Chowdafest 2019

September 25, 2019 Leave a comment

Really, why would you want to miss the Chowdafest 2019? If you like chowder or any form of nice, hearty soup – and note, it can be vegetarian soup as well – you can’t have an excuse good enough to miss the 12th annual Chowdafest festivities on October 6, 2019, taking place at the usual place – Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, Connecticut, from 11 AM until 3 PM.

I attended Chowdafest for the past 5 years, and when I’m suggesting that attending the event is well worth the effort of rearranging your Sunday around it, I’m simply speaking from experience (take a look my reports from past Chowdafests here). Chowdafest is a lot of fun – it is not only soups and chowders but lots of samples of cheese, bread, sauces, juices, tea, coffee, ice cream, and more. It is literally fun for all ages (yes, you want to teach your kids what tasty food is from an early age).

Chowdafest 2017

One of my very favorite creative chowders – and a winning one!

At the Chowdafest 2019, 30 restaurants will be competing for the titles in the 4 categories – New England Clam Chowder, Creative Chowder, Soup/Bisque, and Vegetarian. Half of the 30 competing restaurants will be participating for the first time, and I’m definitely looking forward to trying new soups such as Mexican style Shrimp Posole Soup, or Buffalo Chicken Noodle Soup. But probably the main question is – will Pike’s Place out of Seattle, Washington, win the classic New England Clam Chowder category for the 5th year in the row? Well, you will need to be there to see it and be a part of it.

I hope I solved for you the problem “What to do on Sunday, October 6th”. See you at the Chowdafest!

 

June – What a Month, in Wines and Pictures – Part 2

July 11, 2019 6 comments

Warning – lots of pictures will be following. And you can find Part 1 post here.

My birthday celebration usually means “party”. This year we decided with my wife instead of cooking and cleaning for 2 days to spend time by ourselves and go to stay somewhere fun. We managed to pack a lot in mere 3 days.

As a collector of experiences, I’m trying to fill my Wines of 50 States map, so as we were driving to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, I decided to visit local New Hampshire winery. Fulchino Vineyard was almost on the way, so this was our first stop (the details are coming in the separate post). Then we arrived at our intended destination for the evening – Wentworth by the Sea, a magnificent property hosting the Marriott hotel.

Wentworth by the Sea

When I drove by that hotel 5–6 years ago, I still remember my admiration of a beautiful structure. It got stuck in my mind and I was waiting for an opportunity to visit – I’m glad it worked out. Beautiful building, beautiful views, beautiful property – we really enjoyed our short stay. And I will let you decide whether this place is beautiful or not take a look at a few pictures below.

While Marriott was a great property in a magnificent setting, our next stop greatly exceeded my expectations. A few months ago I resubscribed to the Yankee magazine – it is a print magazine which is squarely focused on the happenings in New England part of the US, from Connecticut to Maine. As my “bonus”, I got a tiny leaflet called “Best of New England”, where one of the places that caught my attention was Inn at Woodstock Hill in Woodstock, Connecticut, mentioned as “Best Inn for privacy”. The Inn also conveniently hosted a restaurant with raving reviews, which sounded perfect for the birthday dinner.

When we arrived at the Inn, we found out that our room was located not at the main building, but at the adjacent cottage, which has a total of three rooms, but we would be the only people to stay there. So we literally had a whole house to ourselves, with the deck and the view of the fields. In addition to the fields which looked perfectly untouched, we had a pleasure of walking around a small garden, where blueberries, black (I’m assuming) currant and gooseberries were all growing, and a small field of poppies was yet another source of great pleasure, as we don’t spend much time around those gentle flowers.

I brought with me a couple of bottles to celebrate the occasion. One of those bottles was 2015 Field Recordings Foeder Old Portero Vineyard Arroyo Grande Valley (14.9% ABV, 50% Syrah, 35% Zinfandel, 15% Mourvèvedre, aged for 12 months in 50 barrel American Oak Foeder). While I generally treat Field Recordings wines as every day delicious wines, good for any day which name ends with a “y”, some of those wines are a bit more special, as they are not produced regularly, and when produced, the quantities are minuscule. This was one of such wines, which I had for a couple of years, but then decided that birthday is a good enough occasion to have it open. This happened to be a mistake, as wine could definitely enjoy another 10 years to fully evolve, but even then, it was a delicious, fresh, acidity-forward concoction of sour cherries and blackberries, with well-defined structure and dense finish.

Our dinner didn’t disappoint either. First, the folks at the restaurant were very kind and let us bring our own wine despite having the full wine list (the corking charge was $15, which was totally fine, of course). The wine which I brought, 1998 Kirkland Ranch Merlot Napa Valley (14% ABV) was on my “to open” list for a while. I got a few of these bottles from Benchmark Wine and was really curious to see how the wine would fare, but the bottle went unopened on a few prior occasions. This time the cork was finally pulled out, and the wine delivered lots of pleasure. It started its journey to the peak but was still far from it – fresh, good acidity, a complex bouquet of roasted meat, coffee, dark fruit (cherries and plums), good balance – very enjoyable. The wine continued to evolve throughout the evening, giving me good hope for a few more bottles I have left.

The food at the Inn at Woodstock Hill (the restaurant doesn’t have its own name, and because of it you can’t find it on Yelp, but it has all information on the web) was delicious. We started with an Escargot, which was enjoyed to the last morsel, and Artichoke Bottoms, which were unique and delicious. Then I had The Wedge salad, which is one of my perennial favorites – you can get any salad off the menu complementary to your main dish, a very nice feature – and The Wedge again was delicious. My main dish was Pork Shank, which was… well, I don’t know if I should declare myself a pork shank connoisseur, but I’ve been through the Czech Republic, where pork is king – this dish was absolutely on par with the best versions I tasted in Prague. Yep, it was a delicious standout or it was standoutously delicious (yeah, I know it is not a word – but this is my blog :)), but I’m sure you got my point.

The morning with that fields view was just perfect. I couldn’t stop myself from taking more and more pictures…

We made two more stops before finally getting home. First, we discovered the Rosewood Cottage, a pink-colored summer residence of Henry and Lucy Bowen, built in 1846, also sporting beautiful garden delimited by 150+ years old shrubs. The Cottage, which now belongs to the Historic New England organization, hosted 4 of the US Presidents visiting Bowen family on various occasions. Over these years, the house was painted 13 times in various shades of pink, has many of the original wall coverings (wallpaper) called lincrusta, and stained glass windows, some of those original since the house was built. It also houses the oldest in the United States indoor bowling alley! Does it worth a special trip? Yep, it does.

 

Our last stop was at the Taylor Brooke Winery, also located in Woodstock. Compared to my previous Connecticut wineries experience, this was definitely a better one – but more about it later.

Here you go, my friends – one memorable June of 2019. How was yours? Cheers!

Restaurant Files: Comfort and Classy Italian – Bar Zepoli In Stamford, Connecticut

February 6, 2019 2 comments

Bar Zepoli table settingComfort Italian food? Oh, yes! Italian immigrants played a big role in creating the USA as we know it, so it is not surprising that Italian food is one of the most popular here – and yes, more often than not, it falls in the category of “comfort food”. For example, pasta and meatballs – isn’t that just a different way to spell “comfort”? Or how about pizza? Or anything with mozzarella, the word which non-Italians can’t even pronounce in a tasty way (it is “mozzarell” to you!), wouldn’t copious amounts of mozzarella make any dish a comforting one?

Can the food be comforting and classy at the same time? Why not? There are many ways to add a classy element to the comfort dish – presentation might be the simplest one. Or you can just add a tasty cocktail or a glass of wine to the same dish, and all of a sudden you have the next level of experience.

Bar Zepoli has one of the most central restaurant locations in Stamford, right in a middle of the “restaurant district” if Stamford would ever designate one. The restaurant is technically located inside the Marriott Courtyard hotel, but it is easily accessible right from the street without the need to navigate the maze of the hotel and its self-focused guests. Once you walk inside, dark paneling and dim lighting quickly get to you to quickly install “yep, this is comfortable” mood.

As usual, we started with the cocktails. The Pear Bears Margarita (Reposado Tequila, Pear Syrup, Honey Triple Sec, Cinnamon sugar rim) was good, maybe a bit too sweet for my taste. The KGB Will Wait For No One (Apple-infused Vodka, Muddled Cranberries, Ginger Simple Syrup, Ginger Beer and Cider) – I just had to try the wine with such a name. It was again a bit on a sweeter side, but quite tasty nevertheless. The wine list is small but offers a good variety, including some of the “local” selection, such as few wines from the Finger Lakes region.

We started our dinner with a set of appetizers.

Eggplant Rollatini (eggplant cutlets, ricotta, Grana Padano) had excellent seasoning, perfectly executed dish. Zepoli Chicken Wings (classic buffalo, roasted garlic, Parmesan) were delicious, done at the level when you want to lick your fingers after you eat one; let’s not forget an excellent, classy presentation. Marinated Beef Tips (24 hour marinated beef tips, smoked pepper aioli) were literally surprising, as cooking the beef to such a level of tenderness is not easy – excellent, tender beef, melt in your mouth dish.

Our next comfort group included Pizza and Pasta. Margherita (San Marzano tomatoes, basil, fresh mozzarella) was very good; Roasted Butternut Squash (Sage, red onion, kale, mozzarella) not only was tasty, but it was very unique – when was the last time you had a pizza with roasted eggplant on it? This was definitely a first for me. Zepoli Ravioli (whipped ricotta filling, wild mushroom cream, topped with arugula and crispy pancetta) were excellent, rich and generous; Cavatelli (broccoli rabe, sausage, roasted fennel, marinara) was also tasty, and one of my favorites – pasta with sausage is one of my favorite ways to eat pasta.

We closed the main part of our dinner with two of the entrées. Herb Roasted Chicken (free range chicken, red bliss potatoes, baby carrots, peas, pan jus) – spectacular. Everyone who thinks it is easy to prepare a delicious, juicy, not dry and boring chicken is dead wrong – delicious, tasty chicken requires great skill. Bar Zepoli perfectly delivered the deliciousness in one composed dish. If this is not the comfort food, I don’t know what is. When it comes to Braised Short Rib (parsnip puree, sautéed kale, roasted potatoes), short rib might be my favorite cut and preparation of beef – this dish was outstanding, fork tender and flavorful.

Sugar is definitely an element of the comfort. Dessert, anyone? Raspberry Tart (fresh strawberry, caramel sauce, raspberry coulis) was very good, not too sweet. Chocolate Polenta Tart (vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, fresh raspberry) was definitely unique – never had polenta-based sweet dishes before. Cheese Cake Crème Brulee (creamy cheesecake, caramelized sugar, marinated strawberry, whipped cream) was again another unique cake, combining two of the classics – Cheesecake and Creme Brulee.  last but not least, Cinnamon Zeppole (Italian donuts tossed in cinnamon sugar, with side raspberry sauce) was a perfect finishing note to an excellent dinner.

What are your favorite comfort Italian dishes? Cheers!

Japanese Cuisine Beyond Sushi – Experience Fresh Energy of Kashi in Stamford, Connecticut

December 11, 2018 1 comment

What is the first association you get when you hear “Japanese restaurant” or “Japanese cuisine”? If you say “Sushi”, this, of course, would be a good answer, but keep in mind that if you will visit Japan, sushi will not be the first food option you will find – ramen, chicken, pork, or veggies would be more readily available (and cheaper).

I don’t know if you are contemplating a visit to Japan (you really should!), but even if you are, this post will not help you to get ready. Instead, I would like to tell you where you can experience Japanese cuisine well beyond sushi – how about Kashi Japanese restaurant, located in downtown Stamford, Connecticut?

Kashi Stamford

Kashi means “fresh energy” in Japanese, and this is what you get at the restaurant. Beyond the eclectic decor, there is creative, off the beaten pass Japanese cuisine, offering literally the “tapas”-style dining with lots of unique dishes. As usual, we need to talk about drinks first before we will get to the food.

As expected in the Japanese restaurant, the wine list includes a good selection of sake. Truth be told, I’m not really a sake connoisseur, but one of my favorites is sparkling sake. The restaurant had a few to offer – Ozeki Hana Awaka Sparkling Sake, and Ozeki Hana Fuga Peach Sparkling Sake. Both were tasty, with my slight preference toward Ozeki Hana Awaka as it was more complex. I also had Cucumber Saketini, which was an ultra-dry cocktail, and then we shared Scorpion Bowl (Vodka, Gin, Rum, Fresh Fruit) – great presentation for sure, and most reminiscent of sangria taste-wise. The restaurant also offers a number of wines, but I decided to stay with the cocktails and sparkling sake for the rest of the evening.

I hope you are not ultra-hungry, as there is a lot of food coming. We had an opportunity to experience a wide range of dishes, many of them coming from the Seasonal Special Menu. We started with Grilled Fresh Octopus (seasonal vegetable, piquillo pepper in yuzu kosho pepper sauce), which was well cooked (always appreciated with the octopus) and very tasty. Kashi Tacos (Tacos with pork, cajun, shrimp, corn, onion, avocado, cilantro & wasabi sour cream) was a great play on a classic Mexican dish, offering a nice amount of heat. Bone Marrow (Teriyaki glazed roasted bone marrow, salt, garlic, shichimi powder, ikura teriyaki sauce) is not something you get to eat every day. The dish was definitely interesting and unusual. I like the way it was served with the toast. If you like roasted bone marrow, this one was expertly done.

We continued with the Double Wrap (Soy paper wrap with spicy lobster salad, shitake, salmon, mango chili; naruto cucumber wrap with spicy tuna, yuzu Squirt), a sushi-like dish without any rice – great texture, excellent dish, very nice kick of spices. This was followed by the Grilled Lobster (grilled seaweed, cheese lobster, chili sauce) – expertly cooked lobster, very creative dish, then Seared Yellowtail (seared yellowtail, cucumber, celery, tuiles, yuzu, kosho gel and yuzu dashi sauce), which was nicely done, and then a surprising Avocado Tempura (spicy tuna topping, yuzu dressing) – I know avocado is everywhere nowadays, and I love it, but this was my first experience with avocado tempura, definitely unusual.

Thai Basil Chicken (wok sauteed chicken, mushrooms, onion, carrot, fresh basil, chili paste, sweet basil sauce) was homey and tasty, a “comfort food” type. It was followed with two of the Kashi Signature Rolls – Volcano (tuna, salmon, yellowtail, cucumber, topped with tuna, salmon, served with sriracha & spicy kabayaki aioli) – nice and spicy, and Deep Blue Sea (Blue crab, avocado, shrimp, mango, topped with seared spicy tuna and spicy eel sauce) – delicious fresh fish undertones. To complete the sushi experience, we had Sushi and Sashimi for 1 (5 pcs sushi, 15 pcs sashimi 7 spicy tuna roll) – very good.

We finished our main course with Blue Crab Fried Rice, which was delicious (another comfort food), and Shrimp and Angus Steak Hibachi – who doesn’t like well-cooked hibachi offerings?

Not every Japanese restaurant offers a dessert menu, but Kashi does. We had an opportunity to taste Yuzu Cheesecake, which was an interesting rendition of the classic dish, as well as Green (Macha) Tiramisu, which was very well executed, with excellent texture and flavor combination.

Here you go, my friends – if you want to experience Japanese cuisine beyond sushi, Kashi might be just the place. And if you be visiting, drop me a line – I will be happy to join you. Cheers!

For The Love of Chowder – 2018 Edition

October 30, 2018 1 comment

Blogging is all (mostly?) about traditions, isn’t it? I’m talking about topics, things or experiences we like to write about. If you blog for a while, you have a number of posts which can be called traditional, as they cover the same subject – yearly, monthly, weekly, daily? (ouch!). For sure it works this way for me – there is a number of experiences I like to talk about on the regular basis – as those experiences take place.

One of such experiences is the Chowdafest, a fall event dedicated to the humble (or not) soup, generally known as Chowder – if you want a bit of an education on what the chowder is, I can offer you the post I wrote after attending my first Chowdafest back in 2015, which provides a few details on the different types of chowders.

The 2018 event took place at around the usual time (Sunday, September 30th), at the usual place – Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, Connecticut. Even the weather was the usual – sunny, bright and not too cold. However, the summer and early fall in New England saw an incredible amount of rain, so the grounds were unusually wet and people had to be careful walking around.

As we entered, all visitors were given a ballot and a pencil, to mark down their favorites. The back side of the ballot had a map of the event, as in addition to all the competitors, there were lots of vendors (sponsors) offering other tasty treats, so one didn’t have to survive on the chowder alone. Cabot Creamery, Harney & Sons Tea, Ocean Spray, Stop & Shop, Polar Beverages, and many others were serving Mexican and Italian food, ice cream, juice, tea, coffee, sparkling water – you had a lot of fun food options beyond chowder.

 

Same as last year, there were 5 categories were participants were competing for the title of “the best” – Classic New England Clam Chowder, Traditional Chowders (Manhattan/Rhode Island’s), Creative Chowder, Soup/Bisque, and Vegetarian. The participating restaurants this year represented states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

Obviously, I’m not going to give you much of a detailed report here about all the chowders I tasted, so here are my overall impressions:

  • For the 4 years that I’m attending the event, I’m happy with the overall quality and variety. It is not boring and once I get out of the food coma at the end of the event, I’m instantly happy to think about next year’s Chowdafest.
  • The overall level of booth decorations in 2018 was less than in the previous years. Many places would just have a serving station and maybe a recipe. It takes away a bit from the “Fest[ival]” experience. Hopefully, in 2019, we can go back to more festive booth settings.
  • A few vendors run out of chowder/soup in the middle of the day. I saw one just pack up and leave, and another one saying “more soup is coming in 30 minutes” – not good for visitors, and really a bad plan for competitors – you can’t win by serving only half of the visitors.
  • I’m still puzzled how Pike’s Place from Seattle always wins the New England Clam Chowder category – I think it is a combination of service – they carry their chowder around so people don’t have to wait in line, and intimidation – they display all their trophies from the past years, and people automatically think “ahh, they must be the best with so many awards” (works the same way as multiple medal pictures on the wine bottles). To me, their chowder is not bad, but for instance, I preferred the one from 250 Market far more than Pike’s Place. Oh well, the people have spoken…
  • I’m happy that at least in one category – Vegetarian – my top choice matched the people’s choice. Truffle Mushroom Bisque from Old Post Tavern in Fairfield, CT was delicious, and it won the category.
  • I’m also happy that Drunkin Pumpkin Seafood Chowder from Our House Bistro in Winooski VT took the top spot in Creative Chowder category – their soups are always good, the presentation is excellent with lots of “self-serve” condiments, and the booth is always a pleasure to look at.
  • For the first time, I saw the competition trophies. At first, I didn’t understand the collection of the old ship memorabilia in a middle of the field – until the later when I saw the plaques and realized that those were actually the trophies.
  • Believe it or not, but in the Chowdafest 2018, my favorite soup was not really a chowder at all – it was a Curried Chicken Chowder from Hale & Hearty from Boston, MA – the only soup I gave the top 10.5 rating.

Here is the list of winners in the 5 categories we mentioned before (Classic New England Clam Chowder, Traditional Chowders (Manhattan/Rhode Island’s), Creative Chowder, Soup/Bisque, Vegetarian). For the more detailed list, which includes 2nd and 3rd place winners, please use this link.

Pike Place Chowder
Our House Bistro
Geronimo Tequila Bar & Southwest Grill
Dunville’s
Old Post Tavern

As usual, let me leave you with a copy of my ballot – just to prove that I take the Chowdafest competition very seriously 🙂

You can already mark your calendars for Sunday, October 6th, 2019 – the 12th annual Chowdafest competition.

Before we part, you might want to check out Chowdafest’s sister event – the Great Mac & Chili Challenge, taking place this Sunday, November 4th at 11 AM at the same Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, CT. The weather should be great! Cheers!

Restaurant Files: Smoke, Fire, and Spice, and Everything is Nice – at Bobby Q’s in Norwalk, Connecticut

September 24, 2018 6 comments

Bobby Qs Cue & CoI love food – well, of course, this is not a secret. Let me refine that. I love good food. That would be a much more precise statement (duh, who doesn’t). Same as with the wine, where I can never name my favorite grape or wine, I can’t tell you what my favorite food is. Except for that one type – good food. Good food is what I love – will it be sushi, steak or vegan burger – as long as the food is tasty, it will be my favorite food of the moment.

And then there is barbecue. Is that my most favorite food? No, it is not – this is why I gave you the opening statement. But, nevertheless, I really appreciate good, tasty, smoky, spicy food. The barbecue (or BBQ, as it is often abbreviated) might be the only authentic American cuisine – okay, the Southern cuisine is, but BBQ is indelibly a quintessence of Southern cooking – whether it is Texas, Tennessee, Kansas, Georgia, or Alabama – the BBQ there is “it”. And on the East Coast of the US? Well, BBQ is popular, and many restaurants say that they do it – only to fail the actual taste test. This is why the visit to Bobby Q’s in Norwalk, Connecticut was so vibrantly refreshing.

Bobby Q’s restaurant had been around since 2004 – however, located in Westport, just a next town over from Norwalk. It won numerous accolades of “Best in Connecticut”, “Best in Fairfield County” and many other “bests”. But in 2016, the building it was in was sold, and the restaurant had to find a new home – which it did at the Waypointe District in downtown Norwalk, where it opened its doors last year.

Before we talk about food (have you had dinner yet? take a moment, go eat something first, will you?), let’s talk about the drinks. The drinks menu is heavily focused on the whiskey and bourbon (that’s what BBQ is typically calling for, right?), but also includes a good number of cocktails. I had Smoking Gun (Bulleit Bourbon, maple, black walnut & creole bitters, hickory smoke), which was tasty and very potent, first. Then I continued with Bramble On (Buffalo Trace, maple, lemon, blackberries, lime & rosemary) which was not too sweet (my pet peeve – don’t like sweet cocktails) and very refreshing. There is a limited number of wines on the drinks menu, but we decided to stay only with the cocktails for the evening.

Bobby Qs Austin City Limits Flatbread

We started our dinner with Spicy Brisket Hand Pie (Guacamole, chipotle aioli, empanada crust) – very tasty, and then Bobby Q’s Classic BBQ Nachos (crispy tortilla chips, pulled pork from the pit, jack and cheddar cheese), served in the ‘Q It Up Version (pit beans, sour cream, guacamole, house pickled jalapeño) – I love nachos, and I love loaded nachos even more – so this was Super-Loaded nachos dish, absolutely delicious (healthy? of course not!), with perfectly cooked pulled pork, perfectly flavorful, with pickled jalapeños, just yum. Wood-kissed Wings (Korean BBQ, Nashville Hot) were outstanding. Nashville Hot were my favorite, as I really appreciate the dry rub on the wings, and these were superb, with a good, but the very controlled amount of heat, and a perfect amount of smoke. Austin City Limits Flatbread (brisket, roasted poblano peppers, caramelized onion, gruyere, Big Rack Bold BBQ drizzle) finished our introductory course and was also very tasty.

Next, we had a Vegan/Vegetarian BBQ Sandwich (Jackfruit, coleslaw). I heard that cooked Jackfruit has the texture similar to the pulled pork – this was definitely the case here. Without cole slaw, this sandwich can be served as vegan, and the addition of coleslaw makes it vegetarian. Cue’bano Sandwich (pulled pork, smoked turkey, Swiss, pickles, caramelized onions with Carolina Mustard sauce, grilled sourdough) and The Colonel Sandwich (Fried chicken, pickles, jalapeno-bleu cheese slaw, hot sauce, bun) were both excellent. The Cue & Co Burger (Pimento cheese, tomato, arugula, bacon jam) was served with Fire Fries (Ghost Chili dust, Basin’ BBQ, jalapenos, habanero, chipotle mayo), which was one of my favorite dishes of the evening. The Fire Fries looked quite innocent, and at first, they even tasted like that. A few seconds later, the fire started – these fries are not called Fire Fries for nothing – 15 seconds later, the whole mouth was on fire, albeit delicious.

And now, the time has come for the main attraction – BBQ platter (house pickles), which included Beef Brisket, Beef Burnt Ends, St. Louis Ribs, Texas Pork Sausage, served with the sides of Mac & Cheese (sharp cheddar, smoked gouda), Yankee Corn Bread (maple bacon butter) and Pit Beans (molasses, burnt ends, finished in the pit) – I don’t even know where to start. Yankee corn bread – superb, Pit Beans – outstanding, with a delicious amount of smoke and excellent addition of meat. Brisket was tender, juicy and perfectly smoked. The ribs had dry rub and were excellent, burnt ends – in general, one of my all-time favorite BBQ foods, and this rendition didn’t disappoint at all; sausage was flavorful and had the perfect texture. Simply a great smoked food extravaganza.

Bobby Qs Bacon-laced Ice Cream Sandwich

Do you think we left without having a dessert? Think again! The Apple Cider Doughnuts (Vanilla Anglaise) were melting in your mouth, Banana Pudding (Ripe bananas, Nilla Wafers, melted butterscotch drizzle) was sublime, and Bacon-laced Ice Cream Sandwich (soft baked chocolate chip cookies, vanilla ice cream, bits of bacon)… Ice cream with the bacon. Do I need to say anything else? Yep, it was as good as you think it should be, and maybe even slightly better.

Here you are, my friends – an account of smoky, spicy and even fiery experience. If barbecue is your crave, Bobby Q’s is well worth a special trip – and you can thank me later. Cheers!

 

Restaurant Files: Flinders Lane – Visiting Australia in Stamford

August 5, 2018 7 comments

Flinders lane Stamford DecorFor those of us who like to travel, why do we like it so much? More often than not, the travel itself is not fun – the stress of the airport, cramped planes with the seats getting narrower by the minute, airline food – it leaves lots to be desired. But once we arrive, it is the experience that makes all those travel troubles worth it – the culture, the people, food, wine – this is what we are looking for.

Visiting Australia is squarely on my “bucket list” – I’m sure one day I will be able to experience the culture. I had been drinking Australian wines for a long time – this doesn’t replace visiting the winery, but it is as close as it can get. When it comes to food, the only place in the USA which can be associated with Australia is a chain of Outback Steakhouse restaurants – they constantly run the ads on the TV, with supposedly an Australian-accented narration – this is as much of the Australian experience as you can get there (the voice in the ad might be the most authentic part of experience).

And then Flinders Lane Australian restaurant opened in Stamford. Of course, when I was invited to visit, I was excited – not as much as if it would be an actual country, but still. I would guess the name of the restaurant takes its roots from one of the oldest streets in Melbourne, Flinders Lane, which now hosts a variety of little shops and the restaurants.

What authentic Australian food should you expect to find at the Flinders Lane? I actually know very little about authentic Australian food, so let’s see: Kangaroo? Check. Vegemite (have you heard of it?  I will explain later)? Check. That’s about all I know, so let’s just talk about our experience.

You have to start the evening with a cocktail, right? Well, even if you disagree, it is still right – and this is what we did. Fresh Grapefruit Mule (Absolut Elyx Vodka, Cucumber, Grapefruit, Lime, Bundaberg Ginger Beer) was very refreshing. Floral Cucumber Margarita (Blanco Tequila, Elderflower, Cucumber, Thai Chili Tincture, Lime, Agave) was different but equally refreshing. Limoncello Collins (Villa Massa Limoncello, Vodka, Lemon, Club Soda) – just look at that presentation, isn’t it too pretty to drink? Nicely lemony and very tasty overall.

If we are talking cocktails, we have to talk about the wines. The wine list is not very large, but diverse and versatile, with reasonable prices and a good selection of wines by the glass. I also was happy to see the Australian wines on the list (which is not common for the most of the restaurants, but hey – if not at Flinders Lane, the Australian restaurant, where else?). I had prior experience with Hewitson Baby Bush Mourvèdre, and this 2014 was outstanding – soft, round, supple, perfectly balanced – it was an excellent accompaniment to our dinner.

The dinner was divided into the courses, so here is what transpired:

Course 1

We started with Arancini (black garlic mayo, pecorino cheese), which were outstanding, very good texture and flavor. Pork Sausage Rolls (sambal mayo) was more of a traditional Australian style (at least this was my understanding), and a very tasty bite. And Heirloom Tomato, Burrata, Truffle Soy dressing was perfectly presented just for the single bite – and there are very, very few things which are more delicious than a combination of fresh burrata and heirloom tomato. Yum!

Course 2

Next, we had Tuna Tartare (soy mirin dressing, cucumber, plantain chip) – I’m extremely particular about my tuna tartare, and I have to honestly say that this was not bad, but not my favorite. Something was not matching in the flavor profile – for my palate, of course. Pork and Veal Meatballs (ricotta salata, grilled baguette) were delicious, crispy on the outside, but airy enough inside.

Flinders Lane Diver Scalops

Flinders Lane Kangaroo Salad

Course 3

Truth be told, scallops are probably my most favorite choice of protein. If there is a scallop dish on the menu, there is a very, very good chance that that would be the dish I would pick. Diver Scallops (cashew chili relish, hijiki) didn’t disappoint – perfectly cooked, perfectly spicy – very tasty. And then the Kangaroo salad (chili lime dressing, cilantro, crispy garlic) – my first taste of the kangaroo, lean and gamey taste profile, rather as expected, overall quite tasty.

Course 4

Branzino is another one of my favorites, and this Pan-seared Branzino (sesame ginger broth, bok choy) was excellent – delicious, great flavor combination, might be the tastiest dish of the whole dinner. Of course, you have to have the Australian lamb if you are visiting the Australian restaurant – Braised Lamb Gnocchi (tomato, pecorino) had a nice flavor, but very lamb-y in your face, which is generally not my thing, but overall this was not a bad dish.

Vegemite

Okay, now let’s talk Vegemite. First, the disclaimer – Vegemite was not a part of our dinner – this was something I knew as quite famous in Australia (not always in a good sense) and was very much interested in experiencing, so I asked Chef Brad Stewart if we will be able to try it, and he gladly obliged. If you are wondering what the heck is Vegemite, you can read about it here. It is a paste made from yeast, and it has an extremely (my opinion) pungent flavor. It plays somewhat of a role of peanut butter in the Australian school lunches, typically used a spread on a piece of bread or a toast. I made a mistake of not trying it with butter as it was offered to us, and I can tell you – it is not my thing. But – I tried it, that what matters! 🙂

Flinders lane Sticky date Pudding

Flinders Lane Pavlova

Course 5 – Chef’s selection desserts

Do you think Australians eat dessert? Of course they do – and here what had an opportunity to try

We had Lamington (traditional Australian dessert), Sticky Date Pudding (another traditional Australian dessert and Chef Brad’s grandma’s recipe), Carrot Cake (Chef Brad mom’s recipe) and Pavlova – don’t ask me for individual notes, please – they were all one better than the other, absolutely delightful, and a great finish to our dinner.

 

Here you are, my friends, I hope I didn’t make you too hungry – while you are contemplating your trip to Australia, you can come to Flinders Lane here in Stamford to get a little taste of it now. No boarding pass required. Cheers!

Restaurant Files: Brunch Island Style – at Beach House Sono

April 13, 2018 11 comments

Beach House SONO Decor (6)What do you think of brunch? Yes, that late breakfast which is slowly becoming a lunch. Can this be ultimately the best family meal? It takes place over the weekend. It is not yet late in the day. It is the weekend, so you are (hopefully!) not in a hurry, and you can eat slowly, and talk. Breakfast is just … too early, and dinner… might be too late for the family time? So really, what do you think?

Okay, let’s assume you agree with me (you don’t have to, of course), and you also like the idea of brunch. Then the only questions remaining are when are where. Can’t help you with “when”, but as far as “where” is concerned, I might actually help you. If you happen to be in a close proximity to Norwalk, Connecticut, how about Sunday brunch at the newly opened Beach House Sono?

The “Island Style” to me is ambiance and food. As you walk into the Beach House Sono, located on the North Water street in Norwalk, right across from the entrance to the famous Maritime Aquarium, the maritime-style decor sets you right into a proper mood:

I like starting the brunch with a little cocktail – of course it can be a Mimosa, but at Beach House Sono, you have quite a few options fro chose from. I decide first to try Ring of Fire (house bloody mary mix, jalapeno peppers) – it was not as spicy as I wanted, especially for the cocktail which includes Jalopeno peppers among the ingredients – but it was still a good rendition of Bloody Mary. Coconut Mojito (cream of coconut, captain white rum & malibu, muddled fresh mint and lime, club soda), on another hand, was superb – I’m very particular about my Mojito, and not big on the coconut flavor profile in the drinks, but this cocktail was balanced, refreshing and delicious. The Best Dang Manhattan (bulleit bourbon, cocchi, luxardo brandied cherry) was also a pretty good take on the classic.

Let’s talk about food. We shared quite a few dishes for the starters. First, we had Meat and Cheese Plate (prosciutto, soppressata & capocollo, marinated olives, house select gourmet cheeses) – a very good selection of traditional Italian cured meats and cheeses. Next came Gorilla Bread (cinnamon roll filled with cream cheese, dulce de leche), which I wouldn’t even dare to call a “starter” – that is a whole meal, more looking like an over-stuffed French toast – very tasty, though.

We continued with Deviled Eggs (paprika), which were tasty (deviled eggs is one of my favorite dishes, but proper deviled eggs have roots in Russian cuisine and most of the restaurants in the US are only serving an okay version). Tuna Tartare (avocado, scallion, masago, spicy sesame soy) was good, but unnecessarily spicy to my taste – I would definitely tone it done, the heat was distracting from enjoying the delicate flavor of tuna. Goat Cheese Wonton (mixed with cream cheese, lightly fried, pepper jelly) were excellent, a nice crunch and a perfectly spicy jelly.

As this was not enough food already, from here we moved on to the so-called Plates. Frist, Chicken and Waffles (marinated country-fried chicken, freshly made waffle, habanero jelly, Brookside Farms maple syrup) – excellent, well-marinated chicken, good acidity, good spices. My only tiny gripe would be the habanero jelly which didn’t pack any punch at all. Another Southern classic, Shrimp and Grits (smoked tasso (pork), spring onion, pimento gravy) were excellent, great flavor, texture – just an outstanding dish all around; one more of the Southern classics, Chicken Fried Steak (smoked-paprika pork sausage gravy, breakfast potatoes, sunny side up egg) was delicious. The sausage gravy was so good that it inspired me to make it at home the next night, and everyone really enjoyed it. Great representation of the Southern cooking and three of my most favorite dishes of our brunch experience, right there.

Beach House SONO Chicken and Waffles (19)

Beach House SONO Chicken and Waffles (22) Beach House SONO Shrimp and Grits(22)

Beach House SONO Shrimp and Grits(21)

Beach House SONO Chicken and Waffles (20)
We tried two more dishes from the Plates selection – Lobster Benedict (grit cake, hollandaise, baby greens), probably my least favorite dish from the whole experience – the grit cake was falling apart, and the tiny piece of lobster had no seasoning, so that didn’t work. Organic Salmon BLT (grilled salmon, lettuce and tomatoes, bacon, cilantro jalapeno aioli) was interesting and creative – bacon was adding some good flavor notes.

We were pretty much done here, but still managed to try the dessert – Pistachio and Ricotta Cheesecake – which was simply a riot – melting in your mouth flavor bomb. Great finish to a great meal.

Beach House SONO Pistachio and Ricotta Cheese Cake

Beach House SONO Pistachio and Ricotta Cheese Cake 1

So, what do you think? How does the brunch sound for the next weekend’s plan? Well, as I said, I can’t help you with “when”, but at least I told you “where”. Cheers!

Beach House Sono
19 North Water St
Norwalk CT, 06854
203-956-7171
http://www.beachhousecafe.com/

Restaurant Files: Unbound Creativity at Killer B in Norwalk, Connecticut

June 5, 2017 9 comments

Killer B SoNoIf you don’t love bacon, burgers, beer and bourbon, this post is not for you. If you love bacon, burgers, beer and bourbon, but you are hungry – I can’t say this post is not for you, but I highly suggest you will go eat before continuing reading. For the rest of you, folks, let’s have some bacon, burgers, beer and bourbon fun!

More often than not, it is easy to categorize a restaurant. “Fine dining” would easily invoke an image of the white tablecloth with perfectly arranged plates and silverware, and the waitstaff enamored with the bowties. “Burger joint” would bring you an image of maybe the ketchup bottles and simple wooden tables and chairs, and, of course, lots of burgers on the menu. “Bistro” would probably not have a strong mental image associated with the category, but it means “easy and fun place”, for sure to me.

When it comes to Killer B in Norwalk, Connecticut, it is not easy to place it into a specific category. Okay, for sure this is not fine dining establishment, it is not snuffed up like that, and you will definitely feel that when the check will arrive. But it is not a burger joint either  – I feel we need a new category – maybe a “burger bistro”, just to signify that Killer B is simply a place where creativity is unbound. And by the way, the “B” actually stands for “bacon, burgers, beer and bourbon”.

Talking about creative, let’s start with the drinks. Killer B offers a number of interesting cocktails. But maybe “interesting” is just not the right word. Two of the cocktails on the list get smoked right in front of your eyes – right at the table. A small glass box arrives together with your cocktail, the pipe with aromatic chips is lit, and the smoke fills up the box. And you are witnessing all the magic.

I tried a few cocktails – Bourbon Mule (knob creek rye, lime juice, ginger beer) was tasty, not too sweet and with the good balance. Bite The Bulleit (Bulleit bourbon, house made ghost pepper honey, lime juice, orange juice, muddled jalapeños, topped with red bull, maple smoked right at your table) was very good, but not as spicy as I would expect,  seeing the “ghost pepper” to be a part of the ingredients. But the smoke was there, so the cocktail was definitely a treat. Smokin’ B (Jim Beam black bourbon, bittermilk smoked honey sour aromatic bitters, strained over an ice sphere, garnished with a toasted orange slice, smoked right at your table) was, well, smokey, and yes, tasty too, nicely balanced and very cool to look at.

Then the Bacon Flight (flavors: bourbon, butterscotch, fire, honey, orange) arrived, and this is when I realize how the real adult candy should taste like. Thick cut, perfectly crispy, and with tons of flavor – this bacon disappeared in the blink of an eye. Seriously, that bacon was simply something else – if you would have an opportunity, bacon at Killer B is a must experience.

What arrived next was simply amazing – Lazy Man Lobster Mac (3 lbs of lobster, Monterey jack,  cheddar,  served in a lobster shell) – can’t be described using any words other than “super-creative” – and whole lobster shell, filled with mac and cheese and lobster – just wow.

Time for a salad, right? First, we had the Wedge Salad (boston lettuce, diced tomatoes, red onions, bleu cheese crumbles, creamy bleu cheese dressing and signature bacon), fresh and crunchy. The Cheeseburger Salad (mixed greens, burger, tomato, onion, pickles, American cheese, creamy bacon bourbon dressing) – was one of one of the “wow” moments for me – how many times you really wanted the burger but not the bun? Here it is – a salad which tastes like fully composed burger (lettuce, tomatoes, pickles), but without the bun! Another simple, but the wildly creative dish, if you ask me.

We continued with Volcano Potatoes (bacon-wrapped baked potato, onion, sriracha, honey, oozing melted cheese) – very tasty and again, creative – just look at the color of that dish. Beer Cheese & Bacon Nachos (house made potato chips, beer cheese, bacon, salsa fresca, black olives, sour cream) were simply dangerous  – nobody could stop eating this dish until the last tiny morsel disappeared! Bacon-wrapped Fried Mozz (fried bacon wrapped mozzarella, bourbon bacon sauce) was another delicious concoction – who can say no to bacon and melted cheese?

Then we had Bacon Cast Iron Mac and Cheese (candied bourbon bacon, bacon, more bacon) which I’m not sure I can properly represent (I mean how good it was), so let me explain it to you this way. I brought the leftovers of this dish home. My daughter loves mac and cheese (who doesn’t?), but she doesn’t like bacon. As the leftovers didn’t have any visual bacon presence, I decided not to tell her and see her reaction. She starts eating, she is clearly happy, then she turns her head to me and says “it has bacon, right?”. “Yep” was my short answer. She continues “it’s soooo good!”. So yep, that’s how good this mac and cheese was.

Mac'n'Cheese at Killer B

Now, we finally arrived at the burgers! We had an opportunity to try 3 different burgers, each with its own unique presentation and its own taste profile.

Killer B (double-decker pork patty & beef patty seasoned with bourbon & Guinness bourbon candied bacon, LTOP, bourbon bacon mayo, between two bacon grilled cheese sandwiches) was a bit scary to look at – so it definitely accomplished its purpose of bringing a “wow” to the table. But beyond the looks, each component was tasty, by itself and together. The Stinger (jalapeño patty, pepper jack, lettuce, chipotle mayo, jalapeños, sriracha, spicy bacon, chili flake bun) was not too spicy, but what I really enjoyed is the fact that you could taste jalapeño everywhere – so if you like jalapeño, this would be unbeatable. Country Style (open faced, Lettuce Tomato, BBQ sauce, black bean corn salsa, onion rings, corn bread) was also unique, sporting some of the very best onion rings I ever had – crispy and crunchy, overall – an excellent burger.

Killer B Burger

The Stinger Burger at Killer B

Country Style Burger at Killer B Now, I have two questions for you (hoping you are still reading). First, do you think we left without trying the dessert? Second, do you think our dessert didn’t contain any bacon?

No and No!

Our first dessert was Coconut Peanut Butter & Double Trouble Milkshake, which was outstanding, fun to look at, tasty and perfect for sharing. And then (drumroll, please) we had Fried Oreo Cookies with … bacon! Yep, inside of each little roll of goodness, yes, there it was, a bacon. Clear, wild standout – a great finish to the great experience.

There you have it, my friends. I hope you successfully survived this bacon and burger juggernaut, and maybe I even made you crave some. If you are ever in a proximity of Killer B (I use “proximity” loosely here – when you crave something, distance shortens greatly), don’t miss your chance for an unforgettable bacon, burger, beer and bourbon experience. Cheers!

Killer B
80 Washington Street
Norwalk, CT 06854
Ph: 203.853.2326
http://www.killerbsono.com

 

Killer B Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Restaurant Files: The Art of Southern Cuisine at Peaches in Norwalk, CT

March 19, 2017 4 comments

Eat Drink Boogie RepeatLet me make a bold claim – Southern Cuisine might be the only authentic cuisine in the United States. Yes, New England got lobster and clam chowder, Maryland got blue crab and crab cakes, but it hardly constitutes a “cuisine”. Even barbeque is more of a cult or a culture if you will, but more often than not, the word “barbeque” would simply associate with the specific method of cooking rather than a cuisine in general.

Say “Southern cuisine”, and immediately the words and images for “shrimp and grits”, “chicken and waffles”, or ‘fried green tomatoes” pop in one’s head. Same as Thai, Japanese, or Mexican, Southern cuisine is something we can easily identify with.

While the Southern cuisine is, of course, better experienced in the South, over the last few years we were lucky here on the East Coast of the USA with a number of restaurants representing the cuisine very well. Today I want to offer you a perfect example – Peaches Restaurant in Norwalk, Connecticut, officially known as Peaches Southern Pub & Juke Joint. Peaches is the newest endeavor of the serial entrepreneur Greer Frederick, who is deeply involved in Connecticut restaurant scene for many years.

I love the rustic decor at Peaches, very homey and calming, but very modern at the same time:

Of course the restaurant visit started at the bar. Spicy Okratini (Oola Aloo Vodka, dirty okra juice, pickled okra) had a nice bite and literally no sweetness, which I really appreciate. Bee’s Knees (Bar Hill gin, fresh lemon, Mad Hatter honey) was made with an artisan Mad Hatter honey, which we also had an opportunity to taste. Again, despite the honey base, the cocktal was perfectly balanced with right amount of acidity and sweetness. Peaches’ Old Fashion (Rittenhouse Rye, Damerara sugar, Angostura bitters, Fee Brothers Peach bitters), was very tasty, but also a bit too generous with alcohol.

Once we got to our tables, the little bowl with various pickles was the very first plate arriving in front of us – not overly sour, quite tasty. Then our first appetizer showed up – Devilled Eggs (beet brined eggs, braised bacon, pickled okra). Definitely a very creative dish, an unexpected color of the eggs, nice touch with the bacon crumble on top, creamy. Devilled eggs are very popular in Russian cuisine, so I’m more accustomed to a different style, but this was still a tasty dish.

The Chopped Kale (charred corn, pickled beets, green goddess dressing, cotija cheese) was one of the best kale salads I ever had. Additional of charred corn worked very well, and creamy dressing was outstanding, very flavorful. The Fried Green Tomatoes (tomato jam, country ham, buttermilk ranch), a timeless Southern classic was excellent as well – great interplay of textures, and I would eat that tomato jam by the bowlful. Our last appetizer, the Country Fair Bacon (funnel cake batter, braised bacon, black pepper maple) was good, but maybe a bit too simple to my taste.

We started our entree round with another Southern classic – Shrimp and Grits (andouille, smoked shrimp broth, pickled okra, heirloom grits) – the grits were creamy and super-flavorful, one of the best ever, and the shrimp had a perfect amount of spice and cooked very well – that was one delicious experience. The Pork Shank (black eyed peas cassoulet, pickled veg, onion jam) was a standout. It was a huge hulk of meat on the bone, marinated for 36 hours and cooked at 275F for 3.5 hours – I can’t even describe how comforting this dish was. The meat was falling apart, and all you needed to do was just to savor ever little bite. Outstanding.

Shrimp and Grits at Peaches

Pork Shank at Peaches

And then there was Bucket O’ Chicken (pickle-brined fried chicken + Nashville style cornbread, coleslaw, collard greens, mac ‘n’ cheese). Do you like properly made Southern style fried chicken? Then get away from the screen and head over to the Peaches right now – that dish was a quintessential Art of Southern Cuisine right on the table. We had both regular and Nashville Hot style – in both cases chicken is brined before cooking, but the Nashville Hot style has the addition of a hot sauce (smoked paprika, brown sugar, cayenne, oil) brushed on after the chicken is fried. It was also served with lots of different side dishes – cole slaw, collard greens, mac ‘n’ cheese and delicious corn bread – every bite of chicken was tender and bristling with flavor. It was also served with apple cider vinegar on a side, which, as Greer explained, is considered a Ketchup of the South. Great experience all in all.

Bucket o'chicken at Peaches

Peaches is not called the “Pub and Juke Joint” for nothing. The restaurant has a second floor with another bar, perfectly suitable for dancing or as an event space, as well as an outdoor patio – definitely the space with a lot of potential.

We finished this outstanding meal in style with Old Fashioned Southern Peach Cobbler (brown sugar peaches, vanilla ice cream) – delicious dessert, candied pecans packed a lot of flavor.

Old Fashioned Peach Cobbler at PeachesI hope that the pictures and my notes explain my point about the Art of Southern Cuisine – this was truly a soulful cooking, and we experienced the tasty food with unmistakable personality – like the familiar face we are always happy to see in the crowd, the Southern Cuisine is something we can now spot anywhere we go.

Hope I didn’t make you too hungry. And if I did – oh well, I’m not going to apologise. Cheers!

Peaches Southern Pub & Juke Joint
7 Wall St
Norwalk, CT 06850
Phone number (203) 831-0399
http://www.peachesnorwalk.com

Peaches Southern Pub & Juke Joint Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

%d bloggers like this: