Last Sunday I had a pleasure of attending the New England Chowdafest 2016 event at Sherwood Island Park in Westport, Connecticut. The weather forecast was really “meh”, and we had an event to attend in the evening, but remembering a successful 2015 experience, I was determined – the weather will not stop me from sampling 40 delicious chowders (and lots more), no way.
While the weather was not great, it was not terrible either – grey sky but no rain was good enough to walk around for 2 hours trying all the different chowders, soups and lots more (ice cream, cheese, or Bigelow teas). Similar to the last year, all attendees were given a spoon, a ballot with the names of all participating restaurants and asked to rate what they taste on the scale from 7 to 10.5 (0.5 increments). Juggling soup cups, pencils and the charts was somewhat challenging, but it didn’t stop anyone from voting.
This year I was a bit smarter and remembered to take a decent picture of the ballot before I placed it in the box – have to say that someone else thought of it before me, as this course of action was suggested on the ballot itself (“take a picture before depositing this ballot in the box”) so people would be able to compare their own vote with the official results.
Few fun facts about the event (taken from the summary event sent out by organizers). During 4 hours of the event:
- Over 2,000 gallons of chowder, soup and bisque were sampled (I believe it would translate to more than 100,000 samples given)
- Over 3,000 ice cream cones were scooped by The Farmer’s Cow and almost 30 gallons of their farm fresh chocolate and whole milk was sampled
All these numbers easily translate into the main takeaway – lots of fun at the event.
Obviously, I didn’t try to write down tasting notes, just taste, rate and move on to the next. To give you an idea about happenings at the event, let me share you with you the results of the competition, as well as the picture report from the event. In the pictures, you will see my ballot so you can compare my votes with the official results. There were a number of very tasty chowders, but to be entirely honest, my favorite soup was the cream of mushroom with black truffles – the only soup I gave the 10.5 rating. I also have to mention a number of different chowders presented by the Stop’n’Shop, local supermarket chain – as the sponsors, they couldn’t compete, but their soups were simply delicious, I’m sure they would do great if they would actually enter the competition.
Same as the last year, Pike’s Place out of Seattle, Washington won in the category of New England Clam Chowder. Was it really the best chowder? I don’t think so, I think people were simply intimidated by the huge medal display put out by Pike’s Place. Their chowder was good – but put out for the blind taste, I don’t think it would do equally well. Anyway, New England restaurants should prepare better for the next competition which is already announced for October 1, 2017.
Here are the results:
Classic New England Clam Chowder:
1st: Pike Place Chowder – Seattle WA
2nd: 250 Market – Portsmouth NH
3rd; Take Five Cookery – Hartford CT
Traditional Clam Chowder:
1st: Donahue’s Clam Castle (Rhode Island) – Madison CT
2nd: Dunville’s (Manhattan) – Westport CT
Chef’s Table (Rhode Island) – Fairfield CT
Parallel Post (Manhattan) – Trumbull CT
1st: Our House Bistro – Winooski VT
2nd: Gaffney’s – Saratoga Springs NY
3rd: Smithsonian Cafe & Chowder House – North Hampton MA
1st: Crab Shell – Stamford CT
2nd: Old Post Tavern – Fairfield CT
3rd: Sam’s American Bistro – Stamford CT
Congratulations to all the winners!
Now I will leave you with pictures (lots of them!) from the event. And next year, make sure to add it to your busy schedule – the event will be definitely worth your time. Cheers!
Love the way some of the stands were decorated:
Even with the tasting cups, some of the presentations were clearly a standout:
Lots of restaurants offered their recipes/ingredient lists right there:
Our House Bistro from Vermont:
Yes, there was more than just chowder there:
We already talked about our day in the Hudson Valley during traditional adults getaway trip (you can read about it here). Culmination point of the Saturday night was a special dinner. I call it “special” as this is something we always spend time preparing for as part of our getaway. Our ideal scenario is to find a restaurant which would do a special tasting menu for our group, and would allow us to bring our own wines which we would pair with the dishes. More often than not we are successful in this plan – this year was no exception.
The Mountain View Brasserie restaurant in Greenville, New York agreed to create for us a special tasting menu, and we came up with the wine pairings for all the dishes. Of course, the challenging part is doing the “blind” pairing if you will – all we have is the list of ingredients in the dish, and the pairing is solely based on our imagination. The good thing is that we usually do this “hard work” together with my friend Zak, who owns the wine store, so we have a good number of wine options. We always make an effort to keep the cost reasonable – talking about this dinner, only one of the wines was $25 retail, the rest were $20 or less.
For what it worth, here is our dinner menu, with the wine and pairing notes, and addition of the pictures. As the idea here was a relaxing dinner with friends and not a blogger’s dinner, all the pictures are taken with the iPhone and, well, it is what it is…
We started dinner with NV Rivarose Brut Rosé, Provence, France (Syrah/Grenache blend) which was nice, round and simple, well supporting the conversation.
Our first dish was Maryland Crab Cakes served with Lobster Sauce, which was delicious and very generous in size. We paired it with 2014 Templar Cellars Komtur Ekko Pinot Gris, Czech Republic (100% Pinot Gris) – I wrote about this wine before, and while the wine was excellent on its own, the pairing was simply outstanding, with the wine nicely complementing the dish.
Our next dish was House-smoked Salmon Napoleon with horseradish cream and gaufrettes garnished with capers and red onion – the dish was interesting, quite tasty, but rather unexpected under the category of “Napoleon”. Our wine pairing was 2015 Notorious Pink Grenache Rosé, Vin de France (100% Grenache), which was medium bodied Rosé, and the pairing was okay, but not mind-blowing (the flavors didn’t fight, but were not enhancing each other either).
Warm Hazelnut Crusted Goat Cheese with Market Greens was more successful as a dish, nice crunch on outside contrasting with the goat cheese acidic profile. We used the same wine for the pairing and it worked perfectly, complementing the dish very well.
You can’t have dinner without salad, right? We had Grilled Portobello Salad with Roasted Peppers, Fresh Mozzarella Cheese, Tomatoes, Spicy Walnuts, Market Greens with Balsamic Vinaigrette which was very tasty, but most importantly, it paired deliciously with 2014 Sangiovanni Kiara Pecorino Offida DOCG, Marche, Italy (100% Pecorino). Yet another wine I tasted before and loved, and it was perfectly complementing the salad flavors.
Vegetable Risotto with Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese served with Roasted Sea Scallop was one of the absolute favorite dishes – perfectly seared scallop, working nicely with sweet flavors of corn risotto. Interestingly enough, we missed the sweetness as dominant taste element in this dish (just one word in our defense – corn was not listed among ingredients), and the same wine, Pecorino, didn’t work that well – it was just an okay pairing.
Our next dish was Baked Salmon Fillet with Orange and Olive Butter – again, perfect execution, moist and flavorful fish. The wine, 2011 Portal del Priorat Trossos Tros Blanc, Montsant, Spain (100% Grenache Blanc) was full-bodied, plump and delicious, working very well with the dish.
We were definitely looking forward to the Sautéed Wiener Schnitzel with Spaetzle, and the dish didn’t disappoint – very tasty, perfectly seasoned, delicious sauce. The pairing choice was 2013 Templar Cellars Komtur Ekko Pinot Noir, Czech Republic (100% Pinot Noir), yet again the wine I was familiar with – and I’m glad to admit that the pairing was spot on, with the perfect melding of flavors.
We finished our main course with Roasted Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb Provencal – I’m sure that even from the quick glance at the picture, you would expect that this was a tasty dish, as you can tell that meat was properly cooked – and you would be right, as it tasted appropriately delicious. Equally appropriate was our choice of wine pairing – succulent 2012 Seigneurs d’Aiguilhe, Côtes de Castillon, Bordeaux (Merlot/Cabernet Franc blend) Bordeaux, classic cassis and mint taste profile and classic complement to the lamb – outstanding pairing.
This concluded main portion of our dinner – and before we talk about dessert, I would like to commend restaurant on the smart way to present the tea. Take a look below:
Our first dessert was Warm Apple Tart with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream and Caramel Bourbon Sauce – I’m sure you don’t need my lame description here, it was simply indulgent. And for the pairing – you can’t beat one of the best and most universal dessert wine pairings – Moscato d’Asti. We had 2015 Cascinetta Vietti Moscato D’Asti DOCG, Italy (100% Moscato d’Asti) – light, effervescent and clean.
Our last dish was Grand Marnier Chocolate Mousse with Fresh Orange Sections – excellent by itself, and pairing very well with 2014 Quady Essencia, California (100% Orange Muscat).
I think this was one of the most successful tasting dinners we put together, so for the next year, we have a very difficult task at hand – but we are up for the challenge. Cheers!
Mountain View Brasserie
10697 State Route 32
Greenville, NY 12083
Ph: (518) 966-5522
Who likes cheese, raise your hands! And now, who likes grilled cheese sandwich, raise your hands! Well, even if you didn’t raise your hand, as you think that grilled cheese is for the kids only, I will then appeal to your inner kid. You can try denying it, but I know that presented with crunchy, ooey, gooey, melty goodness, most of us can’t resists it.
As a foodie, one thing you usually do is follow the other foodies and listen to their stories. This is how you learn about what is going on, what are the latest trends, what are the hottest restaurants – all in all, you are in the know. Living in Stamford, Connecticut, I heard about Melt Mobile for the long time – a food truck with a fame of taking a homey simplicity of the grilled cheese and converting it into the object of rave and desire. Interestingly enough, visiting a hot (pun intended) food truck might be even harder than a restaurant – you always know where the restaurant is, so you can align the visit to your schedule. The food truck, on another hand, can appear and disappear in a whiff, making long term planning, well, rather hard. So as you can deduce from the above, I was only reading about it, but never tasted Melt Mobile’s food.
Thus when I had an opportunity to finally taste the Melt Mobile fare together with the blogging friends, I couldn’t let it pass.
Metl Mobile’s story started about 4 years ago, when two long time friends Darlene Anderson and Diana Hall combined business prowess and cooking skills, and realized that there might be a melted cheese in their future. Darlene and Diana appeared on the “3 Days to Open with Bobby Flay” episode on Food Network, where they had lots of fun and not so fun challenges thrown at them. Fast forward to today, with two of the Melt Mobile food trucks in operation, and franchising opportunity being in the high demand, I would say they are doing great – and retaining very humble and super-friendly attitude.
During our dinner, I had an opportunity to taste through the most of their menu, as well as many specialty dishes, and I have to tell you – grilled cheese sandwich is a dangerous thing. Same as the concept of a “dangerous wine” – the wine so tasty you can’t stop drinking it – these seemingly simplistic grilled cheese sandwiches are so tasty, it is literally impossible to stop eating them. If you stop random people on the street and ask them to describe grilled cheese sandwich, I’m sure majority will stay with simplicity of golden bread, melted cheese and may be a side of tomato soup. Diana’s unbound imagination really took this comfort food to the next, fully gourmet level, as you will see in a second. Fair warning – if you are hungry, stop reading right now, go feed yourself and only then come back. I accept no responsibility for any fainting or nervous breakdowns caused by the pictures of the ooey gooey goodness below. Yep, consider yourself warned.
We started with Original Melt with Bacon (Bacon, Vermont Cheddar, Monterrey Jack, Mozzarella and Gruyere on Country White Bread) and Jalapeño Popper Melt (Vermont Cheddar, Cream Cheese on Cheddar Crusted Country White) – both very tasty, Jalapeño melt delivering a nice kick.
Next up were The Pork-U-Pine (Tillamook Cheddar, BBQ pulled Pork, caramelized Onions, and sliced Dill Pickles on buttery grilled Country White) and Short Rib Melt (Braised Beef Short Ribs, Caramelized Onions on an Original Melt – Vermont Cheddar, Monterrey Jack, Mozzarella and Gruyere on Country White Bread). Pork-u-Pine was very generous and tasty, and Short rib melt was simply outstanding – you know that goodness of the slow roasted meat, combined now with melted cheese? Don’t think I need to talk further.
The next two sandwiches were beyond spectacular. I unquestionably love mushrooms in any form. Mushrooms with cheese are even better than just mushrooms. Add a drop of truffle oil? Heaven on Earth, period. That is how the White Truffle Melt (Mascarpone Cheese, Fontina, Truffles and Mushrooms on Tuscan bread) was – amazing flavor, a absolute delight for any mushroom aficionado. And Meatball 3 Cheese Squeeze (Diana’s Meatballs in Marinara, Fresh Mozzarella, Pecorino Romano, Parmigiano Reggiano and Fresh Basil on Tuscan Bread)? I don’t even know how to describe it. Take the absolutely best Italian meatball – soft, fluffy, generous, flavorful – best you can imagine – then multiply the flavor by ten and put it between two slices of golden crusted bread a add a bit of the melted cheese. Just amazing. Might start drooling as I write this.
Meat sounds as a natural companion for the grilled cheese sandwiches, but seafood is also not a slouch in this game – Blackened Shrimp Melt (Blackened Shrimp with Guacamole and Tomato on an Original Melt) and
Maryland Melt (Panko Crusted Jumbo Lump Crab Cake, Lemon Caper Aioli, Micro Arugula on an Original Melt) were simply superb – great favor, great texture – delicious.
Do you think dessert can be grilled? If you said “yes”, you are absolutely right – we had a pleasure of trying The Fluffernutter (Caramelized Bananas, Marshmallow Fluff, Belgian Chocolate and Peanut Butter on crunchy Tuscan Bread dusted with powdered Sugar) and Cheesecake Melt (Creamy NY Cheesecake, Sandwiched between grilled Marble Pound Cake dusted with Powdered Sugar) – I can’t even tell you if I had a favorite, this was really a super-delicious ending to the great evening.
That’s all I have for you, my friends. I can make a fair assumption that I made you hungry after reading this. If you live somewhere in the lower Connecticut or New York, you can use some of the Melt Mobile’s social media handles listed below to see where you can find them. For the rest of you? Come on over, this food worth a special trip! Cheers!
As a bona fide foodie, I heard the word “omakase” many times. I had a vague idea that this is the term for the Japanese multi course meal, but that was all I knew about it.
During recent trip to Las Vegas, I stayed at the Caesars Palace, and had to walk every day past Japanese restaurant called Nobu. Nobu is a restaurant empire of the world renowned Chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa, so temptation was building – and I succumbed to it.
I had no reservation, of course (getting reservation for many Las Vegas restaurants is mission impossible), but as in most of the Japanese restaurants, you can often score seat in the sushi bar – exactly where I ended up.
In absolute majority of cases, I prefer to taste lots of different dishes at the restaurant instead of having a lot of one – thus going for the tasting menu was a natural choice. I decided on Nobu Signature Omakase, which consisted of the 8 different courses. And to make the experience complete, I also took the suggested sake pairing course, so every dish was accompanied by a different sake.
Now, there was a bit of a challenge for a foodie. As I was sitting at the sushi bar, all the dishes we handed over by the array of sushi chefs. Each dish had a long list of ingredients, and between the overall noise (high), the pronunciation and the fact that all those chefs were busy, I couldn’t possibly capture the names of the dishes, nor the ingredients. Practically same thing was happening with the sake – names and descriptions were given very quickly, and short of asking to spell out the names, there is a limit to how many times one can repeat “excuse me, what did you say is the name of it”?
As the result, I had to play an internet sleuth, looking for pictures and using my rough notes, trying to figure out what exactly I was eating and drinking. While doing this, I found an interesting reference for many Sake terms – here is the link. Below you will find an overview of my experience – mostly in pictures, with some slivers of the names of the dishes and some of my impressions. Here we go:
Very first dish, handed down to me very quickly, was Deep Fried Fish Salad, served with Onigoroshi sake, aged for 10 years with the sounds of classical music (supposedly helps sake to mellow out)- nice, crisp, very refreshing. Salad was tasty, however not amazing.
Next up was Sashimi Salad with Lettuce Handrolls, which was served with a bit of a sweeter sake (nope, no idea about the name) . Vegetable roll was a masterpiece of flavor, I would eat it at any time. Tiny fried shrimp – wow. Salmon – spectacular.
Next dish was Chef’s Sushi Assortment, which was served with with Hokusetsu Onigoroshi “Devil Killer” sake (with a bit of a spicy finish).
What I appreciated about the dish is that all the sushi pieces already had soy sauce and wasabi – exactly in the amount as Chef intended. Tuna was phenomenal. Picked ginger – wow. Great flavor on everything. Fried crunchy rice with caviar – delicious.
Next course was a Chef’s Sashimi Assortment, served with Hokusetsu Junmai sake. A pure wow dish, start to finish. Green ball you see in the picture is pickled Japanese peach – used to clean the palate, and it was delicious. Perfect sake. Toro Tartar with Wasabi Miso Sauce was divine – just give me a bowl and leave me alone. Yep, close the door, I said. All in all, one spectacular dish.
This was the end of the “appetizer” round, and the next two dishes were rather en entree style.
First, Black Cod Miso, which was served with Nobu ‘The Sake’ TK 40 sake from Nobu’s private stock. The sake was super complex and delicious. The cod was full of flavor and was melting in the mouth. Great dish.
Next dish was Beef Toban Yaki, with beef sautéed in sake in ceramic cooking vessel (Toban). It was an okay dish – large sprout-like mushroom was a bit difficult to chew. However, the meat meat was tender and tasty.
Last dish was Miso Soup, served in traditional Japanese style without a spoon. I was a bit surprised with the soup served in a standard black and purple plastic jar, commonly used at any simple Japanese restaurant. Soup was good, but again, nothing stood out about it. And yes, I didn’t think I should take a picture of it.
I was unable to capture the name of the dessert, nor the name of the dessert sake with fruit which was served together with it. Both were delicious, so the Omakase experience was finished on the high note.
There you go, my friends. A delicious, truly delicious experience, which I would be happy to repeat at any occasion. If you would have an opportunity to experience Omakase dining at Nobu, I can’t recommend it high enough. Cheers!
Nobu (at Caesars Palace)
3570 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Ph: (702) 785-6628
Concept of “food” is multidimensional. At home, tasty food and family (and friends) around the table is usually all you need. Mix in a bit of ambiance and a glass of a good wine, and you got a great experience, right there.
When it comes to visiting the restaurant, you need a bit more than just food for the great and memorable experience – good service is important; another element which is near and dear to me is cost. This is not even the “cost” in the absolute terms – it is more the perceived value which matters, the infamous “price/performance” – an amazing burger for $20 might be a great experience, and tasteless, rubbery steak for $15 will not be the one.
As you can see in the title of this post, I want to talk about “off the chart” experience. The source of this exuberant designation was our recent visit at the Portside Tavern in Hyannis on Cape Cod (love weekend getaways, even with 5 hours in traffic). To go along the lines of a great experience in the restaurant, I was with the family, food was amazingly tasty, service was great, and the value was unbeatable – that’s all.
First, of course, was the wine. Don’t get me wrong – the restaurant also offers full bar with interesting cocktails, but my attention was on the wine list, which offers lots of great options, both by the glass (most of the wines priced in $7 – $12 range), and by the bottle (prices starting from $30 and some even for less). I couldn’t pass by the 2013 Ken Wright Pinot Noir Willamette Valley for $50 – talk about value – even if you can find this wine in retail, which is not easy, it will cost you at least $25, so I consider $50 at the restaurant to be a great value. After a bit of the breathing time, the wine was gorgeous, dense and powerful, with the signature Oregon aromatics of earth and cocoa.
Next, there was a pure indulgence from start to finish. Chowder (Local clams, new potatoes, applewood smoked bacon, cream) was not too heavy, not too thick, very well balanced in flavor.
Watermelon Gazpacho (Sweet basil drizzle, whipped feta) was different and refreshing – outstanding on any hot day, light, and again, very tasty.
One of my favorite ways to cook chicken wings is to slow roast them at a low temperature (say 215ºF or so) – they develop great flavor and then easily fall off the bone this way. I was happy to find the same style chicken wings at the restaurant – Confit Chicken Wings (Choice of harissa, rhubarb BBQ, or sweet basil sauce – we chose BBQ sauce) were super-tasty and the chicken wings were literally melting in the mouth. Continuing to deliver a great dining pleasure was Poutine (House cut fries, cheddar curds, foie gravy) – love this interpretation of French fries. This rendition was on par with best of the best I had in Quebec – flavor, texture, cheese, gravy – everything was just spot on. Finishing our divine appetizer experience was perfectly executed Mac & Cheese (Gemelli, local cheeses, buttered crumbs) – again, very tasty.
Our main course dishes were equally delicious. Chicken Risotto (Asparagus, prosciutto, baby tomatoes, balsamic reduction) was very well executed, great smokey flavor, nice contrast of balsamic, very tasty. Half-Pound Burger (Caramelized onions, bacon, garlic aioli, tomato jam, brioche) had an excellent fresh beef flavor, was cooked as requested and overall was very enjoyable.
Cuban (Braised pork, ham, Gruyere, dijon aioli, house-made pickle, grilled french bread) was done exactly as I like it – good amount of meat, flat pressed bread, great combination of flavors – one of the best Cuban sandwich experiences. It was also served with a side of Wedge salad (one of the available choices), which is one of my favorite salads any time I see one. Grilled BBQ Chicken Pizza (Bacon, red onion, cheddar) was delicious, good crust and again, great flavor combination.
As you can imagine, we were absolutely full at this point. But considering how good all the food was, we had to try at least one dessert. After back and forth, we settled on Double Chocolate Cookie (Vanilla Ice Cream), which was more resembling a chocolate lava cake, and was instantly devoured with the help of four spoons.
72 North Street
Hyannis, MA 02601
Our selection of the appetizers started from the Shrimp Skewers (old bay seasoning) – perfectly cooked, excellent flavor profile.
Coming right after was Seafood Tower (clams, shrimp, lobster, two types of local oysters) – presentation alone makes you salivate profusely.Lobster and shrimp had perfect texture, and oysters were delicious.
Our dining experience continued with Chopped Kale Salad (Tuscan and Baby Kale tossed in sesame vinaigrette, topped with oranges, avocado, fennel and cucumbers) – to say that it was one of the very best kale salads I ever had would be an understatement – perfect balance of flavors with crunchy texture; sesame vinaigrette was simply spot on. Next arrived Ahi Tuna (Ahi Tuna tossed in soy ginger sauce, served over avocado cream, topped with yuzu aioli, and served with wonton chips and wasabi) – again, excellent flavor, very tasty.
Two more appetizers were completing first part of our dinner. Lobster Minis (Claw, tail and knuckle meat, lightly mixed with mayo, lime, lemon, and blood orange) were texturally good, however, the flavor was lacking for my taste. Fish Tacos (Haddock fried in tempura batter, with pineapple, apple and pickled red onion) had nice crunch on the fish, and apples with pickled onions were providing nice refreshing component.
Not to be outdone, our main course followed, starting with Seafood Cavatelli (Little hollow pasta shells, tossed with Lobster, shrimp, chopped clams and capers in lobster cream sauce), which I can describe in one word – delicious.
Our next dish, 16 oz Bone-in Rib Eye (Grilled, served with caramelized onions, Parmesan steak fries, sauteed spinach, chickpeas, shallots and house steak sauce) was easily everyone’s favorite at the table. Here my description will be even shorter – wow. Perfectly executed steak, triple-fried (!!) potatoes were amazing, house steak sauce was perfect, so all together was simply a wow.
Our last main dish was Pan Seared Atlantic Sea Scallops (U-10 scallops served with vegetable orzo pasta salad, finished with a Blood orange beurre blanc) – it was perfectly executed both in presentation and the texture of the scallops, but what spoiled the dish for me was the amount of salt on top – just too much.
Along the way we also had a pleasure of listening to the Chef Brian Murphy who came to check on us a few times and use the moment to talk about our delicious experience:
And now, let me present to you the desserts! Remember I told you that today we are talking about concept of fun at the restaurant? So to make sure it is fun all the way, how about some adults desserts? Yep, you got that right – these would be the desserts which also have an addition of so called “adult beverages”. And I don’t know if any other place can do it better that the Sign of the Whale – even presentation of those adult beverages is an art form.
From the Tidal Wave Drinks menu, we had The Blue Whale (Smirnoff Vodka/Coconut Rum/Blue Curacao/Pineapple Juice/Sprite) and Old Man’s Orange Potion (Smirnoff Orange Vodka/Triple Sec/Orange Juice/Sprite) – tell me if you think those are not the fun to share:
More exciting desserts followed, like Ice Cream sandwiches, Adult Root Beer Floats and Seasonal sorbet. And for my ultimate happiness I can tell you that the regular coffee was excellent, which is more of a rarity nowadays.
You know what is also great at the Sign of the Whale? The outside seating on the roof deck! Here is what you can see if you will wait until it will get dark outside:
Sign Of The Whale
6 Harbor Point Road
Stamford, CT 06902
Ph: (203) 883-8282
As a self-proclaimed foodie, I pride myself with having no favorite cuisine or a type of restaurants – when asked “which restaurant would you prefer for dinner”, my typical answer is “I eat everything”. It is true, of course, but may be not entirely. One example – Indian cuisine. This might be on the subconscious level, as one of my very first encounters with Indian food happened on the “Indian hot” spiciness level, which leaves some unforgettable scars on the uninitiated, but an Indian restaurant would not likely be my top choice given a list of possible dinner options.
But again, as a foodie, I feel almost obliged to work over my own limitations, and keep trying different cuisines. Thus when I was invited to visit Tawa Indian Cuisine restaurant in Stamford, I saw a great opportunity to deep dive into the Indian cuisine once again and see what I might be missing.
I loved the decor at Tawa – quaint and sophisticated, very tasteful. Nothing is really glaring at you that you are in an Asian restaurant, not even aromas in the air.
Once the dinner started of course there was no question of what kind of food is in front of us. I will give you a detailed account below, but to describe the experience as a whole, I have to mention the perfect balance. The food had brilliant colors, and none of the dishes where shy on flavor – this is why I called this post “dazzling flavors” – but all the spiciness was balanced, it was like a perfect dance, where you mesmerized by the perfection of movement and forget the time. This was also explained by the Chef Kausik Roy – his goal was to present the variety of flavors of the cuisine of the vast country without overwhelming – and this was clearly showing in the food we had an opportunity to taste.
This was my second encounter with Chef Roy, and I love the fact that I get to learn something interesting from him. Last time I was learning about curries, this time it was cilantro. It appears that cilantro is used in the 95 out 100 Indian dishes, so it is a very important herb. But what is interesting is how you use it. When I use cilantro, I would chop mostly just the leaves with a bit of the stems, and add them at the very end of cooking. But to extract the deep flavor, you need to use whole stems and simply cook with them from the beginning.
Okay, let’s talk about our dinner. We started with the cocktails (yep, in Indian restaurant), and they were tasty. I generally don’t like overly sweet cocktails, and from the description I was a bit concerned that they might be – but both Watermelon Ginger Margarita (Tequila, Ginger, Watermelon Syrup, Dekuyper Triple Sec, Lime Juice) and Tawa Madras-Tini (Ketel One Vodka, Mango Juice, Dekuyper Triple Sec) were just excellent, not very sweet; Watermelon Ginger Margarita had very nice level of spicy heat with it.
Tawa offers somewhat small, but well thought through wine list. We had 2013 Saint M Riesling Germany, which had a touch of sweetness and bright acidity, excellently complementing many dishes. We also wanted to have a red wine with the dinner, and I was very happy to find 2013 If You See Kay Red Blend Lazio IGT, Italy on the list – one of my perennial favorites, with great concentration of the dark fruit and good acidity, this was definitely an enjoyable wine.
We started our dinner with Tawa’s Signature Tropical Mango Salad (Tropical mango, baby greens, Mango onion seeds dressing), served with a crispy naan – fresh and light, good way to start the dinner. Next up was Mulligatawny Soup (Yellow lentil soup, finished with coconut cream and fresh lemon), made with the vegetable broth and finished with a touch of yogurt. Mulligatawny actually means “pepper water”, so it is supposed to be very spicy, but this is not how Chef Roy does it. Soup was delicious, and a double treat considering cold and rainy weather outside.
Next dish was Aloo Tikki Chaat (Indian spiced potato patties topped with garbanzo beans, tamarind chutney, raita & roti crisps) – great spices, delicious and then Coconut Pepper Shrimp (Lightly battered shrimp, smoky black pepper, chutney mayo), with that chutney mayo been pretty spectacular. Last one of our appetizers, Indo Chinese Lasuni Gobi (Crispy cauliflower florets tossed with tangy tomato garlic sauce and spring onion), not only had an amazing crunch, but also texturally was indistinguishable from nicely cooked meat. Wake me up at any time and offer me this dish – I would be super-happy.
Our dining extravaganza continued with selection of Naan, an Indian bread which is one of my absolute favorites (I have to always stop myself from devouring the whole “basket”), following by Kebab Platter. Grilled pieces of chicken, lamb and salmon were colorfully presented on the wooden board, and the taste was on par with the presentation – tender and flavorful.
The main selection of our dinner (like what we already had was not enough, huh) consisted of the various Curry dishes – both traditional vegetarian and meat dishes were included in the selection. Everything was perfectly cooked, and all the sauces were absolutely delightful. My favorite meat dish was Signature Lamb Dampak (Tender lamb cube cooked in a sealed copper vessel), starting with the “opening ceremony”:
We also had Chicken Sahi Korma (A true Mughlai delight, lightly sweet and spicy with flavor of cardamom), Shrimp Madras (tomato coconut curry tempered with curry leaves and mustard seeds) and Goat Roganjosh (Tender Bone in goat meat cooked in onion & tomato gravy flavored with spices), followed by equally traditional Sag Paneer, Crispy Okra (my absolute favorite!), Yellow lentils and Matter Paneer:
The trio of desserts nicely concluded our deep immersion into the Indian cuisine:
That’s all I have for you, my friends. This was a great journey into the world of Indian cuisine, and with the masterful execution by Chef Kausik Roy, I can’t recommend Tawa highly enough. Definitely a deviation from the every day food for many people here in the US, but I’m sure your taste buds would appreciate a different flavor, and you will enjoy the experience. And if you are already accustomed to the flavors of the Indian cuisine, come and taste what the Tawa has to offer. Cheers!
Tawa Indian Cuisine
487 Glenbrook Rd
Stamford, CT 06906
Fire, Water, Air, Earth. Four basic elements, which uphold humankind. Literally and figuratively.
“When we learned to cook, we became fully human”.
When it comes to social media, which at this point we learned we can’t live without, the typical experience may be best expressed with one word – bombardment. During the day (more often than not, even during the night, so we might as well speak about 24 hours) we are bombarded with [probably] thousands of snippets, bit and pieces of “important” (can you imagine: mere 12 years ago, there was no social media as we know it – horror!) information – read this, watch that, listen to this. It is amazing that our brain can extract any interesting information while been under such a constant attack.
Talking about interesting – few weeks ago, I came across (don’t ask me where and how, the brain will not give up its secrets) a little article (I think) which also pointed to the video. The video happened to be a trailer for Cooked, the original Netflix documentary:
Two minutes of the trailer was enough for me to say I. Must. Watch it. Note that in general, I’m not a big fan of documentaries. But this trailer promised the movie done so well that I literally wanted to drop everything I was doing and start watching it.
I managed to contain myself until the evening. I also avoided binge watching (despite strong desire), and extended the pleasure over a few evenings.
Cooked is a documentary consisting of 4 episodes, called Fire, Water, Air and Earth, where award-winning author, Michael Pollan, looks at the history of cooking, what it means to humankind, and where it is today. Each episode is dedicated to one of the basic cooking elements – what we cook with fire, which was historically the very first cooking method; how water changes the way we cook; where do you see air come to play (spoiler alert: this episode is mostly about the bread), and then the earth, which is all about fermentation – did you know that about 30% of the food we eat every day is fermented? By the way, a mini quiz for you – do you know how chocolate is related to fermentation?
This series is all about honest, get back to your roots cooking. It is also about respect. Respect to the people, respect to the food we eat and its basic ingredients, whether it is meat, grains, cheese or anything else (gluten included – watch Nathan Myhrvold talk about science of gluten). Photography is incredible, with stunning images, and the whole series is just something you want to watch. And then watch again, as it really appeals to your very basic senses.
I don’t want to tell you anything else about the movie, except to [strongly] suggest that you should to go and watch it. Find a comfy spot, pour yourself a glass of wine, and indulge in something which is masterfully done, beautiful and thought provoking. And then may be dig up some of your mom’s recipes – and get cooking.
No, “Bistronomie” is not defined in Merriam-Webster, not yet anyway, but I expect that you have no problems understanding its meaning – a Gastronomy experience in a Bistro setting, right? It also means that you can eat dessert when you want, but we will talk about it later. Before we continue, I have to give the usual warning – there are lots of food pictures ahead, proceed at your own risk (not sure if “risk” is a right word, but I’m sure you got my point).
Welcome to the recently opened Noir Restaurant in Stamford, Connecticut, which identifies itself as an American Bistronomie. The restaurant looks nice and cozy from the moment you enter, sporting dark quiet decor with interesting paintings on walls – your brain tells you “ha, that looks interesting”, putting you into the right mood, or rather anticipation, for the food to come.
We visited restaurant for Sunday brunch, so what do you typically start your brunch with? Let me rephrase this: when greeted with “what would you like to drink” as you get situated [during brunch], what is the first thing which comes to mind? You might be better than me, but my brain stops at a very pedestrian “mimosa!”. The mimosa was very tasty, but then I actually noticed the cocktail menu – small, but each item on the list looking very intriguing. I had an opportunity to try a number of cocktails and they we all very creative and delicious – and needless to say, visually appealing. I can’t even name a favorite cocktail – well, may be 3 favorites – The Jazzy Latina, The Cabo Mule and The Piscomatico – as I was going from “wow” to “excellent” and back to “wow”.
Our brunch started somewhat traditional with Devilled Eggs (caper aioli, bacon, pimentone) – I love devilled eggs, so I really had to contain myself to behave (meaning: not to move half of the serving dish into my plate), also this was just the beginning of the meal. The dish was very tasty, and as we eat with our eyes first, I can’t help not to commend the presentation.
Our brunch continued – first surprise – with Fresh Fruit with Yogurt. A peculiar side note: few days ago, I read an article suggesting that we eat our fruit all wrong at the end of the meal, which is not right for our digestive system, and instead, we should start our meal with the fresh fruit. I can’t really comment on that, but I can tell you that the fruit was nice, fresh, ripe and tasty.
Next up – Biscuits and Gravy (Homemade buttermilk biscuits, savory sausage gravy). I don’t know even how this works – I don’t have strong cultural connection to the South, where this would be a typical dish – but I love fresh biscuits and savory gravy – this dish was superb. The dish which followed was Pastelon (sweet plantains, seasoned beef, mascarpone cheese), and it even prompted me to do a little research – it appears that “Pastelón is a sweet and salty Puerto Rican version of lasagna or casserole”. I can easily see the similarity with lasagna – the dish had nice layers. I have to also say that it was not overly sweet.
At this point we are in a middle of our meal, and the next up is … remember what I told you before about the Bistronomie? Well, it is not that it is mandatory feature, but yes, we arrived at the dessert in a middle of our meal! First we had Monica’s French Toast (caramelized challah bread, Grand Marnier, browned butter), which was delicious, and it was followed by Banana Foster Griddle Cakes (spiced pancakes, caramelized bananas, praline pecans) which was “please give me a big spoon and everybody leave the room”.
Done with dessert, back to savory! Eggs Benedict, anyone? Isn’t it a classic brunch dish? Yes, I think so. And topped with a little crab? Yes, I know I’m now talking. Crab Eggs Benedict (jumbo lump crab, toast English muffin, hollandaise) – outstanding.
Following an American classic (I always think of Eggs Benedict as a French dish, but it was actually created in the USA) was another Southern specialty – Crispy Chicken and Waffles (home fried crispy chicken, jalapeño maple syrup). I have to tell you that chicken was crispy and tender, and jalapeño maple syrup was simply a stand out. Then we were served Short Rib Hash (slow braised short rib, home fries, fried egg) – isn’t fried egg makes everything look and taste better? I think it does. Overall, this was very tasty dish with one little gripe – the short rib itself was too salty – for sure for my personal taste.
Finishing up on the high note was one last dish, yet another Southern classic – Shrimp and Grits (Cajun Herbed shrimp, creamy grits). While shrimp were perfectly cooked and very tasty, the creamy grits were simply out of this world.
All in all, this was a spectacular meal, and I can’t recommend Noir Bistronomie high enough as location for your next dinner, brunch or simply a place to have a drink at. And before we part, I also would like to thank Chef Francisco Ciciliano who came to speak to us for a few minutes at the end of our food journey.
And of course I have to acknowledge and thank the staff at Noir Stamford for all the wonderful drinks and for taking great care of our group.
So, what do you think about the Bistronomie? Are you going to ask for it now by name? Cheers!
225 Summer Street
Stamford CT 06901
Tuesday thru Thursday 5PM – 10PM
Friday & Saturday 5PM – 11PM
Sunday Brunch 11:30AM – 3PM
City of Stamford (that is in Connecticut, not in England) sports vibrant “wining and dining” scene, with more than 300 restaurants (321, according to TripAdvisor – not bad for a city of about 126,000). City of Stamford also is well known for its business culture and as one of the biggest financial hubs outside of New York city, with Stamford Chamber of Commerce always hard at work to have all the businesses and people well connected. To showcase the love of good tasty food and wines, Chamber of Commerce organizes annual event called Taste of Stamford, which brings together purveyors of the fine food and willing patrons of the same, now in 23rd reincarnation.
I had a pleasure of attending the Taste of Stamford event, which took place last Thursday, and sample offerings of many Stamford’s fine restaurants. Even as portions were perfectly sized, it was literally impossible to taste everything – yes, “too much of a good thing” is real. I tried my best, but yes, failed. There were also good number of wines, beers and even some scotch – I limited myself to the wine only, and there were few nice discoveries there. So what I have for you here is [a very long] collection of pictures from the event – yes, most of them are about food, so if you are hungry, proceed at your own risk.
I also want to share an interesting observation – it seems that Southern Cuisine is a king (a queen?) in Stamford – the amount of pulled pork and grits in various reincarnations coming from many different restaurants was staggering – not something you would see even 5 years ago. Or may be pulled pork is the easiest tasty dish to make in the mass quantities – don’t know, but this is an interesting fact any way you want to look at it.
In no particular order, here are some of my highlights from the Taste of Stamford 2016 event:
Brown Dog Fancy Mustards – a very interesting collection of mustard, available in the number of locations in Stamford or over mail order ( free shipping). Horseradish was good, and Honey Dijon was particularly distinct, with expressive taste of honey clearly coming through.
Amore Cucina & Bar – tasty pork belly with polenta:
Sign of the Whale – were serving tasty Ahi Tuna Tacos and oyster shooters:
Judy’s Bar & Kitchen – very tasty pulled pork and Mac’n’Cheese:
David’s Soundview Catering – shrimp and grits, pulled pork and grits – delicious!
The Capital Grille – serving their famous Lobster Mac’n’Cheese and Kona crusted Filet Mignon (tasty!!):
Franklin Street Works offered a nice selection of the bite size appetizers:
Kona Grill – tasty sushi rolls, excellent presentation:
Columbus Park Trattoria – Italian all the way!
Olio Restaurant, Cantina Southwest Grill & Tequila Bar and Tawa all had tasty dishes (curry chicken from Tawa was spectacular):
One of the biggest surprises for me was the display from the local chain of supermarkets, ShopRite. We like ShopRite bakery very much, this is where we get most of the birthday cakes for various family occasions. It appears that ShopRite also offers great selection of the party platters. And the sushi which they were making right there at the event were outstanding:
BevMax, one of the biggest wine stores in Stamford, provided most of the wines at the event. I tasted a number of wines, and most of them were quite good. There were a few of Cabernet Sauvignon wines presented at the event – 2014 14 Hands Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley, 2013 Joseph Carr Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley and 2014 Iron Side Cabernet Sauvignon California – all very tasty, with good classic profile. My favorite wine was 2013 Gnarly Head 1924 Double Black Limited Edition California, “A dark red blend inspired by the field blends made popular during Prohibition.” – while powerfully boasting 15% ABV, the wine was smooth, polished and perfectly balanced.
And last but not least – dessert! Di Mare Pastry Shop stand had Cannoli 10 ways (okay, may be not 10, but lots of them in any case), and lots of other pastries – if you like cannoli, this was a cannoli paradise:
That is all I have for you, my friends – definitely was one tasty evening. Cheers!