Let 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.
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.
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.
I 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
There are lots and lots of restaurants in Fairfield County in Connecticut (in 2014, Fairfield county had the second highest number of restaurants per capita in the country, don’t think it is any different in 2016). That means that every dining out night has a great number of choices – in case you are craving Italian, Japanese or creative American, may be French, Thai or Indian. But what if you still want something else, something different? I might have just a place for you – MIRO Kitchen in Fairfield, Connecticut.
The restaurant describes itself as serving “Pacific Rim” cuisine. On the plate, it means a unique blend of flavors, with elements of Southeast Asian cuisines, Hawaiian, Filipino, Cambodian and other influences, bringing the seesaw popular term “Fusion” to the new height – at least in my personal dining experience. MIRO Kitchen serves truly unique and different food, and to deliver that “unique and different” experience, no effort is spared. To give you one example: our dessert course included Filipino ice cream, called Ube, made primarily out of yam (Ube is a Filipino word for yam), which was absolutely spectacular in flavor and texture. There is only one source of this ice cream on the East Coast, in Jersey City (about 70 miles from Fairfield), which means that every week someone have to take a trip there to get that “unique and different” treat – if you have ever driven around New York city, you would agree that it means “going an extra mile” (pun intended).
Just wanted to give you an example – but it’s way too early to talk about dessert, let talk about our whole dining experience from the beginning. Once again, I visited the restaurant with the group of bloggers, so we really had an opportunity to try lots of different dishes MIRO Kitchen offers and experience the full range of Pacific Rim cuisine.
We started with the cocktails, and you know what – I continued with the cocktails throughout the dinner – don’t think I ever had that many delicious, unique cocktails. The cocktail list at MIRO Kitchen is not that large, so I tried almost all of them: Saketini (Vodka, nigori, cucumber) was excellent, not too sweet; Thaigarita (tequila, Thai chili, calamansi) – love the presentation; Old Fashioned Green Tea (Bourbon, citrus, green tea) – outstanding with noticeable bourbon notes, delicious; Cambodian Mule (coconut vodka, sake, kaffir lime, fresh Ginger) – soft and tasty, Weng Weng (white and dark rum, tequila, gin, vodka, st. germaine, tropical fruit juices) – a nod to the famous Long Island Ice tea, not too sweet with tasty pineapple profile; Hala Kahiki (pineapple vodka, amaretto, sake bubbles) – beautiful presentation, tasty and refreshing.
Now, let’s talk food! We started with the selection of Hors D’Oeuvres. Our first dish was Ahi Bruschetta (Tomato, balsamic glaze, avocado) – great flavors, very nice crunch, following up by
Hanger Sushi (Miso glaze, wasabi crema) – this was a standout, both in the presentation (sushi style) and the flavors, with the sauce served on a side.
Our first official course was a soup sampler. What was almost mind boggling is that in Saimin Noodle Soup (pork belly, mushroom, scallion, soft egg), which is a Hawaiian version of Ramen, the pork belly was still crisp. The Curry Noodle Soup (curry, coconut milk, vegetables) was literally heartwarming – I would gladly eat it any day, but it is an ultimate cold winter night treat.
The soup followed by the selection of Tacos – Tako Taco (braised octopus, roasted corn relish) and Duck Taco (Hoisin, cabbage, peanut sauce), both very tasty.
Our Pacific Rim cuisine exploration continued with Togarashi Lobster Mac and Cheese (Japanese seven spice, panko crust, bacon) with a unique, delicious, spicy flavor and then General Tso’s Cauliflower (sweet chili sauce, crispy potatoes), which could be easily my most favorite dish of the day. I love Cauliflower in any form, and in this dish, it was perfectly cooked and the flavor was simply outstanding – couldn’t stop eating it.
Next up were Lo Mein (Chinese wonton noodles, vegetables), very tasty, then Crispy Shrimp & Grits (coconut shrimp, white cheese grits, hot oil) – another wow dish with unique “fusion” blend of spices on the shrimp. We finished our dinner with Macadamia Kalamansi Cod (wasabi sticky rice) which was simply outstanding.
And finally, the dessert! We had a pleasure of sampling three desserts – Malasadas (miso caramel), Banana Bread Pudding and Mansana Turon (apple spring roll), served with the Ube ice cream – all “wow” flavors, a stunning finish to an absolutely delicious meal.
There you have it, my friends – unique and different experience. In the sea of restaurants, MIRO Kitchen is clearly a standout – from crafted cocktails to unique dessert, offering vegan, dairy free and gluten free dishes – something you owe it to yourself to check out. You can thank me later. Cheers!
1876 Black Rock Turnpike
Fairfield, CT 06825
Ph: (203) 332-0001
Thanksgiving is definitely one of my most favorite holidays – maybe because it is so centered on the food. Of course it is about families and friends getting together, and giving thanks for many many things which comprise our lives – we all have a lot to be thankful for. Nevertheless, the food on Thanksgiving is essential, it is a canvas of gathering, and even more importantly so if you are hosting the gathering.
For many years we visited our close friends to celebrate Thanksgiving together with them. This year we are hosting Thanksgiving dinner at our house, which gave me a pleasure of doing a boatload of cooking, and – I’m sure you expected that – to select the wines for the dinner.
Thanksgiving is a quintessential American holiday, so choosing to serve the American wines comes easy and logical. But then America is all about freedom, so of course, you can drink whatever you feel like, I’m just talking about my personal choices. About a month ago I visited Lodi region in California (my second trip there, after Wine Bloggers Conference back in August), and while I was tasting through the line of delicious wines at Bokisch Vineyards, it dawned on me – this year, we should celebrate Thanksgiving with wines from Lodi. Now, as it is almost time to get to the table, this is exactly what we are doing.
Lodi is somewhat under the radar (and believe me – I would love to keep it like that, for it to stay the best kept secret for a few oenophiles only), but totally unique and totally unexpected region, which produces unique and delicious wines. Lodi is a California appellation, yet it produces the world class wines absolute majority would never associate with California. Look at the wines I’m planning to open. Sangiovese Rosé from LangeTwins – yes, an Italian star, Sangiovese, right out of the Central California. Graciano from Bokisch Vineyards – yes, Graciano, the unique grape from Rioja in Spain – this was the wine which prompted this whole “Lodi Thanksgiving” idea. Or how about Borra Vineyards Heritage, a field blend (!) of Barbera, Carignane, Petite Sirah and Alicante Bouschet – here is another core Italian varietal, Barbera. I don’t have a Lodi white wine, this is where Turley White Coat should do, as it contains Grenache Blanc and Verdelho from Lodi. Unique grapes, unique and, most importantly, delicious wines – this is what makes Lodi wines such an easy choice for me.
The Thanksgiving dinner will include the infamous “3 in 1″ bird, the Turducken, and lots of the side dishes – you can see some of the key components in the picture below.
I have an ambitious plan to report on the dinner right after its completion – that might never happen, but I will try. By the way, do you care to guess what wine is hiding behind the wrap? Maybe name the grape, and maybe even the producer? How are you going to celebrate? With what wines? Is there a dish you are looking forward to making or, at least, eating? Happy Thanksgiving! Cheers!
If I will describe a restaurant as “classy rustic”, would that make sense to you? Can you walk into the restaurant and feel that time and place all of a sudden changed on you? The modern, fast, noisy city disappeared, and instead, you find yourself in the cozy shack up in the woods?
That’s what Tavern 489 does to you. You walk in and instantly taken by the ambiance – no detail of decor is left to a chance – every element is used to create that tavern feel, the rustic ambiance – and it puts you in the right mood.
We visited restaurant back in May, when it was only opened. Eric Monte, a well-known restaurateur in Stamford, CT and an avid wine collector, put together a special dinner menu for us, with all the dishes paired with the different wines.
And not only the wines. Tavern 489 is the only restaurant in Connecticut which serves Moosehead Lager, the beer made at the oldest Canadian brewery (founded in 1867) – and Moosehead Lager was our first pairing of the night.
Before we get to food – yes, of course, there was a cocktail to start the evening. Tavern 489 is located on the street called Glenbrook Road, one of the oldest streets in Stamford – how you can pass on an opportunity to taste the Glenbrook Mule cocktail (which was very tasty)?
Our first dish was Venison Balls (red wine green peppercorn sauce), served with the Moosehead Lager. The balls were nicely spicy, and the beer was working perfectly with the dish. And what I loved the most was the presentation – perfectly fitting for the tavern food.
Next up was Cold Spring tomato Soup, and we also switched to wine to continue our dinner. Our first wine was 2013 Les Costiéres de Pomerols Picpoul de Pinet AOP – touch of honeysuckle on the nose, clean, simple palate, tart. The wine didn’t work with the soup (how many wines do?), despite the fact that the soup was very tasty. But it perfectly complemented Taunton Bay fried oysters (lemon, tamarind, curry, tomato sauce), which were delicious and again, beautifully presented dish – we eat with our eyes first, and the oysters were a pure delight on the plate.
Remember I mentioned music? So the music has a special place at the Tavern 489 – right in front of the house, and it is live. Tavern 489 brings in many musicians, so all you really need is a glass of wine (or a Moosehead Lager), sit down (or stand for that matter), and get carried away:
The food continued with the selection of the burgers – Bison Burger, Blackened Angus Burger w/Blue Cheese and Tavern Burger w/Pesto Truffle – my favorite was the Blackened Burger – great flavor, and of course it is hard to resist a blue cheese topping. With the meat, the new wine showed up – this time red, 2010 Grand Palais Bordeaux Supérieur – typical Bordeaux nose, green bell peppers, supple palate, good balance. This wine perfectly paired with my favorite dish of the evening – Charred octopus (Kidney bean, tomato, shallots, garlic, parsley, pomegranate chimichurri dressing) – this dish had both perfect finess of flavor, and just a rustic, homey, comfort food feel – simply a wow.
Our main course was a true carnivore dream and a masterpiece in the presentation – Dirty Tomahawk steak – bone-in thick ribeye steak (served with Chef Suggestions – potatoes, broccoli rabe, bacon-wrapped asparagus). Definitely a treat, and if you are into the meat, that is your dish. Another wine was served with this dish – 2012 Shooting Star Blue Franc Blaufrankisch Washington State – generous, rich, brooding – delicious wine overall. The wine was unique and different – how often you get to drink wine made in the USA from the Austrian/German grape such as Blaufränkisch? Definitely a treat – and an interesting story on the back label.
And finally – the dessert – very tasty Chocolate Mousse, light and delicious.
489 Glenbrook Road
Stamford, CT 06906
Translated from Spanish, the word “Tabla” has a few different meanings, but the one of interest for us here is a “board” or a “plank”. If you stop by the recently opened Tablao restaurant in SoNo district or Norwalk, Connecticut, the wooden planks on the walls will definitely attract your attention – and if you are a oenophile, you can’t help but to keep looking for all the familiar and coveted names (uncontrollable drooling will be excused, but please behave):
For sure I was very happy to observe all those wooden boards when I visited the restaurant for the bloggers dinner a few month ago. This time around, I arrived even a bit early, so I had an opportunity to snap a few pictures of decor and ambiance:
While I love wine, I would never skip the bar – after all, nice cocktail is a nice cocktail, a great way to start the evening. The bar at Tablao didn’t disappoint. To be entirely honest, it even exceeded my expectations, as soon as I saw a bottle of Del Maguey Mezcal. Del Maguey makes absolutely spectacular Mezcal, which is rare and almost impossible to find. If the restaurant carries it, it gives me a good pointer for what to expect.
Tablao offers a nice selection of cocktails and wines by the glass:
We had a few of the cocktails, and the wines were prepared for our dinner in advance. I really liked the cocktail called Charred! (charred Serrano pepper, Chinaco Blanco – another sign of high-class – rare and beautiful tequila, Vida Mezcal, lime, agave, optional egg white) – nice balance, good spicy bite. From the wines, my favorites were 2011 Guimaro Mencia Ribera Sacra which was earthy and showing nice ripe fruit, and 2014 Desierto25 Cabernet Franc Patagonia, Argentina, which was unexpected (Cab Franc from Argentina? wow) and stunning – smooth, balanced, with an excellent fruit profile:
While we were mingling, the food started to appear:
Cheese Croquettes were very tasty, with nice amount of spice. Potato Croquettes were my favorite, again, well cooked and very tasty, with good amount of seasoning, and then Grilled Chorizo – who can argue with Chorizo?
The first dish to arrive at the table Charcuteria, which is offered with a very nice selection of meats and cheeses at Tablao:
Our first course consisted of three different Tapas: Brussels Sprouts Salad (Fontina risotto cake, black truffle shavings, truffle olive oil, lemon, parmesan cheese) – memorable presentation, the salad itself was tasty, but the risotto cake was a touch too dense to my taste. Next up was Salmon Tartare (Jalapeños, red onion, ginger, lemon juice served with house-made potato crisps) – nicely made, good flavor and then Calamari a la Plancha (Vinaigrette of vegetables and salad) with a good char on the octopus.
The second course brought in Hanger Steak (Green chimichurri), Asparagus (Parmesan, red pepper vinaigrette, balsamic reduction) and Chorizo Español (figs, beans), all nicely prepared:
And then, of course, showing all the Spanish cooking heritage, the Classic Paella (Chorizo, Chicken, Port, Clams, Mussels, Shrimp). Let me explain how good this paella is: you know how every once in a while you are setting next to the dish, you are full – I mean, completely full – and you still are going “let me just get another bite, just one more, please, I promise” – yes, that was the Paella experience at Tablao.
To finish our night in style, we got the trio of the deserts – Tres-Leches (Dense 3 milk cake), Strawberry Panna Cotta (Served with coconut ice cream) and Housemade Chocolate Tart (Chocolate & Goat Cheese) – all very tasty.
That’s all I have for you, my friends. If you are looking for a tasty (and different!) drink, a glass of good wine and a tasty bite of food, Tablao in SoNo can provide them all – with a bonus of a perfect ambiance. Cheers!
Tablao Wine Bar and Restaurant
86 Washington St
Norwalk, CT 06854
Ph: (203) 939-9602
When it comes to the so-called “tableclothed” restaurants in the USA, Italian restaurants are the most popular category (Italian cuisine is the third most popular overall, as you can’t beat Chinese restaurants, present at least on every other block in our cities and towns). With such a popularity comes a question – how can you differentiate yourself? Every Italian restaurant can serve fried calamari, mozzarella sticks and penne alla vodka – and this is what people want, the traditional comfort food. But you want people to come back to your restaurant, so you want to keep the tradition, but make the dining experience memorable – how can this be done?
Talking about “how”, I have an example for you – TerraSole Cheese Wine Bar Ristorante in Ridgefield, Connecticut. The restaurant serves food which is unmistakably Italian, with heart and soul, but the word which comes to mind to describe it is elevated – from ingredients and preparation (for instance: 85% of the pasta is made at the restaurant, 15% is imported directly from Italy) to the presentation of all the dishes – I tried my best with the pictures below to give you an idea – the pictures might not do the justice to the food, so you might need to visit restaurant on your own.
I visited TerraSole few month back with the group of bloggers, with the torrential rain pouring outside (was well soaked by reaching inside from the parking), so I forgot to take any interior pictures which I like to start the post with – and thus let me just jump straight to the food. Well, no, the drinks first.
The restaurant offers a nice selection of the cocktails. We started with the cocktail called Chanel #6 (Kettel One vodka, Prosecco, Chambord, Pineapple juice) which was refreshing and not very sweet, something I always appreciate in the cocktail.
The restaurant owner, Pietro Polini, pre-selected the wines for our dinner, which I definitely appreciate. For the white, we had 2015 Cantina Terre del Barolo Roero Arneis, which was excellent, with a nice fuller body and touch of sweetness. I don’t drink Arneis all that often, but this wine was definitely a notch above any other Arneis wines I tried before. For the red, we had a few different wines, and 2015 Vecchie Terre Zensa Primitivo Puglia was my favorite – perfect balance, nice dark roasted berries, espresso, mint – an excellent wine overall (looks like the wine was imported directly from Italy as wine-searcher can’t find it anywhere in the USA).
Now, let’s talk about food. There were lots and lots of food. Imagine that proverbial Italian mother, making sure you will eat well – Pietro Polini played her role, making sure we will fully experience what TerraSole got to offer. Here is my usual warning for this type of posts – if you are hungry, please stop right here, or proceed at your own risk.
I tried to format all the food notes alongside the menu as it was presented to us. But even with such a huge menu, it still didn’t include all the dishes served. We actually started with Charcuterie, which is excellent at the TerraSole restaurant, and features lots of tasty options – I’m including two of the menu excerpts so you will see it for yourself:
I love the idea using cut up corks as a pointers to what we are eating. And everything which was on that Charcuterie board was delicious – creamy La Tur cheese, spectacular Humbold Fog, Duck Prosciutto and every other piece of cheese and meat.
After Charcuterie, the dinner proceeded with the selection of Antipasti:
Imported black truffle Burrata, imported Prosciutto San Daniele aged 16 months, organic tomatoes, roasted peppers, shaved Parmigiano Reggiano, shaved black truffle topped with truffle balsamic drizzle
INSALATA DI GRANCHIO
Salad of Alaskan King Crabmeat, red quinoa, fresh Fava beans, avocado, organic multicolored tomatoes
Sicilian Eggplant & Porcini veggie balls served with San Marzano tomato sauce and shaved Ricotta Salata
From this selection, Burrata was excellent, and I really liked the Polpette, which was unusual and tasty.
Next up – couple of salads:
INSALATA DI CAVOLETTI
Shaved miniature Brussels sprouts salad tossed with toasted hazelnuts, crispy imported Pancetta in a truffle Parmigiano vinaigrette with Westfield goat cheese croquettes
Grilled organic baby artisan romaine heart with creamy Parmigiano dressing, Parmigiano crisp & Grissini
Shaved Brussels sprouts salad had truffle vinaigrette, which translated into an incredible flavor – I didn’t know truffles would work so well with the brussels sprouts. And Caesar salad with grilled Romaine hearts was a pure standout, simply fantastic. I have to honestly admit – I tried to grill so Romaine hearts on my own, and failed – but this is definitely something worth mastering.
This is an Italian dinner, so it is time for pasta!
PAGLIA E FIENO CON CARNE MISTE E FUNGHI
Homemade yellow and green fettuccine with mixed braised meats and organic Japanese mini mushrooms
CAVATELLI CON SALSICCIA
Homemade Cavatelli infused with broccoli rabe, baked hot with and sweet sausage and San Marzano tomato sauce topped with whipped Ricotta
PASTA DI GRANO ARSO CAPRESE
Imported Grano Arso pasta made with “burnt” semolina grain, tossed with roasted organic eggplant, San Marzano cherry tomatoes, basil & imported truffle Burrata
Homemade fettuccine dish was nice and light, Cavatelli had an amazing flavor, excellent texture and a bit of the spicy kick – all three dishes were delicious.
And finally the main course – various types of grilled meats, seafood and chicken:
GRIGLIATA DI CARNE
Platter of grilled meats: lollipop rack of veal, lollipop rack of lamb, sliced skirt steak, duck breast and Luganica sausage, served with Shishito peppers and marble potatoes
GRIGLIATA DI PESCE
Grilled seafood platter: Branzino, head-on Maya prawns, calamari, King salmon, fresh Maine lobster finished with lemon, cold pressed EVOO, local farm vegetables
POLLETTO DELLO CHEF
Panko crusted organic chicken breast wrapped around Prosciutto, wild baby arugula & Truffle Burrata cheese, finished with natural chicken broth over truffle mashed Peruvian potatoes & sautéed baby spinach
Presentation, flavor and overall execution were perfect on all three main dishes – all three were simply a “wow”.
You don’t expect us to leave without the desert, don’t you?
Espresso was perfect (it is generally expected, but often not the case), and profiterole together with the chocolate liquor was a perfect finish for the delicious meal.
I really would like to thank Pietro Polini for the delicious meal. And for all of you, my friends, if you will happen to be any anywhere in a proximity of Ridgefield in Connecticut, and craving a delicious, creative Italian food, TerraSole is definitely the place to visit. Cheers!
3 Big Shop Ln
Ridgefield, CT 06877
Ph: (203) 438-5352
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