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Posts Tagged ‘Connecticut’

Full Force of Colors – New England Fall 2018

November 10, 2018 6 comments

Everything has its silver lining – at least this is what we, optimists, think. The “Fall Foliage” is one of the most famous attractions of New England – travel agencies offer special tours and people literally from around the world are happy to come to experience the abundance of color, which typically takes place during the month of October. Only last year (2017), the real abundance of colors never really arrived – of course, trees changed colors and leaves fell down – but it was rather a boring fall instead of a typical color festival.

The 2018 overall was one of the wettest years I remember. It rained non-stop the whole summer, and it was hot. The fall was simply a continuation of the same – we still had to run the A/C in October, and it was raining every couple of days. All the trees were still practically summer-green well into the second half of October. And then the silver lining showed up – Mother Nature magically turned on the color, and the streets and roads became anything but boring – amazing, amazing sight anywhere you look, every day bringing more colors and more joy with it.

As I had done it many times in the past (here are a few posts: 2012, 2013, 2015), I took a few pictures while walking around my neighborhood – with iPhone in your pocket, taking pictures had never been that easy – and now I want to share these beautiful New England fall colors with you. This year we visited for the first time Mark Twain’s museum (mansion) in Hartford, so I included a few pictures here as well.

Hope you will enjoy the beautiful colors as much as I do. Cheers!

For The Love of Chowder – 2018 Edition

October 30, 2018 1 comment

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflecting on the Beautiful Fall Colors

October 31, 2015 21 comments

Fall is most beautiful time in New England – people often plan special trips from around the country to embrace that Fall beauty, when leaves take on unimaginable colors. This year, though, I was worrying that we will not get to experience that beauty fully. September was way warmer than usual, and by the end of the month most of the trees were as green as in June, so my fear was that the leaves will go from green to brown, depriving us of the breathtaking exuberance of colors.

This had been challenging year so far. While the work had been exciting and interesting, it required a lot bigger investment of time, as we are trying to get into the new areas – and time is not something which is easily scaling or expanding. The end result is a great reduction in time left to spend on this very blog. The year also happened to be extremely emotionally challenging, but of course this is simply part of life.

Beautiful, sparkling, unstoppable abundance of colors arrived in October, delivering endless “eye candies” with every look outside. I found time for a slow walk around the neighborhood with my daughter and my camera, trying to capture myriad little moments mother nature always ready to share with us. Now I want to share that beauty with you, just in case you need a little sparkle in your life. Cheers!

New England Fall Colors

New England Fall Colors

New England Fall Colors

New England Fall Colors

New England Fall Colors

New England Fall Colors

New England Fall Colors

New England Fall Colors

New England Fall Colors

New England Fall Colors

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New England Fall Colors

New England Fall Colors

New England Fall Colors

New England Fall Colors

New England Fall Colors

New England Fall Colors

New England Fall Colors

New England Fall Colors

New England Fall Colors

New England Fall Colors

New England Fall Colors

New England Fall Colors

Restaurant Files: Grand Experience at Bistro V in Greenwich, Connecticut

July 25, 2015 7 comments

For the past 2 years, I had an opportunity to experience many great Connecticut restaurants, often in the group of passionate foodies (also known as bloggers), and to share those experiences with the world. Majority of our visits included food and wine, but I would say that food was always a star. Don’t get me wrong – we had a lot of wonderful cocktails and wines at most of the places we visited, but we had to connect food with wine on our own.

What would make dining experience “Grand”? To me, this is simple – proper pairing of food with the wine completely changes your dining experience. When the wine “works” with the food, the result is greater than the simple sum of two – it is totally different, elevated experience, a true celebration for your taste buds. This is exactly what I experienced at our recent visit to Bistro V & Pâtisserie in Greenwich, Connecticut. Every dish on the menu had its own wine pairing – and most importantly, not just a pairing, but very successful pairing.

Bistro V originally opened in 1980 on the busy Greenwich Avenue strip of shops and restaurants in Greenwich. In 2014, Marc and Evelyne Penvenne (originally from Burgundy, the owners of another successful Greenwich eatery, MĂ©li-MĂ©lo CrĂŞperie & Juice Bar) took over the Bistro V and since then reintroduced it to their customers, maintaining dining experience as French classic as it can be.

We started our evening with the cocktail of Byrrh and Sparkling wine. Byrrh is something I never heard of before. According to Wikipedia, it is “an aromatised wine-based apĂ©ritif made of red wine, mistelle, and quinine”. Byrrh was created in 1860s, and it was very popular as an apĂ©ritif in Europe and US. It disappeared in US after the Prohibition, and was reintroduced back only in 2012. The cocktail of Byrrh and Monmousseau sparkling wine was excellent, light, refreshing and very easy to drink ( dangerously easy).

While we were enjoying our apĂ©ritif, two Hors D’oeuvres showed up, perfectly single bite size – tiny toasts with smoked salmon and similarly sized PatĂ© toasts. Both worked extremely well with our sparkling apĂ©ritif.

As we situated at our tables, the bread baskets arrived. It is not for nothing there is a word Pâtisserie in the name of the restaurant. Baking is an indelible part of Bistro V, and while these were not the pastries, which Bistro V is famous for (well deserves a separate post), these rolls were incredible – fresh, yeasty, comforting, crusty, warm and fuzzy feeling-inducing. Nope, can’t describe it – but this bread alone is well worth the restaurant visit.

Fresh made dinner roolsOne fun part of been in a group of bloggers (besides the fact that no dish arriving at the table can be touched until multiple cameras with flash and without would be deployed for the good period of time – and also nobody would scream at you about using the flash) is that you get to see and do things which would be impossible if you just come to eat at the restaurant as a regular customer. For instance, to visit the kitchen. We were given an opportunity to step into the kingdom of the Executive Chef Erik Erlichson and snap a few pictures as the food was ready to be brought out – definitely a fun thing to do.

Watermelon and Feta Salad ReadyOur dinner started with Watermelon Salad (Ricotts salata, Candy-pickled rind, pine nuts, baby arugula, lemon vinaigrette). The contrast of sweet watermelon and sharp cheese was perfect, and addition of peppery arugula and pine nuts provided both spicy undertones and the texture. The intended wine pairing was Barone Fini Pino Grigio from Veneto. I have to tell you that inner snob got in the way here, and I expressed my surprise with the Italian Pinot Grigio at the French restaurant to our server – as the result, my pour was very small and I finished it before salad arrived – I think they would work together well, but I was unable to establish that.

Our next dish was Chilled Maine Lobster (Court-Bouillon-poached, hearts of palm, radish, tomato, cilantro emulsion). With this dish, there was a slight inconsistency, which is probably unavoidable when serving tasting portions – the portions which had mostly the claws were excellent, but the other part of the body were rather chewy. But in any case, the dish paired perfectly with 2014 Domaine La Colombe RosĂ©, Provence, which was excellent, clean, with touch of strawberries and perfect balance.

Next up – the Iron Skillet Grilled Branzino (Shaved fennel in citrus emulsion, orange “oil”) – an outstanding presentation to begin with. Crispy skin and very tasty dish overall, with an excellent balance of flavor. Here we were first introduced to the range of wines from Lebanon. 2012 Ixsir Altitudes White, Lebanon (blend of Muscat, Viognier, Sauvignon, SĂ©millon) had a touch of white fruit on the nose, spicy balanced palate of white peaches and a hint of spices, overall an outstanding wine. The pairing was excellent, the wine really boosted the flavor of the dish, moving the whole experience to the next level.

Next dish was Crispy Hudson Valley Duck Breast (Salad of confit, snap peas, carrot ginger dressing) – this was simply a perfection on the plate – every component of the dish was excellent by itself and delicious together. The wine pairing was very surprising – Cabernet Sauvignon blend from France (I would rather expect to see a Pinot Noir with duck), but once again, the wine complemented the dish spot on, delivering the next level of hedonistic pleasure. “F” Cabernet Sauvignon by Dave Phinney, France (15% ABV) had nice red fruit, touch of herbs, dark fruit on the palate, mint, touch of earthiness, nice spice and excellent balance, making the high ABV absolutely unnoticeable.

At this point in the dinner my relationship with the server completely restored after the Pinot Grigio fiasco, and I got to taste the wine which was not a part of the wine program for the evening – 2012 Ixsir Altitudes RosĂ©, Lebanon, a blend of Syrah and Caladoc (a new grape for me!) which was excellent, crisp, with strawberries on the palate and clean acidity, very refreshing.

Question: have you come across a new phenomenon (for me, at least) – a natural mineral water from Bordeaux? I saw one recently at the wine store, and we got to taste one at the restaurant – we had Ă” Muse Grand Cru de l’Eau Natural Mineral Water from Bordeaux, both still and sparkling. I wouldn’t claim that I noticed any difference with any other regular or sparkling water, but I still wanted to mention this as we should expect to see those more often.

Let’s get back to food. While all the dishes were outstanding, I still had a favorite of the evening – Versailles Steak Tartar (Filer Mignon pf grass-fed beef, house sauce, traditional condiments, baguette toasts) – my notes only say “wow! wow!” – do I need to say more? This dish was a fiesta of flavor, simply spectacular. If you like Steak tartar, you owe it to yourself to come and experience it at Bistro V. The wine pairing was absolutely spectacular as well. 2010 Ixsir Altitudes Cabernet Blend, Lebanon (blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Caladoc, Tempranillo) had the nose of herbs, tobacco, smoke and red fruit. The palate was concentrated, with the nice tannins, dark fruit, firm and well structured – an excellent wine overall.

Our dessert was very simple, but uniquely refreshing and delicious – Chilled Fruit Soup (Cedric’s frozen yogurt). It also paired perfectly with Pineau de Charentes, a fortified wine made from the lightly fermented grape must with addition of neutral Cognac brandy.

At the end of the evening, we had an opportunity to thank Executive Chef Erik Erlichson for the delicious meal and inundate him with questions.

Chef Erik ErlichsonThere you have it, my friends – Grand Experience at the Bistro V in Greenwich, Connecticut. If you live in the area or plan to visit, I highly recommend you will make Bistro V a part of your dining plans. Cheers!

Bistro V
339 Greenwich Avenue
Greenwich, CT 06
Phone: 203-661-6634
http://versaillesgreenwich.com/

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True Passion: Amore Cucina and Bar, or a Visit with the Dough Scientist

June 19, 2015 15 comments

I’m sure that everyone involved in the craft, no matter what it is, has passion for what they do. Sometimes the passion simply shows through their work. But every once in a while we come across the person who simply exudes that passion, readily sharing it with the world through the words and deeds. In this series (as an engineer, I like to organize things), which I call “True Passion”, I plan to share my encounters with such a True Passion.

Amore RestaurantCan a visit to the pizza restaurant blow your mind? I mean the mind first of all, not even the palate? In the nation raised on Pizza Hut and Little Caesars, pizza is such a no-brainer, isn’t it?

We (bloggers) got together for the dinner at Amore Cucina & Bar in Stamford, Connecticut. Amore has an interesting story – in essence, it was the second oldest restaurant in Stamford, originally opened in 1975. In 2014, the original owner of the restaurant sold it, so we were visiting a new reincarnation of the Amore.

As we were finishing our customary chat and the round of cocktails before the dinner, the man walked in with a glass jar in his hand. Bruno DiFabio, Six-time World Pizza Champion and a new owner of Amore restaurant, came to share with us his passion about the … dough. Look, I love bread and all the things made out of dough, but I never even tried to think about dough as something which can solicit emotions (no problems, you can call me whatever you want, I’m still a student of life, one moment at a time). The dough for me was something you can quickly put together, or maybe buy at the local supermarket for a $1 for a big plastic-wrapped ball.

Make no mistake – dough can be an object of passion. Have you heard of the mother dough, essentially a dough which is always alive and used to start a new batch of dough every day? How about foraging your own wild yeast, from the different and totally unexpected places, every morning? How about super-digestible pizzas, which are a rave now in Europe – heard about those? When you meet a person like Bruno, you realize how the true passion looks like. And don’t discount the Pizza passion – having both gas and wood-fired oven in one relatively small restaurant? I think it really means something.

Well, this is the post about Amore restaurant, so as much as I would like to continue talking about our conversation with Bruno, I want to move on to the food, so I can inundate you with pictures. But if you want to know more about Bruno, here is the link – besides, visiting Amore restaurant might be a right thing to do as well.

Okay, let’s talk about our dinner, which was a true demonstration of the Bruno’s Pizza magic, and mastery of the Chef Jarred, who joined Bruno after his previous gig at Washington Prime. As usual we started from the cocktails. I had French Quarter (G’Vine Floraison Gin, St. Germain, Green Grapes, Basil Leaves, Lemon Juice, Fever-Tree Tonic), which was nice and refreshing. The the food started arriving on the tables, in multiple sets, above and beyond our expectations.

We started with the Bruno’s Bread w/ Sunday Sauce – very simple, but delicious. By the way, according to Bruno, it is a myth that you have to cook tomato sauce for hours and hours – you can pretty much develop the flavors within an hour, there is not much else you can achieve with the extra cooking time.

The next section of our menu was called Round Pies. The Round pie pizza at Amore is a thin-crust pizza, cooked in the wood-fired oven. Here is what we had:
New Haven White (little necks, Amore bacon, house mozarella, smoked lemon juice) – this pizza is a tribute to the Connecticut staple, Frank Pepe‘s White Clam Pizza, and it was excellent.
For the Queen (San Marzano, flor di latte mozarella, pecorino romano, basil, local egg) – while we think that adding egg to many dishes is a new discovery in the US, it appears that Italians had put an egg forever on Margherita Pizza – I love that food learning. The pizza was outstanding.
The Holy Cheesus (House Mozzarella, parmigiano reggiano, pecorino romano, fontina, burrata) – that was simply a Wow. No further comments.

Next up – Square Pies. This is a Neapolitan style pizza, also known as deep dish. This pizza is made in the gas-fired oven, where the temperature can reach 900F. It all comes down to the dough – I always thought of the deep dish pizza as heavy, but it is not in Bruno’s hands…  Here is what we tried:
Juliet (Houze Mozzarella, gogonzola dolce, fig jam, prosciutto, agrodolce) – excellent, great combination of flavors.
Pitt Master (Pulled pork, red onion, mozzarella, BBQ sauce, agave nectar) – different and excellent again

You must have Greens with dinner, right? So rest assured, we had a salad – pretty unique:
Arugula and Beet Salad (Goat cheese and candied walnuts) – what is unique about beets and arugula? How about beets which were braised in veal and chicken stock, and then pureed? This is not your typical beet salad, isn’t it?

And then there were Plates – with literally no holds barred. Take a look:
Meatballs (Sugo, house ricotta, agrodolce) – these were okay, a bit dense.
Octopus Puttanesca (Tomato, Sicily olives, garlic, n’duja sausage, capers) – this was excellent, the capers were deep fried, very nice heat overall.
Tuna Crudo (Calabrian chiles, toasted pumpkin seeds, red onion, torn parsley) – outstanding.
Shrimp & Polenta (tomato, house bacon, polenta) – that sweet polenta was just something else – another wow dish.
Lasagna Balls (Bolgnese and sugo) – forget arancini – this is what you really want to eat. Perfect crunch, and you can taste real lasagna, inside and outside. Yep, another wow.
Chicken Scarpariello (house sausage, peppadew, garlic, Italian polenta, green shallot) – spectacular flavors, really an excellent dish.
Whole Branzino, roasted and fried – wow!
Pasta Carbonara (linguine, guancalle, parsley and egg) – and wow again – so fresh and so light, you just can’t stop eating it.

After all that food do you think we still had room for Dessert? Well, actually, we did – but luckily, only for one:
Budino & Fat Pizelle (butterscotch, whipped cream, berry reduction) – a delicious concoction.

Yes, this was the end of our evening. I hope you were not too hungry before you read this post – sorry, forgot to give you my usual warning. If you are local, or if your travel will take you to Stamford, Amore Cucina & Bar might be your little neighborhood gem… Until the next time – cheers!

Amore Restaurant
921 Hope Street
Stamford, CT 06907
Phone: 203-357-1066
http://amorecucinastamford.com

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