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Restaurant Files: Dazzling Flavors of Tawa in Stamford, Connecticut

May 3, 2016 3 comments

Tawa Restaurant LogoAs 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”:

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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
Phone:(475) 299-9973
http://tawaonline.com

Tawa Indian Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Italian Tapas? Sì, Signore!

September 27, 2013 16 comments

DSC_0765Can’t tell you why, but this local Stamford restaurant, called Zaza Italian Gastorbar, had been on my “must try” list for a while. Something in that name, Zaza Gastorbar, is utterly attractive – the same way as you look at the creative wine label and say “wow, cool label, wonder how it tastes like”, the name “Zaza Gastrobar” had that effect on me. I guess it was a promise of a unique experience hiding in a word “gastrobar“. Finally, the convenient occasion presented itself, and off we went.

While it is hard to say that Stamford has its culinary Mecca section of the town, if anything, an intersection of Broad, Bedford, Summer and Atlantic streets can be designated as one – this is where lots of restaurants are located. The good thing in Stamford is that you don’t need to worry about the parking. Unlike many towns nearby, where you need to run circles looking for the street parking, downtown Stamford has plenty of parking garages to accommodate all the hungry people. Well, okay, enough about parking, let’s talk about the restaurant.

Zaza doesn’t accept reservations, but we had no problems finding the table for 6 on Thursday at 6:30. From the moment we walked in, I liked the way the restaurant is decorated, it felt modern but comfortable. One thing you need to be aware of – the place gets noisy. But, when the restaurant is good and busy, which doesn’t?

I love trying food as opposed to just eating. Whenever available, my strong preference is tapas, chef tasting menu, dim sum, or any variation on the theme of small plates. Now, when you think of an Italian restaurant, do you think of it in terms of the small plates? I’m sure first thing which comes to mind is a full plate of pasta, or pizza, or mozzarella sticks. But Zaza, to my absolute delight, has a whole menu section, which is called… yes, Italian Tapas! Luckily, our friends share the same outlook on food, so this was an  Italian Tapas night!

Before we get to the food ( mostly in pictures), few words about the wines. I would call the wine list somewhat limited – however, considering that it contains the options starting from $25/bottle, I can’t really complain. We started with 2012 Honig Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley, which is one of the best examples of Napa Sauvignon Blanc – just enough citrus notes, with some fresh grass and delicate finish, very round – that was definitely a great start to our meal. At $46 on the list, it was also a relative bargain (about triple retail).

And then, there was food. In no particular order:

Calamari Fritti, lightly fried, tomato sauce – very well done, light, crispy:

Calamari Fritti

Calamari Fritti

Potato Gnocchi, Butternut Squash, Cream Sauce – not only it was a butternut squash sauce, but butternut squash was perfectly present in the dish. Lightly sweet and delicious together.

Potato Gnocchi

Potato Gnocchi

Tuscan Beans, Spicy Tomatoes, Garlic, Pancetta, Olive oil – pancetta makes everything taste better, right? I’m a sucker for white beans, and this dish was perfectly balanced, great flavor profile with a light  crunch of crispy fried pancetta.

Tuscan Beans

Tuscan Beans

Lamb Sliders, lamb, polenta, Barolo wine sauce – you expect to see a bun on the traditional sliders – but not on this Zaza slider. Polenta cake was topping off the lamb patty, resembling bun in the appearance -but of course it was no bun at all. Excellent herbal flavor profile on lamb, not overpowering, but working together  – this dish just transports you to Mediterranea…

DSC_0773

Lamb Sliders with Polenta Cake

Next up – Tuscan Tuna Tartare, fresh Tuna, tomato, capers, basil, balsamic. Love tuna tartare, but I’m typically very dreadful when ordering it. My problem is that a number of tuna tartare dishes I tasted had the same issue – flavor is only on the outside, and once you dig in, the flavor is gone and you are one of one with fresh, but almost tasteless fish. This time, the dish was perfect. Every little morsel was tasty, in and out – a great combination of refreshing lemony acidity, balsamic, saltiness – very successful dish.

Tuscan Tuna Tartare

Tuscan Tuna Tartare

Next up – Baby Lamb Chop, rosemary, olive oil, arugula, balsamic. I have to admit – I’m a snob when it comes to the lamb chop. About 15 years ago, I was spoiled back in Montreal – the lamb chop I had there was a surreal perfection. Now I measure everything against that experience. I’m glad to report that Zaza’s lamb chop was very close to that perfection – succulent and delicious.

Baby Lamb Chop

Baby Lamb Chop

I need to mention another wine we ordered. We wanted to drink something red, and I had a problem selecting the wine, both in terms of what I want to drink and what I want to pay. I asked for the taste of the two wines I didn’t know – Montepulciano and red blend from California. While the red blend was not perfect, it was still better than Montepulciano. Thus our choice of red was 2009 Lost Angel Mischief Red Wine, California (13.5% ABV), a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Zinfandel.

Lost Angel Red Wine

Lost Angel Red Wine

My goal was to find an inexpensive, but palatable wine. At $35, it was definitely inexpensive as the wine list prices are concerned. Had I known that you can find this wine in retail for about $8 – $10, I would probably not ordered it. However, to be entirely honest, it was drinkable – while it was clearly the fruit forward with almost a sweet finish, it carried enough weight and balance to be pleasant (didn’t have any of that  over-extracted fruit, which I personally can’t stand). I would not buy this wine to drink at home, but if this would be my only “budget” choice on the wine list, I will drink it again.

Almost as an afterthought, but at the same time very apropos, we ordered a cheese sampler platter right after we were done with the most of the meal. The Cheese Sampler included Buffala Mozarella, Burrata, Stracciatella and Scamorza. Burrata is one of my all time favorite Italian cheeses, and then there was creamy and spreadable Stracciatella – wow, the word “delicious” does only half justice to the way this cheese tastes.

Cheese Sampler

Cheese Sampler

And then of course there was the dessert – everything was very tasty, and I’m not going to inundate you with the details – you can drool on your own:

It is time to conclude the report on this culinary extravaganza. The food was delicious, service was excellent – prompt, attentive, with the smile – the way you want to be treated in a restaurant. I will gladly come back to Zaza at any time. My only concern is the limited selection on the wine list, so next time I might come back with my own bottle – but this is not the wine bar, after all, it is a Gastrobar – and I think it suits this description perfectly.

And we are done here. Until the next time – cheers!

Zaza Italian Gastrobar
122 BROAD STREET
STAMFORD, CT
PHONE: 203.348.2300
http://www.zazagastrobar.com/
ZAZA Italian Gastrobar on Urbanspoon

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