Libertine (MSP) – Great Potential

photo 1 (1)Libertine is the newest addition to the MSP landscape by master Chef Tim McKee. In his latest contribution in Uptown, Chef McKee created a restaurant serving an inventive and diverse menu. Begin your evening from a selection of appetizers ranging from Tuna Poke Tacos to Crispy Pig’s Ear followed by various cuts of beef, lamb, chicken, pork or fish accompanied by creative side dishes. Add to the delicious cuisine a hip and eclectic atmosphere and you have another go-to restaurant.

The front room includes an enormous rectangular bar with close to 25 seats on each side. Surrounding the bar are numerous community tables, each offering seating for up to six guests, plus booths along the quiet, inside wall. In the back room are smaller 4-tops hugging the windows plus booths, each capable of handling 4 diners. A few round tables separate the two rooms. Overall the setting is relaxed and a wonderful setting to dine in.

The server was forthcoming with her favorites and I chose the “Crispy Pig’s Ears” for my appetizer, plus the “Bacon Chop” and a side of “Kale” for my entrée.

The pig’s ear was served with a fried egg, ancho pepper slices, accompanied with a dipping sauce. The menu states lime is included but there was none on my plate nor did I discern any citrusy back notes in the dish. The pig’s ear was sliced into bite sized pieces, breaded and deep fried. I was concerned that the small segments would be tough, but the kitchen cooked them perfectly, soft, tender and when dipped in the spicy-sweet sauce was delicious. When combined with a slice of the spicy ancho pepper and complemented with the creaminess of the oozing egg, this was an incredibly memorable dish.

BL ChopThe bacon chop was a Fred Flintstone sized pork chop served with a single onion ring. The server stated that this would be the best pork chop I would ever taste and on certain bites she was absolutely correct. Most of the chop was outstanding. It was moist, flavorful, and perfectly cooked. A few bites were not in the same league, the kitchen lost its focus with the final salting, way too much and it caused my head to snap back with the saltiness. The menu also states “lightly smoked” but manage your expectations…it is more a brined and grilled preparation.

The Kale was served with a Manchego cream and garlic. I would best describe this as Kale Mac & Cheese without the Mac. The kale was engulfed in the creamy cheese sauce and was delicious as the bitterness of the kale was balanced by the creaminess of the melted cheese. This was a rich dish that needs to be shared.

The server was excellent but the kitchen failed miserably on timing. The server told me that the meal arrives as prepared. The pig’s ear arrived first. After two bites the kale was brought by the runner and two minutes later he was holding my bacon chop. So there I sat with 90% of my appetizer uneaten, and my entrée occupying the remainder of the table. I asked the server to return the entrée and side to the kitchen and let me enjoy the food versus throwing everything simultaneously into the table. She was quick to comply and the manager wandered over to apologize. They turned a negative into a positive so kudos to both of them.

Overall I loved the space and the appetizer. The entrée could have been fantastic had the kitchen seasoned the chop properly and it failed miserably on the timing of the food leaving the kitchen. Libertine has tremendous potential and needs a little time to iron out the kinks, deliver the items as described on the menu and serve the food in a manner that allows the guests to enjoy the culinary creations.

Libertine on Urbanspoon

CHIPS (Fairfield) – Best Pancakes in CT

For years I have heard about the pancakes at Chips in Fairfield. Year after year I see them rated as the best pancakes in CT. Time after time I have tried to eat there only to be met by 1+ hour waits. But today, it happened…we drove to Fairfield and there was no line. We were immediately seated, given the four page menu and waited for the pancakes.

While my wife and daughter looked at the egg options, I immediately decided on the chocolate chip pancakes with bananas. I enjoyed a couple of cups of coffee while we waited and then the plate arrived.

The stack of 5 large pancakes were filled with both chips and bananas plus more of each on top. Butter accompanied the pancakes. Most people place the syrup atop the pancakes, but I place on the plate and then dip each forkful. Dipping the pancakes versus topping with the syrup keeps the puffiness intact in each pancake, a definite game-changer. The first bite was fantastic, the pancakes delivered an airy texture and the flavor was outstanding. There was a certain nuttiness to the batter and the sweet chocolate chips were the perfect complement. Perfect texture and flavor.

After my first pancake breakfast at CHIPS I fully agree that the pancakes are the best I have eaten in CT.

Chip's Family Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Matt’s Bar (MSP) – Best Jucy Lucy in MSP

photo 1

Whenever I want to introduce a colleague to one of the quintessential culinary icons in the Twin Cities, I bring them to Matt’s to savor, what I believe is the best version of the Jucy Lucy. After work, we ventured up 77, grabbed a spot on the street, entered Matt’s and waited for our table. On a Thursday night it was not a long wait, maybe 20 minutes and while we waited we watched as burger after burger was placed on the small flat-top and grilled to perfection.

Once seated, Matt’s is a pretty easy place to order. The only question is how many burgers, with or without onions, and how large an order of fries. We both ordered two JL’s and a half order of fries.

The wait for the burgers was longer than the table and once delivered, individually wrapped in paper, the server recited the ritual of being careful about exploding cheese. I advised waiting for a few more minutes, enjoy a few fries and a few more sips of soda. When the time was upon us, I slowly raised the JL to my lips and slow, very slowly bit into the cheese-lava filled burger.

Not too sure if it was too soon, I held my breath as the cheese oozed out and came in contact with the inside of my mouth and my lips. I timed it perfectly, not too hot for scalding but still hot enough to appreciate the madness of the construction. I exhaled and enjoyed the meat, the less than scalding American cheese, the fried onions, pickle and bun. Nothing on this burger was gourmet, nothing qualified as farm to table, but this was a down and dirty inverted cheeseburger with great flavors, great textures, and a heritage that pre-dates this burger lover.

As I finished #1 and moved to #2, I asked my colleague what he thought. He smiled, continued eating…eventually finishing both burgers, the entire order of fries and two diet cokes. Yet another colleague was officially indoctrinated into the Jucy Lucy Club.

Matt's Bar on Urbanspoon

Heyday (MSP) – Some Outstanding Dishes

 

Two of us decided to give Heyday a try and I am really glad that I did.

Located on the southwest corner of 27th and Lyndale, the restaurant is separated into two room. The first room contains a large bar, with several tables and the rear room overlooks the open kitchen. Adorning the walls are large paintings, the triple-pig swirl was a great painting for a restaurant.

The server walked us through the menu and was spot on in his service throughout the meal, major kudos to him. We decided to order three appetizers and three entrées and share.

The first appetizer was the Chicken Liver Tart ($9), which was topped with several varieties of pickled vegetables and green tomato jam. The liver was smooth and delivered rich flavors that were beautifully complemented by the toppings. The second dish, the Lamb Tartare ($10) was delightful, delivering rich flavor without any gaminess. It was served with two thick slices of toast. The toast was sweet and a great canvas for the richness of the tartare. The third appetizer was the corn panna cotta. The panna cotta was topped with a gelee and passion fruit. The varying flavors did not work together and the textures were off-putting. When eaten by itself, the panna cotta was outstanding.

Our entrées began with my favorite dish of the night, the Grilled Durade ($14) topped with slices of avocado, et. al. The filets were perfectly prepared and the spices were perfect and when combined with the toppings created an incredibly delicious dish. Close behind as the favorite of the evening was the Black Cod ($16) served atop baby corn. The fillet was cooked to medium rare, maintaining its gelatinous structure and the corn and sauce created an unbelievable flavor combination. The biggest disappointment of the evening was the Lamb Belly ($11). Simply prepared and served with sugar snap peas the three slices of belly lacked the bold and vibrant flavors of the other dishes.

Four of the dishes were outstanding, some of the best in the area. It is interesting of the other two one was too complex, which created an issue and the other was very underdeveloped. Overall I cannot wait to return to Heyday.

Heyday on Urbanspoon

Wire Mill BBQ (Georgetown) – It Ain’t Texas

DSC_4601Wire Mill BBQ is located just north of Wilton’s Cannondale and south of Redding is the small area known as Georgetown. This cute section of town has several restaurants and bars, and it is Wire Mill that is filling the air with the wonderful aroma of its two meat smoker. For those with the window closed, Wire Mill BBQ is located on Route 57 at the Interception of Old Mill Road and Main Street.

DSC_4598There are eight table outside on the terrace and you continue inhaling the smoke. So enticing that when I ordered the Three Sliders (one each of the pulled pork, brisket and pulled chicken), I also ordered a ¼ slab of baby back ribs.

DSC_4596The three sliders arrived, and the first item I noticed was the amount of meat on each bun. It was a meager portion, maybe one-ounce of meat. The bun was nicely grilled.

The pulled pork was my favorite. It was somewhat moist, with a hint of smoke, but otherwise flavorless. It needed one of the sauces. The brisket was probably 1 slice, cut into sections and placed on the bun. There was a little smokiness that stayed on the palate but also lacked any flavor and sauce was needed. My first bite of the chicken was favorable, it was the moistest of the three meats, but that was limited to the original piece. The other pieces were dry and again, the only flavor was smoke. The other issue with all of the sandwiches was the amount of bread compared to meat. Take together it was a mouthful of bread with a little meat. I finally removed the top bun and ate each open-faced. The sliders were served with a small cup of horseradish sauce, which was full of flavor, but I have no idea why it was included.

DSC_4597The baby back ribs looked delicious, but looks can be deceiving. They were incredibly moist, but again lack any flavor, barely able to taste any of the rub. Even the end piece of the slab, which was covered in rub, was almost flavorless.

Overall, as much as this is a cute place with great service and two smokers out back, it is not a destination place for BBQ.

Wire Mill BBQ on Urbanspoon

Walrus + Carpenter Burger (Bridgeport): The Bar Gets Raised

CTB BurgerA good friend over at CTbites told me that the WC Burger served at Walrus + Carpenter in Bridgeport near the Fairfield border was the best burger in the area. Those are strong words from someone I trust so I drove one evening and grabbed an outside table.

The menu is divided into several categories and each reads like a who’s who of comfort food. I was pleasantly impressed when I saw that the chef gave top billing in the Large Plates section to “WC Burger + Fries – Smoked mayo, bacon, bourbon onions, cheddar.” It was a simple decision and I ordered the burger medium-rare.

DSC_4600The burger was served on a metal tray accompanied by fries and small mound of pickle slices. There was a crisp char on the exterior and the texture of the interior was soft. I sampled the meat; it was rich in flavor, reminiscent of grass fed, the medium grind was still loose and it was moist without being overly juicy. It was an excellent patty. The first topping I tasted was the Bourbon onions. W+C slowly caramelized the sliced onions until they were sweet and soft, added bourbon, and reduced until the bourbon was thick and concentrated. The end result was incredibly complex onion mixture; the sweetness of the onions interplayed with the condensed bourbon. These were some of the most delicious caramelized onions I have ever tasted. There were several strips of bacon, each mildly salty, allowing the pork to complement the onions and beef. The melted Cheddar cheese was creamy and added just a touch of nuttiness; and the mayo a smidgen of smokiness. The toasted brioche bun was the perfect choice for this combination. It was sweet, buttery and the slight crispiness from grilling was a bonus. One bite of this entire combination…it was outstanding and delivered great balance. This burger is highly recommended.

The fries were excellent, crispy on the exterior and soft on the interior, with just a dusting of salt.

From the meat to the toppings to the bun to the fries, my friend was correct, the W+C Burger is one of the best in Fairfield County. There is now another serious contender for best bar burger in southwest Connecticut.

See the original review at:

http://www.ctbites.com/home/2014/8/24/walrus-carpenter-burger-the-bar-gets-raised-in-bridgeport.html

2895 Fairfield Ave, Bridgeport, CT 06605

(203) 333-2733

(This “WC Burger” is on the Dinner menu. There is a different combination that is served during Brunch and Lunch, a “Bacon, Egg and Cheeseburger”)

Washington Prime (SONO) – Serving Creative Cuisine

DSC_4516Washington Prime recently opened at the entrance to the SONO “Ironworks” on the corner of Washington and North Water Streets and is already garnering positive feedback and enormous crowds each night. CTbites offered a sneak peek a couple of weeks ago and recently re-visited this high energy and bustling establishment on two separate occasions to sample the food.

Self-described as an Eating + Drinking Well, Washington Prime reflects the collective vision of locals and co-owners Rob Moss and Marco Siguenza. Moss, a native of New Canaan, is no stranger to opening high energy restaurants in Fairfield County, overseeing many over the last ten years. Siguenza is the epitome of the American dream, starting as a busboy at Match Restaurant and now 16 years later one of the owners of Washington Prime, a neighboring restaurant. The kitchen is overseen by Executive Chef Jared Falco, classically trained at the French Culinary Institute. Before moving to Fairfield County, Chef Falco honed his culinary skills at Daniel and WD-50 in NYC. The trio are now working closely to present a vibrant bar scene with incredibly delicious interpretations of tradition cuisine.

The menu is divided into several sections. From “Soups / Salads” we sampled the “BEETS,” the “GRILLED CAESAR,” the “N.E. CHOWDER” and the “PRIME WEDGE.”

The N.E. CLAM CHOWDER was my favorite. The creamy base was smoky and filled with Little Neck Clams. Included in the presentation were sweet corn and small diced potatoes. The rich bisque was fully focused on melding the brininess of the clams with the smokiness of the soup. This was a great combination.

CTB WedgeThe PRIME WEDGE included gem lettuce, which was fresh, clean, and the canvas for the remaining ingredients. The mild Hudson Valley blue cheese was creamy and the house-made bacon bits added saltiness and crispiness. Complementing these items were the tomatoes, which contributed both sweet and sour notes, and the chili flakes that delivered a surprise, sometimes too much kick to several bites

CTB CaesarThe GRILLED CAESAR was layered with charred Romaine, topped with shaved Landaff cheese, a poached egg, finished with black garlic Caesar dressing and a sprinkling of celery powder. Slicing the poached eggs released all of its creaminess, and created a great balance with the charred lettuce. The cheese was delicious, but it completely overwhelmed the other components.

The BEETS were marinated and pickled, and mixed into arugula, chicken fried goat cheese, and topped with a blood orange vinaigrette. The beets were very tart and when combined with the blood orange vinaigrette increased this sour component, which overpowered the other ingredients.

We ordered a sampling of choices from the “SMALL PLATES” section including the “DEVILED EGGS,” the “OCTOPUS” and the “POUTINE.”

CTB OctopusThe OCTOPUS was my favorite of the Small Plates. It slowly braised for several hours and then grilled. Joining the octopus meat were duck fat roasted potatoes, sliced pickled onions, and halved cherry peppers. The octopus was incredibly tender. Chef Falco elevated the spiciness of the dish with the inclusion of a pepper emulsion and the seasoned potatoes, which were soft and enjoyable. The onions added a touch of acidity, and guests have the option of increasing the spice level with the cherry peppers.

CTB PoutineThe POUTINE was served in an elongated bowl, beginning with crispy French fries, topped with the oxtail ragu, and finished with scallions and foie gras powder. The ragu was delicious, slowly braised and delivered a medium depth of flavor. The fries were crispy on the exterior and soft on the inside, and balanced the texture of the braised oxtail. The foie gras powder elevated the depth of flavor for the ragu, creating a wonderful combination. The scallions added a little more crunch and just a touch of pungency to this dish.

CTB EggsThe DEVILED EGGS started with slowly poached eggs, which were halved and filled with the yolks combined with Sambal, garlic, chili flakes and speck. Nestled atop the yolk was a mini-meatball, then topped with a smattering of sliced pickled onions and foie gras powder. The texture of the egg white was soft and the slightly spiced yolk mixture was very good. The foie gras powder brought an earthy quality, and the bacon bits and the chili flakes contributed the saltiness and spiciness.

We also sampled three of the “LARGE PLATES” including the “18 OZ RIBEYE” the “LOCAL BASS” and the “PRIME BURGER.”

CTB SteakThe 18 OZ RIBEYE was incredible. A Prime 18-ounce portion of Ribeye was simply seasoned with salt and pepper and cooked under a 900-degree broiler. The result was a perfectly seared, crusted exterior, while the interior was brought to the requested medium-rare. The first bite was mouthwatering in both flavor and texture. The steak was full of deep, rich, beefiness, it was melt in your mouth tender and delivered juiciness that made me smile with each bite. A wonderful buttery texture accompanied each tasty morsel.

CTB BurgerThe PRIME BURGER started with a 3-cut blend ground beef from Saugatuck Craft Butchery, combined with a little dry-aged porterhouse. Chef Falco topped the patty with melted two-year old Vermont Cheddar cheese, a slice of mildly pickled Lucky Real Tomatoes, and shredded smoked lettuce. The burger sits atop an Umami Bomb sauce and encased in a Wave Hill brioche bun; served with a large helping of French fries. The addition of the aged porterhouse to the blend created a slightly deeper flavor. The smoked lettuce was an interesting twist, beautifully complementing the smokiness of the meat, and the cheese added a little creaminess. The Umami Bomb Sauce (a mixture of soy, fish sauce and mushroom stems) was a new element and introduced earthy notes to this burger. It was fantastic and a competitor for CTbites’ “Best of…” list.

CTB BassFor a milder option, the LOCAL BASS was a pleasant combination of mild Mediterranean flavors. A large filet was served alongside a salad comprised of pear, celery, tomatoes and cucumbers. A swath of Tzatziki sauce finished the presentation. The filet was cooked superbly with the crispy skin offsetting the firm, yet succulent interior. I would have preferred a little more salt on the skin. The diced fruit and vegetable salad delivered a bright and light complement; the richness of the Tzatziki offered both a creaminess, plus the dill was a wonderful supplement to the overall experience

Service could stand a little improvement. Our server was a little aggressive on upselling, somewhat inattentive and could use a deeper knowledge of the menu.

Overall, Washington Prime is an excellent addition to the culinary landscape in SONO.

This review was posted on:

http://www.ctbites.com/home/2014/8/17/washington-prime-opens-in-sono-bustling-bar-creative-food.html

Really Liked

  • N.E. Clam Chowder ($9)
  • Octopus ($13)
  • Poutine ($12)
  • 18-Oz. Ribeye ($46)
  • Burger ($16)

Liked

  • Prime Wedge ($12)
  • Deviled Eggs ($11)
  • Local Bass ($25)

Did Not Like

  • Grilled Caesar ($12)
  • Beets ($13)