Frank & Frites (Darien) – Basic at Best

BL dog 2Franks and Frites is located in the same mini-mall as Gut reaction to the left of Palmers Market in Darien.  I was on my regular search for http://www.ctbites.com and dogs, burgers and fries were on my radar.  A small storefront at the end of the row welcomes guests with a “Hand Cut Fries” in the window, while the interior allows for ten guests at tables and another eight on stools. You order from the two men in the rear of the restaurant and they bring the food to your table in plastic picnic baskets.

BL dog 1I ordered a hot dog with a little mustard, a little sauerkraut and a little green relish, a bacon cheeseburger, medium-rare, and a small order of fries.

BL dog 3The dog in a basic potato roll arrived first, and the first item I noticed was that it was smothered in the three items I ordered “a little” of. The dog was griddled and offered a good snap when bitten with a good snap. The dog was salty and a basic dog. The sauerkraut and relish were non-descript, and the yellow mustard was as well. There was nothing special about this hot dog.

BL burger 2The burger was in the same category. I ordered medium-rare and it arrived medium-well. Two strip of overcooked basic was included and a single slice of un-melted American cheese sat atop the bacon, all encased inside another potato roll. The meat was bland and unseasoned, the bacon and the cheese were basic and the roll was cold. The fries were not even that good. They were un-seasoned, and while they were brown on the exterior, half were still hard on the interior. Neither of these items were not worth more than a few bites.

BL friesThere is no ketchup or mustard on the tables and they have the dispensers in one corner. There was not brown mustard available on my visit, but that would not matter.

I really wanted to like this place, but basic dogs and burgers and less than basic toppings on cold rolls is not a restaurant I would run back to.

Franks & Frites on Urbanspoon

Zelo (MN) – Good Food with Great Service

We enjoyed a group dinner at Zelo this week. Located on the corner of Nicollet and 9th, the restaurant is an eclectically decorated combination of woods and leathers, accented by vivid artwork on the walls. On a busy mid-week evening it was bustling but the noise level allowed for conversation at our table. Of special note was our server, who was outstanding. She explained many of the choices and was spot on during the entire evening.

The food was very good, but there was nothing I would rush back for and there were some misses.

We began the evening with a few shared appetizers. The “calamari fritti” was accompanied by lemon aioli and gremolata. These were the most disappointing of the appetizers. I was impressed when they were delivered as there were plenty of heads, which I prefer, but the coating was very flour-y, very unpleasant to the taste. They were slightly overcooked. The “ahi tuna spring rolls” are filled with somen noodles and served with a touch of soy wasabi. This was my favorite of the three. It was a spring roll interpretation of a tuna-avocado roll, with the seaweed replaced with rice paper. The flavors were excellent and they were crispy on the exterior. I was excited about the “caramelized brussels sprouts,” but these too were flat. Served with Ames farm and topped with honey toasted almonds, I was expecting a sweet and crispy presentation. They tried on both counts but came close, but did not hit the mark on either.

For my entrée, the server recommended the “pesto crusted sea bass” served with mashed potatoes, crispy onions, nestled in a swath of Thai chili beurre blanc. This falls into the vertical food category. A mound of potatoes is topped with a large 8-10 oz. filet, topped with pesto and then finally topped with the crispy onions. The potatoes were very good, just a touch of wasabi to give a little spice. The filet was excellent, crispy skin adorned the moist and delightfully flavorful fish and the pesto (not crusted as described) added a great balance with its earthiness. The crispy onions were stale and cold and should have remained in the kitchen. The Thai chili beurre blanc was a little butter with no spice, where was the Thai chili? But I did like the dish, and it would have been excellent if the beurre blanc and the onions were better.

For dessert I ordered the “Bananas Foster Bread Pudding.” This is better described as Banana Foster and bread pudding. They were two distinct desserts sharing a plate. That being said, it was delicious. The bread pudding was moist and flavorful (although it would have benefited from a little more cinnamon) and the bananas foster delivered that sweet-pungent combination from the bananas and the liquor. It was served with a scoop of sweet vanilla ice cream.

Overall I was pleased with Zelo. It has excellent service and décor and very good food.

Zelo on Urbanspoon

Vincent A Restaurant (MSP) – Outstanding Burger

At my last visit to Vincent’s over four years ago I was not impressed with the Vincent Burger. But four years later I am glad I returned because the burger I recently ate was one of the best burgers I have eaten in the Twin Cities.

To start my lunch I ordered a Caesar salad. It was a standard salad with lettuce, croutons, a single anchovy filet on top plus an interesting addition, diced tomato, all topped with a sprinkling of grated cheese. It was lightly dressed and good, not great nor memorable.

But I was interested to either confirm my previous impression of the hamburger or enjoy what others have told me is one of the best. I was both excited and cautiously optimistic when it was placed in front of me. The Vincent burger is a unique combination…a double-patty of ground beef is wrapped around braised short rib and smoked Gouda cheese; served on a brioche bun; it is a haut cuisine version of a Jucy Lucy. It arrives open faced with French fries. The burger patty was on one side of the bun that contained a thin layer of “special sauce” and the other half is topped with lettuce, tomato and raw onion. The ground beef was perfectly seasoned with just a touch of salt. The Gouda was melted and delivered a creaminess to the burger and then the short rib textures and flavors kicked in. This elevated the Vincent Burger from excellent to incredible. The brioche added a little butteriness to the presentation and the sauce gave a few sour background notes. The burger was incredibly delicious. The fries were not in the same league. They were tasteless, cool and bland, more than likely came from a big frozen bag, deep fried and added to the lunch plates.

Overall, the Vincent Burger is an outstanding combination of flavors and textures and ranks as one of the best in Minneapolis.

Vincent - A Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Porter & Frye (MSP) – Bad College Meal Redux

A quick lunch at Porter and Frye was incredibly disappointing. Our group arrived at 12:15, there were two people at the bar and several tables occupied and there was not one single employee in sight. A guest at one of the tables was looking for her server, or any human, but none. I walked into the hallway to the Ivy, none. I walked back to my group and told them I would check the kitchen. As I approached the swinging doors, a server exited empty handed followed by a second server a few seconds later. If there were close options we would have left.

I ordered the Frye Burger medium-rare. This included an 8-ounce ground chuck patty, with an over-easy egg, cheddar, bacon on a potato roll. The burger was incredibly disappointing. The meat was more a 6-oz patty, vastly overcooked, beyond well done, flavorless and hard. The egg was cooked perfectly but then slathered in salt and the bacon added more salt. The roll was uneventful. The sweet potato fries were tasteless but salted very well.

Service was slim. Two college students were left to their own devices, no manager, no guidance. One takes the order, one delivers the food. They brought one teacup full of ketchup for four people eating burgers and sandwiches, all with fries. When we asked for more, “oh yeah.”

Overall my burger lunch was less than diner quality food served by a couple of college kids.

Porter & Frye on Urbanspoon

Sweet Sabrina’s Cake Shop (Norwalk) – Looks Can Be Deceiving

There has been a lot of positive reviews on the web for this newest addition to Norwalk, so as I hunt for places for http://www.ctbites.com, I thought I would check out the hype. Unfortunately after two visits, the taste just does not live up to the looks. The pastries are all beautifully prepared, great designs, lovely presentations, but the taste and textures left a lot to be desired.

On each of my two visits I sampled a regular and a chocolate croissant. The first time they were very dry and very bland, no buttery richness. On the second visit the same blandness was present but the outer layers of dough were light and airy but unfortunately the center was undercooked and mushy. I was also not fond of the chocolate, missing that deep chocolaty goodness of a great croissant. The banana pastry was beautiful to the eye, but the texture was gummy and the flavor was not to my liking.  Real disappointment.

As much as I wanted to like this place, it did not live up to my hopes.

Sweet Sabrina's Cake Shop on Urbanspoon

Breakfast @Valencia Luncheria (Norwalk) – Delicious

BL 1I was feeling in a rut with my regular old bacon, egg and cheese on a roll and my back-up go-to breakfast spot closed a few months ago. I needed some eggs, I needed some cheese, and I needed some spice. I sent an email to my buddies over at www.ctbites.com and they had a simple answer…Valencia Luncheria.

After many visits and some great lunches at Valencia, it was a little strange entering the restaurant so early in the morning. Instead of the hustle and bustle of the lunch crowd devouring empanadas and arepas, a few patrons were working their way through eggs, pancakes, French toasts and omelets. I looked up at the menu on the wall, but not focused on my normal Empanadas or specials. I was there for breakfast, wanted something delicious and needed to focus on a different part of the huge menu. I worked my way past the omelets, past the eggs and omelets and past the egg sandwiches and eventually found “Tortilla Wraps.” Fortunately Chef Michael Young has created several outstanding combinations from a basic “Baliadas,” an egg, cheese and black beans to the one I chose, the “Red Smitty,” with eggs, cheese, chipotle and chorizo.

The Red Smitty was fantastic. The flour tortilla was filled with moist scrambled eggs, smothered with melted cheese. This alone would have made for a good breakfast tortilla, but then the chipotle and chorizo kicked in. These ingredients elevated the tortilla from good to fantastic. It will be hard going back to a simple BEC sandwich.

If this combination is not for you, there are several others like the “Egg Wrap” with chorizo, cheese, black beans, onion and jalapeño peppers or the “Veggie Wrap” with avocado, cheese, mushrooms, onions and tomato.

As I was leaving, a stack of muffins caught my eye, the Dulche de Leche muffins. These were delicious as well, dense texture and the muffin was the perfect balance for the sweet and delightful leche.

Valencia Luncheria on Urbanspoon

Primary Food & Drink – Brunch Service Starts This Weekend

BL DoorA few weeks ago I reviewed Primary Food over at www.ctbites.com after an outstanding array of incredibly creative dishes. At that time I heard they were introducing Sunday Brunch starting in April…and the menu looks incredible with Chef Merlin Verrier continues to place his spin on traditional recipes.

You can start the meal with a Bloody Mary, or in the case of Primary, a couple of Oyster Shooters, served in a bloody mary shot. One of my favorites from the dinner menu, the Beef Tartare is also available, plus a Potato Gnocchi with Mexican chorizo and green onions. For light meal, choose the one of a kind Deconstructed Caesar with the parmesan fluff stuffed twinkie crouton.

BL Caesar
Brunch always includes egg dishes and Primary has several very different and unique options. The Asparagus Omelet includes goat cheese and fine herbs and served with mixed greens and potato hash; or experience a visit south of the border with the Huevos Rancheros that is served with Mexican chorizo, black beans, cilantro crema and corn tortillas. With Passover just around the corner pair the Smoked Salmon with potato latkes, pickled onions, cream cheese and a little dill for a trip to the Lower East Side. And lastly why not sample the eggs and hash with potatoes and Brussels sprouts, and this is no ordinary hash, Chef Merlin uses duck confit.

BL Dining RoomThe ‘tweenie menu choices include a traditional Biscuit and Gravy; a Steak & Eggs; Pancakes with caramelized bananas and walnut crumb and Lobster Benedict served with has avocado and tomato on an English muffin.

Those who arrive with a heartier appetite can feast on an Ahi Tuna with tat soi, pickled daikon, cucumber noodles and soy caramel, Fish N’ Chips with fried pickles and Kennebec fries, or the Primary Burger (I see one of those in my future) with griddled onions and secret sauce on a toasted bun. And what Fairfield County brunch could exist without the current local favorite, Chicken and Waffles with honey granules, and dandelion greens.

BL Bar AreaSit in the front bar area under the Fab Four or in the rear leather and wood decorated dining area. I am looking forward to another great meal at Primary and sample some of these new recipes from Chef Merlin Verrier.

Primary Food & Drink on Urbanspoon