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)

 

Don Carmelo’s (Norwalk) – Not Very Good

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Don Carmelo’s is located in the same building as Subway and next to the Mobil Station on route 136 south of exit 16 off 95. Parking is located behind the building. You can chose to sit at the bar or grab one of 20+ tables inside or if weather permitting sit outside and watch the traffic pass and people fill their cars with gasoline.

The menu on line is an exact replica of the menu I received. It is quite extensive and allows for plates of individual choices or you can choose to create your own combination. I was looking for a taco lunch, and ordered three soft tortilla tacos ($12), one each filled with steak, pork and chicken. Ordering as a combo includes rice and beans.

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As I waited, the server brought a plate of chips with salsa, green and red sauce. The salsa was very good, freshly made and full of flavor and the two sauces were both spicy and clean. I was hopeful for a good plate of tacos.

When they arrived I had a different feeling. The 6” tortillas were each topped with grilled meat and a couple of cubes of avocado, nothing else. A little mound of chopped cilantro and a handful of diced onions accompanied the tacos. A separate plate contained half rice and half beans, sprinkled with a little cheese.

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This feeling was confirmed with a bite of each of the tacos; they were not very good. The pork was nicely prepared to maintain its juiciness, but had zero seasoning, and the steak was also cooked properly with just a dusting of seasoning. The polar opposite was the chicken that was overcooked and over-seasoned. A few bites of each and it was time to leave, no need wasting calories. The rice and beans were nothing special, basic rice and beans.

Overall it was an incredibly disappointing visit with the food at Don Carmelo. The area has numerous place to enjoy some fantastic tacos, unfortunately Don Carmelo’s is not on my list.

Don Carmelo's on Urbanspoon

Bar La Grassa – Some Spectacular Dishes

I always recommend Bar La Grassa to colleagues who live in the Twin Cities. When some foodie customers asked me to join them at one of my favorites, of course I accepted. With three people in attendance it was the perfect opportunity to do a sharing of the cuisine that has garnered such great press.

For our first round of dishes we ordered the “ARANCINI with DUCK CONFIT and TALEGGIO” $10), the “SOFT EGGS and LOBSTER ($18), and the “GORRGONZOLA PICANTE with PEPERONATA ($9).”

The soft egg and lobster Is a brilliant combination. The eggs are cooked to a creamy decadence and then the lobster adds great flavor and just a touch of textural contrast. The slightly grilled toast added the crunchiness to the dish. Priced at $18, this is not an inexpensive starter course, but well worth a splurge. The Arancini was perfectly cooked, crispy on the exterior and soft and creamy on the inside. There was a scant amount of confit but the Taleggio was creamy and a great contrast to the Arancini. I would have enjoyed the dish with more confit. The slight pungency of the Gorrgonzola (sic) worked perfectly with the spicy Peperonata. The toasted slice of bread contributed just a touch of flavor and crunchiness.

I suggested each of my colleague choose a small pasta order and I would fill in with another two. For the entrée course we ordered the “FUSILLI COL BUCO with LAMB MEATBALLS” ($10), the “CALAMARATA with RAW TUNA” ($20), an order of “CAVATELLI with BRAISED RABBIT” ($9), and the “GNOCCHI with CAULIFLOWER and ORANGE” $10).

The gnocchi is one of my favorite combinations anywhere. The bite sized gnocchi were brightened with the mild orangey-citrus background and then the small pieces of sautéed cauliflower added the textural contrast. The fusilli is not your mom’s spaghetti and meatballs. The meatballs were soft and rich in flavor, perfectly paired with the sweet and bright tomato sauce. The cavatelli was a little short of the deep flavors that I was anticipating from braised rabbit, veering to a subtleness of the rabbit versus the gamey approach. The addition of the grated cheese on the table is needed in this dish to bring out the flavors. I was not a fan of the calamarata. The dish delivered a good level of spiciness but I was not fond of the textural combination of the raw tuna with the pasta.

Overall I loved the dishes at BLG, with several of them absolutely spectacular.

Bar La Grassa on Urbanspoon

Blue Door Pub (St. Paul) – Still Not a Fan

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It has been several years since I visited the Blue Door Pub, so on a beautiful summer night I made the ride to St. Paul to see if the burger was better than my previous visit. People in the office keep telling me to return, so tonight was the perfect opportunity.

I was fortunate when I arrived that a table was open outside. The hostess did forewarn me that no alcohol was allowed at the outside tables but since I do not drink this was not an issue. A quick perusal of the menu and I was set. The “Blucy” ($7) was not my favorite the last time so I decided on a “Breakfast Blucy” ($9), which tops a basic Blucy with more cheese, a couple of slices of thick bacon and a fried egg. I also substituted onion rings for the fries for an additional $3.

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The burger arrived in its plastic basket along with four onion rings. Fortunately they have a pile of napkins on the table, since lifting and taking the first bite of this burger is a messy feat. The initial impression was not favorable. The meat was basic, lacking any flavor and without seasoning. The bacon was strange. It looked crispy but the fatty part was soft, the same texture when it is raw, the cheese was good and the pickles added flavor to the burger. The egg contributed a little creaminess and crispy texture. There were so many toppings that the bleu cheese on the interior was lost. Together this was an OK burger, nothing special. The onion rings were not good. They were crispy on the exterior but barely cooked on the inside, still maintaining the onion’s raw pungency.

Overall the visit was no better than last time. Others may love the Blue Door, but I am still not a fan.

Blue Door Pub on Urbanspoon

Kona Grill (Eden Prairie) – Really Bad Night

For some unforeseen reason I suggested to two colleagues that we venture to Kona Grill after 10 straight hours of meetings. Parking was easy on a Tuesday night and there was a 20-25 minutes for a table but one was opening in the bar area so we grabbed it. The place was filled with 20-30 year olds, with lots of energy and it appeared that everyone was enjoying both the vibe and the food.

Our server arrived at the table with menus. Her enthusiasm was fantastic as she described many of the specials that she liked. I love it when the enthusiasm of a server truly believes the food at her restaurant is fantastic and my server at Kona Grill fit that bill to a tee. As I looked through the maki combinations I had a bad feeling since most of them contained the words “spicy,” “cream cheese” and “mix.” The chefs were definitely placing an interesting mark on dishes.

We started with a few appetizers including the “potstickers,” the “kona calamari” and the “beef bulgogi tacos.” For a salad course I ordered an eel and avocado roll and for my entrée I chose the “miso-saké sea bass.”

From the top. The potstickers were filled with seared chicken and vegetables, served with Asian slaw and a traditional dipping sauce. The plate was extremely hot when it arrived at the table so be careful. The dough was gummy and flavorless and the filling was bitter and off-tasting. One bite and I was done. The calamari was served with a spicy aioli and I strongly suggest you take advantage of the dipping sauce as the fried calamari were also flavorless and lacking any seasoning. The tacos (I know…what was I thinking?) were two deep fried flaky shells filled with marinated beef and Asian slaw. The kitchen was attempting to re-create a beef version of Peking Duck and they failed miserably. The Hoison sauce was over-applied, overwhelmed the other ingredients and the three of us barely finished one of these shells. As we were eating the appetizers, our salads arrived, so the table was getting crowded. The eel and avocado roll was divided into eight small pieces and then the kitchen doused the pieces with the fish sauce. It was sloppily constructed, falling apart as each piece was lifted with chopsticks and the fish sauce overwhelmed the dish. After I ate three of the eight pieces I decided to stop and wait for my entrée.

The food runner arrived with the entrées while there was not a spare inch of table geography available. It was almost amusing watching the staff pile dishes in one hand, move plates around, place one down and begin this dance from the top. It was like a teenage Keystone Cops routine. I sat back and watched as they successfully completed the food exchange.

My sea bass was served with shrimp & pork fried rice and pan-Asian ratatouille. It is hard to decide which of these three items I disliked the most, since they were all equally inedible. The texture of the fish was horrible, it was probably frozen with the marinade since the flavor of the miso-sake marinade was overwhelming. The fried rice was probably prepared earlier in the day and scooped out of a cafeteria chafing dish and likewise with the overcooked and incredibly limp vegetables. Two bites of fish and one bite of each of the sides and I was done with dinner.

To the server’s credit, on her third pass of the table with my entree entire uneaten and after delivering the bill she asked about my fish. When I used the word “inedible” she was spot on in removing the check from the table and removing the uneaten fish from the bill. Maybe checking in earlier would have been a good idea. It was not her fault that the kitchen prepared some of the worst food I have eaten in many years. She was enthusiastic from the moment we arrived in her section until she removed the inedible fish from our bill.

Overall, I cannot see one reason to return to Kona Grill. From the first bite to the last it was one of the worst meals I have eaten in quite some time.

Kona Grill on Urbanspoon

Kincaid’s (Bloomington) – Not Very Good

Kincaid’s in Bloomington is a lively restaurant serving OK food. The prices are downtown steak house levels, the décor is downtown, but this restaurant is located in an office building in Bloomington, there to cater to the business crowd in the building and the surrounding neighborhood to avoid the traffic downtown, which was why we were there.

The menu is heavily focused on steaks, with numerous cuts and sizes. On my latest visit I was more interested in a lighter meal and when the server informed the table that one of the special for the evening was Halibut Cheeks, I was excited. I think the cheeks on most animals and fish are the best part so I was keen to give it a try. I was a little hesitant when he mentioned they were rolled in Asiago and Parmesan cheeses and fried, but decided to order anyway. For my appetizer I chose the lobster bisque.

The bisque arrived for assembly. A bowl was placed in front to me, which contained a smidgen of diced lobster meat. The server slowly poured the bisque around the diced lobster. It was extremely thick and full of cream…this was not a dieter’s rendition of a classic dish. Overall the bisque had a decent flavor, but the cream overwhelmed the other flavors and the lobster meat was almost flavorless.

The Halibut cheeks arrived, served with succotash and grilled asparagus. This was a good sized portion, five fried cheeks. The flavor and texture of the cheek meat was great and the kitchen prepared the doneness perfectly. I was not that fond of the cheese crust, it fought the inherent sweetness of the cheeks. The sides were not good at all. The succotash should have contained bright flavors given the time of year, but the vegetables were tasteless, and the asparagus were worse. The kitchen did not trim the bottom nor cook them sufficiently so they were borderline inedible. I give a very good to the cheeks and a bad job to the sides.

The dessert menu was presented and the server was recommending the bread pudding. After receiving and tasting it, the kitchen must have told the staff to push it. It was horrible. Here is a recommendation to all servers…if you need to apologize to the guest while pouring the sauce on a dish, remove the dish. The server apologized about the thickness of the bourbon sauce, why he did not remove it altogether is a mystery. A bigger mystery is why they served the bread pudding at all. It was a slab of bread, burnt on the bottom with a little ice cream on top and an overly thick bourbon sauce. I had two bites and decided it was not worth the calories.

Overall, Kincaid’s is trying to be a high end steak house that does not produce the product commensurate with the prices. The food was fair at best, the kitchen sends out items that never should leave the kitchen but the staff is spot on in hawking the products.

Kincaid's Fish, Chop & Steak House on Urbanspoon

Redstone (Eden Prairie) – Consistent but Nothing Special

A quick customer lunch at Redstone was very good. The food is very consistent, nothing earth-shattering but you can count on the same dish every time you go. The servers at Redstone are incredibly trained to hawk the shared appetizers, they are pros at the sales pitch and in 100% of my visits, someone at the table says, “Oh yeah, let’s order a few.” It’s a great business model and my hats off to the management for the training.

On my recent visit we ordered the “CRISPY CALAMARI” and the “SEARED AHI TUNA” to share. The calamari shared the dish with a fried spicy pepper mix and a chipotle aioli. The dish included both rings and tentacles, breaded and fried to a crispy exterior while maintaining a soft interior. The flavor was very good. If you like a little kick, combine one of the fried pepper pieces with the fried calamari and cool with a little aioli. The tuna was crusted with sesame seed and black pepper, seared and served atop Asian slaw, with a wasabi and soy-lime sauce. This is almost standard fare these days and the thrill is somewhat gone from eating this recipe. Both of the appetizers are standard at Redstone and they prepare each of them consistently.

There are four burgers on the menu, two of them are beef. I wanted to order the “REDSTONE,” which includes cheddar cheese, applewood smoked bacon and barbecue sauce, but mistakenly ordered the “ORIGINAL” (medium-rare), which was served with shredded lettuce, tomato, mustard, mayonnaise and homemade pickles. As a side I ordered the French fries. The burger was cooked a little beyond medium, which was disappointing. The flavor was very good, not great but I am not a fan of mustard on a burger, preferring ketchup so I ate the patty without the top bun so I could add the ketchup. The fries were also very good, crispy on the exterior and soft on the interior. Again, there was nothing special about the burger, just a consistent product.

Overall Redstone knows what it is, it hustles the shared appetizers and delivers basic American restaurant fare…nothing special.

Redstone American Grill on Urbanspoon