Blue Water Grill (NYC) – Great Food & Atmosphere

We were looking for a new restaurant for the family to try in the Union Square area and after some research decided on the Blue Water Grill. There were reservations available, the on-line menu contained items that would work for everyone and the interior photos looked like the restaurant offered a high-vibe atmosphere.

The restaurant occupies a building that formerly housed a bank, the first floor is somewhat narrow, with the bar in the front with both stools and tables, a large dining area behind, plus a balcony in the rear that contains 40-50 seats. There is a separate restaurant on the lower level with live jazz, the same menu, and a separate reservation is required. We arrived for our 730 reservation and were asked to give them a few minute since the table was not quite ready. After a five minute wait we were escorted to a great table on the second floor balcony overlooking the first floor, which we preferred since the noise level was more moderate, allowing for conversation.

Our server immediately approached and asked for our water preference and let us get settled in. Upon her return she asked for our wine or cocktail orders and we chose two dirty Tito martinis and a diet Coke.

The menu is very focused on seafood. The entire top half describes raw bar items, plus sushi, sashimi and maki rolls. There is one soup (changes daily), two salads and other small plates, plus about fifteen larger selections, again mainly seafood focused.

I ordered the Mini Fish Tacos with red cabbage slaw and Hass avocado ($12.00) for my appetizer and the Brown Butter Roasted Grouper (the on-line menu states Halibut) with Szechuan peppers, wheat berry, Tuscan kale and chimichurri ($30.00) for my entrée. The three others at the table ordered the Greenmarket Salad, served with caramelized pecans, radishes, green apple, and finished with shallot vinaigrette ($13.00) and for their entrée they each order the Crispy Skin Faroe Island Salmon, with baby bok choy, tatsoi and miso yuzu emulsion ($29.00).

The tacos arrived on a 6-inch square cedar plank, yes they were mini. The tortilla was whole grain with a small piece of fish, avocado, slaw, a thin slice of jalapeño pepper and a sprig of cilantro. There was great flavor in the tacos, the slaw and fish were nicely balanced and the pepper was a complement to the other ingredients. The three salads that my family ordered were large, filled with a plethora of ingredients and they agreed it was a great salad.

The entrées were delicious. The wheat berry salad was blended with a vinegar based sauce, plus a bit of butter, both were delightful complements to the fish. The Tuscan kale was sautéed and was a great addition as well. The biggest drawback to the dish was the fish pieces that were chosen, they were two scraps, instead of a single larger filet. The “fish sticks” were irregular in shape causing areas to be perfectly cooked, while other sections were over cooked. I could not taste any of the Szechuan pepper (this may have been a good thing) and the small dollop of Chimichurri lightly covered one of my fish sticks, and its vinegar could be tasted in the wheat berry. The salmon were each a nice sized filet with the crispy skin as described and my family loved the combination of flavors.

For dessert we shared a Flourless Chocolate Layer Cake with candied kumquats and orange gelato ($11.00). It was excellent, with the addition of some chocolate crunchies throughout and the gelato was incredibly creamy, and mild in its orange flavor, allowing the cake to remain the centerpiece of the dish.

Our server was very friendly, did not rush us during the ordering phase and was very efficient in receiving the orders. Unfortunately, while all of the tables around us received bread, we were never offered bread, and we needed to ask for it after our appetizers were served. More disturbing was the timing of the courses. We were barely finished with the appetizers when the entrees arrived, there was no pause between the courses, plate off, plate on, a major timing mistake by the staff and kitchen.

Overall, the evening at Blue Water was a great time with family and food. The chef combined great, complementary flavors that were delicious. I do resent the pieces of grouper the kitchen selected for my entrée, trimmings should be discarded served in a $30 dish and the lack of downtime between courses, but otherwise, Blue Water was one best evenings in several years.

Brasitas (Stamford) – Delicious Wine Dinner

brasitas_15_duckBrasitas restaurant is an oasis of quality Nuevo Latino Spanish cuisine in the east end of Stamford. Founded in 1999 by the late Jaime Guerrero, a graduate of the French Culinary Institute in New York, the bustling restaurant continues Jaime’s legacy through his family, who now oversee this location and its sister restaurant in Norwalk. Jaime’s vision of creating a vibrant atmosphere to showcase his dream of melding Nuevo Latino cuisine with the authentic Latin American traditions of his native Columbia is alive at both locations and the love is evident in the food and his children who continue his tradition.

Brasitas_15_exteriorThe Stamford location welcomes its guests with a brightly colored interior that immediately transports the diners from the hustle and bustle of the surrounding neighborhood to a Latin cantina. With fifty seats and a separate bar area, the vibe is upbeat and a perfect backdrop to the vibrant cuisine.

Brasitas recently hosted a Holiday Wine Tasting Dinner and invited CTbites to join fifty other revelers as they enjoyed Lapostolle Wines from Chile. The winery produces organic certified wines, with over 200,000 cases produced annually.

brasitas_15_salsaAs the crowd gathered, fried plantains and salsa were brought to the table. The salsa was delicious, a great balance between the onions and tomatoes with just a whiff of cilantro. When combined with the crispy plantains, it made for a relaxing way to spend time meeting others at the table.

brasitas_15_chicoryThe first dish to arrive was the “Ensalada de Endiva,” a salad comprised of a slice of fresh Burrata topped with grapes, Cape gooseberries, Marcona almonds, julienned chicory and a splash of aged Jerez vinegar. It presented great textural differences amongst the crispy chicory, the almonds and the creamy Burrata. The grapes and gooseberries were a delightful sweet-sour addition…but it was the earthiness of the almonds that was the key to the dish, elevating all of the ingredients. It was served with a Casa Lapostolle, Sauvignon Blanc 2014, which was a bright and crisp wine.

brasitas_15_oxtailThe next dish to arrive was the “Estofado de Rabo y Calabaza.” Served in a glass jar, it was a layer of Argentinian Parmesan polenta topped with cubes of braised oxtail intermingled with an acorn squash ragout. There was a great balance between the deep, rich flavors of the braised oxtail /acorn squash ragout and the polenta, with a touch of spiciness in the ragout. This was paired with a Casa Lapostolle “Cuvee Alexandre” Merlot, 2012, which is the label’s flagship bottle, and placed the vineyards on the global map. It delivered a light to medium flavor with the oxtail.

brasitas_15_bass_2The dinner moved back to a lighter course with the “Merluza.” A filet of Chilean sea bass sat atop layers of cauliflower risotto and a sea urchin emulsion, topped with pickled cauliflower florets and a small piece of sea urchin. The combination of the risotto and the emulsion was my favorite of the evening, further elevated with the addition of the small piece of sea urchin. The cauliflower was a delightful addition with a little crunch and sparked the dish with its sour notes. Unfortunately the fish was overcooked and did not offer that wonderful juiciness that I expected. It was served with a Casa Lapostolle “Cuvee Alexandre” Chardonnay 2013, a wine that is aged half in stainless steel and the other half in French oak, to offer a little nuance of the oak.

brasitas_duck_2For the last of the entrées, the chef prepared a “Pato Ahumado.” The sliced duck breast was served aside a purée of parsnip topped with a foie gras-quinoa croquette and topped with a parsnip and kumquat chutney. This was an explosion of flavors and textures and my favorite dish of the evening. The smoked duck breast was served medium-rare to allow the richness of the duck to shine. The chutney was a splash of flavor from the kumquats, which offered a fantastic sour contrast to the meat. The parsnip purée (becoming a staple on many menus) was delightful. The foie gras was a playful addition, appearing as a cracker until cut and then the melted foie gras oozed over the sweet purée. It was paired with a Casa Lapostolle “Cuvee Alexandre” Carmenere 2012,which is the Chilean equivalent of a Merlot.

brasitas_15_chocolateTo complete the evening dessert, the “Crema de Chocolate y Turron” included a slice of a Valrhona chocolate cremeux, a scoop of Cabernet sorbet, plus hazelnut turron and a swath of passion fruit. The cremeaux was luscious, creamy with a wonderful chocolaty-ness. When combined with the crunchy, earthiness of the turron and the sorbet, the flavors worked in complete unison. Unfortunately, the passion fruit and the cremeaux seemed to fight with each other, both too bold to work together. The wine for this course was a Casa Lapostolle “Cuvee Alexandre” Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, which was also one of the ingredients in the sorbet.

Overall, the atmosphere was uplifting and alive, the service very good and the Latin-fusion cuisine vibrant and delicious. I look forward to returning and enjoying many more items from the creative and inventive menu.

954 East Main Street – Stamford, CT 6902

203-323-3176

The location has extremely limited on-street parking, but the restaurant offers a valet on Lincoln Avenue just to the left of the entrance.

Really Liked

  • Plantains with Salsa
  • Cauliflower Risotto & Sea Urchin Emulsion (It needs a special call out)
  • Oxtail, acorn Squash Ragout and Polenta
  • Duck Breast with Parsnip Puree

Liked

  • Chicory and Burrata Salad
  • Chocolate Cremeaux

Needs Improvement

  • Chilean Sea Bass

The Cottage (Westport) – Great Start for Great Food

Cottage ExteriorChef Brian Lewis, one of Connecticut’s most influential chefs and celebrated for being on the cutting edge of the state’s dining scene, opened his new restaurant, The Cottage, this past weekend. It is Chef Lewis’ second Fairfield County restaurant, redesigning the space that formerly housed Le Farm into a charming 44-seat establishment in the heart of town. Known for his thoughtful and innovative dishes that garnered him accolades from The New York Times, Esquire and Connecticut Magazine, The Cottage features his highly revered seasonal American cuisine in a warm and relaxing environment.

The Cottage reflects Chef Lewis’ vision and represents his desire to produce a premier neighborhood destination serving the finest, locally sourced cuisine. The menu will be updated weekly paying homage to local farmers and artisans in the region that share Lewis’s commitment to exceptionally sourced and quality seasonal ingredients. “My wife, Dana, and I have fallen in love with Westport over the years, spending so much of our free time here with our boys, Jude and Jax. The food scene here, the community of chefs, and farmer’s market have always been a big part of my day to day life.”

Upon entry, a vintage factory window sanded to its raw steel greets the guests to the intimate restaurant, as arched top white wood mirrors create the illusion of more space. White wooden walls with dark grey accents, authentic oak wood floors stained white, and an antique mahogany bar dating back to the early 1900’s offer an ode to style influences of the past and Northern European tradition. Imported from Lille, France, the bar frames the kitchen with original brass brackets and finial details with glass shelving. Four wooden chandeliers exude warmth throughout the dining room, while aged wooden tables with custom painted chairs strategically occupy the floor. Fabric sconces highlight the hand hewn thick beams that grace the perimeter, as two industrial factory pendant lights in vintage style hover over the bar’s counter. A combination butcher block and Carrera marble counter offers four additional seats with a glimpse into the busy kitchen.

cottage_15_eggs_&_baconThe opening menu included hand-crafted dishes that were artful, yet approachable. Appetizers range from the simple Copps Island Oysters with Yuzu, and Ginger Mignonette, and Maple Bacon & Eggs with Robiola Cheese, to the more complex Sautéed Foie Gras with Vanilla Quince, Smoked Macadamia Nuts and Huckleberry. One of Chef Lewis’ perennial favorites, the Italian Chestnut soup spiked with Cognac, which I sampled at one of his pre-opening gatherings, was outstanding. The flavor, texture and richness of the soup was exceptional. With three pastas including Kabocha Squash Agnolotti, Foie Gras Cappelacci with Drunken Prunes and Almonds and Spaghetti with Lobster, the menu offered a glimpse of the creativity of the cuisine.

cottage_15_spaghetti_lobsterI was fortunate to secure a table for Saturday evening and enjoyed several more of Chef Lewis’s inspired dishes. For my first course I ordered an appetizer-sized Lobster Spaghetti with sea urchin and Calabrian Chili. The pasta was a fantastic canvas the accompanying flavors. The chilies added a mild level of spiciness and the combination of the sweet lobster pieces and the richness of the sea urchin was a great combination.

cottage_15_bunsBefore our entrées arrived the two of us shared the Wagyu brisket steam buns with Napa cabbage kimchi and duck fat potato tempura. When the plate arrived it was topped with two buns, several slices of brisket, sauce, aioli and the kimchi. I spread the sauce and aioli on the bun and added the meat and vegetables. The brisket was fall-apart tender and full of rich flavor. The kimchee added a nice offset to the meat and the sauces added a little creaminess. A touch of sweetness was added by the soft buns.

cottage_15_short_rib_pieThe four opening weekend entrées included Cod, King Salmon, a pork rib roast and a Short rib cottage pie. I decided on the Cottage pie, which included a small kettle filled with the short rib and topped with mashed parsnip/potato and Cipollini onions. They were accompanied in the presentation by a bowl of roasted carrots. The meat was fork tender, earthy and outstanding, smothered in a rich, silky sauce. The parsnip-potato purée added sweetness to the meat and the roasted carrots were a wonderful complementing texture and more sweetness. The dish was delicious.

The beverage program includes a robust collection of boutique wines from around the globe, served by the glass or bottle, to pair perfectly with Chef Lewis’ culinary style.

“Our cuisine is inspired by classic and modern cooking techniques, with a constant pursuit of finding the very best ingredients available,” Lewis continues. “The menu celebrates cultures of Italy, Spain, France, Japan and most importantly, our direct Northeast region so I am thrilled to finally open our doors to the Westport community and to the friends who have followed my career to this point.” After my first of many meals at The Cottage I am also thrilled.

The Cottage will be open for dinner from Tuesday through Thursday (5:30pm – 9:30pm), and Friday through Saturday (5:30pm – 10:30pm).

256 Post Road East. Westport, Connecticut, 06880

Basso Cafe (Norwalk ) – Adds Wine Bar and New Menu

basso_15_barSeveral years ago I visited Basso Café Restaurant o New Canaan Avenue in Norwalk and was very impressed with many of the dishes created by Owner / Chef Renato Donzelli. Since that time Chef Renato has maintained his vision of creating a wine bar to complement the food, and that is now a reality as Basso Café Restaurant is now Basso Café Restaurant Wine Bar.

basso_15_interiorThe interior has been updated with large, vibrant paintings along one wall, smaller modern pieces along the other wall overseeing the 60 seat dining area. The lighting is soft and inviting and acoustical tiles have been installed to reduce the noise level. After the recent receipt of a full liquor license, guests can now benefit from Chef Renato’s pairing of wines to balance the vibrant flavors of his cuisine and the rear of the restaurant now showcases the bar area with a selection of personally selected spirits, including organic vodkas. The new wine list features twelve reds and a similar number of white, plus sparkling selections. Each was selected to pair with items on the menu. The prices range primarily from $30 through $70 with most of the labels available by the glass for $9-12.

I was invited to sample the newest menu prior to the formal re-opening and was very impressed. The cuisine still reflects the chef’s Venezuelan roots combined with his upbringing in southern Italy. It offers selections for every palate, some bright, some bold, some mellow…Chef Renato constructs the menu carefully and thoughtfully.

basso_15_brieThe “Brie Croquettes” were served with a passion fruit and ginger glaze drizzled with white truffle oil and droplets of Balsamic vinegar. They was slightly coated in bread crumbs and fried to present a textural difference with a crispy exterior and a slightly melting interior. The mildness of the brie was complemented by the sweetness of the passion fruit glaze and further elevated by the earthiness of the truffle oil. The Balsamic added a sweet-sour component.

basso_15_cauliflower_2The simplest of ingredients can present complex flavors and the “Coliflor al Pimenton” presented a smoky interpretation of this often unappreciated vegetable. The bite sized florets were seared to create a crispy finish and the Spanish paprika added a nice level of smokiness and a touch of spiciness. The dish also included slivers of garlic and finished with a splash of sherry to add sour notes to balance the other ingredients.

basso_15_bellyThe “Pork Belly” was topped with crispy crackling and served alongside pearl onions, a sweet pea purée and finished with agrodolce. The richness of the belly was beautifully complemented by the outstanding sweet-sour agrodolce and pearl onions, this was a perfect combination. The pea purée brought additional creaminess and a touch of sweetness and a great balance to the agrodolce. The crackling was chewy and I preferred the dish without it.

basso_15_tuna_bellyA current appetizer special is a small filet of “Tuna Belly.” Served “cooked through” and glazed with Dijon mustard and chopped pistachios, this interesting combination balanced the nuttiness of the pistachios spiced with the mustard. It was served atop diced capers and orange zest that complemented the other ingredients.

basso_15_filetMy favorite of the entrées was the “Filet Mignon.” An eight-ounce filet was wrapped in pancetta and topped with a chanterelle and shitake mushroom duxelle, a potato cake and a dollop of sour cream, and nestled in a Cabernet reduction. The steak was prepared to my requested medium-rare and was rich in flavor with a soft texture. The pancetta added a lovely smokiness and saltiness, the mushrooms a wonderful earthiness and the luscious Cabernet reduction was enhanced by the addition of veal stock. The creative addition of the potato cake and cream added a crispy and creamy addition. This is highly recommended.

basso_15_scallopThe “Maine Diver Scallops” were served over a creamy polenta and topped with a watercress and ruby red grapefruit salad and a drizzle of black truffle vinaigrette. The four U-10 scallops were perfectly cooked, seared on the exterior with just the slightest of opaqueness in the center and seasoned with salt and pepper. The polenta was full flavored from pancetta and diced mushrooms and offered a nice land-sea balance. The grapefruit segments brought acidity and brightness to the presentation

basso_15_chickenThose with a hearty appetite will enjoy the “Tuscan Grilled Chicken Under a Brick.” A half chicken is de-boned, marinated and grilled and served with roasted garlic mashed potatoes, sautéed baby carrots and beets and finished with a lemon and rosemary sauce. The “brick technique” created a wonderfully crispy skin that enveloped a soft and moist chicken. The lemon and rosemary sauce was delicious and the mashed potatoes were full of flavor and ultra-creamy. The simply sautéed vegetables added a lovely earthiness to the presentation.

basso_15_tarteSave room for dessert since the “Tartallete of Duce de Leche” is one of the best desserts in the area. The tartallete was filled with an outstanding duce de Leche and the coated with a chocolate ganache. Sitting alongside the tartallete was a scoop of one of the best house-made vanilla ice creams I have tasted. The last component was a raspberry reduction that added just a hint of additional sweetness. There are a couple of Venezuelan chocolate ribbons that were fantastic.

Overall Basso Café Restaurant Wine Bar is still serving a wonderful selection of dishes that combine various flavor components. From the brightness of the passion fruit sauce on the croquettes to the rich, wonderful filet ingredients, each was a finely composed presentation. I look forward to returning to sample more of the Chef’s creative and thoughtful cuisine.

124 New Canaan Ave, Norwalk, CT 06850

(203) 354-6566

  • Really Liked
  • Pork Belly 11
  • Filet Mignon 36
  • Scallops 32
  • Tuscan Grilled Chicken 24
  • Tartallete of Duce de Leche 14

Liked

  • Brie Croquettes 11
  • Coliflor al Pimenton 8

Not a Fan

  • Tuna

Fleishers Craft Kitchen (Westport) Opens for Dinner Under Chef Adam Truelove

dsc_0943Saugatuck Craft Butchery was founded in 2011 by Ryan Fibiger and Paul Nessel with the philosophy of combining “traditional butchery skills with sustainable, whole animal practices and modern-day food movement ideals.” It purchases locally raised animals from farmers that share this philosophy, dry-ages the meat in-house and sells directly to the public. Over the last four years, as its popularity increased, it expanded to a new, larger location across the street that would feature both a butchery and a restaurant and earlier this year it merged with Fleishers Butchery, of Brooklyn, to become Fleishers Craft Butchery.

After the successful launch of breakfast and lunch service, Fleishers recently hired Chef Adam Truelove, formerly of Tarry Lodge, Napa & Co. and Pine Social to oversee its culinary expansion. In the last month it both opened its doors at its newest location in Cos Cob and expanded the service in Saugatuck to include dinner to showcase the farm raised meat and poultry from the butchery coupled with Chef Adam’s creativity. With a very low key environment, 30 seats and an additional six stools at the bar, the restaurant will offer a simple menu, as well as Family Dinners, from Tuesday through Saturday from 530-930PM.

The menu is divided into three sections, “Small,” “Burgers” and “From the Butcher.” The small plates range from cheese or meat platters to salads, to meatballs and pigs’ ears. With four choices of burgers, there are a full range of options for guests looking for a twin-thin to a large fatty patty (both beef and lamb are featured), while the entrée sized plates include several cuts from the butchery attached to the restaurant

CTbites was invited to sample a selection of the new cuisine.

dsc_0933The “Apple and Fennel Salad” was one of the best renditions of the currently popular kale salad I have tasted. The kale, slivered apples and fennel were tossed with a house-made bacon vinaigrette, shredded goat cheese and pistachios. The bacon-y vinaigrette was a fantastic complement to the kale with loads of smokiness that created a delightful combination. The apples brought a mild sweetness and the goat cheese a touch of saltiness. The pistachios rounded the salad with a nice earthiness and additional crunch.

dsc_0937The “Lamb Meatballs” were nestled in a swath of smoked ricotta and finished with a spiced red wine reduction and slivered scallions. The Indian influenced meatballs, seasoned with curry and cumin, were complemented by the creaminess of the smoked ricotta. They were soft and moist from the steaming and reheating in the wine reduction, which added a slight bitterness to the dish.

dsc_0930The last small plate was the “Crispy Pig,” which included chicharrones and thinly sliced strips of pig’s ears, which were braised before deep frying. The strips were coated with a spicy Sriracha sauce and parsley, and served with aioli. The chicharrones were crunchy pillows of air while the pork strips were the textural opposite; a chewy, crunchy texture. I was not a fan of this combination (a personal preference) but others at the table loved it.

dsc_0941The “Craft Burger” was included on my 2015 list of Best Burgers in Southwest Connecticut and the current version continues as one of my favorites in the area. The burger begins with a combination of dry-aged beef with a little added fat, dipped in an IPA cheese fondue, and topped with a few greens, bacon jam and an onion ring. The deep flavors of the dry-aged meats were perfectly balanced by the bacon jam and the fondue dip. The burger was encased in a brioche that added buttery goodness. Shoestring fries accompanied the burger and they were crispy on the exterior and soft on the interior

When you are sitting adjacent to one of the best butchery around, it is hard to select which of the entrée to choose, with a double-cut pork chop, a half chicken, steak frites (currently a Rib Eye) and a lamb dish all an option.

dsc_0943The highlight of the visit was the “Rib Eye,” the current cut for the Steak Frites. Since we enjoyed the fries earlier with the burger, Chef Adam paired the chop with brisket burnt ends and beans. After one bite, I knew this was an outstanding steak. The 16-ounce filet was cooked to a perfect medium-rare, with a great sear on the exterior. The deep, ultra-rich flavor was fantastic, fork-tender and reminiscent of a great steak house. The side of brisket burnt ends and beans was a wonderful accompaniment that both mellowed and enhanced the steak.

dsc_0939The “Pork Chop” was an enormous double-cut chop served atop a mound of sausage stuffing and a small side salad. The chop was served medium-rare and pink in the middle (order differently if desired) and glazed with a pomegranate molasses and finished with a dash of Gray rock sea salt. The sausage contained house-made sausage and brioche and offered just a hint of spicy-sweetness. The chop was moist and flavorful and delicious with the sweet pomegranate glaze.

Overall, the initial offerings at Fleisher’s were fun, creative and showcased the top-tiered quality of the butcher shop. Chef Adam informed us after the meal that lamb will be a continual offering to expand the year-round acceptance of this wonderful meat. The prices reflect the restaurant’s ability to offer exceptional quality at relatively reasonable prices. The $32 rib eye steak frites was a great value and the other entrées were priced in the mid-$20s. I look forward to returning to Fleishers to work my way through each of the meats and poultry.

Really Liked

  • Apple and Fennel Salad
  • Craft Burger
  • Rib Eye
  • Pork Chop

Liked

  • Lamb Meatballs

Did Not Like

  • Crispy Pig

580 Riverside Ave. – Westport CT 06880

(203)226-6328

 

Harlan Publick in South Norwalk: Innovative Cuisine with a Tropical Twist

Harlan Publick opened last year in the SoNo Ironworks and immediately became a destination for great food, a vast line-up of beers and an outdoor terrace like none other in Fairfield County. The relaxed interior features a large bar, a dining area with both dining tables and high tops and a room for a private event that features several personalized beer taps, and represents the second for Managing Partner Steve Lewandowski, who is also the Managing Partner at Stamford’s Harlan Social, which has won accolades as one of the best restaurants in CT.

Executive Chef Kamal Rose recently joined Harlan Publick, and his road to this position was less than traditional. Raised on St. Vincent and the Grenadines, he developed his passion for cooking from his grandmother. He moved to New York at the age of 15 and subsequently received an internship at TriBeca Grill. In 2009 he won a $20,000 scholarship in a national cooking competition and earned his diploma from the Institute of Culinary Education. He returned to TriBeca Grill under the tutelage of Drew Nieporent and Steve Lewandowski and last year, Lewandowski asked Rose to join him at Harlan Publick where his newly introduced cuisine exemplifies his Caribbean roots tempered by classical training. 

CTbites recently visited Harlan Publick to sample Chef Kamal’s newly introduced cuisine that deftly balances tropical flavors with a touch of heat. The menu allows guests to pre-order a Roast Porchetta for four, share several smaller dishes amongst friends, or order a traditional appetizer and entrée (these words are not on the menu). From Candied Peanuts to a Tomahawk Steak, the selections are wide and varied.

The “Braised Octopus Carpaccio” (pictured above) was like none I have ever eaten.  Traditionally, this preparation includes “cooking” diced fish in a citrusy marinade and served with various accompaniments…Chef Kamal created a carpaccio terrine. He fanned several thin slices on the plate and finished with starfruit escabeche and drizzles of mango Jalapeño vin. The octopus was tender and delicious and the addition of the sweet mango and spiciness from the escabeche were delightful.

The “Black Bean Hummus” is an excellent starter to share at the table. It was topped with a dollop of Pico de Gallo and served with Plantain chips. Chef Kamal’s rendition broke from tradition by using black beans, which added a deeper earthiness to the dip. The sweetness of the plantains were a wonderful offset to the richness of the black beans and a touch of heat from the chilies.

The “Mussels” were served in a broth comprised of lemongrass, ginger, garlic, coconut milk and Thai chilies. The soft and sweet bivalves were perfectly enhanced by the tropical flavors, accented by a mild kick of spice from the Thai chilies. The dish was further complemented by a few slices of Roti, a flatbread that added crunch and an incredible sweetness from its raw brown sugar.

The most creative dish that Chef Kamal prepared was the “Crabcake ‘Scotch Egg’” served atop a swath of Scotch bonnet aioli. The traditional recipe includes a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage, coated with bread crumbs and date to the 18th century when farmers brought them to the fields for lunch. Chef Kamal first created his interpretation on “Beat Bobby Flay” where he encased a soft boiled egg in crab meat and bread crumbs, and deep-fried. When cut in half, the yolk exuded its creaminess to offset the incredible crunchy exterior.  The crab meat was sweet and the Scotch bonnet aioli (I was nervous about Scotch bonnets) added a little, but not too much, spiciness. The small parsley salad was the prefect means to cleanse the palate. This was a fun, creative and outstanding dish.

The “Rum Glazed St. Louis Cut Ribs” were another example of Chef Kamal’s talent of infusing just a touch of heat into his cuisine. The thick ribs were first marinated in jerk seasoning and topped with brown sugar and rum before crisping the exterior on the grill. Once the crust was achieved they were steamed and coated with a sweet glaze immediately before arriving at the table. The result was a moist and tender rib with almost a spongy texture. The tower of plump ribs were presented in a cast iron skillet and were very good but I prefer my ribs a little denser with a firmer texture.

The “Curry Goat Roti” is a traditional dish in the Caribbean. The goat was prepared with potatoes, channa (chickpeas), allspice and ginger, and encased in Roti bread and griddled to create additional crispness to the exterior. It can best be described as a Caribbean pot pie. It was served with a tamarind chutney. As much as I liked the Roti bread and the braised goat, the dish was just not to my liking.

Short ribs are on every menu this fall and Harlan Publick’s rendition, “Short Rib Stew,” was fantastic. The 6-hour braised ribs were served with diced yucca, pumpkin and pigeon peas and presented in an individual caldron. The meat was perfectly prepared to a fall off the bone tenderness while maintaining a touch of resistance. It was moist and rich in flavor, while the pumpkin added a delightful sweetness to the dish. The sauce was one of the silkiest preparations I have eaten in quite some time.

The “Grilled Tomahawk Steak” was a sight to behold and a delicious piece of beef. This 38-ounce monster completely covered a two foot cedar plank. After presenting the whole steak to the guest it is returned to the kitchen for slicing. It was served with a side of jerk fingerling potatoes and a scallion butter. The steak was outstanding and when paired with a small amount of the scallion butter elevated its decadence. The jerk fingerling potatoes were creamy on the interior and ultra-crispy on the interior. It is usually shared by two people but understand that many singles have successfully devoured this extravaganza.

After the meal, a new, special drink was brought to the table. The “Old Pirate’s Portion” was served in a martini glass and included spiced rum, sweet potato purée, maple syrup, egg whites, and topped with a thin layer of whipped cream and a couple of sweet potato chips. The combination was fantastic with the sweet potato purée and maple syrup creating a sweetness balanced by the spiciness of the rum. The egg whites added a luscious quality to this drink.

Overall I was incredibly impressed with the Chef Kamal’s new cuisine at Harlan Publick. It breaks from the new American tradition that is rampant in Fairfield County and proves that savory and sweet are perfect complements while chilies can add a little spiciness to accentuate the food.

127 Washington St. – Norwalk, CT – 06854

(203) 831-0727

Really Liked

  • Braised Octopus Carpaccio
  • PEI Mussels 13
  • Black Bean Hummus 9
  • Crabcake “Scotch Egg”
  • Short Rib Stew
  • Grilled Tomahawk Steak 91

Liked

  • Rum Glazed St. Louis Cut Ribs 16
  •  “Old Pirate’s Potion”

Did Not Like

  • Curry Goat Roti

 

New Chef @ elm Restaurant in New Canaan: Enter Chef Luke Venner

Chef Luke Venner has been at the helm of elm Restaurant for several monthsand was invited to participate at the Greenwich Wine and Food Festival as one of the Innovative Chefs. The two small bites that he prepared at the festival were delicious. In hopes that these were reflective of his newly revised menu, CTbites returned to the restaurant to sample other dishes on his recently introduced Autumn menu. The appetizers and entrées that we enjoyed highlighted the inherent flavors of the ingredients utilizing Chef Luke’s balanced vision and delicate touch.

We shared three dishes from the “smaller” section of the menu.

With the arrival of Fall, menus are featuring soups to showcase the season’s harvest. Chef Venner’s Pumpkin and Apple Soup was a sweet-spice combination mellowed by the pumpkin’s earthiness. These Autumnal flavors were a fantastic combination and the preparation included interesting back-notes from a smidgen of star anise. The spicy marshmallows were a playful inclusion for additional sweetness and a sudden burst of spiciness from the chili pepper.

The Tuscan Kale salad was served with thinly sliced honey crisp apples, intermingled with chunks of Cheddar cheese and bacon. This good-sized portion paired the mild bitterness of the shredded kale with the sweetness of apples. The presentation was further enriched by the Cheddar cheese and chunks of some of the best bacon I have eaten in some time.

The Delicata Squash Tartine started with a slice of toasted bread that was topped with ricotta, slices of roasted squash and sprinkled with spiced pecans. The squash rings were first caramelized to heighten their natural sweetness and were perfectly complemented by the wonderfully smooth ricotta. The pecans added more earthiness and a textural difference. This was a delicious start to the meal that I would describe as a more petit starter.

The entrées, “larger” plates, I sampled included two of the steaks and the risotto.

My favorite of the entrées was the Smoked Shortrib, which shared the plate with pureed carrots, slices of charred cucumber, and a dollop of chimichurri. The beef was first brined for two days, smoked and then pressed to remove all of the inherent fattiness of this cut. The filet was finished with a mild sear. The result was incredibly tender with a deep, rich flavor that required nothing more than a fork to cut. The charred cucumber slices added an interesting sweetness, the Sriracha enhanced carrot purée offered a touch of spiciness and the chimichurri complemented the other ingredients with sour notes.

Elm’s Wagyu Rib Eye is purchased from the 7X Ranch in Colorado. A little background of this ranch and its beef is important. While the requirement in the US for Wagyu designation is at least 25% from a Japanese Wagyu steer, 7X is 100% derived from Japanese Wagyu steer. The result is a softer, well marbled steak. The Wagyu rib eye was glazed with a Bordelaise sauce and served with a large marrow-filled bone. The meat was mild in flavor and presented more of a strip steak texture than rib eye…and was delicious. The portion was sufficient for two to share or for a single with a very hearty appetite.

There are numerous risottos offered throughout the area, most with a certain amount of heaviness. Elm’s current Risotto is delicate and pairs creamy Carnaroli rice with wild mushrooms, black truffle enhanced mascarpone and topped with thin slices of orange peel. The focus was the truffle infused mascarpone elevated by the brightness from the orange peel, a combination that I have never experienced, plus the mild earthiness from the mushrooms. It was outstanding and a much lighter version of this traditional Italian dish.

To accompany the entrées we also shared a side of Brussels sprouts. A bowl of baby sprouts was topped with honey and lavender that delivered a very sweet interpretation with a touch of floral notes. They were also excellent.

Pastry Chef Kara Koehmstedt recently joined elm to oversee its dessert and bread program. Chef Kara was trained at the Culinary Institute of America before joining the culinary team at The Peninsula Hotel and Blackbird Restaurant in Chicago and Cosme in NYC. She prepared four of her desserts from the current menu.

The highlight was the Zeppoles, which now rank as my favorite rendition in the area. The interior was moist from the Ricotta cheese and presented a wonderful texture to complement the crunchiness of the crust. Each was encased with cinnamon-sugar that offered the perfect balance to the zeppoles. They were paired with peach jam and maple ice cream and everyone at the table was craving a little chocolate sauce for their portion.

The Pumpkin Cheesecake delivered a rich creaminess reminiscent of NY-style cheese cake. There was additional smoothness from the formage blanc mousse, while the crumbles of specaloos (ginger biscuits) added a crunchy textural difference. As much as I loved the textures the pumpkin filling, the dish was a little heavy with nutmeg and the specaloos contained a little too much ginger.

The elm Brownie was several bite-sized pieces served with Crème fraiche ice cream and roasted blackberries. The highlight of the dish was the blackberries that were very sweet and delectable. The brownies were mild in flavor as was the ice cream and I prefer a more chocolatey brownie.

The Boozy Sundae is the newest addition to the dessert menu and included a large dish of soft brown sugar Bourbon ice cream topped with swirls of chocolate and caramel sauces and finished with pecans. The ice cream and sauces were excellent but the pecans were much too salty and overwhelmed the other ingredients.

Overall the appetizers and entrées were some of the most creative and delicious food I have eaten in Fairfield County. The subtleness of the combinations were fantastic. I look forward to returning to elm and taste many more of Chef Venner culinary compositions.

Prices range from $12 to $21 for the smaller plates and $21 to $36 for the larger plates (with the exceptions being the burger at $18 and the Wagyu ribeye at $62). I found most of the portion sizes in line with those at other high-end restaurants in Fairfield County.

Really Liked

  • Tuscan Kale ($19)
  • Pumpkin and Apple Soup ($12)
  • Smoked Shortrib ($34)
  • Carnaroli Risotto ($21)
  • Zeppole ($8)

Liked

  • Delicata Squash Tartine ($14)
  • Wagyu Rib Eye ($62)
  • Pumpkin Cheesecake ($8)

Needs Improvement

  • Boozy Sundae ($8)
  • Brownie ($8)