Dorsia (Boca) – Still the Best in the Neighborhood

16-chicken-saparielloWe returned to Dorsia and this is still one of my favorite restaurants in the area. From the minute you enter, the owners are welcoming, friendly and have a personal interest in all of the guests. It is like eating at a friend’s house. The service was flawless, prompt and knowledgeable on both of our visits.

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On the first visit the server mentioned that the special for the evening was an Eggplant Ball. I did not completely understand the server when he stated the dish and I thought it was strips of fried eggplant with sauce and cheese. When it was delivered in a bowl versus a plate I was not sure what it was until I took a forkful and saw it was an eggplant meatball minus the meat. It was soft and full of great flavor. The sauce was fantastic, great deep rich tomato flavor. The eggplant ball was a great choice; it is a little heavy for the start of a meal, but it was fantastic.

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My entrée on the first visit was the Ricotta and Spinach Cannelloni. Make sure you have a hearty appetite if you order this dish. I struggle calling it cannelloni versus manicotti since it was a spinach-ricotta cheese stuffed pasta tubes topped with a tomato-meat sauce. Call it whatever you would like, I call it delicious. The spinach was fresh, not frozen, and when combined with the cheeses was delicious inside the pasta cylinders that were the perfect thickness and texture. The sauce was more a meat sauce Ragu with a small smattering of meat versus a thick and meaty Bolognese, but again, call it what you like it was superb.

On the second visit I ordered the Chicken Scarpariello. The server asked if I would like cherry peppers on the side. I thought that was a great idea and agreed. The dish consisted of a half a bone-in chicken cut into several pieces with red peppers, sausage slices, roasted potatoes and onions. The flavors were delicious. I did add a small piece of cherry pepper to one bite and these were extremely hot peppers, be forewarned if you are thinking of ordering them in the dish. The only drawback was the white meat was a little overcooked. Likewise, to manage expectations, the size of the half chicken was more a size of a Cornish Hen, just a head’s up, but it was more than generous as an entrée with all of the additions.

For dessert, we ordered the Tartufo, vanilla and chocolate ice cream covered in a chocolate shell with a little chopped hazelnut in the core. It was pretty basic but a good ending to the meal with a really good and generous single espresso.

This is still one of my favorite restaurants in the Delray area.

Seasons 52 (Boca) -Stick with the Flatbreads and Desserts

dessertsOur annual pilgrimage to Seasons 52 was interesting and not in a positive manner. As in previous years, we arrived for our reservation and the hostess escorted us to the noisy bar area. I just do not understand why the hostess failed to ask if we had a preference for the bar or the dining room. We declined and asked to sit in one of the dining rooms, a quieter part of the restaurant.

We shared the tomato and Mozzarella flatbread and the chicken pesto flatbread. I really like their flatbreads, they are the best items on the menu. The tomatoes were super sweet and the crust was crispier than previous years, and did not crumble apart after each bite. This year the chicken was moist and the arugula was also a good topping.

The shrimp and grits is more aptly described a shrimp mish-mosh. Throw a little grits on a plate. Then over-season some shrimp and sauté with tomatoes, chorizo and pancetta and throw on top of the grits. Just a bunch of competing flavors, each too much for the others. Best part was the tomatoes. There is very little on the menu that is worth ordering.

Desserts were brought over. I chose one with a bunch of different chocolates and a little cake. I really like this approach to dessert, order one or two to finish the meal.

In addition, our utensils were dirty, as well as the napkins. Service was novice. The server was obviously very new and management failed to train him adequately, he was very unfocused, just going through the motions. When asked what the evening’s ravioli was filled with, he responded, “nothing.” Really? I mentioned this on the way out and they thanked me and gave a certificate for the next visit.

On the drive home, we discussed having a few flatbreads and dessert the next time we go. Not a bad idea.

J. Alexander’s (Boca) – Sleek Spot with Challenging Food

16-burgerFrom the outside, this restaurant looks like an upscale Florida version of a NJ diner. Once inside, the enormous four-sided bar separates two dining areas with more a pubby feeling than NJ red p-leather booths. The menu ranges from a few unappealing appetizers, many salads and sandwiches, plus entrees. All of the food is prepared in the large, open-viewed kitchen in the rear.

On the first visit I ordered a bacon-cheese burger medium-rare with tomato and pickles plus fries. The menu stressed hand formed chuck daily so I was expecting a very juicy burger. It arrived already cut in half to show it was prepared properly. The first item I noticed was the size of the bun; it was incredibly tall and overshadowed the exposed patty, tomato, pickle, and the single slice of melted cheese; the bacon was hidden under the bun. The second item was the lack of juice extruding from the burger, even though it was chuck and cut immediately after leaving the griddle.

A quick taste of the meat. It was OK but had a bitter aftertaste. It was medium in grind with decent richness. The folded and hidden slice of bacon was also pretty good; the bun was OK but much too large. The two slices of tomatoes were excellent. Overall it was an OK burger but should have been juicier if it was chuck. The fries were horrible. The shoestring variety were cooked a little too long and then the kitchen doused them with salt, head snapping back amounts.

16-tacosOn the second visit I ordered the steak tacos. A swath of sour cream sauce was first shmeared onto three large soft tortillas and topped with a slice of steak, shredded lettuce and Monterey Jack cheese and finished with a little pico de Gallo salsa. The steak was prepared to medium rare. After one bite, I knew this was not for me. The steak was covered with a seasoning package that was both overwhelmingly salty and incredibly spicy. The salsa was also spicy. My wife offered half of her burger and when I tasted it, it was not even as good as the OK burger from the first visit, with a spongier consistency than my first visit. The server and manager asked if I would like something else, and they did a good job, but I chose to call it a night.

Overall Alexander’s exterior of a NJ diner rang truer with the food than the decor. An OK burger, very over-seasoned tacos, but fries that would never be served in NJ.

Atlantic Grill (Delray) – Beautiful Spot Deserves Better

16-scallopsLocated on Atlantic Avenue in the beautiful Seagate Hotel, The Atlantic Grille offers dining rooms with both visual appeal and a menu with a varied set of options. We visited on Christmas Eve so my disappointing entrée may have some justification from a less than full kitchen staff. We were seated on the covered portico overlooking Atlantic Ave., and I would suggest asking for this location in the future, since the only ambient noise comes from other tables, the music from the main dining rooms was filtered out when the doors are closed.

I ordered the Iceberg Wedge for my first course and the Pan Seared Scallops for my entrée.

The wedge was very traditional, with the quartered head covered with a creamy Gorgonzola cheese dressing, halved grape tomatoes and bacon. After I sliced the wedge into bite-sized pieces and mixed, it was a perfectly balance salad, the kitchen added just the right amount of dressing and bacon to lightly cover each bit. If you are looking for a bold cheese dressing, you will be disappointed as the dressing was a milder version of a Gorgonzola dressing, which I prefer.

When the scallops arrived, I was a little taken aback. The photo above is exactly how it arrived. There were five medium-sized scallops, not very large, haphazardly thrown on the plate atop the tiniest portion of parsnip puree I have ever seen. The haricot vert sat alongside the scallops (also appeared to be thrown on the plate) with sherry-bacon vinaigrette drizzled over both. My first bite was disappointing. The scallop was cooked properly but it had cooled from sitting in the kitchen, it arrived at the table just above room temperature. The others were slightly overcooked (interesting since they were only seared on one side), they lost all of their translucence. That would have been overlooked if the sherry-bacon vinaigrette did not completely overwhelm the scallops, creating a bitter combination. Again, that might have been overlooked if there was more than a tablespoon of parsnip puree on the plate to counteract the vinaigrette with some sweetness. The haricot vert were slightly undercooked as well. Over all it was a very disappointing dish. On a positive note, I tasted my wife’s pasta with shrimp in Marinara sauce and the shrimp were really well prepared.

Service was friendly and efficient throughout the evening.

Overall, I was disappointed in The Atlantic Grille but I am giving it some slack because it was Christmas Eve.

 

Ch’i Public House Opens in SoNo – Exceptional Asian-Inspired Cuisine

Ch’i Public House opened in late November in the space formerly occupied by Ocean Drive and Red Lulu on Washington Street in SoNo. The forces behind the new Asian-inspired restaurant are Rob Moss, Marco Siguenza and Dave Studwell, owners of neighboring Washington Prime. Overseeing the kitchen is Executive Chef Mark Taruna, whose long career spans attending the French Culinary Institute and working as the Sous Chef for Nobu Matsushisa at Nobu. He subsequently joined The Food Network and ran the Iron Chef kitchen where he worked with Morimoto, Mario Batali and Bobby Flay. He brings a new level of creativity to many classic recipes with bold flavors and textures, from the simplest dumpling to the most complex sauces.

Ch’i is a key concept in Feng Shui, defined as universal energy, the energy that surrounds us all, and the interior has been revamped to a vibrant, yet relaxed Asian motif. Your journey begins with a long entryway leading to the large bar area, with thirteen bar stools and sofas to seat ten guests. The two-story dining area features a floor to ceiling waterfall, with slowly trickling water cascading on small statues of Buddha and several other walls adorned with indented shelves that house additional Buddha statues. Off to the side is a private dining room, which can serve up to twelve people, with the main dining area offering two U-shaped booths for six people plus additional seating for 24 guests. The second-floor balcony has additional table seating for over 50 plus a second semi-private area with sofas for ten.

CTbites was invited to sample an array of dishes and I was so impressed that I returned a few nights later to enjoy others.

Start your meal with the Hot & Sour Soup. The enormous bowl is filled with a velvety thick broth loaded with crispy vegetables. The first notable difference from other hot and sour soups is the inclusion of large segments of numerous types of mushrooms. It delivered more a moderate spicy than sour, a balance that I enjoyed. If a lighter soup is desired, order the Miso Soup, which is slightly thicker, more flavorful and less salty than what is commonly found in the area. If you are looking for perfect fried dumplings, order the fried pork gyoza. These were paper-thin wrappers filled with minced pork and crispy vegetables. They were outstanding, maybe the best I have eaten.

My favorite smaller plate was the Yellowtail Tartare, which was beautiful to the eye as well as the palate. The diced tuna was encased in a ring of thinly sliced cucumbers, topped with thin wedges of avocado, small mounds of red and black fish roe, micro greens and plated with dollops of wasabi cream, yuzu and cucumber-lime sauce. The array of differing and complementing flavors was outstanding, the sweets balanced by a little hint of spiciness was fantastic with the yellowtail.

With a few shrimp options on the menu, the appetizer of Crispy Hong Kong Shrimp was so delicious we ordered it again on a subsequent visit. Five shrimp were lightly coated and perfectly fried and sat atop an outstanding sauce, surrounded by grilled thin asparagus spears and droplets of hoisin sauce. The moist shrimp were a great canvas to complement one of the most delicious sweet and spicy sauces. The dish presented a wonderful sweet-spicy-crunchy combination in very subtle manners. Add a touch of hoisin for additional depth

The Hamachi and Salmon Sashimi included eight large triangular pieces of fresh fish served with freshly grated wasabi and intermingled with thin lemon slices. The inclusion of freshly grated versus powdered wasabi enhanced the delicateness of the sashimi with a mild spiciness and floral tones.

Somewhat disappointing was the Beef Tataki. Ch’i’s interpretation included six chunks of beef (versus the traditional pounded) that sat atop a slice of cucumber and topped with vegetables and finished with crisped onions and sauce. The first piece was a little overcooked, while the second was much better. This would be a nice selection to share amongst a few guests.

The Toban Djan Shrimp was simple in its presentation, complex in its components, and fantastic. Toban Djan is a fermented paste that combines hot chilies with broad beans. Several large shrimp were fanned around a mound of onions and red peppers, topped with frizzled onions and served next to a cone of Jasmine rice, a smattering of asparagus pieces and sauce. The dish presented an abundance of flavors, from the slight spiciness of the sauce, supplemented by Thai basil, garlic and crab paste for additional umami, to sweetness of the peppers and onions, to the delicate and moist rice.

The beef Filet was delicious and presented yet another new flavor profile. The beautifully seasoned tenderloin was prepared to a perfect medium-rare and sat atop sautéed onions and red peppers and charred asparagus. It was accompanied by thyme and butter roasted red potatoes, which were crisped on the exterior and soft and creamy throughout. The complementing sauce combined a sweet-spicy chili paste, from the Szechuan province, with Toban Djan garlic butter, which elevated all of the ingredients.

Accompanying dishes received the same attention to detail. The Pork Belly Fried Rice was a large bowl of lightly soy accented rice, intermixed with an abundance of thin slices of roasted pork belly and diced red pepper. Instead of scrambling and including the egg within the rice, Chef Mark layered a crispy fried egg on top. Open the yolk to release its creamy goodness and enjoy the sweet pork intermingled with the slightly salty rice.

Desserts are both simple and elegant. The cylinders of pound cake were layered with vanilla ice cream, chocolate, Amaretto and reduced lychee sauces, plus lychees and caramelized pineapple segments. It was delicious.

Overall, the food is outstanding at Ch’i Public House. The environment is hip, exciting and filled with positive chi. With only a few weeks under its belt, Ch’i is experiencing some opening service issues. Seating, timing of delivery and the overall customer focus needs a little attention. But the food was well worth overlooking these minor annoyances.

Really Liked

  • Hot and Sour Soup ($6)
  • Shanghai Pork Ribs ($15)
  • Yellowtail Tartare ($16)
  • Crispy Hong Kong Shrimp ($14)
  • Pork Gyoza ($12)
  • Filet Mignon ($32)
  • Toban Djan Shrimp ($24)

Liked

  • Miso Soup ($7)
  • Beef Tataki ($14)

The author was not compensated for this review. The first visit was provided without charge and the author paid for the second visit. The opinions contained herein are solely those of the author.

Outrageous BBQ at Mason Dixon Smokehouse in Stamford

World-class BBQ returns to CT with the homecoming of renowned pitmaster Nestor Laracuente, who is overseeing the kitchen at Mason Dixon Smokehouse in Stamford. When I heard that Nestor was teaming up with Mason Dixon, I was ecstatic, the mounds of his perfectly prepared meats that I raved about at Hoodoo Brown were indelible etched in my memory. Would Mason Dixon fill the void that I have felt for months? Bottom line…yes, the food is spectacular.

Laracuente is a soft-spoken lover of meats and Southern rock who spent years perfecting his craft. After leaving CT last year, he returned to Brooklyn where he spent time with his buddy at Beast of Bourbon in Bed-Stuy. His time was spent experimenting with new rubs, new dishes, waiting for the right opportunity for his return to Connecticut. His newest venture, of which he is part-owner, opened a few weeks ago and it is slowly expanding the menu.

The interior is modern rustic, with rough-hewed-edged tables under Edison bulbs dangling from the ceiling, exposed brick from front to back along the right and a long bar on the left. There is seating to accommodate 85 at tables, another eight guests can sit at high-top tables overlooking the bar and more than a dozen bar stools. The walls are adorned with painted chalkboards proclaiming “Keep Calm it’s BBQ Time,” “BBQ is a Culture,” “BBQ is a Taste Memory,” and “Best BBQ in Town is Right Here.”

The bar offers eight beers ($7) on tap including Allagash White Ale, Bronx Pale Ale, Firefly Lizard’s Breath IPA and Stamford’s own Half Full Toasted Amber Ale. “Blue Collar Brewskies” are $4-5 and include PBR and Modelo Especial and an assortment of craft beers range from $5-8. Almost all of the beers are US brewed. Likewise, the bar offers a significant selection of US ryes, bourbons and single malts and a few Tequilas and Mezcals from Mexico. A craft cocktail menu includes named drinks Shallow Grave, Snake in My Boot and Austin-Tacious.

But the centerpieces of any BBQ joint are the meats and the sides, and Mason Dixon’s are slowly prepared in two 108” Lang smokers. The menu includes Appetizers of Macho Nachos with smoked brisket, QueTine, a BBQ poutine with a choice of BBQ over fries and finally smoked and deep-fried Wings. Three sandwiches are currently offered and include a Barnyard Rumble with both pulled pork and smoked brisket, Hogzilla with shaved ribs, Carolina pork and cracklin’ pork belly and a Black Friday with smoked turkey. Additional meats available for the Combos include St. Louis ribs, and smoked chicken. The sides include Brisket Beans, Mac-n-Cheese, Collard Greens, Cucumber Salad, Apple Slaw, Potato Salad, Seasoned Fries, Cranberry Sauce and Cherry-Carrot Salad.

I chose the Combo with three meats, cornbread and a side ($23), and elected the St. Louis Ribs, Brisket and Carolina Pork, plus the Brisket Beans for my side. When the platter arrived, I noticed the pork belly was present instead of the Carolina pork and the server was quick to bring me a separate portion of the pork, customer happiness is key.

The brisket was hand-sliced and delivered an abundance of juiciness and a moderate level of spice from the pepper-salt rub. There was a great smoke ring, with a thin strip of fat separating the crust from the meat, which was tender and rich in flavor. With a slight tug, the slices came part easily to enjoy each delectable morsel.

The St. Louis ribs were not only picture-perfect, they were perfect. Nestor’s new rub includes a hint of brown sugar to balance the salt and pepper rub and the meaty ribs were succulent throughout. The rub created a firm crust and a good level of smokiness. Avoid the urge to add any sauce to these ribs…let the meat and spices speak for themselves.

The Pork Belly at Mason Dixon sets a new standard. The large cubes were almost completely meat, nearly all of the fat was slowly rendered out. There was a thin layer of skin that was lightly crisped, just giving that little cracklin’ crunch when bit into. When a little sauce was added, it created a delicious canvas of flavors and fantastic balance of soft meaty texture offset by the slight crunch of the skin.

The smoked pork was also excellent. The portion included several large, thick slices of perfectly smoke pork. They were smoky, meaty and juicy. Of all the meats, the pork benefitted the most from the sauce as the rub was limited to the exterior of each thick cut. Adding the tangy and sweet sauce created a wonderful complementary balance to the rich pork.

The sides were equal to the challenge of accompanying the meats. The Brisket Beans was out of this world. The creamy beans were intermixed with chunks of brisket. The first bite took my palate in a different direction. While the other dishes focused on sweet and smoky, the beans brought in some spiciness, just enough to grab your attention. The house-made corn bread was moist, dense, with great texture. There was just a little touch of crunchiness throughout the piece, with sweetness kicking in from the thin layer of maple atop the cornbread. The carrot cherry salad was a little too sweet for my taste.

After my carnivorous extravaganza, Nestor stopped by the table. After he instructed the server to change the music to the Lynyrd Skynyrd station, I asked him what drove him in his BBQ passion. He slowly stroked his beard and told me “food is an important part of life…it brings people together. I saw the power of how a perfect piece of fried chicken could bring a group of teenagers together on a Sunday night. I then embraced the hardest parts of smoking, the rain, the cold, all to create the meats that would bring people together over a great meal. That is the power of food”

Overall, Mason Dixon Smokehouse is one of the best, if not the best, BBQ I have eaten in years. Nestor Laracuente has mastered the art of smoking, yet constantly looks to improve his recipes and his technique that already create flawless meats. Each and every bite brought a smile to my face, and I highly recommend grabbing a table, a large appetite and make sure you have a handful of napkins to wipe the sauce from your smiles.

78 West Park Place – Stamford, CT 203-817-0392

http://www.masondixonstamford.com

The author was not compensated for this review; the meal was provided without charge. The opinions contained herein are solely those of the author.

Soul Tasty Opens in Stamford: Southern Food from the Soul to the Table

chicken-wings-closeFairfield County offers some of the best food in the country, from trucks to fine dining, and when a restaurant serves food from the soul, it is special, it is uplifting, it makes you overjoyed. Every now and then I visit a new place that fits all these categories. Stephanie Webster, my CTbites partner, and I were looking for a new place for a lunch meeting and we chose Soul Tasty…we wanted to see what the buzz was about. It is located on Main Street in Stamford at the end of a dead end that doubles as the entrance to a pedestrian bridge and parking is incredibly difficult, have patience, it is worth it.

serving-counter

Soul Tasty is the brain-child and dream of Chef Jean Gabriel, Jr. When you walk in, you can feel the love. The walls are brightly painted, a little graffiti on the rear counter pronouncing FEED YOUR SOUL and a colorful menu above the hot trays holding the products of the chef’s homage to the Southern recipes of his grandmother.

Jean’s desire to cook food from the soul is deep-rooted in this soft-spoken gentleman whose enormous smile and modest demeanor was evident as we discussed the restaurant on our visit. As a child, his mother taught him a few techniques in the kitchen and Gabriel decided to pursue his passion and followed his dream by attending the Lincoln Culinary Institute in Hartford, CT, and overseas at the Italian Culinary Institute for Foreigners. His menu combines traditional Haitian cuisine with his family’s recipes. Before opening Soul Tasty he was one of the opening chefs at Paloma.

Soul Tasty is already part of the community with prices that allow anyone to enjoy his food. A guest can enjoy a $5 “Tasty Box” lunch of chicken wings, pork chop, fried fish, or baked or fried chicken and a large portion of dirty rice, or for an extra $1 you can choose fried fish, pork or turkey BBQ, chicken tenders or a smothered pork chop. “Tasty Plates” are all $15 or less and include an entrée of BBQ, baked or fried chicken, chopped BBQ, BBQ or fried pork chop, fried fish or shrimp, with up to four sides. The sides include candied yams, potato salad, collard greens, mac & cheese, dirty rice, sweet potato fries, black eye peas, fried plantain and French fries. Two “$10 Specialty Entrees” include chicken & waffles and shrimp & grits.

shrimp-gritsWe thoroughly enjoyed three dishes that are definitely in the “Must Order” category. My favorite was the Shrimp and Grits . A bowl of delicious grits was topped with well-seasoned shrimp, with a little sauce drizzled on top. The shrimp were firm, with a little spice and a lot of flavor. The grits were perfectly cooked, balanced between creamy and a little crunch. This is definitely a contender for Best of…

smothered-pork-chopThe Smothered Pork Chop was also outstanding. The chop sat atop an enormous mound of some of the best Dirty Rice I have tasted in a long time. It was moist and tender and the mushroom sauce was down home fantastic. The rice was filled with chunks of sautéed beef, carrots, onions and peppers and offered a nice level of heat.

chicken-wings-topThe third was the Fried Chicken Wings. I commend Tasty Soul for serving the whole wing, all three sections. Pulling the wing apart is almost a ritual and first seeing the three-part crispy skin, perfectly fried, and hearing just a little crackle when the sections were slowly pulled apart was a prelude to the taste. They were crispy on the exterior and moist and delicious on the interior.

turkey-bbq-2The pulled turkey BBQ sandwich was North Carolinian style, and consisted of a large mound of smoked turkey, lathered in a spicy vinegar sauce and served on two slices of white bread (menu states golden bun which I would have preferred). Steph was a big fan of the BBQ, I thought the meat was a little dry, but the sauce added all the moisture required to elevate this to a very good sandwich. A few people at the surrounding tables raved about this sandwich as their favorite on the menu.

We tried several hearty sides and I was surprised that my favorite was the collard greens; they offered just a little resistance, not mushy at all, and delivered a good level of spice to go with the inherent pungency of the greens. The black eyed peas were also excellent. They maintained a great texture and were served in a simple sauce. The last side we tried was the mac & cheese. The flavor was fantastic, Steph like the texture, I prefer mine a little creamier. Don’t forget to unwrapped some of the best cornbread, it was moist, flavorful and fantastic.

sweet-potato-pieDesserts are rotated and we both really enjoyed the sweet potato pie, which was creamy and delightful.

In case you haven’t noticed I really loved Soul Tasty. Each of the dishes let the flavors of the ingredients play center stage, and each was delicious. Chef Jean Gabriel, Jr. dedicated the menu to his family’s heritage and recipes, created a cuisine hub in the neighborhood, offering delicious plates of reasonably priced food, in an environment that makes you smile when you enter and smile even broader while you eat. When I asked him if this was food from the heart, he smiled broadly and said, “it is food from the soul.”

29 Main Street – Stamford, CT 06902

203-504-2625

http://www.soultastyct.com

Really Liked

  • Shrimp & Grits
  • Smothered Pork Chop
  • Chicken Wings
  • Dirty Rice
  • Collard Greens
  • Black Eyed Peas
  • Corn Bread

Liked

  • Mac & cheese
  • Sweet potato pie