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

The Brunch Box Food Truck: Get Your Breakfast & Lunch on In Stamford

The Brunch Box opened several months ago, delivering numerous breakfast and lunch sandwiches at locations around Stamford, with occasional visits to surrounding areas and private parties. Jimmy Marcella, a Stamford native developed the concept of The Brunch Box after a lifetime of preparation; as far back as he could remember he wanted to own a restaurant. As a teen Jimmy worked at a local Italian deli in Westchester, scrubbing dishes, mopping floors, stocking soda, eventually prepping, making chicken cutlets and chopping parsley by the case. He saved his money for his self-education, Omakase at 16, elegant dining at 18. He subsequently worked at the Hudson Hotel in Manhattan, toured with his manager and eventually returned to Stamford; he was now ready to fulfill his dream. Jimmy decided to start with a food truck, where he could experience that personal one-to-one interaction with each customer. He thought that “Brunch” was the differentiator from the other food trucks in the area and The Brunch Box was born.

Jimmy’s philosophy is straightforward, “Our goal is to offer fresh, quality products cooked to order on our food truck. The slab bacon from a local hog farm in Pennsylvania to our Portuguese muffins we get overnighted from Fall River, Massachusetts. Quality matters. It’s just tastes and feels that much better! For the consumer and business.”

Each sandwich is served on that distinctively sweet Portuguese muffin (from the same baker from Massachusetts that supplies the bun for the Harlan Social Burger) and reflects Jimmy’s desire to elevate each sandwich with the bun. Over the course of several visits I enjoyed several of Jimmy’s creations.

One of my favorites was The Lox Box (pictured above), layers of Nova lox with cream cheese, tomato, red onion, capers, fresh dill on the Portuguese muffin. The Novy was mild, with just a hint of smokiness; the muffin was an outstanding choice to add great sweetness to the sandwich, and the capers a little saltiness. The tomato and slight schmear of cream cheese contributed creaminess to this great sandwich.

My other favorite was the Brunch Box Breakfast Sandwich, affectionately referred to as the TBB. It starts with a traditional three-ingredient bacon, egg and cheese with a little lettuce and tomato. The Brunch Box takes the sandwich to an incredible sweet-spicy direction with the muffin, and a swath of sriracha mayonnaise that offered a wonderful creamy-spiciness to this sandwich.

Another good choice is the Burger. The meat was mild, with a great sear on the exterior and compressed, which gave it almost a spongy texture (I understand he is now grinding his own meat). The patty was topped with melted cheese, bacon, pickle, lettuce, tomato on the Portuguese muffin. There was great balance with the thick, salty bacon, the ketchup, the aioli and the ripe tomato. Then the pickle kicked in and created a delicious combination.

The Pastrami Reuben included a mound of pastrami covered with melted cheese, sauerkraut, and Thousand Island dressing on the Portuguese muffin. To be fair, this sandwich suffers from the lack of good pastrami in CT. Jimmy searched all over for the best meat, sources it from a local deli, but it was not to my liking. In addition, this time the muffin was not a good substitute for the traditional rye bread that a great pastrami sandwich deserves. I enjoyed the other sandwiches more.

The Brunch Box is turning out some creative combinations. The use of the sweet Portuguese muffins works fantastically in most of the combinations, and the addition of spicy components is the key to many of the sandwiches. In several conversations with Marcella I am convinced he strives for the best in each of his ingredients. I look forward to returning and enjoying more of The Brunch Box’s breakfast and lunch sandwiches.

The Brunch Box

To see locations visit:

https://www.facebook.com/Thebrunchboxct/?fref=ts

https://twitter.com/thebrunchboxct

CRAVE in Fairfield: Creative American Fare

While Crave Restaurant in Fairfield may seem off the beaten path, it is conveniently located adjacent to the Fairfield Theatre Company and combines a hip vibe with a menu offering a wide array of options from a simple Mac & Cheese to a robust Chicken Scarpariello. The brainchild of owners Peter Prizio and Alfonso Cammarota, the owners’ concept was simple; create a restaurant and bar where everyone would feel at home and serve a global menu with bold flavors. The restaurant consists of two rooms. To the left is a traditional dining area with tables and high-tops and to the right is a bar, with large HDTVs and a U-shaped bar. Overseeing the kitchen is Executive Chef Rigo Lino; many will remember Chef Lino from the Mansion Clam House in Westport. His menu combines his Salvadoran heritage with the owners’ Italian roots.

CTbites was invited to a media event where, over the course of the evening, I enjoyed many of the chef’s creations.

My favorite small plate was the “Eggplant Stacks,” a simple, old-fashioned style eggplant parmesan served in a cast iron skillet. Thinly sliced eggplant was breaded, fried, layered in the small skillet and topped with sauce and cheese and baked. The result was a mouthful of lusciousness. The cheese was perfectly melted and stringy and the sweet sauce was a delight with the moist eggplant slices.

Another simple and delicious small plate was the “Mac and Cheese.” Crave’s version used orecchiette shaped pasta and the three-cheese sauce was ultra-creamy with just a touch of bacon to add salty, smoky and texture,  and enveloped each piece of pasta. A simple topping of bacon bits was a fantastic addition to add a touch of saltiness and smokiness, and just the right amount of crunch. This is a great mac & cheese for adults and children.

The “Filet Tips” included chunks of filet mignon that were seared in a bit of olive oil, cut into chunks and served with a corn salad and red pepper remoulade. The beef was perfectly prepared to medium-rare and delivered a nice level of beefiness. The corn salad was a simple combination of sweet corn, peppers and onions and added a little crunch to the dish. The aioli was a fantastic addition and delivered a nice spicy kick.

The “Ahi Tuna” was covered with white and black sesame seeds, seared, sliced and fanned on a plate, accompanied by a ginger-soy sauce and wasabi cream. The tuna was very mild, almost missing completely. When the sauces were included, the total bundle was very nice. The ginger-soy was an excellent complement.

Two of the small plates were not to my liking. The first was the “Pork Belly.” Three pieces of braised belly sat atop a green salad, which was dressed in a citrus vinaigrette. The first piece was completely fat with no meat while the second did have a fair meat-fat ratio. Although described as seasoned with “16 spices,” the meat was very bland. When a bite was combined with the salad, it was a little better.

I did not like the “Clams Oreganata” at all. Each Littleneck clam was topped with a thick layer of bread crumbs, baked and then finished with a light brown sauce. The clams were overcooked and chewy, the breading was much too thick and extremely salty and the sauce did not work with the already harsh presentation.

The chef also prepared his “Rigatoni Bolognese.” The sauce combined pork and beef and was thinner than a traditional, thick Bolognese, more a meat sauce, complemented by delightfully sweet tomatoes; the meats added nice flavor and texture. The pasta was perfectly prepared to al dente and hefty enough to handle the sauce. A little sprinkle of freshly grated Parmesan cheese finished the dish.

The table moved to the Larger Plate section of the menu. The two themes throughout were the significant size and bold flavors.

My favorite was the “Chicken Scarpariello.” Several boneless chicken medallions were sautéed with sausage, sweet and spicy cherry peppers, mushrooms and potatoes and served with a white wine sauce. The sauce combined loads of flavors from the spicy sausage and cherry peppers to the soft creaminess of the potatoes. These ingredients were the perfect accompaniment to the moist chicken.

The “Portuguese Shrimp” was delicious. Five enormous shrimp surrounded a mound of rice pilaf and were accompanied by a few sautéed vegetables. The shrimp were cooked to maintain a firm, yet moist interior. The saffron-infused sauce instilled its traditional color and accents into the shrimp and the rice, which also contained sweet peas and a little heat from diced cherry peppers. The dish was finished with a sauce that included garlic and shallots to give a wonderful and full bodied sauce.

The “Grilled Delmonico Steak” was very good; a very, juicy rib eye. This large steak was served with roasted potatoes, topped with sweet and hot peppers, with a few roasted vegetables on the side. The steak was simply seasoned with salt and pepper and had a great crust from the charcoal grill. To complement this ultra-juicy cut, a wonderful medley of tastes from the sweet and spicy peppers presented significant contrast, with the creamy roasted potatoes adding a soft textural contrast

The “Salmon” was a little disappointing. A large filet was charcoal grilled and offered the same char as the steak, but was over-cooked, and a little dry. The fish was joined by roasted potatoes, vegetables, grilled asparagus, a smidgen of tropical salsa fresca and finished with a drizzle of Balsamic glaze. There were numerous flavors and textures, but they fought a little with each other and the fruit was lost under the char and the Balsamic glaze.

Overall, I really like the atmosphere at Crave; with its casual dining area and lots of TVs to watch the game. Whether you are looking for a pre-FTC dinner, a dinner with friends and family or looking for a sports bar with very good food, Crave can deliver on all of these requests.

52 Sanford St, Fairfield, CT 06824

(203) 292-8080

www.crave52.com

Really Liked

  • Eggplant Stacks ($10)
  • Mac & Cheese ($10)
  • Chicken Scarpariello ($21)
  • Portuguese Shrimp ($28)
  • Grilled Delmonico Steak (Special for evening)

Liked

  • Filet Tips ($15)
  • Rigatoni Bolognese (Special for Evening)

Did Not Like

  • Ahi Tuna ($16)
  • Clams Oregenata ($12)
  • Pork Belly
  • Salmon ($26)

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

Chef Dan Kardos Returns @ Liberty Rock Tavern in Milford – Sneak Peek

It has been several years since Chef Dan Kardos was creating his signature dishes in Fairfield County. He worked at many of the best restaurants and bars including Napa & Co., Bar Rosso, Harvest Supper, Le Farm and Local. His creativity and fearlessness in the kitchen was a hallmark of his cuisine. After several years working for Barteca in Atlanta, Virginia, DC and a year in a test kitchen, Kardos returned to his stomping grounds in Milford and with three other locals opened Liberty Rock Tavern last week in the building that formerly housed a neighborhood favorite King’s Court bar.

I asked one of Kardos’ partners, Brian Kearney, how Liberty Rock emerged from King’s Court. Kearney was a bartender at King’s Court for six years when the owner retired from the police force and was looking to sell the bar. Kearney and Kardos were joined by two other residents, purchased the business, gutted and re-invented the interior. The new space is hip, ready for neighbors to come in for a few beers, play a round or foosball, table shuffleboard or metal tip darts, throw some money in the new high-tech juke box, watch football games on one of seven TVs or listen to music and enjoy a night out with friends or family.

There is a long bar along the right wall and tables with forty-two metal backless seats in total. The size of the tables vary to seat couples, a foursome and several community-style tables. There is plenty of room between for conversation with friends who are wandering through the room. The walls are adorned with Revolutionary memorabilia. When I ask Kearney why he changed the name and its significance, he told me that there is a memorial up the street dedicated to Liberty Rock, the highest point in Milford and during the Revolutionary War, it was the watch-point overlooking the Housatonic River.

The group retained many of the traditions of King’s Court. Every Thursday evening, they still host a “steel tip dart league” and many of the beer labels remain from King’s Court. Prices range from $2 for a can of Genesee Cream Ale to $6 for a can of Six Points Resin. There are six beers on tap including Fat Tire, Green Flash West Coast IPA, SeaHag IPA, Victory DirtWolf Double IPA, Guinness, and Mam’s Little Yella Pils.

Kardos invited CTbites into his new bar and kitchen to sample some of his creative comfort food meets bar food.

We started with a little smoked trout spread, not normally considered bar food. Kardos started with a lightly smoke trout, adding a touch of horseradish, topped the dip with goldfish, fresh dill, and served it with Ritz crackers and a bag of Lays potato chips. Now we’re talking. The dip was delicious, it could be served at any restaurant in the area with a light smokiness, chunks of trout and creaminess. The crackers and chips made this a perfect partner for a beer.

Next was another item found at few, if any, bars, Burrata. This was no ordinary Burrata dish. It was full of textures from the addition of chunks of mulled apples, acorn squash, and tomato, plus bacon and pistachios. It contained an interesting twist; the apples were spiced with Cayenne pepper. I can’t remember the last time there was a spicy component in a Burrata dish and I really liked the adventurous addition to finish with a beer.

Liberty Rock is a bar, and I really wanted some traditional bar food. And two items on the menu immediately caught my eye; Southern Fried Chicken Sandwich and The Burger.

I started with the Chicken. And it does not get better than this sandwich. The thin cutlet was covered in a scant breading, served on white toast with a slice of melted American cheese, B&B pickles, pickled Jalapeno peppers, thick bacon slices, Ranch dressing and crinkled cottage fries. The flavors and balance were perfect, and again Kardos added a spicy component, not just with the Jalapeno peppers, but he added some ground peppers to the breading and the buttermilk that the chicken soaked in prior to frying. The Ranch dressing and B&B pickles were great additions to this unbelievable sandwich. This is a must order.

No visit to a bar is complete without a burger. And The Burger at Liberty Rock was delicious. The large patty was prepared to my requested medium-rare, was topped with melted cheese, a couple of slices of bacon, a swath of spicy mayo and served on griddled Texas Toast. The meat was rich in flavor and when paired with the spicy mayo, the sour pickle and the salty bacon offered a perfect balance. The thick Texas Toast handled all of the ingredients. This was a fantastic burger.

The opening menu is limited to eight items, with Kardos adding Shrimp and Grits this week and wings as the weather turns cooler. He is excited about the freedom of doing his thing in the kitchen, creating dishes that he wants to prepare. If a dish is not selling, he will take it off the menu. Kardos has proven that he has the talent to create incredible dishes, with his own place he will have the freedom to show this talent. If what I sampled is a pre-cursor to the food to come, Liberty Rock Tavern will absolutely rock.

229 Bridgeport ave Milford CT

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

HAPA Food Truck’s Ahi Burger is a Killer Sandwich

ahi-tuna-burger
When one of the best, young, rising stars in the area stops you as you walk by his food truck and says, “I really want you to try this sandwich,” you take notice. And when that sandwich raises the bar for food being served from food trucks, it deserves special mention. The rising star is Chris Gonzales, the truck is HAPA, and the sandwich is the Ahi Burger. This is one of the best sandwiches I have eaten in quite some time.

The HAPA food truck has been one of my favorites since it opened. The tacos, the burger, the fries, the Brussels sprouts are all out of this world. I never imagined I would write these accolades about a “tuna burger.” HAPA’s combination starts with wild caught yellowfin, furikake crust, edamame, edamame puree, caramelized onions, lettuce, tomato and spicy mayo on HAPA’s Ube bun.

The tuna was outstanding with great flavor and seasoning, not overpowering. The caramelized onions were a fantastic and very unusual topping, it worked perfectly with the tuna, with sweetness and pungency. The lettuce and tomato and the edamame offered texture, juiciness and earthiness and the aioli added creaminess and a touch of spice. And then Gonzales’ sweet blue ube bun kicks in with more delicious sweetness. And let’s not forget to order a side of some of the best fries in the area.

This is one great sandwich.

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