Plan B (Stamford) – on to Plan C

Plan B Bacon Cheese 1I was pretty excited to try Plan B, a Connecticut based chain with six locations, the newest in Stamford, with the motto of 100% humanely raised and serving aged chuck that is ground on premises. The menu contains over 20 combinations of burgers, almost 50 varieties of bottled craft beers and tons of bourbon choices…does the B stand for burger, beer or bourbon? The space is ultra-cool with tungsten lights dangling from the tin ceiling over wooden booths and tables. There are two separate dining areas, a family-friendly area to one side and a bar with TVs to hang with buddies and watch the ballgame. Plan B had the makings for a total bonanza.

A woody pub-styled entree way greets you with three large blackboards displaying bourbon and beer specials plus the “burger of the day,” which on one occasion was a beef patty stuffed with mashed potatoes, bacon and cheese – I would need a lot of the other “B”s to order that burger. Half of the regular menu combinations focus on beef burgers while the other half includes lobster, salmon, portabella mushroom, chicken, pork or turkey as the main ingredient. The beef combo that caught this carnivore’s eye was the “Bacon Cheese” – American cheese, bacon, caramelized onions and garlic mayo… basic shoestring fries or a salad included or ten other sides are available for a surcharge. Surprisingly only two levels of doneness are offered, “Some Pink” or “No Pink,” but the server whispered that rare or well done was also available. A “rare Bacon Cheese” for me and keep it simple with some shoestrings.

Patty #1 arrived and the doneness was none of the above, the interior was totally raw and the fries were undercooked, still a bit crunchy on the inside. So I asked the server for a re-fire and I ordered “Some Pink” for Patty #2.

Patty #2 had a great char, some melted American cheese, a couple of slices of bacon and a mound of onions, accompanied by a fresh cone of fries. It looked much better…but looks can be deceiving. The meat was juicy but almost flavorless… not a rich beefy flavor but a watery wetness and the saltiness on the exterior was over the top. The grind was incredibly loose, too loose, and each bite caused a piece of the meat to fall out of the other side. And the companion ingredients, well…the bacon was incredibly overcooked, stiff and hard, maybe a leftover from the previous day, and packed an additional wallop of salt. The “caramelized” onions weren’t good at all…maybe boiled and quickly grilled for some crispiness, with very little oniony flavor. As much as I liked the flavor of the sweet and buttery bun it just didn’t hold together, it kept falling apart with the meat pieces. The fries were again undercooked, still a little hard on the interior. Overall it was a disappointing experience. Maybe it was just a bad day since it was Sunday lunch, so a second visit was in the cards.

Plan B Bacon Cheese 2Round B at Plan B was a little better. Patty #3 was again “Some Pink Bacon Cheese” but arrived beyond well-done. When the manager noticed, he apologized and swiped it from the table…so onto Patty #4, which was again overcooked, to medium-well. The taste of Patty #4 was disappointing – some of the bites were tasteless and watery while others whacked me in the forehead with overwhelming saltiness. I was now as done as the meat. There was some good news…the fries were very good, they were crispy on the exterior, moist on the inside and properly salted and the caramelized onions were delicious with a soft and buttery texture with good oniony flavor. The bacon was fresh and better prepared, but the saltiness level was déjà vu…overpowering and the melted American cheese just couldn’t compete with these other bold flavors. The bun again had difficulty staying together.

After two visits, as much as the space and the service were fantastic, I realize that I am not a fan of Plan B. Most importantly I didn’t like the lacking of beef flavor in the meat, the saltiness was tongue-tingling and the doneness inconsistencies were just too large…four burgers…one raw, one rare, one medium-well, and one beyond well-done. When they nail the fries and caramelized onions these are very good, but they need to upgrade the bun and bacon. There are lots of Plan As in front of this Plan B.

Plan B Burger on Urbanspoon

The Whelk (Westport) – Neptune’s Nirvana

I finally experienced a deep dive of the seafood at The Whelk in Westport and it was an extraordinary culinary experience, showcasing the James Beard Nominee Bill Taibe’s talents of intertwining various flavors and textures into a cohesive presentation that will challenge and please palates.

We started our journey with the Sunburst Farm Smoked Trout dip with roe skin potato dill bread. The smoked trout offered a large variety of textures and flavors and it disappeared too quickly. Be careful, the bread disappears first and you may need to ask for more. This was a great way to start the evening.

A selection of oysters hit the table next  and each presented a different flavor and texture but as one old time oyster fisherman once pointed out to me, when you eat an oyster you also need to focus on the level and differences in the salinity. You can almost tell their origin. And each of the oysters was so different in creaminess, flavor and salinity.

It is a little hard for me to believe that the first dish on my “extraordinary top-3” was the sweet and sour Brussel sprouts with white soy sauce, pumpkin seeds and rosemary. The flavors were over the top. The saltiness of the soy sauce complemented the sweet sprouts and the crispiness of the latter was perfect. Growing up I would never eat Brussel sprouts but this dish could make a convert of anyone.

The fried oyster on deviled eggs with onion pickles ain’t what you see at a Sunday social. The soft texture of the egg, the crunchy sweetness of the oyster and the onion pickles were fantastic. My only regret was that before I knew it the half-egg disappeared with two bites; I craved for more.

The warm Jonah crab claws with pepper relish, Benton’s ham and old bay was not on my “must have another” list. I admit that I am not a big crab claw fan and while others at the table raved about them they are just not my cup of tea. I just do not like the texture of crab claws, so it is my prejudice since others at the table loved them. For me I do need to point out that the Benton’s Ham is something that I had never tasted previously and I was an instant convert to this great addition.

As the table moved to the “crudo” portion of the meal the bar was raised even higher. There was slight disagreement as to which of the two earned the extraordinary status, I thought the cherry smoked cobia with warm cabbage and squash, barrel aged fish sauce, onions and butter was one of the best dishes ever. The first aspect that grabbed my attention was the texture of the cobia, with its firm, moist flesh, served in bite-sized cubes that accepted just a touch of the smokiness, and when the saltiness of the fish sauce kicked in and the other ingredients joined, the flavors brought an incredible smile to my face. The other dish, the crudo of “black bass with a blood oranges-lime Kosho sauce, fennel and sesame” was the clear choice of others at the table. At this point we were discussing “how high is up” with the level of deliciousness (not a bad place to be at dinner). The blood oranges offered a delicious sweet complement to the thinly-sliced fish and the Kosho brought just a touch of heat.

The last two dishes the table enjoyed were the Beer battered fluke fishsticks with celeriac, apple and kohlrabi slaw and creamy horseradish and the Squid ink cavatelli with red shrimp, Mexican chorizo and preserved tomato. The fishsticks were like none any of us have ever eaten. The crispy coating was delicious and the fluke was moist, flavorful and the texture was soft and delightful. The accompanying slaw was fantastic…it was difficult not eating more than two. Then I tried the pasta and the third slot in the trifecta now had a resident. The texture of the skid ink pasta was just delightful, and combined with the sauce would have made this dish fantastic, but Taibe added a few perfectly prepared shrimp to raise the bar even higher and finally hid a few thin slices of chorizo in the dish to grab your attention. One of the best pastas dishes anywhere.

For me all of the dishes were in an ultra-premium league but I need to call out the Trifecta Nirvana with the Brussel sprouts, the Cobia and the Squid Ink Pasta. These three dishes were extraordinary, all so different, all so perfectly composed and all so perfectly divine. But when you are eating at this level, it is all good, no let me rephrase, it is all great.

575 Riverside Avenue – Westport, CT 06880 –  203.557.0902

The Whelk on Urbanspoon

The Chelsea (Fairfield) – Burger From Paradise


20121124-231200 Chelsea Chelsea Burger PlateWhen I heard that Matt Storch, the chef/owner of Match in South Norwalk, was opening a more casual sister restaurant in Fairfield called The Chelsea, I was excited. I’ve enjoyed many meals at Match, and the combination of The Chelsea’s more casual atmosphere and menu plus Storch’s talents should be a winner.

The Chelsea has seating for 80, whether you want to grab a drink in their English-style pub area featuring a long wooden bar with about a dozen seats, or sit at a table in their airy and inviting atrium. Their menu includes a wide variety of gourmet bar-food options plus eclectic and fusion dishes, all under $25. It offers two burgers: the Salt and Pepper Burger ($12.95), a plain and simple char-grilled patty on a seeded brioche bun, and the Chelsea Burger ($13.95) featuring a “cheddar dip,” sweet-sour onions, and chopped bacon on an onion brioche bun from Good Bread Bakery in Port Chester.

The hamburgers at The Chelsea are definite A-Listers. I ordered each medium-rare and the kitchen complied with perfectly grilled patties. The burgers came pre-cut—not as ordered, but as done to all of their burgers. When I asked about the pre-cut process, I was told, “We like the customer to see the meat and the juice.” Separating the halves revealed a promising pink interior plus a coarse, tender grind.

20121124-231200 Chelsea S&P BurgerThe meat is a 75/25 blend of chuck, brisket, and short rib from local organic purveyor Saugatuck Craft Butchery that is dry-aged for two weeks. The seven-ounce burgers are ground with an extra-coarse die and hand-pattied each morning and again before dinner. The gas-fired grill imparts a crispy char on the exterior, while the coarse, loosely packed interior stays juicy.

20121124-231200 Chelsea S&P Burger OpenSince there aren’t any toppings on the Salt and Pepper Burger, it’s all about the flavor of the beef. And aside from being neither salty nor peppery, it succeeds with pronounced smokiness from the grill and a deep, rich, beefy flavor. The burger is served on a toasted seeded brioche bun that makes the meat-to-bun ratio a little heavier on the bun side, but the flavors of the meat balance well with the buttery brioche bun.

20121124-231200 Chelsea Chelsea Burger OpenThe Chelsea Burger elevates the basic burger with the addition of numerous toppings—cheddar dip, sweet-sour onions and chopped bacon—and a switch to an onion brioche bun. I was concerned that the flavors would fight each other, but they work in perfect unison. The cheddar isn’t just a few melted slices but a complete cheese-wrap due to the finished patty getting dipped into a bacon-cheese Béchamel sauce before being placed on the bun. The crumbled bacon lends salty-smokiness and crunch while the onions add the desired onion flavor improved with a kick of sweet and sour, plus a soft texture that complements the crunchy bacon bits and the patty’s char. Everything balances perfectly with the bun’s soft texture and buttery flavor. This is one of the most flavorful combinations of meat, toppings, and bun in the area.

The accompanying fries were very good—crispy on the outside, moist and soft on the inside, and well salted. They come sprinkled with Parmesan cheese for more saltiness and parsley that added more color than flavor. I enjoyed the fries more with the Salt and Pepper Burger than the Chelsea Burger—maybe the additional flavors presented in the latter were a little too powerful for the fries.

For a delicious basic burger the Salt and Pepper Burger is a great option, but to truly appreciate The Chelsea’s burgers, go for the Chelsea Burger.

The Chelsea – 12 Unquowa Place – Fairfield –  (203) 254-8200

This review was originally published on A Hamburger Today on January 10, 2013 at http://aht.seriouseats.com/archives/2013/01/the-chelsea-burger-review-fairfield-ct.html?ref=pop_a_hamburger_today

The Chelsea on Urbanspoon