323 Main Street (Westport) – Looking for an Identity

bl_interior[1]After several visits, 323 Restaurant & Bar in Westport is a bar/restaurant looking for an identity. It is unclear whether this is a bar with a dining room, or vice versa. Equally unclear is the cuisine which includes Italian, Seafood, Southern, and simple grilled meats. The interior was converted from a neighborhood bar, Bogies, and now includes with a 66-seat dining area to the right and an equi-large room to the left with a U-shaped bar and tables. The décor is eclectic-rustic-formal with wood beams overlooking tables covered with clothes. HDTV with a ballgame on the wall in one room and art on the walls in the other. But most important was the experience. On a recent weekend night visit there were limited guests (4 tables) and the vibe was dull but the service was alive.  I hope they can decide on a direction before it is too late.

As far as the cuisine was concerned I enjoyed some of the dishes, a few of the components in the others required a little attention (some of these items have already been modified from when I originally sampled) and others were not at all to my liking.

bl_chowder[1]The “New England Clam Chowder” on one visit was one of the best chowders I have tasted…a great start to the meal. The creamy bisque was rich in flavors from the fish stock and included an abundance of clams. On a subsequent visit the broth was overly pungent, the clams were very chewy and the potatoes were mushy, almost as if it simmered too long.

bl_octopus[1]The “Grilled Octopus” with Chorizo hash and olive tapenade delivered some excellent flavors and textures. The octopus was braised and then finished on the grill. It was extremely tender and the olive tapenade was a good complement. The hash lacked the appropriate spiciness and would have benefited from more chorizo to add additional spice. The menu subsequently eliminated the hash. bl_salad[1]The “Salad of Thumbelina Carrots,” et. al. was a big hit. Included in the potpourri of colors were breakfast radishes, beets, kumquats and avocados. Each was sweet and incredibly delicious; I loved the textures and flavors of each of these vegetables. I was not as fond of the ginger yogurt that accompanied the salad and thought it did not complement, and almost fought with, the sweetness of the vegetables.

bl_burger_2[1]The grilled meat entrees were the highlight. The best overall dish was the 323 Burger. Eight ounces of short rib and brisket blend was served with pancetta, onion jam, American cheese, pickles and 323 sauce served on a Wave Hill brioche. Served with French fries or onion rings, the burger was perfectly prepared, delivered great flavor and the accompaniments were delicious. The hand-cut onion rings were delicious but on my two visits the seasoning was uneven. The “Dry Aged Boneless NY Strip” was fantastic. It was served with broccolini with raisins, and pignoli duck fat potatoes. The steak, from Pat LaFrieda in NYC, was prepared perfectly and delivered great flavor and texture; this was one of the best steaks in the area. The potatoes were delicious; crisp on the exterior and creamy on the interior; I was not fond of the broccolini and raisin accompaniment which was undercooked. bl_salmon[1]The “Salmon a la Plancha” with spring vegetable ragout, julienned pear and a black truffle sauce was flavorful. A simple salmon filet sat atop a variety of beans, peas and onions and hidden beneath the vegetables was the highlight of the dish, a truffle sauce. The sauce was earthy and delightful when paired with other ingredients.

bl_pasta[1]Unfortunately there were an equal number of very disappointing dishes. My least favorite dish was the “Hand Cut Fresh Tagliarini” with Guanciale, English peas, spring onion and Parmesan cheese. The pasta was overcooked, gummy in texture and the sauce was lacking the richness I would expect from the description. The “Chicken Saltimbocca” was incredibly bitter and was returned to the kitchen. The Lobster Roll was non-memorable with limited meat and flavor and it almost joined the chicken in a return to the kitchen.

The desserts were all disappointing. On one visit the “Chocolate Torte” with butterscotch, sea salt and vanilla gelato was served with burnt edges and on a subsequent visit, the flavor and texture were lacking; the Panna Cotta with crumble was served two different ways. On one visit it was delicious and on a subsequent visit the crumble topping had a burnt flavor.

bl_burger_1[1]Overall the grilled meats and burgers that 323 served were delicious while the non-“grill” items did not deliver the same level of satisfaction.

323 Restaurant & Bar · 323 Main Street · Westport, CT. · 203.222.0323

The Restaurant at 323 Main on Urbanspoon

Tony’s Deli (New Canaan) – My Go-To Sandwich Shop

Tony’s deli has two locations, Ridgefield and New Canaan, and the latter location is our go-to sandwich shop in town. With its recent relocation across the street to the storefront next to Zumbach’s, Tony’s is smaller but still serving some creative and delicious sandwiches and wraps. The sandwich menu is enormous, over 50 different pre-determined recommended combinations. Ordering a platter to enjoy with friends on a boat, by the pool or to snack on when buddies come over to play poker, I always go to Tony’s.

Over the years I’ve kept some of the combinations as Tony designed them, while others have been modified to meet the tastes of my friends and family. A few I really like:

  • My breakfast sandwich of choice is the Bacon, egg and cheese on a roll. A true classic, with a fried egg, a slice of white American cheese and a couple of strips of bacon on a seeded Kaiser roll. It may not be a difficult sandwich, but Tony’s does a great job.
  • White Russian – Roast beef, tomato, cole slaw, Russian dressing, bacon, horseradish and melted Swiss on a wedge. I was not crazy about the spiciness that the horseradish brought, so I started to order without. I like this version much better.
  • Ferrari – Fresh Mozzarella cheese, prosciutto, roasted peppers, olive paste, sundried tomatoes, pesto, fresh tomatoes, balsamic vinegar on a wedge. Like the White Russian, after a couple I was not that impressed with the Prosciutto and started ordering without. This vegetarian alternative is a favorite in the house.
  • New Canaan Rams Special – Roast beef, Russian dressing, horseradish, Cheddar cheese, lettuce and tomato. My alternative to the White Russian when I am looking for that English beef and horseradish combination.
  • Pine Street Special – Turkey, ham, roast beef, cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, bacon, avocado and mayonnaise. This sandwich is full of flavor and the bacon and avocado add that salti-creaminess to a meat and cheese sandwich.
  • Right Off The Boat – Sopressata, imported Provolone cheese, cappicolo, sweet peppers (hot peppers are also available), tomato, onion, oil and vinegar. After one I gave up, Boar’s Head Italian meats just did not cut it for me.
  • Cranberry Turkey Wrap – Turkey, sprouts, tomato, bacon, Swiss cheese, Mayonnaise and cranberry sauce. This one has great flavor but gets a little messy with the mayo and cranberry sauce so ask for extra napkins
  • Russian Turkey Wrap – Turkey, Russian dressing, cole slaw, bacon, Swiss cheese and tomato. Put anything in a wrap and it is low-cal and healthier. If I need to avoid the wedge, this is my basic go-to wrap.

There are numerous grilled and breaded chicken sandwiches, but most of them are dressed with Blue Cheese and other dressings that are not my favorite. Maybe a little re-design of those in the future will bring them to this list.

Tony's Deli on Urbanspoon

NOLA Oyster Bar – Outstanding Seafood in SONO

ctb3I re-visited NOLA Oyster Bar a few months after its opening to enjoy some of the newest additions to the menu. Chef Dan Kardos is clearly in charge of the kitchen and his culinary talent is evident as he creates some of the most delicious cuisine in Fairfield County.

ctb4The Seafood Tower, a dedication to cold shellfish (plus tuna), was the first course served to our table. The generous portions included Cherrystone clams, snow crab legs, Copps Island oysters, shrimp, and charred Hamachi crudo. A house made mignonette sauce accompanied the oysters. All of the items on the Tower were delightful. The crudo was marinated in white and dark balsamic vinegar plus a combination of lime and tangerine juices; it was tantalizing. The crab legs and shrimp were sweet with just a touch of seasoning to emphasize the natural flavors. The Copps Island oysters were a little bitter with very little salinity, but the addition of the mignonette sauce drastically changed the flavor profile from bitter to delicious.

ctb9It is rare that I rave about a vegetable dish, but the Brussels sprouts at Nola were outstanding. Fried and then topped with a sweet maple glaze, it was almost impossible to stop eating them. Chef Kardos then added more crunch with a smattering of chopped pistachios and bacon. The Brussels sprouts should be a communal order to share and enjoy with everyone at the table.

ctb5The “Chopped Salad” included corn, peas, beets, wax beans, Brussels sprouts and topped with grated Queso Fresco cheese. This was no ordinary green salad; it offered several vegetables from Urban Oaks with differing textures and just a touch of spiciness. It was a delicious salad.

ctb8The “Cornmeal Fried Oysters” were served with collard greens, Jalapeño mayonnaise, Tasso ham and topped with a spicy corn relish. The oysters were crunchy on the exterior with a good sized belly that released the delicious liquor when bitten. The Tasso offered a smooth complement and sweet corn, pickle and red pepper relish was a perfect addition. The Jalapeño mayonnaise added just the correct level of spiciness.

ctb7The “Poached Lobster & Cornbread Waffle” is one of my favorite combinations in the area. It included butter-poached lobster, griddled scallions, Queso Fresco cheese topped with a brown sauce. The waffles were sweet, crispy on the exterior and moist and soft on the interior. The lobster was full of sweet buttery flavor, the scallions brought a little bitterness and the melted cheese created smoothness to the dish. The dish was finished with one of the best brown sauces north of the French Quarter.

ctb10My adventure through NOLA’S seafood continued with two other outstanding dishes. The “Shrimp & Grits” started with paprika dusted shrimp that were perfectly sautéed and paired with sliced Jalapeños to deliver a good kick. To mellow the flavors the dish contained slices of Tasso ham and all of these ingredients sat atop creamy grits.ctb11 The “Griddled Scallops” were served atop a smooth and delicious celery root puree, and Chef Kardos changed the direction of a traditional scallop dish with the addition of several uncommon ingredients, strawberries and melon. The dish was further enhanced by a touch of honey, almonds, and finished with slices of speck. This was a great combination of flavors and textures. The honeydew brightened the dish and the honey brought sweetness, but I was not as excited about the strawberries.

ctb2To finish the meal, I sampled the “Chocolate & Peanut Butter Pot De Crème” that was topped with whipped cream and roasted peanuts, which was much too sweet for my palate. I was less enthusiastic about this dessert.

After several months, NOLA Oyster Bar has taken its position as one of the go-to restaurants in Fairfield County.

Really Liked

  1. Brussels Sprouts
  2. Poached Lobster
  3. Shrimp & Grits
  4. Fried Oysters
  5. Griddled Scallops
  6. Seafood Tower

Liked

  1. Chopped Salad

Did Not Like

  1. Chocolate & Peanut Butter Pot au Creme

This review was originally posted on http://www.ctbites.com at:

http://www.ctbites.com/home/2013/9/8/nola-oyster-bar-revisiting-an-excellent-seafood-spot-in-sono.html