Olio “House Burger” (STM) – Excellent in Springdale

CTB BurgerIn my constant search for great burgers in Fairfield County for http://www.ctbites.com I found myself heading to Stamford to sample the new lunch menu at Olio that includes the Olio House Burger. And I am glad I did. Olio recently began serving lunch and it is slowly turning into the go-to location for many locals. The lunch menu includes a soup a few salads, and several sandwiches from chicken salad to steak, plus a pasta and sautéed shrimp. But I was there for the burger.

The Olio House burger is a unique combination of flavors and ingredients. It starts with a thick all-beef patty topped with Tasso ham, melted Manchego cheese, caramelized Cipollini onions, with a schmear of roasted tomato aioli, all encased in a Brioche roll from Eli’s. It is served with thick steak fries and a side of ketchup.

The burger is excellent. The meat was lightly formed with the grind of the meat still present. Although it was cooked a little past my requested medium rare, it was still this side of medium, a nice pink interior. The substitution of the Tasso ham for a traditional smoked bacon added a significant level of pepperiness and the mild Manchego cheese added a nice creaminess. The star of this combination was the caramelized Cipollini onions, they were fantastic, creamy, sweet, just a great addition. The roll added a good buttery complement.

The steak fries were perfectly prepared and finished with pepper and truffle salt. They were crispy on the exterior and moist and soft on the interior. The truffle salt added an earthy complement to the flavor. I am a purist on fries and would have been equally satisfied with just salt and a little pepper.

Overall the Olio House Burger is definitely a go-to burger and is one of the best in Stamford. Chef/Owner Steve Costanzo and his business partner Moira Hyland do an outstanding job at dinner and I anticipate that once word travels that lunch is available, the lunch crowd will equal the packed dinner crowd.


Steam Restaurant (G’wich) – Pan Everywhere Cuisine

With very little fanfare, Steam Restaurant opened on Greenwich Avenue serving a variety of Asian inspired dishes. Whether you are in the mood for Malaysian, Thai, Japanese, Chinese or one of a few other national dishes, Steam might have what you desire. The menu is divided into several sections including Dim Sum & Bao, Small Plates, Mix & Match, Ramen, Fried Rice and Noodles, Gourmet to Go, Vegetarian Selections and Soup.

There are few places that serve dim sum in Fairfield County, Steam has almost a dozen, ranging from Sichuan Dumplings to Roast Duck Buns. Small Plates and Salads include traditional Crispy Thai Spring Rolls, Thai Crab Cakes, Baby Back Ribs, Heirloom Tomato and Avocado salad, and a Grille Free Range Chicken Salad. The variety of dishes equals the variety of nationalities.

For larger dishes, choose a protein and a sauce and create your own dish from Ginger black Bean to Thai Curry, or move to one of three Ramen dishes with four different proteins, including baby back ribs. The Fried Rice and Noodle section offers four different rice and noodles from Fried or Brown Jasmine to Pad Thai with five different protein options. If you are looking for pre-determined combinations the Gourmet To Go section includes a Crispy Duck with Plum Sauce, a Clay Pot Sichuan Beef and a Thai Coconut Casserole. Vegetarian options are numerous and should satisfy those looking for a non-meat dish.

With most of the smaller plates priced under $10 and the larger ones under $20, Steam will be a cost effective option in Greenwich.

Steam on Urbanspoon

Remo’s Brick Oven Pizza (STM) – Pretty Tasty Pie

Remos is located on Bedford, just north of the Tresser intersection. Parking on Bedford is always tricky but visitors have the option of parking behind in the large public parking lot. Enter from either the front or the back.

On one side of the interior, near the front is the brick oven for the pizzas. The menu is ample, and guests can choose from appetizers, salads, sandwiches, pastas, plates or pizzas. I was there for the pizza. The restaurant offers 10 Signature pies ranging from a salad and veggie to a Buffalo chicken. You can also opt for a Margherita, a New York Pie, or build your own. I decided on my regular first pie of half pepperoni and half sausage & pepper.

The pizza arrived and it was baked excellently. There was a slight char but not burnt, the dough was very thin, almost too thin, and airy with just a bit of a bite. The sauce was rich in flavor and seasoned with traditional Italian seasonings. There was the correct amount of cheese, nicely melted. The pepperoni was a little spicy and not too oily. The sausage and pepper side was very good, not great. The sausage was not my favorite.

Overall, I enjoyed the pizza at Remos. It definitely deserves a second visit to try another pie.

Remo's Brick Oven Pizza on Urbanspoon

Frank & Frites (Darien) – Basic at Best

BL dog 2Franks and Frites is located in the same mini-mall as Gut reaction to the left of Palmers Market in Darien.  I was on my regular search for http://www.ctbites.com and dogs, burgers and fries were on my radar.  A small storefront at the end of the row welcomes guests with a “Hand Cut Fries” in the window, while the interior allows for ten guests at tables and another eight on stools. You order from the two men in the rear of the restaurant and they bring the food to your table in plastic picnic baskets.

BL dog 1I ordered a hot dog with a little mustard, a little sauerkraut and a little green relish, a bacon cheeseburger, medium-rare, and a small order of fries.

BL dog 3The dog in a basic potato roll arrived first, and the first item I noticed was that it was smothered in the three items I ordered “a little” of. The dog was griddled and offered a good snap when bitten with a good snap. The dog was salty and a basic dog. The sauerkraut and relish were non-descript, and the yellow mustard was as well. There was nothing special about this hot dog.

BL burger 2The burger was in the same category. I ordered medium-rare and it arrived medium-well. Two strip of overcooked basic was included and a single slice of un-melted American cheese sat atop the bacon, all encased inside another potato roll. The meat was bland and unseasoned, the bacon and the cheese were basic and the roll was cold. The fries were not even that good. They were un-seasoned, and while they were brown on the exterior, half were still hard on the interior. Neither of these items were not worth more than a few bites.

BL friesThere is no ketchup or mustard on the tables and they have the dispensers in one corner. There was not brown mustard available on my visit, but that would not matter.

I really wanted to like this place, but basic dogs and burgers and less than basic toppings on cold rolls is not a restaurant I would run back to.

Franks & Frites on Urbanspoon

Zelo (MN) – Good Food with Great Service

We enjoyed a group dinner at Zelo this week. Located on the corner of Nicollet and 9th, the restaurant is an eclectically decorated combination of woods and leathers, accented by vivid artwork on the walls. On a busy mid-week evening it was bustling but the noise level allowed for conversation at our table. Of special note was our server, who was outstanding. She explained many of the choices and was spot on during the entire evening.

The food was very good, but there was nothing I would rush back for and there were some misses.

We began the evening with a few shared appetizers. The “calamari fritti” was accompanied by lemon aioli and gremolata. These were the most disappointing of the appetizers. I was impressed when they were delivered as there were plenty of heads, which I prefer, but the coating was very flour-y, very unpleasant to the taste. They were slightly overcooked. The “ahi tuna spring rolls” are filled with somen noodles and served with a touch of soy wasabi. This was my favorite of the three. It was a spring roll interpretation of a tuna-avocado roll, with the seaweed replaced with rice paper. The flavors were excellent and they were crispy on the exterior. I was excited about the “caramelized brussels sprouts,” but these too were flat. Served with Ames farm and topped with honey toasted almonds, I was expecting a sweet and crispy presentation. They tried on both counts but came close, but did not hit the mark on either.

For my entrée, the server recommended the “pesto crusted sea bass” served with mashed potatoes, crispy onions, nestled in a swath of Thai chili beurre blanc. This falls into the vertical food category. A mound of potatoes is topped with a large 8-10 oz. filet, topped with pesto and then finally topped with the crispy onions. The potatoes were very good, just a touch of wasabi to give a little spice. The filet was excellent, crispy skin adorned the moist and delightfully flavorful fish and the pesto (not crusted as described) added a great balance with its earthiness. The crispy onions were stale and cold and should have remained in the kitchen. The Thai chili beurre blanc was a little butter with no spice, where was the Thai chili? But I did like the dish, and it would have been excellent if the beurre blanc and the onions were better.

For dessert I ordered the “Bananas Foster Bread Pudding.” This is better described as Banana Foster and bread pudding. They were two distinct desserts sharing a plate. That being said, it was delicious. The bread pudding was moist and flavorful (although it would have benefited from a little more cinnamon) and the bananas foster delivered that sweet-pungent combination from the bananas and the liquor. It was served with a scoop of sweet vanilla ice cream.

Overall I was pleased with Zelo. It has excellent service and décor and very good food.

Zelo on Urbanspoon

Vincent A Restaurant (MSP) – Outstanding Burger

At my last visit to Vincent’s over four years ago I was not impressed with the Vincent Burger. But four years later I am glad I returned because the burger I recently ate was one of the best burgers I have eaten in the Twin Cities.

To start my lunch I ordered a Caesar salad. It was a standard salad with lettuce, croutons, a single anchovy filet on top plus an interesting addition, diced tomato, all topped with a sprinkling of grated cheese. It was lightly dressed and good, not great nor memorable.

But I was interested to either confirm my previous impression of the hamburger or enjoy what others have told me is one of the best. I was both excited and cautiously optimistic when it was placed in front of me. The Vincent burger is a unique combination…a double-patty of ground beef is wrapped around braised short rib and smoked Gouda cheese; served on a brioche bun; it is a haut cuisine version of a Jucy Lucy. It arrives open faced with French fries. The burger patty was on one side of the bun that contained a thin layer of “special sauce” and the other half is topped with lettuce, tomato and raw onion. The ground beef was perfectly seasoned with just a touch of salt. The Gouda was melted and delivered a creaminess to the burger and then the short rib textures and flavors kicked in. This elevated the Vincent Burger from excellent to incredible. The brioche added a little butteriness to the presentation and the sauce gave a few sour background notes. The burger was incredibly delicious. The fries were not in the same league. They were tasteless, cool and bland, more than likely came from a big frozen bag, deep fried and added to the lunch plates.

Overall, the Vincent Burger is an outstanding combination of flavors and textures and ranks as one of the best in Minneapolis.

Vincent - A Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Porter & Frye (MSP) – Bad College Meal Redux

A quick lunch at Porter and Frye was incredibly disappointing. Our group arrived at 12:15, there were two people at the bar and several tables occupied and there was not one single employee in sight. A guest at one of the tables was looking for her server, or any human, but none. I walked into the hallway to the Ivy, none. I walked back to my group and told them I would check the kitchen. As I approached the swinging doors, a server exited empty handed followed by a second server a few seconds later. If there were close options we would have left.

I ordered the Frye Burger medium-rare. This included an 8-ounce ground chuck patty, with an over-easy egg, cheddar, bacon on a potato roll. The burger was incredibly disappointing. The meat was more a 6-oz patty, vastly overcooked, beyond well done, flavorless and hard. The egg was cooked perfectly but then slathered in salt and the bacon added more salt. The roll was uneventful. The sweet potato fries were tasteless but salted very well.

Service was slim. Two college students were left to their own devices, no manager, no guidance. One takes the order, one delivers the food. They brought one teacup full of ketchup for four people eating burgers and sandwiches, all with fries. When we asked for more, “oh yeah.”

Overall my burger lunch was less than diner quality food served by a couple of college kids.

Porter & Frye on Urbanspoon

Volta (STM) – Pretty Good Gelato

Over the last few weeks, I visited Volta for a quick dessert after meals at FISH and Barrique. The food was great at dinner and we were looking for a sweet ending.

Volta offers three sizes priced at $4.00/5.50/7.00. Compared to other ice cream and gelato stores, this is a little pricey for the size and quality. I ordered a medium each time and chose two flavors per. The banana is sweet and flavorful and the chocolate has a good deep flavor. The Stracciatella delivered a good vanilla flavor but I was not thrilled with the chocolate. The Nutella was my favorite with a great hazelnut flavor.

The texture was good, not as smooth as I would have wanted. Volta is a good gelato store, but second to Gelatissimo in New Canaan.

Volta Gelateria Creperia on Urbanspoon

Sweet Sabrina’s Cake Shop (Norwalk) – Looks Can Be Deceiving

There has been a lot of positive reviews on the web for this newest addition to Norwalk, so as I hunt for places for http://www.ctbites.com, I thought I would check out the hype. Unfortunately after two visits, the taste just does not live up to the looks. The pastries are all beautifully prepared, great designs, lovely presentations, but the taste and textures left a lot to be desired.

On each of my two visits I sampled a regular and a chocolate croissant. The first time they were very dry and very bland, no buttery richness. On the second visit the same blandness was present but the outer layers of dough were light and airy but unfortunately the center was undercooked and mushy. I was also not fond of the chocolate, missing that deep chocolaty goodness of a great croissant. The banana pastry was beautiful to the eye, but the texture was gummy and the flavor was not to my liking.  Real disappointment.

As much as I wanted to like this place, it did not live up to my hopes.

Sweet Sabrina's Cake Shop on Urbanspoon

Wild Rice (Norwalk) – Lots of Very Good Lunch Specials

Wild Rice is located off Exit 39A of the Merritt just south of the Stop & Shop / Bob’s / Total Wine strip mall on Main Ave. in Norwalk. This stand-alone building has decent parking and the interior is comfortable and pleasant. With my office just up the street, Wild Rice lends itself easily for a mid-day decompression with a well-priced selection of lunch specials.

During the summer months I normally order the Lunch Sushi. Included in this option is a bowl of Miso soup, five pieces of sushi and a roll. The miso soup is mild and very pleasant. The sushi has a rotating selection and the roll is almost always a California roll. For slightly more than $10, it is a good deal.

When I am looking for a larger, yet lighter cooked selection I order the Beef Negimaki Lunch Bento Box. This option allows for a choice of soup (miso, hot & sour, egg drop or wonton) and I normally opt for the Hot & Sour. The soup has a good balance of spicy and sour notes. In addition to the Negimaki the bento box contains three pieces of California roll, two pork dumplings (shumai) and a small salad. The combination of flavors from the hoisin sauce on the Negimaki, the spicy and sour soup, the wasabi added to the rolls and the sauce on the shumai are excellent together. This is normally priced within $1 of the sushi.

For a heavier lunch, the General Tso’s Chicken is a good choice. I again start with the Hot & Sour and choose the fried rice to go with the deep fried chicken pieces. Again, the combination of the spicy and sour soup and the super sweet chicken are a good mid-day pick me up. I drink lots of tea when I order this combination to offset the mid-afternoon sugar rush. This selection is priced at less than $10…this is the best deal in town for Chinese food.

I keep looking for another Chinese restaurant in the area that offer lunch specials in a relaxing environment, but have yet to find one that is comparable to Wild Rice.

Wild Rice on Urbanspoon