Tierra (Westport) – Big Bold Burger

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When someone says, “you gotta try this burger,” I place on the list and visit as many as possible. Last week a buddy told me that I needed to visit Tierra and try their burger, and on a beautiful afternoon I journeyed to Westport, grabbed a table outside and ordered the “Tierra Burger, Topped with Home-made Chorizo, Chihuahua Cheese, Pequillo Pepper Aioli.”

The burger was served open faced, accompanied by a mound of blue Terra chips. On one side was a generous patty topped with a thick layer of melted cheese…and I could see sautéed peppers and onions (not described on the menu) peeking from under the cheese. The other half was covered with a liberal swath of the aioli. I cut the burger in half and it was perfectly prepared to medium-rare, the darkish red of the interior glistening with juice. The kitchen also took great care in keeping the medium grind intact, avoiding the tendency to compress the patty.

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I always taste a little of each of the ingredients. The beef was mild and not overly seasoned, while the crumbled chorizo, as well as the slivered sautéed Jalapeño peppers and onions were spicy and delicious. I wondered how it would all work in unison. The first bite was an explosion of flavors. The most notable was the chorizo, Jalapeño pepper and onion combination. Together these three items were fantastic. The Chihuahua cheese (similar to a mild cheddar) calmed the spiciness of these other toppings. The aioli also contributed a cooling aspect to the composition. The bun was one of the most buttery brioche I have tasted in my burger quest, but was out of balance with the other ingredients, almost fighting with them versus complementing.

Overall, the Tierra Burger is one of the most flavorful burgers in Fairfield County. The chorizo and Jalapeno peppers were the centerpieces of the combination. The beef patty was more a complement to these ingredients, versus vice versa. The Chihuahua cheese and aioli were great additions to soften the spiciness of the chorizo and peppers. If you are looking for a bold, Latin-inspired burger, Tierra is a great choice. For me, the combination of ingredients was more aligned to a fantastic taco than a burger.

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Le Languedoc (Nantucket) – Outstanding French Cuisine

When you think back on memorable meals, my recent meal at Le Languedoc qualifies as a perfect event. From the décor, the ambiance, the service and the food, each component was a perfect 10.

Located in downtown Nantucket, this French restaurant has several rooms and our group was seated in the rear room. The server asked for drink orders and described the additions to the menu for the evening. Included on our night was an appetizer of tomatoes and Burrata plus a lamb dish for the entrées. She mentioned the prices of each at the end of the presentation (which was perfect) and then allowed the table to decide from the regular menu or the specials.

For my appetizer I ordered the Tomato and Burrata Special and the Grilled Quail for my entrée.

The tomato and Burrata arrived and is was a generous portion, this was not the beginning of a small plate dining experience. The tomatoes were thickly sliced, sweet and delicious, and the Burrata was as creamy as any I have eaten. Basil leaves, plus a few drops of basil oil and extra virgin olive oil complemented the dish perfectly. The kitchen also added a few other greens, which were delicious but unnecessary.

My entrée arrived and I was pleasantly surprised that two full quail were included. Quail are usually very difficult to cut so I asked for a steak knife and when I made the first incision it was boneless, a fantastic way to serve. The quail was perfectly seasoned with a good amount of salt and pepper and cooked to retain all of its fantastic flavor and maintain its juiciness. The sides that accompanied the dish were a great balance of earthiness plus crunchiness that allowed the delicious quails to shine. We passed on dessert since we planned on ice cream at the Juice Bar down the street.

Overall this was an outstanding meal and our weekend in Nantucket.

I highly recommend Languedoc on any visit.

Proprietors Bar & Table (Nantucket) – Absolutely Outstanding

Proprietor’s is located on India Street in downtown Nantucket and the chef is creating some of the best dishes I have ever enjoyed. From the first bite of the bread to the last bite of the Moroccan Donuts, Proprietor’s is a restaurant that everyone who enjoys creative and delicious food must place on their list while in Nantucket.

The meal started with what I thought was going to be a simple slice of bread, but this was no ordinary bread. It was filled with a small amount of meat, and the texture of the bread was like none I have ever tasted. My instincts immediately kicked in…this might be one of those hidden gem restaurants that soon become a difficult reservation to obtain.

Our first course was the “Tuna Sunomono.” Several slices of tuna were topped with Peruvian Soy, Red Chile Sauce, Crispy Yucca, Yuzu, and Sesame. The fish was fresh, mild in flavor and the toppings added a touch of heat and just a smidgen of saltiness. It was a great beginning to tease the palate. The “Tater Cubes” were like none you have ever tasted, they were outstanding. Crispy Shredded Potatoes were perfectly fried and topped with Joppiesaus, Farm House Gouda, and served alongside a Beet Pickled Egg. The combination of the fried potatoes and the melting cheese delivered textural differences and great flavors.

This was followed by the “Cuchifritos,” the dish that most in our group thought was the best of the evening. A plate of Pork Riblets were topped with Sweet Chili Mojo, and served with Cheesy Masa Fries, and Annatto. The riblets were crisped on the exterior before the sauce was applied. The riblets remained crispy under the outrageously delicious sauce. My issue with the dish was the fries, they were grainy and a little off-putting.

Next to arrive was my favorite dish of the evening, the “Shaved ‘Pork-Umms‘,”comprised of Berkshire Pork, Scallion, Sesame BBQ sauce encased in a house-made Kimchee Biscuit. The meat was perfectly prepared, soft and moist with great flavor, and the Kimchee Biscuit made this dish spectacular, it was divine and created a combination that ranks as one of my favorites of all time. Following the pork was the Apalachicola Shrimp, which included 6 large shrimp, topped with Garlicky Green Sauce, Chili Threads, Corn Nuts. The biggest issue was that it followed the pork dish and the bar was very high at this point in the evening.

Last to arrive was the “Grass Fed Bavette Steak,” which was also delicious. It was served with a Potato Purée, Aigre Doux, and a Marrow Baste. The beef delivered a deep, rich flavor that worked really well with potato purée and the combination of the sweet and sour components of the aigre doux and additional richness of the marrow delivered a great flavor combination. I really liked this dish but the meat was a little tough.

Overall the meal was outstanding at Proprietor’s, from the bread through the desserts, it is a must go to restaurant on Nantucket.

Proprietors on Urbanspoon

Libertine (MSP) – Great Potential

photo 1 (1)Libertine is the newest addition to the MSP landscape by master Chef Tim McKee. In his latest contribution in Uptown, Chef McKee created a restaurant serving an inventive and diverse menu. Begin your evening from a selection of appetizers ranging from Tuna Poke Tacos to Crispy Pig’s Ear followed by various cuts of beef, lamb, chicken, pork or fish accompanied by creative side dishes. Add to the delicious cuisine a hip and eclectic atmosphere and you have another go-to restaurant.

The front room includes an enormous rectangular bar with close to 25 seats on each side. Surrounding the bar are numerous community tables, each offering seating for up to six guests, plus booths along the quiet, inside wall. In the back room are smaller 4-tops hugging the windows plus booths, each capable of handling 4 diners. A few round tables separate the two rooms. Overall the setting is relaxed and a wonderful setting to dine in.

The server was forthcoming with her favorites and I chose the “Crispy Pig’s Ears” for my appetizer, plus the “Bacon Chop” and a side of “Kale” for my entrée.

The pig’s ear was served with a fried egg, ancho pepper slices, accompanied with a dipping sauce. The menu states lime is included but there was none on my plate nor did I discern any citrusy back notes in the dish. The pig’s ear was sliced into bite sized pieces, breaded and deep fried. I was concerned that the small segments would be tough, but the kitchen cooked them perfectly, soft, tender and when dipped in the spicy-sweet sauce was delicious. When combined with a slice of the spicy ancho pepper and complemented with the creaminess of the oozing egg, this was an incredibly memorable dish.

BL ChopThe bacon chop was a Fred Flintstone sized pork chop served with a single onion ring. The server stated that this would be the best pork chop I would ever taste and on certain bites she was absolutely correct. Most of the chop was outstanding. It was moist, flavorful, and perfectly cooked. A few bites were not in the same league, the kitchen lost its focus with the final salting, way too much and it caused my head to snap back with the saltiness. The menu also states “lightly smoked” but manage your expectations…it is more a brined and grilled preparation.

The Kale was served with a Manchego cream and garlic. I would best describe this as Kale Mac & Cheese without the Mac. The kale was engulfed in the creamy cheese sauce and was delicious as the bitterness of the kale was balanced by the creaminess of the melted cheese. This was a rich dish that needs to be shared.

The server was excellent but the kitchen failed miserably on timing. The server told me that the meal arrives as prepared. The pig’s ear arrived first. After two bites the kale was brought by the runner and two minutes later he was holding my bacon chop. So there I sat with 90% of my appetizer uneaten, and my entrée occupying the remainder of the table. I asked the server to return the entrée and side to the kitchen and let me enjoy the food versus throwing everything simultaneously into the table. She was quick to comply and the manager wandered over to apologize. They turned a negative into a positive so kudos to both of them.

Overall I loved the space and the appetizer. The entrée could have been fantastic had the kitchen seasoned the chop properly and it failed miserably on the timing of the food leaving the kitchen. Libertine has tremendous potential and needs a little time to iron out the kinks, deliver the items as described on the menu and serve the food in a manner that allows the guests to enjoy the culinary creations.

Libertine on Urbanspoon

CHIPS (Fairfield) – Best Pancakes in CT

For years I have heard about the pancakes at Chips in Fairfield. Year after year I see them rated as the best pancakes in CT. Time after time I have tried to eat there only to be met by 1+ hour waits. But today, it happened…we drove to Fairfield and there was no line. We were immediately seated, given the four page menu and waited for the pancakes.

While my wife and daughter looked at the egg options, I immediately decided on the chocolate chip pancakes with bananas. I enjoyed a couple of cups of coffee while we waited and then the plate arrived.

The stack of 5 large pancakes were filled with both chips and bananas plus more of each on top. Butter accompanied the pancakes. Most people place the syrup atop the pancakes, but I place on the plate and then dip each forkful. Dipping the pancakes versus topping with the syrup keeps the puffiness intact in each pancake, a definite game-changer. The first bite was fantastic, the pancakes delivered an airy texture and the flavor was outstanding. There was a certain nuttiness to the batter and the sweet chocolate chips were the perfect complement. Perfect texture and flavor.

After my first pancake breakfast at CHIPS I fully agree that the pancakes are the best I have eaten in CT.

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Matt’s Bar (MSP) – Best Jucy Lucy in MSP

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Whenever I want to introduce a colleague to one of the quintessential culinary icons in the Twin Cities, I bring them to Matt’s to savor, what I believe is the best version of the Jucy Lucy. After work, we ventured up 77, grabbed a spot on the street, entered Matt’s and waited for our table. On a Thursday night it was not a long wait, maybe 20 minutes and while we waited we watched as burger after burger was placed on the small flat-top and grilled to perfection.

Once seated, Matt’s is a pretty easy place to order. The only question is how many burgers, with or without onions, and how large an order of fries. We both ordered two JL’s and a half order of fries.

The wait for the burgers was longer than the table and once delivered, individually wrapped in paper, the server recited the ritual of being careful about exploding cheese. I advised waiting for a few more minutes, enjoy a few fries and a few more sips of soda. When the time was upon us, I slowly raised the JL to my lips and slow, very slowly bit into the cheese-lava filled burger.

Not too sure if it was too soon, I held my breath as the cheese oozed out and came in contact with the inside of my mouth and my lips. I timed it perfectly, not too hot for scalding but still hot enough to appreciate the madness of the construction. I exhaled and enjoyed the meat, the less than scalding American cheese, the fried onions, pickle and bun. Nothing on this burger was gourmet, nothing qualified as farm to table, but this was a down and dirty inverted cheeseburger with great flavors, great textures, and a heritage that pre-dates this burger lover.

As I finished #1 and moved to #2, I asked my colleague what he thought. He smiled, continued eating…eventually finishing both burgers, the entire order of fries and two diet cokes. Yet another colleague was officially indoctrinated into the Jucy Lucy Club.

Matt's Bar on Urbanspoon

Heyday (MSP) – Some Outstanding Dishes

 

Two of us decided to give Heyday a try and I am really glad that I did.

Located on the southwest corner of 27th and Lyndale, the restaurant is separated into two room. The first room contains a large bar, with several tables and the rear room overlooks the open kitchen. Adorning the walls are large paintings, the triple-pig swirl was a great painting for a restaurant.

The server walked us through the menu and was spot on in his service throughout the meal, major kudos to him. We decided to order three appetizers and three entrées and share.

The first appetizer was the Chicken Liver Tart ($9), which was topped with several varieties of pickled vegetables and green tomato jam. The liver was smooth and delivered rich flavors that were beautifully complemented by the toppings. The second dish, the Lamb Tartare ($10) was delightful, delivering rich flavor without any gaminess. It was served with two thick slices of toast. The toast was sweet and a great canvas for the richness of the tartare. The third appetizer was the corn panna cotta. The panna cotta was topped with a gelee and passion fruit. The varying flavors did not work together and the textures were off-putting. When eaten by itself, the panna cotta was outstanding.

Our entrées began with my favorite dish of the night, the Grilled Durade ($14) topped with slices of avocado, et. al. The filets were perfectly prepared and the spices were perfect and when combined with the toppings created an incredibly delicious dish. Close behind as the favorite of the evening was the Black Cod ($16) served atop baby corn. The fillet was cooked to medium rare, maintaining its gelatinous structure and the corn and sauce created an unbelievable flavor combination. The biggest disappointment of the evening was the Lamb Belly ($11). Simply prepared and served with sugar snap peas the three slices of belly lacked the bold and vibrant flavors of the other dishes.

Four of the dishes were outstanding, some of the best in the area. It is interesting of the other two one was too complex, which created an issue and the other was very underdeveloped. Overall I cannot wait to return to Heyday.

Heyday on Urbanspoon