New Chef @ elm Restaurant in New Canaan: Enter Chef Luke Venner

Chef Luke Venner has been at the helm of elm Restaurant for several monthsand was invited to participate at the Greenwich Wine and Food Festival as one of the Innovative Chefs. The two small bites that he prepared at the festival were delicious. In hopes that these were reflective of his newly revised menu, CTbites returned to the restaurant to sample other dishes on his recently introduced Autumn menu. The appetizers and entrées that we enjoyed highlighted the inherent flavors of the ingredients utilizing Chef Luke’s balanced vision and delicate touch.

We shared three dishes from the “smaller” section of the menu.

With the arrival of Fall, menus are featuring soups to showcase the season’s harvest. Chef Venner’s Pumpkin and Apple Soup was a sweet-spice combination mellowed by the pumpkin’s earthiness. These Autumnal flavors were a fantastic combination and the preparation included interesting back-notes from a smidgen of star anise. The spicy marshmallows were a playful inclusion for additional sweetness and a sudden burst of spiciness from the chili pepper.

The Tuscan Kale salad was served with thinly sliced honey crisp apples, intermingled with chunks of Cheddar cheese and bacon. This good-sized portion paired the mild bitterness of the shredded kale with the sweetness of apples. The presentation was further enriched by the Cheddar cheese and chunks of some of the best bacon I have eaten in some time.

The Delicata Squash Tartine started with a slice of toasted bread that was topped with ricotta, slices of roasted squash and sprinkled with spiced pecans. The squash rings were first caramelized to heighten their natural sweetness and were perfectly complemented by the wonderfully smooth ricotta. The pecans added more earthiness and a textural difference. This was a delicious start to the meal that I would describe as a more petit starter.

The entrées, “larger” plates, I sampled included two of the steaks and the risotto.

My favorite of the entrées was the Smoked Shortrib, which shared the plate with pureed carrots, slices of charred cucumber, and a dollop of chimichurri. The beef was first brined for two days, smoked and then pressed to remove all of the inherent fattiness of this cut. The filet was finished with a mild sear. The result was incredibly tender with a deep, rich flavor that required nothing more than a fork to cut. The charred cucumber slices added an interesting sweetness, the Sriracha enhanced carrot purée offered a touch of spiciness and the chimichurri complemented the other ingredients with sour notes.

Elm’s Wagyu Rib Eye is purchased from the 7X Ranch in Colorado. A little background of this ranch and its beef is important. While the requirement in the US for Wagyu designation is at least 25% from a Japanese Wagyu steer, 7X is 100% derived from Japanese Wagyu steer. The result is a softer, well marbled steak. The Wagyu rib eye was glazed with a Bordelaise sauce and served with a large marrow-filled bone. The meat was mild in flavor and presented more of a strip steak texture than rib eye…and was delicious. The portion was sufficient for two to share or for a single with a very hearty appetite.

There are numerous risottos offered throughout the area, most with a certain amount of heaviness. Elm’s current Risotto is delicate and pairs creamy Carnaroli rice with wild mushrooms, black truffle enhanced mascarpone and topped with thin slices of orange peel. The focus was the truffle infused mascarpone elevated by the brightness from the orange peel, a combination that I have never experienced, plus the mild earthiness from the mushrooms. It was outstanding and a much lighter version of this traditional Italian dish.

To accompany the entrées we also shared a side of Brussels sprouts. A bowl of baby sprouts was topped with honey and lavender that delivered a very sweet interpretation with a touch of floral notes. They were also excellent.

Pastry Chef Kara Koehmstedt recently joined elm to oversee its dessert and bread program. Chef Kara was trained at the Culinary Institute of America before joining the culinary team at The Peninsula Hotel and Blackbird Restaurant in Chicago and Cosme in NYC. She prepared four of her desserts from the current menu.

The highlight was the Zeppoles, which now rank as my favorite rendition in the area. The interior was moist from the Ricotta cheese and presented a wonderful texture to complement the crunchiness of the crust. Each was encased with cinnamon-sugar that offered the perfect balance to the zeppoles. They were paired with peach jam and maple ice cream and everyone at the table was craving a little chocolate sauce for their portion.

The Pumpkin Cheesecake delivered a rich creaminess reminiscent of NY-style cheese cake. There was additional smoothness from the formage blanc mousse, while the crumbles of specaloos (ginger biscuits) added a crunchy textural difference. As much as I loved the textures the pumpkin filling, the dish was a little heavy with nutmeg and the specaloos contained a little too much ginger.

The elm Brownie was several bite-sized pieces served with Crème fraiche ice cream and roasted blackberries. The highlight of the dish was the blackberries that were very sweet and delectable. The brownies were mild in flavor as was the ice cream and I prefer a more chocolatey brownie.

The Boozy Sundae is the newest addition to the dessert menu and included a large dish of soft brown sugar Bourbon ice cream topped with swirls of chocolate and caramel sauces and finished with pecans. The ice cream and sauces were excellent but the pecans were much too salty and overwhelmed the other ingredients.

Overall the appetizers and entrées were some of the most creative and delicious food I have eaten in Fairfield County. The subtleness of the combinations were fantastic. I look forward to returning to elm and taste many more of Chef Venner culinary compositions.

Prices range from $12 to $21 for the smaller plates and $21 to $36 for the larger plates (with the exceptions being the burger at $18 and the Wagyu ribeye at $62). I found most of the portion sizes in line with those at other high-end restaurants in Fairfield County.

Really Liked

  • Tuscan Kale ($19)
  • Pumpkin and Apple Soup ($12)
  • Smoked Shortrib ($34)
  • Carnaroli Risotto ($21)
  • Zeppole ($8)

Liked

  • Delicata Squash Tartine ($14)
  • Wagyu Rib Eye ($62)
  • Pumpkin Cheesecake ($8)

Needs Improvement

  • Boozy Sundae ($8)
  • Brownie ($8)

 

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1020 Post (Darien) – Pretty Ordinary Burger

ctb_1020_burger_1Almost every time the subject of where to eat in Darien arises, the name Ten Twenty Post is mentioned. Some have also recommended the burger and the last time I ate their House Burger was two years ago…it was time to give it a re-try. When I arrived around noon the twelve tables on the rear terrace were beginning to fill and without a cloud in the sky, all of the umbrellas were open and people were either looking for full sun or hiding in the shade.

The server informed me that the “House Burger on Soft Roll” was served with Gruyere cheese (the current website states Jarlsberg cheese), lettuce, tomato and onion, with a side of French fries. I asked if they could hold the lettuce, tomato and onion and add a couple of strips of bacon. I also asked that it be prepared medium-rare. As I sipped my water I found I was in a very small minority, almost everyone was drinking beer or wine. It was a festive mid-week lunch for many.

The burger arrived. The exterior of the patty had a good sear, the cheese was nicely melted but the two strips of bacon were just thrown on top as one…both on one side of the patty, not a lot of care in its placement. The bun, which was a basic, soft bakery bun, was nicely grilled. There was a good sized mound of fries and several slices of B&B pickles.

ctb_1020_burger_2I cut the burger in half. My guess would place the weight in the 5 oz. range, and the size was more on the thin versus thick side. It was prepared a little beyond medium, much more than my requested medium rare. The grind was very compressed, and there was very little juice escaping. I first tasted the meat, it had a good level of beefiness, very good flavor. A taste of the bacon and Gruyere cheese gave me a different impression, both were on the bland side, and the bun was also not very flavorful. A bite of the combination gave a beefy flavor with the other ingredients adding little to the dish. There was just a hint of juiciness in my first taste but it became drier with each succeeding bite. By the time I started the second half, the burger was very dry. The fries were nicely cooked and seasoned and the B&B pickle slices were excellent. The cost of the burger was $17, which was high for its quality.

Overall it was a flavorful patty that was overcooked, causing it to dry out, with bland toppings. I previously rated the burger a “6” on my 1-10 scale, but given the blandness of all of the items (with the exception of the meat) I now rate the House Burger at Ten Twenty a “5”.

 

Bogey’s (Norwalk) – Just an OK Burger

bogeys_ctb_prime_burgerI was driving by Bogey’s on Cross Street in Norwalk last week when I saw a new, large banner proclaiming “Voted Best Burger in Fairfield County.” When a restaurant proudly proclaims that distinction I am excited about the prospect of enjoying another quality product and hopefully add it to my growing list of great burgers.

After a little research, I discovered that this is not the first venture for the owners of Bogey’s, they also owned the same named restaurant in Westport. Earlier this year it relocated to its current location, again offering a wide array of pub fare, from sandwiches to chicken to steaks. The space in the new location is separated into two areas; to the right of the entrance is the dining area with tables and booths while the left side offers a four sided bar plus several tables.

There are two distinct burgers on the menu. The first is the “Angus Burger” ($11), which is simply 8-oz of Angus Beef, plus lettuce and tomato. For an additional $1 it can be prepared with cheese. The other burger is “The Prime Beef Burger” that includes 8-oz of Allen Brothers USDA Prime blend topped with Applewood smoked bacon, Blue cheese, and a fried egg (not mentioned on the menu but included on my burger were lettuce and tomato), served with French fries ($16). When the server approached I asked her which was the recipient of the award and she responded “they both were.”

I was a little confused by her response, but ordered the Prime Beef Burger medium-rare. It was both wide and tall; the patty sat atop slices of lettuce and tomato, with the bacon, cheese and egg layered on top of the patty. The fried egg was cooked perfectly, slightly crisped on the edges, the bacon and melted cheese were hidden beneath the egg with the edges of the bacon jutting slightly out from under the egg. I cut the burger in half, releasing the yolk and saw the patty was cooked exactly to my requested medium-rare, with an excellent char on the exterior. When I saw that the grind was very compressed I was a little disappointed; it appeared that it was pressed several times to achieve the exterior sear.

I really enjoyed my first taste of the meat, the flavor was excellent and delivered a great, deep richness. This might have led to a great combination and deserved the honor, but unfortunately this is where I diverge from the award. The bacon was well cooked but it was much too salty and the Blue Cheese overwhelmed the wonderful meat flavor. The egg added a delightful creaminess but also fought with the meat, and all were served on a non-descript bun, which added nothing to the overall composition. Each of the ingredients, by themselves, was very bold, but the combination was not complementary at all. In addition, after one bite, I removed the tomato as it was an over-ripe grocery store variety. The fries were good, they were crispy on the exterior and soft on the interior and served piping hot

Overall, Bogey’s definitely chose a fantastic meat for the Prime Beef Burger (I was told on a previous visit that the meat in the other burger was not the same blend) and with a better balance from the other ingredients, there is a possibility that I would agree that it is an excellent burger, but I enjoyed other options in Fairfield County much better.

Boothbay Lobster Company Truck Rolls into Stamford’s Harbor Point

Boothbay Lobster Company is opening its first bricks and mortar location at Harbor Point in Stamford in the upcoming months. To give the community a taste of what to expect from super-fresh Maine lobster, the company is periodically parking its Boothbay Lobster Company truck 100 yards down the street from the restaurant, serving two types of Lobster Rolls, a BLC sandwich, Lobster Mac & Cheese, plus a few non-lobster items. On a beautiful afternoon CTbites visited the truck to sample the newest addition to the Harbor Point neighborhood. As I approached the truck I noticed a sign stating that the lobster were caught the previous day…this was an ultra-fresh product.

The cooking and serving truck was joined by a second, which acted acting as the portable inventory for the visit. On its opening day the week before, they were so overwhelmed with customers that their anticipated 10-hour stay was shortened to under five hours when they ran out of product. On this second visit, they assured numerous people on line that they brought plenty of food for the full afternoon and evening. The menu offers two varieties of Lobster Rolls, each priced at $16. The first was a “Downeast” (recommended by the owner) that included chilled lobster and mayo and the second was a “Connecticut” (my choice) that offered warm lobster with butter. I did not order, but the truck also serves a BLC (bacon, lobster and cheese sandwich), Lobster Mac & Cheese and a Grilled Cheese sandwich, plus a side of Potato Tots and a Whoopie Pie dessert.

    I first sampled the Connecticut. It contained large chunks of both claw and tail meat, lightly coated with salted butter and served on a griddled Martin potato long bun. The meat was perfectly cooked to maintain the lobster flavor and the texture was soft and not chewy at all. I was very impressed. I next moved to the Downeast. There was a scant amount of mayo, just enough to hold together the lobster meat. The owner was correct, the Downeast was fantastic. The major difference between the two was the Downeast delivered a hint of the ocean’s mild saltiness while the Connecticut’s saltiness was that of the butter. They were both served with cole slaw, which was basic shredded cabbage+ and Cape Cod potato chips.

Overall, Boothbay’s Lobster Rolls were delicious. I would recommend the Downeast over the Connecticut, preferring to taste the mild saltiness of the ocean versus the saltiness of the butter.

Check out their Facebook page for times and dates the truck will be on site.