Basso Cafe (Norwalk ) – Adds Wine Bar and New Menu

basso_15_barSeveral years ago I visited Basso Café Restaurant o New Canaan Avenue in Norwalk and was very impressed with many of the dishes created by Owner / Chef Renato Donzelli. Since that time Chef Renato has maintained his vision of creating a wine bar to complement the food, and that is now a reality as Basso Café Restaurant is now Basso Café Restaurant Wine Bar.

basso_15_interiorThe interior has been updated with large, vibrant paintings along one wall, smaller modern pieces along the other wall overseeing the 60 seat dining area. The lighting is soft and inviting and acoustical tiles have been installed to reduce the noise level. After the recent receipt of a full liquor license, guests can now benefit from Chef Renato’s pairing of wines to balance the vibrant flavors of his cuisine and the rear of the restaurant now showcases the bar area with a selection of personally selected spirits, including organic vodkas. The new wine list features twelve reds and a similar number of white, plus sparkling selections. Each was selected to pair with items on the menu. The prices range primarily from $30 through $70 with most of the labels available by the glass for $9-12.

I was invited to sample the newest menu prior to the formal re-opening and was very impressed. The cuisine still reflects the chef’s Venezuelan roots combined with his upbringing in southern Italy. It offers selections for every palate, some bright, some bold, some mellow…Chef Renato constructs the menu carefully and thoughtfully.

basso_15_brieThe “Brie Croquettes” were served with a passion fruit and ginger glaze drizzled with white truffle oil and droplets of Balsamic vinegar. They was slightly coated in bread crumbs and fried to present a textural difference with a crispy exterior and a slightly melting interior. The mildness of the brie was complemented by the sweetness of the passion fruit glaze and further elevated by the earthiness of the truffle oil. The Balsamic added a sweet-sour component.

basso_15_cauliflower_2The simplest of ingredients can present complex flavors and the “Coliflor al Pimenton” presented a smoky interpretation of this often unappreciated vegetable. The bite sized florets were seared to create a crispy finish and the Spanish paprika added a nice level of smokiness and a touch of spiciness. The dish also included slivers of garlic and finished with a splash of sherry to add sour notes to balance the other ingredients.

basso_15_bellyThe “Pork Belly” was topped with crispy crackling and served alongside pearl onions, a sweet pea purée and finished with agrodolce. The richness of the belly was beautifully complemented by the outstanding sweet-sour agrodolce and pearl onions, this was a perfect combination. The pea purée brought additional creaminess and a touch of sweetness and a great balance to the agrodolce. The crackling was chewy and I preferred the dish without it.

basso_15_tuna_bellyA current appetizer special is a small filet of “Tuna Belly.” Served “cooked through” and glazed with Dijon mustard and chopped pistachios, this interesting combination balanced the nuttiness of the pistachios spiced with the mustard. It was served atop diced capers and orange zest that complemented the other ingredients.

basso_15_filetMy favorite of the entrées was the “Filet Mignon.” An eight-ounce filet was wrapped in pancetta and topped with a chanterelle and shitake mushroom duxelle, a potato cake and a dollop of sour cream, and nestled in a Cabernet reduction. The steak was prepared to my requested medium-rare and was rich in flavor with a soft texture. The pancetta added a lovely smokiness and saltiness, the mushrooms a wonderful earthiness and the luscious Cabernet reduction was enhanced by the addition of veal stock. The creative addition of the potato cake and cream added a crispy and creamy addition. This is highly recommended.

basso_15_scallopThe “Maine Diver Scallops” were served over a creamy polenta and topped with a watercress and ruby red grapefruit salad and a drizzle of black truffle vinaigrette. The four U-10 scallops were perfectly cooked, seared on the exterior with just the slightest of opaqueness in the center and seasoned with salt and pepper. The polenta was full flavored from pancetta and diced mushrooms and offered a nice land-sea balance. The grapefruit segments brought acidity and brightness to the presentation

basso_15_chickenThose with a hearty appetite will enjoy the “Tuscan Grilled Chicken Under a Brick.” A half chicken is de-boned, marinated and grilled and served with roasted garlic mashed potatoes, sautéed baby carrots and beets and finished with a lemon and rosemary sauce. The “brick technique” created a wonderfully crispy skin that enveloped a soft and moist chicken. The lemon and rosemary sauce was delicious and the mashed potatoes were full of flavor and ultra-creamy. The simply sautéed vegetables added a lovely earthiness to the presentation.

basso_15_tarteSave room for dessert since the “Tartallete of Duce de Leche” is one of the best desserts in the area. The tartallete was filled with an outstanding duce de Leche and the coated with a chocolate ganache. Sitting alongside the tartallete was a scoop of one of the best house-made vanilla ice creams I have tasted. The last component was a raspberry reduction that added just a hint of additional sweetness. There are a couple of Venezuelan chocolate ribbons that were fantastic.

Overall Basso Café Restaurant Wine Bar is still serving a wonderful selection of dishes that combine various flavor components. From the brightness of the passion fruit sauce on the croquettes to the rich, wonderful filet ingredients, each was a finely composed presentation. I look forward to returning to sample more of the Chef’s creative and thoughtful cuisine.

124 New Canaan Ave, Norwalk, CT 06850

(203) 354-6566

  • Really Liked
  • Pork Belly 11
  • Filet Mignon 36
  • Scallops 32
  • Tuscan Grilled Chicken 24
  • Tartallete of Duce de Leche 14

Liked

  • Brie Croquettes 11
  • Coliflor al Pimenton 8

Not a Fan

  • Tuna
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Fleishers Craft Kitchen (Westport) Opens for Dinner Under Chef Adam Truelove

dsc_0943Saugatuck Craft Butchery was founded in 2011 by Ryan Fibiger and Paul Nessel with the philosophy of combining “traditional butchery skills with sustainable, whole animal practices and modern-day food movement ideals.” It purchases locally raised animals from farmers that share this philosophy, dry-ages the meat in-house and sells directly to the public. Over the last four years, as its popularity increased, it expanded to a new, larger location across the street that would feature both a butchery and a restaurant and earlier this year it merged with Fleishers Butchery, of Brooklyn, to become Fleishers Craft Butchery.

After the successful launch of breakfast and lunch service, Fleishers recently hired Chef Adam Truelove, formerly of Tarry Lodge, Napa & Co. and Pine Social to oversee its culinary expansion. In the last month it both opened its doors at its newest location in Cos Cob and expanded the service in Saugatuck to include dinner to showcase the farm raised meat and poultry from the butchery coupled with Chef Adam’s creativity. With a very low key environment, 30 seats and an additional six stools at the bar, the restaurant will offer a simple menu, as well as Family Dinners, from Tuesday through Saturday from 530-930PM.

The menu is divided into three sections, “Small,” “Burgers” and “From the Butcher.” The small plates range from cheese or meat platters to salads, to meatballs and pigs’ ears. With four choices of burgers, there are a full range of options for guests looking for a twin-thin to a large fatty patty (both beef and lamb are featured), while the entrée sized plates include several cuts from the butchery attached to the restaurant

CTbites was invited to sample a selection of the new cuisine.

dsc_0933The “Apple and Fennel Salad” was one of the best renditions of the currently popular kale salad I have tasted. The kale, slivered apples and fennel were tossed with a house-made bacon vinaigrette, shredded goat cheese and pistachios. The bacon-y vinaigrette was a fantastic complement to the kale with loads of smokiness that created a delightful combination. The apples brought a mild sweetness and the goat cheese a touch of saltiness. The pistachios rounded the salad with a nice earthiness and additional crunch.

dsc_0937The “Lamb Meatballs” were nestled in a swath of smoked ricotta and finished with a spiced red wine reduction and slivered scallions. The Indian influenced meatballs, seasoned with curry and cumin, were complemented by the creaminess of the smoked ricotta. They were soft and moist from the steaming and reheating in the wine reduction, which added a slight bitterness to the dish.

dsc_0930The last small plate was the “Crispy Pig,” which included chicharrones and thinly sliced strips of pig’s ears, which were braised before deep frying. The strips were coated with a spicy Sriracha sauce and parsley, and served with aioli. The chicharrones were crunchy pillows of air while the pork strips were the textural opposite; a chewy, crunchy texture. I was not a fan of this combination (a personal preference) but others at the table loved it.

dsc_0941The “Craft Burger” was included on my 2015 list of Best Burgers in Southwest Connecticut and the current version continues as one of my favorites in the area. The burger begins with a combination of dry-aged beef with a little added fat, dipped in an IPA cheese fondue, and topped with a few greens, bacon jam and an onion ring. The deep flavors of the dry-aged meats were perfectly balanced by the bacon jam and the fondue dip. The burger was encased in a brioche that added buttery goodness. Shoestring fries accompanied the burger and they were crispy on the exterior and soft on the interior

When you are sitting adjacent to one of the best butchery around, it is hard to select which of the entrée to choose, with a double-cut pork chop, a half chicken, steak frites (currently a Rib Eye) and a lamb dish all an option.

dsc_0943The highlight of the visit was the “Rib Eye,” the current cut for the Steak Frites. Since we enjoyed the fries earlier with the burger, Chef Adam paired the chop with brisket burnt ends and beans. After one bite, I knew this was an outstanding steak. The 16-ounce filet was cooked to a perfect medium-rare, with a great sear on the exterior. The deep, ultra-rich flavor was fantastic, fork-tender and reminiscent of a great steak house. The side of brisket burnt ends and beans was a wonderful accompaniment that both mellowed and enhanced the steak.

dsc_0939The “Pork Chop” was an enormous double-cut chop served atop a mound of sausage stuffing and a small side salad. The chop was served medium-rare and pink in the middle (order differently if desired) and glazed with a pomegranate molasses and finished with a dash of Gray rock sea salt. The sausage contained house-made sausage and brioche and offered just a hint of spicy-sweetness. The chop was moist and flavorful and delicious with the sweet pomegranate glaze.

Overall, the initial offerings at Fleisher’s were fun, creative and showcased the top-tiered quality of the butcher shop. Chef Adam informed us after the meal that lamb will be a continual offering to expand the year-round acceptance of this wonderful meat. The prices reflect the restaurant’s ability to offer exceptional quality at relatively reasonable prices. The $32 rib eye steak frites was a great value and the other entrées were priced in the mid-$20s. I look forward to returning to Fleishers to work my way through each of the meats and poultry.

Really Liked

  • Apple and Fennel Salad
  • Craft Burger
  • Rib Eye
  • Pork Chop

Liked

  • Lamb Meatballs

Did Not Like

  • Crispy Pig

580 Riverside Ave. – Westport CT 06880

(203)226-6328

 

Harlan Publick in South Norwalk: Innovative Cuisine with a Tropical Twist

Harlan Publick opened last year in the SoNo Ironworks and immediately became a destination for great food, a vast line-up of beers and an outdoor terrace like none other in Fairfield County. The relaxed interior features a large bar, a dining area with both dining tables and high tops and a room for a private event that features several personalized beer taps, and represents the second for Managing Partner Steve Lewandowski, who is also the Managing Partner at Stamford’s Harlan Social, which has won accolades as one of the best restaurants in CT.

Executive Chef Kamal Rose recently joined Harlan Publick, and his road to this position was less than traditional. Raised on St. Vincent and the Grenadines, he developed his passion for cooking from his grandmother. He moved to New York at the age of 15 and subsequently received an internship at TriBeca Grill. In 2009 he won a $20,000 scholarship in a national cooking competition and earned his diploma from the Institute of Culinary Education. He returned to TriBeca Grill under the tutelage of Drew Nieporent and Steve Lewandowski and last year, Lewandowski asked Rose to join him at Harlan Publick where his newly introduced cuisine exemplifies his Caribbean roots tempered by classical training. 

CTbites recently visited Harlan Publick to sample Chef Kamal’s newly introduced cuisine that deftly balances tropical flavors with a touch of heat. The menu allows guests to pre-order a Roast Porchetta for four, share several smaller dishes amongst friends, or order a traditional appetizer and entrée (these words are not on the menu). From Candied Peanuts to a Tomahawk Steak, the selections are wide and varied.

The “Braised Octopus Carpaccio” (pictured above) was like none I have ever eaten.  Traditionally, this preparation includes “cooking” diced fish in a citrusy marinade and served with various accompaniments…Chef Kamal created a carpaccio terrine. He fanned several thin slices on the plate and finished with starfruit escabeche and drizzles of mango Jalapeño vin. The octopus was tender and delicious and the addition of the sweet mango and spiciness from the escabeche were delightful.

The “Black Bean Hummus” is an excellent starter to share at the table. It was topped with a dollop of Pico de Gallo and served with Plantain chips. Chef Kamal’s rendition broke from tradition by using black beans, which added a deeper earthiness to the dip. The sweetness of the plantains were a wonderful offset to the richness of the black beans and a touch of heat from the chilies.

The “Mussels” were served in a broth comprised of lemongrass, ginger, garlic, coconut milk and Thai chilies. The soft and sweet bivalves were perfectly enhanced by the tropical flavors, accented by a mild kick of spice from the Thai chilies. The dish was further complemented by a few slices of Roti, a flatbread that added crunch and an incredible sweetness from its raw brown sugar.

The most creative dish that Chef Kamal prepared was the “Crabcake ‘Scotch Egg’” served atop a swath of Scotch bonnet aioli. The traditional recipe includes a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage, coated with bread crumbs and date to the 18th century when farmers brought them to the fields for lunch. Chef Kamal first created his interpretation on “Beat Bobby Flay” where he encased a soft boiled egg in crab meat and bread crumbs, and deep-fried. When cut in half, the yolk exuded its creaminess to offset the incredible crunchy exterior.  The crab meat was sweet and the Scotch bonnet aioli (I was nervous about Scotch bonnets) added a little, but not too much, spiciness. The small parsley salad was the prefect means to cleanse the palate. This was a fun, creative and outstanding dish.

The “Rum Glazed St. Louis Cut Ribs” were another example of Chef Kamal’s talent of infusing just a touch of heat into his cuisine. The thick ribs were first marinated in jerk seasoning and topped with brown sugar and rum before crisping the exterior on the grill. Once the crust was achieved they were steamed and coated with a sweet glaze immediately before arriving at the table. The result was a moist and tender rib with almost a spongy texture. The tower of plump ribs were presented in a cast iron skillet and were very good but I prefer my ribs a little denser with a firmer texture.

The “Curry Goat Roti” is a traditional dish in the Caribbean. The goat was prepared with potatoes, channa (chickpeas), allspice and ginger, and encased in Roti bread and griddled to create additional crispness to the exterior. It can best be described as a Caribbean pot pie. It was served with a tamarind chutney. As much as I liked the Roti bread and the braised goat, the dish was just not to my liking.

Short ribs are on every menu this fall and Harlan Publick’s rendition, “Short Rib Stew,” was fantastic. The 6-hour braised ribs were served with diced yucca, pumpkin and pigeon peas and presented in an individual caldron. The meat was perfectly prepared to a fall off the bone tenderness while maintaining a touch of resistance. It was moist and rich in flavor, while the pumpkin added a delightful sweetness to the dish. The sauce was one of the silkiest preparations I have eaten in quite some time.

The “Grilled Tomahawk Steak” was a sight to behold and a delicious piece of beef. This 38-ounce monster completely covered a two foot cedar plank. After presenting the whole steak to the guest it is returned to the kitchen for slicing. It was served with a side of jerk fingerling potatoes and a scallion butter. The steak was outstanding and when paired with a small amount of the scallion butter elevated its decadence. The jerk fingerling potatoes were creamy on the interior and ultra-crispy on the interior. It is usually shared by two people but understand that many singles have successfully devoured this extravaganza.

After the meal, a new, special drink was brought to the table. The “Old Pirate’s Portion” was served in a martini glass and included spiced rum, sweet potato purée, maple syrup, egg whites, and topped with a thin layer of whipped cream and a couple of sweet potato chips. The combination was fantastic with the sweet potato purée and maple syrup creating a sweetness balanced by the spiciness of the rum. The egg whites added a luscious quality to this drink.

Overall I was incredibly impressed with the Chef Kamal’s new cuisine at Harlan Publick. It breaks from the new American tradition that is rampant in Fairfield County and proves that savory and sweet are perfect complements while chilies can add a little spiciness to accentuate the food.

127 Washington St. – Norwalk, CT – 06854

(203) 831-0727

Really Liked

  • Braised Octopus Carpaccio
  • PEI Mussels 13
  • Black Bean Hummus 9
  • Crabcake “Scotch Egg”
  • Short Rib Stew
  • Grilled Tomahawk Steak 91

Liked

  • Rum Glazed St. Louis Cut Ribs 16
  •  “Old Pirate’s Potion”

Did Not Like

  • Curry Goat Roti