Flakowitz vs. Bagel Twin – Clear Winner is Flakowitz

Each visit to Florida entails several visits to Flakowitz, and I have grown quite fond of their novey, creamed herring and bagels. This year when we arrived my MIL informed us she ran out of time and went to Bagel Twin for round #1. I was not as fond of the selections, but let me just describe the differences, since this cuisine is very much subjective and incredibly subject to very forceful opinions.

Novey – I found the novey from BT much saltier and the slicer was less than careful. The slices were long (some approached close to12”) and the thickness ranged from medium to way too thick. I prefer thinner slices about 6” so a simple fold-over covers a bagel half.

Herring in cream sauce – Two points. The herring was more pungent at BT and the texture was firmer. The tail end of each filet was very tough. The cream sauce from BT is also much thinner and less flavorful that Flakowitz. The onions from Flakowitz are also a little sweeter. To fully enjoy the full flavor of the Flakowitz herring it needs to sit in the container for 24 hours for the flavors to meld, BT required at least 48 hours.

Cream Cheese – I give a push to the difference. The Flakowitz is a little easier to spread, but both were excellent.

Bagels – Even though the name is Bagel Twin, I prefer the bagels at Flakowitz. I actually prefer the bagels at the place on the northwest corner of Jog and Boynton Beach Boulevard.

Given my choice, I would definitely choose Flakowitz over Bagel Twin.

 

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Japango (Delray Beach) – Quantity versus Quality

This restaurant is located in the mall on the corner of Lyons and Atlantic and extremely convenient for pre- or post-movie. We were seeing the 700 show and reserved a table for 530. The menu is quite large with pan-Asian cuisine, from Pad Thai to Curries to sushi, plus a few items that added other influences.

For my appetizer I ordered the tuna pizza and the chicken Pad Thai for my entrée, described on the menu as chopped tuna, shallots, avocado and veggies on top of crispy tortilla with wasabi cream, eel sauce and wasabi tobiko. The combination had decent flavor, nothing to write home about but a middle of the road combination. To call the crust a crispy tortilla is a stretch, it was more the bottom half of a foccacia.

For my entrée I ordered the Pad Thai; rice noodles stir fired with chicken, peanuts, bean sprouts and egg in a sweet, tangy sauce. When it arrived it floored me with its size. There was enough for two, possibly three people to share. There was more than a pound of noodles smothered in a sauce that is best described as borderline awful. The flavor was much too sweet and the texture was grainy. The was a teaspoon of crumbled peanuts on top of the mountain of noodles. This was more quantity than quality. I tasted one of my companion’s maki, this too was borderline horrible. The sushi rice was flavorless, no vinegar at all and the fish was not much better.

Service was exceptionally friendly, almost as if they understood the low prices reflected the “get what you pay for” theory.

Overall, I would definitely take a pass on Japango, buy a bigger bucket of popcorn in the theatre.

China Garden (Delray Beach) – McD Quality Dinner

Disclaimer – We visited on Christmas Day and I want to give them all of the benefit of a doubt I can. The staff was incredibly friendly during our dinner from 515-645.

There are few options on Christmas Day and China Garden on Military Trail was our choice. We did take-out from there last year and it was an absolute nightmare after the movie so this year we decided to switch it up, dinner early and then the movie. We secured a 5PM reservation and were told to and did arrive at 445. The restaurant blocked off a couple of the parking spots directly in front of the restaurant and filled them with chairs and a table for people to relax while waiting for their table. There was a young man doing a great job with information and procedures out front. It’s Florida so there were a few self-important people that asked the young man, did not like the answer, and then just walked by him into the restaurant, but they returned to the front after they were told the same information inside. Without a reservation he told people that 9PM was the earliest they would be seated. Everyone waited outside until their name was called.

We were seated at 515, not bad, and were quickly asked for our drink and soup order from Wonton, Egg Drop or Hot & Sour. Server had a high level of energy and made a few jokes, nicely done. For the Holiday there was a special menu that included a soup, egg roll or rib, entrée, dessert and a soda or glass of wine. Most prices were $20-25. The most often ordered entrees were included in the four page menu with a few specials on the page one. Take outs were available from the regular menu. The female server arrived to take our dinner orders, she was much less friendly, but efficient.

I ordered Hot & Sour soup, Egg Roll and General Tso Chicken. Soup was fair, not too hot, not too spicy, OK flavor but the ingredients were all in little pieces. The egg roll was pretty bad, small in size and mostly fried dough versus filling. Instead of individual sauce packets there was a metal canister with the duck sauce. It was pretty gross and was sticky on almost the entire exterior. I used my napkin the best I could to wipe clean. The spring roll looked similar and the spare rib was a measly, tiny rib. Everything looked pretty naked on the plate.

The General Tso arrived. Six large fried chicken nuggets sitting in a pool of sauce. China Garden used white meat versus dark (major kudos for this) and it was really well cooked, crispy on the outside and moist on the inside. But it was tepid, as if they cooked a large batch earlier, allowed to sit and then just added on top of a one of the sauces that was ladled onto a plate. The sauce was cool approaching cold. It had OK flavor. That was their version of General Tso Chicken, some previously cooked, cool fried chicken nuggets in a pool of cold sauce. We passed on dessert.

Overall, it was a mediocre dining experience. Given the circumstances I think they did a great job in keeping people calm and serving them on the busiest day of the year. When the kitchen is less in the weeds I hope they would be more focused and the food would arrive hotter and would be more than large chicken nuggets with sauce. But given the number of people looking for their meals, I will give them a free pass on the night.

Hudson’s (Delray Beach) – Monday, Monday…Blunder, Blunder

After a fabulous meal last year I was excited to return to Hudson’s. The reservation was for Monday and I always fear Monday nights as many chefs are off, and this visit confirmed that fear. It was a rough night in the kitchen, not only for our table but those around us who were complaining to the manager about the slow service. Watching the lack of food leaving the kitchen, they were sending whatever, whenever at the beginning until our table sent back 80% of the orders and then the manager intervened and there was nothing for quite some time thereafter. The first half of the evening was a mess.

Our party of five arrived a couple of minutes late (under 5 minutes), yet there was no table for five set. We waited while they rearranged a couple of tables, placed the plates and settings on the table and we were finally seated. We ordered a flatbread while we looked through the menu for our dinner selections. The menu describes the flatbread as roasted butternut squash, ricotta, sage, sunflower seeds and purple kale. It arrived and after one bite I knew that the Chef was not in the kitchen. There was no way this product met his standards. The squash was flavorless, there was no kale, the melted ricotta was already turning hard and there was zero seasoning. It was a far cry from the wonderful flatbread of the previous year.

For my entrée I ordered the Hudson Burger medium-rare with bacon (there was another burger order at the table). My wife ordered the salad with shrimp, as did her mom. The Hudson burger contains the patty, caramelized onion marmalade, and fontina, served with lime & black pepper pommes frites. For an addition $1 you can add bacon, which I added. When they arrived I cut my burger in half and it was beyond well-done, the other burger was equally incinerated, and we returned both to the kitchen. My wife asked me to taste the shrimp and it was inedible, completely overwhelmed by salt. Our table of five sent back four entrées, two burgers and both shrimp dishes. When I asked the server if the chef was in the kitchen she replied, “Chef Paul is off tonight.” No surprise.

Round 2 of both were properly prepared. The Manager approached to see how the re-fires were and said that the Chef cooked it himself, and she offered to buy us desserts. The meat was excellent, but the other ingredients were not so. The bacon was a touch salty, and the caramelized onion marmalade was from caramelized and further from marmalade, more quickly sautéed onions, crunchy and pungent and slapped on top of the burger. The kitchen added some iceberg lettuce and a scant slice of tomato that covered one-half of the burger. It was too bad the kitchen failed miserably on the first burger and the toppings on the second were diner-quality. Too bad as the meat deserved better.

For dessert I ordered the apple crumble with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. This was also very disappointing. It was better described as a bowl of crumble with a few slices of apples tucked underneath. I ate the ice cream, fished for the apples slices and a little crumble and called it a night.

The server was wonderful, she was pleasant throughout and handled the kitchen disasters with grace and charm. After I spoke with the manager about four out of five entrées being unacceptable, she professionally intervened, there was a hiatus and then the food started arriving at nearby tables. Major kudos to her, without her I think the entire restaurant would have packed up and left.

Obviously it was an incredibly disappointing visit to Hudson’s, the wheels fell off the kitchen, and it required a manager intervention before the ship was righted to at least move the meal from inedible and unacceptable to serviceable.

 

City Fish (Boca Raton) – Choose Carefully

A visit to a restaurant is for the food, the service and a couple of hours to relax and have time with family and friends. When a restaurant places a group of five at a round table for seven people the last of these desires pretty much goes out the window. Our visit to City Fish included that unfortunate occurrence. We asked for a smaller table immediately behind the one we were assigned and were declined. Yet 30 minutes later another group of five were given that table.

After we were seated and drink orders taken, two large baskets of bread and two large plates of butter are brought. The bread was warm and was very good, and the butter was spreadable. I ordered the snapper with sweet potato mash and seasonal vegetables. Others at the table ordered the scallops, the lobster frites, a crab cake and my wife wanted grilled scallops and shrimp with a salad. This would have met the requirements of the Fresh Catch and Salad Platter, but the server insisted she order the shrimp and scallop pasta Alfredo without the Alfredo (think Five Easy Pieces). She did not want pasta, but ordered it as well as a side salad. It was an arduous ordering process.

My Snapper and mashed sweet potatoes were delicious. Two large fillets were sautéed perfectly and the sweet potatoes were true to their name. The vegetables were significantly undercooked, borderline raw. Likewise there was little seasoning (easily fixable) and no lemon wedges (again easily remedied). The scallops were even better, seared on one side, to a rich golden brown, cooked throughout and sweet and delicious. My wife’s shrimp on the pasta was, unfortunately badly prepared, and inedible. It appeared they were first boiled, then sautéed and were drastically overcooked. The server was spot on, removed it from the table and the bill. The lobster frites looked pretty bad, the smallest piece of overcooked lobster I have seen in quite some time I was told it was delicious. The crab cake also looked very good.

Overall, I was very pleased with my fish and mash, and the scallops were fantastic, but the rest of the food looked pedestrian or was inedible.

Brasitas (Stamford) – Delicious Wine Dinner

brasitas_15_duckBrasitas restaurant is an oasis of quality Nuevo Latino Spanish cuisine in the east end of Stamford. Founded in 1999 by the late Jaime Guerrero, a graduate of the French Culinary Institute in New York, the bustling restaurant continues Jaime’s legacy through his family, who now oversee this location and its sister restaurant in Norwalk. Jaime’s vision of creating a vibrant atmosphere to showcase his dream of melding Nuevo Latino cuisine with the authentic Latin American traditions of his native Columbia is alive at both locations and the love is evident in the food and his children who continue his tradition.

Brasitas_15_exteriorThe Stamford location welcomes its guests with a brightly colored interior that immediately transports the diners from the hustle and bustle of the surrounding neighborhood to a Latin cantina. With fifty seats and a separate bar area, the vibe is upbeat and a perfect backdrop to the vibrant cuisine.

Brasitas recently hosted a Holiday Wine Tasting Dinner and invited CTbites to join fifty other revelers as they enjoyed Lapostolle Wines from Chile. The winery produces organic certified wines, with over 200,000 cases produced annually.

brasitas_15_salsaAs the crowd gathered, fried plantains and salsa were brought to the table. The salsa was delicious, a great balance between the onions and tomatoes with just a whiff of cilantro. When combined with the crispy plantains, it made for a relaxing way to spend time meeting others at the table.

brasitas_15_chicoryThe first dish to arrive was the “Ensalada de Endiva,” a salad comprised of a slice of fresh Burrata topped with grapes, Cape gooseberries, Marcona almonds, julienned chicory and a splash of aged Jerez vinegar. It presented great textural differences amongst the crispy chicory, the almonds and the creamy Burrata. The grapes and gooseberries were a delightful sweet-sour addition…but it was the earthiness of the almonds that was the key to the dish, elevating all of the ingredients. It was served with a Casa Lapostolle, Sauvignon Blanc 2014, which was a bright and crisp wine.

brasitas_15_oxtailThe next dish to arrive was the “Estofado de Rabo y Calabaza.” Served in a glass jar, it was a layer of Argentinian Parmesan polenta topped with cubes of braised oxtail intermingled with an acorn squash ragout. There was a great balance between the deep, rich flavors of the braised oxtail /acorn squash ragout and the polenta, with a touch of spiciness in the ragout. This was paired with a Casa Lapostolle “Cuvee Alexandre” Merlot, 2012, which is the label’s flagship bottle, and placed the vineyards on the global map. It delivered a light to medium flavor with the oxtail.

brasitas_15_bass_2The dinner moved back to a lighter course with the “Merluza.” A filet of Chilean sea bass sat atop layers of cauliflower risotto and a sea urchin emulsion, topped with pickled cauliflower florets and a small piece of sea urchin. The combination of the risotto and the emulsion was my favorite of the evening, further elevated with the addition of the small piece of sea urchin. The cauliflower was a delightful addition with a little crunch and sparked the dish with its sour notes. Unfortunately the fish was overcooked and did not offer that wonderful juiciness that I expected. It was served with a Casa Lapostolle “Cuvee Alexandre” Chardonnay 2013, a wine that is aged half in stainless steel and the other half in French oak, to offer a little nuance of the oak.

brasitas_duck_2For the last of the entrées, the chef prepared a “Pato Ahumado.” The sliced duck breast was served aside a purée of parsnip topped with a foie gras-quinoa croquette and topped with a parsnip and kumquat chutney. This was an explosion of flavors and textures and my favorite dish of the evening. The smoked duck breast was served medium-rare to allow the richness of the duck to shine. The chutney was a splash of flavor from the kumquats, which offered a fantastic sour contrast to the meat. The parsnip purée (becoming a staple on many menus) was delightful. The foie gras was a playful addition, appearing as a cracker until cut and then the melted foie gras oozed over the sweet purée. It was paired with a Casa Lapostolle “Cuvee Alexandre” Carmenere 2012,which is the Chilean equivalent of a Merlot.

brasitas_15_chocolateTo complete the evening dessert, the “Crema de Chocolate y Turron” included a slice of a Valrhona chocolate cremeux, a scoop of Cabernet sorbet, plus hazelnut turron and a swath of passion fruit. The cremeaux was luscious, creamy with a wonderful chocolaty-ness. When combined with the crunchy, earthiness of the turron and the sorbet, the flavors worked in complete unison. Unfortunately, the passion fruit and the cremeaux seemed to fight with each other, both too bold to work together. The wine for this course was a Casa Lapostolle “Cuvee Alexandre” Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, which was also one of the ingredients in the sorbet.

Overall, the atmosphere was uplifting and alive, the service very good and the Latin-fusion cuisine vibrant and delicious. I look forward to returning and enjoying many more items from the creative and inventive menu.

954 East Main Street – Stamford, CT 6902

203-323-3176

The location has extremely limited on-street parking, but the restaurant offers a valet on Lincoln Avenue just to the left of the entrance.

Really Liked

  • Plantains with Salsa
  • Cauliflower Risotto & Sea Urchin Emulsion (It needs a special call out)
  • Oxtail, acorn Squash Ragout and Polenta
  • Duck Breast with Parsnip Puree

Liked

  • Chicory and Burrata Salad
  • Chocolate Cremeaux

Needs Improvement

  • Chilean Sea Bass

The Cottage (Westport) – Great Start for Great Food

Cottage ExteriorChef Brian Lewis, one of Connecticut’s most influential chefs and celebrated for being on the cutting edge of the state’s dining scene, opened his new restaurant, The Cottage, this past weekend. It is Chef Lewis’ second Fairfield County restaurant, redesigning the space that formerly housed Le Farm into a charming 44-seat establishment in the heart of town. Known for his thoughtful and innovative dishes that garnered him accolades from The New York Times, Esquire and Connecticut Magazine, The Cottage features his highly revered seasonal American cuisine in a warm and relaxing environment.

The Cottage reflects Chef Lewis’ vision and represents his desire to produce a premier neighborhood destination serving the finest, locally sourced cuisine. The menu will be updated weekly paying homage to local farmers and artisans in the region that share Lewis’s commitment to exceptionally sourced and quality seasonal ingredients. “My wife, Dana, and I have fallen in love with Westport over the years, spending so much of our free time here with our boys, Jude and Jax. The food scene here, the community of chefs, and farmer’s market have always been a big part of my day to day life.”

Upon entry, a vintage factory window sanded to its raw steel greets the guests to the intimate restaurant, as arched top white wood mirrors create the illusion of more space. White wooden walls with dark grey accents, authentic oak wood floors stained white, and an antique mahogany bar dating back to the early 1900’s offer an ode to style influences of the past and Northern European tradition. Imported from Lille, France, the bar frames the kitchen with original brass brackets and finial details with glass shelving. Four wooden chandeliers exude warmth throughout the dining room, while aged wooden tables with custom painted chairs strategically occupy the floor. Fabric sconces highlight the hand hewn thick beams that grace the perimeter, as two industrial factory pendant lights in vintage style hover over the bar’s counter. A combination butcher block and Carrera marble counter offers four additional seats with a glimpse into the busy kitchen.

cottage_15_eggs_&_baconThe opening menu included hand-crafted dishes that were artful, yet approachable. Appetizers range from the simple Copps Island Oysters with Yuzu, and Ginger Mignonette, and Maple Bacon & Eggs with Robiola Cheese, to the more complex Sautéed Foie Gras with Vanilla Quince, Smoked Macadamia Nuts and Huckleberry. One of Chef Lewis’ perennial favorites, the Italian Chestnut soup spiked with Cognac, which I sampled at one of his pre-opening gatherings, was outstanding. The flavor, texture and richness of the soup was exceptional. With three pastas including Kabocha Squash Agnolotti, Foie Gras Cappelacci with Drunken Prunes and Almonds and Spaghetti with Lobster, the menu offered a glimpse of the creativity of the cuisine.

cottage_15_spaghetti_lobsterI was fortunate to secure a table for Saturday evening and enjoyed several more of Chef Lewis’s inspired dishes. For my first course I ordered an appetizer-sized Lobster Spaghetti with sea urchin and Calabrian Chili. The pasta was a fantastic canvas the accompanying flavors. The chilies added a mild level of spiciness and the combination of the sweet lobster pieces and the richness of the sea urchin was a great combination.

cottage_15_bunsBefore our entrées arrived the two of us shared the Wagyu brisket steam buns with Napa cabbage kimchi and duck fat potato tempura. When the plate arrived it was topped with two buns, several slices of brisket, sauce, aioli and the kimchi. I spread the sauce and aioli on the bun and added the meat and vegetables. The brisket was fall-apart tender and full of rich flavor. The kimchee added a nice offset to the meat and the sauces added a little creaminess. A touch of sweetness was added by the soft buns.

cottage_15_short_rib_pieThe four opening weekend entrées included Cod, King Salmon, a pork rib roast and a Short rib cottage pie. I decided on the Cottage pie, which included a small kettle filled with the short rib and topped with mashed parsnip/potato and Cipollini onions. They were accompanied in the presentation by a bowl of roasted carrots. The meat was fork tender, earthy and outstanding, smothered in a rich, silky sauce. The parsnip-potato purée added sweetness to the meat and the roasted carrots were a wonderful complementing texture and more sweetness. The dish was delicious.

The beverage program includes a robust collection of boutique wines from around the globe, served by the glass or bottle, to pair perfectly with Chef Lewis’ culinary style.

“Our cuisine is inspired by classic and modern cooking techniques, with a constant pursuit of finding the very best ingredients available,” Lewis continues. “The menu celebrates cultures of Italy, Spain, France, Japan and most importantly, our direct Northeast region so I am thrilled to finally open our doors to the Westport community and to the friends who have followed my career to this point.” After my first of many meals at The Cottage I am also thrilled.

The Cottage will be open for dinner from Tuesday through Thursday (5:30pm – 9:30pm), and Friday through Saturday (5:30pm – 10:30pm).

256 Post Road East. Westport, Connecticut, 06880