Parker Mansion (Westport) – Burger Review

ctb_parker_16_burgerParker Mansion opened recently in the Saugatuck section of Westport and I received several emails telling me I needed to visit and try their burger. With the weather more aligned with a good burger versus a hot bowl of soup I decided to see if the buzz was justified.

Located amongst Fleischer’s, Kawa Ni, Rainbow Thai, Rizzuto’s, and The Whelk, Parker Mansion is the latest opening in the burgeoning Saugatuck restaurant scene. The free-standing building has a few parking spots in the rear (careful in the rain as it is unpaved) and the entrance is along the right side of the building. When you enter, the bar is located to the left and if you continue down the hallway there are stairs leading to the second floor dining room. The bar has eight stools with three TVs broadcasting CNN, ESPN and MSNBC. In the middle of the room is a high-top table for six, plus additional seating for fourteen at traditional tables. The upstairs dining room seats approximately 30 guests, with a balcony overlooking the Saugatuck River. The atmosphere is open with clean lines to the décor. I chose a table in the bar area and was promptly greeted by the server, who was excellent throughout my visit.

The lunch menu offers Entrée Salads, Daily Features (entrées), and Burgers & Sandwiches.

I ordered “The Parker…chuck, short rib, porterhouse blend, cheddar, the works” and asked it prepared medium rare. The server asked if I would like fries, onion rings or sweet potato fries and I chose the fries. I inquired about “the works” and the server told me it included lettuce, tomato, frizzled onions, pickle slices, and special sauce.

When the burger arrived the first item I noticed was the size, Parker Mansion gives its guests a nice-sized burger, the patty probably weighs 6-8-ounces. The frizzled onions sat under the patty, the single slice of cheddar was melted on top and was further topped with the shredded lettuce, a slice of tomato and pickles. These ingredients were all encased in a griddled Kaiser roll. It was priced at $11, including fries, which is a very good deal.

ctb_parker_cut_burger
I cut the burger in half and it was prepared just a tinge beyond my requested medium-rare. I tasted the meat and it was fantastic, some of the best meat I have eaten, this could be a major burger find. The meat was a small grind and was delicately handled for a loose texture…kudos to the meat and the preparation. There was just a touch of sear on the exterior of the patty, more would have been preferred.

Now for the test. I bit…the taste was the great meat plus the intense tang from the pickle. The rest of the ingredients were lost. How could this be? It looked so good. I decided to taste each ingredient individually. The cheddar was very bland, not a rich cheddar, the tomato slice was also less than flavorful (it was still mid-February), the lettuce was, well, shredded lettuce and the bun did not add anything. Several bites and each was the same burger-pickle combo. Such potential from the meat, lost. I tried a few of the shoestring fries. They were good and were cooked and seasoned well.

Overall, I was incredibly excited when I saw the plate and tasted the patty, the meat was fantastic. I thought this was going to contend for a top spot. Unfortunately, the other ingredients were not in the same league, and did not add to the overall combination. I hope Parker Mansion changes the accompaniments. With the quality of the meat, Parker Mansion has the potential to create one of the best burgers in the area.

541 Riverside Ave., Westport, CT 06880

203.557.9325

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Gates (New Canaan) Reopens

ctb_gates_16_bar_fotorWhen is Gates opening? How many of us have been asked, and have asked others, that question?

Good news…the anticipated re-opening is almost here and CTbites was invited by the new owners to sample several of the items that will be featured on the opening menu.

Gates, an institution that opened in 1979 as the first restaurant on Forest Street, was sold last year, and many residents compared the closing to the loss of an old friend.

Residents who have enjoyed a burger and beer at the bar or a family dinner in the dining room should feel a sense of excitement when the doors re-open very shortly. Those who have longed for that burger and beer at the bar or a family dinner in the dining room will again enjoy their meals at Gates – and yes, the name will remain ‘Gates.’ Diners will also find comfort in the direction that the new owners are taking to maintain the modernized nostalgia of this New Canaan institution.

They told CTbites, with children in the New Canaan school system, they wanted to create an inviting atmosphere where families can go for a great meal, and adults can enjoy a burger and beer in the bar. “Gates has been here for 35 years and we want it to be here for another 35 years.”

Gates is part of a larger, historical New Canaan institution that dates back over 125 years. Before looking at the new Gates, let’s rewind the calendar to 1882, when Henry B. Rodgers purchased, demolished and built the current structure using 650,000 bricks that were transported to Stamford by boat and on to New Canaan. Formerly a shoe factory, Rogers converted the space to manufacture clothing for the newest rage of that era, bicycling. Over the years it housed a shoe company, a linen shop, a drug store and a beauty shop. The first New Canaan gas lamp was situated in front of the Main Street entrance and Rogers was one of the first four residents in town who owned a telephone. The building has been embedded in the history of town and will be for years to come.

The interior of Gates has undergone a complete renovation under the guidance of Company K, a New Canaan based interior design firm. It now showcases the previously hidden brick walls and wooden beams. The new layout presents an open kitchen with “kitchen-bar seating”, and wood-topped tables under a newly coffered ceiling gently illuminated by retro lighting. The original iron gates that previously adorned the hostess area have been reconditioned and are floating between the bar and the dining area.

The centerpiece of the new bar area is an amazingly striking, refinished crafted metal bar fabricated by local artisan, Chris Curnan. Wood and metal booths offer an urban vibe for those looking for a more casual dining experience. The beverage menu highlights a wide selection of beer, ranging from local CT breweries to international favorites. The glass-front refrigerator behind the bar sports additional large and small label selections. Live music will be an occasional addition when dinner service begins to wind down on Saturday nights.

ctb_gates_16_chicken_2_fotorThe culinary concept for the new Gates is American comfort that, “will bring passion, heart and soul to the food.” It will feature a wood burning oven for a selection of artisanal flatbreads, plus a wood burning rotisserie to slow cook a variety of meats and poultry, each prepared to “melt in your mouth.” While these items act as the centerpiece for many of the entrées, they will also serve as the foundation in all of the sandwiches on the lunch menu. The opening menu will include a burger and hand-cut fries, Rotisserie Chicken, and assorted fresh fish and steaks. Several of these items were served during the pre-opening tasting and were delicious, an excellent indication of things to come.

The new Gates will be a destination for adults and families seeking a delicious meal, sports enthusiasts seeking a beer and burger in the bar, beer lovers thirsting for a wide selection of international and local brews, and couples looking to end an evening with a little live music and a nightcap.

Stay tuned as CTbites continues to provide additional details on the re-opening of Gates.

10 Forest St, New Canaan, CT 06840

EOS (Stamford) – Contemporized Greek Cuisine in Romantic Setting

ctb eos 16 dessert 2Eos Restaurant opened in 2008 by Nikki and Jimmy Glekas and his mother Dina Glekas Loukrezis with the goal of serving contemporary Greek cuisine. Chef Minas Sotirakopoulos recently joined the EOS culinary family and Nikki Glekas invited CTbites to sample a few of the newest additions to the menu, which blends the family’s Greek heritage with modern-day flair.

The interior of the restaurant is relaxed and inviting. The single dining room features a banquette along the entire right wall with seating for twenty plus an addition thirteen four-guest tables, nicely spaced to allow for normal conversation. Above the banquette are photos from the family’s recent visit to Greece while the opposite wall is adorned with wavy modular art, creating a relaxed aquatic feel reminiscent of a seaside restaurant along the Mediterranean. The mood is soft and romantic from the indirect lighting in the tray ceiling and carefully spaced, yet unobtrusive spot lights.

ctb eos 16 beans 2The evening started with three selections from the Mezedes (small plate) section. My favorite was the Gigantes. The giant butter beans were baked and served in a rich tomato sauce, and topped with small chunks of feta cheese. The beans were perfectly prepared to maintain a touch of bite and delivered a wonderful earthiness that was complemented by the rich, spicy-sweet tomatoes. The feta added a mellowness to the robust tomato sauce. This simple 3-ingredient dish was bold and superb.

ctb eos 16 salad 2The Prassinos Pyrgos was an amazing salad. It included fresh baby spinach, feta cheese, dill, and scallions, layered between toasted sheets of phyllo and finished with sesame seeds and a honey balsamic vinaigrette. The presentation was beautiful. The baby spinach was complemented by the pungency of the scallions and dill, neither of which I normally expect in a salad…and they worked. The feta added a mild creaminess and the dressing elevated the dish with a delightful sweetness.

ctb eos 16 octopus 2The newest addition to the small plate section is the Ospriatha. The dish consisted of grilled octopus sitting atop a mélange of lentils, white beans, chick peas, fresh vegetables (that included peppers and cucumbers) and finished with lemon vinaigrette. The dish balanced the tender octopus with a variety of textures in the vegetables, which also offered just a touch of spiciness. The octopus, itself, was a little over-charred, which lent a mildly unpleasant burnt taste to the dish.

For the main course, the Chef Sotirakopoulos prepared a table-sharing adventure with three entrees, including the Lavraki, the Paidakia, and the Pork Souvlaki.

ctb eos 16 entrees 2The best dish of the evening was the Lavraki, which included a whole char-grilled and de-boned Branzino sitting atop a sheet of toasted phyllo, itself covered with a Kalamata olive spread, roasted tomatoes and onions. This dish was spectacular. The filet was moist and delicious, and when combined with the olive paste, tomatoes and onions created an overabundance of brilliant flavors. It was one of the best fish combinations I have eaten in quite some time. A small sip of the Muses Mouhtaro further enhanced the dish.

The other delicious entrée was the Paidakia, a char-grilled lamb rib chop. The chop was first marinated in olive oil and lemon juice allowing the meat to absorbed just a hint of citrus. The texture was soft, yet firm and the chop was perfectly charred to enhance the richness of the lamb. The chop was served with a variety of grilled vegetables including roasted red peppers, Portobello mushroom, eggplant and zucchini, which added great earthy and sweet contrasts to the meat. The chef also included a few of EOS’ long standing Lemon Potatoes, which were delightful. The Megas Oenos red blend was well paired with the lamb.

The third entrée, the Pork Souvlaki was the singular mis-step of the evening. The cubes of pork tenderloin were marinated in a lemon-oregano marinade and char-grilled. Unfortunately, they were over-cooked, dry and chewy and I was not a fan of the seasoning.

Our dessert consisted of a trio of Greek specialties. My favorite was the Baklava. The filling was very dense and included both walnuts and almonds, plus cinnamon. This mixture was nestled between sheets of phyllo, and drizzled with honey. It was one of the best Baklavas I have ever tasted. The second delightful dessert was the Millefeuille, a wonderful dark chocolate mousse, served with chocolate-covered phyllo. The smooth and chocolatey mousse was delicious and it was the favorite of others at the table. The dessert trio also included a house-made yogurt, served with orange segments, strawberries, blueberries, all sitting in a small pool of honey. The yogurt was delightful, dense and was a great canvas for the sweet berries. Save room for all of these desserts. We enjoyed a split of Blink sparkling wine with the desserts.

Overall I really enjoyed my visit to EOS. The hospitality of the Glekas family is second to none, and the family’s hands-on dedication to the flavors of Greece are evident in each dish. Add a wonderful atmosphere in a lovely room and EOS is a restaurant I will return to often.

Really Liked

Gigantes (Butter Beans)

Prassinos Pyrgos (Salad between Phyllo)

Lavraki (Bronzino)

Paidakia (Lamb Chop)

Baklava

Millefeuille

Liked

Ospriatha (Octopus)

Yogurt with fruit

Did Not Like

Pork Souvlaki

490 Summer Street – Stamford, CT 06901

(203) 569-6250

Sunset Grille (St. Thomas) – Great Potential

Up and down a winding road to this off the beaten path bar-restaurant at the Secret Harbour Resort serving some pretty good food. It is divided into two areas, a bar with tables and a separate dining room overlooking the water. We decided on the restaurant side and the eight of us were seated at a very quiet table.

For my starter I decided on the Conch Chowder. It was a true chowder with lots of vegetables nestled in a broth. It was delicious. The broth was light (bacon would have really elevated the broth) with a good amount of flavor. There was a scant amount of conch and it was more a vegetable chowder than a conch chowder, but it was still delicious.

I chose the Seared tuna for my entrée. The sesame crusted tuna log was sliced and fanned over juliennes of three peppers, green, yellow and red. A smidgen of edamame puree and a finger full of mango gastrique joined the tuna on the plate. A separate plate of soy, wasabi, pickled ginger and rice was part of the presentation, sorta a do-it-yourself sushi. The tuna was perfectly prepared to rare, maybe very rare, which was perfect for me. It was rich in flavor, but was screaming for a complementary flavor. A little wasabi and ginger plus a dip in the soy created a delightful combination. I am not sure why the chef included the mango and edamame, first because it was less than a ¼ teaspoon of each and second, it was a completely different profile than plate #2. But the one bite that included the mango and tuna was outstanding, and a larger portion of both in lieu of the soy-wasabi plate would have created a delightful presentation.

For dessert we decided to share an order of pineapple upside down cake and an order of cinnamon bread pudding. I thought both were good, not great. If you are looking for a powerful end, then order the pineapple and if you are a big fan of cinnamon, the latter.

Service was spotty. During the order process our server was spot on then he was the invisible man. Several times we needed to go to wine bucket and bring the bottle back and pour our own wine. Since we were 8 people the 20% was already in the bill so there was no incentive for anything other than minimal service.

Overall it was a fun night with very good food. Would I return? Absolutely, it is St. Thomas not NYC and for the island it was a wonderful location with pretty good food.

Old Stone Farmhouse (St. Thomas) – Major Disappointment

Several years ago we journeyed to the Old Stone Farmhouse for a memorable meal. The food was delicious and the surroundings beautiful and after dinner we enjoyed a small combo in the courtyard. We wanted to return. The drive to the restaurant from the East End is a bit harrowing on a dark, winding road, and the turn onto the driveway needs complete concentration, but when you enter the building it is well worth the last quarter-mile.

Since our last visit, the chef and the management have changed, and neither was for the better. The highlights of the latest meal were the building and the server, who was outstanding throughout the meal. We arrived at 730 on a Saturday and by 815 we were the only table still in attendance, a bad omen and it was strange that with three separate rooms ours was the only one occupied.

The menu is divided into three sections with appetizers, salads and entrees. To start, the table ordered a couple of flatbreads, with toppings that change daily. The toppings that the chef was using on our visit included beef, jalapeño peppers, onions plus other vegetables, topped with an Asian hoisin-style sauce. The combination was not to my liking. It felt as if the kitchen decided to chopped the remnants of the ingredients from other dishes and piled onto the flatbread. It was a mish-mash of flavors.

For my appetizer I ordered the Local Fish Crudo (it was Mahi Mahi on our visit) served with sweet chili aioli, pickled jalapeño, radish, and watermelon. The plate was an wooden mini-artist’s paint palate. The cubed Mahi was spread across the upper edge, topped with a few thin slices of jalapeño pepper and thinly sliced radishes. At first glance I did not see the fresh fish under the two other toppings. Alongside the fish were small cubes of watermelon. The fish was very fresh, and very lightly marinated, barely a hint of citrus was evident. The peppers added a little spice and the watermelon a touch of sweetness. It was a basic combination of some regular components; good but nothing special.

I ordered the Grilled Pork Chop for my entrée. It was served with a smoky garlic polenta, pickled peaches, roasted vegetables with a drizzle of a bourbon peach reduction. It should more accurately as a large pork filet, the bone was removed and it was cut into four thick slices, and served atop the other components. I ate one of the end pieces first, my first impression was that it was a bit over-seasoned with salt and pepper. As I moved to one of the interior slices I saw that one half of the slice was medium and the other half raw, I was not about to eat raw pork. I spoke with the manager and the server and she immediately removed it. When it returned the two interior slices were now well-done and the other end slice was still half cooked, half raw, the kitchen did nothing to correct that slice. I was not amused and it was removed from both the table and the bill. I would classify the kitchen’s attempt to repair their mistake a complete failure on their part and the manager never returned nor offered his apologies.

Others enjoyed their entrees, which including the scallops, duck, Mahi Mahi and the special of the evening the Bolognese.

For dessert I ordered the black cherry cheesecake. It was an individual serving with the berries both embedded in the cake and a couple of squirts of sauce on the plate. It was creamy and very good.

Overall it was an incredibly disappointing visit to the Old Stone Farmhouse. The flatbread was horrible and the crudo was not to my liking. But the fact that the kitchen saw the pork was half raw after slicing it and still served it and then compounded this mistake by knowingly overcooking two of the three pieces on its re-fire and again serving the original slice of half raw pork is completely and totally unacceptable. While the manager was quick to remove the offending plate, he had zero follow-up. When it was sent back a second time, he should have come to the table. We were literally the only occupied table in the entire restaurant.

Mistakes happen and how a restaurant handles that situation is important. Serving raw pork was strike 1, returning the dish with well-done and raw was strike 2 and the manager lack of attentiveness was strike 3. The one star that is earned by the restaurant on this visit was the server, the only professional on site the entire evening.

Pirate’s Bite (Norman Island) – Great Place for Lunch

 

After a less than enjoyable lunch on the Willy T last year (no we were not expecting much) we decided to return to Pirate’s Bit this year for lunch. After docking the boat we wandered over to the newly rebuilt building and grabbed a table overlooking the water.

There were several large boats docking and we ordered quickly to stay ahead of these impending large orders. Even with our haste, the wait for the food to arrive was over 30 minutes, just a head’s up that you can easily plan for two rounds of drinks prior to the food’s arrival.

I ordered the grilled pork sandwich. It was served on a baguette and was delicious. It was accompanied by a spicy sauce and slaw, that added a nice crunch to the sandwich. French fries accompanied the sandwich and they were perfectly fried.

Service was excellent.

 

Overall it was a wonderful lunch on the beach on Norman Island on our way to the Soggy Dollar.

 

 

Oceana (St. Thomas) – Still Outstanding

Oceana SnapperEach year when we visit St. Thomas we schedule our special dinner at Oceana. Located within an historic building on a southern point in Frenchtown, Oceana blends the beauty of the building with incredible food. According to the website, the estate was settled in the 1670s and in 1894 converted to the Russian Embassy.

Drink orders were taken and delivered and the bread service commenced. I was a little disappointed in the butter. They were butter pats individually wrapped in the gold foil, a la a NJ diner. At these prices it was a major flaw in the dinner and management should be ashamed of itself for this decision.

For my appetizer I ordered the KURABUTA PORK BELLY AND DIVER SCALLOP, described as “Molasses Braised Pork Belly, Brown Butter Seared Scallop, Baby Spinach, Crispy Parsnip and a Spicy Tomato Jam.” It arrived on a long rectangular plate with the scallop and belly occupying the ends, respectively, and were separated by a dollop of spicy roasted tomato gastrique. I decided to work from the lighter side and started with the scallop. It was delicious, perfectly seared on both sides and when lightly dipped in the tomato jam created a wonderful combination. I was less enthralled with the cube of pork belly. The meat was flaccid and flavorless and there was barely a hint of the molasses. Dipping in the sauce made it barely passable, nowhere close to its plate counterpart. It was completely out of character with the preparations I have enjoyed over the years.

The special entree for the evening was a surf and surf, freshly caught red snapper plus seared gulf shrimp, served with purple potato mash and butter beans. The snapper was excellent, beautifully seasoned and prepared, with a touch of crispiness on the exterior while moist and juicy on the interior. They worked perfectly with the potatoes and beans that added a touch of earthiness. The issue with the shrimp was that they were sitting next to the snapper. They were very good, maybe a little under-seasoned, but the snapper was just outstanding.

Others ordered a variety of entrees and one needs a special mention, not for the centerpiece but the accompaniments. The garlic shrimp were served with “Asiago Grits” and a “Local Season Pepper Gastrique.” The grits were outstanding and the sauce was spectacular. The sweet and spicy balance was divine; this was one of the best gastrique I have ever tasted.

I ordered a trio of ice cream for dessert. Be advised that the amount of the trio is probably half in total of a regular order of ice cream. The three flavors were chocolate, apple-cinnamon, and almond. The chocolate was a light chocolate. My favorite was the apple cinnamon which was delightful.

Service was exceptional, spot on and not invasive.

Overall it was a wonderful dinner. Many restaurants back in the US can learn excellent food and service from Oceana.