Spiga – Old World Meets New Italian in New Canaan

Spiga Wine Bar opened quietly in New Canaan a few weeks ago, offering a menu that combines old world Italian red sauce cuisine with modern interpretations of classic dishes. As reported in the CTbites Sneak Peek, the new owners redesigned the interior to offer a family focus for early guests followed by a hip environment as the evening progresses. During its opening weekend, my wife and I visited after a movie and then again with friends for a late lunch. On both occasions we were all impressed with the cuisine, but were a little taken aback by the noise. CTbites was subsequently invited by the owners to visit one afternoon to sample additional items, discuss the changes envisioned to the menu and how the owners are addressing the desire of guests to enjoy conversation with friends and family.

Every visit to Spiga should start with a selection of their Italian meats and cheeses. Ours included Prosciutto di Parma, Soppressata and Porchetta, Mozzarella cheese and olives. Each of the meats offered a different level of spiciness, from the mild Prosciutto to the spicy Soppressata, and all of them were delicious. They can be ordered individually or as a group of one to four meats with Mozzarella.

The menu includes numerous combinations of pizzas, from a simple Margherita to an elaborate “New England” with lobster. The crust of the rectangular shaped personal 12” pizza is crispy from edge to center, with only the slight bend in a slice when lifted. Some may choose to use a knife and fork; this might be a requirement for several of the “salad” topped pies.

I sampled three different combinations. My favorite was the “Calabrese,” which combined a layer of melted Mozzarella cheese and San Marzano tomato sauce, topped with the spicy Sopressata Calabrese and finished with drizzles of hot oil and honey. This sweet-spicy combination offered great heat from the sopressata and the hot oil, offset by a drizzle of the sweet honey. The cheese mellowed the heat and the sauce added even more sweetness.

The “Di Parma” started with melted fresh mozzarella plus chunks of fresh tomatoes and topped with a large mound of lightly dressed arugula and a generous portion of San Danielle prosciutto. The prosciutto was outstanding, with a delightfully soft texture and the cheese and sauce were delicious. I was not as big a fan of the dressed arugula as others, preferring an undressed version.

I was a little apprehensive when the “Roasted Beet” pizza was delivered. It included San Marzano tomato sauce, arugula, cubes of local roasted beets, goat cheese and drizzled with Balsamic reduction. This melding of a salad and pizza was very tasty. The cubes of beets worked well with both the mozzarella and the creamy goat cheese, adding a sweet earthiness to the dish, balanced by the peppery (and in this case undressed) arugula.

I sampled three of the small plates during my visits. My favorite was the “Fried Meatballs” topped with San Marzano tomato sauce, basil and Ricotta cheese. The meatballs were excellent, soft on the interior, surrounded by a crispy exterior and delivered great flavor with just a hint of garlic. The sweet San Marzano sauce was fantastic and the dollops of Ricotta added great creaminess to the dish.

I also enjoyed the “Roasted Brussels Sprouts,” and included a large serving of fried sprouts, paired with crispy pancetta pieces and finished with a honey truffle oil. The sprouts were perfectly fried, crispy on the edges and still firm throughout. The fried pancetta added wonderful salty-smoky flavor and with the cheese added just enough salt to perk the palate.

The last small plate was the “Portuguese Grilled Octopus” that was served with crispy Coppa, baby potatoes, and micro greens. The octopus was very tender, but the texture was off-putting and spongy, and it would have benefitted from a charring on the exterior and the soft textures continued with the potatoes. The crispy Coppa added a slight crunch to the dish, but the current version was not to my liking.

There are numerous salads, with my favorite the “Farro and Quinoa Salad,” served with avocado, cucumbers, scallions, heirloom cherry tomatoes, grilled fennel and finished with lemon-EVOO. The quinoa was a great earthy canvas for the other ingredients. The sweet cucumbers and tomatoes were balanced by the fennel and scallions, and brightened by the lemon dressing.

Another large salad was the “Campagna Salad,” with spinach, golden apples, fresh pears, roasted walnuts, cranberries, Gorgonzola cheese, and Balsamic vinaigrette. A large mound of spinach was surrounded by the sweet thinly sliced fruits, crunchy nuts and pungent cheese. Each forkful brought a different combination of flavors.

With pastas ranging from a home-style spaghetti and meatballs to lobster fettuccine, I decided to try a rich pasta and a light pasta. The “Short Rib Ravioli” was made in-house with a rich, meaty short rib filling encased in a thin pasta sheet and served with a wild mushroom marsala sauce. The deep flavor of the meat was complemented by the earthiness of the wild mushroom and the Marsala sauce. As the cool weather arrives, this will be an excellent comfort option.

On the lighter side, the “Linguini Vongole” was very good. A medium portion of house-made linguini was served in a simple clam broth, with an abundance of cockles, baby clams, roasted garlic, and seasoned with parsley and red chili peppers. The broth was flavorful with a hint of garlic. The pasta was just a touch on the thick side, and the pasta and shellfish were slightly overcooked.

The “Market Cioppino” was excellent. A bowl of lobster, shrimp, calamari, swordfish (this changes daily) and clams, swimming in a seafood tomato broth was served with grilled crostini. Each was perfectly cooked and maintained a soft texture. The broth was delicious. A little red pepper flakes on the table for those, like me, who prefer a little more heat would have made this a perfect rendition.

Overall, Spiga is delivering wonderful pizzas, small plates, salads and main course. I asked the owner about the noise and he told me that they purchased sound dampening material that is being installed throughout the dining area. Likewise, Spiga’s opening menu was very large (this is the owners’ first venture into New Canaan) and they wanted to understand the likes and dislikes versus their other restaurants. Over the next few weeks, the menu will more align with the tastes of the New Canaan guests.

Many thanks to Janes Beiles of Jane Beiles Photography for these wonderful photos.

136 Main St – New Canaan, CT 06840

(203) 920-1351

Really Liked

  • Meat Platter – Prosciutto di Parma, Soppressata and Porchetta with Mozzarella ($25.50)
  • Calabrese Pizza ($16)
  • Fried Meatballs ($9)
  • Roasted Brussels Sprouts ($9)
  • Short Rib Ravioli (Lunch $17; Dinner $20)
  • Market Cioppino (Lunch $23; Dinner $26)

Liked

  • Di Parma Pizza($16)
  • Roasted Beet Pizza ($17)
  • Farro and Quinoa Salad (Lunch $12; Dinner $15)
  • Campagna Salad (Lunch $10; Dinner $13)
  • Linguini Vongole (Lunch $18; Dinner $20)

Needs Improvement

  • Portuguese Grilled Octopus ($15)

The author was compensated for this review; the meal on the last visit was provided without charge. The opinions contained herein are solely those of the author.

Advertisements

Nosh Hound Food Truck Rolls into Stamford: Global Cuisine with Deliciously, Bold Combinations

Nosh Hound Eatery is the newest entry to the Stamford Food Truck scene.When I saw the post by my buddy over at Hey Stamford, I was curious. When I read his praise and a menu that really intrigued me, it had potential, and I decided to drive to Stamford and give it a shot.

Nosh Hound is the brainchild of owners Sam Ralbovsky and Maycie Maringer.  After graduating from the Culinary program at Johnson & Wales University and a three-month cross country food inspired road trip, they returned to Sam’s hometown of Stamford, CT. The two young cooks became enamored by the diverse cooking styles they encuntered on their cross country adventure and wanted to show their passion with a menu of “global cuisine experienced through the medium of sandwiches, snacks, and small bites.”

The menu is full of incredibly creative combinations. I smiled when I saw the heading “The Usuals,” which laid out combinations from Hamburguesa Americana (chorizo spiced beef, onions, Jalapeños, white American cheese and a chipotle “secret sauce”) to a VLT (smoked wild mushrooms, fried green tomatoes, arugula, sun-dried tomato aioli on rye toast). Nothing was “usual” about the menu. They start with foods that we all grew up with and then transform them with addition flavors and textures, inspired by various regions of the world, a Philly Cheesesteak with a Korean twist, a hot dog inspired by eastern Europe or a chicken sandwich with Latin flair.

The truck is new to the streets of Stamford, a mere three weeks, and they are still getting a feel for locations. The Facebook page states that they are parked on Summer Street across from the Ridgeway Shopping Mall on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but as I waited for my food I was told you might also find them parked in front of Dairy Queen and over at Landmark Square, or late at night in SoNo in the circle in front of Harlan Publick.

On my first visit I ordered two sandwiches, the Southern Sammy and the Korean Cheesesteak.

My clear favorite of the two was the Southern Sammy. It was outstanding. It included several pieces of buttermilk fried chicken, topped with slaw, house sweet pickles, Cajun aioli, and served on a brioche bun. With a few of the chicken pieces jutting from the bun I first tasted the fried chicken. It was perfectly fried, but I yearned for a little more seasoning on the coating. That desire for more seasoning was more than satisfied as I worked my way through the combination. The slaw was delicious, adding more crunch to the sandwich and the Cajun aioli was nicely spiced. The sweet pickles were sweet-spicy and the Brioche was a great complement to the ingredients. The sandwich was a great balance of spicy, sweet, crunchy, creamy and buttery. I highly recommend the Southern Sammy.

The Korean Cheesesteak was served on a traditional long roll and included Bulgogi, caramelized onions, melted white American cheese and Sriracha mayo. It was served open-faced and my initial thought was that if the taste was as bold as the visual appeal, it would be a great sandwich. Care needs to be taken to slowly close the roll prior to the first bite. It also offered an enormous boldness of flavors. Unfortunately, the beef marinade was a little overwhelming, much too much sauce, and then the spiciness of the Sriracha mayo kicked in. As much as the melted American cheese tried to balance the spicy-teriyaki, it could not. Likewise, the slivers of scallion that topped the sandwich added more pungency. I kept looking for the caramelized onions for some sweetness, but they were not present in my sandwich, a little growing pains mis-cue during assembly. Adjustment to the marinade could drastically improve this sandwich’s balance.

After my visit I reached out to Sam and Maycie and they were excited about the chicken and disappointed in the cheesesteak and asked me to return. There was great flavor coming out of that truck and on my second visit I enjoyed two new items from the menu plus a cheesesteak 2.0.

The Bangkok Fish Tacos included beer battered Mahi Mahi, coconut, peanut slaw, pickled Thai chile, and a red curry aioli. The thick pieces of fish were lightly coated to give just a hint of crunch while maintaining a juicy and soft interior. The flavors were enhanced by the red curry aioli, which added a little heat and the coconut and peanut slaw added some texture. The pickled Thai chilies added even more complementing flavors and left a nice amount of heat behind with each bite. It was a fabulous taco in both flavor and balance.

I was curious how they would blend a vegetarian option onto the menu with their bold creativity and the VLT quickly answered my question. Served on toasted rye bread, the VLT combined a lightly coated and fried green tomato, with smoked and fried wild mushrooms, arugula and a schmear of sun dried tomato aioli. The lightly coated tomato slice was a great canvas for the other ingredients. The mushrooms offered tremendous flavor, but were just a touch burnt on the edges, and the arugula and sun dried tomato aioli were perfect to brighten the dish and add some spicy notes from the peppery arugula. This is a vegetarian option that even a carnivore like me would order again.

They insisted I try their revised Korean Cheesesteak and I am glad I did. The marinade was complementing the beef, which was now the centerpiece of the sandwich and the inclusion of the two-hour caramelized onions added a wonderful sweetness. In addition, the melted American cheese and the Sriracha aioli were lessened and were in the background to add the Korean spiciness and umami to the sandwich. All of these changes created a superb cheesesteak.

Overall, Stamford has a new, and delicious, option with Nosh Hound. I really liked the fried chicken, it was delicious, the tacos were outstanding, a killer vegetarian sandwich and the revised cheesesteak that combines flavors from around the world. After two visits, Sam and Maycie can definitely combine bold flavors into delicious sandwiches. As they balance the meat and the sauce ratio, this will easily become one of the best trucks in the area and a must go-to. Check their facebook, twitter and website for their locations.

The author was compensated for this review; the meal on the second visit was provided without charge. The opinions contained herein are solely those of the author.

Citarella Greenwich – Fresh from the Dock to your Table

“I’ll meet you at the front gate at 5am.”

This email, which I received from Joe Gurrera, the owner of Citarella, required setting the alarm for 3:30am, grabbing two cups of coffee and driving the hour to the Fulton Fish Market in the Bronx. Visiting the new Fulton Fish Market was something I have always wanted to do, mingle with the best purveyors of the freshest and best selection of fish, just hours before it arrives at stores and restaurants in preparation for the day’s fare.

The history of Citarella dates to 1912, when a small fish shop opened in Manhattan. Over seventy years later, in 1983, Joe Gurrera purchased the shop and Citarella was born. Joe’s passion for fish started when he was a small boy venturing, in the dead of the night, to the original Fulton Fish Market. It was during these nightly excursions that he educated himself on the various fish and, more importantly, how to choose the best of the best.

Gurrera offers dock to table seafood to both leading restaurants and the home cook. With his ownership of wholesale seafood company Lockwood & Winant, he maintains his 40-year relationships with the wholesale fish vendors, and in 2007, he founded Meat Without Feet, a seafood supplier to leading restaurants. The combined companies occupy one of the largest spaces in the Fulton Fish Market. According to Gurrera, “We are the only company to handle every single item. They don’t handle crabs; they don’t handle shrimp. We handle everything.”

Until recently, Citarella had six retail locations, three in Manhattan and three on the East End of Long Island. Earlier this year, Citarella opened its inaugural Connecticut store, its first with an attached wine store. To oversee the wine program, Gurrera hired Sommelier Mary Schaffer, the owner of Napa & Company, a perennial contender for the best restaurant in Connecticut, and consistently praised for its wine program. Schaffer and Gurrera invited CTbites to visit the new Citarella and the Fulton Fish Market to gain a deeper understanding of the passion that is required to deliver the best produce, fish, meats and prepared food to its customers.

The history of the Fulton Fish Market begins in 1807 when it originally opened near the Brooklyn Bridge in lower Manhattan, serving fish as well as other goods. In 1822, the fish purveyors moved to the South Street location, between Fulton and Beekman Streets. The market was located in two buildings, the “Tin Building” and the “New Building,” which opened in 1939, three years after one of the original buildings slid into the river. Fish arrived around midnight and the activity continued through the wee hours of the morning.

After 180 years in downtown Manhattan, the Fulton Fish Market moved to its new, state of the art facility in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx in 2005, with 400,000 square feet of space, representing the largest consortium of seafood wholesalers in the country. It is estimated that about one-third of New York’s entire fish demand, and millions of pounds daily, is handled by these businesses, many owned by the same family for multiple generations.

The massive structure houses every imaginable form of fish and seafood. Upon entering, you are overwhelmed by the size, the activity and the speed by which transactions occur. A wide center aisle separates the two sides into streets. Boxes of crabs, snapper, bass, calamari, flounder and turbot are stacked six high, whole halibuts are presented on ice, and whole tunas lie next to those already filleted; soft shell crabs are neatly nestled like little soldiers in their boxes, lobsters climbing over each other and clams and oysters are encased in webbed bushels. The smell of the sea is everywhere.

Buyers and sellers first hug and then negotiate for the best price for the selected products. After the deal is completed, cups of espresso may be exchanged, friendships cemented generations ago continue each night, and then the packing and delivery begins, when speeding fork lifts move throughout, picking up orders and shooting down the center aisle to the loading docks. It is organized chaos mixed with ballet.

Once Gurrera’s buyers purchase the daily orders, the bounty goes to either the Meat Without Feet prep area for filleting and packaging for restaurants or to the building next door, which houses Citerella’s distribution center. Here, the fish is trimmed and prepared for retail sale at one of its seven locations or sent to the adjoining Commissary. The filleting of fish is joined by meats, which are trimmed, dry-aged, and cut for the stores. The enormous kitchen, affectionately named The Commissary, prepares millions of packaged products and meals per year, from salad, to soups, to cakes and cookies, each are prepared from scratch. On the day I visited, the Commissary was roasting dozens of peppers over twelve feet of open flames, the Chicken Française was being removed from the ovens, cookies and cakes were being frosted and decorated, imported cheese were being grated and packed, fruits and vegetables were being juiced and salads were being assembled.

Once packed, they are delivered to one of the seven Citarella stores. The newly opened Greenwich location is bright and airy. Upon entering, the colors of the produce grab the eye and the wonderful aroma of the ripe fruit hangs in the air. As you work your way through the store, you can choose from soups, pizza, pastry, cheeses, sushi, pastas and sauces, and the aged meats from the Bronx. In the rear is the full selection of the fresh fish and seafood that left the Bronx that morning. Grab a prepared meal or a basketful of ingredients to make a great meal at home; the dock to kitchen was now complete.

I learned a tremendous amount from my visit to the Fulton Fish Market, my time with Citarella’s owner, Joe Gurrera and I gained a deeper appreciation for the entire process of choosing the freshest fish, meats and ingredients that Citarella and Meat without Feet share with the home cook and many of the best chefs in Manhattan and the tristate area.

Citarella

600 West Putnam Avenue

Greenwich, CT 06830

(203) 861-6900