Terra Sole (Ridgefield) – Classic Italian with a Few Twists

jpork-chop_fotor

Terra Sole Ristorante is located in downtown Ridgefield, down the alley known as Big Shop Lane and sits atop another Ridgefield destination restaurant, Luc’s. The cuisine is based on Italian cuisine, with a few twists from the chef. Established in 2009, the restaurant is the brain-child of Lana and Pietro Polini. Petro was previously the general manager at Siena Ristorante in Stamford and brings his effervescent personality to each table he visits during the course of the evening. His family still resides in Puglia and Rimini, where they own and operate restaurants; serving the cuisine from southeast Italian is in his blood.

I was invited to a media event at the restaurant, and I am very thankful that I accepted. My colleague at CTbites had previously written a glowing review and I was excited to sample the chef’s cuisine. The interior is relaxing, with 55 seats in the main dining area and an additional 10 in the separate bar. There is a large patio where an additional 70 guests can enjoy the food, when the weather permits.

The evening started with a basket of bread, the focaccia is made on site and the other bread are delivered from Brooklyn. I dipped a piece of the bread in the olive oil and was transported to Italy…the olive oil was some of the best I have ever tasted. I asked Pietro about the olive oil and was informed that he imports it from Italy. This was a great start to the meal.

jtuna-tartare_fotor

After a plate of exceptional cheeses and charcuterie, we sampled several appetizers. The first was one of the specials for the evening, a tuna tartare. Large chunks of tuna sat atop a guacamole and fava beans, sitting in a pool of soy and finished with drizzles of wasabi cream. The al dente fava beans added an interesting textural contrast to the otherwise traditional presentation.

jfigs_fotor

This was followed by “Fichi Speck e Pistacchio.” Roasted California mission figs were wrapped in speck, and served with a dollop of whipped ricotta. toasted pistachios, and finished with a cherry sauce. This combination of sweet from the figs and the cherries was complemented by the salty speck. Served with a few slices of grilled bread this was a favorite of many at the table.

jmeatballs_fotor

The “Polpette” was the next dish, and the meat included in this appetizer changes regularly and range from beef to duck and foie gras. The current version is veal, and was served in a delightful San Marzano tomato sauce and finished with shaved Ricotta Salata and basil. The meatballs were delicious with a soft texture throughout.

jbrussels-sprouts_fotor_fotor

This was followed by the “Insalata di Cavoletti,” shaved miniature Brussels sprouts with toasted hazelnuts, crispy imported Pancetta in a truffle Parmigiano vinaigrette. It was served with Westfield goat cheese croquettes. The earthiness of the shredded sprouts was elevated by the addition of the truffle vinaigrette and additional crunch and saltiness from the pancetta. The highlight of this salad was the croquettes, that were soft, delicate and fantastic.

 

jcavatelli_fotor

We were also enjoyed two pastas; my favorite of the two was the Cavatelli. It was served with an incredibly deep and rich tomato sauce, that offered just a hint of spiciness.

jravioli_fotor

The other pasta was a Five Cheese Ravioli topped with a few sautéed mushrooms and drizzled with truffle oil. The pasta was the perfect thickness and the cheese-mushroom-truffle combination was fantastic, with the sautéed mushrooms highlighting the ingredients.

jpork-chop_fotor

My favorite dish of the entire night was the “Maile alla Scarpariello;” a double cut Berkshire pork chop stuffed with organic spinach & Westfield goat cheese, finished with Scarpariello sauce, organic escarole, and goat cheese mashed potatoes. The chop was rubbed with a spicy mixture and when paired with the hot & sweet cherry peppers and the sauce created a delicious combination. The mashed potatoes were delicious and the escarole rounded the dish nicely. As much as I loved this presentation, I would have liked it even more without the goat cheese stuffing.

jsalmon_fotor

The “Salmone allo Champagne” was also delicious. It included a Champagne poached king salmon topped with fresh horseradish and paprika and served with organic red quinoa & roasted organic vegetables. The salmon was moist and delicious and was a great complement to the red quinoa. The various vegetable added an earthy component.

jblack-cod-2_fotor

The other entrée was a pan roasted black cod with celery root and mashed potato puree, two varieties of Gaeta olives, capers grape tomatoes, and a swath of sweet pea and mint puree. Thick cut filet was incredibly moist and seasoned, and the Mediterranean style presentation created a plate of vibrant flavors. The sweet pea puree was a nice contrast to the other bold ingredients.

Throughout the dinner Pietro introduced wines he personally chose to pair with each course from one of the restaurant’s two hundred labels.

Overall, the food at Terra Sole was delicious, each dish started with classic Italian dishes and in many cases, were slightly modified. The décor, the service, the ambience and the exuberant host all make for a wonderful evening.

This was a media event. The author was not compensated for this review; the meal was provided without charge. The opinions contained herein are solely those of the author.

 

Great Potential at Winfield Street Deli (Norwalk)

Growing up in NJ, corner delis were everywhere. The biggest decision was whether to go to an Italian deli for a huge meatball, sausage and pepper or chicken parm sub (that is what we called them) or a Jewish deli for corned beef or pastrami (maybe a combo). I first heard ofWinfield Street Deli from Chris Hickey at The Spread, they recently changed the roll on their burger from a potato roll to a brioche from Winfield and it was outstanding. Bread this delicious from an Italian deli in the area required a visit and see if they were delivering great sandwiches.

The small deli is located just down the road from the East Norwalk train station, you will know you have arrived by the bright red awning welcoming patrons. Upon entering you are transported to an old-fashioned Italian deli. A large glass enclosed case fills the right wall, offering meats, cheeses plus a large array of house made salads. The left side has a single table for two plus two stools in front of a shelf to eat. The rear includes a display of the house made breads and pastries, fresh fruit and the ordering station. The walls are adorned with a TV and chalkboard menu in the rear, a large poster of Marlon Brando as the Godfather overseeing the single table and large cans of peeled tomatoes. The airwaves are filled with Channel 12 news intermixed with opera or the theme song from the Godfather. This is a true neighborhood haunt where everyone is addressed by their first name.

The menu includes an enormous selection of sandwich combinations, twenty-four already pre-determined, served as a wrap, on a Portuguese roll, as a wedge (subs for those of us from NJ), enclosed in hot pressed roll, on a toasted ciabatta or, in the case of the Godfather Burger, in a brioche.

On my visits I ordered a few different sandwiches on various breads.

My favorite was the #22, a house made Porchetta. Included in this combination was stuffed pork loin seasoned with garlic, basil, prosciutto, served on a toasted ciabatta with a swath of garlic mayo. The loin was moist and incredibly flavorful, and the crisped prosciutto added a nice level of saltiness while the garlic mayo delivered balance of creaminess and pungency. The toasted ciabatta was extremely thin and crispy, approaching cracker texture. As much as I enjoyed the sandwich I found the amount of filling was very modest and I would have preferred more substance to the entire sandwich.

The #14 is a Salciccia (pictured above), served on a hot pressed panino and includes Esposito Italian sausage, peppers, onions, Fontina cheese & basil pesto. A more accurate description would be a sliced sausage and melted Fontina cheese Panini. There was a scant amount of peppers and onions and mine did not have the pesto. That being said, the sandwich was still very good, but a little salty. It contained a combination of sweet and spicy sausage, of medium spiciness. The sauce and cheese were also very good and the grilled panini was an interesting change from a traditional sausage and pepper wedge. Like the Porchetta, I wanted a larger sandwich, and more onions and peppers and the inclusion of the pesto would have been a welcome addition

The last sandwich I tried was #13, a traditional Chicken Parmigiana. This third sandwich finally reminded me of an Italian deli from my youth, it was sizeable, with a little melted mozzarella and sauce peeking out of the edges of the roll. When I pulled the two halves apart, the cheese created that desired stringiness and I thought this would be a great sandwich. The chicken breast was pounded thin, coated in bread, it looked like the ratio of chicken to breading was really good. First the good news. The bread was outstanding and the cheese and sauce were delicious. Unfortunately, the breading was burnt, and the chicken at the edges was dried out. The chicken in the center of the sandwich was moist, but the flavor was lost in the burnt breading. I showed this to the staff and they were very apologetic, offered a replacement, a substitute or a refund. Good customer service after operator error.

Overall, I think Winfield Street Deli has great potential. The menu includes great choices and combinations. Italian delis are known for large, over-stuffed sandwiches; these were petit and a far cry from the size that I have enjoyed for over fifty years. Once the kitchen ups its game to include all of the ingredients and is careful not to overcook the featured meat this should be a great go-to Italian deli.

69 Winfield St., Norwalk, CT 06855

203.866.4348

Johnny Utah’s in South Norwalk – A Fun Time with a Side of Food

Fairfield County has some great bars with good old fashioned bar food…wings, burgers, fries, onion rings, cheesesteaks, with a wide variety of beers. Recently, many have expanded the menu to include tacos, chili, ribs, chicken and other down and dirty delicacies. When I received an invitation to join a media event at Johnny Utah’s in SoNo I was curious, since this bar also features a mechanical bull (spoiler…not happenin’).

The décor is college rathskeller meets Texas longhorn; long, wooden bars extending from front to back on both side walls, numerous high-top tables, tons of bar seating and “The Bull.” There are plaques of beers throughout, nine TVs on the walls airing sports, a large American flag comprised of beer cans, and on any given night the bar may sponsor a bull riding contest, line dancing or specials on some of the food. While we were eating, there were several groups that were having a blast. I felt transported back to my college days.

Johnny’s menu is pretty straight-forward, bar food that goes with beer. This was not haute-cuisine, farm to table, plates of well-constructed and balanced flavors and textures. This was down and dirty bar food. This was fried. This was sweet. This was sour. This was spicy. This was wings with a choice of more than a dozen sauces. This was a burger served between two grilled cheese sandwiches. This was 32-ounce, multi-person smokin’ rainbow colored drinks. This was foot high milkshakes covered in Reese’s bits or Oreo cookies, and for an additional $5…add a shot of booze. This was college bar food ready to down with pitchers of beer. And there is plenty of the latter, with a long line of taps on both bars, from Bud Lite to Fat Tire. I asked the bartender which was the best seller and she told me, “the late night crowd buys the Bud Lite and the Mermaid Pilsner.”

The menu includes fried appetizers, sliders, chili, four different salads, burgers, pulled pork and chicken sandwiches, ribs, fried chicken, fish and chips, and steak. Prices range from $6-11 for the apps, $9-$13 for the salads, teens for the sandwiches and entrees. I also asked the bartender which item sells the most and she said, “we sell a lot of burgers.”

We started with a few pick-up, lick your fingers appetizers; first the Philly Egg Rolls. The fried wonton wrappers were stuffed with shaved Philly steak, onions, and cheese, and served with Johnny’s BBQ sauce. Memories of burnt tongues forced me to wait until the incendiary melted cheese cooled. There was more fried wonton than filling, which lacked any discernable flavor. They were served with a BBQ sauce, not sure my friends from Philly would approve.

This was followed by a plate of Pickle Chips with chipotle mayo. The slices of sour dills were coated and fried. This was a whole lot of sour, and for a little heat dip them in the accompanying chipotle mayo. Again, they may be an interesting mate to a cold beer but not to my liking.

A trio of wings arrived next and the chef sent the Guinness, the PB&J and the sriracha. I was happy to see both the drummette and the wingette parts of the wing. The wings were meaty, a good first sign, lightly coated and still moist inside. I decided to work my way up the spiciness ladder. First the PB&J. It may take a little getting used to but these were not bad. A bite of sweet and the nutty butter. Onto the Guinness. These were sorta non-descript. Wings should have character, these were neither sweet, nor spicy, nor tangy, not a big fan of this rendition. Then the Sriracha. They were the traditional Buffalo wings’ iridescent red. And the spiciness was there, good kick and with a little dip into the blue cheese sauce, I would order these again. One out of three ain’t bad.

A small bowl of chili arrived next. This contained both beef and beans, but was more liquid than meat and beans. It was first cloyingly sweet and then the spiciness kicked in. I was not a fan and would probably pass on this.

Johnny Utah’s touts itself as a rib and burger joint and the ribs arrived next. The chef immediately told the table they did not have a smoker. They start with full slabs of ribs, dry-coat and slow roast for a few hours, then finish in a covered roaster with sauce in the oven. The meat was fall off the bone tender, but the texture was almost spongy and there was little smoke and less BBQ flavor, it was more steamed meat than what I was hoping would be a down home slab of full-flavored pork. Another pass, but was served with some delicious cole slaw, which I really liked.

The special 10-ounce grass fed burger is served on a brioche bun for $5 and with numerous toppings, each guest can design their perfect combination. Since we could each order our own combination for the burger course, I asked for my normal bacon-cheeseburger medium-rare and added the sautéed onions. This combination, with fries, would raise the price to $12, still a very reasonable price. The first burger that arrived was missing the bacon, the server did a quick round-trip to the kitchen. When I cut it in half it was more well-done than my requested medium-rare so they offered to re-fire. The second burger was raw in the center. Not a good thing from a place that sells tons of burgers. I did taste around the edges and the meat was OK, medium flavor, with a good level of juiciness. The brioche bun was great, from neighboring Winfield Street deli, but the bacon was non-descript. These two main events were disappointing. On the positive side the fries were good and the thinly sliced onion rings were outstanding.

No trip to Johnny Utah’s is complete without an enormous milkshake. Ours was the Oreo. A foot-tall marshmallow dipped glass arrived filled with a vanilla milk shake and topped with whipped cream and more Oreos. It was a fun way to end the meal.

Overall, Johnny Utah’s is a fun place serving bar food. All of the dishes are designed to accompany numerous beers, laughter, a few unintended falls off the bucking bull and watching sports on TV. Go for the food? Not really. It is what it is…go for a fun time.

Really Liked

  • Sriracha Wings (6 for $7.95 12 for $13.95 24 for $26.95
  • Onion Rings
  • Cole Slaw
  • Oreo Milk Shake ($10)

Liked

  • PB&J Wings

Needs Improvement

  • Philly Egg Rolls ($10.95)
  • Pickle Chips ($5.95)
  • Guinness Wings
  • Homemade Beef Chili ($5.95)
  • BBQ Ribs (1/4 Rack $11.50 1/2 Rack $17.50 3/4 Rack $23.50 Full Rack $27.50)
  • Burger ($12)

80 Washington St. Norwalk, CT

203-299-0711

This was a media event. The author was not compensated for this review; the meal was provided without charge. The opinions contained herein are solely those of the author.