1020 Post (Darien) – Pretty Ordinary Burger

ctb_1020_burger_1Almost every time the subject of where to eat in Darien arises, the name Ten Twenty Post is mentioned. Some have also recommended the burger and the last time I ate their House Burger was two years ago…it was time to give it a re-try. When I arrived around noon the twelve tables on the rear terrace were beginning to fill and without a cloud in the sky, all of the umbrellas were open and people were either looking for full sun or hiding in the shade.

The server informed me that the “House Burger on Soft Roll” was served with Gruyere cheese (the current website states Jarlsberg cheese), lettuce, tomato and onion, with a side of French fries. I asked if they could hold the lettuce, tomato and onion and add a couple of strips of bacon. I also asked that it be prepared medium-rare. As I sipped my water I found I was in a very small minority, almost everyone was drinking beer or wine. It was a festive mid-week lunch for many.

The burger arrived. The exterior of the patty had a good sear, the cheese was nicely melted but the two strips of bacon were just thrown on top as one…both on one side of the patty, not a lot of care in its placement. The bun, which was a basic, soft bakery bun, was nicely grilled. There was a good sized mound of fries and several slices of B&B pickles.

ctb_1020_burger_2I cut the burger in half. My guess would place the weight in the 5 oz. range, and the size was more on the thin versus thick side. It was prepared a little beyond medium, much more than my requested medium rare. The grind was very compressed, and there was very little juice escaping. I first tasted the meat, it had a good level of beefiness, very good flavor. A taste of the bacon and Gruyere cheese gave me a different impression, both were on the bland side, and the bun was also not very flavorful. A bite of the combination gave a beefy flavor with the other ingredients adding little to the dish. There was just a hint of juiciness in my first taste but it became drier with each succeeding bite. By the time I started the second half, the burger was very dry. The fries were nicely cooked and seasoned and the B&B pickle slices were excellent. The cost of the burger was $17, which was high for its quality.

Overall it was a flavorful patty that was overcooked, causing it to dry out, with bland toppings. I previously rated the burger a “6” on my 1-10 scale, but given the blandness of all of the items (with the exception of the meat) I now rate the House Burger at Ten Twenty a “5”.

 

Frank & Frites (Darien) – Basic at Best

BL dog 2Franks and Frites is located in the same mini-mall as Gut reaction to the left of Palmers Market in Darien.  I was on my regular search for http://www.ctbites.com and dogs, burgers and fries were on my radar.  A small storefront at the end of the row welcomes guests with a “Hand Cut Fries” in the window, while the interior allows for ten guests at tables and another eight on stools. You order from the two men in the rear of the restaurant and they bring the food to your table in plastic picnic baskets.

BL dog 1I ordered a hot dog with a little mustard, a little sauerkraut and a little green relish, a bacon cheeseburger, medium-rare, and a small order of fries.

BL dog 3The dog in a basic potato roll arrived first, and the first item I noticed was that it was smothered in the three items I ordered “a little” of. The dog was griddled and offered a good snap when bitten with a good snap. The dog was salty and a basic dog. The sauerkraut and relish were non-descript, and the yellow mustard was as well. There was nothing special about this hot dog.

BL burger 2The burger was in the same category. I ordered medium-rare and it arrived medium-well. Two strip of overcooked basic was included and a single slice of un-melted American cheese sat atop the bacon, all encased inside another potato roll. The meat was bland and unseasoned, the bacon and the cheese were basic and the roll was cold. The fries were not even that good. They were un-seasoned, and while they were brown on the exterior, half were still hard on the interior. Neither of these items were not worth more than a few bites.

BL friesThere is no ketchup or mustard on the tables and they have the dispensers in one corner. There was not brown mustard available on my visit, but that would not matter.

I really wanted to like this place, but basic dogs and burgers and less than basic toppings on cold rolls is not a restaurant I would run back to.

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Bodega Taco Bar (Darien) – Outstanding Tacos

BL Bodega1A quick trip to Bodega Taco Bar in Darien was a great choice for lunch.

BL Bodega 2As I waited I ordered the original guacamole that is “Slapped to Order.” It arrived with a basket of house-made tortilla chips. The guacamole was delicious, but a little citrusy for my taste. It was chunky, with a good array of textures from the avocado, tomato, and jalapeños. The chips were more than enough for the portion size.

BLBodega 3It’s lunch so Tacos were the choice. The question was…how many and which? I decided on four and chose one from each food group. I ordered (1) “Baja” – panko crusted mahi mahi, pico de gallo, lemon aioli, (2) “Cochinita Pibil” – slow cooked pork, refried beans, pickled red onion, cilantro, (3) “Crispy Korean Chicken” – red pepper paste, Asian slaw and (4) “Argentino” – hanger steak asada, charred onion, salsa de chili de arbol, cilantro.

In order of my preference. The Baja was my favorite. The crispy fried fish was fantastic, and the toppings made this a perfectly delightful, bright flavored taco. Close behind was the Argentina, in which the flavors were the opposite of the Baja. They were rich and deep and earthy which the cilantro popping the flavors. I had no idea what to expect with the Korean Chicken but the menu should add the word spicy somewhere to give a head’s up. This taco delivered quite a kick to the unaware palate. Once I knew about the heat, bite #2 was more enjoyable, but there was a drop from the first two in my preference. Again, my least favorite was the pork. It may be me as I am probably the only person I know that is not a fan of the pork at Bodega or Valencia. I find it very bland. I should learn to travel down a different path in all of my future visits.

I really like the vibe, the décor, the servers, everything about Bodega. It will definitely make the power rotation.

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Scena – Fine Italian Dining in Darien

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Scena Wine Bar & Restaurant in Darien is serving delicious, modern interpretations of Italian cuisine under the direction of Executive Chef Eben Leonard. It is one of three restaurants owned by brothers Vicente and Kleber Siguenza (a fourth is schedule to open in Greenwich later this year) including Cava Wine Bar in New Canaan and 55 Degrees Wine Bar and Restaurant in Fairfield.

Chef Leonard traces his culinary passion to his early childhood in Chatham, New York when he prepared monthly dinner menus for his mother. As a teenager, Chef Leonard met his first mentor, Chef Urs Bieri, at the Elm Court Inn in Massachusetts, when Bieri hired him to work as a “chef” at the age of fifteen, teaching him many aspects of the professional kitchen. His aspiration was further enhanced as a line chef, “I loved the adrenalin, chaos, and speed. I loved creating the plates, making them perfect.”  After attending the New England Culinary Institute, Chef Leonard worked with Todd English at Bonfire in Boston and Olives in New York. In describing choosing his perfect career, he told me, “I was lucky to find something that I loved and was good at so young.  There is a good chance I would be working at a DMV or living as a ski bum out west if I hadn’t gotten that first dishwasher job.”

Chef Leonard joined Scena as its opening chef in 2009 and continues to oversee the menu of delectable antipasti, salads, pizzas, pastas and entrees. The wine list is extensive, comprised primarily of California and Italian choices, with over 200 labels and prices starting at $38. The decor is relaxing, the atmosphere is high energy, and guests can enjoy seasonal al fresco dining. During my visits I enjoyed many of Chef Leonard’s creations.

My favorite of the antipasti choices was the steak tartare accented with shallots and a touch of truffle oil. A quail egg sat atop the tartare, which itself sat in a pool of truffle paste, and served with parmesan crostini and shaved parmesan cheese. The tartare was outstanding with the rich flavors of the beef the focal point with just a hint of the shallot. When combined with the raw quail egg and black truffle paste the three created a luscious textual dish. The meat was ground to a consistency that allowed for a great textural balance.

Another delicious antipasti was the salmon tartare that was served at lunch and included chopped salmon sitting atop a small portion of guacamole. This tartare included cucumber and red pepper and these additions allowed the fresh flavor of the salmon to maintain the focus of the dish while adding a nice texture variation.

For a lighter and more refreshing summer choice I enjoyed the watermelon salad. The dish contained cubes and slices of red and yellow watermelons plus arugula, pistachios, a touch of saba vinaigrette and topped with grated goat cheese.  This was an extremely refreshing dish with the two melons delivering a slight variance of flavor, the pistachios added a little saltiness, the arugula a peppery background and the saba vinegar was a great complement to the sweetness of the melons. This was an incredibly delightful way to start the meal on a hot summer night

I also enjoyed two very different pasta preparations. My favorite of the two was the summer corn ravioli with mushrooms, fava beans, English peas, parmesan shavings and chives. The filling consisted of summer corn, shallots, garlic and charred corn with the addition of cream and a stock created from the corn centers. The fresh mushrooms, fava beans and peas complemented the pasta and added a light sweetness and crunchiness to this delicious dish. The second pasta was a taggliatelle with a Bolognese sauce. The house made taggliatelle was perfectly prepared and the Bolognese had a surprise ingredient, cinnamon. This addition may not be for everyone, but I found that the addition of this ingredient added an enjoyable flavor differential from the other Bolognese sauces in the area.

For entrees, I thoroughly enjoyed the seared scallops with poached lobster, potato gnocchi, heirloom tomatoes, and finished with thin slices of cucumbers and radishes. The U10 scallops were delicious and when I asked the source I was told that one of the owners travels to Hunts Point Market and personally hand selects all of the fish for Scena. They were perfectly seared and the thin slices of the cucumbers and the radishes added a great crunchiness while the heirloom tomatoes added a touch of sweetness. While the lobster added a level of elegance, the scallops worked so perfectly with the other ingredients that I think the dish could easily be served without the lobster.

The other outstanding entrée was the hangar steak with spigarello greens (from Mountain Sweet Berry Farm in Roscoe, N.Y), potato hash, soft egg, balsamic and a red wine sauce. Hangar steaks are one of my favorite cuts of beef and Chef Leonard’s version was delicious, an incredibly creative dinner version of steak and eggs. The large portion of hangar steak was perfectly cooked to medium rare and its deep and rich flavor was perfectly complemented by the spigarello greens, which have a broccoli-type flavor. The potato hash included extra crispy chorizo and corn with a soft egg on top. The steak was marinated in red wine, smoked paprika oil and soy and quickly grilled. I loved every aspect of this dish and enjoyed Chef Leonard’s modified breakfast classic as a delicious dinner entrée.

Overall, Scena Wine Bar & Restaurant is an excellent choice in Darien and I look forward to more visits to enjoy more of Chef Leonard’s delicious creations.

Scena Wine Bar & Restaurant, 1077 Post Rd., Darien, CT 203-662-3226

http://www.scenawinebar.com

 Originally posted by Jeff “Jfood” Schlesinger on www.ctbites.com on August 12, 2012

Scena Wine Bar & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Darien Social (Darien) – Two Strikes

US cheeseburgerI really wanted to like this place from recommendations and when I walked in I had high hopes. My first visit was very weird and like a roller coaster. I sat at the bar near the server station and ordered a bacon cheeseburger with fries and shoestring onions. It arrived very quickly. My first taste was the onions and they were excellent, some of the best I have ever eaten so I was pretty excited. The fries were not in the same league, basic fries, very pedestrian. Now I moved to the burger. I cut it in half, It had a good flavor but there was almost a bitter, vinegary taste to it, the bun was a little stale and I noticed they forgot the bacon, so I told the bartender. Now the unfortunate situation I faced. I was sitting next to a complete oaf. He harassed all the female servers (I have two daughters in their 20’s and it totally pissed me off) at the service counter and the bartender did nothing (other then pal with the guy) and the male servers did nothing, either. I was embarassed for all of them. The runner returned with a plate with my bacon slices. (My preference would have been for them to take the burger back to the kitchen and finish their job), I never had a chance to combine and try because the oaf leaned over and in earshot of the bartender made an incredibly rude comment to the lady seated on the other side of me. The bartender again played ostrich and put his head in the ground. I got up, packed my jacket, (oaf leaned over and apologized to me) asked for the manager, and told him that if his staff allowed that sort of behavior to other members of his staff and to guests, then I was leaving. The manager was incredibly embarassed and told me he would wander over and if he heard anything he would throw him out. Hope he did. In any event I lost my appetite.

Trip number two was much more pleasant, professional and gave me another chance to try the BCB. This time it arrived fully garnished. And it was encased in a different bun than the first time, this bun was much better. Again the beef was full of flavor, but bitter, with that vinegary aftertaste . Not sure what it was but it really took away from the rich flavor of the beef. And the fries were again not to my liking, this time some of them were undercooked.

Would I return…probably, but at this point it is not on the power rotation.

Darien Social on Urbanspoon

Estia’s American – Deliciously “Home-Cooked” in Darien

When restaurateur Colin Ambrose decided to follow his wife and three daughters and return to Fairfield County from the eastern end of Long Island, he brought a reputation for delivering creative farm to table cuisine. As the former owner/chef of Estia’s in Amagansett and the current owner of Estia’s Little Kitchen in Sag Harbor, Ambrose is celebrating his Darien homecoming by opening his latest restaurant, Estia’s American. After Ambrose settled on the location that formerly housed Ole Mole, he immediately set to create a rustic Americana décor that included American flags created from book spines, relaxing beach paintings and his personal collection of cookbooks and novels, including several by his uncle Stephen Ambrose. The restaurant will locally source many of the featured items capitalizing on the twenty years that Ambrose has worked in developing his unique cuisine. When I first met Ambrose, he was unloading a carload of local vegetables from a recent trip to Sag Harbor and the chalkboard on the rear wall mentions the local vendors and the farms, affectionately referred to as “Partners on the Plate” where many of the menu’s ingredients are produced.

Overseeing the kitchen is Ambrose’s long-time friend and associate Chef Carissa Waechter, a graduate of the Art Institute of New York City’s culinary arts program. Chef Waechter’s resume includes many of the great New York restaurants and pastry shops including Mondrian Pastry, David Burke, Donatella and Beacon NYC, and she subsequently joined the pastry team at the Dinex Group under Chef Daniel Boulud. While operating the Amagansett Farmers Market she met Ambrose and their professional friendship started. Like Ambrose, she is a loyal follower of the farm to table movement as witnessed in her line of baked goods, Carissa’s Breads, which is produced with locally grown and harvested ingredients.

The food at Estia’s is characterized by unique combinations. During the initial six weeks, Ambrose concentrated on the breakfast and lunch menus with the traditional breakfast items available at both services. In mid-May, Estias expanded the hours to offer dinner.

My favorite dish was the Red Flannel Hash that included two eggs prepared to the guest’s preference sitting atop chorizo, potatoes, corn, peppers and onions. Since I am a big fan of oozing yolks I ordered two soft poached eggs. The chorizo was bold in flavor, had a nice medium spice and the vegetables maintained their crunchiness. The corn brought sweetness to the dish and the choice of sweet potatoes versus traditional white potatoes perfectly balanced the flavors of the other vegetables. Overall I liked the bold and sweet flavors of this dish and next time I would order the eggs sunny side up to increase the yolky goodness.

The table shared an order of the Turtle Rolls as a pre-appetizer sampling. This all-vegetarian dish included avocados, onions, black bean puree and Napa cabbage encased in a flour tortilla wrap. The combination had a good variety of flavors with just a little spice and a touch cilantro. I thought this was a good introduction to Estia’s flavors and I recommend this dish to start the meal.

I have been searching for a good Cubano sandwich in Fairfield County and the Pablos Cubano prepared at Estia’s was a step in the right direction. Chef Waechter’s house-made bread was delicious and I enjoyed the Reynold’s Family Farm pulled pork and the perfectly melted cheese, plus the pickle added the correct level of acidity; although the sliced ham could have been more flavorful to match the other ingredients. Overall Estia’s Pablos Cubano was very good and I now need to search for other good Fairfield County Cubano sandwiches.

The Silvera’s Salmon Wrap included grilled salmon, arugula, salsa, mojo, bean puree, plus tomatoes all wrapped in a flour tortilla. For those who would like a less spicy entree for lunch, this is a good choice. The mild salmon was moist and flavorful and I enjoyed the addition of the arugula, which added a peppery flavor component and complemented the black beans and tomatoes.

There were two sauces that require a special shout-out and each added delicious flavors to the dishes. The red sauce is comprised of guajillo chili, onion, garlic and tomatoes, while the green sauce includes mint, parsley, garlic, jalapeño peppers and lime. Both were delicious and added a decent level of heat and flavor to the dishes.

After two months, Estia’s has refined the offerings I look forward to returning and enjoying many more.

1020 Post Road, Brick Walkway, Darien, CT

(203) 202-7051

estiasamerican.com

Originally reviewed by Jeff “jfood” Schlesinger on www.ctbites.com on May 20, 2012

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