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

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Old Greenwich Social Club

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Old Greenwich Social Club opened last November, replacing an area icon, Mackenzie’s Bar and Grill, on Sound Beach Avenue overlooking the Old Greenwich train station. The location is convenient for a drink with colleagues at the end of the commute, a relaxing meal with the family, dinner with friends or just relaxing at the bar.

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The brainchild of local Jed Simon, this newly reopened watering hole presents an atmosphere reminiscent of “Cheers.” The wooden double-door entrance leads directly into the large bar area dominated by a U-Shaped bar. On one side, numerous taps offer a wide selection of beers including Bronx “Uptown Rye,” Jack’s Abby Express, Alagash “White,” Thirsty Dog, Omnipollo “Shilkmake” and Two Roads “Session IPA.” To the right of the bar is the main dining area with booths, a long wood-topped table plus others covered with retro-vinyl. Adorning the walls are photos from years past and sports memorabilia. During the summer months, guests can enjoy their meals on the patio to the left of the bar. This is definitely a local-oriented restaurant. On the afternoon I visited, Simon was hosting a happy hour for local teachers who missed St. Patrick’s Day and hired a trio to perform.

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In January Chopped champion and celebrity Chef Alex Garcia joined OGSC. Chef Garcia was born in Cuba and has been at the forefront of the popularization of Cuban food with his association with numerous New York restaurants including Patria, Erizo Latino, Calle Ocho, the Copacabana Supper Club, Babalu Restaurant and Lounge, and A.G. Kitchens. Chef Garcia is slowly adding his nuances to a predominantly classic American-based menu, with a smattering of international dishes. In designing the menu, Simon was sensitive in maintaining several of the favorites from Mackenzie’s.

I was invited to sample several dishes as well as Chef Garcia’s additions.

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From the “For The Table” section the chef prepared the “Smoked Trout Dip” and the “Bacon Wrapped Dates.” The trout was an individual glass jar was filled with the fish paté, served with large, thin slices of watermelon radish, flatbread crackers, fried tortillas, with three gherkins protruded from the top of the jar. The dip was creamy, with a mild smokiness, and when combined with the gherkin or the radish atop one of the crackers, created a delicious balance. This is more a single serving than a table share.

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The dates included six almond stuffed dates were wrapped in bacon and served with a swath of Blue cheese sauce. The combination of the ingredients was delightful with a wonderful sweetness from the dates and the creamy cheese sauce. The thick slices of bacon were less salty than expected and the almond offered good textural contrast. While some of the wrapped dates were well prepared, the bacon on others was burnt.

The next dish was a sampler of three separate offerings from the “Small Plates” and “Between Bread” sections.

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My favorite of the three was the “Lobster and Crab Roll (right).” The filling was excellent. It delivered bright, crisp flavors, emphasizing the sweet lobster and crab meats with just a hint of pungency from the onion. The filling was held together with the slightest amount of Old Bay infused mayonnaise, nestled in a leaf of lettuce, all in a soft, buttery bun. The “Fish Taco” (center) was served on a single tortilla, topped with cabbage slaw and finished with a layer of Cascabel salsa. The lightly coated fish was perfectly fried. It would have benefitted from a touch of seasoning; it was a little bland. The slaw was delicious with the addition of julienned mango, which added a delightful sweetness. The “Korean Style Braised Short Rib” (left) included slowly braised short rib, that was shredded, slathered in an Asian BBQ sauce and finished with cucumber slaw. The meat was one of the best I have tasted, rich in flavor and incredibly tender, and the vegetables added a good level of spiciness. Unfortunately, the BBQ sauce overwhelmed the other ingredients.

The “Pat La Freida Burger” (at the top of the article) was served with a scant amount of melted cheese, a thin slice of raw onion, lettuce, and tomato on a soft potato bun. Accompanying the burger were seasoned fries, pickle slices and OG Sauce, and branded into the top of the bun were the OG initials. Prior to cooking the patty was seasoned with a variety of spices including salt, pepper, onion and garlic powder and then splashed with Worcestershire sauce. It was grilled to medium-well (that is overcooked for me), the grind of the meat was highly compressed (I prefer a loose grind) and the seasoning overwhelmed the meat. The OG sauce was a good addition to balance the bold seasonings and created a better combination. The seasoned fries were well prepared, although added even more bold flavors.

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The other entree was the “Glazed Salmon,” served over braised leeks and lobster mashed potatoes and presented within a vertical shredded potato ring. The salmon was finished with a glaze of Whisky-maple sauce and black pepper. The kitchen prepared the salmon to medium-well, was a little dry and benefitted from the sweet contrast of the maple-honey glaze. The leeks were delicious and worked well with the salmon but the lobster mashed potatoes were a bit bland.

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Save room for dessert, especially the Caramel Crème Brulée. The OGSC version was excellent, with an extremely luscious Crème topped with a perfectly melted sugar topping. This was one of the best crème brulées I have eaten in quite some time.

Overall, I really liked the menu that the Old Greenwich Social Club has created. It offers a diverse selection for moms, dads, kids and adults in an environment for locals to bring family, friends and colleagues for a relaxed time. There were several misses by the kitchen on my visit with seasoning and temperatures, but the bones are in place for Old Greenwich residents to enjoy a good time in a familiar watering hole with drinks and food.

Really Liked

  • Smoked Trout Dip ($11)
  • Lobster and Crab Roll ($18)
  • Crème Brulée

Liked

  • Bacon Wrapped Dates ($7)
  • Fish Taco ($13)

Needs Improvement

  • Korean Style Braised Short Rib ($14)
  • Pat La Freida Burger ($13; cheese or bacon add $2)
  • Glazed Salmon ($24)

148 Sound Beach Ave, Old Greenwich, CT 06870

(203) 990-3033

 

 

The National (Greenwich) “Ugly Burger” is a Beautiful Thing

rsz_160310_ctb_burger_3There is a new King of the Hill of hamburgers in Greenwich.

Since celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian opened The National several months ago at the lower end of Greenwich Avenue, I have received numerous emails telling me about its burger. On a sunny day I ventured to Greenwich, grabbed a table and ordered “THE NATIONAL UGLY BURGER” which includes Cabot Cheddar cheese, crispy Shallots, Ntl Sauce, and served with malt vinegar chips. I ordered it medium-rare.

The burger arrived and it was served on a wooden cutting board, with a pickle speared through the top of the bun. The melted cheese was oozing around the edges, dripping towards the serving board. The sautéed shallots were peeking from under the cheese, partnered with the edges of a single lettuce leaf. If the taste was as good as the presentation, this would be a great burger. The burger was accompanied by the chips that were vertically arranged in a separate metal vase.

After removing the pickle, I cut the burger in half and the interior was cooked exactly to medium rare. The patty was medium in size, possibly 5-ounces, with a nice crust and the interior presented a very loose grind. A quick taste of the meat…a medium level of richness, with at least two cuts. (A call to the restaurant after my visit confirmed the meat was brisket and chuck from Creek Stone Farm in Arkansas City, Kansas and ground in-house.) The cheese was thick, and expertly melted atop the patty with the sautéed shallots between the two. Not mentioned on the menu was a sauce that was shmeared on the Challah roll (from Royal Bakers in Danbury).

The first bite of the Ugly Burger was far from ugly…it was fantastic. The ingredients were perfectly balanced. The meat delivered a medium level of richness, was juicy and incredibly smoky. The melted Cheddar cheese was creamy and very nutty. The two unique and delicious ingredients were the sautéed shallots that were very sweet and the sauce, with a tomato-tanginess…they were excellent additions. And the smokiness that the wood-burning grill infused into the meat was more than outstanding. The challah bun was a great choice, not only with its taste but it did not disintegrate during the meal.

The burger was served with malt vinegar chips. Unfortunately, these were very disappointing. They were overcooked, nearing burnt, and over-salted. I only wish they would change the menu to include fries instead of the chips. With a $19 price tag for the Ugly Burger, guests deserve a better accompaniment.

Overall the National Ugly Burger was outstanding. It presented incredible flavors, perfectly prepared and delivered wonderful balance.

376 Greenwich Ave – Greenwich, CT 06830

(203) 861-6851

Little Pub Greenwich – Pretty Bland Burger

LP Burger 1The third location of the Little Pub chain in Fairfield County is located on Route 1 in Cos Cob a mile west of the I-95 exit. Upon making a left into the parking lot, you are asked to valet park your car, the staff told me it gets “pretty crazy” at night.

The exterior reminded me of a European country escape and the interior transports the guests to a northern European atmosphere with a large floor to ceiling stone covered two-sided fireplace with a smiling hooded character embedded above the hearth. Cast iron chandeliers hang from the ceiling and the walls are exposed woods to the vaulted wood ceiling, further enhanced by large wooden beams. The windows contained diagonal cross-bars and the floor is large planked reclaimed wood. The main dining room seats 60 guests with the bar offering an additional 10 bar stools and twelve seats at high-top tables.

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I was in the mood for a burger and the menu contained ten pre-determined burger combinations. I chose the “Steakhouse,” medium-rare served with thick cut smoked bacon, caramelized onions, melting cheddar and a swath of steakhouse mayo, and opted for the sweet potato fries as my side. When the plate arrived I tasted a few fries and was disappointed. They were bland, with no flavor or seasoning. I cut the burger in half and noticed that it was cooked more medium-well than medium-rare. My first bite continued the trend, there was no seasoning and it was highly compressed, losing all its juiciness. The onions tasted more boiled than caramelized. The bacon was well prepared and offered a touch of saltiness and the mayo added a little spiciness from the horseradish. The bun was a basic Kaiser.

I checked my notes from my visit to the Wilton location from two years ago and had the same reaction. We are both consistent. The burgers at Little Pub are just not to my liking.

Little Pub Greenwich on Urbanspoon

Steam Restaurant (G’wich) – Pan Everywhere Cuisine

With very little fanfare, Steam Restaurant opened on Greenwich Avenue serving a variety of Asian inspired dishes. Whether you are in the mood for Malaysian, Thai, Japanese, Chinese or one of a few other national dishes, Steam might have what you desire. The menu is divided into several sections including Dim Sum & Bao, Small Plates, Mix & Match, Ramen, Fried Rice and Noodles, Gourmet to Go, Vegetarian Selections and Soup.

There are few places that serve dim sum in Fairfield County, Steam has almost a dozen, ranging from Sichuan Dumplings to Roast Duck Buns. Small Plates and Salads include traditional Crispy Thai Spring Rolls, Thai Crab Cakes, Baby Back Ribs, Heirloom Tomato and Avocado salad, and a Grille Free Range Chicken Salad. The variety of dishes equals the variety of nationalities.

For larger dishes, choose a protein and a sauce and create your own dish from Ginger black Bean to Thai Curry, or move to one of three Ramen dishes with four different proteins, including baby back ribs. The Fried Rice and Noodle section offers four different rice and noodles from Fried or Brown Jasmine to Pad Thai with five different protein options. If you are looking for pre-determined combinations the Gourmet To Go section includes a Crispy Duck with Plum Sauce, a Clay Pot Sichuan Beef and a Thai Coconut Casserole. Vegetarian options are numerous and should satisfy those looking for a non-meat dish.

With most of the smaller plates priced under $10 and the larger ones under $20, Steam will be a cost effective option in Greenwich.

Steam on Urbanspoon

Primary Food & Drink – Brunch Service Starts This Weekend

BL DoorA few weeks ago I reviewed Primary Food over at www.ctbites.com after an outstanding array of incredibly creative dishes. At that time I heard they were introducing Sunday Brunch starting in April…and the menu looks incredible with Chef Merlin Verrier continues to place his spin on traditional recipes.

You can start the meal with a Bloody Mary, or in the case of Primary, a couple of Oyster Shooters, served in a bloody mary shot. One of my favorites from the dinner menu, the Beef Tartare is also available, plus a Potato Gnocchi with Mexican chorizo and green onions. For light meal, choose the one of a kind Deconstructed Caesar with the parmesan fluff stuffed twinkie crouton.

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Brunch always includes egg dishes and Primary has several very different and unique options. The Asparagus Omelet includes goat cheese and fine herbs and served with mixed greens and potato hash; or experience a visit south of the border with the Huevos Rancheros that is served with Mexican chorizo, black beans, cilantro crema and corn tortillas. With Passover just around the corner pair the Smoked Salmon with potato latkes, pickled onions, cream cheese and a little dill for a trip to the Lower East Side. And lastly why not sample the eggs and hash with potatoes and Brussels sprouts, and this is no ordinary hash, Chef Merlin uses duck confit.

BL Dining RoomThe ‘tweenie menu choices include a traditional Biscuit and Gravy; a Steak & Eggs; Pancakes with caramelized bananas and walnut crumb and Lobster Benedict served with has avocado and tomato on an English muffin.

Those who arrive with a heartier appetite can feast on an Ahi Tuna with tat soi, pickled daikon, cucumber noodles and soy caramel, Fish N’ Chips with fried pickles and Kennebec fries, or the Primary Burger (I see one of those in my future) with griddled onions and secret sauce on a toasted bun. And what Fairfield County brunch could exist without the current local favorite, Chicken and Waffles with honey granules, and dandelion greens.

BL Bar AreaSit in the front bar area under the Fab Four or in the rear leather and wood decorated dining area. I am looking forward to another great meal at Primary and sample some of these new recipes from Chef Merlin Verrier.

Primary Food & Drink on Urbanspoon

“V” Versailles Reopens in Greenwich – Sneak Peek

BL ExteriorVersailles has reopened on Greenwich Avenue. Considered by many as one of the best patisseries in the area before it closed, this is not a not a mere re-opening but a reincarnation; the new Versaille will not only feature the wonderful pastries that were a fixture on Greenwich Avenue, but the new owners will bring an expanded menu of bistro fare. And the new owner is none other than Marc Penvenne, a former employee of Versaille, who, with his wife Evelyne opened Méli-Mélo, across the street. “We couldn’t let Versailles go” Penvenne said “our goal is to do our best to continue its legacy so we waited to announce our opening and collected feedback from customers.”

Then the couple launched its grand opening menus.

Le Petit Dejeuner includes omelets, granola, pancakes and of course French toast, and do not forget the house-made patisserie items. Versaille’s Le Dejeuner menu offers an array of traditional bistro selections including Croque Madame or Monsieur, salads, patés and escargots or for those with a heartier appetite, Boeuf Bourguignon and Duck Confit.

As nighttime approaches Versailles transforms into an evening bistro with traditional bistro fare. From poached salmon to entrecote, to beef tartare and the ever-present roasted chicken, Le Diner menu will transport you to the streets of Paris. For a lighter meal, guests can order rillettes de saumon, a green lentil salad, escargots or a selection of cheeses or charcuterie. The menu is designed for both the Le Petit to Le Gourmand.

I look forward to checking out Versailles for an in depth look at the rustic country fare and if I happen to enjoy a few pastries as well, c’est la vie.

Versailles Bistro & Patisserie on Urbanspoon