Sadelle’s (NYC) – Some Great Options

SadellesGo for the experience, stay for a few of the selections.

NYC is not void of smoked fish options, so how do you choose. Other than go everywhere, there are some that are better than others. Since we have never been to Sadelles, it was a chance to check the box on the must-do list. We made a reservation for a cold Saturday morning and were seated within 5 minutes of our time.

The tables are designed to maximize the number of people that can be served, smallish but they use every square inch plus the air rights above. They place a “tower” that you have seen used for cold seafood or two-tiers of pizza in the middle, and they place your plates on them. They also give each diner their own plate.

Latke Royale w Black Caviar

The four of us started with a “Latke Royale with caviar.” This is an “order with your eyes wide open” since the price for one is $80 with the black caviar. The single palm sized latke is first topped with crème, then slices of smoked salmon, a good amount of black caviar and chives, dill and cucumber juliennes. One is plenty for four people to enjoy a sample, and enjoy we did. The combination of the components was unbelievable. One member of the party suggested a second but we all decided against since we had more food on its way.

House, Scottish, SableOur table ordered the house smoked salmon, the smoked Scottish salmon and the sable. Here is where I have an issue with Sadelles. When you order three $24 smoked fish platter, limiting the diner to a single palm-sized bagel is an affront. For a table of four, please bring a half a dozen bagels.

The favorite was of the two salmons was the Scottish. This was perfectly smoked, delivered a healthy dose of salmon flavor and the texture was fantastic. The other two fishes were a distant second and third behind the Scottish. The house smoked salmon was barely smoked, if at all. I would best describe it a cold poached, there was no flavor other than cold salmon. While I did not like this one, one member of the table did, so it is a personal preference. The sable was not to my liking at all. This succulent fish was served much too salty, in fact I do not remember a saltier version anywhere. I would highly recommend tasting yours to see if it acceptable.

We also ordered the cheese blintzes. The wrappers were delicious, with a mild sweetness and the filling was luscious, albeit a little scant. Again, I am always surprised when the server and the kitchen are not “out of the box” thinkers with customers. We had a table of 4, they serve three blitzes to an order. Why not ask if the table would like four blintzes for an addition $5-7 dollars. A perfect win-win.

 

The bagels, although small, were delicious. They are made on site, in the middle of the restaurant and you can watch the process as you wait for your meal. I wish I had the option to enjoy more than one.

Service was spot on throughout the meal.

Overall, as much as I wanted to love Sadelles, but it just did not get all my love. The Scottish salmon and latke were spectacular, the cheese blintzes delicious, but the House-Smoked and sable were not in the same league.

Incredible Chicken @Le Coq Rico (NYC)

Whole Plymouth ChickenThe simple roasted chicken is elevated to new heights at Le Coq Rico. But expect to pay heavily for the experience.

While other restaurants add chicken to accompany other items on the menu, Le Coq Rico adds other menu items to complement the chicken. This is the epitome of take a concept, a Roasted Chicken, and do it perfectly again and again.

The dining room at Le Coq Rico is airy, relaxed and filled with reminders of the purpose of the restaurant, there are feather murals adorning the walls and each canister light on the ceiling is adorned with a descending single feather. The two-sided menu devotes an entire side to the variety of chickens available, each poached and roasted. The server is trained to offer a detailed description of each, guide you through the ordering process and instruct the table on the quantity that would satisfy.

We ordered two appetizers to share and two different chickens.

The Leek Vinaigrette with Hollandaise was divine. We were told that it won a cooking competition in Ireland and we were sold. The first surprise was the presentation. I originally envisioned horizontal logs with Hollandaise atop. But, it was served with the leeks vertically aligned in the center of the plate with the sauce. The leeks were perfection and the Hollandaise was a great accompaniment.

Terrine en Croûte of Duck Foie Gras was excellent as well. It was a decent slice, served with a jam. While this was a delicious rendition, the value for this option was a little expensive.

The Plymouth Chicken ($82) (above) is raised by Marlin Moyer from New Holland in Lancaster, PA. A whole chicken was served in a Staub cast iron pan, cut into eight pieces, plus the breast bone and spine. We chose to include the morel sauce and the coq au vin sauce in addition to the chicken jus that is included. This might have been the best chicken I have ever eaten. The flavors and texture were mild and soft, respectively, the skin was crispy without being burnt and the moistness of the entire chicken was heavenly. I highly recommend this one. All of the sauces were perfect, each different. If there are any morels left in the cruet, make sure someone eats them.

Stuffed Brune LandaiseWe also order a Stuffed Brune Landaise ($72). This was very different from the Plymouth. It was definitely more gamey and with the addition of the stuffing created a totally different experience. It was a much richer, denser dish. If it was not sitting next to its perfect partner, I would have enjoyed it much more. It suffered a bit from sitting aside the Plymouth.

Fries – All I can say is order them. The are absolutely perfect, maybe the best anywhere. Quarter-inch in size and long, the were flash fried to create a thin crispy exterior and a fluffy interior. Above perfection.

Overall, it was a perfect meal at Le Coq Rico. The food was fantastic, the room relaxing and the service spot on.

B’s Cracklin’ BBQ (ATL) – Sets a New Standard

B’s Cracklin’ has received accolades from Bon Appetit to Eater (full disclosure, I was a former Eater reviewer) and the pull of great BBQ was too much to resist. It was time to try what many on-line sites have called the best BBQ in Atlanta.

While driving west on Bolton a sign appeared telling me I was one mile from ground zero, and when I made the left turn onto Main Street I saw the unassuming building with the neon “OPEN” and the smokiness in the air told me I was about to have a great meal.

The parking is in the rear, picnic tables are assembled on the porch and you walk between two structures, each containing multiple smokers. This was once serious BBQ joint. The interior is completed with football logos, flags, shirts emblazoned with past SEC mega-games and a staff that can only be described as accommodating, friendly and proud to be part of B’s Cracklin’. There is enough seating for 50-60 patrons.

It was time to move onto the food; the menu was straightforward. It was a pretty easy decision what to order…I wanted to try everything that emerged from those smokers. The Sampler Plate let me do just that and contained chicken, ribs, and pulled pork, two sides and some corn bread, and for $4 you can add the brisket.

As you wait, you need to sit back, relax and have one of their beers or sweet tea (my choice) and enjoy conversation with your friends and family as it takes a while for the kitchen to assemble and deliver. Lots of orders between the in-house and numerous take-away orders. As I sat there watching an SEC football game, I sampled the three sauces on the table, a delicious tomato based which was sweet-tangy, a mustard based with just a hint of earthiness, and the spicy addition with vinegar. I would try each of these with the various meats.

My plate arrived, with a large mound of pulled pork, two ribs, two slices of brisket and a breast quarter of chicken. The mac & cheese and the baked beans (my two sides) arrived in very small plastic cups, not aligned with the large size of the meat portions.

Let’s start with what might be the best smoked meat I have ever eaten. The Brisket is life-changing for a carnivore. It was absolutely perfect. It was incredibly moist and the smokiness was just enough to tingle the palate. And then the seasoning kicked in and a huge smile cam across my face. There is no need for any sauce for these slices of heaven. It was a perfect 10+.

The other BBQ-nirvana were the ribs. The meat pulled easily from the bone, was succulent, smoky and beautifully seasoned. There is no need for sauce, if you are a traditionalist, but if you want even more flavor the sauces were fantastic accompaniments for the ribs. I have to give the ribs a perfect 10+.

The next stop was the pulled pork. As I looked at my mound I was a little concerned that the bark to meat ratio was a little too bark-heavy, and after one bite that concern was confirmed. The deep rich, crispiness and seasoning of the exterior was a little overwhelming to the succulent interior. The smokiness was great and some may think it was a little too smoky. Again, I added each of the sauces and each added a different profile, I really liked each. The meat was not quite in the league as the brisket and ribs and I can only give the pork an 8.

I am always concerned with how chicken handles smoke and was really impressed with the wings, they were delicious. Then I sliced into the breast itself and I knew this was not in the same league as the other meats. While the white meat was able to absorbed a moderate level of smoke, it was borderline dry, not to my liking. I would have to give the wings a 10, but the breast itself as an underwhelming 4.

Sides are always important with BBQ and baked beans have to be great. B’s Cracklin’s baked beans are spectacular. Great flavor and a few little tidbits of meat added a nice touch. Another 10. The Mac & Cheese was creamy and delicious. Almost as perfect as the beans and I would give them a 9. The cornbread was more a cornbread pancake, it was good, not great.

Overall, this is a fantastic BBQ place serving a variety of smoked meats. The brisket was phenomenal, the ribs perfection and the wings and baked beans were outstanding. The pulled pork needs a re-do and if I were to order the chicken I would definitely opt for the thigh quarter over the breast.

Bacchanalia (ATL) -Great Food Intertwined with Upsells

I heard so much about Bacchanalia that we decided to spend my birthday. On a Monday evening we drove what felt like to the middle of nowhere and then pulled into the parking lot. The building was a star oasis in the middle of the desert and the name Star Provisions was apt. The rear of this building houses Bacchanalia.

The room is light, airy and large tables throughout the back of the space. A long bar occupies the front. With only two tables occupied I was surprised that the hostess sat us right next to the front door and the hostess station. This was not a gracious welcoming. We asked for a much quieter table in the main part of the room.

The menu is fixed at $95 for four courses (there are many more served with all of the mini-tastings from the kitchen). My wife chose the Nantucket Scallops to start and the NY Strip for her entrée, plus the Turtle for dessert. I chose the Foie Gras…wait the server interrupted and told me the foie gras for the evening was a pate, not a piece of foie gras as stated on the menu. I asked if they could prepare as a piece as the menu stated and he checked with the kitchen. “They can but there will be a $15 supplement before it is a large piece of foie.” My antenna should have gone full 100% “upsell” but I stayed with that option, it was my birthday. For my entrée I ordered the Rohan Duck Breast.

Prior to the receipt of the first course, we received and enjoyed several nibbles. When the appetizers arrived the first item I noticed was the “large piece” of foie was smaller than my thumb, probably less than half an ounce, yes, less than half an ounce. And it was very seared on the exterior, very close to burnt. It was pretty good, not excellent and absolutely not justified in charging $15 more for an item that was EXACTLY as described on the menu.

Moving to the entrée, the evening reached deliciousness. The duck breast was phenomenal, albeit also on the smallish side. In this case the size was absolutely acceptable and the flavors were perfect. The honey and lavender were great complements. This is highly recommended.

Dessert continued the winning streak with the Apple Tart and the Turtle. The tart was delicious and the turtle was excellent.

Service was excellent but forced. Everything was “my favorite.” Even with our mentioning a food allergy, a dish arrived with that ingredient prominent in the presentation.

I think Bacchanalia is an excellent choice for a special, relaxed evening. The supplement for the dish exactly described on the menu is bad, telling me the reason for the surcharge was the large size of the foie and then the miniscule size set a bad tone. I would say that 75% of me loves the place and 25% of me place “emperor’s new clothes” status.

Dorsia (Boca) – Still the Best in the Neighborhood

16-chicken-saparielloWe returned to Dorsia and this is still one of my favorite restaurants in the area. From the minute you enter, the owners are welcoming, friendly and have a personal interest in all of the guests. It is like eating at a friend’s house. The service was flawless, prompt and knowledgeable on both of our visits.

16-eggplant-meatball-2

On the first visit the server mentioned that the special for the evening was an Eggplant Ball. I did not completely understand the server when he stated the dish and I thought it was strips of fried eggplant with sauce and cheese. When it was delivered in a bowl versus a plate I was not sure what it was until I took a forkful and saw it was an eggplant meatball minus the meat. It was soft and full of great flavor. The sauce was fantastic, great deep rich tomato flavor. The eggplant ball was a great choice; it is a little heavy for the start of a meal, but it was fantastic.

16-cannelloni-2

My entrée on the first visit was the Ricotta and Spinach Cannelloni. Make sure you have a hearty appetite if you order this dish. I struggle calling it cannelloni versus manicotti since it was a spinach-ricotta cheese stuffed pasta tubes topped with a tomato-meat sauce. Call it whatever you would like, I call it delicious. The spinach was fresh, not frozen, and when combined with the cheeses was delicious inside the pasta cylinders that were the perfect thickness and texture. The sauce was more a meat sauce Ragu with a small smattering of meat versus a thick and meaty Bolognese, but again, call it what you like it was superb.

On the second visit I ordered the Chicken Scarpariello. The server asked if I would like cherry peppers on the side. I thought that was a great idea and agreed. The dish consisted of a half a bone-in chicken cut into several pieces with red peppers, sausage slices, roasted potatoes and onions. The flavors were delicious. I did add a small piece of cherry pepper to one bite and these were extremely hot peppers, be forewarned if you are thinking of ordering them in the dish. The only drawback was the white meat was a little overcooked. Likewise, to manage expectations, the size of the half chicken was more a size of a Cornish Hen, just a head’s up, but it was more than generous as an entrée with all of the additions.

For dessert, we ordered the Tartufo, vanilla and chocolate ice cream covered in a chocolate shell with a little chopped hazelnut in the core. It was pretty basic but a good ending to the meal with a really good and generous single espresso.

This is still one of my favorite restaurants in the Delray area.

Seasons 52 (Boca) -Stick with the Flatbreads and Desserts

dessertsOur annual pilgrimage to Seasons 52 was interesting and not in a positive manner. As in previous years, we arrived for our reservation and the hostess escorted us to the noisy bar area. I just do not understand why the hostess failed to ask if we had a preference for the bar or the dining room. We declined and asked to sit in one of the dining rooms, a quieter part of the restaurant.

We shared the tomato and Mozzarella flatbread and the chicken pesto flatbread. I really like their flatbreads, they are the best items on the menu. The tomatoes were super sweet and the crust was crispier than previous years, and did not crumble apart after each bite. This year the chicken was moist and the arugula was also a good topping.

The shrimp and grits is more aptly described a shrimp mish-mosh. Throw a little grits on a plate. Then over-season some shrimp and sauté with tomatoes, chorizo and pancetta and throw on top of the grits. Just a bunch of competing flavors, each too much for the others. Best part was the tomatoes. There is very little on the menu that is worth ordering.

Desserts were brought over. I chose one with a bunch of different chocolates and a little cake. I really like this approach to dessert, order one or two to finish the meal.

In addition, our utensils were dirty, as well as the napkins. Service was novice. The server was obviously very new and management failed to train him adequately, he was very unfocused, just going through the motions. When asked what the evening’s ravioli was filled with, he responded, “nothing.” Really? I mentioned this on the way out and they thanked me and gave a certificate for the next visit.

On the drive home, we discussed having a few flatbreads and dessert the next time we go. Not a bad idea.

J. Alexander’s (Boca) – Sleek Spot with Challenging Food

16-burgerFrom the outside, this restaurant looks like an upscale Florida version of a NJ diner. Once inside, the enormous four-sided bar separates two dining areas with more a pubby feeling than NJ red p-leather booths. The menu ranges from a few unappealing appetizers, many salads and sandwiches, plus entrees. All of the food is prepared in the large, open-viewed kitchen in the rear.

On the first visit I ordered a bacon-cheese burger medium-rare with tomato and pickles plus fries. The menu stressed hand formed chuck daily so I was expecting a very juicy burger. It arrived already cut in half to show it was prepared properly. The first item I noticed was the size of the bun; it was incredibly tall and overshadowed the exposed patty, tomato, pickle, and the single slice of melted cheese; the bacon was hidden under the bun. The second item was the lack of juice extruding from the burger, even though it was chuck and cut immediately after leaving the griddle.

A quick taste of the meat. It was OK but had a bitter aftertaste. It was medium in grind with decent richness. The folded and hidden slice of bacon was also pretty good; the bun was OK but much too large. The two slices of tomatoes were excellent. Overall it was an OK burger but should have been juicier if it was chuck. The fries were horrible. The shoestring variety were cooked a little too long and then the kitchen doused them with salt, head snapping back amounts.

16-tacosOn the second visit I ordered the steak tacos. A swath of sour cream sauce was first shmeared onto three large soft tortillas and topped with a slice of steak, shredded lettuce and Monterey Jack cheese and finished with a little pico de Gallo salsa. The steak was prepared to medium rare. After one bite, I knew this was not for me. The steak was covered with a seasoning package that was both overwhelmingly salty and incredibly spicy. The salsa was also spicy. My wife offered half of her burger and when I tasted it, it was not even as good as the OK burger from the first visit, with a spongier consistency than my first visit. The server and manager asked if I would like something else, and they did a good job, but I chose to call it a night.

Overall Alexander’s exterior of a NJ diner rang truer with the food than the decor. An OK burger, very over-seasoned tacos, but fries that would never be served in NJ.

Atlantic Grill (Delray) – Beautiful Spot Deserves Better

16-scallopsLocated on Atlantic Avenue in the beautiful Seagate Hotel, The Atlantic Grille offers dining rooms with both visual appeal and a menu with a varied set of options. We visited on Christmas Eve so my disappointing entrée may have some justification from a less than full kitchen staff. We were seated on the covered portico overlooking Atlantic Ave., and I would suggest asking for this location in the future, since the only ambient noise comes from other tables, the music from the main dining rooms was filtered out when the doors are closed.

I ordered the Iceberg Wedge for my first course and the Pan Seared Scallops for my entrée.

The wedge was very traditional, with the quartered head covered with a creamy Gorgonzola cheese dressing, halved grape tomatoes and bacon. After I sliced the wedge into bite-sized pieces and mixed, it was a perfectly balance salad, the kitchen added just the right amount of dressing and bacon to lightly cover each bit. If you are looking for a bold cheese dressing, you will be disappointed as the dressing was a milder version of a Gorgonzola dressing, which I prefer.

When the scallops arrived, I was a little taken aback. The photo above is exactly how it arrived. There were five medium-sized scallops, not very large, haphazardly thrown on the plate atop the tiniest portion of parsnip puree I have ever seen. The haricot vert sat alongside the scallops (also appeared to be thrown on the plate) with sherry-bacon vinaigrette drizzled over both. My first bite was disappointing. The scallop was cooked properly but it had cooled from sitting in the kitchen, it arrived at the table just above room temperature. The others were slightly overcooked (interesting since they were only seared on one side), they lost all of their translucence. That would have been overlooked if the sherry-bacon vinaigrette did not completely overwhelm the scallops, creating a bitter combination. Again, that might have been overlooked if there was more than a tablespoon of parsnip puree on the plate to counteract the vinaigrette with some sweetness. The haricot vert were slightly undercooked as well. Over all it was a very disappointing dish. On a positive note, I tasted my wife’s pasta with shrimp in Marinara sauce and the shrimp were really well prepared.

Service was friendly and efficient throughout the evening.

Overall, I was disappointed in The Atlantic Grille but I am giving it some slack because it was Christmas Eve.

 

Ch’i Public House Opens in SoNo – Exceptional Asian-Inspired Cuisine

Ch’i Public House opened in late November in the space formerly occupied by Ocean Drive and Red Lulu on Washington Street in SoNo. The forces behind the new Asian-inspired restaurant are Rob Moss, Marco Siguenza and Dave Studwell, owners of neighboring Washington Prime. Overseeing the kitchen is Executive Chef Mark Taruna, whose long career spans attending the French Culinary Institute and working as the Sous Chef for Nobu Matsushisa at Nobu. He subsequently joined The Food Network and ran the Iron Chef kitchen where he worked with Morimoto, Mario Batali and Bobby Flay. He brings a new level of creativity to many classic recipes with bold flavors and textures, from the simplest dumpling to the most complex sauces.

Ch’i is a key concept in Feng Shui, defined as universal energy, the energy that surrounds us all, and the interior has been revamped to a vibrant, yet relaxed Asian motif. Your journey begins with a long entryway leading to the large bar area, with thirteen bar stools and sofas to seat ten guests. The two-story dining area features a floor to ceiling waterfall, with slowly trickling water cascading on small statues of Buddha and several other walls adorned with indented shelves that house additional Buddha statues. Off to the side is a private dining room, which can serve up to twelve people, with the main dining area offering two U-shaped booths for six people plus additional seating for 24 guests. The second-floor balcony has additional table seating for over 50 plus a second semi-private area with sofas for ten.

CTbites was invited to sample an array of dishes and I was so impressed that I returned a few nights later to enjoy others.

Start your meal with the Hot & Sour Soup. The enormous bowl is filled with a velvety thick broth loaded with crispy vegetables. The first notable difference from other hot and sour soups is the inclusion of large segments of numerous types of mushrooms. It delivered more a moderate spicy than sour, a balance that I enjoyed. If a lighter soup is desired, order the Miso Soup, which is slightly thicker, more flavorful and less salty than what is commonly found in the area. If you are looking for perfect fried dumplings, order the fried pork gyoza. These were paper-thin wrappers filled with minced pork and crispy vegetables. They were outstanding, maybe the best I have eaten.

My favorite smaller plate was the Yellowtail Tartare, which was beautiful to the eye as well as the palate. The diced tuna was encased in a ring of thinly sliced cucumbers, topped with thin wedges of avocado, small mounds of red and black fish roe, micro greens and plated with dollops of wasabi cream, yuzu and cucumber-lime sauce. The array of differing and complementing flavors was outstanding, the sweets balanced by a little hint of spiciness was fantastic with the yellowtail.

With a few shrimp options on the menu, the appetizer of Crispy Hong Kong Shrimp was so delicious we ordered it again on a subsequent visit. Five shrimp were lightly coated and perfectly fried and sat atop an outstanding sauce, surrounded by grilled thin asparagus spears and droplets of hoisin sauce. The moist shrimp were a great canvas to complement one of the most delicious sweet and spicy sauces. The dish presented a wonderful sweet-spicy-crunchy combination in very subtle manners. Add a touch of hoisin for additional depth

The Hamachi and Salmon Sashimi included eight large triangular pieces of fresh fish served with freshly grated wasabi and intermingled with thin lemon slices. The inclusion of freshly grated versus powdered wasabi enhanced the delicateness of the sashimi with a mild spiciness and floral tones.

Somewhat disappointing was the Beef Tataki. Ch’i’s interpretation included six chunks of beef (versus the traditional pounded) that sat atop a slice of cucumber and topped with vegetables and finished with crisped onions and sauce. The first piece was a little overcooked, while the second was much better. This would be a nice selection to share amongst a few guests.

The Toban Djan Shrimp was simple in its presentation, complex in its components, and fantastic. Toban Djan is a fermented paste that combines hot chilies with broad beans. Several large shrimp were fanned around a mound of onions and red peppers, topped with frizzled onions and served next to a cone of Jasmine rice, a smattering of asparagus pieces and sauce. The dish presented an abundance of flavors, from the slight spiciness of the sauce, supplemented by Thai basil, garlic and crab paste for additional umami, to sweetness of the peppers and onions, to the delicate and moist rice.

The beef Filet was delicious and presented yet another new flavor profile. The beautifully seasoned tenderloin was prepared to a perfect medium-rare and sat atop sautéed onions and red peppers and charred asparagus. It was accompanied by thyme and butter roasted red potatoes, which were crisped on the exterior and soft and creamy throughout. The complementing sauce combined a sweet-spicy chili paste, from the Szechuan province, with Toban Djan garlic butter, which elevated all of the ingredients.

Accompanying dishes received the same attention to detail. The Pork Belly Fried Rice was a large bowl of lightly soy accented rice, intermixed with an abundance of thin slices of roasted pork belly and diced red pepper. Instead of scrambling and including the egg within the rice, Chef Mark layered a crispy fried egg on top. Open the yolk to release its creamy goodness and enjoy the sweet pork intermingled with the slightly salty rice.

Desserts are both simple and elegant. The cylinders of pound cake were layered with vanilla ice cream, chocolate, Amaretto and reduced lychee sauces, plus lychees and caramelized pineapple segments. It was delicious.

Overall, the food is outstanding at Ch’i Public House. The environment is hip, exciting and filled with positive chi. With only a few weeks under its belt, Ch’i is experiencing some opening service issues. Seating, timing of delivery and the overall customer focus needs a little attention. But the food was well worth overlooking these minor annoyances.

Really Liked

  • Hot and Sour Soup ($6)
  • Shanghai Pork Ribs ($15)
  • Yellowtail Tartare ($16)
  • Crispy Hong Kong Shrimp ($14)
  • Pork Gyoza ($12)
  • Filet Mignon ($32)
  • Toban Djan Shrimp ($24)

Liked

  • Miso Soup ($7)
  • Beef Tataki ($14)

The author was not compensated for this review. The first visit was provided without charge and the author paid for the second visit. The opinions contained herein are solely those of the author.

Outrageous BBQ at Mason Dixon Smokehouse in Stamford

World-class BBQ returns to CT with the homecoming of renowned pitmaster Nestor Laracuente, who is overseeing the kitchen at Mason Dixon Smokehouse in Stamford. When I heard that Nestor was teaming up with Mason Dixon, I was ecstatic, the mounds of his perfectly prepared meats that I raved about at Hoodoo Brown were indelible etched in my memory. Would Mason Dixon fill the void that I have felt for months? Bottom line…yes, the food is spectacular.

Laracuente is a soft-spoken lover of meats and Southern rock who spent years perfecting his craft. After leaving CT last year, he returned to Brooklyn where he spent time with his buddy at Beast of Bourbon in Bed-Stuy. His time was spent experimenting with new rubs, new dishes, waiting for the right opportunity for his return to Connecticut. His newest venture, of which he is part-owner, opened a few weeks ago and it is slowly expanding the menu.

The interior is modern rustic, with rough-hewed-edged tables under Edison bulbs dangling from the ceiling, exposed brick from front to back along the right and a long bar on the left. There is seating to accommodate 85 at tables, another eight guests can sit at high-top tables overlooking the bar and more than a dozen bar stools. The walls are adorned with painted chalkboards proclaiming “Keep Calm it’s BBQ Time,” “BBQ is a Culture,” “BBQ is a Taste Memory,” and “Best BBQ in Town is Right Here.”

The bar offers eight beers ($7) on tap including Allagash White Ale, Bronx Pale Ale, Firefly Lizard’s Breath IPA and Stamford’s own Half Full Toasted Amber Ale. “Blue Collar Brewskies” are $4-5 and include PBR and Modelo Especial and an assortment of craft beers range from $5-8. Almost all of the beers are US brewed. Likewise, the bar offers a significant selection of US ryes, bourbons and single malts and a few Tequilas and Mezcals from Mexico. A craft cocktail menu includes named drinks Shallow Grave, Snake in My Boot and Austin-Tacious.

But the centerpieces of any BBQ joint are the meats and the sides, and Mason Dixon’s are slowly prepared in two 108” Lang smokers. The menu includes Appetizers of Macho Nachos with smoked brisket, QueTine, a BBQ poutine with a choice of BBQ over fries and finally smoked and deep-fried Wings. Three sandwiches are currently offered and include a Barnyard Rumble with both pulled pork and smoked brisket, Hogzilla with shaved ribs, Carolina pork and cracklin’ pork belly and a Black Friday with smoked turkey. Additional meats available for the Combos include St. Louis ribs, and smoked chicken. The sides include Brisket Beans, Mac-n-Cheese, Collard Greens, Cucumber Salad, Apple Slaw, Potato Salad, Seasoned Fries, Cranberry Sauce and Cherry-Carrot Salad.

I chose the Combo with three meats, cornbread and a side ($23), and elected the St. Louis Ribs, Brisket and Carolina Pork, plus the Brisket Beans for my side. When the platter arrived, I noticed the pork belly was present instead of the Carolina pork and the server was quick to bring me a separate portion of the pork, customer happiness is key.

The brisket was hand-sliced and delivered an abundance of juiciness and a moderate level of spice from the pepper-salt rub. There was a great smoke ring, with a thin strip of fat separating the crust from the meat, which was tender and rich in flavor. With a slight tug, the slices came part easily to enjoy each delectable morsel.

The St. Louis ribs were not only picture-perfect, they were perfect. Nestor’s new rub includes a hint of brown sugar to balance the salt and pepper rub and the meaty ribs were succulent throughout. The rub created a firm crust and a good level of smokiness. Avoid the urge to add any sauce to these ribs…let the meat and spices speak for themselves.

The Pork Belly at Mason Dixon sets a new standard. The large cubes were almost completely meat, nearly all of the fat was slowly rendered out. There was a thin layer of skin that was lightly crisped, just giving that little cracklin’ crunch when bit into. When a little sauce was added, it created a delicious canvas of flavors and fantastic balance of soft meaty texture offset by the slight crunch of the skin.

The smoked pork was also excellent. The portion included several large, thick slices of perfectly smoke pork. They were smoky, meaty and juicy. Of all the meats, the pork benefitted the most from the sauce as the rub was limited to the exterior of each thick cut. Adding the tangy and sweet sauce created a wonderful complementary balance to the rich pork.

The sides were equal to the challenge of accompanying the meats. The Brisket Beans was out of this world. The creamy beans were intermixed with chunks of brisket. The first bite took my palate in a different direction. While the other dishes focused on sweet and smoky, the beans brought in some spiciness, just enough to grab your attention. The house-made corn bread was moist, dense, with great texture. There was just a little touch of crunchiness throughout the piece, with sweetness kicking in from the thin layer of maple atop the cornbread. The carrot cherry salad was a little too sweet for my taste.

After my carnivorous extravaganza, Nestor stopped by the table. After he instructed the server to change the music to the Lynyrd Skynyrd station, I asked him what drove him in his BBQ passion. He slowly stroked his beard and told me “food is an important part of life…it brings people together. I saw the power of how a perfect piece of fried chicken could bring a group of teenagers together on a Sunday night. I then embraced the hardest parts of smoking, the rain, the cold, all to create the meats that would bring people together over a great meal. That is the power of food”

Overall, Mason Dixon Smokehouse is one of the best, if not the best, BBQ I have eaten in years. Nestor Laracuente has mastered the art of smoking, yet constantly looks to improve his recipes and his technique that already create flawless meats. Each and every bite brought a smile to my face, and I highly recommend grabbing a table, a large appetite and make sure you have a handful of napkins to wipe the sauce from your smiles.

78 West Park Place – Stamford, CT 203-817-0392

http://www.masondixonstamford.com

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