My Top Five+ Fairfield County CT Dishes from 2013

2013 was an amazing year for food lovers in Fairfield County…several great restaurants opened, several chefs moved and are now creating incredible meals in new locations, several more restaurants announced their openings and I cannot wait.

During the year I enjoyed hundreds of courses in Connecticut and on my travels. With all of those flavors and textures, it was an incredibly difficult task in choosing my five favorite Fairfield County dishes for 2013. In fact, I did not since I couldn’t whittle the last one from this list, so it is six, plus three special categories.

Here are my favorite dishes from 2013:

  • elm – The “Tagliatelli Neri” is over the top umami heaven. The dish begins with hand-made cuttlefish ink pasta topped with Peekeytoe crab, sea urchin, sea urchin butter, Calabrian chili, garlic bread crumbs and brightened with Meyer lemon juice and oil. The flavors dance on the palate and textures from the silky pasta to the crunchy garlic bread crumbs, are like none I experienced anywhere else.
  • Match – “Pho” is an incredible Vietnamese soup that Fairfield County needs to embrace. The broth is made from oxtails, ginger, onion, cinnamon, and star anise. When served, thinly sliced rib eye is added and cooked and then finished with cilantro, noodles and Sriracha. This dish is absolutely magical in its complexity of flavors and textures.
  • South End – “Nonna’s Meatballs” are comprised of pork and veal (that’s right, no beef) that are lightly mixed with tons of sheep’s milk ricotta and Parmesan cheese, then lightly fried and cooked in a crushed tomato sauce. The soft and tender texture of South End’s meatballs separates them from all of the others…they are fantastic.
  • Nola –The “Poached Lobster & Cornbread Waffle” is one of my favorite combinations in the area with butter-poached lobster, Queso Fresco cheese, topped with a brown sauce served with sweet, crispy waffles. The outstanding flavors are complemented by the best brown sauce north of Mr. B’s Bistro in the French Quarter.
  • Mama’s Boy – The “Shrimp and Grits” just keep getting better. Perfectly prepared U15 white shrimp, red peppers, scallions, and Tasso sit atop Tennessee sourced grits and finished with a simple garlic butter, white wine, and cream sauce. The grits are my favorite and when paired with the shrimp create an outstanding dish.
  • Bar Sugo – The “Spaghetti Neri” includes squid ink pasta, smoked tomato sauce, shrimp, bread crumbs and Bottarga. The pasta and shrimp are complemented by the smokiness and spiciness of the tomato sauce, but the entire presentation is elevated by the Bottarga, which adds a delightful brininess to the dish.

Top Hamburger – The Whelk – Over 70 hamburgers comprised my 2013 Hamburger search and The Whelk’s hamburger was my favorite. Full of rich flavor, encased in a great bun and topped with some great cheese, onions and house made pickles.

Top Bolognese – Cava Wine Bar – My colleague at CTBites, Lou Gorfain, and I scoured lower Fairfield County for our Bolognese round-up and my personal favorite was Cava’s Gnocchi with Bolognese. What set this apart from the others was the soft, ricotta gnocchi that were pillows of deliciousness.

Top Pizza – Locali – This newcomer uses age-old pizza-making techniques, San Marzano DOP tomatoes and house made mozzarella. The flavors, texture and the perfect amount of char from the wood burning oven produce some of the best Neapolitan pizza this side of the Campo dei Fiori.

Bar Sugo 2.0 (Norwalk) – Enter Chef Paul Failla

BL InteriorSlightly more than a year ago, restaurant Bar Sugo opened on Wall Street in Norwalk featuring a variety of owner/Chef Pat Pascarella’s fantastic pizzas, meatballs and delectable pastas. Pascarella recently handed the reins of the day-to-day culinary oversight to Chef Paul Failla, and CTbites re-visited to taste Chef Paul’s cuisine and his creative spin to the menu.

BL Chef PaulChef Faillia attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park before accepting a position at Burger Bar in South Norwalk. His culinary training continued at Dolce in Norwalk, The Atlantic Grill in Manhattan and The Saltwater Grille in Stamford, where he met Pascarella. He subsequently worked with Chef Dan Kardos at The Whelk and was one of the opening chefs with Chef Kardos at NOLA Oyster Bar.

BL MenuWhen Pascarella first approached Failla about joining Bar Sugo, he was looking for a successor to continue his vision of “food that Italians eat every day” while allowing the new chef to add his individual flair to the dishes. Chef Paul accepted the challenge and he is already placing his mark on the menu, focusing on Italian small plates. Guests create their meal from a selection of cheeses with house-cured meats, Bar Sugo’s meatballs (a few modifications are already appearing), up to twenty Cichettis (small plates), six pastas, or one of six brick oven pizzas. He told CTbites, “We will change several items on the menu on a weekly basis.” After an initial visit Chef Paul is succeeding in presenting delicious and full flavored selections.

BL BurrataThe “Burrata Bruschetta” was served atop stewed garbanzo beans, arugula pesto and topped with toast points. The Burrata was ultra-creamy and mild in flavor and the Garbanzo beans added a touch of earthiness and a bit of a bite in texture. The highlight was the arugula pesto that added a little saltiness and nuttiness from the Parmesan cheese.

CTB Brussels SproutsBar Sugo’s “Brussel Sprouts” was paired with chunks of squash and sautéed with sherry and truffle honey, which created and crispy caramelized exterior. The Brussels sprouts were “like candy,” sweet, crispy and incredibly delicious. This is a great choice to share amongst your group.

BL OctopusThe “Octopus” was presented with orange segments, potato wedges, and kale chips, all coated with a harissa infused sauce. The octopus was soft on the interior with just a slight crispiness from the kitchen finishing the presentation on the grill. The octopus was flavorful and the orange segments added a little sweetness and offset the spiciness of the harissa. The kale chips added a little textural contrast but the seasoning was slightly uneven with one receiving all of the salt while the others were missing any hint.

BL Short Rib 2I enjoyed two of the meat options. The “Short Rib” was served atop celery root puree, plus a few fried oysters (not normally included but some local oysters arrived from Norm Bloom earlier in the day). Unlike many other wine-braised short rib preparations, Chef Paul veered slightly from the norm and developed an interpretation of a traditional English combination. The celery root was accented with a horseradish crème fraiche that was a tangy and enjoyable balance to the richness of the beef, creating a modified English Beef with horseradish sauce. The addition of the fried oysters was strange and was more confusing than complementary.
BL Lamb The “Millstone Lamb” was served over a puree of smoked sunchokes, bacon olives and crispy faro. The meat was exceptionally tender and flavorful and the puree added a mild earthiness to the dish. The crispy faro added a surprisingly delightful crunch. This combination was fantastic.

BL PastaChef Paul saved the best for last and a special call-out is required for his “Spaghetti Neri,” one of the best pasta preparations I have tasted. The squid ink pasta was served in a smoked tomato sauce with shrimp, and topped with bread crumbs and Bottarga. The pasta was perfectly prepared to al dente and the mild smokiness and spiciness of the tomato sauce was delicious. The entire presentation was elevated with the addition of the Bottarga, salt-cured fish roe that added a brininess to the dish that was fantastic. The shrimp were cooked perfectly with a slight crispiness to the exterior and a soft interior.

BL Pana CottaChef Paul prepared an “Apple Panna Cotta” for dessert, topped with an oatmeal streusel and finished with a drizzle of sweet caramel sauce. The apples were first steeped with cinnamon, which created a very mild apple flavor, I would have preferred more from the apple. The streusel added a great crunchiness to the dessert and the caramel sauce was delightful. This was a great way to end the meal.

Moving into the second year of business, Chef Paul Failla is elevating the culinary scene to an otherwise challenging location nestled between stores with similar signage. Once inside, the vibe is alive. The food is exciting and the prices allow for a reasonably priced dinner for a couple or shared plates for a family that will not break the bank while enjoying great company.

Outstanding:

  • Spaghetti Negri

Really Liked (In Descending Order}:

  • Millstone Lamb
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Apple Panna Cotta
  • Short Ribs
  • Octopus
  • Burrata Bruschetta

This review was originally posted on http://www.CTbites.com at:

http://www.ctbites.com/home/2013/12/1/bar-sugo-20-enter-chef-paul-failla.html

Bar Sügo – “food that Italians eat every day”

The culinary landscape of downtown Norwalk improved significantly with the opening of Bar Sügo, offering Italian cuisine that Chef/Owner Pat Pascarella’s describes as “food that Italians eat every day.”

Bar Sügo’s menu features a wide variety of cicchetti, e primi, and meatballs as well as larger servings of pasta and pizzas to accompany several beers on tap, including Allagash White, Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA, Strubbe Pils or Thornbridge Raven, or one of the numerous bottles of wine. The interior features a large red and white tiled floor, a copper-topped bar, rustic walls covered with large canvassed photos, with one wall dedicated to displaying the restaurant’s diverse selection of wines…the setting allows for a vibrant atmosphere to complement the delicious food. Chef Pat will prepare variations of Italian cuisine using fresh, flavorful ingredients and keep the price of each of the dishes under $20.

Pascarella graduated from the New York French Culinary Institute and subsequently joined the renowned kitchens of Mario Batali’s Esca and Scott Conant’s L’Impero before moving to Connecticut to cook at Bella Luna, Grand and Saltwater Grill, and most recently Pizzeria Cortina. He received local recognition as the winner of Stamford’s first Iron Chef Competition in 2008. Joining him in Bar Sügo’s kitchen is Sous Chef Joseph Italiano, who joins from Danny Meyer’s Eleven Madison Park where he was the Garde Manger. Together the duo is creating a delicious culinary tour of Italy.

The “salumi e formaggi” contain many wonderful house-made specialties including lardo, duck prosciutto and bresaola plus a delightful prosciutto di Parma and La Tur cheese.

The “cicchettis” (small snacks) include a wide range of options and guests can customize the choices into a mini-tasting menu.

The highlight was the maple glazed crispy pork belly, perfectly braised in a grape-accented beer and topped with a maple glaze and served with lentils and pickled and seared onions. The flavors of the dish seamlessly balanced the richness of the meat with the sweet and sour onions with just a touch of earthiness from the lentils.

For a lighter choice, I enjoyed the baby octopus served on a bed of frisée and the scallops al forno. The octopus was incredibly tender and the flavors were brightened by the addition of a hint of lemon. The scallops were perfectly seared and were accompanied by several of Chef Pat’s purées. On my first visit I enjoyed kabocha squash and apple purées while on the second visit, a celery root purée was substituted for the squash. Both were finished with droplets of 25-year old balsamic vinegar that added a slight sour background to the dish.

The “insalate e primi” contain several salads plus a host of delicious small plates

My favorite was the braised short ribs. The beef was braised in red wine, balsamic vinegar and tomato and presented atop faro, kabocha squash purée and garnished with a delightful gremolata. The meat was moist and extremely tender while the texture maintained the meat’s integrity. The squash and faro added a delightful earthiness plus the crunchy texture of the faro complemented the creaminess of the squash purée. The gremolata was accented with a little lemon and horseradish to give sour and spicy components.

Other options were a creamy Burrata with white anchovies, oil cured olives and cherry tomato confit, which was a light and delicious choice and the mozzarella “in carozza” (between bread) that was likewise served with the cherry tomato confit and finished with a broccoli rabe pesto. The contrasting crispy exterior and creamy interior of the mozzarella worked well with the sweet cherry tomatoes and the full-flavored rabe pesto.

The “meatballs” currently include six choices and Chef Pat offers a “meatball tasting.” The options ranged from a traditional “mommy’s meatballs” that were a delicious all-beef variety to my favorite “veal sweetbread meatballs with pearl onion agrodolce” that combined the slight tartness of the sweetbreads offset by the sweet and sour onions. The “pork meatballs” were incredibly moist and served with a whipped ricotta and the “Ox Hollow’s beef meatballs” offered the deepest flavor of the six choices.

The highlights of the menu were the “house-made pastas” that showcased Chef Pat’s talents, with the pasta cooked just short of al dente. I enjoyed the extra level of texture that each of the pastas brought to these dishes.

Chef Pat’s simple spaghetti with tomato and basil was full of bright tomato flavors and when combined with the meatballs from the meatball sampler plate, created a memorable and diverse spaghetti and meatball dinner.

The Bolognese sauce was outstanding and served with either Pappardelle or Cavatelli. Each presented a slightly different textural quality with the traditional pappardelle supplementing the rich sauce while the cavatelli played an equal co-star role. The Bolognese is one of the best in the area and included a touch of mascarpone cheese to create a silky finish.

The cavatelli with house-made sausage, broccoli rabe and almonds was a light and enjoyable alternative. The chicken stock based sauce was light and mild and complemented the other robust ingredients. The taggliatelle with wild mushrooms, farmer’s cheese and black truffles was another excellent choice and combined a large and diverse selection of wild mushrooms in a rich broth and finished with farmer’s cheese.

And pizza lovers can rest easier now that Chef Pat’s fantastic pizzas have returned and the new ovens are creating an even better crust. The pizza selections include many of my favorites from a simple Margherita that showcase the delicious tomato sauce and mozzarella to the ultra-extreme CTbites combination that includes Chef Pat’s delectable braised short ribs, potato, soft and sweet caramelized onions and topped with oozing eggs.

After only a few weeks, Bar Sügo is delivering outstanding Italian cuisine. As Chef Pat said, “this is the food I like to make”…and after sampling many of his dishes I say “this is the food we love to eat.”

Bar Sügo – 102 Wall Street – Norwalk, CT 06854 – 203.956.7134

This review was originally published on CTbites on October 28, 2012 at http://www.ctbites.com/home/2012/10/28/bar-sugo-opens-in-norwalk-w-authentic-italian.html

Bar Sugo on Urbanspoon