The Cottage (Westport) Burger – Top-Tiered

16_cottage_burger_marrowChef Brian Lewis’ return to the Fairfield County restaurant scene has created quite a buzz over the last few months with his opening of The Cottage, plus an “Excellent” from the NY Times. With the summer months approaching it was time to see if Chef Lewis’ burger is deserving of that same distinction.

Simply named “Burger & Fries,” it includes Gruyere cheese, bacon-onion jam, fries, plus an option for a side of bone marrow (a recent addition). I ordered it medium-rare, included the bone marrow and was asked if I would also like some charred ramps on the burger since they were in season, yes to all.

It was served on a large wooden cutting board, the tall burger sitting aside the bone with a fork protruding from the top to scoop out the garlic topped marrow. The thick patty was seared to a crusty exterior while maintaining a perfect medium-rare on the interior. After one bite of the meat I knew this was a special burger, it was incredibly deep in flavor, probably the richest of any I have tasted and, as it cooled, the flavor intensified. The melted Gruyere was full of nutty goodness. Then the bacon-onion jam hit the palate…this was the best topping of any burger I tasted this year. It delivered an incredible amount of smoky and sweet, and included large chunks of bacon to textural offset the soft and luscious onions. The fun part, the bone marrow, was a treat that I very much enjoyed. Placing a dab on the burger added a level of decadence. If offered the ramps I would definitely choose to include them, they contributed a wonderful earthiness and the grilled sesame seed bun held all of the ingredients together with no issue. The fries were perfectly crisped on the exterior and soft on the interior, and lightly salted.

The Burger & Fries at The Cottage was outstanding. It is one of, if not the best burger in the area and it is absolutely worthy of an “Excellent” distinction.

256 Post Rd E, Westport, CT 06880

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The Cottage (Westport) – Great Start for Great Food

Cottage ExteriorChef Brian Lewis, one of Connecticut’s most influential chefs and celebrated for being on the cutting edge of the state’s dining scene, opened his new restaurant, The Cottage, this past weekend. It is Chef Lewis’ second Fairfield County restaurant, redesigning the space that formerly housed Le Farm into a charming 44-seat establishment in the heart of town. Known for his thoughtful and innovative dishes that garnered him accolades from The New York Times, Esquire and Connecticut Magazine, The Cottage features his highly revered seasonal American cuisine in a warm and relaxing environment.

The Cottage reflects Chef Lewis’ vision and represents his desire to produce a premier neighborhood destination serving the finest, locally sourced cuisine. The menu will be updated weekly paying homage to local farmers and artisans in the region that share Lewis’s commitment to exceptionally sourced and quality seasonal ingredients. “My wife, Dana, and I have fallen in love with Westport over the years, spending so much of our free time here with our boys, Jude and Jax. The food scene here, the community of chefs, and farmer’s market have always been a big part of my day to day life.”

Upon entry, a vintage factory window sanded to its raw steel greets the guests to the intimate restaurant, as arched top white wood mirrors create the illusion of more space. White wooden walls with dark grey accents, authentic oak wood floors stained white, and an antique mahogany bar dating back to the early 1900’s offer an ode to style influences of the past and Northern European tradition. Imported from Lille, France, the bar frames the kitchen with original brass brackets and finial details with glass shelving. Four wooden chandeliers exude warmth throughout the dining room, while aged wooden tables with custom painted chairs strategically occupy the floor. Fabric sconces highlight the hand hewn thick beams that grace the perimeter, as two industrial factory pendant lights in vintage style hover over the bar’s counter. A combination butcher block and Carrera marble counter offers four additional seats with a glimpse into the busy kitchen.

cottage_15_eggs_&_baconThe opening menu included hand-crafted dishes that were artful, yet approachable. Appetizers range from the simple Copps Island Oysters with Yuzu, and Ginger Mignonette, and Maple Bacon & Eggs with Robiola Cheese, to the more complex Sautéed Foie Gras with Vanilla Quince, Smoked Macadamia Nuts and Huckleberry. One of Chef Lewis’ perennial favorites, the Italian Chestnut soup spiked with Cognac, which I sampled at one of his pre-opening gatherings, was outstanding. The flavor, texture and richness of the soup was exceptional. With three pastas including Kabocha Squash Agnolotti, Foie Gras Cappelacci with Drunken Prunes and Almonds and Spaghetti with Lobster, the menu offered a glimpse of the creativity of the cuisine.

cottage_15_spaghetti_lobsterI was fortunate to secure a table for Saturday evening and enjoyed several more of Chef Lewis’s inspired dishes. For my first course I ordered an appetizer-sized Lobster Spaghetti with sea urchin and Calabrian Chili. The pasta was a fantastic canvas the accompanying flavors. The chilies added a mild level of spiciness and the combination of the sweet lobster pieces and the richness of the sea urchin was a great combination.

cottage_15_bunsBefore our entrées arrived the two of us shared the Wagyu brisket steam buns with Napa cabbage kimchi and duck fat potato tempura. When the plate arrived it was topped with two buns, several slices of brisket, sauce, aioli and the kimchi. I spread the sauce and aioli on the bun and added the meat and vegetables. The brisket was fall-apart tender and full of rich flavor. The kimchee added a nice offset to the meat and the sauces added a little creaminess. A touch of sweetness was added by the soft buns.

cottage_15_short_rib_pieThe four opening weekend entrées included Cod, King Salmon, a pork rib roast and a Short rib cottage pie. I decided on the Cottage pie, which included a small kettle filled with the short rib and topped with mashed parsnip/potato and Cipollini onions. They were accompanied in the presentation by a bowl of roasted carrots. The meat was fork tender, earthy and outstanding, smothered in a rich, silky sauce. The parsnip-potato purée added sweetness to the meat and the roasted carrots were a wonderful complementing texture and more sweetness. The dish was delicious.

The beverage program includes a robust collection of boutique wines from around the globe, served by the glass or bottle, to pair perfectly with Chef Lewis’ culinary style.

“Our cuisine is inspired by classic and modern cooking techniques, with a constant pursuit of finding the very best ingredients available,” Lewis continues. “The menu celebrates cultures of Italy, Spain, France, Japan and most importantly, our direct Northeast region so I am thrilled to finally open our doors to the Westport community and to the friends who have followed my career to this point.” After my first of many meals at The Cottage I am also thrilled.

The Cottage will be open for dinner from Tuesday through Thursday (5:30pm – 9:30pm), and Friday through Saturday (5:30pm – 10:30pm).

256 Post Road East. Westport, Connecticut, 06880

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.

Best Restaurant Burgers in SW Connecticut – #4 elm Restaurant (New Canaan)

Before Chef Brian Lewis opened elm restaurant I was forewarned that his hamburger was extraordinary. And yes it is. When the restaurant first opened the burger was still in the distance, but once the Sunday Brunch offerings were in place, this burger made a huge mark on my palate. It is an exceptional pairing of flavors and textures and is a further indication of the genius that Chef Lewis brings to the kitchen.

bl2 elmThe “elmburger” is another winning dish created by Chef Brian Lewis. The burger started with an incredibly flavorful meat topped with soft and sweet caramelized onions and a layer of melted Gruyere cheese. The caramelized onions were the best that I sampled on my travels and the Gruyere added a slight nuttiness to the dish. (The cheese changes often). Unlike any other burger in the area, the elmburger sits atop a swath of Sriracha aioli that added just a touch of heat (the only burger tasted that included a spicy component) to take the flavors to another level. The bun was toasted and a delicious addition to the meal. The burger was served with thick cut fries.

Read the entire list of best Restaurant Hamburgers at http://www.ctbites.com at:

http://www.ctbites.com/home/2013/5/19/ten-best-restaurant-burgers-greenwich-to-new-haven-2013.html

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elm Restaurant Opens in New Canaan

At 5:44PM on the first day of spring, March 20, 2012, the kitchen at elm Restaurant in New Canaan hummed to life as it received an order from the dining room. This was no ordinary order, it was the restaurant’s first. The order ticket began…Appetizers – 1 grilled Spanish octopus, 1 citrus cured hamachi, 1 local lettuces from millstone farm, 1 roots, shoots, fruits and leaves, and 1 soft farm egg ravioli… elm was officially open. The outstanding staff that Chef Brian Lewis had assembled sprang to action. The months of planning, the weeks of training, the hours of preparation were now tested as the guests arrived and the orders placed.
As we enjoyed wine and draft beer, the server brought a pan of house-made bread that is a cross between a brioche and a biscuit, served with house-made butter topped with a smoked paprika and citrus salt. It was a delicious beginning, and over the next two hours we thoroughly enjoyed several courses and numerous dishes. At the end of the meal we all agreed that this was something special; this was an opening night meal that would be remembered as extraordinary. The high expectations that were building for weeks were greeted with superb food.
On opening night I noticed subtleties in the décor, the place settings, the service and the overall demeanor of the staff that can be described as relaxed elegance. Our server was calm, friendly and professional as she both described some of the dishes and ingredients and offered suggestions. And the nuances that Owners Laura Barker, Kristen Eveland and Chef Brian Lewis placed on each aspect of the dining experience instilled a sense of calm. Their attention to the tiniest detail created an incredibly relaxed and enjoyable evening.
The appetizers are all delicious. The incredibly tender octopus is slowly braised and served with guanciale, pea shoots and served over a black aioli and topped with crisp fried garlic and smoked paprika breadcrumbs. The hamachi is a delicious trio of presentations: a tartare, a citrus cured loin and a sashimi belly. The latter is wrapped with a thin slice of Asian pear. The flavors of the hamachi are combined with several forms of yuzu and ginger oil and finished with a fennel puree, crispy shiso and red beets plus a little cilantro. The combinations of these flavors were citrusy with just a touch of heat from the ginger and yuzu. The local lettuces and the roots, et. al. are farmed at Millstone Farms and present a variety of seasonal ingredients. Chef Lewis prepares the roots, shoots, fruits and leaves with a variety of methods including raw, braised, confit, dried and pureed. Included in this cacophony of flavors and colors is an incredibly flavorful mousse comprised of goat cheese and medjool date puree. These last two appetizers present a crisp and refreshing start to the meal.
The soft egg ravioli are three raviolis, each filled with a different ingredient and are amazing. The first is filled with sheep’s milk ricotta, slightly accented with mint and olive oil. The flavors are a delightful combination. The second filling is a soft cooked farm egg yolk, that when combined with the other two raviolis, adds decadence to the dish. The third ravioli is my favorite. The filling is a spinach and parmesan puree, incredibly smooth and flavorful.
We next enjoyed the Hudson valley foie gras, served two ways. The preparations include a seared piece of foie gras, paired with apricot marmalade, and topped with beluga lentils, pata negra ham and a touch of a sherry vinegar sauce. The second presentation is a terrine accompanied with dried pistachios, some crumbled and dried pata negra ham with a touch of apricot gellee. The sweet and sour components and the different textures are fantastic. This is a true delight for those who are foie gras fans.
The table ordered three extraordinarily delicious entrées; the beef tenderloin in smoked butter, the sea scallops with riso venere and the trio of local pork with pimenton. The grass-fed beef is roasted in hay and accented with smoked butter and salt, and served with oatmeal cooked in mushroom stock, roasted mushrooms, melted and crisp shallots, spinach and finished with a touch of red wine sauce. The beef is incredibly tender and flavorful and the additional flavors create a perfectly balanced and delightful presentation. The scallops are sweet and sautéed in paprika oil to a crisp exterior while maintaining the succulence of the interior. They are served with deliciously prepared Italian black rice, with a touch picholine olive salsa and a salted cod sitting atop. This is a delightful dish. The trio of pork includes pieces of belly, shoulder and bacon wrapped loin. The perfectly prepared pork presentations sit atop heirloom smoked grits accompanied by a soft cooked egg. A delicious sauce of smoked paprika and smoked paprika salt combines with a green tomato jam, currents and bourbon walnuts to complete the presentation. Each piece of pork presents different textures and flavors and the sauce and green tomato jam are delectable.
The desserts prepared by Pastry Chef Caryn Sabinsky are incredible. We ordered four to share including the carrot cake, the toffee pudding, the chocolate & banana, and the dark chocolate bread pudding. The carrot cake is a modern interpretation that includes a cake made with grated carrots and served aside small scoops of carrot curd, walnut brittle and caramel ice cream. This is a delightful dessert. The toffee pudding is made with a puree of dates and is served with a toffee sauce plus some crème fraiche. The sweetness of the dates and the toffee is perfectly offset with crème fraiche. The chocolate & banana contains layers of chocolate and banana cake and covered with bananas, some drizzled dark chocolate and cashews. This is served with caramel ice cream. The last dessert that we absolutely loved was the dark chocolate bread pudding. The house made bread is mixed with two different chocolates and served with vanilla ice cream and cocoa nibs. For the chocolate lovers in your group this is a perfect choice.
During the evening the menu allowed us to create a wonderful tasting menu, I enjoyed eight different presentations in the pre-dessert courses and in the near future Chef Lewis will expand on this theme and present a four-course Farm Tour and a seven-course Chef’s Tour.
Overall this was a wonderful evening with superb food and I look forward to many more memorable meals at elm Restaurant.

Review was originally published on www.ctbites.com on April 1, 2012

elm Restaurant, 73 Elm Street, New Canaan, CT, 06840

203- 920-4994

www.elmrestaurant.com

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