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.


NOLA Oyster Bar – Outstanding Seafood in SONO

ctb3I re-visited NOLA Oyster Bar a few months after its opening to enjoy some of the newest additions to the menu. Chef Dan Kardos is clearly in charge of the kitchen and his culinary talent is evident as he creates some of the most delicious cuisine in Fairfield County.

ctb4The Seafood Tower, a dedication to cold shellfish (plus tuna), was the first course served to our table. The generous portions included Cherrystone clams, snow crab legs, Copps Island oysters, shrimp, and charred Hamachi crudo. A house made mignonette sauce accompanied the oysters. All of the items on the Tower were delightful. The crudo was marinated in white and dark balsamic vinegar plus a combination of lime and tangerine juices; it was tantalizing. The crab legs and shrimp were sweet with just a touch of seasoning to emphasize the natural flavors. The Copps Island oysters were a little bitter with very little salinity, but the addition of the mignonette sauce drastically changed the flavor profile from bitter to delicious.

ctb9It is rare that I rave about a vegetable dish, but the Brussels sprouts at Nola were outstanding. Fried and then topped with a sweet maple glaze, it was almost impossible to stop eating them. Chef Kardos then added more crunch with a smattering of chopped pistachios and bacon. The Brussels sprouts should be a communal order to share and enjoy with everyone at the table.

ctb5The “Chopped Salad” included corn, peas, beets, wax beans, Brussels sprouts and topped with grated Queso Fresco cheese. This was no ordinary green salad; it offered several vegetables from Urban Oaks with differing textures and just a touch of spiciness. It was a delicious salad.

ctb8The “Cornmeal Fried Oysters” were served with collard greens, Jalapeño mayonnaise, Tasso ham and topped with a spicy corn relish. The oysters were crunchy on the exterior with a good sized belly that released the delicious liquor when bitten. The Tasso offered a smooth complement and sweet corn, pickle and red pepper relish was a perfect addition. The Jalapeño mayonnaise added just the correct level of spiciness.

ctb7The “Poached Lobster & Cornbread Waffle” is one of my favorite combinations in the area. It included butter-poached lobster, griddled scallions, Queso Fresco cheese topped with a brown sauce. The waffles were sweet, crispy on the exterior and moist and soft on the interior. The lobster was full of sweet buttery flavor, the scallions brought a little bitterness and the melted cheese created smoothness to the dish. The dish was finished with one of the best brown sauces north of the French Quarter.

ctb10My adventure through NOLA’S seafood continued with two other outstanding dishes. The “Shrimp & Grits” started with paprika dusted shrimp that were perfectly sautéed and paired with sliced Jalapeños to deliver a good kick. To mellow the flavors the dish contained slices of Tasso ham and all of these ingredients sat atop creamy grits.ctb11 The “Griddled Scallops” were served atop a smooth and delicious celery root puree, and Chef Kardos changed the direction of a traditional scallop dish with the addition of several uncommon ingredients, strawberries and melon. The dish was further enhanced by a touch of honey, almonds, and finished with slices of speck. This was a great combination of flavors and textures. The honeydew brightened the dish and the honey brought sweetness, but I was not as excited about the strawberries.

ctb2To finish the meal, I sampled the “Chocolate & Peanut Butter Pot De Crème” that was topped with whipped cream and roasted peanuts, which was much too sweet for my palate. I was less enthusiastic about this dessert.

After several months, NOLA Oyster Bar has taken its position as one of the go-to restaurants in Fairfield County.

Really Liked

  1. Brussels Sprouts
  2. Poached Lobster
  3. Shrimp & Grits
  4. Fried Oysters
  5. Griddled Scallops
  6. Seafood Tower


  1. Chopped Salad

Did Not Like

  1. Chocolate & Peanut Butter Pot au Creme

This review was originally posted on at:


Best Restaurant Burgers in Southwest CT – #6 Nola Oyster Bar (SONO)

Each year a burger created by Dan Kardos has appeared on my list of favorites and the 2013 Best Restaurant Burgers includes another fantastic burger; now prepared at NOLA Wine Bar in SONO. The menu includes numerous fish creations ranging from Shrimp & Grits to Lobster & Waffles, and one of the stand-out items is this fantastic burger. bl2 nolaChef Dan Kardos continued his tradition of great hamburgers in his newest kitchen. Kardos used Saugatuck Craft Butchery dry aged blend of short rib, chuck and brisket that was grilled to a perfect char. He topped this patty with melted Beemster cheese, mushrooms, bacon, and frizzled onions and black pepper mayo. The flavor of the meat was outstanding and the toppings were delicious. The cheese was flavorful and complemented the richness in the meat. The bacon was thick and perfectly cooked but was just a little salty. The burger was served with curly fries that were fun and fantastic.

Read the entire list of best Restaurant Hamburgers at at:

Nola Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon

Nola Oyster Bar – First Bites

bl interior
Several weeks ago I announced on CTbites the opening of Nola Oyster Bar in South Norwalk, described as a seafood restaurant with dishes from Maine to New Orleans. After my initial visit, it is apparent that much of the food is influenced by the great flavors and traditions of New Orleans, but the creative interpretations are singularly of Chef Dan Kardos.

Exposed brick walls, wood and tin columns, and wrought iron rails dominate the interior with white “antique” chandeliers hanging from the ceiling to create a very New Orleans visual. The front area includes a large, arced granite-topped bar that seats 10, plus a large reclaimed “Bankers’ Table” that seats an additional eight guests overlooking the floor to ceiling windows. The center section of the restaurant overlooks the kitchen, plus the rear room is available for regular dining or a private event.

Nola Oyster Bar is a place for fun, drinks and great food.

The kitchen is under the direction of Chef Dan Kardos (The Whelk, Harvest Supper). The menu is divided into four sections: raw bar, small plates, salads, and entrees.  The starters include raw oysters, clams and tuna Crudo, chowder, gumbo, seafood pan roast, tacos, mac and cheese, plus greens and sides with traditional salads and other unique combinations. The entrées include two burgers (tuna or beef), tacos, sandwiches, shrimp and grits, scallops, skate and several meat options.

bl tuna crudo
The “Tuna Crudo” is a delightfully light choice to start to the meal. Thin slices of tuna are topped with a sauce comprised of soy, hot sesame, jalapeño and candied ginger. While a sesame-soy combination is a traditional accompaniment to raw tuna, Chef Kardos takes the dish in a unique direction with the addition of the candied ginger. This sweet component creates a distinctive and delicious flavor combination when combined with the saltiness of the soy and the spiciness of the diced jalapeño.

bl black kale saladThe “Black Kale Salad” includes pears, sautéed squash, toasted hazelnuts, and pepitas and is another delicious dish to start the evening. The kale has a rich earthy flavor plus a touch of bite, and the crunchiness of the dish increases with the toasted pepitas and hazelnuts. The thinly sliced pears are a great addition to the dish, bringing a wonderful level of sweetness. The entire salad is beautifully dressed in a light citrusy dressing. I really enjoy how the sweetness of the pepitas and the pear complement the earthiness of the kale. The squash, unfortunately, does not add to either the flavors or the textures of the dish.

For a soup with a hint of spice, Nola Oyster Bar offers a delicious “Spicy Seafood Gumbo” with shrimp, oysters, clams, mussels, and Andouille. This rendition would make the French Quarter proud. A deep rich base made with a dark roux brings deep, rich flavors when combined with the delicateness of the traditional seafood additions. The oysters and mussels bring brininess to the gumbo, and the shrimp add a touch of sweetness. The spiciness of the Andouille sausage kicks up the heat just a little. I would characterize the flavor as sweet-spicy, but not too intense.

bl lobster & wafflesThe “Poached Lobster & Cornbread Waffles” is the decadent option that combines breakfast and dinner. Chef Kardos’ begins with two delicious cornbread waffles topped with large pieces of succulent, butter-poached lobster. These are surrounded by one of the most flavorful brown sauces that I have ever tasted, reminiscent of those served on New Orleans’ famous Grilled Shrimp. The dish is garnished with a few grilled scallions and finished with Queso Fresco cheese. The waffles are wonderfully sweet, crispy on the exterior and moist and soft on the interior. The lobster is perfectly poached and full of sweet buttery flavor and texture. The scallions bring just a touch of bitterness and the melted cheese creates smoothness to the dish. This is one of the most memorable lobster dishes I have tasted in a very long time and should not be missed.

bl burgerRemember the raves of Chef Kardos’ hamburger at Harvest Supper in New Canaan? The “Saugatuck Butchery Dry Aged Burger with Hand Cut Fries” at Nola is even better. It starts with dry aged beef from Saugatuck Butchery and then topped with slices of Sugardale bacon, XO Beemster cheese, oak tree shitake mushrooms, black pepper mayo and served on a Challah roll from Wave Hill Bakery. The flavor of the meat is outstanding and the toppings are perfect complements. The cheese is flavorful and the sautéed mushrooms add an earthy tone. The thick-cut bacon is perfectly cooked but I found it a little too salty for the other ingredients. The sweet Challah roll and the pepper mayo are both great ways to envelop this fantastic burger.  The hand-cut curly fries are scrumptious, fun and a wonderful addition to the burger; and the burger is a fantastic accompaniment to the unique varieties of beer.

bl tapsThe draft beers feature eight unique varieties including Maine Beer Company Mean Old Tom Aged Stout, Two Roads Workers Comp Saison, Founders Dirty Bastard Scotch Ale, Green Flash West Coast IPA, Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale, Schlitz Lager “60’s Formula,” Berkshire Brewing Drayman Porter and Sixpoint Brewery Righteous Rye Ale. Ten wines are available by the glass, plus forty wine labels ranging in price from $28 to $100.

After a couple of months Nola Oyster Bar is producing some incredibly delicious food with inspired twists on New Orleans’ classics.

This was originally posted  on March 24, 2013 at