Harvest Wine Bar (Greenwich) – Outstanding Opening

BL exteriorHarvest Wine Bar, located on the lower end of Greenwich Avenue, elevates the restaurant offerings in downtown Greenwich to a much higher level. The Sigueza brothers, Vicente and Kleber, can now add another fantastic restaurant to their portfolio, which includes Cave Wine Bar in New Canaan, Scena Wine Bar in Darien and 55 Wine Bar in Fairfield. A beautiful casual dining space in the front area is dominated by a large brick wall and accentuated with wood tables and chairs.  You can continue walking to the rear of the restaurant and enjoy the long bar or tables, all with views through the large west-facing windows lining the entire rear wall of the restaurant.

BL Back DiningOverseeing the kitchen is Chef Eben Leonard who is migrating from Scena Wine Bar where CTbites enjoyed his creativity and culinary talent on numerous occasions. His opening menu combines aspects from southern Europe with a modern twist to American classics. “Snacks and Shares” to enjoy at the bar include a creative short rib mac and cheese, carpetbagger oysters with beef carpaccio, and grilled pork tenderloin sliders. ”Starters” include salads, crudos and seafood. The entrées (“Seconds”) include several pasta dishes (I was assured that theof other Ricotta Gnocchi Bolognese from Scena is duplicated), but the emphasis of the menu is wood-fired, grilled meats, poultry and seafood.

I sampled three of the appetizers and two were outstanding.

BL BrusselThe “Shaved Brussel Sprout Salad” with a Parmesan risotto cake and truffle vinaigrette is delicious. The tower of Brussel sprout rests atop a warm parmesan risotto cake, surrounded by a small dollop of parmesan sauce. The focus of the dish is the shaved, raw Brussel sprouts, accented with olive oil, lemon, truffle oil and parmesan. The Brussel sprout and Parmesan cheese combination is a tremendous flavor combination; the bittersweet Brussels sprouts work exquisitely with the saltiness of the Parmesan cheese. Texturally, the dish includes the crunchiness of the raw Brussel sprouts, the cake’s exterior and slight bite from the risotto offset by the creaminess of the cake’s interior and the Parmesan sauce.

BL Scallop CrudoThe “Scallop Crudo” with blood orange segments and topped with shredded Kombu (Japanese kelp) salt and micro greens is delightful and incredibly light. The mild flavors of the scallops are pleasantly complemented by the saltiness of the Kombu. The blood orange segments add a slight sweet-and-sour to the dish with a small amount of citrus. This was my introduction to Kombu and it reminds me of shredded beef jerky, offering a hearty saltiness. The addition of a few micro-greens adds a level of freshness to the dish. This is also an wonderful start to the meal.

BL OctopusThe “Charred Octopus” with red wine braised lentils, bacon, avocado, sweet Piquillo peppers and cherry tomatoes was not to my liking. The octopus itself is delicious, but the rest of the ingredients do not add to the overall dish; overall it lacks textural contrasts and many of the flavors meld together versus complementing. The bacon, peppers, tomatoes and cilantro attempt to add contrast and flavors but the avocado is subsumed by the lentils.

Both of the two entrées that I sampled were outstanding.

BL VealMy favorite of the two entrées is the “Wood Grilled Veal Chop” with creamy spinach, veal raviolis, baby carrots, truffle red wine glaze and a touch of parmesan. Chef Leonard told me he sells “a ton” of this entrée and after one bite I completely understand. The chop is perfectly grilled and seasoned, beautifully moist and full of a delicious veal flavor. The spinach is a perfect complement to the veal, slightly creamy with a deep flavor and the veal ravioli are delicate, which pairs well with the red wine glaze. To add a sweet component, the dish includes a few sweet baby carrots atop the chop. Overall this is one of the best veal chops I have tasted in a while.

BL SalmonThe “Wood Grilled Salmon” with cranberry beans, kale, preserved lemon and charred tomato vinaigrette brings a new dimension to a basic dish. The preparation differs from so many in Fairfield County where a simple grilled salmon filet and vegetables are served. Yes Harvest’s is grilled salmon, but the other ingredients add a totally different flavor profile to this interpretation. The kale and cranberry beans bring earthiness; and then the preserved lemon increases the dish’s complexity with citrus to take the palate in a different direction. This is a salmon presentation to satisfy both sexes.

BL HamburgerAnd for those interested in one of the best hamburgers in Fairfield County, Harvest delivers. The “Harvest Burger” is comprised of grass fed, all natural beef (from Minnesota), with Applewood smoked bacon, crispy onions, smoked tomato mayo, Grafton cheddar on a toasted English muffin, served with “everything fries.” This could be the best flavored meat in Fairfield County, a deep rich flavor and with enough fat to absorb a good level of smokiness. The thick cut bacon adds more smoke and saltiness and the smoked tomato mayo augments with just a touch of flavor to the muffin. I was initially suspect of the “everything” seasoning on the fries; but after several fries I am a fan, the poppy seeds bring a new flavor dimension to the traditional salty fries.

BL SundaeHarvest has a few fun desserts to end the meal. The banana split sundae includes a brownie (which is actually Chef Leonard’s grandmother’s recipe), with two scoops of ice cream, one of peanut butter cup and the other espresso nugget, and topped with strawberry sauce, chocolate sauce, chocolate covered espresso beans and nuts. I really like this dessert and what else needs to be said about a sundae, other than it is a great frozen treat and a perfect and relaxing way to end the meal.

After a few months, Chef Leonard and Harvest Wine Bar are preparing some excellent dishes. From crudos to pastas to grilled steaks and chops, the food at Harvest will make this a go-to restaurant in Greenwich.

Scena – Fine Italian Dining in Darien

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Scena Wine Bar & Restaurant in Darien is serving delicious, modern interpretations of Italian cuisine under the direction of Executive Chef Eben Leonard. It is one of three restaurants owned by brothers Vicente and Kleber Siguenza (a fourth is schedule to open in Greenwich later this year) including Cava Wine Bar in New Canaan and 55 Degrees Wine Bar and Restaurant in Fairfield.

Chef Leonard traces his culinary passion to his early childhood in Chatham, New York when he prepared monthly dinner menus for his mother. As a teenager, Chef Leonard met his first mentor, Chef Urs Bieri, at the Elm Court Inn in Massachusetts, when Bieri hired him to work as a “chef” at the age of fifteen, teaching him many aspects of the professional kitchen. His aspiration was further enhanced as a line chef, “I loved the adrenalin, chaos, and speed. I loved creating the plates, making them perfect.”  After attending the New England Culinary Institute, Chef Leonard worked with Todd English at Bonfire in Boston and Olives in New York. In describing choosing his perfect career, he told me, “I was lucky to find something that I loved and was good at so young.  There is a good chance I would be working at a DMV or living as a ski bum out west if I hadn’t gotten that first dishwasher job.”

Chef Leonard joined Scena as its opening chef in 2009 and continues to oversee the menu of delectable antipasti, salads, pizzas, pastas and entrees. The wine list is extensive, comprised primarily of California and Italian choices, with over 200 labels and prices starting at $38. The decor is relaxing, the atmosphere is high energy, and guests can enjoy seasonal al fresco dining. During my visits I enjoyed many of Chef Leonard’s creations.

My favorite of the antipasti choices was the steak tartare accented with shallots and a touch of truffle oil. A quail egg sat atop the tartare, which itself sat in a pool of truffle paste, and served with parmesan crostini and shaved parmesan cheese. The tartare was outstanding with the rich flavors of the beef the focal point with just a hint of the shallot. When combined with the raw quail egg and black truffle paste the three created a luscious textual dish. The meat was ground to a consistency that allowed for a great textural balance.

Another delicious antipasti was the salmon tartare that was served at lunch and included chopped salmon sitting atop a small portion of guacamole. This tartare included cucumber and red pepper and these additions allowed the fresh flavor of the salmon to maintain the focus of the dish while adding a nice texture variation.

For a lighter and more refreshing summer choice I enjoyed the watermelon salad. The dish contained cubes and slices of red and yellow watermelons plus arugula, pistachios, a touch of saba vinaigrette and topped with grated goat cheese.  This was an extremely refreshing dish with the two melons delivering a slight variance of flavor, the pistachios added a little saltiness, the arugula a peppery background and the saba vinegar was a great complement to the sweetness of the melons. This was an incredibly delightful way to start the meal on a hot summer night

I also enjoyed two very different pasta preparations. My favorite of the two was the summer corn ravioli with mushrooms, fava beans, English peas, parmesan shavings and chives. The filling consisted of summer corn, shallots, garlic and charred corn with the addition of cream and a stock created from the corn centers. The fresh mushrooms, fava beans and peas complemented the pasta and added a light sweetness and crunchiness to this delicious dish. The second pasta was a taggliatelle with a Bolognese sauce. The house made taggliatelle was perfectly prepared and the Bolognese had a surprise ingredient, cinnamon. This addition may not be for everyone, but I found that the addition of this ingredient added an enjoyable flavor differential from the other Bolognese sauces in the area.

For entrees, I thoroughly enjoyed the seared scallops with poached lobster, potato gnocchi, heirloom tomatoes, and finished with thin slices of cucumbers and radishes. The U10 scallops were delicious and when I asked the source I was told that one of the owners travels to Hunts Point Market and personally hand selects all of the fish for Scena. They were perfectly seared and the thin slices of the cucumbers and the radishes added a great crunchiness while the heirloom tomatoes added a touch of sweetness. While the lobster added a level of elegance, the scallops worked so perfectly with the other ingredients that I think the dish could easily be served without the lobster.

The other outstanding entrée was the hangar steak with spigarello greens (from Mountain Sweet Berry Farm in Roscoe, N.Y), potato hash, soft egg, balsamic and a red wine sauce. Hangar steaks are one of my favorite cuts of beef and Chef Leonard’s version was delicious, an incredibly creative dinner version of steak and eggs. The large portion of hangar steak was perfectly cooked to medium rare and its deep and rich flavor was perfectly complemented by the spigarello greens, which have a broccoli-type flavor. The potato hash included extra crispy chorizo and corn with a soft egg on top. The steak was marinated in red wine, smoked paprika oil and soy and quickly grilled. I loved every aspect of this dish and enjoyed Chef Leonard’s modified breakfast classic as a delicious dinner entrée.

Overall, Scena Wine Bar & Restaurant is an excellent choice in Darien and I look forward to more visits to enjoy more of Chef Leonard’s delicious creations.

Scena Wine Bar & Restaurant, 1077 Post Rd., Darien, CT 203-662-3226

http://www.scenawinebar.com

 Originally posted by Jeff “Jfood” Schlesinger on www.ctbites.com on August 12, 2012

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