New Chef @ elm Restaurant in New Canaan: Enter Chef Luke Venner

Chef Luke Venner has been at the helm of elm Restaurant for several monthsand was invited to participate at the Greenwich Wine and Food Festival as one of the Innovative Chefs. The two small bites that he prepared at the festival were delicious. In hopes that these were reflective of his newly revised menu, CTbites returned to the restaurant to sample other dishes on his recently introduced Autumn menu. The appetizers and entrées that we enjoyed highlighted the inherent flavors of the ingredients utilizing Chef Luke’s balanced vision and delicate touch.

We shared three dishes from the “smaller” section of the menu.

With the arrival of Fall, menus are featuring soups to showcase the season’s harvest. Chef Venner’s Pumpkin and Apple Soup was a sweet-spice combination mellowed by the pumpkin’s earthiness. These Autumnal flavors were a fantastic combination and the preparation included interesting back-notes from a smidgen of star anise. The spicy marshmallows were a playful inclusion for additional sweetness and a sudden burst of spiciness from the chili pepper.

The Tuscan Kale salad was served with thinly sliced honey crisp apples, intermingled with chunks of Cheddar cheese and bacon. This good-sized portion paired the mild bitterness of the shredded kale with the sweetness of apples. The presentation was further enriched by the Cheddar cheese and chunks of some of the best bacon I have eaten in some time.

The Delicata Squash Tartine started with a slice of toasted bread that was topped with ricotta, slices of roasted squash and sprinkled with spiced pecans. The squash rings were first caramelized to heighten their natural sweetness and were perfectly complemented by the wonderfully smooth ricotta. The pecans added more earthiness and a textural difference. This was a delicious start to the meal that I would describe as a more petit starter.

The entrées, “larger” plates, I sampled included two of the steaks and the risotto.

My favorite of the entrées was the Smoked Shortrib, which shared the plate with pureed carrots, slices of charred cucumber, and a dollop of chimichurri. The beef was first brined for two days, smoked and then pressed to remove all of the inherent fattiness of this cut. The filet was finished with a mild sear. The result was incredibly tender with a deep, rich flavor that required nothing more than a fork to cut. The charred cucumber slices added an interesting sweetness, the Sriracha enhanced carrot purée offered a touch of spiciness and the chimichurri complemented the other ingredients with sour notes.

Elm’s Wagyu Rib Eye is purchased from the 7X Ranch in Colorado. A little background of this ranch and its beef is important. While the requirement in the US for Wagyu designation is at least 25% from a Japanese Wagyu steer, 7X is 100% derived from Japanese Wagyu steer. The result is a softer, well marbled steak. The Wagyu rib eye was glazed with a Bordelaise sauce and served with a large marrow-filled bone. The meat was mild in flavor and presented more of a strip steak texture than rib eye…and was delicious. The portion was sufficient for two to share or for a single with a very hearty appetite.

There are numerous risottos offered throughout the area, most with a certain amount of heaviness. Elm’s current Risotto is delicate and pairs creamy Carnaroli rice with wild mushrooms, black truffle enhanced mascarpone and topped with thin slices of orange peel. The focus was the truffle infused mascarpone elevated by the brightness from the orange peel, a combination that I have never experienced, plus the mild earthiness from the mushrooms. It was outstanding and a much lighter version of this traditional Italian dish.

To accompany the entrées we also shared a side of Brussels sprouts. A bowl of baby sprouts was topped with honey and lavender that delivered a very sweet interpretation with a touch of floral notes. They were also excellent.

Pastry Chef Kara Koehmstedt recently joined elm to oversee its dessert and bread program. Chef Kara was trained at the Culinary Institute of America before joining the culinary team at The Peninsula Hotel and Blackbird Restaurant in Chicago and Cosme in NYC. She prepared four of her desserts from the current menu.

The highlight was the Zeppoles, which now rank as my favorite rendition in the area. The interior was moist from the Ricotta cheese and presented a wonderful texture to complement the crunchiness of the crust. Each was encased with cinnamon-sugar that offered the perfect balance to the zeppoles. They were paired with peach jam and maple ice cream and everyone at the table was craving a little chocolate sauce for their portion.

The Pumpkin Cheesecake delivered a rich creaminess reminiscent of NY-style cheese cake. There was additional smoothness from the formage blanc mousse, while the crumbles of specaloos (ginger biscuits) added a crunchy textural difference. As much as I loved the textures the pumpkin filling, the dish was a little heavy with nutmeg and the specaloos contained a little too much ginger.

The elm Brownie was several bite-sized pieces served with Crème fraiche ice cream and roasted blackberries. The highlight of the dish was the blackberries that were very sweet and delectable. The brownies were mild in flavor as was the ice cream and I prefer a more chocolatey brownie.

The Boozy Sundae is the newest addition to the dessert menu and included a large dish of soft brown sugar Bourbon ice cream topped with swirls of chocolate and caramel sauces and finished with pecans. The ice cream and sauces were excellent but the pecans were much too salty and overwhelmed the other ingredients.

Overall the appetizers and entrées were some of the most creative and delicious food I have eaten in Fairfield County. The subtleness of the combinations were fantastic. I look forward to returning to elm and taste many more of Chef Venner culinary compositions.

Prices range from $12 to $21 for the smaller plates and $21 to $36 for the larger plates (with the exceptions being the burger at $18 and the Wagyu ribeye at $62). I found most of the portion sizes in line with those at other high-end restaurants in Fairfield County.

Really Liked

  • Tuscan Kale ($19)
  • Pumpkin and Apple Soup ($12)
  • Smoked Shortrib ($34)
  • Carnaroli Risotto ($21)
  • Zeppole ($8)

Liked

  • Delicata Squash Tartine ($14)
  • Wagyu Rib Eye ($62)
  • Pumpkin Cheesecake ($8)

Needs Improvement

  • Boozy Sundae ($8)
  • Brownie ($8)

 

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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

Elm Restaurant on Urbanspoon