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

Elm’s (New Canaan) Outstanding Animal Style Burger

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The burger served at Elm Restaurant in New Canaan has been a perennial inclusion in my favorite burgers since it opened. Last year Chef Luke Venner assumed the hem as Executive Chef and he recently introduced the “Dry Aged Burger, double-double, animal style.” I was curious to this major change from the previous thick single-patty to the twin-patty thin style. After my visit I asked Chef Venner about the change and he told me that the new addition was the result of him introducing this version at a recent pop-up and receiving so many requests to place it on the menu.

I sat the bar, ordered the burger medium-rare and enjoyed watching old movies projecting onto the rear wall. When the burger arrived the first item I noticed was its height, rising at least five inches above the plate. A metal tin filled with French fries accompanied the burger.

“Animal Style” refers to the quintessential west coast burger chain IN-N-OUT Burger. This designation was traditionally found only on the “secret” menu (that everyone knew about) and referred to a layer of mustard slathered on the patty prior to grilling. At Elm, Chef Venner uses this term to describe his interpretation as “fully dressed” with a twist to the grilled mustard.

Elm’s burger includes two thin patties of dry aged beef blend from Pat LaFrieda topped with slices of American cheese, pickled kohlrabi, shredded lettuce, tomato, and a house-made sauce that includes ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, burnt onions, shiro dashi and other secret spices. All of these items were encased in a sesame seed Brioche bun.

The meat was wonderful, deep and rich and were dense, highly compressed, and still maintained a high level of juiciness. The cheese was incredibly creamy and perfectly melted. Then the sauce and kohlrabi kicked in and it was outstanding. The “Animal Style” effect was achieved by grilling the onions directly in the sauce, which intensified the flavors. The paper thin kohlrabi delivered a delightful sweet-sour combination which was balanced with the sweet tomato. The sauce was one of the best additions in the area, the shiro dashi brought an incredibly depth of flavor to the mayo-ketchup-mustard playfulness. The brioche‘s sweetness was the perfect choice for the other ingredients. The combination was incredibly delicious. The fries can be a challenge, they were fantastic on one visit and were not as great on another.

Overall this is one of the best burgers in the area. I am glad that the people who tasted it at the pop-up demanded Chef Venner place it on the menu so others can enjoy this fantastic rendition.

 

Hapa Burger – Food Truck Killin’ It

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Almost a year ago I visited Hapa Food truck and ordered three tacos. Little did I know that the smiling face of owner Chris Gonzales, who prepared those delicious tacos was hiding an incredible talent of delivering bold, balanced and creative cuisine. After I finished the tacos he told me I needed to try the burger. I was too full at the time and told him I would come back. Shame on me for waiting a year. Since that time Hapa has developed quite a following and Chris recently opened Miro in Fairfield, and a colleague who visited Miro told me it was fantastic,

Well…fast forward and I recently returned to Hapa for the burger. The smiling face of Chris was replaced by an equally smiling and friendly face of his wife. I ordered the HAPA burger with fries and she asked if I liked Brussels sprouts, of course I do.

The HAPA burger consists of grass-fed beef topped with pork belly, Vermont cheddar, caramelized onions, lettuce, tomato, house aioli, encased in HAPA’s signature ube bun.

Let’s start with the bun. Ube is a purple yam. The HAPA bun was a sweet potato bun (made with pureed ube) which gave it the distinctive purple-blue hue and a high level of sweetness, a brioche on steroids. Inside the bun was a large beef patty, which was prepared exactly to medium rare. The meat was delicious, with a loose, medium grind and slightly seared. A delightful and creamy melted slice of Cheddar cheese was melted on the patty., and then the culinary boldness appeared with the accompanying ingredients. There was a slice of pork belly atop the burger that contributed a wonderful layer of smokiness and juiciness from the fat. Now the HAPA burger offered another level of flavor…the caramelized onions. These were cooked low and slow to create a soft and delicate texture, with the inherent sweetness elevated with the addition of brown sugar. The aioli intensified an already bold combination with another level of sweet and spicy, with a touch of wasabi to kick up the heat. A thick slice of tomato and lettuce rounded out the outrageous combination.

The fries were equally creative and delicious. Topped with a cheese sauce and sweet and spicy seasonings, they were the perfect accompaniment to the burger. There was tremendous flavor in both.

Let’s not forget the Brussels sprout. They were equally outstanding. Deep fried and then finished with pico de gallo, papaya seed dressing they are some of the best sprouts I have eaten.

Overall the HAPA burger can challenge any from restaurants in the area and is a contender for best burger in Fairfield County…it is that good.

 

 

 

Nom-Eez (Bridgeport) – Pho & Donuts Galore

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The official opening of Nom-Eez, Chef Matt Storch’s new Vietnamese street food storefront, in the Blackrock section of Bridgeport occurs today. As reported by CTbites, joining Storch for this new project are his partners from Match, Jason Wojnarowski (owner of the epically delicious Donut Crazy), and Susan McConnell. CTbites was invited to a sneak peek preview to sample some of the menu and a few donuts.

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The menu is divided into three sections, “snacks,” “noodles” and “a bit larger.” The space is small in size, with only eight brightly colored red stools, and the flavors are equally bold and bright and engulf you in the traditional cuisine of Vietnam.

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The Soup Dumplings were my favorite of the visit. Four dumplings were filled with pork, served in a rich bone broth and finished with a red vinegar splash. These were spectacular. The other “snack” that we really enjoyed was the Nom Nom Buns. Two steamed buns were filled with braised pork, cucumber and carrot slices, spicy mayo, hoisin sauce, cilantro and “everything” spice. The buns were also filled with big, bold and delicious flavors.

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We moved to the “Pho-Ramen” as our noodle selection. Nom-Eez prepares a traditional Vietnames Pho, which features floral notes and flavors. The beef broth is developed over several days and then lightened with the traditional Pho accents, cinnamon, cardamom and ginger. It also features a perfectly prepared egg, peppers, cilantro and onions. The result is a mild broth, with the ramen noodles and the other ingredients adding texture to complement the sliced beef.

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I was very interested in the “Coconut Braised Pork” and was glad I ordered. It was served with steamed rice, crunchy onions and garlic. The meat was fall off the bone tender, moist and incredibly flavorful, and the glaze was delicious. Using chop sticks to pull the meat from the bone was an easy task.

 

The restaurant also features selection of Wojnarowski donuts. I sampled the Boston cream, maple bacon and Nutella filled. Each was delicious with great combinations. This is a great way to start the day with a cup of Non-Eez’s Vietnamese coffee, breakfast sandwiches, and of course pho and congee starting at 7AM.

 

Overall the menu presents a wonderful array of traditional Vietnamese cuisine in a small storefront. I look forward to returning to enjoy many more of these delightfully fresh and subtle flavors of Vietnam.

The Trident (Sausalito)

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After a wonderful trip to Muir Woods and a hair-raising drive up/down a windy road we decided to have lunch in a relaxing environment of Sausalito and chose The Trident. It offers both inside seating plus tables on a large deck with a million-dollar panoramic view of San Francisco. It was a no-brainer grabbing a table outside.

The menu offers salads, sandwiches, burgers and plated food. One of the items, the “Golden Gate Double Crab” sandwich caught my eye. It was described as Dungeness Crab Meat, Soft Shell Crab, Arugula, Pepperoncini, House Aioli, French Roll. This had the makings of a great sandwich. I ordered it plus a side of fries. With a hefty $28 price tag, it was a major splurge.

The sandwich did not skimp on the ingredients. The roll was first slathered with a little aioli, topped with arugula and roasted pepperoncini. A large mound of Dungeness crab was next added, which was topped with a whole fried soft shell crab. The highlight of the sandwich was the sweet Dungeness, which was delicious the crispy soft shell added a great textural contrast and the arugula added the needed peppery notes. If I had one nit to the combination it was the pepperoncini, it was just a touch too spicy and detracted from the other wonderful sweet nd bright flavors.

 

The fries were pretty basic, perfectly prepared with a crispy exterior and moist interior. Service was very laid back. They prepared my wife’s salad incorrectly which was removed for a re-do and the server was told, she was “Oh OK,” with not an apology, just a little SF’ish for us east coasters. Salad #2 was delicious.

 

Overall, I would very much recommend The Trident for its view, the food and a very laid back atmosphere.

Old Greenwich Social Club

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Old Greenwich Social Club opened last November, replacing an area icon, Mackenzie’s Bar and Grill, on Sound Beach Avenue overlooking the Old Greenwich train station. The location is convenient for a drink with colleagues at the end of the commute, a relaxing meal with the family, dinner with friends or just relaxing at the bar.

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The brainchild of local Jed Simon, this newly reopened watering hole presents an atmosphere reminiscent of “Cheers.” The wooden double-door entrance leads directly into the large bar area dominated by a U-Shaped bar. On one side, numerous taps offer a wide selection of beers including Bronx “Uptown Rye,” Jack’s Abby Express, Alagash “White,” Thirsty Dog, Omnipollo “Shilkmake” and Two Roads “Session IPA.” To the right of the bar is the main dining area with booths, a long wood-topped table plus others covered with retro-vinyl. Adorning the walls are photos from years past and sports memorabilia. During the summer months, guests can enjoy their meals on the patio to the left of the bar. This is definitely a local-oriented restaurant. On the afternoon I visited, Simon was hosting a happy hour for local teachers who missed St. Patrick’s Day and hired a trio to perform.

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In January Chopped champion and celebrity Chef Alex Garcia joined OGSC. Chef Garcia was born in Cuba and has been at the forefront of the popularization of Cuban food with his association with numerous New York restaurants including Patria, Erizo Latino, Calle Ocho, the Copacabana Supper Club, Babalu Restaurant and Lounge, and A.G. Kitchens. Chef Garcia is slowly adding his nuances to a predominantly classic American-based menu, with a smattering of international dishes. In designing the menu, Simon was sensitive in maintaining several of the favorites from Mackenzie’s.

I was invited to sample several dishes as well as Chef Garcia’s additions.

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From the “For The Table” section the chef prepared the “Smoked Trout Dip” and the “Bacon Wrapped Dates.” The trout was an individual glass jar was filled with the fish paté, served with large, thin slices of watermelon radish, flatbread crackers, fried tortillas, with three gherkins protruded from the top of the jar. The dip was creamy, with a mild smokiness, and when combined with the gherkin or the radish atop one of the crackers, created a delicious balance. This is more a single serving than a table share.

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The dates included six almond stuffed dates were wrapped in bacon and served with a swath of Blue cheese sauce. The combination of the ingredients was delightful with a wonderful sweetness from the dates and the creamy cheese sauce. The thick slices of bacon were less salty than expected and the almond offered good textural contrast. While some of the wrapped dates were well prepared, the bacon on others was burnt.

The next dish was a sampler of three separate offerings from the “Small Plates” and “Between Bread” sections.

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My favorite of the three was the “Lobster and Crab Roll (right).” The filling was excellent. It delivered bright, crisp flavors, emphasizing the sweet lobster and crab meats with just a hint of pungency from the onion. The filling was held together with the slightest amount of Old Bay infused mayonnaise, nestled in a leaf of lettuce, all in a soft, buttery bun. The “Fish Taco” (center) was served on a single tortilla, topped with cabbage slaw and finished with a layer of Cascabel salsa. The lightly coated fish was perfectly fried. It would have benefitted from a touch of seasoning; it was a little bland. The slaw was delicious with the addition of julienned mango, which added a delightful sweetness. The “Korean Style Braised Short Rib” (left) included slowly braised short rib, that was shredded, slathered in an Asian BBQ sauce and finished with cucumber slaw. The meat was one of the best I have tasted, rich in flavor and incredibly tender, and the vegetables added a good level of spiciness. Unfortunately, the BBQ sauce overwhelmed the other ingredients.

The “Pat La Freida Burger” (at the top of the article) was served with a scant amount of melted cheese, a thin slice of raw onion, lettuce, and tomato on a soft potato bun. Accompanying the burger were seasoned fries, pickle slices and OG Sauce, and branded into the top of the bun were the OG initials. Prior to cooking the patty was seasoned with a variety of spices including salt, pepper, onion and garlic powder and then splashed with Worcestershire sauce. It was grilled to medium-well (that is overcooked for me), the grind of the meat was highly compressed (I prefer a loose grind) and the seasoning overwhelmed the meat. The OG sauce was a good addition to balance the bold seasonings and created a better combination. The seasoned fries were well prepared, although added even more bold flavors.

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The other entree was the “Glazed Salmon,” served over braised leeks and lobster mashed potatoes and presented within a vertical shredded potato ring. The salmon was finished with a glaze of Whisky-maple sauce and black pepper. The kitchen prepared the salmon to medium-well, was a little dry and benefitted from the sweet contrast of the maple-honey glaze. The leeks were delicious and worked well with the salmon but the lobster mashed potatoes were a bit bland.

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Save room for dessert, especially the Caramel Crème Brulée. The OGSC version was excellent, with an extremely luscious Crème topped with a perfectly melted sugar topping. This was one of the best crème brulées I have eaten in quite some time.

Overall, I really liked the menu that the Old Greenwich Social Club has created. It offers a diverse selection for moms, dads, kids and adults in an environment for locals to bring family, friends and colleagues for a relaxed time. There were several misses by the kitchen on my visit with seasoning and temperatures, but the bones are in place for Old Greenwich residents to enjoy a good time in a familiar watering hole with drinks and food.

Really Liked

  • Smoked Trout Dip ($11)
  • Lobster and Crab Roll ($18)
  • Crème Brulée

Liked

  • Bacon Wrapped Dates ($7)
  • Fish Taco ($13)

Needs Improvement

  • Korean Style Braised Short Rib ($14)
  • Pat La Freida Burger ($13; cheese or bacon add $2)
  • Glazed Salmon ($24)

148 Sound Beach Ave, Old Greenwich, CT 06870

(203) 990-3033

 

 

The National (Greenwich) “Ugly Burger” is a Beautiful Thing

rsz_160310_ctb_burger_3There is a new King of the Hill of hamburgers in Greenwich.

Since celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian opened The National several months ago at the lower end of Greenwich Avenue, I have received numerous emails telling me about its burger. On a sunny day I ventured to Greenwich, grabbed a table and ordered “THE NATIONAL UGLY BURGER” which includes Cabot Cheddar cheese, crispy Shallots, Ntl Sauce, and served with malt vinegar chips. I ordered it medium-rare.

The burger arrived and it was served on a wooden cutting board, with a pickle speared through the top of the bun. The melted cheese was oozing around the edges, dripping towards the serving board. The sautéed shallots were peeking from under the cheese, partnered with the edges of a single lettuce leaf. If the taste was as good as the presentation, this would be a great burger. The burger was accompanied by the chips that were vertically arranged in a separate metal vase.

After removing the pickle, I cut the burger in half and the interior was cooked exactly to medium rare. The patty was medium in size, possibly 5-ounces, with a nice crust and the interior presented a very loose grind. A quick taste of the meat…a medium level of richness, with at least two cuts. (A call to the restaurant after my visit confirmed the meat was brisket and chuck from Creek Stone Farm in Arkansas City, Kansas and ground in-house.) The cheese was thick, and expertly melted atop the patty with the sautéed shallots between the two. Not mentioned on the menu was a sauce that was shmeared on the Challah roll (from Royal Bakers in Danbury).

The first bite of the Ugly Burger was far from ugly…it was fantastic. The ingredients were perfectly balanced. The meat delivered a medium level of richness, was juicy and incredibly smoky. The melted Cheddar cheese was creamy and very nutty. The two unique and delicious ingredients were the sautéed shallots that were very sweet and the sauce, with a tomato-tanginess…they were excellent additions. And the smokiness that the wood-burning grill infused into the meat was more than outstanding. The challah bun was a great choice, not only with its taste but it did not disintegrate during the meal.

The burger was served with malt vinegar chips. Unfortunately, these were very disappointing. They were overcooked, nearing burnt, and over-salted. I only wish they would change the menu to include fries instead of the chips. With a $19 price tag for the Ugly Burger, guests deserve a better accompaniment.

Overall the National Ugly Burger was outstanding. It presented incredible flavors, perfectly prepared and delivered wonderful balance.

376 Greenwich Ave – Greenwich, CT 06830

(203) 861-6851