Five-Course Tasting Menu @Bar Sugo – Norwalk

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Several years ago I sampled Chef Pat Pascarella’s Pasta Bolognese from his original pizzeria and pasta storefront hidden off the beaten path on route 123 in Norwalk. It was one of the best Bolognese I had ever eaten and over the years I have enjoyed many of Chef Pat’s creations. He recently introduced Bar Sugo’s full-table Pasta Tasting menu and invited CTbites to sample the five courses, each very different…from a straightforward tomato and basil to a complex lobster, morel and truffle. The incredible Bolognese that Chef Pat served me several years ago was a prelude to the fantastic five courses that I enjoyed with wine pairings from Megan Pacarella.

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The first course was a traditional Spaghetti with tomato and basil. The pasta was cooked to al dente with just a small bite to the texture. It was swathed with a rich and thick tomato sauce with a smattering of torn basil leaves. The sauce was a deep and vibrant concentration of tomato flavor. This simple presentation proved that a great dish requires only perfectly cooked pasta and a rich, delicious tomato sauce.

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This was followed by two filled pasta courses. The first was a golden beet and Robiolina cheese stuffed Casonsei. The triangular pockets were served atop a butter sauce, accented with a drizzle of saba and finished with a sprinkling of poppy seeds. The Casonsei were minimally filled with the golden beets and cheese purée which offered a touch of sweetness from the beets and a slight tanginess from the cheese. The saba delivered a delightful sweetness and the poppy seeds were an excellent addition to add earthiness and a little crunch.

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The next course was Ricotta Ravioli topped with peas, a mint and pea purée and a few shreds of pickled ramps. The mint and pea purée was fantastic with the peas served al dente to add a little textural difference. The pickled ramps were a great addition and added a different twist with its pungent notes to complement the earthiness of the peas and the mint. These three ingredients created a perfect balance to this dish.

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The fourth and first non-vegetarian pasta was a Fusilli Bianco & Nero. A traditional fusilli was paired with a squid ink fusilli. The twin pastas were swathed with a smoked tomato sauce and served with chunks of sausage, shrimp, smoked tomato and “pickled hots.” This playful “surf and turf” interpretation featured various competing components. The sausage, tomato and pasta were wonderful and the addition of the pickled hots added a great layer of spiciness. The squid ink with the shrimp and pickled hots was a different flavor profile, combining the mildness of the shrimp with the spiciness of the peppers. In the end, I really enjoyed the sausage and pepper combination and would order that as a separate and delicious savory pasta.

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Chef Pat saved the best for last and when I say best, the fifth pasta was one the best entrées I have eaten in quite some time. The presentation began with a delightfully soft ricotta Gnocchi, which was served with chunks of lobster, morel mushrooms, with a black truffle butter sauce and finished with a smattering of black truffle pieces. The gnocchi were the perfect canvas for the decadent combination of the rich lobster, truffles and morels. The holey texture of the mushrooms captured the sauce with each bite and the lobster added a mild sweetness. The entire dish was elevated with the addition of the black truffles, which added a rich and fragrant earthiness. This was a brilliant execution in every aspects.

Overall, the five pastas that Chef Pat prepared were fantastic. From the simplistic tomato and basil to the highly complex gnocchi with morels and lobster, each showcased a balanced approach to pasta with creative and delicious combinations. I hope each will be available separately to Bar Sugo guests so more people can enjoy some of the best pasta in the area.

#pasta #barsugo #patpascarella #norwalk

Chiu FAI Garden (Norwalk) – Alternative to a Sandwich?

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There are times when having another sandwich for lunch at the office is just not what you are in the mood for. Maybe look for some pizza, or hamburgers or a to-go platter…Chinese take-out is always an option. There are very few options in the area. I’ve constantly driven by the multi-colored sign for Chiu FAI Garden near Stew Leonards and I tucked it away for future reference. Today, I finally made the journey for one of its lunch specials. For ~$6 it is the same price as a sandwich and I was in the mood for something different.

Interior
The interior is standard NYC-style Chinese take-out. The rear of the building is the kitchen with several cooking stations, there is the obligatory picture menu (faded by the sun) above the ordering counter and there are tables and chairs for 16 people while either waiting or eating. I am not sure dining in is the best choice as the space is very sterile…this is definitely a grab and go. The menu is extensive, with Cantonese, Hunan and Szechuan choices. What caught my eye was the number of Lunch Special offerings…33 in all, ranging between $5-$6 and includes a choice of an entrée, rice and either a soup or an egg roll. I chose the General Tso’s Chicken, fried rice and an egg roll.

The egg roll was medium sized. It had a good, thick crust, crispy and the interior was all vegetables. It was a good basic lunch egg roll.

The General Tso combination platter was quite large for the price. It contained a good heaping of chicken, an equal amount of fried rice and two broccoli florets. The chicken was fried very well…the exterior was crispy and the chicken was cooked through without being over-cooked. Unfortunately the coating was very thick and you could barely taste the chicken, which was moist and tender. The pungent sauce delivered a lot of flavor, was sweet, maybe a touch too sweet, and was less than medium spiciness; do not be scared by the pepper icon on the menu. The fried rice contained a teeny smattering of roasted pork and onions, was very bland, but was good to coat the sauced chicken piece.

Overall it was a good $6 lunch. Is this a go-to Americanized Chinese take-out restaurant? I would not recommend for dinner at home but for a quick lunch that does not include a sandwich, Chiu FAI Garden is an OK option.

Chiu FAI Garden on Urbanspoon

Q’s Viet-Pho Restaurant (Norwalk) – Some Pretty Good Pho

BL Interior 1Q’s Viet-Pho restaurant opened recently in the former location of Valencia’s on Main Street in Norwalk and after reading the review at CTbites I decided to try the Pho.

The interior of the restaurant is very utilitarian. With 7 red topped diner-like bar stools and four tables that seat four, covered in red-checked plastic picnic table coverings, the interior is the backdrop to enjoy the food, not a destination décor. Bottles of Hoisin and Sriracha sauce sit on each table.

BL TableThe menu is very limited, beef, chicken or shrimp Pho (each priced at $9), BBQ on a Stick, Sweet Buns or Spring Rolls (each $2) or Peking Raviolis ($3).

I ordered the beef pho and a spring roll to go. While I waited I chatted with the husband. He was Marine in Viet Nam 40 years ago, fell in love with the food. His wife is from southern China and has always yearned to own a restaurant. They decided to “give it a shot” and start with a small menu.

The pho was packed in two containers. The soup with the noodles in a large plastic container and the other ingredients in a paper “Chinese Take Out” container. When I returned to my office I opened the latter and it contained carrots, cucumbers, cilantro, raw onions, lime wedges and thinly sliced beef (not raw but slightly cooked). I added all but the onions to the broth and allowed them to simmer.

While the vegetables and beef simmered I tried the spring roll. It was about four inches long, thin and fried to a golden brown, more Chinese than Vietnamese. It was delicious with a sweet interior and an exterior that reminded me of fried phyllo versus thick Chinese exterior. I wish I would have ordered two versus one.

I tasted the Pho and it was full of deep, multilayered flavors, great umami notes. The noodles were perfectly cooked, soft with a bit of bite and the meat was flavorful. The cilantro added fantastic flavor and was the perfect complement to the other deep flavors.

Overall the food at Q was delicious. I will definitely return to try the other Pho options.

Q’s Viet-Pho Restaurant
172 Main St Norwalk, CT 06851
(914) 484-0092

Q's Viet-Pho Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Overall the food at Q was delicious. I will definitely return to try the other Pho options.

Best Restaurant Burgers in Southwest CT – #9 Oak + Almond (Norwalk)

A new restaurant, a new chef, a new menu, a great burger. Chef Jeff Taibe enters the food scene of Fairfield County with a bang. The interior of the redesigned interior is gorgeous, and the open kitchen allows the guests to watch all of the preparation. But as the name suggests, the centerpiece of the restaurant is the large wood-burning oven. Why almond? Chef Taibe told me that the almond is added when the oven needs a blast of extra heat. And the burger, full of bold flavors.

bl2 Oak + AlmondChef Jeff Taibe’s new menu includes the Grass Fed Burger, a large patty using 80-20 of Pat Lafrieda blend meat. The patty was charred and perfectly prepared and mild in flavor and was complemented by the accompanying bold ingredients. The burger was topped with some of the best bacon slices I tasted in my tour, delicious sweet-sour cippolini onions, melted Gorgonzola cheese and aioli and then served on a Wave Hill Brioche. The toppings were deep in flavor to complement the mild meat. The fries were fantastic, fried and salted and finished with sprigs of fresh rosemary.

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

Oak + Almond on Urbanspoon

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 http://www.ctbites.com at:

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

Nola Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon

Best Restaurant Burgers – #2 Chelsea / Match

This is not the first time I have written about the cheeseburger at Match and its sister restaurant Chelsea…they are both so great. I witnessed the creation of this masterpiece and it continues as an incredibly delicious array of flavors and textures. Chef Matt Storch continues to push the envelope with flavor combinations and the burgers at both of his restaurants are fantastic.

What separates this burger from the others is the Bacon-Cheese Béchamel sauce. Unlike any other cheese topping in my tour. And the French fries were also the top of the list.

bl2 chelseaThe “Chelsea Burger” and the “Match Burger” each delivered an incredible array of flavors. Chef Matt Storch’s burger started with Craft Saugatuck Butchery’s rich, grass fed short rib, chuck and brisket combination. After grilling to create a crisp char and smokiness, the burger was dipped in a Bacon-Cheese Béchamel, a process created by Chef Storch. Bacon bits sat atop the cheese-dipped burger to add saltiness and then sweet-sour onions finished this presentation. The burger was encased in a sweet onion brioche from the Good Bread Company in Port Chester, which added just a little more sweetness to the burger. The fries at Match were the best I tasted, and Chef Storch told me he worked years developing his technique; crunchy on the exterior, soft and moist on the interior and were the perfect complement to the burger.

See the full list of the Best Restaurant Burgers from Greenwich to New Haven at http://www.ctbites,com:

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

Ciao

Match on Urbanspoon

The Chelsea on Urbanspoon

Jfood’s Top 10 Bar Burgers – Greenwich to New Haven #8 BJ Ryan’s Pub

I tasted over 60 hamburgers to develop the list, yes I actually tasted versus just cut and paste from the menus. And I rated the Top-10 Bar Burgers from Greenwich to New Haven. The first two listings were in New Haven, and for #8 we move to Fairfield County and BJ Ryan’s Pub in Norwalk.

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The B.J. Ryan Burger was delicious; a simple burger served on a soft roll. The meat was perfectly charred on the exterior and juicy on the interior. The grind of the patty was not too compressed or too loose and a slice of American cheese brought all of the saltiness that was required. The fries, which are extra, were not in the same league and not worth the additional cost. (Not to be confused with the one that is sold at its sister restaurant BanC House).

See the full lists of my Top-10 Bar Burgers at:

http://www.ctbites.com/home/2013/5/5/top-10-bar-burgers-from-greenwich-to-new-haven-2013.html

B.J. Ryans on Urbanspoon

Tavern on 7 (Norwalk) – Not a Good Burger

As my search for great bar burgers continues, I wandered up the street from my office to try Tavern on 7. Located just north of the DMV on the opposite side of the street, there is parking on the side and when I entered midway through lunch service the place was bustling with a full house. Evryone seemed to be enjoying their meal, including burgers, fish & chips, salads and sandwiches.

I was there for a burger and the menu included five choices, an “Angus Cheeseburger,” a “All-Star Burger,” A “Veggie Burger,” a “Turkey Burger,” and my choice the “Tavern Brew Burger,” which included black angus beef topped with Fontina cheese, smoked bacon and caramelized onions.

As I waited for the burger to arrive I was impressed with the energy and the chatter around me. This was a go-to spot for many. The burger arrived and after one bite my disappointment kicked in and nothing in the subsequent bites eliminated this first impression. The meat tasted as if water was added to give it a level of juiciness, the bacon was very basic and boring and the onions were more greasy than tasty. The bun was cold and right out of a plastic bag.

I am glad others enjoyed more than me, but I am not anxious to return and have another burger.

Tavern on 7 on Urbanspoon

Basso Café (Norwalk) – Italian with a Venezuelan Touch

When you enter Basso Café you feel transported to a warmer climate with the vibrant colors and art of the Mediterranean. The green walls are adorned with large colorful paintings depicting various culinary delights and the dark wood tables are inviting and offer a calming respite from the hustle and bustle of the day. At the helm of the Basso Café is Owner / Chef Renato Donzelli who is proud that his dream still thrives after opening at the worst possible time at beginning of the financial crisis in September 2007. He very much appreciates all of the favorable word of mouth recommendations that allowed him to weather the crisis.

Born in Venezuela and raised in Naples, Italy, Chef Renato’s cuisine focuses primarily on Mediterranean flavors with a Venezuelan influence. The appetizers at Basso Café include options from Arepas and Empanadas to Bruschetta di Parma on crostini to Fried Yuca, while entrée selections include several fish, meat and poultry selections, plus several pastas.

The highlight of the tapas / appetizers that we sampled was the sautéed spinach and chick peas with shaved garlic and olive oil. The spinach was flavorful and was complemented by the chick peas and Chef Renato elevated the brightness and flavors of the dish with a touch of lemon.

The Medjool dates stuffed with Formaggio Capra cheese and wrapped with smoked apple wood bacon were flavorful while the Mozzarella wrapped in applewood-smoked bacon and served with apricots and an apricot-caramel sauce offered various textures.

One of the current appetizer specials includes a slice of seared Foie Gras sitting atop a house-made duck and pork sausage and topped with a fig, white truffle oil and surrounded with droplets of chive oil. This savory dish delivers the full flavors of the various components but would benefit from a touch of sweetness to further enhance the richness of the Foie Gras.

We also enjoyed two entrées.

The seared Halibut sat atop baby Italian eggplant filled with caponata and served with a Romanesco sauce and topped fried strands of leeks. The dish was delicious, the mild flavor of the halibut worked well with the eggplant and caponata and further enhanced by the boldness of the tomato and pepper sauce.

The “Lamb Two Ways” included three lamb ribs plus several slices of roasted leg of lamb served with Parmesan and green pea risotto plus several grilled asparagus. The lamb chops were perfectly cooked to maintain a pink interior while the sliced leg of lamb was served to medium doneness. We very much enjoyed its deep and rich flavor. Likewise the risotto was served to my preference of just short of al dente while the Parmesan cheese created a luscious and creamy finish.

Of the three desserts we sampled, we highly recommend the Tres Leches cake and the Tiramisu. The vanilla cake was soaked in three kinds of milk and subsequently drizzled with caramel. The cake was soft and flavorful and the three toppings added a sweet component to the dish.

The Tiramisu was wonderful with Savoiardi biscuits that were softened by soaking in espresso, and then layered with whipped mascarpone and topped with bittersweet chocolate. This was a delightful version of the Italian classic dessert and was soft, flavorful and the addition of the Venezuelan cocoa atop the dish was delicious. These two were delicious choices to complete the meal.

A more mild dessert was the Berry Napoleon that included several types of berries within three layers of cookie plus lemon curd. The dessert was good, but we found the full flavors of the other desserts a better ending to the meal.

With numerous appetizers and tapas to choose from, share several with friends and family and then enjoy one of the entrees, but leave room for one of the sweet recommended desserts.

Really Liked:

1) Lamb Two Ways Grilled rack of lamb and roasted leg of lamb with Parmesan-green pea risotto, and grilled asparagus;

2) Halibut over baby Italian eggplant with caponata and Romanesco sauce

3) Tres Leches – Vanilla cake soaked in three kinds of milk drizzled with caramel

4) Tiramisu – Savoiardi biscuits dipped in espresso, layered with whipped mascarpone and topped with bittersweet chocolate.

Liked:

1) Sautéed spinach and chick peas with shaved garlic and olive oil;

2) Foie Gras over a duck and pork sausage and figs with apricots and an apricot-vanilla sauce;

Not So:

1) Medjool dates stuffed with formaggio capra and wrapped with smoked apple wood bacon;

2) Mozzarella and Bacon  Wrapped drizzled with dried apricots and mustard caramel vinaigrette;

3) Berry Napoleon Fresh berries and Lemon Curd.

124 New Canaan Ave. – Norwalk, Connecticut 06850 – 203.354.6566

This was originally reviewed on CTbites on November 19 at http://www.ctbites.com/home/2012/11/18/basso-cafe-venezuela-italy-meet-in-norwalk.html

Basso Cafe Restaurant on Urbanspoon