Spiga – Old World Meets New Italian in New Canaan

Spiga Wine Bar opened quietly in New Canaan a few weeks ago, offering a menu that combines old world Italian red sauce cuisine with modern interpretations of classic dishes. As reported in the CTbites Sneak Peek, the new owners redesigned the interior to offer a family focus for early guests followed by a hip environment as the evening progresses. During its opening weekend, my wife and I visited after a movie and then again with friends for a late lunch. On both occasions we were all impressed with the cuisine, but were a little taken aback by the noise. CTbites was subsequently invited by the owners to visit one afternoon to sample additional items, discuss the changes envisioned to the menu and how the owners are addressing the desire of guests to enjoy conversation with friends and family.

Every visit to Spiga should start with a selection of their Italian meats and cheeses. Ours included Prosciutto di Parma, Soppressata and Porchetta, Mozzarella cheese and olives. Each of the meats offered a different level of spiciness, from the mild Prosciutto to the spicy Soppressata, and all of them were delicious. They can be ordered individually or as a group of one to four meats with Mozzarella.

The menu includes numerous combinations of pizzas, from a simple Margherita to an elaborate “New England” with lobster. The crust of the rectangular shaped personal 12” pizza is crispy from edge to center, with only the slight bend in a slice when lifted. Some may choose to use a knife and fork; this might be a requirement for several of the “salad” topped pies.

I sampled three different combinations. My favorite was the “Calabrese,” which combined a layer of melted Mozzarella cheese and San Marzano tomato sauce, topped with the spicy Sopressata Calabrese and finished with drizzles of hot oil and honey. This sweet-spicy combination offered great heat from the sopressata and the hot oil, offset by a drizzle of the sweet honey. The cheese mellowed the heat and the sauce added even more sweetness.

The “Di Parma” started with melted fresh mozzarella plus chunks of fresh tomatoes and topped with a large mound of lightly dressed arugula and a generous portion of San Danielle prosciutto. The prosciutto was outstanding, with a delightfully soft texture and the cheese and sauce were delicious. I was not as big a fan of the dressed arugula as others, preferring an undressed version.

I was a little apprehensive when the “Roasted Beet” pizza was delivered. It included San Marzano tomato sauce, arugula, cubes of local roasted beets, goat cheese and drizzled with Balsamic reduction. This melding of a salad and pizza was very tasty. The cubes of beets worked well with both the mozzarella and the creamy goat cheese, adding a sweet earthiness to the dish, balanced by the peppery (and in this case undressed) arugula.

I sampled three of the small plates during my visits. My favorite was the “Fried Meatballs” topped with San Marzano tomato sauce, basil and Ricotta cheese. The meatballs were excellent, soft on the interior, surrounded by a crispy exterior and delivered great flavor with just a hint of garlic. The sweet San Marzano sauce was fantastic and the dollops of Ricotta added great creaminess to the dish.

I also enjoyed the “Roasted Brussels Sprouts,” and included a large serving of fried sprouts, paired with crispy pancetta pieces and finished with a honey truffle oil. The sprouts were perfectly fried, crispy on the edges and still firm throughout. The fried pancetta added wonderful salty-smoky flavor and with the cheese added just enough salt to perk the palate.

The last small plate was the “Portuguese Grilled Octopus” that was served with crispy Coppa, baby potatoes, and micro greens. The octopus was very tender, but the texture was off-putting and spongy, and it would have benefitted from a charring on the exterior and the soft textures continued with the potatoes. The crispy Coppa added a slight crunch to the dish, but the current version was not to my liking.

There are numerous salads, with my favorite the “Farro and Quinoa Salad,” served with avocado, cucumbers, scallions, heirloom cherry tomatoes, grilled fennel and finished with lemon-EVOO. The quinoa was a great earthy canvas for the other ingredients. The sweet cucumbers and tomatoes were balanced by the fennel and scallions, and brightened by the lemon dressing.

Another large salad was the “Campagna Salad,” with spinach, golden apples, fresh pears, roasted walnuts, cranberries, Gorgonzola cheese, and Balsamic vinaigrette. A large mound of spinach was surrounded by the sweet thinly sliced fruits, crunchy nuts and pungent cheese. Each forkful brought a different combination of flavors.

With pastas ranging from a home-style spaghetti and meatballs to lobster fettuccine, I decided to try a rich pasta and a light pasta. The “Short Rib Ravioli” was made in-house with a rich, meaty short rib filling encased in a thin pasta sheet and served with a wild mushroom marsala sauce. The deep flavor of the meat was complemented by the earthiness of the wild mushroom and the Marsala sauce. As the cool weather arrives, this will be an excellent comfort option.

On the lighter side, the “Linguini Vongole” was very good. A medium portion of house-made linguini was served in a simple clam broth, with an abundance of cockles, baby clams, roasted garlic, and seasoned with parsley and red chili peppers. The broth was flavorful with a hint of garlic. The pasta was just a touch on the thick side, and the pasta and shellfish were slightly overcooked.

The “Market Cioppino” was excellent. A bowl of lobster, shrimp, calamari, swordfish (this changes daily) and clams, swimming in a seafood tomato broth was served with grilled crostini. Each was perfectly cooked and maintained a soft texture. The broth was delicious. A little red pepper flakes on the table for those, like me, who prefer a little more heat would have made this a perfect rendition.

Overall, Spiga is delivering wonderful pizzas, small plates, salads and main course. I asked the owner about the noise and he told me that they purchased sound dampening material that is being installed throughout the dining area. Likewise, Spiga’s opening menu was very large (this is the owners’ first venture into New Canaan) and they wanted to understand the likes and dislikes versus their other restaurants. Over the next few weeks, the menu will more align with the tastes of the New Canaan guests.

Many thanks to Janes Beiles of Jane Beiles Photography for these wonderful photos.

136 Main St – New Canaan, CT 06840

(203) 920-1351

Really Liked

  • Meat Platter – Prosciutto di Parma, Soppressata and Porchetta with Mozzarella ($25.50)
  • Calabrese Pizza ($16)
  • Fried Meatballs ($9)
  • Roasted Brussels Sprouts ($9)
  • Short Rib Ravioli (Lunch $17; Dinner $20)
  • Market Cioppino (Lunch $23; Dinner $26)

Liked

  • Di Parma Pizza($16)
  • Roasted Beet Pizza ($17)
  • Farro and Quinoa Salad (Lunch $12; Dinner $15)
  • Campagna Salad (Lunch $10; Dinner $13)
  • Linguini Vongole (Lunch $18; Dinner $20)

Needs Improvement

  • Portuguese Grilled Octopus ($15)

The author was compensated for this review; the meal on the last visit was provided without charge. The opinions contained herein are solely those of the author.

Advertisements

Table 104 (STM) – Not a Hit

BL Meatbals
Table 104 recently opened on Long Ridge Rd just north of Saks on the way to the Merritt, the fourth re-incarnation of this space (Matteo’s, Fio’s, and Minetto’s to name a few) over the past several years. In addition to the restaurants available in the strip malls on High Ridge, Table 104 offers an option to downtown Stamford. Parking is available in an attached lot, with valet parking on the weekends. We recently visited and sampled several small plates, a two pizza combinations, a pasta and one of their larger plates.

BL Arancini
My favorite dish of the visit was the “Sicilian Arancini with the Bolognese Sauce.” The arancini were perfectly cooked to maintain its interior moistness; and the kitchen did an excellent job in frying each ball to create a crispy exterior. They sat atop a mound of Bolognese sauce, which was very good…this dish was the highlight of the visit. The other small plate, The “Meatballs, Pork-Chicken Beef, Grilled Crostino, Marinara, Shaved Grana.” was disappointing. The meatballs were severely undercooked, borderline raw, spicy and once we tasted the very rare interior we stopped eating them.

BL MushroomPizza
The first pizza to arrive was the mushroom pizza. The mushrooms were pretty good and worked well with the cheese. The toppings on the other pizza were sausage, et. al. The sausage was also pretty good, unfortunately both suffered from a crust that was very bland.
BL Pasta
The pasta dish was capellini combined with shrimp, arugula and grape tomatoes. Other than a few slices of garlic, the dish was significantly under-seasoned, it was very bland. BL Steak
The “Grilled Hangar Steak, Smashed Fingerling, Roasted Peppers, Leeks, Mushroom Ragu,” ordered medium-rare, was served rare-raw. Other than a little vinegar flavor from the chimichurri, It was also under-seasoned. Unfortunately it was overwhelmed with oil from the chimichurri. The potatoes were well prepared but they too were without any seasoning.

Overall it was a very disappointing visit to Table 104. Other than the arancini, the other dishes were not memorable.

Table 104 Osteria-Bar on Urbanspoon

Bar La Grassa – Some Spectacular Dishes

I always recommend Bar La Grassa to colleagues who live in the Twin Cities. When some foodie customers asked me to join them at one of my favorites, of course I accepted. With three people in attendance it was the perfect opportunity to do a sharing of the cuisine that has garnered such great press.

For our first round of dishes we ordered the “ARANCINI with DUCK CONFIT and TALEGGIO” $10), the “SOFT EGGS and LOBSTER ($18), and the “GORRGONZOLA PICANTE with PEPERONATA ($9).”

The soft egg and lobster Is a brilliant combination. The eggs are cooked to a creamy decadence and then the lobster adds great flavor and just a touch of textural contrast. The slightly grilled toast added the crunchiness to the dish. Priced at $18, this is not an inexpensive starter course, but well worth a splurge. The Arancini was perfectly cooked, crispy on the exterior and soft and creamy on the inside. There was a scant amount of confit but the Taleggio was creamy and a great contrast to the Arancini. I would have enjoyed the dish with more confit. The slight pungency of the Gorrgonzola (sic) worked perfectly with the spicy Peperonata. The toasted slice of bread contributed just a touch of flavor and crunchiness.

I suggested each of my colleague choose a small pasta order and I would fill in with another two. For the entrée course we ordered the “FUSILLI COL BUCO with LAMB MEATBALLS” ($10), the “CALAMARATA with RAW TUNA” ($20), an order of “CAVATELLI with BRAISED RABBIT” ($9), and the “GNOCCHI with CAULIFLOWER and ORANGE” $10).

The gnocchi is one of my favorite combinations anywhere. The bite sized gnocchi were brightened with the mild orangey-citrus background and then the small pieces of sautéed cauliflower added the textural contrast. The fusilli is not your mom’s spaghetti and meatballs. The meatballs were soft and rich in flavor, perfectly paired with the sweet and bright tomato sauce. The cavatelli was a little short of the deep flavors that I was anticipating from braised rabbit, veering to a subtleness of the rabbit versus the gamey approach. The addition of the grated cheese on the table is needed in this dish to bring out the flavors. I was not a fan of the calamarata. The dish delivered a good level of spiciness but I was not fond of the textural combination of the raw tuna with the pasta.

Overall I loved the dishes at BLG, with several of them absolutely spectacular.

Bar La Grassa on Urbanspoon

Cotto Wine Bar (Stamford) – Food with Love from Italy

I finally returned to Cotto after a long hiatus and I am glad I did. The atmosphere was alive, the staff was friendly and knowledgeable and the food was very good. The chef recreates the cuisine reminiscent of numerous restaurants in Italy, straightforward Italian food that allows the flavors of the ingredients to shine. Unlike many Fairfield County restaurants where you feel rushed, there was not one iota of pushiness at our table and from what I noticed with the staff interactions at other tables, this is the owners’ philosophy.

Upon arrival on a snowy and icy evening we were met by one of the owners, Silvy Ridolfi, and escorted to our table by her husband and owner Claudio. The interior is beautiful, with photos of Silvy’s movie actress mother (she appeared in films with Sophia Loren) adorning one entire wall, a long bar the other, with a rounded wood covered ceiling creating a very European, slick environment

Once seated we were approached by our server, and over the course of our meal he proved to be an incredible source of information, recommendations and exceptional service. He guided us to several of his favorite dishes and was very competent in his wine selections to pair with the meal.

The menu is large and diverse and divided into several sections including Tapas, charcuterie, cheeses, pastas (with a separate section for house made) pizzas and entrees. We narrowed our choices and decided on a few tapas to begin the meal.

The “New Zealand Lamb Chops” were the best of the appetizers that we sampled. They were prepared to our requested medium-rare and accented with rosemary, garlic, Balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and served with arugula. The meat was rich and flavorful and worked well with the Balsamic. The “Grilled Calamari” was flash grilled and topped with a Balsamic reduction and served with lemon wedges and arugula. I recommend squeezing lemon juice on the calamari to balance the flavors. The “San Marzano Veal Meatballs” were served with a touch of tomato sauce and shaved Parmigiano Reggiano. The portion of six small meatballs were firm in texture with good flavor. The sauce was a nice complement to the herb-spiced meatballs.

Of the four entrees we sampled, the best was the “Organic Roasted Chicken.” The half chicken was roasted in the wood fired oven and delivered a crispy skin and a delicious and succulent interior. The freshly made “Tagliatelle” was served with wild boar ragu and was very good. The house made pasta was silky in texture and thick enough to handle the robust tomato sauce. I would prefer a little less sauce to allow for the rich flavor of the boar to come more to the forefront. The special “Ravioli” for the evening was a spinach ravioli served in a creamy cheese sauce and we asked if a Pomodoro sauce could be substituted. The raviolis were plump and excellent, and worked very well with the rich tomato flavor of the Pomodoro.

Save room for dessert. We ordered two to share, the molten chocolate cake and the bread pudding, both served with pistachio gelato. They were excellent. The chocolate cake oozed a delicious chocolaty center and the pistachio gelato was a great complement. The bread pudding included raisins and was fantastic, offering crispy and moist textures, sweetness and then offset by the pistachio gelato.

It was a great, fun evening of very good food in a relaxed and vibrant atmosphere. I really enjoyed Cotto and look forward to another meal.

Cotto Wine Bar + Pizzeria on Urbanspoon