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.

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Amore Cucina (Stamford) – Outstanding Pizza

amore_5There is another entrant onto my Great Pizza List. Amore Cucina & Bar recently opened on Hope Street in Stamford and is serving outstanding pizza. On a recent Monday, Owner Bruno DiFabio, opened his doors with 100% of the proceeds earmarked for the Susan G Komen Research Foundation for Breast Cancer. DiFabio is no stranger to the limelight. He is a six-time World Pizza Champion and Television Personality and owns eleven restaurants in the US.

amore_4Amore serves two types of pizza and on this visit I sampled the “Ferentini” square pie. The making of the dough requires a 96-hour fermentation process, using condensed milk that breaks down the gluten in the flour. Bruno told me this creates close to a gluten free product and he recommends to people with gluten issues.

amore_6The Ferentini is topped with spicy salami, green olives, tomato, Mozzarella cheese and San Marzano purée, and was the winner in the Best Traditional Category at the Las Vegas Expo. The square shape is reminiscent of Chicago pan pizza and the thickness of the dough may give some concern, but after one bite you will understand that you are in the presence of pizza greatness.

amore_7The pizza was perfectly baked, with a tan crust and underside, the cheese was firmly holding all of the ingredients in place (I do not like when the cheese covers the ingredients) and they were evenly distributed so each bite of the six slices would capture all of the flavors. My first bite of the crust was similar to biting into air surrounded by a thin crispy crust…it was divine, and the flavor was fantastic. I moved onto the full slice and they were fantastic. The sweetness of the San Marzano purée combined with the spiciness of the salami and the brightness of the olives was perfect. The cheese added a hint of luscious creaminess. This was one of the best pizzas I have ever eaten.

amore_1Overall, Amore is a great place, the décor is wonderful, the owner is a great person who can deliver exceptional food and gives back to the community and the pizza is world class.

Click to add a blog post for Amore Cucina & Bar on Zomato

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

Remo’s Brick Oven Pizza (STM) – Pretty Tasty Pie

Remos is located on Bedford, just north of the Tresser intersection. Parking on Bedford is always tricky but visitors have the option of parking behind in the large public parking lot. Enter from either the front or the back.

On one side of the interior, near the front is the brick oven for the pizzas. The menu is ample, and guests can choose from appetizers, salads, sandwiches, pastas, plates or pizzas. I was there for the pizza. The restaurant offers 10 Signature pies ranging from a salad and veggie to a Buffalo chicken. You can also opt for a Margherita, a New York Pie, or build your own. I decided on my regular first pie of half pepperoni and half sausage & pepper.

The pizza arrived and it was baked excellently. There was a slight char but not burnt, the dough was very thin, almost too thin, and airy with just a bit of a bite. The sauce was rich in flavor and seasoned with traditional Italian seasonings. There was the correct amount of cheese, nicely melted. The pepperoni was a little spicy and not too oily. The sausage and pepper side was very good, not great. The sausage was not my favorite.

Overall, I enjoyed the pizza at Remos. It definitely deserves a second visit to try another pie.

Remo's Brick Oven Pizza on Urbanspoon

Locali Pizza Bar & Kitchen (New Canaan) – Outstanding Apizza

DSC_2446A few weeks ago I posted a review over at http://www.ctbites.com on Locali Pizza Bar & Kitchen. Over the last few weeks I have returned numerous times to enjoy some of the best pizza in Fairfield County. The pizza that is baked in their enormous ceramic covered, wood-fired oven produces a wonderful charred crust with a crispiness that maintains the integrity of the pie with the delightful toppings. From a simple Marinara to a complex Spicy Capicola, Chef Anthony’s pizzas are setting the standard for true Neapolitan pizza.

BL OvenThere are three elements to a pizza, the dough, the sauce and the toppings. Miss one and the pizza fails, each must be perfect by themselves to create a flawless pie. And Locali hits the trifecta with several options for the last. The dough is delicious. The taste delivers just a touch of sweetness, the texture balances the slight bite and crispiness, and handles the 800+ degree oven to create a charred rim. The sauce accentuates the deep, rich flavors that only true DOP San Marzano tomatoes can offer and the toppings range from mild to spicy, blend these to create individual desires.

BL Margherita PizzaThe “Marinara” is the classic apizza featuring two of the ingredients, dough and sauce. The simplicity of this pie allows the guest to enjoy the ripe tomatoes, accented with a touch of garlic and sea salt. The “Margherita” apizza adds a few circles of house-made Mozzerella and Pecorino cheese, finished with basil leaves. The addition of the creamy Mozz mellowed the flavors and the basil added just a touch of earthiness.

BL Mushroom PizzaA totally different flavor profile is found in the “Wild Mushroom” pie. Void of tomatoes, this combination focusses on the deep, earthy flavors of a variety of wild mushroom, nestled in cheese and finished with a sprinkling of Pecorino. If you are looking for a spicy combination, order the “Spicy Capicola,” with toppings that include Mozzarella and Capicola and then finished with Mike’s Hot Honey. I never thought I would enjoy honey on a pizza, but its sweetness was the perfect complement and mellowed the spiciness of the Capicola.

BL MeatballsSave room for some of Chef Reuben’s creations. The “Local Kale” salad is one of the best around. The Locali version includes cranberries, walnuts, pomegranate, grapefruit sections, and Gorgonzola cheese and dressed with a Sherry vinaigrette.  A kale salad and Margherita is one of our go-to dinners for two. For an additional vegetable dish, we add the “Brussels Sprouts,” which include chopped

pistachio nuts for a little crunchiness. For a meat selection, order the meatballs that are some of the softest and most flavorful combination when paired with the Locali cheese curds.

Locali is a great addition to New Canaan and should not be missed.

Locali Pizza Bar + Kitchen on Urbanspoon

850 Wood Fired Pizza (Ridgefield – Needs Works

BL 850 1850 Wood Fired Pizza is located down the alley to the right of Fifty Coins in downtown Ridgefield. The interior is very well done with eight wooden booths and four high top tables in the first room and an equal number of seats in the rear room. There are several TVs on the wall, giving the space a pubby, sports bar feel. They did a very good job on decorating. There are also some tables on the front terrace that would be a good location in much warmer weather. There is an interesting array of condiments on the table. In addition to the normal salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and grated cheese, 850 also serves Tabasco sauce.

There are four styles of pizza, Wood Fired Red, Wood Fired White, Traditional Oven and Ultra Thin Bar Style. Salads and a few pastas are also available. I ordered a Wood Fired Red Margherita with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil and olive oil. This pie needs a lot of work. The crust, although thin, was a cracker crust, not Neapolitan (as stated on the web site) in any sense, ultra-crispy and unpliable and very bland. The tomato sauce, on the other hand was overwhelming in flavor. It was more a peppery tomato paste than a pizza sauce. There was some cheese that melted into the background on taste and a few leaves of basil. I did not like the pizza at all.

BL 850 2

The staff is very young and needs a lot of training. When I asked what the difference was between the “fresh Mozzarella” and the “Mozzarella Cheese” (as stated on the menu) I drew a blank stare. When I paid my $12.50 bill with a twenty-dollar bill she asked if I wanted change.

Overall, with a lot of other choices in the area, I think I’ll take a pass on returning until some significant changes occur.

850 Degrees Wood Fired Pizza on Urbanspoon

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.