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 Southwest CT – #2 South End Burger

South End Restaurant in New Canaan opened in 2012. The brainchild of Owner / Chef Nick Martschenko and his business partner Keith Siskind, South End is a hot spot in town. On any night the restaurant boasts a busy crowd enjoying Martschenko’s modern day interpretations of traditional food. With one of the best meatballs in the area it is a go-to spot. And the hamburger is fantastic. The “South End Burger” is one of the best hamburgers I have ever eaten.

Best_Burgers_in_CT_Restaurants_2013_jane

(Photo courtesy of Jane Beiles and CTbites)

The “South End Burger” created by Chef Nick Martschenko started with fantastic beef, topped with double smoked bacon, American cheese, South End burger sauce and served on a Wave Hill poppy seed roll. The flavor of the meat was perfect, and Chef Martschenko charred the exterior while maintaining a medium rare interior that oozed tons of juicy goodness. The bacon was crisp and flavorful and complemented the meat. A few slices of B&B pickles adorned the burger and added another delightful flavor and the melted American cheese encased the patty. The sauce was a chunky spiced ketchup-y delight, which added another flavor level. The roll was light on flavor and allowed the bold flavors inside to shine. The fries were delicious, lightly salted with a dusting of parmesan cheese and was a great side for the burger.

Check out the entire top 10 list 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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South End – A “Modern Tavern” in New Canaan

In early July CTbites previewed the opening of South End, the newest addition to the New Canaan restaurant scene.  Nearly two months of frenzied activity has confirmed the local appreciation that the creative cuisine of Chef Nicholas Martschenko is alive on Pine Street.

Overseeing the front of the house is Keith Siskind, his business partner, and the duo redesigned the interior at South End to create a relaxing atmosphere by intertwining rustic charm with modern comfort. The tables are carefully arranged to allow for pleasant conversation and the overall noise level creates a vibrant buzz without overwhelming intrusion. With upwards of 85 seats, 30 of which are contained around the energetic bar area, South End offers pleasant ambience to enjoy the wonderful cuisine that emerges from the kitchen.

The duo’s ambition to create the “Modern Tavern” is a rousing success. Siskind developed an excellent relationship with two local breweries, New Canaan’s Charter Oak and Stamford’s Half Full (Bright Ale) and both are prominently displayed on the taps overlooking the bar. In addition to these local brews, South End’s taps are serving a Pilsner from Brooklyn Brewery and Palm, a Euro Pale Lager from Belgium. The bar is also stocked with numerous beers, liquors and wines.

While enjoying a beer, wine or cocktail and perusing the menu, you may want to consider nibbling and sharing two of South End’s wonderful appetizers; Nonna’s Meatballs, which are absolutely delicious, or a selection of Artisanal Meats and Cheeses, served on a piece of reclaimed wood.

One of my favorite hot appetizers was the trio of Prosciutto Wrapped Figs stuffed with goat cheese and served with blistered grapes and finished with Saba syrup. They were delectable with an outstanding flavor combination of the sweet figs offset by the saltiness of the prosciutto and the deep sweet-sour composition of the Saba syrup.

The recently introduced Roasted PEI Mussels were served in a tomato and fennel broth that was slightly thickened with rouille and served with slices of grilled garlic bread. This dish delivered a fantastic combination of flavors; the tomatoes adding a sweet quality to the tender mussels while the fennel added a delightful licorice accent to the broth.

I recommend South End’s Heirloom Tomato Salad (end of the season upon us) that includes several varieties of seasonally ripe tomatoes, a touch of a tomato gelee, plus a tiny scoop of basil ice cream sitting atop a slice of mozzarella. The flavors of the tomatoes were sweet and delicious and when combined with the mozzarella and basil ice cream and a little of the pesto created a wonderful balance of flavors and textures. This was a refreshing and delightful dish.

My favorite appetizer / entrée was the Grilled Fresh Bacon, served atop mustard spaetzle, and paired with peach chutney and a sherry sauce. The meat was slow-braised and incredibly moist. The sherry sauce was brushed over the meat to create a wonderful balance of flavors and the slightly crisp edges of the spaetzle were a great offset to its soft texture. The peach chutney added a sweet and delicious complement to the slightly sour sherry sauce.

Chef Martschenko’s talent to create incredible pasta dishes was evident in several of the pasta dishes that I enjoyed. All of the pastas are house-made and shows the passion he developed as the Executive Chef at i Trulli.

My favorite pasta was the Tagliatelle Bolognese, a version that should remain the cornerstone of South End’s ever-changing menu. The pasta was the perfect thickness to handle the rich flavors of the veal, pork, and beef based Bolognese. The sauce was a traditional preparation and finished with rosemary and basil. On each visit this dish was ordered by at least one person at our table and in every instance the entire table tasted and thoroughly enjoyed the rich flavors of the sauce combined with the texture of the pasta.

Another recommended choice is the Veal Cannelloni, house-made crepes stuffed with veal, spinach and ricotta cheese and served with a Sicilian pistachio sauce.  A second recommendation is one of several variations of the Orrechiette, whether with a delicious braised rabbit or ground Italian sausage. The sauce that accompanies the Orrechiette changes often and I have enjoyed the braised rabbit as well as the sausage and broccoli rabe.

The entrées include selections of fish, meats and poultry. Three of the entrees that I thoroughly enjoyed included the Roasted Amish Chicken, the Grilled Pork Chop and the Scottish Organic Salmon.

The Roasted Chicken was described by Chef Martschenko as “the epitome of the modern tavern” cuisine. It was served atop spinach plus a wide assortment of mushrooms. The tarragon jus was a perfect complement to the perfectly roasted chicken. The chicken was succulent and the skin was crisped to perfection. The mashed potatoes were served in an iron crock and were whipped with oil and finished with butter and cream; totally decadent and absolutely delicious.

The Pork chop is first slow braised, then finished on the grill and served with diced potatoes (sweet and russet) plus spinach; the cooking method created a perfectly consistent and juicy doneness to the meat and the quick grill added a textural difference. The sherry sauce was outstanding, reduced almost to a consistency of a demi-glace, with intense flavors and perfectly complemented the pork, the crispy potatoes and the bacon.

For a lighter choice, the Salmon is a delightful option. The asparagus vinaigrette brought the entire dish together and was served with a variety of beans and peas, potatoes and a wonderful selection of mushrooms. The salmon was incredibly moist on the interior and the skin was perfectly crisped.

Chef Markschenko is also preparing scrumptious desserts including the South End Sundae and Raspberry/Nectarine Cobbler. The Sundae pairs pistachio and vanilla ice creams, a fudgy chocolate sauce, Luxardo cherries, roasted almonds, and is served with an anise biscotti. The ice cream was delicious, but the highlight was the Luxardo cherries; and when covered with some of the rich fudge, was a perfect ending to the meal. The Cobbler delivered a perfect balance of crunchy and smooth, with the fruits baked to maintain a crisp texture, the sweet streusel topping added addition crunchiness and the smooth toasted almond ice cream created a perfect partner to the cobbler.

After a mere two months, South End is a welcoming restaurant in New Canaan serving delicious and constantly changing choices. Chef Martschenko continues to develop flavors and combinations for his guests in New Canaan enjoy while Siskind has created a relaxing and friendly environment for all to enjoy. The New Canaan restaurant footprint now extends to Pine Street with the addition of South End.

–          South End – 36 Pine Street – New Canaan, CT, 06840    –

203-966-5200

Originally publishes on http://www.ctbites.com on  September 30, 2012

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