The Cottage (Westport) – Great Start for Great Food

Cottage ExteriorChef Brian Lewis, one of Connecticut’s most influential chefs and celebrated for being on the cutting edge of the state’s dining scene, opened his new restaurant, The Cottage, this past weekend. It is Chef Lewis’ second Fairfield County restaurant, redesigning the space that formerly housed Le Farm into a charming 44-seat establishment in the heart of town. Known for his thoughtful and innovative dishes that garnered him accolades from The New York Times, Esquire and Connecticut Magazine, The Cottage features his highly revered seasonal American cuisine in a warm and relaxing environment.

The Cottage reflects Chef Lewis’ vision and represents his desire to produce a premier neighborhood destination serving the finest, locally sourced cuisine. The menu will be updated weekly paying homage to local farmers and artisans in the region that share Lewis’s commitment to exceptionally sourced and quality seasonal ingredients. “My wife, Dana, and I have fallen in love with Westport over the years, spending so much of our free time here with our boys, Jude and Jax. The food scene here, the community of chefs, and farmer’s market have always been a big part of my day to day life.”

Upon entry, a vintage factory window sanded to its raw steel greets the guests to the intimate restaurant, as arched top white wood mirrors create the illusion of more space. White wooden walls with dark grey accents, authentic oak wood floors stained white, and an antique mahogany bar dating back to the early 1900’s offer an ode to style influences of the past and Northern European tradition. Imported from Lille, France, the bar frames the kitchen with original brass brackets and finial details with glass shelving. Four wooden chandeliers exude warmth throughout the dining room, while aged wooden tables with custom painted chairs strategically occupy the floor. Fabric sconces highlight the hand hewn thick beams that grace the perimeter, as two industrial factory pendant lights in vintage style hover over the bar’s counter. A combination butcher block and Carrera marble counter offers four additional seats with a glimpse into the busy kitchen.

cottage_15_eggs_&_baconThe opening menu included hand-crafted dishes that were artful, yet approachable. Appetizers range from the simple Copps Island Oysters with Yuzu, and Ginger Mignonette, and Maple Bacon & Eggs with Robiola Cheese, to the more complex Sautéed Foie Gras with Vanilla Quince, Smoked Macadamia Nuts and Huckleberry. One of Chef Lewis’ perennial favorites, the Italian Chestnut soup spiked with Cognac, which I sampled at one of his pre-opening gatherings, was outstanding. The flavor, texture and richness of the soup was exceptional. With three pastas including Kabocha Squash Agnolotti, Foie Gras Cappelacci with Drunken Prunes and Almonds and Spaghetti with Lobster, the menu offered a glimpse of the creativity of the cuisine.

cottage_15_spaghetti_lobsterI was fortunate to secure a table for Saturday evening and enjoyed several more of Chef Lewis’s inspired dishes. For my first course I ordered an appetizer-sized Lobster Spaghetti with sea urchin and Calabrian Chili. The pasta was a fantastic canvas the accompanying flavors. The chilies added a mild level of spiciness and the combination of the sweet lobster pieces and the richness of the sea urchin was a great combination.

cottage_15_bunsBefore our entrées arrived the two of us shared the Wagyu brisket steam buns with Napa cabbage kimchi and duck fat potato tempura. When the plate arrived it was topped with two buns, several slices of brisket, sauce, aioli and the kimchi. I spread the sauce and aioli on the bun and added the meat and vegetables. The brisket was fall-apart tender and full of rich flavor. The kimchee added a nice offset to the meat and the sauces added a little creaminess. A touch of sweetness was added by the soft buns.

cottage_15_short_rib_pieThe four opening weekend entrées included Cod, King Salmon, a pork rib roast and a Short rib cottage pie. I decided on the Cottage pie, which included a small kettle filled with the short rib and topped with mashed parsnip/potato and Cipollini onions. They were accompanied in the presentation by a bowl of roasted carrots. The meat was fork tender, earthy and outstanding, smothered in a rich, silky sauce. The parsnip-potato purée added sweetness to the meat and the roasted carrots were a wonderful complementing texture and more sweetness. The dish was delicious.

The beverage program includes a robust collection of boutique wines from around the globe, served by the glass or bottle, to pair perfectly with Chef Lewis’ culinary style.

“Our cuisine is inspired by classic and modern cooking techniques, with a constant pursuit of finding the very best ingredients available,” Lewis continues. “The menu celebrates cultures of Italy, Spain, France, Japan and most importantly, our direct Northeast region so I am thrilled to finally open our doors to the Westport community and to the friends who have followed my career to this point.” After my first of many meals at The Cottage I am also thrilled.

The Cottage will be open for dinner from Tuesday through Thursday (5:30pm – 9:30pm), and Friday through Saturday (5:30pm – 10:30pm).

256 Post Road East. Westport, Connecticut, 06880

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Fleisher’s Craft Butchery (Westport) – #8 on 2015 Best Burgers

fleish_15_burger_1A few years ago Saugatuck Craft Burchery opened in Westport, buying locally-raised meats and poultry, dry-aging the beef on premises and selling to the public. A second phase was opening a cafe using their meats as the centerpiece to the menu.

fleish_15_burger_3The “Craft Burger” is the next new addition to my Best Burger list. It included dry-aged beef, IPA fondue, bacon bits, bitter greens, and an onion ring served on a brioche. The meat was fantastic, perfectly prepared to medium-rare and delivered that wonderful rich flavor we have grown to expect from this butcher. The IPA fondue was a thick cheese sauce that covered the top of the meat and the mini-cubes of bacon were a great addition. The ingredient that elevated this burger was the bitter greens. It added a level of complexity that none other contained and the sweetness of the brioche was fantastic.

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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.

323 Main Street (Westport) – Looking for an Identity

bl_interior[1]After several visits, 323 Restaurant & Bar in Westport is a bar/restaurant looking for an identity. It is unclear whether this is a bar with a dining room, or vice versa. Equally unclear is the cuisine which includes Italian, Seafood, Southern, and simple grilled meats. The interior was converted from a neighborhood bar, Bogies, and now includes with a 66-seat dining area to the right and an equi-large room to the left with a U-shaped bar and tables. The décor is eclectic-rustic-formal with wood beams overlooking tables covered with clothes. HDTV with a ballgame on the wall in one room and art on the walls in the other. But most important was the experience. On a recent weekend night visit there were limited guests (4 tables) and the vibe was dull but the service was alive.  I hope they can decide on a direction before it is too late.

As far as the cuisine was concerned I enjoyed some of the dishes, a few of the components in the others required a little attention (some of these items have already been modified from when I originally sampled) and others were not at all to my liking.

bl_chowder[1]The “New England Clam Chowder” on one visit was one of the best chowders I have tasted…a great start to the meal. The creamy bisque was rich in flavors from the fish stock and included an abundance of clams. On a subsequent visit the broth was overly pungent, the clams were very chewy and the potatoes were mushy, almost as if it simmered too long.

bl_octopus[1]The “Grilled Octopus” with Chorizo hash and olive tapenade delivered some excellent flavors and textures. The octopus was braised and then finished on the grill. It was extremely tender and the olive tapenade was a good complement. The hash lacked the appropriate spiciness and would have benefited from more chorizo to add additional spice. The menu subsequently eliminated the hash. bl_salad[1]The “Salad of Thumbelina Carrots,” et. al. was a big hit. Included in the potpourri of colors were breakfast radishes, beets, kumquats and avocados. Each was sweet and incredibly delicious; I loved the textures and flavors of each of these vegetables. I was not as fond of the ginger yogurt that accompanied the salad and thought it did not complement, and almost fought with, the sweetness of the vegetables.

bl_burger_2[1]The grilled meat entrees were the highlight. The best overall dish was the 323 Burger. Eight ounces of short rib and brisket blend was served with pancetta, onion jam, American cheese, pickles and 323 sauce served on a Wave Hill brioche. Served with French fries or onion rings, the burger was perfectly prepared, delivered great flavor and the accompaniments were delicious. The hand-cut onion rings were delicious but on my two visits the seasoning was uneven. The “Dry Aged Boneless NY Strip” was fantastic. It was served with broccolini with raisins, and pignoli duck fat potatoes. The steak, from Pat LaFrieda in NYC, was prepared perfectly and delivered great flavor and texture; this was one of the best steaks in the area. The potatoes were delicious; crisp on the exterior and creamy on the interior; I was not fond of the broccolini and raisin accompaniment which was undercooked. bl_salmon[1]The “Salmon a la Plancha” with spring vegetable ragout, julienned pear and a black truffle sauce was flavorful. A simple salmon filet sat atop a variety of beans, peas and onions and hidden beneath the vegetables was the highlight of the dish, a truffle sauce. The sauce was earthy and delightful when paired with other ingredients.

bl_pasta[1]Unfortunately there were an equal number of very disappointing dishes. My least favorite dish was the “Hand Cut Fresh Tagliarini” with Guanciale, English peas, spring onion and Parmesan cheese. The pasta was overcooked, gummy in texture and the sauce was lacking the richness I would expect from the description. The “Chicken Saltimbocca” was incredibly bitter and was returned to the kitchen. The Lobster Roll was non-memorable with limited meat and flavor and it almost joined the chicken in a return to the kitchen.

The desserts were all disappointing. On one visit the “Chocolate Torte” with butterscotch, sea salt and vanilla gelato was served with burnt edges and on a subsequent visit, the flavor and texture were lacking; the Panna Cotta with crumble was served two different ways. On one visit it was delicious and on a subsequent visit the crumble topping had a burnt flavor.

bl_burger_1[1]Overall the grilled meats and burgers that 323 served were delicious while the non-“grill” items did not deliver the same level of satisfaction.

323 Restaurant & Bar · 323 Main Street · Westport, CT. · 203.222.0323

The Restaurant at 323 Main on Urbanspoon

Best Restaurant Burgers in Southwest CT – #7 LeFarm (Westport)

The burger at Le Farm in Westport makes my 2013 Best Restaurant Burgers list twice, once under Chef Geoff Lazlo and again under its newest chef, Arik Bensimon. Both of these great chefs carry on the traditions of Owner Bill Taibe. Le Farm is small in scale but large in stature and the Le Farm “Beef Burger” has graced its menu since inception.

bl2 Le FarmThe “Beef Burger” with B&B pickles, mayonnaise, Cheddar cheese and bacon on a brioche delivered incredible flavors. This hamburger was sampled while Chef Geoff Lazlo and again when Chef Arik Bensimon were in the kitchen. The meat was charred on the exterior and the interior texture was soft. The interior was perfectly prepared to medium rare and was moist and juicy. The house-made pickles added a sweet element and the cheese and mayo were delightful and creamy complements; the bacon was a little bold for the other flavors. All of these delicious ingredients were encased in a brioche bun, a favorite of mine.

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

Le Farm on Urbanspoon

#1 Hamburger in Southwest CT – The Whelk (Westport)

One year, hundreds of miles, close to 30 pounds of meat, thousands of fries…searching for the ten best hamburgers. While others merely create lists of hamburgers from websites, I devoured almost 70 different varieties in as many locations. And at the end of this long and winding road stood Chef Bill Taibe’s beef burger served at The Whelk in Westport.

bl2 WhelkInteresting that a restaurant named after a mollusk with 90% of cuisine devoted to some of the best fish and seafood anywhere also delivers the best burger in the area. But with Bill Taibe overseeing the cuisine, nothing should surprise you.

Have the table start with an assortment of oysters and clams and then move to the main dish. For the carnivores, just sit back and enjoy the best burger around while the rest of the table can enjoy some of the best and creative seafood around. It’s a beautiful thing.

Owner Chef Bill Taibe and Chef Geoff Lazlo created my favorite burger this year, combining rich flavored meat, sweet pickles, cry baby Swiss cheese, two varieties of bacon, crisped onions and onion mayo on a brioche bun. The dry aged blend of short rib, brisket and chuck from Craft Saugatuck Butchery was fantastic. The cheese covered, thick patty sat atop two different varieties of bacon that added saltiness and smokiness, while slices of sweet pickles, a slice of frisée and the onion accented mayo brought additional flavors and textures. Sitting atop the plump patty were handful of crisped onions. These were all encased in a sweet brioche bun. The flavors were overwhelmingly delicious with smoky, salty, sweet all complementing the deep, rich flavors of the beef with the crisped onions adding a fun and crunchy texture. The hamburger was served with shoestring fries that were perfectly prepared and salted.

See the entire list of the Best 10 Hamburgers 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

The Whelk on Urbanspoon

Jfood’s Top 10 Bar Burgers – Greenwich to New Haven #3 Black Duck

Overlooking the Saugatuck River and in the shadows of I-95 sits the Black Duck. Not visible from the street, this Westport institution has been included in my list of Best Burgers for several years and is again worthy of inclusion. Now #3 on my list of Best Bar Burgers from Greenwich to New Haven is the Black Duck.

EO_Black_Duck_Burger1This burger was six ounces of handcrafted 80-20 Angus and I ordered mine topped with frizzled onions and cheese. It was cooked to perfection, the exterior had a nice crust and medium pink occupied the middle. It was rich in flavor and the texture was soft and the size of the patty allowed the flavor of the meat to be the highlight of the burger. The frizzled onions were fantastic. The bun was plain but sturdy enough to handle the juicy burger and did not interfere with all the great flavors of the meat. The onion rings were my choice, with a crispy, thick coating.

See the full list 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

(photo courtesy of Ctbites.com)

Black Duck Cafe on Urbanspoon