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Brindavan

I recently discovered an awesome Indian restaurant called Brindavan. It’s about a 25 minutes drive from my house in Fairfield, and the distance is a good thing, because if I lived any closer, I would have been back a dozen times by now. I kept thinking about the aromatic, spice-filled food for days afterward.

Known for having the “biggest lunch buffet,” Brindavan is in a strip mall in Milford, CT, and on a recent weekday lunch, the long room was filled with a mostly Indian crowd. A woman serving herself from the abundant trays, said she and her colleagues worked at a near-by pharmaceutical company.  A waiter who brought warm naan to the table,  told us that “if we had the time,” come back on the weekend, when the buffet expands to 35 dishes.

Brindavan is about the food, not the décor.  Unlike the dingy atmosphere, the food is bright, warm, filled with spices and flavors that made us smile and feel a buzz.  The Manchurian vegetable balls really stood out for, may be because it’s one of the first things we tasted, and we loved how spicy they were.  The idly had that wonderful sour fermented flavor, there were sauces to drizzle over them. Onion fritters, dal, curries, tandoor and more.

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Lucas Local Oyster Bar and Woodfire Cookery

Oyster lovers, head inland. The best oysters to be found in Fairfield County are not on the coast but in Newtown, CT, at Lucas Local Oyster Bar and Woodfire Cookery. The other day I sampled some of the freshest and most expertly opened oysters, pristine, glistening, and briny.

This contemporary American Sea and Land restaurant is housed in an antique house, renovated with rough hewn repurposed boards, and calming gray walls. Lucas is relaxed and fun, a place to enjoy life by eating well. Owner Vince Capelletti is a seasoned restaurateur, and the kitchen is kicking out some excellent dishes. We were recently invited to a tasting by Max Ex, the restaurant marketing firm.

The dish that stayed in my mind afterwards? Shrimp and grits.

IMAG2601Coarse stone-ground grits, lightly grilled red shrimp, sprightly fresh scallions, basil oil, and a poached egg. At brunch it’s like the best adult porridge you could imagine. At dinner, pure comfort food, where you’re saying, “ummm,” after every bite.

Seared Stonington scallops were simply paired with grilled frisée.

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Octopus was finished over the wood fire, and paired with hummus and crunchy chickpea. Nice double use of the chickpea.

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Mussels Isabella is a stand-out. Maine mussles steamed in pesto sage cream, garnished with deep-fried sage leaves.

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Lucas is now open for brunch, and while I would seriously recommend the shrimp and grits, the traditional brunch favorites, are pretty damn good too.

Lobster bene was particularly luscious due to a frothy, lemony Hollandaise, and perfectly poached eggs whose yolks soaked into the airy baguette beneath.

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For kids, waffles are served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, which is the best idea ever, and maple syrup and crisp house-cured bacon.

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Desserts feature local Ferris ice cream.  A bourbon adult sundae–vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, bourbon, and maple foam–was the perfect end to brunch.

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Lucas Local Oyster Bar and Woodfire Cookery

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A Soup to Cure You

At the first hint of a scratchy throat, I make a potent garlic soup, boosted by healthy herbs and spices.  The basis of this soup is my beloved Garlic Soup from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  It’s made with garlic, sage, thyme, fresh parsley, thyme, and water.  I veer off the original recipe to include inflammation- reducing, circulation-enhancing, immune-strengthening herbs and spices.

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Start with a head of garlic, add mushroom, onion, thyme, black peppercorn,  clove, hot pepper, cardamom pods, cumin seeds, bay leaves, galangal, ginger, turmeric, and Sichuan peppercorns.  If there are other healthy spices you love, add them too. The only reason I didn’t include sage and parsley is because I was out.

Add real olive oil.

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Garlic soup can be veggie, made with water. Or you can use chicken stock.  I needed extra fortification, so I used chicken stock .  Add salt accordingly.

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Bring to a boil, then simmer, partially covered for 40 minutes. Strain, and mash the garlic cloves through the strainer.

If you’ve used water, before serving you could enrich the soup with an egg. Use a farm fresh egg to make a quick mayonnaise, or add a poached egg to the soup.

Final garnishes can included a crouton, with or without grated gruyere, a chiffonade of greens, or sprinkling of herbs.

Did it cure me? I believe so. Give it a try.

 

Great Tacos in Bridgeport

La Salsa Taqueria is a newish discovery, a hole in the wall where the carnitas tacos are worth the braving the neighborhood. Right now the building at 1154 State St. is encased in scaffolding. There’s a little bodega next door that sells sodas and lotto tickets, and draws men who hang about on the street in front of it. But inside, La Salsa is friendly, with a smiling owner, workers and patrons. The place is a riot of color, the walls papered in newspaper clippings about the owner’s food truck in Norwalk. Up high near the ceiling, an image of the virgin Mary is framed by empty Pepsi cans.

Physically, La Salsa isn’t comfortable. The door opens often, sending blasts of cold or hot air into the small room. At the counter, behind the glass, you can see the slow cooked pork piled high. One day the owner placed a tray of just cooked chicken thighs and legs in the case. They actually drew our eyes from the carnitas. The chicken was at just-falling-off he bone tenderness.  In the self-service fridge, there are squirt bottles of fresh avocado salsa and habanero salsa.

The tacos come on paper lined trays. The pork is juicy and fatty, and the tortillas are soft and fresh. Shredded cabbage, raw onions, cilantro, avocado, a squirt of fresh lime, and a squeeze from the salsas bottles. Taco heaven. Even better — these amazing tacos cost $1.50 each.

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Favorite Restaurants: Los Poblanos

I’ve lost count of how many years ago I chanced upon Los Poblanos in Norwalk, but since then, I’ve probably eaten there more than any other place in Fairfield County. It specializes in the traditional food of Puebla, Mexico.

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Most recently, Juan put cochinita on the menu. Pork slow cooked to complete tenderness in an ineffable blend of spices. It’s served with pickled red onions, salsa, guacamole, and warm tortillas.

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How can you order enchiladas when that’s on the menu? Well, sometimes you’re craving enchiladas in green sauce.

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or red sauce,

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But what I order most frequently, because Los Poblanos is the only place that makes them so well, are chiles rellenos.  My love of chiles rellenos is documented here.

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In the fall, Juan makes the famous chiles en nogata,  poblanos stuffed with fruit, nuts and pork, and draped in walnut sauce, topped with pomegranate seeds. It’s a special dish, and a lot of work. “That’s why we make it only once a year,” Juan told me.

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It’s well worth the wait.  In the meantime…

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Mushroom Omelet Breakfast Sandwich

IMAG1279I go through breakfast phases. I’ll eat the same breakfast for a week or two, then move on to a variation. Bread, toasted or warmed, is essential. So is protein. Recently, I was on a one-egg, one-mushroom omelet kick. Usually with fresh herbs, chives, or parsley. Something quickly snipped from the yard, run under water, and minced.  Sometimes I’d add cheese, then fold the omelet in quarters and put it on buttered bread or roll.

The omelets start with good eggs. If I’m lucky, a friend gives me eggs from her chickens.

The only thing that changed during the one-egg, one-mushroom kick was the kind of bread. Here it is on a toasted Honey-12 Grain roll from Fairfield Bread Company.

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Another morning I had it on a toasted Portuguese Roll from Fairfield Bread Company. These are the fluffiest Portuguese Rolls.

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One morning I folded the omelet in half, and had a toasted piece of FBC’s organic Bridgeport Sour on the side. By the puffy look of that omelet, I’d say there’s melted brie inside.

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The bread I use most often is The Luncheonette. If we’re out of  eggs from Sport Hill Farm, I might make a quick peanut butter and jelly sandwich for breakfast, especially if we have homemade jam in the fridge.

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Homemade peach jam with peanut butter on toasted Luncheonette from Fairfield Bread Company.

If there’s cheese and an interesting ham product in the house, I’ll have a breakfast like this. Taste of Europe in Norwalk is one of my favorite places for Polish and German ham and sausages.

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Funny how I don’t have pictures of my brie and toast breakfasts. The cheese is too tempting to delay eating it.

Village Tavern

It’s the first restaurant you’ll see driving into Ridgefield, the sort of place you hope to find in this gracefully affluent town. Inside, there’s a long copper bar and a relaxed, clean, comfortable vibe.

A friend and I went to Village Tavern the other day to catch up with Bruno DiFabio, the restaurateur. I’ve written about Bruno a number of times over the years. He’s a master pizza maker who also owns Amore in Stamford. Bruno always has got something new going on. Beneath Village Tavern is his Romolo Gastro Pizza. My friend raves about the lasagna Bolognese at Romolo.

Village Tavern menu has burgers, lobster rolls, Caesar’s salad, all the things people want, and it also has what we wanted: homemade pasta.

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This is corn flour penne with Parmesan cream and porcini. My friend loved the silky texture of the pasta. I didn’t try it because it had truffle oil, and as those who know me know, I can’t stand the stuff.

But I loved the tagliatelle Bolognese. The homemade pasta curled around the ragu of ground pork, veal and beef. It was warm and hearty. The pasta had just the right texture, and the meaty sauce clung to it. It was just what I wanted to eat at that moment.

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We started with  fritto misto of shrimp, calamari and little crab cakes. Light crisp coating, and tender inside.

When you’re a guest of the owner, sitting chatting with him at the bar, you figure you’re getting good treatment. I’m happy to say that when I returned to Village Tavern a couple weeks later on my own, everything was the same. The service was excellent. We sat at a table in a cozy booth facing Main Street. Our server was friendly and caring. I was with an elderly relative and his even older friend, and we shared a cheese and charcuterie plate, and I had an IPA. Once again, the food just hit the spot.

When several tables emptied, the noise level abated, and our 90-year-old friend, who earlier had become confused about his address, recalled good times. “I was a terrible womanizer,” he said, with a rakish smile.