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Bests and Favorites: Food of 2017

In no particular order other than jogging the old noggin, here are the dishes, drinks and food experiences I enjoyed the most in Fairfield County, CT, and beyond, in 2017.  Critera for inclusion: eaten in the last year.

Samosas. Royal Guard in Norwalk makes crisp deep-fried samosas filled with spiced potatoes.  But that’s not all. The fish and chips are the best in Fairfield County. And the Pakistani chicken curry with warm, glistening naan makes up for the lack of atmosphere in this little hole in the wall. I reviewed Royal Guard for the Hartford Courant.

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Cochinita at Los Poblanos in Norwalk. I’ve written about Los Poblanos for the Hartford Courant and CT Bites. It’s a big favorite of  my friends, one of whom lived in Mexico. We refer to the restaurant as “Juan’s.” Juan is the chef-owner. He, his wife and children are lovely people.

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I love Mexican food. Could eat it every day. Here are a couple of my favorite dishes at Mexican places in Bridgeport. I wrote about my favorite ethnic restaurants in Bridgeport here.

Carnitas with grilled jalapeno at La Mexicana, Bridgeport

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Carnitas tacos at La Salsa Taqueria, Bridgeport

Green enchiladas at El Paraiso in Bridgeport.

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Pozole:  El Paraiso, Bridgeport

 

Moving on to New American food, the best New England Clam Chowder I had this year was at Shell and Bones in New Haven, sitting outside on the waterfront. It’s a good place to eat before seeing a show at the Long Wharf Theatre.

Mussels at Oak & Almond in Norwalk.

Lunch at the Modern in New York City was the most exquisite meal of the year.

Dessert, The Modern, NYC

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Best Chef’s Tasting Meal, Olea, New Haven

Favorite Fairfield County Restaurants for a Nice Lunch:

Lobster salad at Basso Café Restaurant in Norwalk.  I don’t have a picture because I was enjoying the moment too much to pull out a camera. It’s a beautiful salad of hearts of palm, avocado, and lobster, which I enjoyed over a lively conversation and glass of bubbly.  I love the originality and personal expression of chef-owner Renato’s Mediterranean restaurant.

Fish of the Day, butternut soup,  dessert, atmosphere, service, I love everything about Artisan in Southport. Executive Chef Frederic Kieffer uses local vegetables from my favorite farmer Patti Popp of Sport Hill Farm.

Italian Restaurant in Fairfield County, Cotto, Stamford, CT. I’ve written about this Roman restaurant in downtown many times over the years. This review I wrote for the Hartford Courant has a most embarrassing typo—a b is left out of barbera.  Most recently, I wrote about a wine dinner at Cotto for Greenwich Magazine. In this article the final a is left off barbera. Curse of the barbera. These are details that stab at writer’s being.

I’ve enjoyed every meal I’ve had at Cotto, including one this summer, sitting outside. The manager steered us to these mozzarella stuffed eggplant packets, imported pasta, and luscious roasted lobster.

 

So often, I crave a bowl of soup. A big bowl of steaming broth filled with long noodles. Love Ramen.  Love Mecha in Fairfield and South Norwalk. Must confess I’ve never tried Mecha’s pho. I can’t tear myself away from the ramen.

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Pho: Pho Thom, Bridgeport

Bahn mi slider: Matt Storch’s Nom-Eez in Black Rock.

Garden Rolls: RuThai, Bridgeport

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Foodie Adventure, Eataly, NYC, Italian honey, cheese, and wine pairing tasting with honey sommelier RedBee Marina.

 

Unusual, tedious, but satisfying foodie experience: threshing the wheat grown by Nancy and John Hurley. It took a village of family and friends, and reminded us of how much we take for granted.

 

Bread: Fairfield Bread Company’s all organic Bridgeport Sour. (Yes, I know the owner.) Available at the specialty food store The Pantry in downtown Fairfield and great neighborhood breakfast joint Harbor View Market in Bridgeport.

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Cured meats, Taste of Europe, Norwalk.

Local farm: Sport Hill Farm, Easton

Cutest Vegetable: These little eggplants from the best farmers market Black Rock Farmers Market.

Home Grown Vegetables. Asparagus, potatoes, tomatoes and dandelion greens.

Best Recipe I Developed. Lemon Asparagus Soup. For dLife, a website for people with diabetes, this delicious, easy low-carb soup.

Brunch: Lobster and Eggs at BRYAC. Happy Hour: BRYAC,
Black Rock, and Martel, Fairfield.

Homemade dessert: Peach tarts.

Homemade Cookies

 

For the Drinks column I do for Moffly Media, and adventures in New York City with my pal Modern Distillery Age editor-in-chief Gregg Glaser, I got to sip some special spirits and brews.

I wrote about a Fairfield County brewery road trip for Stamford Magazine. I don’t have a favorite; it’s all fun.  Yet, as one of the judges in the IPA category at the Great International Beer, Cider and Sake Competition, I had the pleasure of sitting with Jeff Browning of Brewport in Bridgeport. He is an encyclopedia of brewing history,  practice, styles, and flavor.

Some of the beers, including Sours, I’ve enjoyed this year are highlighted in this piece.

For a piece on tequila, Tim Scott of Geronimo in Fairfield and New Haven, poured me a taste of Clase Azul Reposado, which had notes of Sherry from the aging barrel. Along with an excellent selection of   Tequila , I’ve enjoyed Geronimo’s Southwestern food.

Grappa. Gra’it.  Yes, it’s strong. Yet, the flavor of the grape is present. We served it after Thanksgiving dinner, in tiny glasses. Refill with care.

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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.

 

 

 

 

German Christmas Cookies, Translated

The tradition of cookie baking is strong in the German side of my husband’s family.  The book Backen fur Weihnachten, beautifully photographed with step by step instructions, bridges the language gap.

Each year we make cookies we’ve never made before. This year the pistachio cookies with dark chocolate launched the season.  I made one mistake, interpreting zitronensaft as lemon zest instead of juice. Actually, I used lime zest, which seemed strong the first day, but mellowed in the following days.

Next up, Schoko-Mandel-Makronen.

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These turned into mocha almond macarons, made of fluffy egg whites, powdered sugar, grated chocolate and ground toasted almonds. The recipe also called for 2 tablespoons of cocoa, and we were out, so I substituted 1 tablespoon of ground coffee beans. And since I like the German expression of “knife’s point” of cinnamon, I added a “knife’s point” of cayenne pepper. Surely there is a very long German phrase that will describe the subtle background notes these spices lent to the coffee and chocolate. Or maybe not.

Next, I wanted a butter cookie.

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In past years we’ve made Vanillekipferln, those powered sugar crescent-shaped butter cookies. But powered sugar is messy, and we wanted to make something new.

Butter-Ausstecherele is the name of these rolled and cut cookies. The dough was very soft, so I rested it in the fridge, rolled it out (it needed a lot of flour) in batches, and put the cookie sheets in the fridge while when rolling out the next portion.

I made a translation mistake again. Befuddled by abgeriebene schale einer halben zitrone, I added lime juice, but no zest.

For the icing, the recipe suggested using zitronensaft, which we all now know means lemon juice.  Instead, I used bourbon vanilla. I do not regret it.

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Roasted Pepper Salad

One of the first dishes I ever learned to make is still one of my favorites. Giuliano Bugialli’s insalata di  peperoni e capperi, pepper salad with capers. The recipe comes from Bugialli’s Foods of Italy, which was published in 1984, yet remains contemporary, filled with classic regional recipes and gorgeous photographs by John Dominis. It’s a book I’ve enjoyed sitting with, reading and looking, and standing over, checking instructions. My copy opens to the pepper salad dish, and as I flip through the pages, I see how much I learned from Foods of Italy, how many  techniques I use years later.

 

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The colorful salad of silky, sweet bell peppers, tangy capers and fresh mint and basil, can be an hors d’oeuvre, a side-dish, an addition to a sandwich. It goes well with anything.

The first step is grilling the peppers. My most recent version of this dish expanded beyond bell peppers, and included some spicy long peppers from Sport Hill Farm.

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If you’re roasting the peppers inside, under the broiler, here’s an excellent technique I learned from Bugialli’s recipe: place a pan of water on a rack below the peppers.

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The steam protects the flesh of the peppers. Without over-charring, the skin starts to separate from the flesh.  This picture shows poblanos. I use Giuliano Bugialli’s roasting technique when I make chiles rellenos. But that is another, more complicated story.

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Roasted pepper and caper salad is one of my favorite dishes, and yet I can’t find a picture I’ve taken of it. Probably because it’s such an essential part of the fall repertoire.