Take a Culinary Tour through Latin America via Aarón Sánchez’s Paloma in Harbor Point, Stamford

22 Jul

Let’s just put it out there now…we haven’t had the best of luck with celebrity chef restaurants over the past few years, with the exception of Gordon Ramsay’s Maze and Michael Psilakis’s Kefi both in NYC.  More often than not we’ve had disappointing meals like our experience at the recently closed Primary Food & Drink by Graham Elliot and at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill in Las Vegas. We’ve found that a celebrity chef putting his or her stamp on a restaurant and menu doesn’t guarantee anything.  So, you’ll have to forgive our skepticism when Aarón Sánchez made plans to open up Paloma in the Harbor Point area of Stamford (where The Beer Garden used to be). Would Chef Sanchez, from Cooking Channel’s Heat Seekers (with partner in crime Roger Mooking), and Chopped, be a rare exception?

Well, you better believe we wanted to find out ASAP.  We just so happened to see an ambiguous announcement on Harbor Point’s Facebook page Saturday evening so we made a bee-line for Harbor Point to see if it was really open.  To our delight it was a soft opening and we were lucky enough to get a table.  SCORE!  So, let’s get down to biz-natch…

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From Catering Intern, to Chopped, to Kitchen Pro: an Exclusive Interview with Hannah Bukzin of Westport, 14

20 Jul
If only she'd be lucky enough to get tomato as a basket ingredient.  It'll probably be something like Spam or blood pudding.

If only she’d be lucky enough to get tomato as a basket ingredient. It’ll probably be something like Spam or blood pudding when she competes on Chopped!

Think back to being a teenager and try to remember the things that you accomplished.  Maybe you had a job and maybe you did a few great community service projects, but let’s be honest.  You probably spent 1/4 of your time playing video games and hanging with friends, 1/1000 of those years doing HW, and 1/2 just putzing around.  But that’s not the case with Hannah Bukzin, 14, of Westport. She has already done some amazing things like win The Marcia Selden Ultimate Dinner Party Contest with Judges Marcia and Robin Selden as well as “Sweet GeniusRon Ben-Israel.  Also, she recently kicked off her summer internship with Robin, Marcia, Jeffrey, Nicole and the amazing crew at Marcia Selden Catering and has been having a great time.  And, yes, she’ll be on a little show airing 7/29 at 10 on Food Network that you might have heard of:  Chopped.  Hannah’s episode is Part Three of the Teen Tournament, so if she goes on to win she’ll face the three other winners at the Finale on 8/12 and pull in a $25,000 culinary school scholarship.  

Well, we had a chance to talk with Hannah about cooking, her favorite foods, what it’s like working with adults, interning, and more.  Here we go:  

When did you first realize that you loved cooking?
So, when people used to ask me this question I said, I’m not really sure.  But after some deep thinking I realized that it was probably around 6 or 7 years ago.  I was going through a stage where I only ate pasta and lettuce (as I used to say, a salad) for dinner.  I started realized what other people were eating and there were other foods out there!  I decided it was time for me to make a change, and voila!  I made my first piece of tilapia with some sautéed carrots.  I still have the photo!  My, have I come a long way from that.  
What’s your favorite dish to make, whether it’s simple or complex?
I get asked this question a lot and it’s really a difficult choice.  I love experimenting with different flavors but if I had to choose it would definitely be a marinated skirt steak with a homemade chimmichurri sauce- roasted potatoes on the side
We can’t get enough Latin food, but how about you?  What’s your favorite cuisine? 
Ironically I actually really like Latin food too!  I can tell you I love to eat Italian food better than anything else!  Cooking wise, though, I would say its not my favorite cuisine that matters as much as my style – classic dishes with a modern twist.  This can go with any and every cuisine that I cook.

The dreaded Mystery Basket!!! Photo from Foodnetwork.com

What are some of your favorite restaurants in the area?

I definitely love Local and Geronimo’s in Fairfield.  If I’m looking for comfort food its Grilled Cheese Eatery all the way—but I can’t eat there too much!!
 
What’s one thing that people really don’t understand about you being young and a protegé in the kitchen?
Wow, a protegé?  I didn’t know I qualified!  Well, it’s really difficult to understand how much it really takes to put yourself out there in the kitchen.  Many people I have worked with have strong personalities (which I love) and are much older than me.  It is difficult to sometimes stand out and really show that I am not just another annoying kid who walks in thinking she knows everything.  Despite this, I am lucky to have worked with some amazing people who have made me feel welcome and make my job of “being an adult in the kitchen” much easier.
How has the internship at Marcia Selden Catering been going? What are some of the amazing things that you’ve been doing there?
This internship is one of the best things I have ever done in my entire life.  I am so lucky and grateful for this amazing opportunity to work with fantastic chefs and people.  They definitely threw me right in!  I am doing things that I never knew that I could do—I told my mom that this isn’t an internship where they are babysitting me.  The chefs in the kitchen, Robin and Marcia are counting on me to put out great food that represents Marcia Selden Catering Company in the light they deserve.  I have done everything from plating up to-go meals to prepping for a wedding tasting.  Who knows what is coming next?
How did it feel to be selected for Chopped Teen?
It was absolutely amazing!  A once in a lifetime opportunity.  All I did was send in an application like thousands of other kids and I was elated when they called me!
Your episode will air on 7/29, but we’re wondering if you’d share anything that you learned from competing against the three other teen chefs and being on tv? 
Unfortunately, I can’t make any comment on the show but I did meet some amazing people and I can’t wait for it to air (even though I won’t watch it)!

We can’t blame Hannah for not watching!  The tension is already too much for us to bear, and we didn’t even compete.  If you can’t watch live or if you don’t have a DVR, you can also watch her episode on 7/30 at 1 am, 7/31 at 11 pm, 8/1 at 2 am, and 8/2 at 6 pm.  Lots of luck Hannah!

CT Food + Beer News, Vol. 13: Openings, Closings, Parties, and Drinks

17 Jul

We hate to say this, but the summer is fluttering fast by us with August soon on the way.  So, let’s slow things down a bit and soak up all the awesome things ogling on this week and next week.  Trust us, there’s a ton to do like a bunch of food events and parties, liquor tastings and classes, openings and closings, and of course…beer news.

Food Events and Parties

7/19  Before (or after) you head over to Fairway Stamford for the Firefighters Cook-off, stop by Stop & Shop Ridgeway from 10-1 for a food drive run by Backyard Humanitarian.  They need cereal and other non-perishable goods.

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In-depth w/ Kory Wollins of BSF: Burgers, Making Mooz, Life, and the Heart of a Perfectionist.

16 Jul
Chances are, this is the man you see every day when you come into BSF Greenwich...

Chances are, this is the man you see every day when you come into BSF Greenwich…

A family of four walked through the door, haggard disappearing into happy, and Kory Wollins was already on them like white on rice.  “Hey, how’s it going?  Is this your first time here?” he asked as they looked a bit overwhelmed as they tried to figure out their orders.  It turns out they were there from Texas and visiting family in Norwalk for a wake, so they stopped at Burgers, Shakes & Fries, hearing about their reputation.  We know they like it big in Texas, so Kory broke down the menu for them.  They got their order in and Kory (owner of BSF Greenwich and co-owner of the Darien spot) kept talking to them about Texas, Connecticut, and just life in general.  When they got their burgers, the buttered-toast hamburgers didn’t last too long, quickly being devoured by the hungry Texans.

This was just 10 minutes of one day (while even more people came in to order during this time), of one week, of one year at BSF, but to that family, Kory made a difference.  On that day, Kory met with Dan and they talked about burgers, the restaurant biz, blogs, his quest to conquer making Fior di Latte mozzarella, and waxing philosophical about life.  During previous conversations they talked a lot about how blog culture tends to bury the good restaurants that have been around in a while in favor of the newest and hottest spots.  There was one comment that stood out from our most recent conversation that we want to start with:  “In the end the most important question to ask is, ‘Did you walk out with a smile when you left?’”  We always smile when we leave, especially when we have the smell of burgers and fries wafting from our bag as we speed our grub home.  So, let’s dig in and grill Kory for a bit…hey, he’s not the only one who can grill.

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SWEET! Sour’d in September Beer Festival Hosted by Captain Lawrence Brewery ft. 50+ Breweries

15 Jul

Tix on sale 9 am on 7/15/14!

Update:  Sold out in 1 1/2 hours!

Love sour beers but frustrated because they are so hard to find? Well, how about we make it a helluva lot easier for you by introducing you to Sour’d in September. Yes, on 9/13 from 1PM-5PM Captain Lawrence Brewery in Elmsford, NY will be hosting the first annual Sour Beer Festival.

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Fairway’s Firefighters Food Face-Off, Free BBQ, Games, Music, Samples, + Customer Appreciation Day!

14 Jul

Make sure you come down to Fairway Stamford's free event on Saturday!

Make sure you come down to Fairway Stamford’s free event on Saturday!

Normally firefighters are putting out blazes, but on 7/19 from 12-3 in the Fairway Stamford parking lot, smoke and fire is good.  That’s because the Cos Cob Fire Department, Norton Heights Fire Department, Westport Firefighters, and Belltown Fire Department are battling it out to see who the Fourth Annual Fairway’s Firefighters Food Face-Off winners will be.  The winners not only get to relish in the spotlight, but they’ll also get a $500 Fairway gift card and their own shopping night that puts 25% of sales into the hands of their favorite charity.  

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CT Food + Beer News, Vol. 12: Summer Fun, Food Truck Festivals, Openings, CT Beer, and More…

10 Jul

 

We hope your summer is off to a great start and that it’s action-packed.  Personally, we’re booked solid all the way up until September with events, restaurant reservations, beer nights, and other great things going on in CT.  so, let’s help you book up some time for this week and next week.  In Volume 12 read about food truck festivals, events, what’s new with CT beer, and the nitty gritty on restaurants news.  

Restaurant News

Chef Aaron Sanchez who is ready to open Paloma in the Harbor Point area of Stamford sat down with Ken Tuccio of the Welcome to Connecticut Podcast yesterday.  You can hear the podcast next Thursday.  While you’re there, check out the episodes with Black Hog Brewery, Stew Leonard, and Jordan from Half Full.  Listen through his website or by subscribing on iTunes…your choice.

Chef Merlin Verrier, formerly of Primary Food & Drink in Greenwich, has hopped on board the Fortina train as they expand from Armonk into Stamford and Rye Brook, NY.  He’ll be joining Chef Christian Petroni and crew as the Culinary Director.

SKAL Restaurant Group, led by Christian Burns, has taken over the operations side of Post 154 in Westport.  According to a recent press release, Christian said that he’ll help Post 154 to “carve out its food and beverage identity.”  Some new things to look forward to are more craft cocktails, a “seasonal and creative menu,” house-infused spirits, and a beautiful craft beer menu.  OmNomCT readers know SKAL Restaurant Group as the owner of both Cask Republics and Ginger Man SoNo and New Haven.   Considering our first experience at Post 154, we think this will be a great change to shake up things in Westport even more!

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Pork in the Park Chef Demos and Event Schedule Released

9 Jul

Somehow we’re almost upon the weekend when Mill River Park in Stamford will transform into a swine-lovers paradise with the launch of the 2nd Annual Pork in the Park festival.  Whether you go on Saturday, Sunday, or even head out both days, there are plenty of things planned to not only whet your whistle, but to also satisfy those BBQ and food cravings.  So, let’s dig a little deeper and see all the great things planned for this event.  But first, here are the deets:  entry is $10, $5 for kids, and free for kids 5 and under.  The hours for 7/12 are 11 am – 9 pm and 7/13 from 12-5.

OmNomCT Cooking Demos on Saturday, 7/12

Chef Carlos Baez of The Spread, Norwalk - 1:45

Chef Baez is Executive Chef of award-winning and boisterous The Spread in Norwalk, CT.  He is known for putting his own touch on classic dishes and putting his own stamp on SoNo and CT dining with adventurous and flavorful dishes.


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Kickin’ It (Latin) Root Down at Tierra in Westport: CT Restaurant Review

8 Jul

When we hear about new restaurants, we get excited. When we hear about new Latin restaurants, like Tierra in Old Town Hall in Westport, we get really excited. Tierra (which opened in mid-June) is a bit hard to find at first, located to the right side of Spruce at 90 Post Road, close by Urban Outfitters, and by the parking lot off of Jesup Road.

Like good ‘ole Americans, we went there with our friend Christine on the Fourth of July (woo hoo South ‘Murica). Looking around, the bar to the left was warm, classic, and comfy with a huge loungy couch behind it. In the back there’s a private room with a nice wine rack wall and a fancy, shimmering chandelier. The main dining room features the same kind of vibe with a few tables and a side area with a view of the open kitchen.

Speaking of the kitchen, a husband and wife team run the kitchen and own it along with Chad Whited (and Laura Luce) who was there that night to help out. We first met CIA grad Chef Sue Torres, who is half Italian and Puerto Rican. She’s had an amazing amount of experience with Nuevo Mexicano fare including working at her own Suenos, Arizona 206, Rocking Horse Cafe, and Hell’s Kitchen.  We met her during our dinner as she went around from table to table to see how everyone was enjoying the food. Next was chef Darren Carbone, who comes from Columbia with an Italian-American upbringing. His impressive resume includes a CIA degree like his wife, and heading the kitchens at Super Linda, Rosa Mexicano, La Verdad, El Vez, and Alma de Cuba.  Ok, ok, you’re probably getting anxious to know about the food, so vamos, vamos.

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Insider’s Look at NEAT of Westport: Part Cafe, Part Cocktail Bar, 100% Awesome

7 Jul
Uppers and downers all in one spot!

Uppers and downers all in one spot!

Espresso NEAT has built a reputation in Fairfield County as being at the top of their game.  Year after year, they’ve been awarded best cafe and best coffee, and after you’ve gone there, you can see why.  Owner Rachel Haughey and her crew pick their coffee beans with care and perform routine coffee cuppings to ensure that only the best quality coffee will be served at their Darien hotspot.  And, that quality comes through big time.  Add in their other options like tea, espresso, coffee, salads, snacks, breakfast goodies, and sandwiches, and you’ve got the perfect spot to hang out or grab a quick bite.  

So, to Rachel, it was only natural to take Espresso NEAT into the next phase of evolution by opening up a brand new restaurant that was part cafe and part cocktail bar.  The new venture, NEAT, will open up in the National Hall Campus in Westport in early August.  Working with Rachel in this venture will be owner of Experience Hospitality, Bobby Werhane, and Managing Director Kevin Daniel Lalumiere. Both Bobby and Kevin are locals, too, with Bobby coming from Westport and Kevin from Fairfield.  Kevin and Bobby unite Rachel’s expertise and cafe experience with an amazing resume of bars, restaurants, and shops.  The team at Experience Hospitality helped to bring some amazing restaurants into NYC like Spasso, dell’animaL’artusi, and Johnny Utah’s, adding an even more rounded background to the structure of NEAT.  

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