A peek inside the vault at Cask Republic SoNo (Review)

6 Jan

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The news came as a shock to many people when Ginger Man SoNo  announced it was closing its doors. But quickly after the shock came relief when the owner, Christian Burns, shared the reason why: they wanted to refresh the darker and more compartmentalized Ginger Man into something brighter and more open. And with that change they wanted to bring a fresh, new menu, and a name change to go along with it. The new name was one we were all familiar with: Cask Republic, which is the same Cask many have come to know and love in Stamford and New Haven.

To see how things have changed, they invited us on up for a one on one dinner so we could experience their signature drinks and favorite dishes from Culinary Director Chef Carl Carrion and Executive Sous Chef Jeffrey Rogers.

In terms of ambiance, we saw some major differences for the good, like a nice and wide-open dining room, a brighter feel, and a nice focus on the bar to draw you in. Oh, and let’s not forget the awesome vault we got to dine in, situated in the back of the dining area with a small private table, relaxing lighting, music, and even a sound proof glass door should you want it closed.  Very cool vibe . . . and you can even ask to dine in here!

Ok, now onto all things edible . . . and drinkable.

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Cocktails

We started by tasting samples of their cocktails to get a feel for what flavors they were putting out. We tried all of their Cocktails on Tap, which, (by the way) isn’t the only thing the have on tap. They also have distilled water, Nitro Coffee (more on that), and will soon even have wine. Oh, and beer on tap, but that’s a duh.

Fall Sangria ($12): The mulled spice simple syrup combined nicely with the Cognac, dark rum, and fruit to create a cinnamony, warm backbone. It was nice to see a refreshing new take on this standard drink on most menus. Kristien could easily drink it all night long.

Orange Eclipse ($12): This drink, made with Tanqueray, Lillet Blanc, blood orange, fresh lemon, and rosemary simple was all kinds of citrusy with nice hints of tartness coming through. The boldest flavor in there is orange, which overtakes the rest. This was our least favorite of them all . . .  not awful, just not our thang.

Cool Breeze ($12): This was definitely our favorite of the night, made with Tito’s, Pom juice, cucumber, St. Germain, fresh lime, and housemade Grenadine. The cucumber jets to the forefront with a juicy, nicely balanced feel. So dangerously easy to drink!

Smoked Guava Chili Margarita ($12): The ancho infused Findencio Mezcal added a slowly creeping spicy smokiness, while the guava added an exotic tropical touch. Overall a solid option.

Green Demon ($12): We saw this on the Hand Crafted Cocktails part of the menu and needed it in our lives. It features Findencio Mezcal, Green Chartreuse, St. Germain, and Hell Fire Bitters. We dug this one hard, especially the heat coming from the bitters. We also liked the mix of Mezcal and St. Germain, adding a fun combo of smoky and sweet.

Raw Bar + Small Plates

Yellowfin Tuna Tartare at Cask Republic SoNoFirst up was the Yellowfin Tuna Tartare at $14 from their Raw Bar. The seafood was definitely fresh (it comes in daily) and the guac added some nice balance to the dish, but it was overly salted and seasoned making this literally hard to swallow. We have heard that they have been working on this recipe, though, so hopefully it’s more balanced now.

Shrimp & Grits at Cask Republic SoNoShrimp & Grits ($13) was next, from the Small Plates section. There was a nice creaminess to the grits with smoky, salty, and crunchy bits of andouille. The grits also had a great fatty kick of cheesiness from the Cotija, playing off the nicely cooked shrimp.

Pork Belly Mac & Cheese at Cask Republic SoNoPork Belly Mac & Cheese ($11) came to us next, featuring Cave-aged Amish Cheddar. The sauce was creamy and silky with a crispy-skinned pork belly. This was a fun dish and a great play on textures.

House-cured Lamb Empanadas House-cured Lamb Empanadas at Cask Republic SoNo($13): These guys had a buttery and crispy crust with delicate meat inside. The lamb was definitely there in terms of gamey flavor, but it was subdued . . . so we’d say it’s a nice gateway for those who are lamb-shy.

Crispy Burrata ($12): The panko-Crispy Burrata at Cask Republic SoNocrusted burrata was lightly fried, a definite first for us. In terms of flavors, it was well balanced with the smoked tomato and pesto vinaigrette, but the cheese itself could have been much richer, saltier, and creamier, like you expect from a burrata.

Braised Short Rib at Cask Republic SoNoBraised Short Ribs ($14): The short rib was rich, flaky, and plenty juicy. We really liked the egg on top, too, adding a nice fattiness, especially when that yolk oozed on down. The grilled bread that comes with this dish is excellent, too, making this a must-order.

Salads

Fall Chopped Salad at Cask Republic SoNoFall Chopped Salad ($9): This was a nice break from all the other dishes and gave us a chance to digest a bit. The salad featured Green Leaf lettuce, butternut squash, apples, golden beets, cranberries, blue cheese, and was tossed with a sherry vinaigrette. This was a rich, earthy salad, with one complaint: we felt the butternut squash was on the mushy side.

Large Plates

Maple Brined Double Cut Pork Chop at Cask Republic SoNoMaple Brined Double Cut Pork Chop ($26): While we loved their housemade sauerkraut for its hints of fall spices, the pork chop itself left much to be desired. The main problem is that it was cooked too much and was tough getting through. Looking past the meat being overcooked, the flavors from the honey apples and dark ale gastrique were nice and warmed us up. We also enjoyed the German Potato Salad that also came on the side.

Mustard Crusted Canadian Salmon at Cask Republic SoNoMustard Crusted Canadian Salmon ($23): To be honest, we didn’t think much of this dish on the menu when we saw it, but after a few bites when it hit our table we knew we had underestimated it. The salmon itself was cooked just right, making it juicy, and had a crunchy crust from the fresh mustard on the outside. The green onion risotto served with the fish was fresh, clean, and bright and was served al dente. We’d definitely order this one again—actually, probably our favorite of the evening, which is rare for a salmon dish.

Stuffed Brook Trout ($22): The trout was cooked nicely, but the stuffing (made with mushrooms, lump crab, bacon, and more) and the seasoning on the fish itself made this dish quite subdued. You would think with all those flavors going on in the stuffing that there would be more going on, but it was pretty bland. This was by far our least favorite of the night.

Dessert

Apple Skillet at Cask Republic SoNoApple Skillet: The brown sugar sauce was warm, buttery, and oh so sugary sweet. The apples were soft, were great in the sauce and were also amazing with little bites of the salted caramel gelato.

The Nitro Coffee at Cask Republic SoNoNitro Coffee: We dig our cold-brewed coffee, so when we were told that they featured a Nitro Coffee on tap, we knew we’d have to finish off the meal with a drink. Because of the Nitro, the coffee poured out nicely and bubbled up into a creamy and frothy head. That creaminess adds a richness and brings out a sweetness, it’s really fascinating.

Overall Thoughts

If you come to Cask Republic with the right expectations of a solid beer and wine selection, a variety of well-made cocktails, and creative but familiar dishes that are better than your average bar, you will not be disappointed.  Yes there were misses, but there were also some nice hits that make it worth a try.

Happy Hour Deals, M-F 4-6: 1/2 price win on tap, CT pints for $4.50, craft cocktails on tap $7, East and West Coast oysters $1.50, Little Necks $1, and a variety of small plates for $5.

Disclaimer: 

Although we were invited to try the food at The Cask Republic SoNo, our opinions, feelings, words and tasting notes are our own.

Cask Republic

Noms: 3.25

Cost: $$-$$$

Address: 99 Washington St #2

                  Norwalk, CT

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