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It’s ’bout Time We Dined @ Sugar + Olives: A Review of a Farm-to-Table Mainstay in Norwalk

9 Jun

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We have a huge “must try” restaurant list that seems to get bigger and bigger every month with all the awesome new restaurants opening up around here. So you can imagine how sometimes restaurants that have been around a while that we’ve been meaning to try, somehow end up getting pushed back. This is exactly what happened with Sugar & Olives in Norwalk . . . that is until we finally got our acts together and booked a table a couple of weeks ago. I mean we’re suckers for legit (and local) farm to table, so it’s pretty embarrassing that we waited so long.

How long exactly? Well, we were instantly psyched about Chef Jennifer Balin’s concept when she opened Sugar & Olives . . . that was even before OmNomCT was born! Whoa.  Her concept centered around being a dependable go-to spot for farm-fresh food, whether it was in the form of dining at her restaurant, picking up some eggs or milk within the tiny market inside, or for cooking classes which she hosts regularly. Then, the cherry (or should we say garnish) on top was when they added their new mixologist, Chris Grimm, who has quite the reputation for his creativity behind the stick.

When we finally arrived for dinner (yes, they’re much more than just a lunch/brunch spot), Chris greeted us and showed us right to our seats. The first order of business? Yeah, you know us so well . . . drinkey times! Here’s what we tried:

Esmerelda cocktail at Sugar & Olives in NorwalkEsmerelda: Chris shares, “The Esmeralda is Tequila Blanco, Grapefruit Liqueur, and Lime Juice, in a Mezcal rinsed glass, garnished with ground black pepper.” This was refreshing, vibrant, and has a juicy gush from the grapefruit liquer and the lime. Very nicely balanced and a definite must order if on the menu.

Gold Rush cocktail at Sugar & Olives in Norwalk CTGold Rush: Kristien went gaga for the one. Again, this drink was very well-balanced with bourbon, lemon juice and honey syrup. The sweetness from the Red Bee Honey made in Weston marries so well with the bourbon. Really just the right amount of kiss from the honey, making this a drink we’d just sit with and drink all damn day.

Ramp Gibson: Apparently, ramps aren’t just for dishes and for seeking after like the rarest kind of Pokemon. The ramps in this drink were pickled at their peak and add a strong kick and wildness to this drink. That garlicky-spicy punch blends in nicely with the gin which comes through as a slightly stronger flavor. This is Chris’ play on a dirty martini, mixed with gin, dry vermouth, ramp brine, and pickled ramp. Super creative, super tasty!

Il Palio cocktail at Sugar & Olives in Norwalk CTIl Palio: There is an undertone of cherry going through with bourbon up front making a nice Manhattan. As the drink melts more it evolves into a Boulevardier. Chris uses a Campari ice cube, bourbon, sweet vermouth, and housemade orange bitters with this drink. Definitely a fun and interactive experience, with a nice balance to make it well worth the wait.

Chet Baker: The rum is up front, a fun drink, with a nice punch, but like his other drinks, not overpowering. Chris describes it as a, “Cool cross between a Manhattan and an Old Fashioned, using dark rum as the base ingredient, instead of whiskey. Dark Rum, Sweet Vermouth, Honey Syrup, on a big rock”

While we were there we serendipitously ran into Chef Bill Taibe of The Whelk and Kawa Ni with his wife and they asked us to join them and their friends, Lori Cochran from Westport Farmers’ Market and her husband . . . and that’s when the feasting began. 

Up first? Shaved Brussels Sprouts and Radicchio, topped with a Pomegranate Molasses Dressing. It was fresh, bright green, bright citrusy, and the pumpkin seeds added a nice tastiness. Exactly what you’d expect from a fresh Brussels Sprouts salad.

Taco platter at Sugar & Olives in Norwalk CTThen, Tacos Featuring Fish, Chorizo, and Veggie. Although we thought this dish would be three tacos, one taco filled with each of the aforementioned fillings separately, it actually was a mixture of all three fillings in all three tacos. Surprisingly though, it worked. The fish was moist and delicate, the veggies had a nice bite, and the chorizo added a fatty, smokey tenderness. The Cesar’s special sauce also had a solid kick, so if you like a steady slow heat, this is it. Overall, we were very happy with this dish.

 

Our next course (you know we can eat a massive amount of food, right?) was a series of the Chocolate Bread Toasts. Yes, we know, you’re wondering . . . chocolate bread? Does it work? Yes, it sure does, especially because it’s not even sweet, with just a hint of that real cocoa taste peeking through. The first we had was the Pea + Leek which featured a silky and gentle puree of pea and leek, topped with a vinegary and garlicy bite of foraged and pickled ramps. We did like this one, but did want a little more flavor punch in the puree. The Bacon Jam toast, however, is where it’s at. That jam was savory, smoky, with the cocoa playing nicely off of it. It was all topped with a perfectly cooked sunny-side-up duck egg that just oozed out all its fresh deliciousness onto the bacon. And, we also tried the Sun Dried Tomato toast that had a beautiful fresh and slightly-acidic bite. Rounding it all out and playing so well with the tomato-forward tapenade was a generous portion of goat cheese that cut the acid and added a nice creamy tang.

Trout a la plancha at Sugar & Olives in Norwalk CTWhile we were waiting for our other dishes to come out, Chef Balin brought out the Whole Trout a la Plancha, served over quinoa paella with lemon beurre blanc. The fish was moist and wasn’t dry one bit, but it really lacked seasoning or any flavor really. In addition, the quinoa underneath also lacked flavor, offering nothing but a texture contrast to the delicate fish. We didn’t eat much of this because we wanted to save room for dishes that ended up being far superior.

Lovely Lamb Burger at Sugar & Olives in Norwalk CTUp next we tried the Lovely Lamb Burger, made with May-Tag Blue, caramelized onions, ancho chile ketchup, leaf lettuce, all topped with an English muffin and served with roasted carrots. The lamb was top quality and had that exciting wild and gamey undertone that was powered up with the bold fattiness of the cheese, and toned town with the slightly sweet and spicy ketchup. A must order, no doubt.

The Pulled Pork Ragout also caught our eye, so you know what we had to do. The ragout itself was rich, earthy, and had a nice spice undertone with flavors like cinnamon and clove. The pork inside was cooked just perfectly and flaked off well, too, jiving well with the sauce. And, the nice touch for us was the creamy, cheesy, and silky polenta underneath. It cut into the richness of the sauce and brought even more complexity to the dish. Very nice.

Chic pea busted scallops at Sugar & Olives in Norwalk CTAnd, we rounded out our meal with an order of the Chic Pea Busted Scallops, served with lentil stew and ramp oil. This, people, was a legit dish. There was this amazing crust on the outside with some extra crispy bite from the chic peas, while on the inside it was that perfect cook with a little bit of give to it. The lentils were cooked nicely and the ramp oil brought out a garlicy explosion to the dish. This dish was fun, was fresh, and was a nice play on textures, which we’re real suckers for.

Olive Oil Cake at Sugar & Olives in Norwalk CTWell, the meal might have been over, but we still had dessert on the way . . . and you know it’s kind of like a second meal, right? Chef Balin was so blown away, she asked if we were hiding food somewhere . . . um, yeah, in our freakin’ bellies. So, up first we really needed to check out the Citrus Olive Oil Cake because, well, Citrus Olive Oil Cake. How do you NOT order the potentially moistest, not too sweet thing ever, especially when there’s a note on the menu that says, “THIS IS GOOD”? Well, we agreed. The cake itself was exactly what we hoped for: moist, but not too sweet, and the citrus came through so well with a nice toasty nuttiness to finish it off. For us, though, the thing that just took this dessert over the edge was the mascarpone cream, which added a nice tart bite and richness.

We wrapped up the meal with some dark and bold French press coffee that you can order in three sizes . . . oh, and a cookie. How could we resist a cookie? Especially Mexican Chocolate Cookie! It was delightfully dense, yet moist, chewy, and had notes of cinnamon running throughout the chocolate chips. YUM, we want again right now as we write this.

Final Thoughts

We are very happy that we FINALLY had the chance to check out Sugar & Olives. The space itself is great, super cozy and chill. It has a big patio, a warm and comfy bar, and a small market of milk, eggs, and other produce and products. Also, there’s a large space for events and parties off to the side as you enter, there’s a beautiful kitchen where you can take cooking classes, and plenty of tables in the main and side dining room to accommodate everyone.

In terms of what Chef Balin is putting out, it’s harder to get any closer to the farm than what she’s doing at Sugar & Olives. Just look at some of these producers that she works with: Arethusa Dairy Farm, Homefront Farmers, Speckled Rooster Farm, Fort Hill Farm, Millstone Farm, Sport Hill Farm, and Ox Hollow Farm. And, mix in the spot-on, creative, and well-balanced drinks of mixologist Chris Grimm, and that makes it a nice place to check out. With the majority of the dishes being solid in terms of flavor, balance, and how they were cooked, we feel like this is a great place to check out when you’re looking for real, fresh, and rustic flavors. We need to head back for brunch too!


Note: While some of what we ordered was given courtesy of the kitchen, the thoughts, comments, and observations in this post are our own . . . cuz that’s how we roll.


Sugar & Olives

Noms: 3.75

Cost: $$$

Address: 21 Lois Street

                 Norwalk, CT 06851

Phone: (203) 454-3663

The Beer Garden @ Shippan Landing Opening Food Truck Schedule and Memorial Day Party Info

21 May

You’ve all been good boys and girls (well, most of you), so we’ve got some great news to share with you: today marks the seasonal opening of The Beer Garden at Shippan Landing. If you remember, The Beer Garden opened two years ago where Paloma is now and changed venues last year to its current spot at 290 Harbor Drive. When we visited last year, things were more chill, more open, and felt like a little getaway.

Well, they’re back and back with a vengeance: they’ll be open Wednesday-Thursday from 4-11 and Friday-Saturday from 3-12. You can also expect to see more craft and local brews on tap and in cans including Half Full, Broad Brook, and Captain Lawrence. They will also have plenty of games like cornhole, a hugeass Jenga set, a new favorite called Kan Jam, and even beer pong.  They have lots of events, specials, and deals that are planned this summer, so make sure that you keep up with us and with them on FB and on their Instagram page.

Now, although they are still finalizing their food truck schedule for the entire summer, we’ve got the deets on Thursday-Sunday’s trucks and the Memorial Day Party on Sunday:

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Guten Grog 2014: Guide to Beer Fests + Oktoberfests in Connecticut

9 Sep

It’s hard to beat a crisp fall day.  Sweat isn’t pouring down your face and stinking up your clothes, there is excitement in the air, and…well…beer takes center stage.  (Then again, in our lives, beer always takes center stage.)  There are Oktoberfest beers, brown ales, and pumpkin beers as the last of the summer beers are drunk.  And, you better believe fall time means that Oktoberfest and beer festivals are in your plans.  Lucky for you we have been keeping track of all of these events throughout Connecticut and we proudly present them to you right here.  Prost!

Oktoberfests


Beer Garden SoNo’s Oktoberfest, 1st Annual

Location:  Oyster Shell Park in Norwalk, CT

UPDATED! Date and time: 10/4 10/5 from 12-5

Cost: 1) General Admission is $10 with code IWANTIN or $20 at the door.  This gets you entrance, live music, food truck access, free bottles of water, and a chance to purchase beer.

2) The Beer Drinker is $30 with code GIVEMEBEER or $59 at the door.  This gets you entrance, live music, food truck access, free bottles of water, a commemorative tasting glass, and unlimited tastings from 12-5.  You can also buy beer, but you’ve got unlimited tastings!  Come on now!

3) VIP Access is $105 with code CANTSTOPWONTSTOP or $211 at the door. This gets you in an hour early, gets you unlimited tastings with a bigger 10 oz tasting glass, you can skip lines, you get a reserved table for singing beer songs, water, live music, food trucks, and you get to take part in The Beer Garden SoNo’s after party!

Description: Achtung, baby…the Beer Garden in SoNo is throwing a major par-tay at the beautiful Oyster Shell Park right in Norwalk. There will be beer, there will be music, and there will be food trucks, so we’re not really sure what else you need.  ;)  But, if you want some deets, here they are:  Blind Pug Ales, Shock Top, Widmer Bros., Goose Island, Hooker, Blue Point, Paulaner, Palm, Radeberger, Heineken, Guinness (they’ll be debuting a new beer), Strongbow, Newcastle, and more along with some great food trucks like Grab Your Balls, Cowabunga, One Bro Pizza Co, Tacos El Azteca, and Caseus. If all of that seems too overwhelming, they’ll have a digital guide that can take you from beer to beer and get you to where ya need to be.  While all the drinking and eating is going down, check out One Bad Oyster, The Adam Currie Band, Tim Currie’s Motown Band, and Beach Avenue who you might know from America’s Got Talent!  Deals go on until 9/26, so snag ’em while the snagging’s good. Children 13 or younger are free, btw.  A portion of sales will be donated to the Whittingham Cancer Center, too, so cheers to that!

Milford Oktoberfest

Location: Rotary Pavilion at Fowler Field, 1 Shipyard Lane in Milford, CT

Date and time: 9/27 from 12-9 pm

Cost: $10 per person, 16 and under free

Description: Sponsored by the Devon Rotary, the Milford Oktoberfest is one of the most popular scenes in the area.  There is a German biergarten, music from HitList, Rumrunners, and an authentic German band, a bratwurst eating contest, and even things for the kiddies to do while you get a refill.  And, food wise, you’re set with plenty of German goodies as well as some classic American dishes if you’re sausaged out.  Get your tickets at the gate or ask a Devon Rotary member, or call up Scott Moulton at (203) 306-5172 for more info.  

Oktoberfest on the Meadow, 4th Annual

Location: Stamford Museum and Nature Center in Stamford, CT

Date and time: 10/17 from 7-10

Cost: $60/$75 for non-members in advance or $70/$85 for non-members at the door (21+)

Description: SM&NC is one of our favorite places in Fairfield County and it’s also home to a great harvest festival weekend.  The ultimate kickoff to the weekend of cider making and family fun is celebrating fall and beer at Oktoberfest on the Meadow.  Plenty of great German brews will be flowing with live music from Green Eyed Lady.  Plus, it wouldn’t be an Oktoberfest without lots of great German food, and that’s what you’ll get with Old Heidelberg providing the delicious grub.  Oh…did we mention the S’mores bar?  Hell yeah.

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Ease into Fall w/ Fairfield County Farm Workshops, Dinners, and Events

3 Sep

Farms are what keep us rooted to our humble beginnings, they keep us in touch with nature…farms are what keep us alive.  And, while most people probably only have surface level interactions with farms by purchasing their foods at stores or getting a bit closer to the source by visiting farmers’ markets, farms have lots going on behind the scenes.  The sowing, the planting, the watering, the manicuring, and the picking.  And, there are plant-y of other things going on at farms, depending on the season.

So, this is where we leave you:  some great events, workshops, and dinners at farms in September and October for you to dig.

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Harbor Brew Fest 2014 Tickets Giveaway

2 Sep

There were so many entries for the contest, but the random winner is Amy Booth who really wants to try Ginja Ninja and the Cannoli beer.  Hey, we’re there with ya…love the Ninja, desperately want to try the Cannoli beer! 

Dude, it’s almost September 20…and you know what that means:  Harbor Brew Fest at The Ball Park at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport! We’ve got our tix, and hopefully you do too, but just in case you don’t, we’ve got a ticket giveaway contest just for you!  So, to win TWO General Admission tickets to Harbor Brew Fest 2014, all you need to do is check out the list of breweries below and tell us one beer from a brewery that you can’t wait to try. Comment on this post to enter or comment on our Facebook post too.  We will pick one random lucky winner at 5 pm (when the contest ends) on Friday, 9/5/14, and will announce the winner.

In case you need a reminder or this is your first time hearing about HBF from us, here’s a quick review:

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Truck or Treat? Have Both at the Meriden Food Truck Fest! An OmNomCT Exclusive.

1 Sep
Sure, on the weekend of October 25 (12-10) & 26 (11-8) you could go to any ‘ole Halloween party and get some candy, chips, and if you’re lucky a cute little cupcake with a gummy worm on top… or you could go to the Westfield Mall in Meriden and hit up the Meriden Food Truck Fest where you can stuff your face with fantastic food from an estimated 40 food trucks. With both trucks AND treats, there’s no excuse not to go… 
 
But OmNom, the best part of Halloween parties is we can dress up in slutty, errr, I mean scary, costumes!
Fret not our friends, the Meriden Food Truck Festival has you covered. They WANT you to come dressed in your best costume and they’ll have a professional photographer booth set up so you can show it off.

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SoWe Food + Wine Festival 2014 Ft. Celebrity Chefs + Demos, Restaurants, Food Trucks and Drinks Galore

18 Aug

While we focus on Fairfield County, we sometimes can’t control ourselves when it comes to nearby towns and events: there’s the CT Brewers Guild Brewfest at Ski Sundown, Miya’s in New Haven, Coals in Port Chester, Captain Lawrence Brewery in Elmsford, and there’s also the SoWe Food & Wine Festival.  That’s Southern Westchester Food & Wine Festival for you n00bs.

This event, now in its third year, (2012 was Taste of Scarsdale which morphed into the SoWe Food & Wine Fest) brings together the best of food in NYC, Westchester and Fairfield Counties, along with excellent wine (beer too) and exclusive experiences.  SoWe goes down from 9/19-21 with tickets ranging from $0 to $85 for the Celebrity Chef Battle on Friday.  They have also teamed up with WhyHunger, Scarsdale Volunteer Ambulance Corps, The Community Counseling Center, JDRF, Greyston, and the Food Bank for Westchester to donate a sizable portion of their profits from the weekend to these important charities.

Let’s take you through the different days and options that you can take part in.

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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 Chopped and Cooking Channel’s Heat Seekers (with partner in crime Roger Mooking), 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… Continue reading

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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A Peer into World of Beer – Harbor Point Area of Stamford, CT

29 Jun
Yes, that IS Dogfish 90 Minute that you see...along with 49 other selections...

Yes, that IS Dogfish 90 Minute that you see…along with 49 other selections…

After a beautiful day of running (and who are we kidding, walking) the Half Full 5k, we settled down and did what any healthy people would do: eat food from Vanchetta, Melt Mobile, and Lobstercraft, and drink our fair share of Peach Wheat, Toasted Ambers, IPAs and Bright Ales. Yeeeeah, and, what better way to celebrate an arduous 5-hour day of drinking and eating than having more beer at World of Beer, which conveniently happened to open for the first time JUST as the Half Full 5k beer fest ended?!

Now, we’re not normally a fan of chains, but our love of beer wins out on this one. Just like the rest of Fairfield County, we’ve been anticipating the opening since we broke the news in late September.  So when we finally had our chance, we beelined through the door for a seat right by the bar and tap list (smart!), and the TVs so we could enjoy the Greece vs. Costa Rica game. Speaking of games, there are helluva lot of TVs, so this just might turn into your new favorite place to watch a game. And, they will regularly have live music, which we got to enjoy after the game from Mark Zelenz, of Short Bus with his own band, The Easy.

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