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The Schoolhouse at Cannondale has some learnin’ to do. Wilton, CT

10 Jan

So by now you’ve figured out that we really love to go out to eat.  Like reeeeeeaaaaaally. But there is one thing we love even more than that–going out to eat on double dates! Because a meal shared with friends ALWAYS tastes better. It’s true!  This time around our double date was with two of our favorite CT foodies and wine lovers, Dave and Kathleen.  In talking with Dave, we agreed that since our double date was over the holiday week, we’d pick something outside our normal Stamford/Norwalk comfort zone.  Also being a big fan of local/farm to table type restaurants, Dave suggested The Schoolhouse at Cannondale.  After one quick look at a sample menu on their website and reading some of the reviews, we were game!

When Danny and I pulled up (after getting a little discombobulated with the directions… it’s kinda tucked away), we fell in love with the cute little schoolhouse building. So quaint and New Englandy. The entry way was adorable too with a little welcome station, coat rack, and an old-school (pun intended) chalk board. Once everyone arrived and were all seated, we opened up the menu to dive in. I was so engaged in conversation that I didn’t even notice the menu was actually personalized with our name on it. (Thank you Kathleen for pointing that out!) What a great little surprise, even if our name was spelled wrong. Being in marketing, I’m super appreciative of those little added touches!

The menu was set up into four courses, the fourth being dessert, yum! There were two options for all four courses along with wine pairing suggestions for each. While typically the four of us have been known to polish off a bottle of wine or four (what?), we all opted for the pairings. Why mess with the experts, right? We all went for the parsnip and apple soup with ricotta gnocchi, shaved ham, and chives for the first course.  For the second course Kathleen and I went for the celery root ravioli with black trumpet mushrooms and a foie gras (which after reading about how it’s sourced, we will NEVER, EVER eat again) brown butter emulsion while Dave and Danny went with the duck roulade with a root vegetable hash and a sunny side egg. Switching it up in the third course, Kathleen and Danny went for the pork shoulder with cauliflower puree and broccoli rabe, while Dave and I went for the bronzini with saffron risott0 (I aaaalways go for the risotto), preserved tomatoes, fennel, and parsnip chips. And last, but never, ever least, for dessert everyone except me went for the brown butter chestnut cake with mulled red wine, poached blood oranges, eggnog ice cream, and warm chocolate cream, while I went for the wildflower honey panna cotta with gingerbread spiced caramel corn, star anise honey, and earl grey sorbet. PHEW! As I’m sure you can imagine, we were so excited to dig in and were all convinced we were in for the treat of a lifetime.

So before I get into the details of any particular dish, let me get to the point of why the headline of this post sounds like things didn’t really go the way we were all expecting. (It’s about time, right?)  When you’re going to a restaurant as expensive as The Schoolhouse at Cannondale, that also happens to be all about local, fresh, farm food, you have certain grand expectations of perfection. Perfect service, perfectly cooked food, and perfectly seasoned flavors. Now, while everything was generally good, they pretty much just missed the mark across the board. The biggest issue was that most of the food was lukewarm / room temperature. A HUGE pet peeve of mine.  I like my food piping hot. It not only tastes better that way, but it implies freshness.  Then, in general, everything was just a little off–too seasoned, or not seasoned enough, over cooked, a little too fatty, etc.  As example, a TRUE test of a chef’s skill is his/her risotto. If they can rock a risotto, they can usually rock everything else. But like many places out there, the risotto was overcooked.

And lastly, the service.  Danny and I have been to enough fancy-schmancy restaurants to know the more you spend, the more you expect the service to be outstanding. This just wasn’t. With a little too much time between courses and at least 4 different waiters but not one single person asking us if everything was ok or if we needed anything… nothing. Just waiter after waiter dropping our food off and walking away. I suppose it could’ve been worse, like if the waiter asked each of us who ordered what at each course (OMG I hate that), but really, at this type of place, they should have been borderline annoyingly present.

So, now that I put it all out there, a few more details about the food. As I mentioned before, everything was good… just not that good. The parsnip and apple soup was creamy with a nice, smooth consistency, but just a tad bland, no particular notes of any one thing that stood out, all just pretty much in the same palette range.  Now, Dave and Danny said the duck was actually very good other than being cold. Perfectly cooked, perfectly seasoned, and delicious with the yolk running all over it. But as for the raviolis, well, they too were room temperature, but the flavor was actually quite nice. Again, nothing really interesting on the palette, just an overall good taste. Moving on to the bronzini, this was cooked nicely… flakey, not too fishy so I knew it was fresh, but it was definitely too salty. And as I mentioned the risotto was overcooked, though the flavor was nice. (How could you not love saffron?) As for the last course, well, this is where The Schoolhouse at Cannondale really excelled. The group raved about the chestnut cake and egg nog ice cream saying it was the perfect winter treat and my panna cotta was quite tasty with the spicy gingerbread balanced by the smooth earl grey tea sorbet. YUM! And, I do have to say whomever chose the wine pairings did do a good job on the flavor pairing, especially the Pares Balta from Cava, Spain with the parsnip soup and the Pie de Palo Viognier from Mendoza, Argentina with the ravioli. The light whites complemented the heavier creamy dishes very well.  I am, however, incredibly disappointed in the low quality of the wines they chose, most running at about $10 a bottle retail, which for a classy restaurant, is pretty silly.

I have to say, it actually makes me kind of sad to have to write a ho-hum review of The Schoolhouse at Cannondale. (I’m so emotionally invested in my food experiences, ha!) I had such high expectations for the place based on the concept and the buzz. I do truly believe that this place holds sooooo much potential and with some refinement this place could easily go from decent to fantastic. But for now, we’re going to have to go with good, but not nearly good enough at 3 noms and a whopping 4 $$$$.  I’d say, if you’re going to spend this much bling, there are many many better options in our area.

Noms: 3

Cost: $$$$

  
The Schoolhouse at Cannondale
Website: http://www.theschoolhouseatcannondale.com
Address: 34 Cannon Road
Wilton, CT, 06897
Hours: Wed – Thurs:  5:00 pm – 11:00 pm
Fri – Sat:  11:00 am – 3:00 pm and 5:00 pm – 11:00 pm
Sun:  10:00 am – 3:00 pm
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Schoolhouse-At-Cannondale/195679980340

The Schoolhouse at Cannondale on Urbanspoon

Ending the year on a high note! Red Lulu Cocina & Tequila Bar, South Norwalk (SoNo)

1 Jan

Kristien and I OmNoming it up at Red Lulu

When we were thinking about some great places to OmNom it up for New Year’s Eve, we couldn’t stop going back to our amazing experience at Red Lulu.  With a place that cool, we thought it HAS to be a scene on the craziest night of the year, right? So Kristien called up Red Lulu and was told the chef would be creating some new items for a very special menu, that there would be three seatings, one at 6:00, 8:00 and 10:00, and that they would have confetti and a champagne toast at midnight.  We decided we couldn’t miss out on what was sure to be a fantastic night so we made reservations for us, and our friend, Paul Mueller, author of Abigail and Blueboy, for 8:00PM

To begin, we were led to the most awesome seat in the house:  the head of the beautiful mirrored, cross table just below the brick wall where they were projecting NYC’s Time Square live.  Paul freaked when the granita came out smoking and popped a picture just like we did.  Some things never grow old! :) Our waitress, Emma, brought us our margaritas (HAD to have the Red Lulu and Diablo again) and prepared us for an awesome meal.  Some of the major highlights of the night:

Paul, Emma, and I

1)  The chef’s new guacamole!  It was mixed with thick chunks of smoked bacon… yeah bacon, need we say more?  I just hope this stays on their regular menu. If not, I’m sorry that I just told you about it without hope of you ever achieving oneness through this dish.

2)  The carne asada, once again, was amazing.  It was done up differently when I ordered it last time, so I didn’t feel as guilty for ordering the same darn thing.  There were some nicely grilled onions on the side, with a beautiful strip of beef that was cut into slices and accompanied with some tortillas for wrapping.  A spicy red sauce was there that added great flavor and heat to the dish.  By itself, the beef was amazing, but adding in the red sauce made it great.  Also, throw in some more guacamole and roasted jalapenos, and it’s perfect.  Well, I guess if there was bacon in this guac, too! :)

3)  The service!  It was spot on yesterday.  We were seated right at 8:00 and were well taken care of by the attentive waitstaff and by Emma.  The time we spent at Red Lulu seemed to just drift by as they helped us to celebrate.  Waiters, waitresses, and staff were clad in NYE necklaces and hats, were throwing balloons around, were cranking noise makers, and getting everybody excited.

4)  Both the pulled pork and rib eye tacos.  The meat, in both tacos, was cooked very nicely.  The pulled pork, in particular, was of the kind of quality that you’d find at a stellar BBQ joint.  The pork was just so moist and delicate, that it just seemed to melt away.  Served up with some salsa verde, the pulled pork tacos were a great starter.

My New Year's Eve Cotton Candy Goatee

5)  Last of all, we all shared  a dessert platter.  There was a tequila cupcake with a scoop of butter on top–I ate a big chunk of it with the cupcake thinking it was ice cream.  Nope, it wasn’t, ewwww.  It was butter!  Damn, that was smart of me, but we all got a big laugh out of it.  Also, there were fried banana cheesecake bites that Kristien just loved.   The other two desserts:  a bread pudding (we think… at this point we had quite a few margaritas) and a brownie cake were also very good.  We were even given an extra complimentary dessert platter and some champagne to wash it all down. SWEET!

Red Lulu continues to kick some major culo!  The place was packed, with three dinner seatings and a crowded bar, yet the food came out hot, and the service was superior.  I just wonder when we’ll be back again…maybe next Saturday?

Red Lulu Cocina & Tequila Bar on Urbanspoon

A sensory explosion. Red Lulu Cocina & Tequila Bar, Norwalk (SoNo)

19 Dec

Calling Red Lulu Cocina & Tequila Bar a sensory explosion is an understatement. In fact, as soon as you walk into their mammoth doors you’re hit with the first two sensory explosions: sight and sound. Ok, not just hit, but more like “You got knocked the f@$k out” like Smokey says to Teebo in Friday. Let’s take them one at a time so you don’t get overwhelmed with the awesomeness.

Sight

Wow. No, wow doesn’t even sum it up. This place is freakin’ ridiculous. Dare I say the coolest looking restaurant in Fairfield County? Yes I dare. It starts with the rich, red, velvety, damask wall paper, then moves over to the gorgeous variety of antique/crystal/iron/goth chandeliers dangling from the ceiling, over to the swanky lounge and bar area bustling with trendy locals enjoying concoctions from their fabulous drink menu, along to the cross-shaped mirrored table in the middle of the restaurant next to a giant brick wall showcasing an eclectic variety of movies, ending with the plush, red, velvet seats nestled in cute little dining nooks for a little privacy among friends. Absolutely stunning… sexy even, rarrrr.

Sound

As busy as this place gets, you would expect it to be incredibly noisy. Luckily, the acoustics are excellent (must be all the velvety goodness soaking it up). Instead, all you really hear is fun and energetic music loudly (but not annoyingly) playing throughout the space.  And although we’ve not been to Red LuLu late at night or for a special party, I hear the musical entertainment can get quite intense!

But enough about all that, what about the foooood?! Here we move onto the two very interconnected senses:

Taste and Smell (with a twist of sight)

Once we were seated up on the wrought iron surrounded balcony overlooking the gorgeous cross table, we were greeted by our friendly waiter carrying a complimentary stainless steel bowl of steaming granita, to which he offered a splash of tequila to accompany it. Of course, we obliged! What a refreshing way to clear the palette for what was to be an amazing meal.

Then, we were presented with another complimentary dish of wonderfulness–a HUGE bowl of warm chips and a plethora of sauces and salsas for them to bathe in, including a spicy chipotle cream sauce, a fantastic spicy, sweet habanero mango sauce, an acidic and flavorful green tomatillo, and a nice, smokey roasted tomato salsa. And, to complement this variety of delish, we added one of their three guacamoles–the picante guacamole, with hell’s chile oil and fresh, hot green chiles. Not as spicy as we hoped, but still yummy! Yeah, and we totally couldn’t help ourselves from eating the entire bowl of chips with all of this! Oops.

Next up, drinks! What we thought was going to be an easy decision (margaritas, DUH), was anything but easy. With over 100 tequila choices (who the heck knew there were even over 100 tequilas on the market?), three sangria choices (including a rose, which you NEVER see), a wide variety of beers, and creative variations of margaritas, we weren’t sure where to start! We finally landed on the Red Lulu margarita for myself, an absolutely PERFECT mix of Sauza Hornitos, Patron Citronge, fresh lime, infused imperial cranberry cane syrup, and unsweetened crushed cranberry, and the Diablo for Danny, a harmonious blend of Lanazul Reposado, Luxardo Triplum, serrano chile, blood orange, and fresh pineapple, and strawberries.

Moving on, we have appetizers. As usual, stuck between about 10 different dishes, we picked the tres ceviches. As lovers of all things ceviche, how could we refuse a sampling of three different kids? Our absolute favorite of the three was the sangrita, a glorious combo of shrimp, scallops, tomato, fresh orange, hot sauce, and avocado. OMG. Second favorite was the traditional blend, consisting of grouper, fresh lime juice, serrano chile, and red onion. Very fresh and light. Although Danny thoroughly enjoyed the last one, called coco, the jury’s still out for me. The coco ceviche started with nice, fresh ahi tuna, drowning in coconut milk, a splash of fresh lime, cilantro leaves, and jalapeno. While I absolutely LOVE coconut, I feel like the coconut milk was just too heavy for a ceviche. It wasn’t bad by any means, but perhaps if they were lighter on the coconut milk and heavier on the lime, it would’ve been the perfect mix.

Now for course 2 (technically 4 if you count the granitas and chips, man we can eat), the main course! Danny had the carne asada, a grilled, marinated skirt steak (one of my faves) with flour tortillas, salsa roja, grilled red onions, and jalapenos. Holy hell, it was AMAZING (yes, of course I tasted it too)! The steak was perfectly cooked medium rare, which can be a challenge for thin skirt steak. The red onions were slightly spicy with just the perfect amount of vinegar to give it a nice, fresh acidity. And it even came with surprise, nicely seasoned french fries, like we needed that! Next time we go, I’m SO ordering that! And for me, I had the carne de vaca enchiladas from the appetizer menu, which was so huge it was anything but an appetizer. These unique and rich enchiladas consisted of slow-cooked short ribs, Negro Modello red chile sauce, and tobacco onions. While the ribs were cooked to perfection, soft, not tough or stringy at all, I would probably not get this dish again only because the Negro Modello sauce was just too rich, sweet, and overpowering for me. Though I think this is purely a taste thing, and no reflection of the quality of the dish… just look how amazing it looks in that picture. Puuurdy!

And last, but so very, very not least was dessert. Holy crap, where did we fit it? We indulged in the buenos noches, a warm, deep chocolate, espresso bread pudding (my favorite dessert of all time), topped with coffee ice cream, brown sugar caramel and hot fudge sauce. Oh wow, wow, wow, it was fantasical!

Then, just when you thought we were done, they bestow upon us the last of three complimentary dishes, a heaping serving of green apple cotton candy! How can you not fall absolutely in love with a place that ends every meal with a pile of sugary whimsy? You simply cannot, so at 4.25 noms, go here now, and go here often because it is more than a pleasure to all your senses.

Red Lulu Cocina and Tequila Bar
Noms: 4.25
Cost:  $$$

Address:  128 Washington Street
Norwalk, CT 06854
Phone:  (203) 939 – 1600
Website: http://redlulumexican.com
Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/pages/Red-Lulu-Cocina-Tequila-Bar/114553975261899?ref=ts

Note: Reservations not accepted for parties under 6. Usually a long wait after 7:00PM, so go early if you can’t wait 45 mins +

Red Lulu Cocina & Tequila Bar on Urbanspoon

After the leftovers expire, check out Darien Restaurant Week

16 Nov
Leftovers

So, you’ll spend next Thursday prepping the turkey, mashing the potatoes, and serving your family…you’ll be exhausted.  And somehow you’ll manage to brave the crowds at the stores on Black Friday.  You’ll deserve a break and some enjoyment.  Well, why not head to one of the many restaurants that are taking part in the 2nd Annual Darien Restaurant Week?  The post-holiday yumminess takes place from November 28th to December 3rd.  Depending on the restaurant that you check out below, you’re looking at $10.10 for lunch/$15.10 for dinner or $20.10 for lunch/$30.10 for dinner.  Small potatoes when you’d normally pay two to three times more.

This is a very good experience to try new restaurants and maybe branch out and be a bit more adventurous.  Kristien and I have been to many Stamford Restaurant Weeks and we still dream of the squid ink pasta from Columbus Park Trattoria.  Darien Restaurant Week is really such an amazing deal, you’d be insane to miss out.  I’m sure we’re going to hit a few, so stay tune for the reviews. Plus, we’re giving you a valid and economical reason to eat out and to have fun.  Don’t you deserve that during the holidays?

Prix Fixe Menus

Backstreet Restaurant (Lunch $10.10/Dinner $20.10)

Bertucci’s (Dinner $20.10, Including a Glass of Wine)

The Goose American Bistro & Bar (Lunch $15.10/Dinner $30.10)

Chuck’s Steakhouse (Dinner $20.10)

Coromandel (Lunch $10.10-15.10/Dinner $20.10)

Fuji of Japan (Lunch $10.10/Dinner $30.10.  Prix Fixe Menu on Sunday or Monday.  Lunch comes with sushi/sashimi, salad, and entree.  Also, choice of chicken teriyaki or meal from the hibachi.  Comes with soup and salad, fried rice or noodles.  Dinner has more choices of meals to be prepared on the hibachi.  Also, comes with a glass of wine and dessert!  Hostess was quite nice and inviting.  Not sure if sake bombs are extra ;)  )

Harpers (Information Available After Monday)

Little Thai Kitchen (Hostess Was Not Sure of Prices)

Matsuri (Lunch $15.10/Dinner $30.10)

The Melting Pot (Dinner $30.10)

Olé Molé (Lunch $10.10 or $15.10/Dinner $20.10 or $30.10)

Rory’s Restaurant (Lunch $10.10/Dinner $20.10)

Scena Wine Bar & Restaurant (Called, Not Available Yet)

Tengda Asian Bistro (Lunch $10.10 or $15.10/Dinner $20.10 or $30.10)

The Waters Edge at Giovanni’s (Dinner $30.10 or 25% off Wine List)

Other Darien Restaurant Specials

Darien Doughnut, espresso NEAT, Heights Pizza, Robeks Juice, Upper Crust Bagel Co. Bakery & Café

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