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Hallelujah! A feast worth waiting for? Bar Rosso – Stamford, CT

15 May

Many people count down the days to, say, a vacation, or the holidays, or  a wedding, a due date, whatever. We… we countdown to restaurant openings. Yeah. So it’s no surprise that every time Bar Rosso in Stamford announced a new opening date, we were on the phone desperately trying to make reservations, only to be bummed out by another false alarm. But, hey, we know how it goes with renovations, contractors, licenses, training, and all that other craziness required to open a new place so no hard feelings. Especially no hard feelings after finally experiencing the divinity last night.

Now we only went to Bennett’s once (the restaurant that use to be in this spot), so we don’t remember exactly what it looked like, but when we walked in we were amazed at how incredibly different it looked. It is so much more open and contemporary. A much younger, hipper vibe with with a nice large bar, funky modern glass light fixtures, a beautiful stone wall, an impressive stainless steel and brick pizza oven, and subtle, clean colors.

We were 15 mins early for our reservation but the host was able to take us right to our table – a nice little two person booth and table set up. Score! Not even a minute into being seated a waiter asked us our preference on water, then no more than three minutes after that another waiter, Fedrico, was at our table asking us if we had any questions on the drink menu. The waiter seemed knowledgeable about the wine menu… impressive.  After ordering the Castello Monaci Piluna 2007 Primitivo, Federico showed up with our bottle in just another two minutes along with some fresh bread and olive oil. Yay! There’s nothing I hate more than having to wait for wine, and then having nothing to gnaw on to go with it. The wine was a nice, full bodied red, similar to a Zinfandel with the taste of dark red fruit. A solid choice to go with a variety of dishes, because after looking at the menu we knew we were going to be trying a whole lotta dishes!

So what about the menu you ask? Wait for it. Waaaaait for it. Overall, the menu was really nice! A large variety of traditional and unique Italian fare including pizzas, pasta that could be ordered in half or full portions (love that), salads, larger entrees, meat and cheese platters, and a ton of small dishes that could be mixed and matched. Oh wow, where to begin?!  After much deliberation (as alwaaaays), we went wild. First, a meat and cheese platter of some of our go-to faves: prosciutto, sopressata, coppa, peccorino (organic) and homemade mozzarella. Then onto small plates: polenta fries (based on the Foursquare recommendation), greens and cherries, and beets agrodolce (because we never say no to beets). Next up, clams and pancetta from the apps menu, cooked in a saffron and white wine, and herb broth. Aaaand last but not least (because there was also dessert) a half portion of the Bucatini pasta with braised pork, tomatoes, olives, and fava beans. Phew, ok, breath.

So remember how I was raving about how fast the service was. Um yeah, that ended after we got our wine… which is an indication that the waiter was probably good, but the kitchen was backed up. Yeah, all in, were we there for three hours. But, we’re not going to judge them on this because it was their first weekend so we have to cut them a break. Ok, back to the food…

The meat and cheese platter came out with a cheat sheet explaining everything we ordered. Cool! They did a great job sourcing the meats and cheeses because everything was fresh, tasty and flavorful. Their homemade mozzarella was semi-soft and quite tasty, though I prefer soft, juicy mozzarella. Everything also came with a delicious strawberry jam. Mmmm.

Next up, the small dishes. The beets agrodolce (meaning sour and sweet) came in a cute little mason jar. And while they were not at all sour OR sweet (weird) they were tasty. A bit too salty (you’ll notice this is a theme) but still quite good. The greens and cherries too had a nice flavor with a pretty hefty helping of garlic (I’m not complaining) and a spicy kick, which we later found out was Calabrian (Calabria represent!) chili oil. While this dish tasted nice, we couldn’t eat too much because they were drenched in too much oil. Now onto the pièce de résistance, the polenta fries. Oooey gooey bricks of buttery, fluffy polenta fried in a nice light batter with salt (again, a bit too much, but it didn’t bother us as much here). OMG, these were frickin’ good. We highly recommend them.

Already a little full, we moved onto the clams and pancetta. Hey, no rest for the wicked! A nice helping of both crispy pancetta and fresh tasting clams in what seemed to be a slightly thickened broth of white wine and a bunch of great flavors really coming through, especially the saffron and garlic. Again a bit on the salty side, but overall a nice dish.

Barely hanging in there, and already a little tipsy, we made it to the last course, the Bucatini pasta. This dish was fantastic with al dente pasta topped with a heavy helping of incredibly tender slow roasted pork that was cooked in coriander for a very unique taste. My only critique here is I would’ve liked more tomatoes, but it was very good regardless.

Ok, I know what you’re thinking. There’s noooo way we had room for dessert, right? Well, you’re right, we had absolutely no room. Buuuuut, we went for it any way. Whatever, go big or go home people! The dessert menu looked too good to resist with hot chocolate cake, honey panna cotta, like ten different gelatos that all looked fantastic, and one of our favorites, pizza frite. Oh fried dough, so simple, yet so very very delicious. This one especially as it came drenched in Nutella and chocolate ganache with a side of caramelized bananas topped with nuts. Um yeeeeah. A perfect dish, with perfectly fried dough that was oh-so ooey gooey (ok, I used that twice in one post – minus 5 points). Washed down with some Illy coffee, it was the perfect ending to our feast.

Yep, a feast that was definitely worth the wait. And once they get all the kinks worked out to speed up the service and if they lay off the salt a bit, they’ll be great! But those two issues aside, the meal was delicious and we think Bar Rosso has a long, successful life ahead!

Noms: 3.25

Cost:  $$$

Bar Rosso

Address: 24 Spring Street

Stamford, CT 06901

Phone: (203) 388-9640

Reservations recommended (also on Opentable.com)

Site: http://www.barrossoct.com/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001687354172

Twitter:  http://twitter.com/barrossoct

Bar Rosso on Urbanspoon

Pickle infused vodka, Fez Burger, killer fries, and avjar. Avjar? The Fez–Stamford, CT

31 Jan

Kristien’s parents, Tom and Linda, were in town and wanted to try The Fez after reading our review.  We were certainly not going to protest considering we declared The Fez our favorite restaurant in Stamford!  Again this time we were lucky enough to have Thami as our waiter. Thami is the kind of waiter you hope for at restaurant, friendly, attentive, and knowledgeable, so much that he even great he remembered exactly what wine we ordered last time and even some of the food.  And, the owner, Eric, said hi to us again.  I have to say, it was nice being back…they really make you feel welcome and make the whole evening a fun experience.

There’s been lots of talk about the infused drinks at The Fez.  First, our friend, Terri Zimmer, talked about them on FB, then Amy from ctbites.com asked us about them.  Well, I am proud to be your culinary and drinkiary ambassador.  So, I asked Eric about them.  Turns out they serve pickle infused vodka, orange blossom infused vodka, and cherry infused vodka.  I stuck with the first two in the list, though the cherry did sound good.

Well, onto the meal.  Unlike last time, I decided to switch things up and go with small plates.  I started with a very creamy hummus that had toasted pine nuts on top.  Served on the side was avjar:  a kind of salsa, only they use red peppers, some garlic, and possibly some eggplant.  A light, smoky flavor runs through the avjar.  We dipped into the hummus and the avjar with crispy (Fez) pita chips that were sprinkled with cinnamon–nice touch.  Even though this was my dish, Kristien and her parents couldn’t help themselves from stealing from me–even with dirty looks.

So, you’re probably wondering…what’s up with the pickle vodka? The waiter asked me how I wanted it and I wasn’t quite sure what to say. Then I said something I never thought I’d say, “Pickle infused vodka on the rocks please.”  Scary! Well, the pickle taste wasn’t overpowering at all and the vodka was good, though I realized that it was better to drink with food, not by itself.  The cucumber added a nice flavor when I took a bite then took a sip.  It’s worth trying, definitely!  I know my sister, Ren, used to drink pickle juice, so just consider this the adult version.

I also needed to get the Pizzet Aroub again because it was just that

amazing.  Last time I really wanted the Fez Burger, so I thought, hey, today is all about adventure so let’s do it!  This burger was really amazing.  First of all, it was cooked to a perfect medium rare.  Secondly, crispy and thin fingerling potato shoestring fries.  Damn, damn, damn.  Thirdly, we’ve got the burger, a mixture of lamb and beef.  I liked the mixture because the lamb was balanced out by the beef.  Crispy lettuce and juicy tomato lay beneath the patty and on top were some savory roasted onions and peppers, kept together with a green spiced sauce.

I also tried the orange blossom infused vodka which was quite different than my pickled vodka.  The vodka seemed much stronger with this infusion with a very subtle orangey/citrusy taste.  In a moment of pure inspiration I squeezed the blood orange on the rim into the vodka and that actually cut into the strong vodka taste a bit.  I enjoyed the pickle vodka more, actually, wouldn’t you know it?

Surprise, we ended with the briwats again.  Still a fabulous dessert that kicks baklava up a notch!  We really noticed this time a floral accent in the briwats and Thami told us it was orange blossom.  Thami also offered me a complementary port so I tried the 20 year old Tawny.  This was probably the smoothest port that I’ve ever had and I’d recommend it as a kick ass aperitif.

Before I wrap this up, I should mention that Kristien loved her sag and feta rolls that had Kalmata olives on the side and her small plate of succulent lamb chops with anchovy bread crumbs.  Tom enjoyed the meatball tagine and took any vestiges of the dish home to Upstate NY.   Linda enjoyed the chicken stuffed with feta and peppers that came with a side of cubed sweet potatoes–one of the specials that night.  As you see, Kristien was asked to come up and dance with Adina, their very sweet belly dancer!  I was actually hoping Tom or Linda would go up and dance!  I would have loved to have seen that and would have recorded it for all of you to see.  Sorry, next time maybe? ;)

Noms:  4.5

Cost:  $$$

The Fez
Address:  227 Summer Street
Stamford, CT 06901
Phone:  (203) 975-0479
Site:  http://thefez1.com

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An Italian Gastronomic and Wine Lovers Wonderland. ZAZA, Stamford

27 Dec

Photo by Alex Racanelli

Update, 6/2/11:  ZAZA is now open and here’s our review.  Also, Nick Jr. took us for a private tour and here’s the goods.

We all know that Stamford has a ton of Italian restaurants, so the choices can be quite overwhelming. As you listen to people’s recommendations and try each of them out, you notice that many of them are just the same old boring formula:  drab pizza, expected salads, bland pasta, and some rubbery chicken parm.  Who is brave enough to break this boring monotony in Stamford?  Well, there are two newcomers to the scene that will prove to add some gusto to Downtown Stamford.  First, we’ve got Bar Rosso that’s opening up in 2 weeks and we’ve got ZAZA, who we’re also so damn excited about!

What’s the big deal?  Let me break it down for ya, paesan.  The owners (Nick  Racanelli Jr. and Sr.) are the creators and operators of MOLTO in Fairfield, CT.  Nick Sr. is the same person who created and built Remo’s Brick Oven Pizza and Lucky’s on the restaurantly-rich Bedford Street.  So, there is clearly amazing culinary experience  and passion going into ZAZA.

Photo by Alex Racanelli

Let’s get onto the kind of food that ZAZA will have to offer.  To begin, ZAZA is going to be an Italian gastrobar.  You can think of a gastrobar as a restaurant that serves gourmet bar food, unlike most bar food that goes for hot oil baths and takes you down for the count.  The menu will be quite similar to the one at MOLTO, with a focus on small plates, table sharing, and their famous thin-crust, brick-oven pizza.  I’m excited about the white clam pie and also the hot oil pizza, which is always killer.  Something else that I’m hoping for is that they’ll carry over their plates of mozzarella (5 different kinds) that come with olives, roasted peppers, and eggplant.

Now, you also need something to wash all that Italian yumminess down with, right?  Why not try one of their over 100 different bottles of wine?  As of right now, Nick Jr. is telling us that there will most likely be over 40 of those bottles available to buy by the glass.  That’s a really great variety, and with the glasses going from $5-$15, you can get your drink on without going broke.  The bottles will also prove to be quite affordable, starting at $20.

The meals will also  be quite inexpensive with $10 pizzas and a ton of entrees under $20.  I have a feeling that this will quickly become a Stamford favorite, especially for the 30+ crowd.  You’ll have great quality food, an excellent dining experience, a plethora of wine choices, and all for not too much money.  This is the perfect formula for a restaurant to thrive upon so I definitely think that Nick Jr. and Sr. know what they’re doing!

Expect to indulge in rich mahogany, a stunning white carrera marble bar, and plush red leather booths.  So, let’s all welcome ZAZA to Stamford.  I’m starting to have dreams about this place already…opening Spring, 2011.

Address:  122 Broad Street
Stamford, CT
Phone:  203-348-2300
Site: http://zazagastrobar.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/zazagastrobar
Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001854911680&ref=ts

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The menu’s promising, but the food ain’t so rosy. Rouge Winebar, Norwalk (SoNo)

15 Dec

I think that the title says it all, but I feel that I have to defend myself here.  First of all, Rouge Winebar is a quiet and comfy place with beautiful brick walls and striking wooden floors.   They really set the tone when you enter as you see a lovely rack of wine bottles, inviting you in.  The bar is also impressive, especially the rouge light setting a halo around the liquor.  The menu, also, really impressed us.  Their philosophy is small plates and, look, we’re all for that.  It was really difficult to center in on just a few dishes, but we picked a select few that would awaken our tastebuds.

To start the party, we invited over a 2006 Marietta Zinfandel that was aged in French oak.  Quite a classy gal with a nice finish.  It’s no party with just one guest, so I asked the Greek Salad to join our table  He was smothered in a vinaigrette, and had some kalmata olives, cucumbers, red onion, peppers, and a dash of oregano.    The salad was good and certainly lived up to expectations.  Enough with the cheesy talk, let’s just get down to business.  We also ordered the Potato and Chorizo Croquette, covered in a garlic aioli.  Kristien wasn’t a fan, but I thought it was pretty good.  My main problem with the dish and many of the others here at Rouge is the lack of seasoning-or in some cases like the beef carpaccio, too much.  The croquettes could have definitely benefited from a bit more spice and kick.

The dish that I was most looking forward to was the Coffee Dusted NY Strip Steak that was draped over manchego mashed potatoes.  Top the steak with some demi glaze and put some sweet and sour onions on the side and you’ve got the golden ticket, right?  Well, sorta.  The steak was cooked perfectly at medium rare and had really beautiful grill marks.  What this dish gained in presentation it lost in taste.  The onions and mashed potatoes seemed to have more spice and flavor than the steak itself which disappointed me quite a bit.  It was still a good dish, but it wasn’t an amazing dish that you beg your dining partner to taste.

Finally, Kristien is a lobster risotto fiend, so when she saw that on the menu, she knew what she had to do.  Again, when it arrived, we were excited and we began to drool at the presentation.  The herbs, sauce, and parmagiano all combined to add a wonderful taste to this dish, but it couldn’t make the overcooked rice taste better.  I was having intense flashbacks to Gordon Ramsay yelling at budding chefs  on Hell’s Kitchen and blasting out, “You overcooked the risotto,” only I had no food or things to throw around.  

If you compared Rouge Winebar with Scena Wine Bar & Restaurant, I don’t think you’d really need to think twice.  Scena was just as nice on the inside, was around the same price, but the food was much better.  Plus, to boot, they are pretty close by each other, Scena being in Darien.  You can certainly have an okay meal at Rouge Winebar, but at that price you probably want an awesome or excellent one.

Noms:  2.75

Cost:  $$$

Rouge Winebar
Address:  88 Washington Street
Norwalk, CT 06854-3077
Phone:  (203) 354-4781
Site:  http://rougewinebar-ct.com/index.htm

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Ya Ain’t Scena-it All ‘Til Ya Seen Scena Wine Bar & Restaurant, Darien

4 Dec

Darien Restaurant Week led us to discover a star that’s been shining in Darien since September 1, 2010:  Scena Wine Bar & Restaurant.  Scena is the brainchild of the same owners of Cava in New Canaan and 55° Wine Bar & Restaurant in Fairfield.  When we arrived, we enjoyed Scena’s decor, which had a modern sensibility to it, similar to the food.  It’s rooted in real, classic Italian dishes and kinds of flavors, but it’s more than that.  The food is deeper, more complex, and is even playful…more on that when we get to the Nutella Filled Crepe.

First, we looked through the extensive wine list for a nice red to go with our meal.  There are bottles to go with anybody’s budget, low to high.  We stuck with a nice $38 bottle of 2006 Masi Campofiorin from Verona.  It was a nice bold red, but not too overpowering, with plenty of dark fruit flavors and a hint of chocolate at the finish.  The perfect match to this was the Scena Antipasti that I ordered.  House-made mozzarella lay before me, covered in a wonderful tomato jam.  Next to that was an eggplant caponata whose smoky taste came from some pignolas.  Add in some prosciutto di parma, two slices of parmesan, and sopresetta and I was feeling good.  I give my compliments to the chef for this because the cheese and meat was fresh.  There’s nothing worse than getting poor quality meats and cheeses in your antipasta…I think we’ve all had that experience.  Kristien enjoyed the Crispy Fried Artichoke Salad with goat cheese, arugula, and pumpkin seed pesto.  The salad was a perfect blend of ingredients and textures, though the pesto stood out in a good way and brought the whole starter together.

The main dish, Seafood Pan Roast, is what I was dying for and when it arrived I took a few deep breaths.  Two perfectly cooked and seasoned scallops awaited me, towering above shrimp, lobster, clams, and mussels.  All of this stood atop a beautifully prepared and slightly buttery herb risotto.  Chunks of tomato were strewn about through the dish with a red broth, and added a nice acidity to the dish.  The portion for this was nicely sized, but I couldn’t help but want more of the risotto.  One pet peeve of mine, though, is that if you’re ordering a seafood dish, you should be given a bowl to put the shells in.  I did a McGyver and put the shells on my bread plate–who says a Stamfordite can’t improvise?  Kristien had the Wood Fire Roasted Free Range Chicken with spicy sausage, mushrooms, spinach, cherry peppers, and a side of whipped potatoes.  The skin of the chicken was crispy and flavorful, even a bit peppery.  The meat remained moist and wasn’t dry at all.  It was hard to tell, though, if there was sausage in the dish.  We would have loved to have that flavor pushed more forward into the plate along with more of a kick from spicier cherry peppers.

As we were thinking of dessert we began to have a nice conversation with the people next to us. Claude Priolet and  Karen were the kind of people you’d want to share every dinner with.  Kind, polite, and well spoken, they treated Kristien to an amazingly smooth Taylor Fladgate port and me to a strong shot of Grappa di Montalcino “Banfi.”  Thanks, again, to both of you!

So, with that nice warm feeling of port and grappa creeping down our bodies, a divine crepe descended from heaven to our table. First of all, you’ve got banana gelato, drizzled with caramel, and sprinkled with toasted hazelnuts.  Really, that’s all you’d need, but they aren’t happy with the same old standard.  Enter some delicate crepes that are filled with nutella and you’ve really got a meal ender to end all meals.

We went back with a great couple, Megan and Ron, last night (10/22/11)and we all had an amazing meal.  We just had to bump up the Nom rating from 3.75 to 4.25!  We decided that we’re definitely headed back because there were more “secondo” and freshly made pasta dishes to try.  We’re talking 3.75 Noms with $$$ for price.  This is definitely a place that has great, reliable, quality food that is worthy of return visits.

Noms:  4.25

Cost:  $$$

Scena Wine Bar & Restaurant
Address:  1077 Post Road, Darien, CT  06820
Phone: (203) 662-3226  Fax: (203) 662-3227
Email: info@scenawinebar.com
Site:  http://scenawinebar.com/
Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/pages/Scena-Wine-Bar-RestaurantDarien/173433756010597
Twitter:  http://twitter.com/#!/scenawinebar

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