Category: Restaurants

The Barn Door: a great family restaurant in Branchville

The Barn Door: a great family restaurant in Branchville

signThe Barn Door has been at 37 Ethan Allen Highway in Ridgefield (Branchville) for about two years now, and it looks like they have found a winning formula. The service is fast and gracious, and the food way better than you’d expect at a “family restaurant.” Everything we had was extremely good, and most of it excellent.

They started us with some delicious bread, served with a tomato coulis, in a beautiful presentation.

bread

Our appetizers were their crab cakes with corn relish and chipotle aioli, which seems to be a recurring special that one staff member told me was one of their most popular dishes. It’s easy to see why: it is full of crab and sufficiently spicy (mostly with mustard) to compare favorably with benchmark Baltimore carb cakes. And the two cakes give you quite a lot of crab. If you were planning of having a substantial main course, two people could split these crab cakes!

crab cakes

For one entree we had an excellent Lemon Chicken. It consisted of chicken breasts with pasta and Meyer lemon, sweet cherry peppers and a sweet, lemony sauce, decorated with parsley. This was an absolutely outstanding dish we recommend highly whenever it’s on the menu.

lemon chicken

Out other entrée was classic Fish and Chips, served batter fried with hot, fresh French fries, coleslaw and tartar sauce. Like all of their other entrees, the portion was substantial and some of the best fish and chips we’ve had anywhere recently. This one is on the standard menu and you can order it anytime. We will certainly have it again.

fish and chips

The Barn Door is a wonderful discovery for us: the prices are reasonable, and the food is outstanding. We are probably going to start going there whenever we want a moderate night out, because the service, atmosphere and cuisine are excellent.

Parking sometimes is crowded at the Barn Door, but if their lot parking is full, there are usually spaces in a lot across the street. The Barn Door is located on Route 7 just south of the intersection with Rte. 102 and pretty much across from the Branchville train station.

See you there!

bar

 

 

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Where to have breakfast in Wilton

Where to have breakfast in Wilton

While our kitchen was being remodeled, we had ample opportunity to try various breakfast spots on the area, and all of them have things to recommend them.

Orem’s

Of course, Orem’s would be on our list since it is a well-regarded diner, recommended in Jane (and Michael) Stern’s Road Food. We have been going there for years, and have had quite a number of their breakfast items, from eggs, to pancakes, to French toast to omelets, and just about everything has been well prepared and served amazingly quickly. The wait staff is unfailingly friendly and soon recognizes you when you return. These photos show eggs and sausage, and blueberry pancakes.

Village Luncheonette

We had forgotten what a gem the Village Luncheonette is. It’s right there on Old Ridgefield Rd in Wilton Center, just across the driveway from Village Market. The staff is friendly and the food excellent. Our eggs were perfectly prepared, although they accidentally made us 3 instead of two and of course we had to eat all 3 because they were delicious. We liked the fact that they split the link sausages in half so they heated through. We’ll certainly go back more frequently. But beware: they don’t take credit cards.

Connecticut Coffee

bagel ct coffee

Connecticut Coffee and Grill does a brisk takeout business for their bagels and breakfast sandwiches, and they both conventional coffee and about 8 specialty coffees on tap all the time. Jimmy and his staff work quickly to hand you your order, and if it is the same every time, they may already have it for you in a bag when you walk in the door. We think their bagels are top-notch, and when we went there for a sit-down breakfast, we ordered them, buttered with cream cheese, and they were amazing. The French Toast the people at the next table had also looked fantastic. Their menu is extensive.  You can order breakfast sandwiches, eggs and pancakes and an huge array of lunchtime sandwiches. The place always seems busy, and has been for all of the 15 years they’ve been in Old Post Office Square, 16 Center St.

Uncle Leo’s

Uncle Leo’s Coffee and Donuts opened in Wilton (17 Danbury Rd) just a few weeks ago, and already has a substantial following. “Uncle Leo” is Leo Spinelli and the nephew is making excellent donuts and bagels using his recipes. The bagels are comparable to the ones at Connecticut Coffee but the donuts are far superior to anything else in the area. They have around a dozen tables where you can eat your breakfast, and their menu is the same as in the Georgetown shop, with breakfast sandwiches, Danish, muffins, turnovers, giant breakfast plates, omelets, eggs, toast and home fries. They also have a substantial lunch hot and cold sandwich menu.  Beware of their Boston Crème donut which is so full of custard you’ll need a spoon to manage it. But it is delicious!

 

Thursday night Prix Fixe at the Schoolhouse

Thursday night Prix Fixe at the Schoolhouse

The Schoolhouse at Cannondale always serves delicious, creative food, but Thursdays are a real bargain when you can get a 4-course meal for $49. If you want a different wine to accompany each course, it costs $85, but if you just order some wine by the glass the whole evening is an astonishing bargain.

Last night’s menu gave you two choices for each of the four courses, which explains why the menu is so inexpensive: there are only eight dishes to prepare.

For the first course, one choice was a Kale and Cabbage salad with almonds, pickled shallot, golden raisins and Umami vinaigrette. While it looked pretty salad like, it was a bit more like a fruit salad, with the raisins cutting the bitterness of the brassica, and quite tasty.

The other first course was a Curry Carrot Soup (above) with a coconut-peanut granola and Black Sheep Yoghurt. This was a spectacular success, and I can’t wait to try to duplicate it as it was utterly delicious, with the smooth carrot soup and curry contrasting with the nutty granola and swirled with the yoghurt.

For the second course, you could choose Torches French Raclette Cheese, with Currant-Apricot Mustardo and Wave Hill Toast, or Pork Rillette, Pickled Fennel, Raisin Verjus, toast and watercress. Eating the warm Raclette by spreading it on the toast with a little of currant-apricot mixture was an unexpected experience, and the Pork Rillette was a smooth spread that also nicely set off with the Raisin Verjus and Fennel.

pork loin

For the third course you could order either Bronzini with toasted farro and Juilienne vegetable en Blanc, Fennel-Tomato broth and Kalamata Olive tapenade, or Roast Pork Loin with Horseradish Spätzle, Brussels Sprouts and Caraway-Beet Coulis. We both ordered the pork loin, so you get only one picture. We particularly were pleased with how tender and juicy the pork was, as many other restaurants tend to overcook it. This was just right, and the Spätzle were a really great idea and went well with the Brussels Sprouts.

bread pudding

Finally, we could order either Bread pudding with salted caramel sauce, peanuts and cinnamon whipped cream, or Maple Panna Cotta with cranberry chutney. We both ordered the bread pudding which was apparently made from Wave Hill bread, too, was a lovely finish to the meal.

We couldn’t have been happier, and now that we know their “secret,” we’ll come back on Thursdays in the future!

 

Want to drink Margaritas with a bunch of soused seniors?

Want to drink Margaritas with a bunch of soused seniors?

 

Margaritaville is a 1977 Jimmy Buffett song that despite its simplicity became a huge hit for Buffett. It’s essentially a mournful break-up song set to what Buffett himself calls “drunken Caribbean music.”

Cashing in on what turned out to be his biggest hit, Buffet franchised a series of Margaritaville restaurants, serving middling but undistinguished American food and less than distinguished service. There are now about 30 of them, mostly in the South, but there is one at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, CT.

Not to stop there, his company has franchised Margaritaville Resorts, mostly in the South and Caribbean, but there is one coming to New York City as well. These are hotels with pools and the Margaritaville restaurant featured, along with some sort of entertainment.

But now, we learn that his franchising organization has formed a new business for “55 and over”: senior living. The first of these is in operation in Daytona, call Latitude Margarita. Another has also opened in Hilton Head. We learned about these from an article in this Sunday’s Times Magazine. This is a development for the 55 and over crowd of homes ranging from $200K to $300K in a senior living community for “active residents,” which is or will include a Town Center with shops, concerts presumably other activities.

One Yelp reviewer said it was like being on a permanent Carnival Cruise with noisy neighbors! And a real estate expert said “I see the appeal, but it has a good chance of wearing out quickly.”

The problem I have with all of this is that even though we fit their age demographic (and then some), the idea of an age-restricted community with no young adults or children sounds stultifying. You keep young by interacting with younger people, not getting snockered on salted Tequila drinks every night.

And just how much activity is there really? Are there singing groups you can join? Are there wood working and other crafts available? What about community theater, where seniors really tend to thrive?  And to tell you the truth, we prefer gin and tonics!

Oh, and that beach they show in all their brochure. It isn’t on the property. It’s a shuttle ride away.

Restaurant Prime in Stamford: Outstanding

Restaurant Prime in Stamford: Outstanding

Prime: An American Kitchen and Bar in Stamford is simply an outstanding restaurant. While primarily a steakhouse, their menu also includes duck, chicken, salmon, branzino and Beef Wellington, along with a substantial sushi menu.

We found the service some of the best anywhere we have dined, and the food top notch.  The restaurant is in one of several buildings in a large lot at 78 Southfield Ave, which you may have thought was still part of Greenwich Ave heading towards the Sound. Just look for the large “P” for “Prime” on the sign with the 78 on it at the entry to the parking area. You will see a big lighted Prime sign ahead as well.

sculptureThe beautiful restaurant overlooks a little branch to the Sound and features a lovely view as well as a stunning sculpture along the walkway.

The interior is white tablecloth elegant with plenty of staff attending to your needs from the moment you arrive. In fact, not only did our waitress check on us several times, the restaurant manager came by twice to make sure everything was fine.

rollOur meal started with a fresh hot “tree” of rolls all baked together, rather like big Bear Claw. This arrived even before our cocktails did. The bread was warm and flavorful, and they brought butter without being asked. No olive oil in sight, thank goodness.

One of our appetizers was Shrimp/Lobster Wontons ($17): large pieces of shrimp and lobster pan seared in wonton dough, served with hoisin sauce, miso mustard and watercress. Just as excellent as it looked.

Lobster shrimp wontons

caesar3Our other appetizer was a Caesar salad ($14), made properly with romaine, parmesan, crunchy croutons and a classic garlicky Caesar dressing. Caesar salads are where many restaurants fall down, but not here. This was one of the best Caesar salads we’ve ever been served, with nice thin slices of parmesan cheese to top it off.

 

All right, this IS a steakhouse, and the prices for steaks are pretty high, and the sides are all ala carte. They do this because the meat they buy is so expensive and they don’t stint here. You can order one of 6 “enhancements” for $6 and a butter poached lobster enhancement fore $32. However, if you forget to order bearnaise or whatever, they provide you with a free sweetish sort of gravy that goes very well with your steaks. And the steaks are so good, you really don’t need any of them.

We ordered the 8 oz Petite Filet Mignon ($44) and the USDA Prime 16 oz New York Strip ($56) Both were perfectly done:  juicy, tender and very flavorful. And cooked perfectly medium rare.

We ordered a side of Prime Fries ($13) that came in a basket for the two of us that provided more fries than we could ever eat. But, just as we were starting, we noticed the waitress bringing someone a basket of onion rings. We enquired as they weren’t on the menu and learned they had just added them ($12). We ordered those, too and munched on some from each of the two baskets with our spectacular steaks.

smores sundae

While we didn’t strictly need it, we had to see what their desserts were like. They have six, and of them, we ordered the Smores Sundae for 2: graham cracker, marshmallow, warm brownie, chocolate sauce and vanilla bean gelato. It was every bit as good as it sounds.

Our bill with 2 cocktails, 2 glasses of wine, coffee and tea was $267 before tip, but was one of the best meals we’ve had this year. We will definitely go back once in a while.

And in a very nice touch, our waitress gave us her business card so we could request her next time. Ask for Kelsey Tate. And the manager asked us again on the way out how things were and urged us to come back. We will.

diners

 

‘Parlor Pizza and Bar’ opens in Wilton

‘Parlor Pizza and Bar’ opens in Wilton

signTim LaBant’s eagerly awaited new brick oven pizza restaurant Parlor opened last weekend to such enthusiasm that we couldn’t get in the door. So we went last night Wednesday to try it out. Parlor is still a work in progress: their liquor license hasn’t come in yet, so you can order soft drinks or BYOB. The sign on the door notes that Ancona’s liquor store is just a few doors away. No matter. We came for the pizza.

We also came for the salads. While they haven’t yet added appetizers, the salads are terrific. We split a large Waldorf-like salad ($17 for the large version for two), made up of apples, raisins, walnuts, romaine and radishes. They also offer Caesar, Watercress, Roasted Butternut and Roasted Cauliflower salads.

waldorf

The menu is undergoing changes as they grow into the place. The pizzas they offer are

  • Tomato, broccoli race, garlic, hot pepper
  • Margherita
  • Clam pie, lemon, broccoli rabe, olive oil, parsley
  • Mushroom pie, mozzarella, tallegio, scallion, black pepper
  • Pepperoni, shredded mozzarella, tomato sauce
  • Cheese pizza, shredded mozzarella, tomato sauce
  • Sausage, onion and smoked mozzarella

All  of these ae baked in their Ferrari level wood fired brick oven. According to a recent column on NPR’s  The Salt, a brick oven is practically required to make Neopolitan-style pizzas. The properties of brick ovens are such that the heat gets transferred to the pizza more slowly than in a steel oven. And, of course, the smoky taste of the wood fire is added to the pizza flavor as well. These ovens are quite a bit hotter than your home oven, usually 625˚ to 700˚ and cook the pizza in just a couple of minutes.

Last night we tried the Sausage and onion pizza, and took a picture of our neighbor’s pepperoni pizza. Each pizza is considered an individual size. They are around 11 inches, but when you subtract the crust, they are probably about right for one adult, or perhaps two children.  They are priced at $14 to $17 each.

table settingParlor had added just two desserts so far: Zeppoli, or fried pizza dough with Nutella, and Lime Posset with berries.

This was a nice introduction to a popular new restaurant. It seats around 32 and 12 2-top tables plus seats around the bar. You can also order takeout at (203) 762-6142. We wish them the best of luck.

The Chanticleer

The Chanticleer

 

The Chanticleer is an elegant restaurant in ‘Sconset, that has been home to fine dining for many years. A few years back, a new chef/owner (Jeff Worster) took over, and when we first visited, we felt that it was still a work in progress. Now, however, this is a lovely restaurant with fine food, service and décor. You still enter through a lovely garden and it still has a decorative hobby horse on display in the garden.

Inside, the décor has been upgraded a bit, with the lovely wall sconces you can see in the photo of the main dining room. While the back dining room was once a sort of conservatory with plants and ivy everywhere, it is now much more like the main dining room and more roomy as well.

decor

The service is excellent from the time you are seated until you leave. The dinner menu, of course, changes a bit from time to time, but the menu they currently have posted is pretty similar to the one we were served from a week or so ago.

The service began with warm rolls and an actual crock of butter that was delivered automatically, instead of the annoying olive oil other restaurants foist upon you. And, take a look at the elegant dish of salt, pepper, and (it turned out) Himalayan sea salt for seasonings.

For one appetizer, we ordered  “Smoked Rhode Island Bluefish Pâté with Hand Sliced Caribou Russet Potato Chips. Chips Seasoned with BBQ Salt and Green Onion.” Or, in non-menuese, homemade potato chips and smoke bluefish pâté. This had a very rich, sophisticated flavor and was extremely filling. We had to save room for the main course, or we would have devoured all of it.  Thank goodness these were “caribou” chips and not “buffalo” chips!

For our other appetizer, we ordered “Beet Salad on Orange Fennel Hummus – Nicoise Olive, Roasted Salted Pistachio, Sheep’s Milk Feta, Raspberry Vinaigrette, Hydroponic Mache,” an imaginative variation on the common island beet salad, with the addition of feta cheese and served on hummus. A light, but elegant salad we really recommend.

sdf5sh

For one of our entrees we ordered their version of swordfish: “Anson Mills Corn crusted Center Cut North Atlantic Swordfish, on a Charred Andouille and Okra Risotto, Gumbos spices Tomato Sauce and Cauliflower.” Swordfish can be a risky bet at some restaurants, because It can be overcooked or oily. But to our delight this swordfish was perfect: one of the best preparations we’ve had, and the surprising okra in the risotto was a delightful touch.

la`b

Our other entrée was “Bolognese of New Zealand Lamb & Lamb Sausage – Slowly Simmered with San Marzano Tomatoes and Fines Herbs. Tossed with Today’s Fresh Pasta, Asiago Cheese.” To our surprise, this Bolognese included a curry flavor among the spices, but it was very well executed.

Finally, we each ordered a dessert. One was the “Coconut Lemongrass Cheesecake Pie” with caramelized Pineapple sauce, Chantilly Cream and Toasted Coconut. It was smooth, light and deeply flavorful. Our other dessert was called “Petite Salted Caramel Brownie Parfait” with Malted chocolate gelato, Begium chocolate mousse, chocolate crunch, cherry sauce and an Amarena Cherry. While it was good, it was in many ways a “typical restaurant chocolate dessert.”

Overall, this was a delightful evening with delicious and imaginative food and excellent service. Kudos to Chef Worster for this lovely dinner.

B-ACK yard Barbecue

B-ACK yard Barbecue

We haven’t  been back to this great barbecue spot on Straight Wharf since they opened in 2014, and we’re glad we did. The food is much better and the menu a bit bigger: they added  Burnt Ends. The service is extremely good as well, as our waiter checked with us at least 4-5 times during our meal.

To some extent, large groups will have more choices, because you can order a platter of each of their specialties and shared around the table.  For two people, there are two options: the  Selfie Special, which gives you two meats and two side dishes and warm rolls for $28. The other option is to just order a half a pound of a couple of the meats and get one or two sides as you wish.

The main barbecue meat choices on the menu are

  • Smoked kielbasa
  • Pulled pork
  • Pork ribs (half or full rack)
  • Half roast chicken
  • Chopped brisket
  • Sliced brisket
  • Beef burnt ends

The side dishes include baked beans, coleslaw, mac and cheese, grilled asparagus, Corn bread, potato salad, French fries, pickled vegetables, and stewed greens. You can also get sandwiches of any of these meats.

ribs

We decided on a half rack of pork ribs, a half pound of burnt ends and coleslaw. We probably should have rounded this out with fries or cornbread, but there was plenty of food there just as it was.

burnt ends

Our beers came nearly instantly, and the meats maybe 5-6 minutes later. There are 4 sauces on the table, Sweet, Golden (mustard like), hot and vinegar (to simulate North Carolina style). All were good, and even the “hot” sauce was not really all that hot.

crowdThe informal atmosphere includes several large screen TVs showing whatever sport is playing at the time,  but the crowd is relatively calm and families will feel welcome here.

Sometimes the most unassuming places will end up being some of the best on the island, and that is certainly true here. The pork and beef were tender and juicy and perfectly cooked. What more can you ask? Our bill with 3 beers and tax, but before tip was only $78. A delicious bargain!

Cru Oyster Bar: still raucous

Cru Oyster Bar: still raucous

“They all come here just for the mood,

And if you don’t believe me try tasting our food!”

–Jerry Bock- Lyrics to “A Romantic Atmosphere” in “She Loves Me”

tableWe went back last night to Cru Oyster Bar, the restaurant at the end of Straight Wharf that replaced The Rope Walk about 7 years ago. As before, we were seated at a nice window table in the main dining room. And as before, the music was very loud, and the noise from adjacent tables and the loud bar crowd made conversation impossible. And, as before, we asked to be moved to the middle room. Fortunately, it was still early and they were quite accommodating about moving us. The sound level in the middle room was much less oppressive and we even were able to chat with a nice young couple at the next table.

breadThey soon brought us bread, and with a little prodding, some actual butter. Since we dislike olive oil dribbling on our shirt, we usually ask for butter. It came in a nice little crock, with a little sea salt sprinkled on it. But, the bread was really tough. Not crunchy crust tough: stale bread tough. Very difficult to eat, but you could use the butter to soften it a little.

The menu was similar to that on their website,  but they had added a Chilled Cucumber Soup with crab meat, that we both ordered. (Their sometime Fried Clams shareable item wasn’t on the menu that night.) The cucumber soup arrived quickly, and it did indeed come with ample crabmeat as well.

cucumber soup

However the soup was very salty. And this comes from someone who loves salt bagels. The soup was inedibly salty. We sent it back and they  removed it from out bill. How could such inedible soup (and bread) ever come out of the kitchen? Doesn’t anyone ever taste anything? It’s part of the job, you know.

lobster roll

Soon, they brought us our Lobster Rolls ($38) served with fries, and they were impressive looking. The fries were acceptable, but most probably frozen.  As we picked through our lobster roll, we found a number of flat slippery, rubbery pieces that we decided must have come from the fins at the base of the tail. These are hard to get out, and most people don’t bother, since they don’t have much flavor. We suspect that they bought them in bulk to extend the amount of actual lobster they had to use. There were more of them than you’d find in a single lobster.

The other odd thing about this lobster roll was the eerie sheen of the meat and the top of the roll. While the menu only specified Lobster, butter and brioche roll, the top and much of the interior had a thick sort of buttery sauce. We suspect they may have added surimi, a fish paste made from whiting or pollock that is often used in fake crab meat. The lobster was real, but the weird gelatinous buttery filling is likely partly surimi. The overall effect was OK, but it wasn’t lobster and it wasn’t butter.

We got to Cru around 6:00 pm, because later reservations weren’t available. Thank goodness we came early. When we left around 7:30, the outer room was packed and really noisy. In fact we could barely squeeze through to get to the door. So, despite our strong reservations, people really come to this place in droves. They are probably mostly young people, and as a social experience, this is probably a lot of fun. But while the view of the harbor is really nice, the food really isn’t.

 

Ventuno: refreshing and delicious

Ventuno: refreshing and delicious

Ventuno has been at 21 Federal for about seven years now, and has been a very good restaurant since its inception. However, it is an absolute delight to walk into a familiar restaurant and find fascinating new dishes on the menu. Not just variations on the old Italian theme, but truly creative dishes you probably never had before.

This is the case with this year’s Ventuno menu, which has undergone a significant upgrade. We were particularly struck by Faggiano e Funghi:   hand-cut egg pappardelle, braised wild pheasant & mushroom sugo, parmigiano & savory breadcrumbs. Imagine pheasant and mushrooms on pasta in any other Italian style restaurant. And it was absolutely delicious! It is available in appetizer and full entrée sized portions ($19 and $36). The textures of the pappardelle (noodles) and the thin slices of parmesan cheese, intermingled with pieces of pheasant along with a delicious mushroom sauce were truly a marvelous experience. In fact, we both ordered it: one as an appetizer and one as a main course and both were thrilled with it.

small pheasant fungi

Just as interesting, if not original was their Insalata: sweet gem lettuces, soft herbs, torn bread croutons and house red wine vinaigrette ($15 ). It was a feast for the eyes as well as in its consumption. Or, to put it clearly: it was a great salad.

salad

Finally, our other entrée was Agnello: slow-cooked & grilled lamb coppa, heirloom polenta, broccoli rabe & minted ramp gremolata ($38). According to our waitress coppa is lamb shoulder, marinated for three days and then quickly grilled to medium rare. Just inside the crunchy exterior is delicious, juicy, pink lamb. This was an entirely new preparation we’d not seen before, and we loved every bite.

lamb

This year’s menu is slightly simpler, but it is still organized into Antipasti (seven items), Primi (4 appetizers), Secondi (six items), Un Morsi (3 side dishes), Un Morso per La Tovalo (six table sharing items) and Dolci (six desserts).

bombolonciniUnfortunately, we didn’t have room for a dessert, but you can choose from Bomboloncini (chocolate donuts and gelato and chocolate sauce), Pistachio tart, Panna cotta, Granita (watermelon and strawberry), ice creams, and Crostata:  stone fruit crostata & cisco lemon thyme ice cream. All great ways to end a meal at Ventuno.

If you haven’t visited recently, do come by and try their excellent new menu.