Category: Restaurants

We try ‘Freshly’: delivered meals of little distinction

We try ‘Freshly’: delivered meals of little distinction

Freshly has been advertising heavily on TV and the Internet, promising “meals cooked by chefs and sent to you fresh.” The meals aren’t terribly expensive, amounting to $8.99 per meal in small quantities and $7.99 per meal if you commit to 12 per week.

We too advantage of an introductory offer and ordered six meals, figuring that we would order the second six after we’d tried them out.  As you will see, we never got that far.

We placed our order on March 30 for 6 meals: two each of

  • Slow-cooked Pork and Herbed Gravy with Skillet Kale and Roasted Potatoes
  • Steak Peppercorn with Sautéed Carrots and French Green beans
  • Homestyle Chicken with Butternut Mac and Cheese

We got an acknowledgment that they would be delivered on Friday April 3, and they did come late that afternoon, but after our dinner plans had already been decided as homemade pizza.

The meals come packed in an insulated box surrounded by two sheets of frozen gelatinized water-ice. The meals were cold but not frozen and we quickly refrigerated them. Their literature says that they should keep for at least 5 days, or you should freeze them to keep longer. They also noted that we should use them fresh by the Use By dates, which were April 9 and 10. You can heat any of them up in the microwave in around 3 minutes.

Pork

Saturday April 4, we decided to try the Slow-cooked Pork and Herbed Gravy. We supposed there would be real pieces of pork in the dish, but it was for the most part present only in very small granular pieces, like bits of ground beef. These meals are not for hearty appetites, the pork dish was rated at 420 calories, and the portions were small. But we are dealing with the old Catskills joke here: “The food is terrible and such small portions.”

The pork mixture had an unpleasant aftertaste that grew with each bite. We found we had some leftover homemade applesauce in the refrigerator, and by alternating bites of applesauce with the pork mixture, we were able to finish eating it. The Skillet Kale was another story. While there are number of well-known techniques to reduce the strong flavor of kale, they didn’t seem to have used them. It allegedly contained turkey-bacon crumbles but we didn’t notice them. The taste was simply vile. We rated this dish as one of the worst dinners we had ever had.

steak

But we still had two more meals to try. Steak Peppercorn with Sautéed Carrots and French Green Beans seemed innocuous enough, so we had it for dinner on Tuesday April 7, long before the April 10 Use By date. The beef was actually Flat-Iron Steak, but their literature seemed to indicate that they had marinated it in something, so it was fairly tender.

beef cut opneHowever, by the third bite we knew we were in trouble. There was a taste and aftertaste that was so strong it began to make us feel nauseous, and we didn’t finish it. The carrots and beans were no better. My companion asked, “how can they screw up carrots?” They too had a different, unpleasant aftertaste and we ended up tossing both meals in the trash. The steak is supposed to be “topped with a creamy peppercorn sauce,” but we really didn’t detect this at all.

Since we hadn’t had much to eat, we broke out one of the Homestyle Chicken dishes, with Butternut Mac & Cheese. At first, we though this was going to be a winner, but by the third bite, the chicken tasted odd, although reasonably tender, and we couldn’t finish it either. The only thing we can say is that the mac and cheese was OK. But the green beans had the same off taste as the other vegetables, and we couldn’t finish them either. This may have been the “fragrant garlic oil” but we didn’t note any garlic flavor.

chicken

Now, we’ve eaten in lots of restaurants in a lot of places, and there have been a number of misfires in all those meals, but this is the only time we can think of where we really couldn’t finish the meals because they were absolutely terrible.

We immediately canceled our subscription to Freshly and they sent us nice polite acknowledgement. However, they’ve placed a cookie in our web browser’s database that keeps us from browsing their website further unless we renew our membership. This is unprofessional. Fortunately we have other browsers we could use to look up their prices and policies.

We obviously don’t recommend Freshly at all.

 

 

Ziggie and Mad Dog’s steakhouse—Islamorada

Ziggie and Mad Dog’s steakhouse—Islamorada

If you think that a steakhouse called Ziggy and Mad Dogs is not likely to be of interest, you may be partly wrong. According to the history on the menu, the restaurant was founded in 1952 as Ziggy’a Conch by Ziggy Stocki. And in 2005, Jim Mandich, who had played for the Miami Dolphins as “Mad Dog” Mandich purchased the restaurant. He and his partner Randy Kassewitz refurbished it and opened it as a steakhouse called “Ziggy and Mad Dog’s.”

While basically a steakhouse, the menu does include chicken, pork chops, veal chop and some seafood and pasta. The outside of the restaurant maintains the informality of the original, although the inside is somewhat more formal. But with ESPN playing on TVs in every room, it has a bit of a sports bar atmosphere about it, rather than the décor you might associate with charges approaching $200 for two (with tax before tip).

tables

Every few minutes a drop of water would fall on my head, probably from a leaking air conditioner in the ceiling, which I didn’t find endearing. The waiters are pleasant and knowledgeable, but as steakhouses go, we’ve had better for the same price range.

Our two salads: the Mad Dog Wedge and Mixed Baby Green with Goat Cheese (each $12) were good enough but not much better than you might find at Applebee’s. They also bore little resemblance to the photos on their website.

ribeye

Our Cowboy Ribeye ($40) had a crisp burnt crust and served with Bearnaise ($4 extra) was properly served medium rare. But with the crust obscuring the contours, it was difficult to delineate the bone to cut around it. However, the meat we found was juicy and tender.

medallions

The Smothered Medallions ($36) were easier to work with and more tender, as it was a filet mignon with caramelized onions, au poivre sauce and stilton bleu cheese. It was probably the better choice.

onion ringsIn our mind the Garlic Salted Onion Rings ($8) were the best thing on the menu. They were crunchy and dry to the touch and not a bit greasy. We were very impressed.

Our two scoops of gelato brought the bill to $189 before tip including two drinks and two glasses of wine.

Overall, this is a pleasant enough place, but we wouldn’t repeat the experience. There are so many better restaurants in the mid Keys to try.

 

Pierre’s: elegant dining in the Florida Keys

Pierre’s: elegant dining in the Florida Keys

Pierre’s, in Islamorada, is one of the most elegant restaurants in the Keys. Where informality usually reigns, Pierre’s features a more formal atmosphere with excellent French fusion cuisine and highly trained staff.

place settingPierre’s is situated in an old plantation-style house, with a lounge on the first floor and an elegant oak-paneled restaurant on the second floor. An elevator is available just behind the desk where you check in. On warm(er) evening you can also dine on the veranda, where you can also watch the lovely sunsets.

The dinner menu features vegetarian dishes, seafood, beef, chicken and lamb dishes as well as appetizers that include soup, salads, caviar, crudos, ceviche, charcuterie and a cheese board. While not inexpensive, dinner at Pierre’s will probably be the bets dinner you will have on the Florida Keys.

cheese platter

We started by sharing the cheese platter, which included s triple crème, a bleu cheese, and several harder cheeses, unfortunately not identified, fig mostarda, nuts, grapes and crostini. It was plenty for two, and a few bites for four, but everything was a rich and thoughtful selection.

grouper

For entrees, one of us chose the Local Catch Meuniere with Crab. The local catch was grouper, apparently only four hours out of the ocean, served with roasted fingerling potatoes, beurre noisette, haricots verts, Pierre’s garden parsley salad with pickled shallots, bell pepper rings and Meyer Lemon olive oil, and topped with crab. The fish was moist and tender with just a hint of acid from the Meyer lemon.

lobster curry

For our other entrée we ordered the Florida Lobster Curry, served, amusingly, in a coconut shell, over forbidden black rice and braised baby bok choy, all served with a Thai coconut curry sauce. This was certainly one of the most imaginative presentations we’ve ever seen, and the lobster was perfectly cooked without being in any way tough.

For desserts we ordered a traditional chocolate tart, which was chocolatey rich on an excellent crust, and a white chocolate cheesecake, which was both lighter and more flavorful the typical cheesecakes and definitely worth your attention.

Overall, our experience at Pierre’s was outstanding. The waiter and servers were courteous and knew what they were doing. Our only criticism was a long wait for the check.

Beware, however of their dark, unlit black spiral staircase, and take the elevator instead. It is really hard to see the steps. Be sure to ask if you can’t spot the elevator.

dining room

M.E.A.T. – An outstanding burger place in Islamorada

M.E.A.T. – An outstanding burger place in Islamorada

M.E.A.T. Eatery and Taproom has restaurants in Islamorada and Boca Raton. They both features single and double burgers, as well as pulled pork, blackened fish, hot dogs, chicken sandwiches and variations like the Cow and Pig Burger. Their hamburgers are called the Nancy Pants, and come in single and doubly variations. And on top of that, all of their delicious fries are cooked in duck fat!

Their taproom features a dozen or more beers on draft, and many more by the bottle. They also offer wines by the glass and bottle.

wings

Among their Fun Foods, suitable for starters are their unusual Chicken Wings: House Smoked and topped with a Honey Chipotle BBQ and Bleu Cheese Crumbles. They were featured on Diners, Dives and Drive-ins, and winner of the Best Sauce in the South Florida Wingfest. They wings are, grilled, not fried and the idea of saucing them and adding bleu cheese crumbles is a great one that I may steal for my own kitchen. You get eight pieces for $13.95. I think we finished six of them! They were really terrific, and fortunately they offer wet-dry wipes and napkins alongside.

We, of course, had to try the Nancy Pant Burger: 5 oz Angus Burger served with Cheese, Lettuce, Tomato & House Fries. One of us got the single and one of us the double. They were juicy and perfectly cooked, and unlike most such sandwiches, they didn’t fall apart in your hand (that much). These are truly great burgers, they were named to the Top 101 Burgers in America several years running.

condimentsIncidentally, the burgers come with several unique condiments: a specialty mango-chipotle ketchup and a caraway/vinegar mustard. The mayo is unchanged and classical ketchup is also provided.

The whole M.E.A.T. experience is fast and courteous, and completely unlike fast food emporia. You can pick up a menu from the bucket when you come in, and sit at any table or at the bar. When you decide what to order, you go to the counter and place it. They give you a receipt and a card to leave on your table so they know where to bring the food. They’ll deliver your drinks and food as soon as they are ready, or in two steps if you order wings as a starter.  Then, you pay on the way out. The food and service are terrific, and we’ll go every time we are in the area. Our bill, with two drinks was only $52, about one third of our Chef Michael’s bill. What a great place!

facade

 

 

 

Chef Michael’s in Islamorada

Chef Michael’s in Islamorada

If you look at lists of the top restaurants in the Florida Keys, Chef Michael’s always comes out near the top. Their sign features the hogfish, a local mild-tasting fish that can be prepared any number of ways. And they do.

outsideDespite the unprepossessing façade, Chef Michael’s is a fine restaurant with excellent food and a knowledgeable staff. Since our hotel was close by, we walked over about 5:45 only to find the place already very busy. They were able to get us one table, but take our advice, and make a reservation. People come from all over the Keys to eat there.

Their menu includes seafood as well as meat and poultry. Interestingly, while the actual fish they serve change daily, they offer the same preparations:

  • Pontchartrain – lightly blackened then topped with crawfish & shrimp in a piquant Creole cream
  • Ambassador —sautéed w/ crabmeat, shiitake’s, capers & key lime butter
  • Adriatic — grilled, then napped w/ our olive oil & herb concoction
  • Juliette — seared w/ shrimp, scallops, chardonnay butter & toasted almonds
  • Mixed Nuts —pistachio, cashew & macadamiacrusted, served w/ our “nearly famous” mango sauce 

as well as Grilled, Sauteed, Fried or Blackened.

For appetizers, we chose the Conch and Crawfish Fritters and the Bahamian Conch Chowder. The chowder was rich, spicy and filling, but we ate every bit. The conch fritters were excellent: mildly spicy and crispy and a remoulade dipping sauce.

Since hogfish was on the menu that night, we ordered Hogfish Pontchartrain, and while it looked at first like a small portion, it was incredibly delicious and very filling, especially with the crawfish and shrimp on top. The Creole cream went well with the fish and with the accompanying rice.

hogfish

We also ordered the Seafood Pasta, Shrimp, Scallops & Lobster, Oven Roasted Tomato & Basil Cream, which was a huge portion that might feed two or three people. But every bit of it was delightful, and way above what you normally get in seafood pasta dishes.   

pasta

Chef Michael’s is the kind of place where the waiters are really knowledgeable and happy to help you choose your food and wine. Our waiter also made it a point to stop by several times to make sure that we were pleased with everything. We were.

We have to admit we skipped desserts, but they appear to be house-made, and the Salted Caramel Cheesecake Brûlée and the Chocolate Toffee Mousse Cake both sounded terrific.

Chef Michael’s is not to be missed if you are visiting Islamorada, or the Keys in general.

 

Bob’s Bunz: breakfast in the Keys

Bob’s Bunz: breakfast in the Keys

Should you be staying in the Florida Keys, anywhere near Islamorada, around mile 80, you should skip your hotel or resort breakfast and head for Bob’s Bunz. They are both a bakery and a restaurant, and are open from 6 am to 2 pm, every day. They are noted for their fantastic cinnamon buns as well as delicious breakfast items, such as the fried eggs and Eggs Benedict we had this morning. The service is quick and friendly and the food excellent.

eggs

benedict

We’ll go back at least once more just to have the buns!

pastries

Terrasole: outstanding dining in Ridgefield

Terrasole: outstanding dining in Ridgefield

Terrasole, just off Main St in Ridgefield has been serving fine Italian food for over ten years. Founded and managed by Pietro Polini, and with executive chef Eugene Jerome, Terrasole is one of the finest Italian restaurants in Connecticut. The food and excellent service reminded us of the food we had in Italy: it is just that good!

We visited Terrasole twice recently, once on a quiet Sunday evening and again on New Year’s Eve. Despite the crowds of the holiday evening, the wait staff and kitchen never missed a beat: both experiences were outstanding.

You will notice that your table may contain a wrapped bottle of extra virgin olive oil as well as one to use on your food. While we usually brush aside those little puddles of olive oil for butter (and they will bring you some right away) this is one time when you want to savor their house brand olive oil. Then, if you agree, you can buy a bottle to take home. We did and we are so glad: it is rich and flavorful, one of the best we’ve had.

You know you are in an outstanding restaurant when you see the fascinating menu, including the beautiful Arancini Aragosta: “Imported carnaroli rice risotto balls filled with fresh Maine lobster, crab, peas & burrata cheese served over lobster bisque sauce.” We’ve never had anything quite like them, and they were quite delightful.

But, their take on the classic beet salad is fascinating as well. Dubbed Carpaccio di Barbietole, this is essentially a beet carpaccio, served with baby arugula, almond goat cheese rondure, and white truffle essence vinaigrette.

We also tried their rearranged Caesar Salad, served with grilled romaine heart and creamy parmigiano dressing, shaved imported sharp provolone, and grissini (bread sticks). Again, rising far above expectations, this was an outstanding version of this classic.

linguinii vongole

Terrasole has two seafood and pasta dishes we found entrancing. One was Linguini alla Vongole, which was fresh linguine pasta tossed with rock shrimp, cockles, cherry tomatoes, imported Portuguese octopus, white wine, parsley, pepperoncino, and shaved imported bottarga (salted cured fish row). This was exquisitely delicate and a dish we’ll return to again and again.

Their other outstanding version is a Tagliatelle al Frutti di Mare alla Annie McNally (shown above). This dish starts with homemade tagliatelle, and is served with fresh Maine lobster, Maya prawn, clams, calamari, PEI mussels, scallops In a spicy San Marzano tomato sauce. This was outstanding and somewhat reminiscent of lobster Fra Diavolo, but much richer with all the other seafood ingredients. Utterly amazing.

lobster ravioli

On New Years Eve, they had Lobster Ravioli on the menu: two ravioli for the appetizer portion and four for the entrée. This was a rich, smooth, creamy delight, and yes, two were enough for an appetizer and four plenty for dinner. Try it whenever they add it to the menu, as it was one of the best ravioli we’ve ever had.

Our other entrée was also a menu addition, a red snapper special served with a puff pastry and white truffled cream vegetable side dish, along with some excellent gnocchi. Quite an excellent addition.

snapper special

And, of course, there are some desserts to sample, but there was no question that our favorite was the profiteroles. Quite a sumptuous portion at that. Rather than chocolate sauce, they were served with melted chocolate that had begun to solidify on the ice cream. A great way to end the evening.

profiteroles

Terrasole also has a wine bar personality. You can order wine, meat and cheese from the Salumi e Formaggi menu. Another great opportunity for a lighter visit.

Terrasole is simply an outstanding restaurant. The staff are warm and friendly all the time you are there and the food is outstanding. You’ll see!

facade

Revisiting Sono Seaport

Revisiting Sono Seaport

Since we last visited Sono Seaport this spring, they have remodeled the place and chef Matt Storch (of Match and Match Burger Lobster) has remodeled their menu. The seafood is still provided by the Bloom Family and is as fresh as ever. The seating in fair weather is still outside on picnic tables and under umbrellas, although there seems to more indoor seating available for the cool weather to come. The umbrellas have been upgraded to much nicer ones, and the chairs along the larger tables are much nicer, too. The picnic table seem the same: hard to get both legs under if you have big feet.

But the soups are delicious and a greatly improved part of the menu. The clam chowder ($7 a cup) is at least as good as ever, although now served in pressed cardboard inside of dishes. The Lobster and Ocean Bisque ($8 a cup), is excellent with real pieces of lobster in it as well as at least one scallop and pieces of several other fish included. Again, no dishes, though.

lobster roll

The Lobster Roll on the menu is available in ¼ lb, ½ lb and 1 lb sizes for $21, $36 and $69. This is a Maine lobster roll, which is to say made with cold lobster and citrus mayonnaise, and served with potato chips and slaw. By contrast both Match sites serve a hot Connecticut buttered lobster roll. However, the delicious ½ lb lobster roll we got had an enormous amount of lobster that we could barely finish.

fried clams

If you are looking for classic fried clams, however, you may be disappointed. The menu only includes Clam Strips ($14). (Shades of Howard Johnson’s!) If you want actual belly clams, you won’t find them. The waitress suggested ordering Whole Clams and have them fried. Six clams for $14 and twelve clams for $28. These are meatier, she said than the clam strips but pretty expensive.  The 12 clams we got had less meat than the usual order of belly clams.

They’ve also done something weird to their French fries. They seems to have been par-boiled and then single-fried, which leads to a sort of mushy potato with a hint of having spent a little time in the fryer. Not all that successful. Skip them and ask for the onion rings.

mouse cake

They only had about 3-4 desserts, not printed on the menu, but we split an order of Chocolate Mousse Cake. The mousse was fine but the cake was tough and dry.

Both the Fisherman’s Feast and the Belly Clams  we had this spring are off the menu, as is the Lobster Ravioli. We hope some of these return.

tables

Sono Seaport is at 100 Water Street in Norwalk, and is open daily 11am to 10pm.

 

American Seasons: very disappointing

American Seasons: very disappointing

American Seasons has been helmed by chef/owner Neil Ferguson since 2015 and they had been doing quite well. But last night was simply an embarrassment. Maybe Ferguson was away and maybe the B team was in the kitchen, but we came away really disappointed and downright annoyed.

menu

The diminutive menu was delivered on one side of a single 8 ½ x 11” sheet, somewhat rumpled and stained. It has only 7 entrees and 7 appetizers, and last night it was hard to pick one we really wanted to have: none of them sounded very good. And they weren’t.

To be fair, the hot dinner rolls they served with butter were very good and one of the appetizers was quite good, but it went downhill from there.

parfait

That really good appetizer was the Chicken Liver Foie Gras Parfait with House Made Vegetable Pickles, and Toasted Brioche ($19). In Paté speak, a parfait is a smoothly ground mixture of meats. And it succeeded: it was silky smooth and delicious. We probably could have used more brioche to finish it off, but we held back to save room for our entrée. Bad decision.

beet salad

The other appetizer was a fairly ordinary beet salad ($18). Nothing special about it.

fluke

But my entrée, the Pan Roasted Local Fluke Brown Butter Vinaigrette, Capers, and Island Grown Salad ($45) was a horror. It was smothered in capers, the vinaigrette was very sour, and the fluke was tough and dry. We left it unfinished.

chicken

And the other entrée, Crisp Skinned Giannone Chicken ($39) with Fondant Potato, Carrot Purée, Honey Roast Carrot, and Sherry Vinegar Jus, was tough and dry. All of the chicken was chicken breast and it was just overcooked. Now the Giannone chicken procedure involves brining the chicken overnight and then air drying it to produce tender meat and crisp skin. Neither was in evidence.

We’ve written about American Seasons here, here, and here, and in all cases the result was better than this disappointing evening. It doesn’t seem that the kitchen was trying very hard especially considering the prices. Our bill with 3 glasses of wine, including tax was $186.18.

 

The Sea Grille is always excellent

The Sea Grille is always excellent

The Sea Grille on Sparks Ave, just next to the Shell Station has an unprepossessing exterior, but serves some of the island’s finest seafood in a friendly, family-style setting. The menu includes simply prepared seafood, broiled, fried or grilled as well as appetizers, soups, salads and Island Favorites, and more elaborate Creative Coastal items. The soups include E J Harvey’s famous Island Quahog Chowder.

bisque2

For dinner last night we had their Lobster Bisque, dilled in Puff Pastry ($13). This was a delicious bisque with the puff pastry floating on it, and with a number of tender lobster chunks included. Utterly delicious, and there is a lot of it.

salad

Our other appetizer was a special salad ($18) which seemed to consist of red lettuce, mini greens, tomatoes, croutons, thinly sliced radishes and goat cheese. Again excellent!

fried clams

If you want to have fried clams on Nantucket, this is the place to go. In fact, there aren’t many restaurants that do offer them, and you should be pleased to learn that the Sea Grille’s fried clams ($28) have been voted the best on the island. Worthy of the ones you get in Ipswich!  And the fries are freshly made from actual potatoes. One way you can tell is that the ends of each fry have a bit of actual peel still included. And they were also piping hot!

Finally, we ordered their Free Form Ravioli ($36),  (above) a creative dish with the handmade ravioli noodle on top of lobster, shrimp, scallops, ricotta, mushrooms, garlic and roasted tomatoes, and topped with crispy carrots. You will find this one amazing as we did.

The Sea Grille is beloved by both locals and tourists and you will love it too! The staff are knowledgeable and friendly and the prices reasonable. You can’t go wrong.