2013 - The Year of the Pig
I’m not a big fan of round-up pieces or the over-done and under thought out “Best Of” articles and issues in most major publications and blogs in the area. For us, MaxEx LLC and the industry’s New England Culinary Group, we were here in 2013, as always, supporting an industry we have tremendous respect for. From the back of the house and what consumers don’t see, to the front of the house where numerous tastes and perceptions will often clash, our jobs continue to challenge us and our clients each and every day. Overall, this past year was a step forward for the restaurant industry, lots of openings and, better yet, existing establishments finding their way.
There were new restaurants, too many to rattle off. But, BRAVO to the existing restaurant groups who grew their empire this past year:
Little Barn in Westport – Scott, Kevin and Tommy, you definitely have your finger on the pulse of what most people crave – good ol’ quality comfort food, laid back service and an easy environment to sink into. While not always all together, collectively the trio has their stamp on The Chelsea, Spotted Horse, Grey Goose, Little Goose and Match.
NOLA Oyster Bar & Restaurant in South Norwalk and Local Kitchen & Craft Beer Bar - The SBC (Southport Brewing Company) boys were at it again this past year opening a New Orleans’esque oyster bar spearheaded by the talented Chef Dan Kardos. In the hopes that South Norwalk will revive its old bad-ass self, NOLA set its anchor down with strong neighbors Ginger Man, Strada 18, Match, Barcelona, O’Neill’s and the newly opened Mama’s Boy. I think everybody would like to see this community come back to life. The guys also added on to a thriving food scene in Fairfield with a restaurant and beer joint that looks like it belongs on Newbury Street in Boston. Local Kitchen & Craft Beer Bar is going to be a huge hit with the locals and Fairfield’s thirsty commuters.
Geronimo in Fairfield – Marc, Rob and Chef Tim are getting ready to open their second tequila fused, hatch chile, Santa Fe lovin’ restaurant and bar, a brother location to that of the hugely popular Geronino in New Haven. Fairfield County is lucky to have these guys – spot-on food and an atmosphere to match.
Cask Republic in Stamford – Christian Burns, undeniably the nicest guy in the business, deserves every ounce of success he continues to earn. His newest first class brew, spirits and dining destination in downtown Stamford joins the SKAL group of restaurants which includes Ginger Man Norwalk and Greenwich and Cask Republic in New Haven. Lucky for us, there’s more to come from this impressive group.
BOCA in Stamford – Gino, Gino, Gino…you continue to reinvent your cuisine and we love it. Quattro Pazzi Fairfield and Stamford and Osianna in Fairfield have another Mediterranean inspired soul sister with the addition of BOCA, a snow-white and neon art-deco canvas splashed with vibrant tapas plates, global wine and fanciful cocktails.
Aladin Bistro in Norwalk – Chef / Owner Kausik Roy of TAWA in Stamford took his bold and aromatic Indian cuisine to Norwalk in the form of a charming bar and eatery which highlights healthful and flavorful Indian cuisine. NYT gave it a “Good” rating, while the article itself didn’t find a flaw with one dish. Just another oddball NYT review sans rhyme or reason or a good picture.
Little Pub in Wilton – owner Doug Grabe must love this stretch of road as he opened a second Little Pub literally down the road from his original Ridgefield locale. OK by us! We get more of Little Pub’s cozy neighborhood love and libations. They’re doing something right as a third LP is set to open in Greenwich early 2014.
TRENDS - Not as the media sees it, but what is really taking place out there…
French food made a delicious comeback this past year. And it wasn’t your uptight pristine oui-oui French fare. It was hearty, delectable dumbed-down countryside fare that both newbies and diehards could enjoy.
RIVE BISTRO in Westport opened in a gorgeous spot on the Saugutuck River. The always amusing chef Eric Sierra did what Eric does well – and that is whatever he wants! Crispy pull-apart duck confit, herbaceous mussels with thrice-fried fries, and escargot soaked in garlic butter.
ROUGE BRASSERIE & OYSTER BAR in Greenwich is a cb5 Hospitality Consulting Group original. Formerly Lolita Mexican Cocina, cb5 felt that Mexican (their style of “over the border”) was out and that it was time for something fresh. They brought back their former Greenwich Avenue BLEU concept from 2003, chef and all, the remarkable Josh Moulton, and created their signature sexy approach to dining out. There’s a champagne caviar salon with a Bell Epoque theme and classic brasserie dishes such as steak tartar, short rib bourguignon, onion tart, skate meunière and an Aquatique raw bar. And in true French and cb5 form, the cocktails will knock you on your ass.
BISTRO B, AMERICAN BISTRO & WINE BAR in Bridgeport surprised everyone this past year when the group (owners also have Barnum Public House next door and Grand in Stamford, with more restaurants set to open in 2014) created their own brand of a modern French inspired eatery and bar. The corner spot in the emerging downtown district of Bridgeport is a classy, though casual interpretation of a corner café in “Gay Paris”. High-top bistro tables and a large white marble top bar fill the dining room. A street-side window displayed kitchen has nothing to hide while preparing their popular Bistro B burger on toasted brioche with Jarlsberg fondue, roasted hangar steak served with pomme frites, and saffron fettuccine with tarragon, vermouth and baby Maine shrimp.
MEAT & CHEESE
Call it charcuterie, antipasto or simply an artisanal meat and cheese board, you’ll have no problem finding salami, prosciutto, jambon, paté and saucisson and their dairy counterparts, buratta, taleggio and gorgonzola in most smart establishments throughout Fairfield County . Served with toast points, flatbreads, a crunchy baguette or chewy Arthur Avenue Pane di Casa, we just can’t enough of these cured, dried and aged meats and cheeses. These are some places we feel are doing it right:
Rizzuto’s - all 4 locations (Bethel, Westport, Stamford and West Hartford) always have a large selection to choose from. All items come with labels on them so you know what the heck you are eating and where it’s from. Chef Tony Camilleri sources locally as well as a great deal from Italy.
Ginger Man and Cask Republic – Let’s just say that BEER is the thing to drink with these wonderfully salty and rich foods. Get off that wine wagon and try a new brew with your charcuterie.
Redding Roadhouse – along with last year’s new regime came a great deal of talent and good taste. Chef Wirt Cook is sourcing locally as well as curing and dry-aging on-premise. The rustic cheese and meat board is in keeping with their rustic appeal and large craft beer and global wine section.
South End – New Canaan has a restaurant to be proud of and that’s because Chef Nick Martschenko continues to rock on, doing his own thing. His eclectic menu is as diverse as it is simplistic. Nick’s artisanal meats and farmstead cheese are unique and always changing. We especially love the wild boar sausage, Balyley Hazen blue cheese and the Cabot Clothhound cheddar.
And mad props to The Spread and Strada 18 in SoNo, Baro in Fairfield, Harlan Social in Stamford, and Ten Twenty Post in Darien.
A recent feature in a local magazine touted what’s in and what’s out. We all cringed as we read it, feeling it was so far off base. Food trucks are out. Really? Is that why close to 20 trucks registered with the health department this year alone?
The “best of” list basically had the same 3 restaurants listed in every category and obvious stand-out restaurants most likely missed out because instead of spending time on building up their social media following, they were probably running their kitchen and the dining room floor. We feel there are too many great restaurants to name so instead we’re just gonna drool over some of favorite one-of-a-kind dishes that a few places introduced is to this year.
OAK + ALMOND – Chef Jeff Taibe plays with his food. His menu reads like none other. We kept coming back for his Old Bay Pig Tails with Oyster Tartar Sauce. Yeah, yeah…they are sourced locally, right down to the oysters, but that’s not why we love them. They’re just slammin’ good.
POST 154 – Thank you Chef Alex Rosado for lighting a fire under Westport’s dining scene buttocks and spicing things a bit. One of our faves is your Eggplant “Meatball” Parmesan with tomato gravy, three cheeses and truffles. Killer! And crab tater tots - really? Really Awesome.
MAMA’S BOY – We’re thrilled that Greer Fredericks (a HUGE talent in this business) and Chef Scott Ostrander brought their version of low-country cuisine to SoNo. While there are plenty of flavorful and bold lands and sea creations on the well thought out menu, the Deep-Fried Chicken Skins with pickled beets and jalapeno-garlic honey are just crazy good and fun!
WALRUS + CARPENTER – Your “Notorious P.I.G.” menu for 4 ($120) gives new meaning to dinner with friends. 3 courses with 14 dishes, each better than the next, is not just a deal, it’s quality food with great atmosphere and service.
There’s more to this story but just not enough recreational hours to devote to it. We’d love to talk about beer being the beverage of choice this past year and how an unprecedented amount of bartenders, waiters and chefs were opening their own places. “Local” was pretty standard on everyone’s menu, whether it was promoted or not. Prices came down this year as this saturated restaurant market of ours thankfully created a little more sense of competition.
In closing, to the consumer, keep on eating and drinking.
To the industry, keep doing what you do best – and stop obsessing over what the restaurant down the road is doing.