Wednesday, September 24, 2014

South Norwalk's Washington Prime: Steaks and Seafood Served in Style

Update April 2015: Head Chef Jared Falco has left Washington Prime, and is now in the kitchen at Amore Cucina in Stamford, CT. 

The newest hotspot in South Norwalk's rapidly growing dining and nightlife scene, Washington Prime, has been attracting crowds since it opened in late July. It's not hard to see why, as it dominates the end of Washington Street with a trendy exterior and couch-clad patio, and serves up expertly prepared and presented dishes from Executive Chef Jared George Falco. From a large horseshoe bar to high ceilinged dining room and ample outdoor seating, Washington Prime's customers range from suited corporate types at the bar to groups of 30-somethings and happy couples out for date night. The ambiance suits them all, as the space features both cozy booths, long tables, and a patio that's great for happy hour mingling.

Of course, a pretty face isn't enough without a great meal to back it up. Luckily, Executive Chef Falco has the culinary chops to back up a space that sets the expectations high. 

We began our meal with a series of small plates. First, Lobster Bisque with Parsley Creme Fraiche, which was richly flavored without, surprisingly, the use of any cream (besides the crowning dollop). Falco explained how he achieves this; by boiling all the lobster shells to create an intense stock. 

Next, Burrata topped with creamy slaw, sambal aioli, and sesame atop pretzel bread, which is baked locally at Wave Hill Breads from Falco's own recipe. The combination of cool creamy burrata and crunchy slaw was nicely accented with the slight spice of sambal. 

It speaks well for a restaurant when it's difficult to capture images of the food before the dish is attacked by an excited table of foodies. Deviled eggs with creamy yolk, prime meatball, pickled onions, and foie gras powder were snatched up immediately and enjoyed by all. The yolk was nicely seasoned, and the use of a slate slab instead of a plate was a nice, attractive touch. 

A heaping serving of poutine was similarly well received, the thick cut house fries topped with cheese curds and oxtail ragu were hearty and filling; don't order this dish and then expect to put away an entire steak!

Standouts of the night were the three seafood dishes: octopus with spicy pickled peppers, duck fat potatoes, and pepper emulsion, scallops with middlins, corn relish, nicoise olives, and hunters sauce, and grouper with Carolina gold rice, tomato, asparagus, and carrot butter sauce. When I go to a restaurant and they have either scallops or octopus on the menu, I always order one (or both), because I think they are both difficult to prepare well, and are a great gauge of the chef's talent. In the case of Washington Prime, I was absolutely impressed by both dishes.

The scallops were tender and flavorful, but not so much that their delicate sweetness was compromised. The rice, I thought, was an unnecessary addition that distracted from the star of the dish. 

The grouper, too, was flaky and moist, with a buttery carrot sauce and still crisp asparagus that made for a winning combination. 

Our final treat from the sea, lobster knuckle and claw with blue corn grits and tobiko, was quickly devoured; the tender meat and salty bursts of tobiko were addictive. 

Two salads, the prime wedge and the chop chop, were good but not remarkable, though the pickled heirloom tomatoes that came with the wedge were delicious. The chop chop was described as being dressed in red wine vinaigrette but had a somewhat creamy and cheesy tasting dressing that was not to my liking. 

Of course, a visit to a steakhouse would not be complete without a solid dose of red meat, and we tried both the filet mignon and the ribeye, both of which were deliciously pink and juicy in the center. The filet mignon was tender, and the ribeye has just the right combination of fattiness and meatiness - definitely my favorite cut, both at home and in the case of this dinner. Steaks at Washinton Prime are served with a choice of one of their sauces: prime steak sauce, horseradish cream, bernaise sauce, maple truffle chili sauce, chimiccuri sauce, or umami bomb sauce. We had the pleasure of trying them all, and I honestly cannot choose a favorite, as they were all delicious (and made for a pretty plate).  I would happily dip french fries into any of them. 

Despite being full to bursting, we couldn't resist dessert. A caramel crowned, chocolate covered cake and ice cream combo, chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwich served with cereal milk, and a slice of one of the best cheesecakes I have ever had. It was difficult to resist gobbling it all up, sharing be damned! I highly recommend saving room for dessert. 

Washington Prime is definitely worth a visit, whether you favor steaks, seafood, or a sampling of small plates. Attentive servers and delicious cocktails rounded out our experience and made for a truly enjoyable evening. 

 Washington Prime is located at 141 Washington Street in South Norwalk, CT
Phone: 203-857-1314
Images credit Jason Varga

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

An Affair to Remember: The Mark Twain Library's First Annual Pudd'nhead Prize Gala

Friends, neighbors, and celebrities came together on Saturday, September 20th to support Redding's Mark Twain Library and honor the first ever recipient of "The Pudd'nhead Prize," cartoonist Roz Chast. Perfect September weather set the stage for a magical evening at In Situ, an 8 acre property that has been featured on HGTV's Top Ten and published in Architectural Digest and Metropolitan Home. 

The event, intended to be a celebration of creativity and wit, was the brainchild of comedian, actor, and author Michael Ian Black. Drawing inspiration from the work of Redding's own Mark Twain, the First Annual Pudd'nhead Prize was born. Roz Chast, celebrated New Yorker cartoonist and Ridgefield resident known for her wry wit and humorously neurotic characters, was the first recipient of the prize and honored guest of the evening. 

Michael Marocco, owner of In Situ, offered up his stunning property for the evening, and teamed up with Mark Twain Library Board members Jennifer Wastrom and Pam Robey to bring a fantastic idea to fruition. To say that the evening was a success is an understatement; from the first step into the garden to the last bite of dinner (catered by Bedford, New York's Dinner Thyme) and chuckle at the bantering of Michael Ian Black and Roz Chast, a truly memorable and special evening was clearly had by all. The energy in the air was full of gaiety and appreciation. 
Clockwise from top right:
William Fusco & ME, First Selectwoman Julia Pemberton, Christine Glidden & Bill King, Sandra Alvaran & Marilena Miller, Amy Nonnamacher, Betsy Higgins (Library Treasurer) & Beth Dominianni (Library Director)

125 guests spent the evening wandering the extensive gardens, enjoying drinks and live music by the swimming pool, and mingling with several celebrity guests including Alexis Bledel from Gilmore Girls and her Mad Men star husband Vincent Kartheiser, Mo Rocca of NPR's "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me," and Saturday Night Live's Ana Gastayer. Notable Redding residents were also in attendance, including First Selectwoman Julia Pemberton and sculptor Babette Bloch, whose work is featured on the property. 
Top, from left to right: Alexis Bledel, Pam Robey, Brian Spears, and Vincent Kartheiser
Bottom, from left to right: Bill Keith, Ana Gasteyer, Michael Ian Black, Mo Rocca
Michael Ian Black emceed the evening; Roz Chast accepts her prize
 & signs a copy of her new memoir for Kurt Fuller of ABC's new series Manhattan Love Story

After a delicious dinner, guests gathered at the patio for the presentation of the Pudd'nhead prize (a giant spoon, suitable for consuming large doses of pudding, of course) and a signing of Roz Chast's new Memoir, "Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?" Live music by Kelly Mittleman, whose knowledge and enthusiasm played an important part in the planning of the event, serenaded the end of the stylish evening. 

Attending such a lovely event was an experience to remember. Having admired Roz Chast's work since middle school, it was quite exciting to tell her face to face how much her cartoons had affected me and made me feel better about my own somewhat nutty perspective on the world. Seeing Alexis Bledel in person, whose character Rory in Gilmore Girls was my teenage idol, was also an exciting part of the evening. Strolling In Situ's beautiful gardens and shaking hands with Mo Rocca felt more like a fantasy than reality. I was unable to resist chuckling when my date chose "Wet Hot American Summer" as the project to compliment Michael Ian Black on, as I'm sure Black does not see such a silly film one of his crowning achievements (though personally, I think it's a hilarious movie). 

The Mark Twain Library is an asset to the town of Redding and surrounding areas, bringing many interesting events and programs to residents. Visit their website for more information.

Image credits: 1st Block: Adam Pemberton, 2nd & 4th Blocks, Chris Burns for Mark Twain Library. For a complete gallery of photographs from the event, click here.