Sunday, February 17, 2008

Restaurants: Fraiche, Fairfield, CT

UPDATE: Please note that as of April 2009, Fraiche Restaurant is closed.

The Fairfield restaurant scene has always been reliably good, if not always exciting. However, in recent years, several newer restaurants have received quite a bit of attention. Many of these buzz-worthy eateries were almost destined to succeed. Hotspots like Pepe’s Pizza, Barcelona, and The Beach Café already cracked the code to success in other Connecticut towns before hitting Fairfield. Other newcomers including Osianna and Café 4 Quattro became instantly popular thanks to the huge following developed by their winning sister restaurant, Quattro Pazzi.

Fraiche (pronounced “fresh”), is the newest eatery sure to become a new favorite among Fairfielders. While the modern, American restaurant is the first solo-venture for Chef Marc Lippman, it definitely has the recipe for success: great location, fantastic ambiance, an exciting menu, and an experienced chef.

Located at 75 Hillside Road in Greenfield Hill (the former site of La Colline Verte ), Fraiche is dressed to impress. Brooklyn-based design firm, John Loecke Inc., completely transformed the space In order to give an “urban farmhouse” feel to the interior. Rustic furniture and modern accents adorn the two dining rooms, which feature stone walls and birch-patterned wall coverings. The tables, which were handmade in the Catskill Mountains, are created from reclaimed barn wood, and farmhouse-inspired wire chandeliers line the ceiling. The chocolate brown and smoky blue palate give the entire space an updated, contemporary feel, and create a cozy setting in which to sample Lippman’s modern-American fare.

The menu is described as “market driven”, and therefore will change seasonally. To coincide with the opening, Lippman has designed an eclectic, fall-themed menu with signature dishes like Fresh Maine Scallops with Black Truffles and Sunchoke Puree, and Free-Range Axis Venison Loin with Quince Jam and Butternut Squash-Brussels Sprout Hash with Smoked Bacon. If that sounds too fancy for you, have no fear….the menu also includes a 100% Kobe Beef Cheeseburger with Fries, Heirloom Chicken with Potatoes and Roasted Root Vegetables, and a Prime New York Strip Steak with Mashed Potatoes as well. “I really wanted to balance out ‘casual-elegance’,” states Lippman. He adds that his hope is that Fraiche becomes a true “neighborhood restaurant” where people can simply drop in for a burger with their kids (there will be a children’s menu too), but will also want to return for that special occasion meal.

Lippman’s culinary career has taken him all over the world. After graduating from La Varenne Ecole De Cuisine in France, he worked at top restaurants in Paris, New York and Miami. Later, after serving nearly three years as the as Executive Chef at one of Mexico’s most luxurious five-star resorts, Lippman’s wife and PR manager, Karen, gave birth to their first child. This prompted a move back to the States, and after landing the position of Executive Chef at the popular seafood restaurant, Ocean Drive, in South Norwalk, Lippman and his family decided to settle in Connecticut.

Four years and another child later, Lippman decided it was time to break out on his own. “It was really a family-motivated decision,” he states. Wanting to be closer to home in order to spend more quality time with his wife and children, he searched for the perfect space for over a year. “I was looking mainly in the Fairfield/Westport area, and when I came upon this location, I really could see beyond the space,” he states. “It was definitely the best location for me.”

As Fairfield becomes more of an eating-destination than ever before, Fraiche is a welcome addition to the many new and exciting restaurants to open their doors this year. Early indications are that Marc Lippman’s inspired, seasonal menu will entice Fairfielders back again and again.

Fraiche is located at 75 Hillside Road in Fairfield and is open for dinner only, beginning at 5:30pm, Tuesday-Saturday. Appetizers range from $9 - $18, entrees from $16 - $36, and desserts are $9. For reservations, please call 203.256.5744.
Check out the New York Times review of Fraiche, which appeared on February 17, 2008.

Photos courtesy of Fraiche Restaurant.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Perfect Pantry...and Pasta Dish

When my husband and I first got married, we lived in what I thought was a gem of a one-bedroom New York City apartment. Why was it so special? It had a fully-operational kitchen! It was was a small, galley style arrangement, but had all the requisite appliances, and even a dishwasher. Perhaps "requisite" is not an accurate description; one apartment we went to see had nothing more than a bar-sized sink, a microwave, a mini-fridge, and a two burner stovetop, which was also considered a kitchen in New York real estate terms. I'd been in hotels better equipped to cook a meal!

Needless to say, in those early years, as much as I loved our apartment, I didn't have room for an actual pantry. Not that I needed one, since in a pedestrian city such as New York, you only could shop for as much food as you could carry. There was no "stocking up" when Progresso soup was on sale! When we later moved to a bigger (but still not-so-large) condominium in Connecticut, and had access to super-supermarkets (and a car), I gained a new appreciation for a pantry. I could stock six types of pasta at any time! Beans? I'll take three each of garbonzo, cannellini, AND red kidney! I couldn't go too crazy, since my space was still limited, but I did learn to keep key items on hand.

When we finally bought an actual house, I was disappointed to find that the pantry in my new abode was not much larger than what I had in my condo. What's a cook to do? I did what any food-obsessed person would do...I converted my coat closet (which happened to be adjacent to the kitchen) into a large, glorious pantry! I bought wire baker's racks, hooks, and storage baskets and bins, and then headed right to the store to load up on my favorite pantry items. I wanted to keep back-ups of necessary items (olive oil, salt, pepper, vinegar), plus enough other dried/unperishable goods to whip up something delicious at a moment's notice. And don't forget, your refrigerator and freezer are definitely an extension of your dry pantry.

If you are among the fortunate who have a pantry (or are willing to forgo a coat closet), here is a list of what I try to keep in my pantry at all times:

Dry pantry: pasta (a variety of shapes/sizes), rice, cous cous, canned beans (a variety of types), tomato paste/canned diced tomatoes, sundried tomatoes, marinated artichokes, dried fruit (raisins, dried cranberries), olive oil/canola oil/vegetable oil, vinegar (balsamic, red wine, white and specialty flavors), onions, garlic, dried herbs/spices (especially rosemary, oregano, red pepper flakes, cinnamon, cumin, and nutmeg)

Refrigerator: milk, eggs, butter, cheese (cheddar, parmesan, and feta), nuts (pine nuts, walnuts, almonds), mustard (dijon), ketchup, mayo, fresh parsley, lemon

Freezer: peas, spinach, frozen garlic, pancetta/bacon, bread

Pantry Pasta with Artichokes
Serves 4

This dish is reminiscent of "pasta carbonara", but adds artichokes in place of pancetta. With a well-stocked pantry, you won't even need to make a trip to the market!

1 onion, chopped
1 - 12 oz jar marinated artichokes, drained and roughly chopped
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 eggs
Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper
1 lb fettuccini, cooked according to package directions
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

Heat olive oil in a large pan and sauté onions until browned.

Add the chopped artichokes (not the liquid from the jar), salt & pepper and cover.

Cook over low heat for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, beat the eggs together with about 1-2 T of parmesan cheese and a good pinch of salt.

Toss the hot pasta with the egg mixture until it is thoroughly coated and top with the artichoke mixture. Gently toss to combine.

Serve immediately with additional grated cheese if desired.

Monday, February 4, 2008

The Simplicity of Soup

Nothing is better on a cold winter day than a nice bowl of hot soup. Whether it is from a can (I love Progresso Lentil), a box (Trader Joe's Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato is terrific), or from a packet (okay, maybe skip that one), soup makes the perfect lunch, a great starter at dinnertime, or even a nourishing snack. However, what a lot of people don't realize is just how simple it is to make delicious, homemade soup from scratch. With the help of a few shortcuts, you can whip up a steaming pot of soup in literally minutes.

"Souper Simple Soups" is one of the most popular classes I teach, and with good reason. In under two hours, we make four fantastic soups which are easy to replicate at home. One soup, Tortellini in Brodo with Spinach, is so simple that I almost axed it from the menu in the weeks preceeding the first class. My mother encouraged me to keep it in the line-up (it is one of her favorites), but I was concerned the recipe wasn't substantial enough for a class. Much to my surprise, it turned out to be the hands-down favorite of all my students. Yes, mom, as usual, you were right. ;)

The first time I had Tortellini in Brodo (tortellini in broth) was in Italy. I quickly discovered that this is a staple in nearly every Italian restaurant, akin to our Chicken Noodle. It is exactly what it sounds like; tortellini in broth. Simple. Unadorned. Classicly Italian. To add a bit more nutritional value, I like to add fresh spinach leaves right at the end of cooking, which also gives it fantastic color. You could use fresh parsley or basil instead, but I just love the way the spinach looks and tastes in this dish. The best part is that the entire soup is finished in only the amount of time it takes for the tortellini to cook! So get cooking! Winter is the perfect time for soup!

NOTE: As a special event, I'll be teaching a free, one-hour soups class at Williams-Sonoma in Westport, CT on Sunday, February 17 from 10-11am. Call the store at 221-8667 to register.

Tortellini in Brodo with Spinach
Serves 4

6 cups good quality canned chicken broth
½ lb dried cheese tortellini (or your favorite variety)
6 oz baby spinach, washed
Grated parmesan cheese

Heat broth in a medium saucepan until boiling.
Add tortellini, and cook until tender.
Add spinach, stir to allow it to wilt, and serve with grated parmesan cheese.