Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Restaurants: New Burger Openings--Fraiche Burger Joint, Fairfield CT

Blackened Burger at Barney's Gourmet Hamburgers
Burger connoisseurs, prepare yourselves! There is big burger news in Fairfield!

Open right now:
Fraiche Restaurant, which I blogged about previously, has reinvented itself as Fraiche Burger Joint (75 Hillside Road, Fairfield) and everything on the menu is under $22. According to today's press release, Fraiche Burger Joint will offer " 'the greatest burger on earth' (according to Connecticut Magazine) and “Millionaire’s Macaroni n’ Cheese” –a mouth-watering concoction of five different cheeses finished with truffle oil." I loved Fraiche, and can't wait to try its new, more casual, less expensive incarnation. A smart move during these tough economic times!
Open the week of June 15th:
Also from the owner of Fraiche will be Fraiche Burger in the newly-renovated Arcade Building in downtown Bridgeport (997 Main Street, near the Peoples Bank headquarters and Courthouse). Again, according to the press release, this outpost will feature " 'a modern twist on the classic burger' offering a selection of burgers, hot dogs and other fast food staples including a smaller version of Chef Lippman’s Classic Burger from Fraiche Burger Joint in Fairfield - for under $6." Now that's something to talk about!
***Please note that Fraiche Burger is now closed.

Future opening--- you heard it here first!
When I was taping my most recent appearance on News Channel 12's "What's Cooking", I met the chef/owners of Mediterranean Grill in Wilton. They shared with me that they will soon be opening a brand new, low-key but high-quality burger restaurant on the Fairfield Post Road space formerly occupied by the recently shuttered Flying Dish. It will be family friendly and offer casual fare that mom and dad will love too! I'll keep you up to date as soon as I hear more! Keep your eyes open and your ears perked!!
Above photo by "pointnshoot".

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Product Review: Three Punks Relish and Buitoni Reserve Pastas

From time to time, companies send me products to taste-test. Obviously, their hope is that as a food blogger, I will then write something about them---hopefully something good. I've had a few things that I did not like, but decided to contact the company representative privately, rather than bad-mouth them all over the internet. I feel the same way about restaurant reviews/profiles; if I don't like a place, I just don't write about it.

That brings me to the first of two recent products that came into my hands. Three Punks Relish is an "authentic Austrailian tomato topping" produced right here in Connecticut. Although it is called "relish" it doesn't really resemble anything Americans call relish. It is more like a chutney, which can be used as a glaze for meats or vegetables. This family recipe originated in 1920, and was created by the owner's Australian grandmother.

Over the weekend I grilled a butterflied whole chicken, and slathered it with this relish during the last 20 minutes of cooking. It was DELICIOUS! My entire family loved it (including my sometimes picky children). The glaze caramelized nicely giving a sweet flavor to the skin. I think it would be equally good on fish, pork loin, or even as an alternative topping for a burger. Three Punks Relish is sold at Billy's Bakery and The Pantry in Fairfield, but they are adding new stores all the time, so check their website for updates.

The second product is a new line of fresh pasta from Buitoni. Their new "Riserva" line is designed for those looking for something a little fancier than regular ravioli. As my mother can attest, I have always been a bit of a ravioli/stuffed pasta freak, so when I received this package I was pretty excited. They make four new varieties which include Chicken Four Cheese Ravioli, Quattro Formaggi Agnolotti, Spicy Beef and Sausage Ravioli, and the selection I was sent, Wild Mushroom Stuffed Agnolotti. They all are found in the refrigerator section of the grocery store.

The package states that the pasta is filled with "fresh portobello and crimini mushrooms, imported Grana Padano and Parmesan cheeses and fresh roasted garlic." This is all fine, however I find it strange that they are acting like portobello and crimini mushrooms are two different mushrooms! Portobello mushrooms are simply criminis that have been allowed to grow bigger (which is why criminis are often referred to as "baby bellas"). This aside, I set out to do some tasting.

I decided to keep the sauce extra simple so I could really taste the flavors of the agnolotti (which is basically a half-moon shaped ravioli). I stuck with a Sage-Brown Butter Sauce (recipe on my Season to Taste blog) and topped the whole thing with lots of parmesan cheese. I must say it was really delicious. The filling was ample and very flavorful. There were actually more mushrooms than anything else, unlike many other filled pastas which are mostly ricotta or some other filler. My only complaint is that the package is very small...just 9 ounces. One package was only enough for two appetizer portions, so plan accordingly.
So, there you have it....two new products on the market, both get a "thumbs up" from The Secret Ingredient!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Restaurants: Martel, Fairfield, CT

At a time when many restaurants are struggling, Fairfield’s newest eatery seems impervious to the faltering economy. Martel, a casual French bistro opened by the owners of Pane Vino in Westport, has been bursting at the seams since it opened in February. It is located on the Post Road in the former space occupied by Rory’s, however you’d be hard-pressed to find any similarities (save for the same bad parking situation).

Although the building’s footprint remains the same, the interior and exterior have been completely rehabbed. Among the changes are the flipped layout; the bar is now in the front room and the dining area in the back room. Both are attractive and feature both mahogany colored and black lacquered woods, red upholstered banquets and booths, and marble topped tables. The high ceilings, low lighting, and heavy framed mirrors all add to the bistro ambiance. Patrons are directed to use the front door which leads into the bar, rather than the side door which most of us had become accustomed to using at Rory’s. However, during peak hours, it is extremely difficult to navigate through the narrow and very crowded bar in order to reach the hostess stand, which is located in the middle of the restaurant.

On each of my visits, this was exactly the case. Martel does not take reservations, so expect to wait if you arrive past 6pm. There are a few bar tables that are first-come, first-served, but unless you don’t mind dining in the loud bar area (or having people backed up against your table while you eat), you are better off waiting for a table in the dining room.

The menu is moderately priced and casual. It includes a variety of sandwiches, burgers, and salads, but also has a very nice selection of entrees which range from comfort food (braised short ribs, meatloaf, truffled mac and cheese) to classic bistro fare (steak frites, roasted chicken) to Italian inspired (vegetable lasagna, lobster risotto, fettuccine Bolognese). There is also a lot of seafood, which seems to be a speciality of the house.

The wine list is also moderately priced, and includes about twenty bottles priced under $30. House wines are sold by the glass or by the carafe. The dessert menu is traditionally French, and features crème brulee (but flavored with banana and maple), a classic apple tarte ala mode, a trio of chocolate pots de crème (like a rich chocolate pudding), and beignets (which are similar to Zeppole, but light as air) to name a few. Word is that the ice cream sundae with toasted almonds is excellent, if you’re in the mood for something decidedly more American.
Each time I visited Martel, the service was good and very friendly. Our servers were always helpful and enthusiastic about both the menu and wine list. The pace of the meal was just right….not too fast or too slow. We did not feel rushed at any point, and were able to enjoy our wine and linger over coffee without being given the evil eye.

Whenever I’m eating out and planning to write a restaurant profile, I always keep my ears pricked for quotes from other diners. At Martel, I heard one woman say, “I don’t eat out often, but when I do, I’ll definitely come back here!”. Another person said she enjoyed the seared scallops so much that she “all but licked the plate clean” (they really were excellent). I heard a couple people (including one person in my party) commenting that they were not happy with their dinners, including the lobster risotto (“very little lobster”) and the seafood casserole (“lacking in flavor”). However, most people I talked to seemed to be very happy with the food and their overall experience.

I think Martel hits the trifecta with a good atmosphere, good food, and good wine. Oh, and good prices too. What more could you want?

My favorites: Mussels Au Gratin , Seared Scallops over Farro, Braised Short Ribs

Martel Bistro & Bar
2316 Post Road
Fairfield, CT