Change is at hand at Fairfield's Miro Kitchen after the end of their collaboration with HAPA, but the new menu for this autumn and winter retains Miro's signature flavors. CTbites was recently invited to take a tour of the food style restaurateur Eugene Kabilnitsky and executive chef Howard McCall have dubbed "Pacific Rim," with ingredients influenced by Hawaii, China, Japan, and the Philippines.
The eating area is a bright space, with white walls and darker seating on the right, and a full length bar running down the left. The bar has a respectable selection of craft beer on tap, in addition to wines selected specifically to match the flavors of the food. Cocktails likewise blend with the food, using ingredients like nigori in the Saketini, and Thai chili in the Thaigarita and the Tom Yum, which tasted like boozy lemon grass tea shot through with spiky kaffir lime.
A selection of hors d'oeuvres began with ahi bruschetta. The fish was meaty firm, with a toasty flavor imparted by the requisite sesame seed coating, but actually provided something new in the seared ahi monoverse with a bed of avocado and tomato bruschetta, slices of pickled onion, and a sprinkle of black salt. It was visually appealing, delicious, and indicative of the direction Miro is taking.
The second app was called hanger sushi: thin strips of hanger steak lightly seared and laid over a roll of sticky rice and the furikake seasoning familiar to HAPA's regulars. Sandwiched between these two was a drop of wasabi cream just hot enough to lightly singe the nasal passages. A miso/soy dipping sauce was available in small bowls with the dish, and was popular with all at the table.
The Hawaiian influence was evident in the Saimin noodle soup - think mid-Pacific ramen. A dashi broth contained pork belly, mushrooms, and scallions, with a globular egg balanced on top. The broth was a little smoky, with a fresh snap from chopped pea pods and bean sprouts, and was enriched by the egg. The curry noodle soup may be the best thing for a winter's night, with bright yellow curry, coconut milk and vegetables. The curry was legitimately spicy, each spoonful containing chunks of peppers and peas - the flavors intermingling with the oily/sweet coconut.
The world would be flat and uninteresting without tacos, and thankfully we were served two varieties. Miro's Tako Taco is filled with grilled octopus in a corn tortilla with roasted corn salsa and a foundation of slightly piquant aioli. The octopus was well prepared: grilled to softer texture, it was still chewy, but diced in small enough chunks that it never became a chore. It worked well with the snap from the corn. The duck tacos were my pick of the two. The duck itself was pulled, and served with hoisin and a thick glaze of peanut sauce. These were outstanding, and I could have eaten a dozen at a time, especially with thin slices of cabbage providing some snappy texture.
Chef McCall adds Shichimi togarashi seven spice to his lobster mac and cheese, which adds depth to the dish, accentuated by the intense smokiness of chunk bacon alongside the lobster. The creamy cheese dish was served with the General Tso's cauliflower, which has already garnered praise on this site, but was a first for me. This is absolutely not the gluey, technicolor morsels served at a buffet, and the pairing was excellent. The vegetable lo mein which followed was similarly a step above the familiar, though not quite as revelatory as the cauliflower, which is a hell of a thing to type.
Kabilnitsky initially thought of opening an Italian eatery at the location, formerly Tomato&Basil, "but those are everywhere," he said. "So everyone has their own favorite neighborhood spot, and your reach is limited."
"We worked on conceiving a much more unique option, and the reach here is much longer because you can't just get this food anywhere."
Crispy coconut shrimp and grits appeared with scallions and a drizzle of hot Thai chili oil. The grits were built up with white cheese and coconut milk, and given more life with the chili heat. The shrimp themselves were fantastic, slightly sweet and toasty from a crust which had likewise absorbed the hot oil. This dish is good for the saintly to share, or the realist to have as a small, solo, entree.
If there was anywhere the menu lost momentum, it was the macadamia calamansi cod. That odd word in the middle is another word for calamondin, a citrus/kumquat hybrid fruit used in a lot of Filipino cooking. The cod was perfectly cooked - moist and flaky, not disintegrating - and I liked the light dusting of finely ground macadamia crust, but the calamansi was used subtly enough to be overwhelmed by a huge dose of salt. This joined with the acid to produce a drying effect on the tongue I didn't enjoy. Your mileage may vary.
Dessert was a sampler, and I particularly enjoyed the squares of unusually flavorful banana bread pudding, with almost of bit of rum character, and the ube ice cream. Ube is a purple yam extremely pervasive in Filipino sweets, and which gave chef Chris Gonzalez's ube bread at HAPA its distinct color. The only source in the area for ube is in New Jersey, and Kabilinitsky makes the drive back and forth from Connecticut to make this dessert. The ice cream is sweet, both with milk (dairy and coconut), and a caramel drizzle, with a tinge of earthy starch from the ube. Tasty and familiar, but a tiny bit weird, it would seem to be a good microcosm for Miro Kitchen's whole concept.
This was a media event. Neither CTbites nor the author were compensated for this review; the meal was provided without charge. The opinions contained herein are solely those of the author.