2016 was another great year for restaurant dining throughout CT. We asked the CTbites staff to share some of their most memorable meals, go-to spots and varied dining experiences from this past year.
Here are our favorite meals and restaurants of 2016.
Jeff "jfood" Schlesinger
My favorite dishes in 2016 ranged from a chicken sandwich to pasta with crab and sea urchin butter. The food was smoked, braised, quickly seared, fried, raw, served between two slices of bread, on a porcelain plate, in a bowl, on an aluminum tray and a paper plate; all were bold and balanced. It was quite a diverse year for me. My Top-10 alphabetically.
Ch’i Public – Tuna Tartare - The diced tuna was encased in a ring of thinly sliced cucumbers, topped with thin wedges of avocado, small mounds of red and black fish roe, micro greens and plated with dollops of wasabi cream, yuzu and cucumber-lime sauce. The array of differing and complementing flavors was flawless.
The Cottage – Wagyu Steamed Buns – Take a couple of sweet and delicious steamed buns, add slices of outrageous fall-apart tender brisket and top with a little spicy Napa cabbage kimchee, a delightful aioli and you have the perfect start to the meal, plus a side of duck fat potato tempura.
elm – Gnocchetti Sardi - This over-the-top pasta just exploded with flavors from the tomatoes and sweet chunks of crab, but the addition of the sea urchin butter elevated this rendition to an incredibly outstanding level. It was one of the best pastas I have ever eaten.
Hapa Food Truck – Ahi Burger - The tuna was unbelievable with deep flavors from the caramelized onions and the blue ube bun. Plus, the aioli, edamame puree, lettuce and tomato rounded out this great sandwich.
Harlan Publick - Foie Gras Stuffed Duck Meatballs - Start with a super-rich duck meatball and then increase the decadence with the inclusion of foie gras. And if that wasn’t enough serve this combination with balsamic sauced Cipollini onions and finish with a cherry jus.
Liberty Rock – Chicken Sandwich - It does not get better than this sandwich. The thin cutlet was covered in a scant breading, served on white toast with a slice of melted American cheese, B&B pickles, pickled Jalapeno pepper, thick bacon slices, Ranch dressing and cottage crinkled cottage fries. The flavors and balance were seamless.
Locali – Umami Meatballs – These were my favorite new meatballs of 2016. They were soft, barely holding together, and fell apart under the slightest fork pressure. They were paired with stracciatella, creamy polenta and pancetta for increased richness and creaminess and delivered great flavor.
Mason Dixon – Pork Belly – These large pork cubes set a new standard. They almost completely meat with nearly all of the fat slowly rendered out. There was a thin layer of skin that was lightly crisped, just giving that little cracklin’ crunch when bit into.
Soul Tasty – Shrimp & Grits - A bowl of delicious grits was topped with well-seasoned shrimp, with a little sauce drizzled on top. The shrimp were firm, with a little spice and the grits were perfectly cooked, balanced between creamy and a little crunch.
South End - Corn Chowder with Rock Shrimp Soup – This fantastic creamy cream-less rendition achieved its lusciousness from the “milk” from the corn rinds and then the flavors were elevated with rock shrimp, Benton bacon, shitake mushrooms and leeks.
Cafe 47 @ Perfect Provenance, Greenwich: The Perfect Grass Fed Burger w/ Humble Herdsman Cheese and Bernaise Sauce
Kawa Ni, Westport: Pork Ribs Confit; Bahn Mi; Shaved Broccoli & Miso-Goma.
Mecha, Sono location: Brussels w/ Boudin Noir; Mexcal Bubble Tea
The Cottage, Westport: Wagyu Steamed Buns
Nom Eez, Black Rock: Fish steamed in banana leaf w/ sweet & sour veggies, soy beans, mushrooms
South End Uncorked, New Canaan: Hamachi Nachos w/ yucca chips, citrus, micro cilantro
Acuario Peruvian Restaurant, Stamford: Charcoal-Roasted Chicken w/ yucca fries & fried plantains
Lest "Ald Acquaintance be forgot," I'm going to eschew whats-hot, and offer a toast to both old and new favorites.
Pizza -- Colony and Fortina (Stamford)
Counter Burger -- Shake Shack (Westport and soon Darien)
Gourmet Burger -- The National, Greenwich
Breakfast -- The Corner Restaurant, Milford
Bar Chow -- Bill's Crossroads, Fairfield
Steak -- Gabriel's. Greenwich
Seafood -- The Whelk, Westport and The Restaurant at Rowayton Seafood. Rowayton
French -- L'escale, Greenwich
Italian -- Columbus Park, Stamford
Spanish -- Brasitas, Stamford and Norwalk, and Mazon Tapas, Danbury
American-ish -- The Spread and Match in Norwalk(have yet to score a reservation @ The Cottage, Westport)
Indian -- Coromandel
Greek -- Eos, Stamford
Asian -- Chings Table. New Canaan
Irish -- Casey's Tavern, Stamford
Gelato -- Gelatissimo, New Canaan
Ice Cream -- Buttonworth Farms, Griswold and Rich Farms, Oxford
Sadly, no toast to Cornbeef or Pastrami sandwichs. The biggest food flaw in all of CTbites-land.
Boost Juice: A DIY açai bowl from Bethel's Boost Juice is a perfect lunch pick-me-up.
Nom Eez: Pretty much anything on the menu is worth trying, but I tend to always start a meal at Bridgeport's Nom Eez with T's egg rolls (pork, shrimp, taro). Wrap each one in a lettuce leaf, dip in a bit of sauce, and you've got a perfect combination of salt, sweet, and crunch.
Hen & Heifer: I predict this Guilford bakery will make my list every year. Its tiny footprint is the antithesis of the bakery's outsized pastry perfection. Seasonal pastries and beverages make this a destination worth exploring in every season.
Eggz Kitchen: Matt Stanzak's new venture on wheels is everything breakfast should be—a selection of perfect egg-based breakfast sandwiches and daily specials like duck hash. It's impossible to choose a favorite sandwich but I have fun working my way through the sandwich list and trying.
Community Table: This spot continues to be my go-to for an unfailingly great meal that represents a perfect collision New Nordic cuisine and New England seasonality.
Moxie: The sandwiches at this Madison restaurant are special, but they are really my thinly veiled excuse to enjoy their french fries. They taste as if double-fried, and doused with a generous dose of salt and vinegar. Seriously incredible, incredibly addictive.
Fortina: There is a new kid in town on the Fortina menu. The Chicken Parmigiana is the new standard for this classic red sauce joint dish—and everything you thought you wanted from chicken parm and more. Of course I will still continue to pair it with a Luigi Bianco...
Dere Street, Newtown: This summer’s griddled asparagus with a perfectly poached egg, rolled in panko, fried and served in a delicious lemon butter can be summed up in three letters: OMG. You’ll find a scallop appetizer to love in every season. Their posh fish & chips made a lover out of this otherwise hater of cooked fish. And visions of sticky toffee pudding dance in my head whenever my mind wanders here.
Shell & Bones, New Haven: The short rib nachos knocked my socks off. The Apiary had me all abuzz with its delightful combination of gin, grapefruit juice, honey and muddled Thai basil. And I can’t stop thinking about the chocolate soufflé, wrapped like a gift in a wonton pouch, then flash-fried, served over mixed berries with a side scoop vanilla gelato, guarded protectively by a thin, crisp cookie man. He, too, was delicious. Can’t wait to explore more of the menu while enjoying the view on the water at City Point.
Lucky Lou’s Bar and Grill, Wethersfield: Lamb, Certified Piedmontese filet mignon, lobster sliders, pulled pork sliders and the red sangria should not be missed. Whether out on the patio in warmer weather or in any room of the historic Miles Standish house, I’ve found it impossible to make a bad choice here.
Fire at the Ridge, Middlefield: Sushi-grade yellowfin tuna “nachos” with lime, cucumbers, sriracha crème fraîche, sesame seeds and cilantro microgreens atop fried wonton crisps. So long, snack bar at Powder Ridge; hello to a serious culinary level up!
Inishmor Pub, Colchester: The triple-decker Irish Monte Cristo with tender corned beef and Swiss between egg-soaked Texas toast, drizzled with maple syrup was a completely chart-topping taste sensation.
Mondo, Middletown: Any pizza here rocks, really, but new to me, fig pizza. Their summer caprese was heaven in a bowl.
Sarah’s on Main, Portland: Waffles, the BLT Bennie, and every hash you can imagine—summer veggie, fall acorn squash and cranberry, corned beef—keep me crossing the river week after week for the “Cheers” of breakfast.
The Seehund, New London: Muenster torte with cipollini, Muenster and Swiss cheese in puff pastry, drizzled with fig balsamic is a special starter. And the wiener schnitzel with mushroom gravy is absolutely wunderbar!
Redneck Gourmet Donuts, Higganum: Boston cream and cannoli are well worth the calories in every bite.
Scotties Frozen Custard, Colchester: Salted caramel frozen custard in a homemade waffle cone had me making nearly weekly pilgrimages throughout the summer of 2016. See you in the spring, Scotties!
The Cottage: That Duck Fried Rice dish that Chef Brian Lewis has on his menu is something I always seem to order. The perfectly cooked duck breast with bok choy, mushrooms and quail egg is delicious and beautiful as well. And the Gruyere hamburger with bacon onion jam and a side of bone marrow is another winner. Brunch is great as well.
El Segundo- Whenever I am looking for casual vibe and fun street food, El Segundo delivers. The Perro Caliente is my guilty favorite. A hot dog wrapped in bacon and piled with jalapeno, tomato chutney, spicy mustard and raw onions makes it is hard not to eat two of them.
Nom-eez- Toss up between the Pho which is perfect for a winters lunch OR the Donut Crazy donuts. The Maple Bacon and Cookies & Cream are my faves and a sugary complement to the salty and savory Vietnamese dishes.
The National- That Ugly Burger needs no introduction, and it is hardly ugly. Cabot Cheddar, crispy onions and a “special” National sauce. Sit at the bar and order alongside a signature Greenwich Means Thyme, a gin, honey and lime cocktail.
Kawa Ni- Hard to pick one dish as there are so many that are favorites for me and my entire family. Spicy Miso Ramen, Crab Rangoon, Szechuan Dumplings, BBQ Eel, Karage chicken , and anything new on menu that Chef Jeff Taibe dreams up.
The Fez, Braised Lamb Shank
After closing for renovations, The Fez is back and thriving in downtown Stamford! The Braised Lamb Shank is impressive both in appearance and taste. An upright bone towers above succulent, tender meat covered in a red wine reduction sauce. If you have room, feast on it alongside the crispy chickpeas. They provide the ultimate bite-sized crunch.
Aspen Restaurant and Bar, Honey-Pepper Glazed Pork Belly
I don’t visit the Old Saybrook area frequently, but my first visit to Aspen Restaurant and Bar makes me think that I should! I particularly loved the Honey-Pepper Glazed Pork Belly, one of their small plates. It comes with roasted tomato, garbanzo beans, arugula, and a perfectly griddled ciabatta. As if that weren’t savory enough, they top it with a soft, runny poached egg.
After making its debut in July, Vine Wine Room in Westport welcomed Toni Sapienza, previously of Toni’s Tuscan Table in Bridgeport. Everything I ordered proved delicious. The salad of Roasted Golden Beets with honey, pistachios, and balsamic was light, refreshing, and had the perfect amount of crunch on a summer-like autumn day. The Chicken with Artichoke Hearts, White Wine & Capers was flavorful and rich without feeling heavy. Vine’s small, intimate space is perfect for socializing too.
INDIA New Canaan, Sultana Scallops
I had the opportunity to sample dishes from Chef Prasad Chirnomula both at Savor, a Hartford based food festival, and INDIA, his latest restaurant in New Canaan. Everything is artfully seasoned and flavorful. I particularly enjoyed the Sultana Scallops, finished with a spicy and sweet glaze, microgreens, and golden raisins on top. The pan grilled rack of lamb is phenomenal as well.