My Favorite Dishes of 2016 (Southwest CT)

Each year CTbites posts its favorites from the previous year. For 2016 I decided on drafting the list of new dishes that I was lucky enough to have placed in front of me by some pretty talented chefs. For the entire staff’s picks look here

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.

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Thanks, jfood. Just reading your picks already sound better than the list put out by Westchester Magazine. And, they had the audacity to include two from Fairfield County…

I just took a look at the list. Neither would cause me to drive from Westchester to CT. Just go to Vilage Social. The Patty Melt is a much better choice at Rothbard.

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I never trust reviews in Westchester magazine. Never agree with them. I always have the feeling they give good reviews to advertisers.

Thanks for the post. Kicking myself for not trying HAPA before their break, but look forward to trying soul tasty, and nom-eez (on another reviewer’s list).

Not really surprised Westchester mag had to include places in Fairfield- Westchester is sadly lacking,not just in quality but quantity of restaurants to recommend!

Rich, your comment got me to thinking. Having lived in Westchester and now Connecticut, I feel the food scene in Ct now out flanks Westchester considerably – with the exception of Blue Hill, of course. But gifted CT chefs like Bill Taibe, Brian Lewis, Matt Storch, Arik Bensiman, Luke Veneer, Carlos Biaz, Tony Pham, to name just a few, have changed the foodscape in Southwest Ct the way Peter Kelly and Bill Rosenburg once did for Westchester in the early 90’s.

Open, of course, for debate.

I am not surprised. We are still in Northern Westchester and there is not much happening. We venture into Ridgefield, but I think we need to get to some of the other places Jfood recommends too.

Having lived in Westchester basically all my life,I have always found it lacking- too close to nyc,I guess. I routinely drive to Ct. during the day and “explore”. Just tried Soul Tasty (per JFood) in Stamford- very nice,if not quite a destination.

It’s hard for me to believe three things:

1 - With Village Social in Westchester, where was that gem. Same chef and owners from Locali and the Ramen they serve on Sunday is a destination dinner
2 - A cocktail makes it from FFD, the burger at The National is excellent, grab that versus a drink
3 - Rothbard is good but in no way should it be the singular destination once the border is crossed.

Twas a silly list.

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Making noodles. Phongdien Town, Cantho City, Southern Vietnam.
Credit: CiaoHo