Monday, August 27, 2018

The Stamford Restaurant Chronicles: Mexicue

I’d like to meet the person who invented the 5-day workweek. Anyone with such bad judgement as to think that adults can get through that type of repetition without a break must have the type of terrible judgement of somebody that you’d want to party in Vegas with. Nearly 10 years in the workforce and I still can’t manage. You wake up Monday morning filled with all of the intention of eating healthy, getting your exercise in, sleeping The Full 8 and then life happens. Making it halfway through the week feels as good of a reason to celebrate as any.

Having recently discovered that my gal pal Val works in Stamford, it didn’t take long for us to come to the agreement on the idea of monthly dinners. Being a Harbor Point resident, I was all too happy to walk over to Mexicue for what would by my third visit. 

On the night before the restaurant opened, they invited all Harbor Point Residents to have a sneak peek of the food and when it came time to bring the bill, they announced to us that all drinks and food at the preview were FREE. I will tell you what, at first – I was blown away by that. I immediately took to the restaurant, which is a good thing as my bedroom window is about 10 feet away from the place.

Visit 2 was far less remarkable. My Mom and I sat outside and the weather was the best part of the experience. We managed to rack up a bill over $100 for 3 drinks, 4 tacos and a small guacamole. Here’s the thing about Mexicue though, it has tremendous curb appeal. It’s trendy and I suspect most people who see it want to go at least once.

In sitting down for visit #3, Valerie revealed to me her inspiring habit of ordering menu items denoted as seasonal for the simple fact that they are limited time only and that she likes to mix it up. I thought that was super fun and adventurous and she put her money where her mouth was when she ordered her cucumber margarita. Trying it, I found it to be extremely potent of the green vegetable and viscous. Val said she found it refreshing and from the picture you can see the drink was really something else.

I am a woman with a weakness for a frozen margarita with salt and after seeing it on their menu, I was disappointed to hear that they actually don’t carry frozen margaritas after all. If that’s the case, maybe re-print the menu? I ended up settling on the house margarita with salt on the rocks and it was on the syrupy side. I’d still get it again (re: weakness), but it was more of a sticky dessert than a chance to get my buzz on. Round 2 was Modelo on draft and that was very cold and enjoyable.

Service was attentive, but we had a good laugh because at the start of our meal, the waiter had his button-down shirt unbuttoned to a notable degree. By the end of the meal, he had undone several other buttons as the night went along. No idea what that was all about but Val said it made her think of this and she was spot on:

To start, we kept it spicy and went with an order of jalapeno guacamole. Normally I would shy away from getting anything spicy at a Mexican restaurant, but this place isn’t your “authentic” Mexican cuisine but rather your trendy Tex-Mex. The chips and guacamole were on point. Extra points because they didn’t awkwardly make it table-side. The heat was pleasant and the avocados tasted fresh.

Every time I eat here, I always feel compelled to order the Romaine Lettuce cups instead of the taco shells, after eating the equivalent of a bag of tortilla chips to start and each time I find my meal to be mediocre at best. On this visit, I got one smoky chicken taco which had slaw, creamy chipotle sauce, pico de gallo and cojita cheese and the cheese was the best part;  seemingly sweet and freshly shredded. The chicken was dried out and supplemented by an overabundance of the chipotle sauce. 

My second taco was the Wild Rock Shrimp which consisted of slaw, sliced mango, salsa verde, creamy chipotle and cilantro. Marginally, the shrimp taco was the better of the two. Part of Val’s order was the BLT Taco and the bacon was so flavorful and thick cut that it would be on my list to order for my next visit.

The view from the restaurant is gorgeous and sometimes a margarita is exactly the fuel you need to get you over the hump to face the end of the week.

15 Harbor Point Rd
Stamford, CT 06902

Friday, August 17, 2018

The Stamford Restaurant Chronicles: ZAZA Italian Gastrobar

With my new dedication to eat my way through Stamford’s food offerings, it gave me the perfect excuse to go to my second favorite restaurant in this town - Zaza’s. I really love everything about this place and with that lens, I may be a bit biased here – but that’s the beauty of writing my own blog. The devil may care, but I do not.

My friend Ali is always good for a trip to Zaza and half a bottle of red wine, so on a Thursday night without a reservation we arrived at 7:15 and were seated immediately. I remember a few years ago that the restaurant was considerably more packed at dinner, so hopefully this isn’t an indication that it’s falling out of favor.

The atmosphere is generally really trendy and appealing in a way a bistro in NYC would strike me. On this occasion, the weather outside was extremely hot and the temperature was in no way moderated on the inside either. It was fine for a girl’s dinner, but if it was a date situation you might find yourself displeased with how sweaty everyone would be before the entrée was delivered to the table. The other thing that struck us as weird was the abundance of red lighting. You can see in this picture it was on the next level.

We started our meal off with a bottle of wine and the host was very welcoming in discussing the options available. The tables are communal, with only a small divider allowing for communication with other parties if both groups should desire.

As an appetizer, we ordered roasted truffle sprouts which are Brussel sprouts in a honey truffle sauce topped with almond slivers. When I come here, I always order this and it’s such a delectable balance of deeply fried greens with a sweet and savory sauce. To be frank, after my meal I experienced something close to a belly ache and that was likely from the decadence of this app, but almost entirely worth it.

For my meal, I ordered the Rosemary Wild Salmon described as using Lemon and rosemary infused oil, served with sautéed spinach and roasted potatoes. I am not a big potato girl, so I asked for double spinach. The spinach itself also struck me as considerably fried so the entire meal tasted delicious. Salmon was cooked perfectly and I ran out of room before I was able to eat as much of the meal as I wanted.

It’s always a homerun at Zaza’s.

Zaza Italian Gastrobar
122 Broad St
Stamford, CT 06901

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Stamford Restaurant Chronicles: Fin II

After 8.5 years of working in the same suburban office park in the northern corner of Stamford, my office has finally moved. Nearly everything about the office’s new location is a pain, with the exception of one thing; the plethora of restaurant options now available to me for lunch. No more being forced into spending $9.50 at the pathetic Riverbend Cafeteria for me, no sir. Also, it really helps that our new office is under construction with no refrigeration available so there’s no guilt to be felt for the additional reckless expense of dining out in the middle of the day.

Walking around downtown, there are dozens of food options to choose from along with plenty of temporary art statues on the street to play around with. At our old location, I would exercise every day during my lunch break, so there’s a real novelty to getting out of the office mid-day for a new experience. All smiles here.

Now working over on Broad Street and not feeling brave enough to endanger myself by going to Curly’s Diner, my colleague and I settled in Fin II because I am preferential to Sushi when I can. We came here on a weekday for their lunch special and I settled on their salmon poke bowl with brown rice and spicy ponzu sauce. I am generally a huge fan of Poke and was surprised to see the long list of ingredients in the dish. I asked that they leave off the kidney beans and tobiko. Honestly, kidney beans at an Asian restaurant? A quick google search and I now know that kidney beans are native to Peru. Very strange.

The salmon itself was actually quite good and the spicy ponzu sauce was on point.. Normally, I am not a big mango fan but the waitress remembered my order in her head, without pen and paper so I was afraid the third omission might have made for some sort of error. Another thing to note is that this dish is not available on their online menu at this time. My coworker, who came with me was given avocado without asking for it and subsequently charged an additional $1.00.

The interior of the restaurant is dark and on the worn side and the restaurant was one notch above feeling grossed out about the cleanliness for me. That being said, the service was efficient and exactly what you would be looking for during a 1 hour lunch break.

The lunch cost $13.99 plus tax and tip, but the portion was on the large side and I had plenty of rice left over when I was done. I would go back because of how convenient the location is, but I'd likely order something different.

Fin II
219 Main St
Stamford, CT 06901

Monday, April 16, 2018

Blizzard to Recover from the Blizzards: Jurassic Peanut Butter Chomp

What do Pluto, the 1980’s and the heat of the Summer in Stamford, CT all have in common? They’re all so impossibly far away that you can barely conceive them in your mind. Dairy Queen, an apparent optimist, does not care about the fact that it has been several months of darkness and consistently spaced nor’easters and instead they are marketing their Summer Blizzards.

This past Saturday we were graced with a sunny day that dared to approach the low 70’s and that felt like a reason to get out and celebrate. Coincidentally, my idea of a celebration is to head to that Big Red Barn and to wait in line behind a dozen other people for the antidote to my seasonal depression; a Blizzard and a red spoon.

Stamford’s Dairy Queen is hit or miss this time of year because the proprietor closes down for the winter months and seems to operate on a schedule during the weekday lunch rush on a willy nilly basis but on this day I was in luck.

I don’t pride myself on being a Jurassic Park fanatic, because I believe that the world already has more than enough of those – but I’ll tell you what I continue to be obsessed with and that’s peanut butter. The “Jurassic Chomp Blizzard Treat” is described as a “blizzard with Colossal choco dipped peanut butter bites and fudge topping blended with creamy DQ vanilla soft serve into perfection”. Perfection is a lofty adjective but allow me to explain below how that is completely accurate.

The ice cream was as good as always with the ingredients all “blizzed” together in consistent ratios but the real star here is what I would call the buckeye candies, which have never been included in a Blizzard of the Month previously. The candies were far more sweet than they were creamy, so I suspect a person who is ambivalent about peanut butter but enjoys sweet chocolate would still be quite happy with the order. The vanilla ice cream was graced with chocolate ribbons throughout that were as ganache-like as hot fudge, so each bite of the entire blizzard had something to enjoy.

Going to go out on a limb here and declare that this is my favorite Blizzard of the Month that DQ has ever had. Previous peanut butter limited time offerings were too one-noted; all peanut butter and lackluster in the plain bites. Also, something should be said for eating 380 calories here guilt free because the weather has me feeling like bathing suit season is light-years away.

Want to take a chomp out of your Seasonal Affective Disorder? Go get yourself one of these Blizzards while they’re still available.

Monday, June 5, 2017

New: Reese's Stuffed with Crunchy Cookies

That Summer in high school that I spent taking Driver’s Ed at 8am, the three hours I spent watching the movie “La La Land” and that time that I finally found Reese’s Crunchy Cookie Big Cups and accidentally left them locked overnight in a hot car; all of these instances have something in common and that something is BAD. You can only imagine how delighted I was on an overnight trip to Philadelphia to walk into a Wawa and after weeks for searching my local CVS laying my eyes on these big orange cups. Reese’s is my “go to” confectionary of choice and while they do say that you can’t mess with perfections, I am even more in love with the cups with the Reese’s Pieces inside of them, so my mind was as open as my mouth about these new ones.  

Getting back into the car the day after my purchase, the cups were melted beyond repair and blogging about them would have been as successful as posting a review about the types of dog poop that my condo neighbors never pick up by my car so I waited and I waited and waited. A few weeks later I was down at the shore with my family on a trip that largely revolves around which one of us frequents the local Wawa more (the Champ is here) and I wasn’t going to let the opportunity pass me by yet again.

To be sure, these limited edition cups come in both the regular size as well as the King Sized packaging and since I am known in dessert circles far and wide as the Dessert King, then I wasn’t going to settle on that small sh!t. The cups are described as your traditional Reeses with the addition of “bits of crunchy chocolate cookie”. When I first heard of these a couple of months ago, I let my mind believe what it wanted to and thought it would be actual cookie DOUGH bits and that would have been best case scenario. Allowing my reading comprehension to catch up with my dessert fantasies, I was a little less excited than from the jump.

Each package contains two cups and 380 calories which is pretty substantial for a dessert that I can’t imagine anybody would share or “save half for later”. I do believe that I read that the regular cups come in at about 200 calories for both cups but you’re getting less chocolate and less peanut butter and I am sure you’d be sorry for that alone.

Opening the packaging, I was immediately hit with the smell of rich and overly sweet peanut butter which is consistent with the traditional variety. I did quite enjoy the look of these as even upon first glance, you can see the cookie pieces flirting with the top layer of chocolate letting you know that you’re in for something special.

The sides of the peanut butter cup were sturdy and rich and while the cup was melty from the weather alone, the texture of the chocolate on the edges was still quite nice. The cookie pieces were abundant and provided a real enhancement to the overall texture experience. For me, I couldn’t detect any additional chocolate flavor from the cookies beyond the outside of the chocolate but I did however notice that these were sweeter than the regular variety in a way that was more positive than negative.

To be frank, I was one margarita and two red wines deep when I ate them but I do remember saying these would be my new obsession and committing to eat these as often as possible. Being sober now, I truly enjoyed them just maybe not as much as I love the Reeses Pieces Filled King Cups because the more Reeses products in one sitting, the better by my standards.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Finally an Excuse to Have Cookies for Breakfast: Waffle & Syrup Oreos

Pancakes or waffles? That is that the age old question a girl can find herself wondering on any given Sunday morning. For me personally, I always go for pancakes. It’s simple in the sense that people are expected to get a waffle as their meal, but when you order yourself up a short stack - it usually comes with eggs, bacon and if the place is really good, then a heaping pile of hash browns too. We’re all striving for that balanced diet right? Waffle fans, before you hit me with your piping hot griddles, trust me that I understand the appeal of a warm and fresh hot waffle, so I was exceptionally curious when I heard that the folks at Nabisco were coming out with a Waffles & Syrup flavored Oreo. Many of their recent flavors (Pop Rocks anyone) haven’t really called out to my taste buds, but this breakfast oriented edition was something that I had to try.

Not so fun fact about these? These cookies are only sold at certain stores (Safeway, Vons, ACME) so if you want them you’d best look online to see where you can get them. For the right cookie, I would drive across state lines but for this, it was as simple as ask and receive. I sit in a cubicle with a man who spends as much time thinking about dessert as I do, so it was a real highlight to walk to my desk Monday morning and to find the bag waiting for me after having mentioned them as soon as I’d read about them.

You can see that the packaging is nothing special. The waffles in the picture look like Eggos (love them) so I had very high hopes about how “waffley” these were going to taste. Upon opening up the package, I was immediately hit with the maple syrup scent. For people who aren’t about it, it actually may have been too much but I just salivated thinking about how harmonious this would be once I got the waffle taste into my mouth. These cookies looked as vanilla as hell and while normally that wouldn’t be my thing, I just reminded myself that these aren’t vanilla cookies, these discs from Heaven are breakfast.

Upon first bite, I was immediately reminded of the Golden Oreo, which was no shock considering that they looked identical. The maple syrup taste was super pleasant and the cookie was flirting with being too sweet in a way that no real Cookie-o-holic minds. Still, my taste buds were baffled. Where was the waffle? 

And even after pulling apart the Oreo and tasting the “crème” separately I honestly don’t know the answer to that. The center of the “crème” was maple flavored, but the waffle wasn’t present whatsoever. That said, these cookies were exceptionally good as they were, so I tried to keep my dissapointment at bay.

As mentioned, I am not the only person invested in this bag of cookies and since every story has two sides, let's take a moment to hear another opinion here. Upon discussing, there were only so many things one could write about an Oreo so instead please enjoy this short but thoughtful poem:

waffles, how I love your golden fluff
soaked with syrup-y goodness and ready to eat
this is a meal with all the right stuff
now available in an oreo treat

oreo oreo, how I love you
if only my heart knew how to chew
for now your taste my tongue will savor
all of your delicious maple flavor

golden cookie with a hint of graham
in my mouth four or five I will cram
frosting maple center, oh it does deliver
no other cookie to even consider

I won't leave behind even a crumb
to do so would really be dumb
this cookie certainly fills a need
of this truth I do concede

In closing, Nabisco - If you had called them Maple Syrup Limited Edition Oreos, then I would give them a 10 out of 10. Like with anything in life if you manage your expectations, you’ll really enjoy these cookies and you might just be able to justify eating these cookies prior to 11AM like we did. These are worth a try, just be sure to bring the eggs, the bacon and a heaping pile of hash browns when you do. 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Ben and Jerry's Pint Slices: The Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Parking Lot Edition

Last year, Norwalk, CT rebranded the city as “The Sound of Connecticut”. Being a resident and homeowner there myself, I thought that this was an interesting choice. Personally, I’d always considered the area the bastard step-sibling to Stamford, where you can buy the same property at a discount, pay fewer taxes and where the only sounds you’ll be hearing are trains passing through and police sirens. The more I learn about Stamford now, the more I realize they’re relatively equal in safety, if not in traffic and commuting times, so when I spent my last Friday night sitting in my car at the Main Ave, Norwalk Stop & Shop with my accomplice - like two secret eaters leaving a Weight Watchers meeting, I figured that my type of loitering was more innocent than most in the area.

If you’ve ever read my blog in the past then you would be familiar with the statistic that about 40% of what I review about is Ben & Jerry’s. As pints go, these are my favorites; full butter fat, full of flavor and not to mention an excuse to have candy AND ice cream for dessert. At first, when I heard of Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Pint Slices I was all about it. Described by the manufacturer as “3 Vanilla Ice Cream Bars with Gobs of Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough and Fudge Flakes, Covered in a Dark Chocolatey Coating”, I was thinking “Sign me up,” but when I held the packaging in my hand, I’d realized that having a pint slice is not the same as having a pint, with or without “Dark Chocolatey Coating”.

Trying to keep my girlish figure, maybe I avoid eating the entire pint in one sitting but I most certainly don’t shy away from getting down at LEAST half of one. Portion control is a beautiful idea for those who are interested, but if that’s the concern here then why have ice cream to start anyway? Each bar has 290 calories, which I consider to be totally reasonable or lacking for anything as premium as Ben and Jerry’s.

It only made sense that for this taste test, that I brought along the man who I have seen order chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream at countless ice cream establishments across the globe. It may seem strange for two grown adults to sit in a dark parked car on a Friday night with a trunk filled with groceries eating limited time ice cream sandwiches, but social norms be damned.

First thing first, the packaging was beautiful. The colors were super vibrant and fresh looking and the ice cream bars came wrapped in both plastic as well as placed in a box to avoid any breakage. The ice cream disk itself was completely round and didn’t quite lend itself to seamlessly being eaten out of the packaging as the widest part on mine got stuck in the wrapper, requiring excess force – which you can imagine is less than ideal for eating inside of a car with tan leather.

To be fair, you can’t eat the packaging, so getting to the real heart of the issue here upon first bite I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of flavor in the chocolate coating. It’s not overly sweet and heavy on the cocoa side. It wasn’t until writing this blog post did I realize that the chocolate was of the dark variety, but I loved it regardless. For anyone with weak teeth or dentures, you may need to let the puck defrost for a bit before starting the whole eating endeavor. As a woman who doesn’t absolutely love vanilla ice cream, this coating abated any issues with being bored with the flavor whatsoever.

The ice cream itself was pretty standard for Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, which is to say it was good and probably does not require much further explanation for anyone living in America. Unlike what I am used to in the pints however, it should be noted that the distribution of gobs of cookie dough within the “Slice” was relatively uneven. Some bites were filled of nothing more than cookie dough, which was a great time but others left me heavily relying on the coating to carry me through. One thing worth noting is that unless you have a car with dark interior or somebody at home who does your laundry, it may be more of an item to eat outside at a BBQ rather than inside of your car as it was a particularly messy ordeal, however worth it that each bite was.

Tim, a chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream aficionado said that he didn’t particularly love this dessert because it was too chocolatey for him. His ice cream bar had an even greater issue with uneven distribution of cookie dough and while he did give it a 4.5 or 5 out of 10, he did also say that he would still likely eat this again.

With the price point of three bars being similar to that of one pint, I would definitely buy this again. Rumor has it that there’s even a peanut butter cup edition somewhere out there. Thumbs up for the novelty and for giving even non-degenerates an excuse to lurk in an unlit parking lot from time to time.