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Sep 10, 2009 07:05 PM

New Canaan Eater Searching for the Best Meals

Moved up here to NC from NYC, where we lived for the past 10 years. After eating very well in the city, we were pleasantly surprised with some of the spots we've found here. Need to give a hat tip to "jfood" and other hounds who have given us some pointers. Wanted to give something back to the board by sharing some of our experiences within the last month (chronological order, dinner for 2 after tip):

Ching's Table-Having lived near Shun Lee on the UWS for years, we are absolutely ruined for Chinese food. We started out our NC eating tour at a Chinese place to gauge just how big the culinary adjustment might be. We quickly figured out that Ching's was more pan-asian than anything else. We started out with the calamari salad, which was excellent and reminiscent of the fried calamari salad served at the Continental during our Philly years. We moved on to the pad thai and wok duck, neither of which were terribly interesting. With a beer I believe the bill came to $90. Probably won't be back for a bit. If anyone can suggest a pure Chinese place, please let us know!

Sole-We walked into Chef Luis but they were booked, so we went next door to Sole and I'm glad we did. I can recommend the wood-oven roasted chicken entree as one of the better chickens you'll eat, served over mashed potatoes with gravy and greens. Perfection. Also the deserts we had on two separate trips, panna cotta and tiramisu, were excellent. It's rare to get a tiramisu made with such generous mascarpone. If anyone finds out the calorie count...do not tell me! Around $100 with a couple of glasses of wine, and well worth it. One of our favorites so far.

Chef Luis-After getting bounced the last time, we booked ahead. Truth be told, we did not really have a great meal there. The scallops entree was the best thing we ate, with the rest being lackluster, and at a price of over $100 with no booze, we're gonna pass for a while. In defense of the place, they were again doing a big business, and people were coming in for takeout. I'll also say that it is BYOB, but we didn't know it. Maybe we were grouchy with no wine, or maybe some of the other reviewers were a little tipsy...

Bonne Nuit-A classic bistro with well-executed plates. The best thing we had was actually the escargot appetizer, topped with a garlic rouille. The other dishes, both fish, were solid though we did not spring for the dover sole. Molten chocolate desert was also good. With a couple drinks the bill came to around $130, making it the most expensive place we visited. You feel like you're getting nice quality though, and hopefully we can work on our ordering here. Suggestions appreciated.

Harvest Supper-Probably our favorite all around spot so far. Every dish we had there was excellent: roasted beet salad with whipped blue cheese, poached egg over asparagus and mushrooms (divine), bucatini bolognese (the best dish per dollar in NC at $21?), and the duck breast. At $120 all in, easily the best bang for the buck so far, and probably the most skilled execution to boot.

Any advice always appreciated. And if anyone seems to care about this thread, I'll post about the lunch places next.

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  1. I second the raves about harvest supper and bonne nuit. both are standouts, not just in new canaan, but would hold up well versus other areas as well. i'm a huge seller of ching's table. i just think it's nothing special and it's expensive and they are rude. i do like sushi 25 (same owners) however. their sushi is ok, but i actually like the chinese food they have there. it's not real chinese and it's not NY, but it 10/plate and they have decent hot and sour.
    try the schoolhouse one of these nights. defintely a higher price point, but well worth it and a fantastic ambience and sevice.

    1. The original comment has been removed
      1. NC Eater - Authentic chinese food in these parts is difficult to find. Most restaurants offer bland suburban facsimilies with near carbon copy menu items from restaurant to restaurant. Such is the way with the Alan Lee empire, of which Chings is part of. Most of Lee's outposts (and there are many in this area) stick to the same formula that has made him successful. I'm not a fan but others are. Of late, there have been reports of wild swings in quality across his chain (for example wild ginger dumpling house in darien is awful, food and service wise) and even hygiene/healthboard problems (wild ginger in ridgefield was shut down for kitchen violations recently).

        There is a reasonably decent szcheuan place up the i95 near Milford called Lao Sze Shuan, which I have eaten in and enjoyed. Probably the nearest you'll get to NYC quality chinese. Other than that, Flushing ain't too far away...

        1. re: Scotty100

          I just had lunch at Lao Sze Chuan (exit 39 off I-95 in Milford) and really enjoyed it-the $6.00 lunch special offered a generous entree portion, tasty hot'n'sour soup, & a crispy, fresh spring roll. I also ordered fried shrimp dumplings & was surprised-it was filled primarily w/ HUGE chunks of fresh shrimp! Several Chinese patrons were also enjoying lunch. The main menu goes well above and beyond typical Chinese fare-and prices are amazingly reasonable. If I lived in Milford I would eat my way through the menu a la Julie and Julia. But I will definitely return to try some of the delicious sounding Chef's Signature Dishes and other unique menu items.

      2. If you like Indian (maybe even if you don't) give thali a try. Since you liked the duck at harvest, you might like thali's version (if it's still on the menu).

        1. Thanks for the feedback here.

          I followed up on the advice from LW1 and booked the Schoolhouse for dinner. They run a special menu on Thursday where you get 4 courses for $40, and I figured that would be a good way to test the place. However I did not make it as my wife went into labor the night before (we had a girl!). The menu looked good though and we'll get there for sure.

          I appreciate the tip but Milford seems real far to travel for Chinese, not that I'm above a culinary trip. I'm hoping someone has some as yet undiscovered Chinese picks. I will certainly try Scotty's tip at Sushi 25, speaking of which, what do folks like for sushi around here?

          Lunchwise, so far I've tried Forest Street Deli, Made It Myself, Garelick and Herbs, Rosie, and Le Pain Quotidien. The first two seem to be pretty much Boar's Head oriented (correct me if wrong), while Garelick was slightly more gourmet at a touch higher pricepoint. By far my favorites are Rosie and Le Pain Quotidien. At LPQ I go with the chicken arugula baguette (great bread, $8 or so) and the cobb salad is a winner. At Rosie I found a lot to like. Breakast items like poppy-blackberry and apple-carrot muffins are great, in addition to a serviceable huevos rancheros. For sandwiches, I really liked the italian, about $10 and worth it, but I needed to ask for hot peppers. I also had good chicken and mozz for a little less, and I special ordered a chicken salad with LT on a kaiser roll, a good deal at $8.50. The thing that distinguished Rosie and LPQ were higher quality ingredients and wonderful bread. Worth the extra buck in my book.

          We covered some of the finer dining earlier, can anyone give some advice on more midrange places, good burgers, mexican, etc.?

          34 Replies
          1. re: nc_eater

            BTW, the chickent fingers at Rosie's are excellent. not kidding. For good burgers and hot dogs, try swanky frank's in stamford on rt 1. very good and cheap. Cherry Street East in New Canaan is not bad for burgers and beers.

            1. re: LW1

              Swanky's is in Norwalk...also a branch in Westport that's about to be challenged by the arrival of Five Guys.

            2. re: nc_eater

              Decent burgers, wings at Cherry Street. Good, simple food (salads, burgers, sandwiches, wraps) at Fifty Coins, definitely midrange...for quality and price...but we like it. Excellent pizza across the street at Joe's. I like the pizzette and crostini at the newly-opened Rocco's, though most others pan it, at least on Chowhound.

              Tony's Deli is a little off the beaten path, across the street from Zumbach's but if you can make your way there they have excellent chicken parm wedges, Italian heroes, tuna melts, chicken salad, soup, etc. The guys in there are really nice too.

              Good margaritas at Tequila Mockingbird, but you have to travel to Stamford to find decent "authentic" Mexican food. Passable Americanized version at Ole Mole in Darien.

              1. re: CTburgerlover

                rios in norwalk for mexican. 2 for 1 dinners m-t-w if you have a coupon.

                1. re: CTburgerlover

                  Events conspired to place me in front of Tony's Deli today. I remembered your post and grabbed a chicken parm, which was excellent. The wedge roll was standard, the chicken was tender and great. Good rec. Also Tony introduced himself which was nice. Will be back for more.

                  1. re: nc_eater

                    Go across the street to Zumbachs in the morning for the best cup of coffee at a reasonable price. It will make you forget about DD and Starby's downtown.

                    1. re: jfood

                      Does Zumbach's do any (real), breakfast or just coffee?
                      (I'm coming to jfood land)

                      1. re: Scargod

                        Just grab a Bacon Egg & Cheese at Tony's Deli across the street...

                          1. re: jfood

                            I'm looking for a REAL breakfast place. Not a sandwich or pastry and coffee. I don't want to "grab" breakfast. I would like to find something close to 15 that serves full breakfasts. Doesn't need to be New Canaan or Darien. The Lakeside Diner might be an option.
                            We had lunch at Sole and had a decent meal. Nothing too fancy, but everything was done pretty well. A little noisy. We first had gone into Le Pain Quotidien and it was extremely noisy, and I didn't see a single person drinking wine, so we left.

                            1. re: Scargod

                              REAL breakfast options are somewhat limited in NC. Gates on Forest St has eggs, omelettes and, as you requested, booze. Rosies is another choice, but limited seating and no booze. Other than Lakeside in Stamford you have Rye Ridge Deli. Jfood is by no means recommending RRD but it is full service.

                              1. re: jfood

                                Not together!! Hmm, what wine goes good with eggs, grits and biscuits with sausage gravy?
                                Even I don't start drinking till noon... We were in NC at 1PM, looking for lunch and I had singled out Le Pain Quotidien as an interesting looking place.
                                Le Pain Quotidien's website says beer and wine, but it's not listed specifically under "beverages", and as I said, there was nobody drinking any wine.
                                All the places I researched for NC (as a future reference), have froo-froo breakfasts with only soft-boiled eggs and granola!

                                1. re: Scargod

                                  The last wine jfood had with eggs, et. al. was Boone's Farm so let's not go there.

                                  If you are looking for these choices, then NC is probably not the place wou and Passa were used to on your adventure. Sorry.

                                  But to characterize the choices in town as froo froo is not true. Rosies has great breatfast and does have Tex-Mex choices, although $>12 price tag may not fit your linear program.

                                  1. re: jfood

                                    Rosie's would work. Nothing wrong with huevos rancheros.
                                    I just looked at a number of places and poached eggs was all they had besides perhaps a fancy omelet or waffles. I misspoke when I said "soft-boiled".
                                    Money is not an object. Just that a "down home", working man's breakfast is hard to come by in many places in CT.
                                    I find NC fascinating. I've never been there before yesterday. We parked next to a Porsche 997 Turbo. Those are rare in a public lot.

                                    1. re: Scargod

                                      Enjoy our small town. And you may see Ralph Lauren wandering around as well since he checks his two stores in town most Sunday mornings. Obviously he drives a pretty nice car, usually a Porche or Ferrari.

                                      Rosies also has great carrot and coconut cakes.

                                2. re: jfood

                                  well done everything bagel with scallion cream cheese and smoked sturgeon from rye ridge....delish...almost as good as russ & daughters in the city!

                                  1. re: mcllmlathd

                                    Mcllmlathd, your comment surprises, but may be the clue to why the place stays in business. It must have a following and it's terrific that some folks are pleased. I've always supspected it was just a lack of competition. More about that at the end.

                                    While I agree that Russ and Daughters is top notch, personally, Rye Ridge Delis, both in Stamford and Rye Brook, have always dissapointed and I am reluctant to give them another try. I was initially attracted by the H&H sign in the window, but when I got my sesame seeded home, it was stale ... like it had been shipped up from the city the day before. (They should just order them from their neighbor Lenny in RB who does a pretty good bagel, though they aren't H&H or even Liz Sue.)

                                    For me, Rye Ridge slices their smoked fish way too thick .. and their dull blades actually tore some nova rather than sliced it. I think Multi-layered, wafer thin slices maximize flavor, bouquet, and mouth appeal. I don't think teeth should tear the delicate flesh either and the thicker the slice, the more likely that is to happen.

                                    Their matzo ball soup is tasteless, the broth flavored water. The matzo brie not as bad, but that's hard to screw up.

                                    Sadly, I find FFD a deli wasteland... and that includes Westport. A legacy from the old Gentleman's Agreement era?

                                    1. re: louuuuu

                                      It is sad for jfood to constantly look at weekends without bagels and deli and he agrees with your assessment of a deli wasteland. The jfoods broke fast last week with some dear friends in NJ and the wife mentioned that she needed to drive 15 minutes to Livingston Bagel to buy the bagels, fish, etc. since it was the closest place to her that she liked.

                                      Jfood commented that Livingston Bagel was the closest place he liked as well and it is an hour drive. Although Westchester has some good places, FFD county is blech on these items.

                                      1. re: jfood

                                        Jfood, you HAVE to hit Quaker Ridge Bagels and Bialys in New Rochelle. It's a small hike from New Canaan, you can get there in 25 minutes...it's just off the Hutch. I guarantee the bagels will still be hot, the paper bag all but disintegrated from the steam by the time you make it back home. Excellent whitefish salad and nova prepped by folks who know what they're doing. Do it once, and please report back.

                                        1. re: CTburgerlover

                                          do you know off hand what time it opens since jfood catches a VERY early flight at LGA on Mondays and he goes down the Hutch. If not jfood can give them a call.

                                          1. re: jfood

                                            They open at 7am.

                                            41 Quaker Ridge Rd
                                            New Rochelle, NY 10804-2807
                                            (914) 576-1411

                                            1. re: CTburgerlover

                                              Thanks CT. Jfood usually hit new rock <6am. gotta think of a plan B

                                      2. re: louuuuu

                                        lou...I guess you have to picky...I try to hand select bagels that I know are fresh and well done looking, and I am always insistant that the sturgeon and lox are sliced paper thin, I ask to see it as well when they are done slicing...I used to stop at H&H on the west side highway on my way home to grab bagels for the weekend but I'm not always in the city anymore so I get bagels and Matzah ball soup from Golds as well...If I'm lucky my mother will make some Matzah balls...I like the bagels at Oscars as well...You are all correct that the delis do not compare to the city but if you are picky and form a relationship with the ladies and gentleman behind the counters they will help you out!

                                        As for breakfast food in the area, the post road diner, sherwood diner, and home on the range are the best places to go!!!

                                        p.s. crumbs cupcakes are really crumby...ha...sorry!

                                    2. re: jfood

                                      The soon-to-be-opened New Canaan Diner, which takes over the previous Lou's Kitchen and Christian Science Reading Room spots on Forest St. will probably have excellent b'fast. Owned and operated by the same folks who run Post Road Diner in Norwalk, it looks like it's nearing completion. I'd guess some time early November.

                                      1. re: CTburgerlover

                                        Let's hope so. Unfortunately New Canaan has not had a lot of luck with satellite locations from other towns' hits. The place before 50 coins, and now 50 coins, crumbs, roccos.

                                        Granted we have been lucky with Harvest Supper, but let's wait and see.

                                        1. re: jfood

                                          I know I'm in the minority here (as I am about the other places you mention above), but I actually really like Crumbs in NC. The kids working there are great, and I have to say they cupcakes I've had there have been almost 100% awesome. Try the Chunky Monkey, Twinkie, and Half-Baked cupcakes.

                                  2. re: jfood

                                    I've been hitting Tony's to order a "Mississippi" which is a bacon egg and cheese with french fries in it, get my coffee across the way, and return to pick it up. All good.

                                    Also, used to frequent the Crumbs in NYC. Check out the apple cake!! (sold by the slice)

                                    Regarding "real breakfast", as far as I can tell Rosie is your best bet. Great baked goods and hot breakfast items, fresh juice, and (limited) seating.

                                    1. re: nc_eater

                                      Rosie Cafe will certainly work. Tuesday-Sat: 8:30-5:30, Sunday: 9-3.
                                      Certainly not workman's hours! Have to come back later after you've put in a few hours. :~)
                                      Funny, they don't offer any version of Eggs Benedict.
                                      Their website is sucky AFAIAC. Kept trying to click on the breakfast menu to no avail and then found it down at the bottom as "cafe menu". http://rosienewcanaan.com/rosiemenu.pdf

                          2. re: nc_eater

                            For sushi, try Matsuri in Darien. It sometimes gets dinged on these boards for being "nouvelle", and not "authentic," but the quality of the fish is exceptional, and the cuts generous, particularly if you tend to sashimi.

                            For a more authentic sushi experience, I've seen recos for a place in downtown Stamford that gets good ink (Kiku, I think), and the place in SONO, Kazu is often spoken highly of as well

                            1. re: nc_eater


                              Welcome to town. jfood is glad to help. Here are some answers to some of your questions and other suggestions.

                              Ching's - the szechuan dumplings are the items jfood really likes there and no need to sit and get rushed, just do a take-out. He agrees with others who like Sushi 25 better.

                              Hot Dogs - You have the recommendations for Swanky Franks in Norwalk and Westport. Same name but different owners who are battling it out in court on who gets to keep the name. The Westport location is a little more upscale. Jfood likes Super Duper Wienie in Fairfield better. It's just off exit 24 from 95. A sleeper is the hot dog cart on Main St in Ridgefield across from CVS. Second generation Hot Dog vendor.

                              Hamburgers - In town you have Cherry Street East for a pretty good one. Others like Burger Bar in SONO.

                              Mexican - Check out Adamclyde's reviews. He is the authority for Mexican up here. He'll guide you to the Big Yellow Truck in Stamford and some places in Portchester, but he is the master of Mexican.

                              Mid-priced - Jfood wanders to SONO and likes Barcelona. A few Tapas and you have a great meal. He really likes the Steak Paillard and the Mushrooms with Goat Cheese.

                              Pasta - In town you have Aloi as well. She makes an outstanding Bolognese which should not be missed and try sitting outside before the weather changes. You may change your mind on who has the best Bolognese. Go to Restaurant.com and buy a $25 coupon for your first visit. For decent Italian in the mid-priced range, go up 123 into Vista and try Nino's. It is on Northbound side just past the strip mall with Greenwich Produce (which ahs the best produce in the area) and Word of Mouth (which has the only edible bagels in the area).

                              Pizza - What, you don't like pizza? Only kidding. Joe's Pizza behind the Fire House is jfood's favorite.

                              Gelatto - Please try Gellatissimo up the street from BBN. Fantastic place.

                              Jfood would also recommend Thali. It is a good place for a group of people to go for some good Indian. And they cook it for an American palate, even the Vindaloo is not that spicy.

                              Off the beaten path you also have The Best Wurst - The couple who owns it are sweethearts and they do have really good wursts.

                              There have also been some good feedback on the Roger Sherman Inn but the prices are pretty steep. New owners over the past 6 months. Jfood has no direct experience.

                              But with your hitting BBN, HS, Sole, CL and the sandwich shops (agree with your assessment) you are well on your way to being a regular in town.

                              1. re: nc_eater

                                have you eaten at mead park yet? its seasonal so there are only a few weeks left. lot of locals, cops, workers and many young families. nice atmosphere of outdoor dining.

                                1. re: poppy

                                  Emad, who runs the Mead Park eatery, is a great guy who used to run the deli at Stewart's Market. He knows his stuff, and does a great job of making the place more than just a concession.

                                  1. re: CTburgerlover

                                    agreed. the food at mead park is some of the best outdoor food you can get.

                                    1. re: CTburgerlover

                                      mrs jfood grabs a quick meal there often after tennis or just playing with her friends. jfood always gets great feedback from her.

                                2. The original comment has been removed
                                  1. i actually had a very nice meal on the porch at Roger Sherman a couple of months ago. the new chef/kitchen has done wonders to update the menu and bring some very tasty things to the table. it does get pricey but it's a nice alternative.