Damn, I ate well this last year. And apparently so often, I've had to scroll through of a year's worth of photographs to unearth some gems deserving the spot-light. The photos reminded me that the best of what I cooked at home was created with fresh-picked vegetables from Sport Hill Farm in Easton, three miles down the road from my house. Likewise, of the many restaurants I checked out last year, the most memorable dishes were created by chefs who use seasonal and local ingredients. I'm very grateful to the farmers, chefs, cooks and restaurateurs.
Appetizer: Spears of cayenne-dusted pineapple, melon and jicama at the fun, friendly and lively Mexican "beach shack" Tacuba in Branford.
Crab Cakes: Light, yet rich with sweet crab, the panko-coated crab cakes at the intimate, homey Estia's American in Darien are served with a zippy slaw.
Craft Beers: Good lists and knowledgeable bartenders and servers at Bar Q in Stamford and Plan B in Stamford.
Dessert: Passion fruit panna cotta with fresh strawberries and mint, Harlan Social. Pecan tart, Redding Roadhouse, West Redding. Summer peach and rhubarb cobbler, eleven14 kitchen, Greenwich. And any cake from Chocopologie.
Fish: The sustainable hake with sunchokes, greens, brown butter and red wine reduction at the The Dressing Room, Westport. The daily fish-and-greens special in the Redding Roadhouse dining room, W. Redding.
Eating at the bar: Pheasant sausage over rainbow chard at Caseus in New Haven.
Gnocchi: Pan-fried potato gnocchi with mushrooms, asparagus, and green beans at Harlan Social in Stamford.
Luncheon: That's the word they use at Bernard's Author Luncheon Series in Ridgefield, where for $25 I was entertained by an author and had an excellent three-course lunch of velvety asparagus soup with roasted corn and leek flan, skate Grenobloise with basmati rice and baby bok choy, and dessert.
Mexican: Topanga enchiladas filled with chopped, sautéed pork, topped with spicy adobo sauce and cheese served over Spanish rice at La Poblanita in Bridgeport. Major bang for the buck, too.
A cup of the pork and green chile pozole (hominy-based stew) and the fish tacos at Estia's American in Darien.
Middle Eastern: Vegetarian chopped liver showered with caramelized onions at Tabouli Grill in Stamford and Southport.
Octopus: Braised octopus, glistening in olive oil and lemon, tossed with potatoes and celery and served over smoky eggplant puree at Harlan Social.
Oysters: Beacon-style oysters, warm, juicy and buttery with shaved shallots and thyme at the Dressing Room, Westport.
Scallops: Caramelized scallops with grilled figs, crispy prosciutto, balsamic and mascarpone at Café Routier, Westbrook.
Salmon: House-smoked salmon carpaccio with lemon aioli, baby arugula and shaved fennel at Morello Bistro in Greenwich.
Duck confit: Cooked low and slow, Chef Wirt's duck confit is moist, tender, well-seasoned, and luscious with fatty, crunchy skin. Served over a seasonal salad at the Redding Roadhouse, W. Redding.
Salad: An elegantly deconstructed green goddess salad at homey Estia's American in Darien. Avocado, romaine hearts, sprouts and radish fan out around a collar of cucumber holding a jumble of romaine, green beans and peas, tossed in creamy herb dressing.
Crunchy and limey raw artichoke and avocado salad in lime vinagrette at eleven14 kitchen at the J-house hotel in Riverside.
Sushi: Kotobuki in Stamford for Masa Sato's traditional, refined sushi. For flair, entertainment, and bright, clean flavors, sit yourself before Jason Tay at Miso in New Haven.
Thai: Sadly, I have not had any exceptional Thai food in Fairfield County. But I've found the answer to my prayers at Sripraphai in Woodside, Queens, N.Y. It's worth the journey for an extensive menu (many dishes you can't get anywhere else) filled with the sour, sweet, spicy flavors that remind you of how good Thai food was before it became bastardized.
Tamales: Bountiful Southwestern-style tamales loaded with toppings like house-smoked buffalo brisket in red sauce, or shrimp with corn and cheese and smoked chili sauce, or "three sisters" corn, bean and squash with cheese and green hatch chile sauce at Geronimo in New Haven.
Tequilla: Spicy blood orange margarita at Geronimo, and anything the bartender and you decide on at bartaco in West Hartford or Stamford.
Trends: A few I'd like to see the end of: short ribs served off the bone, using a microwave to heat up tapas, and truffle oil drizzled where it isn't needed, which in my book is everywhere.
Turkish: Warm hummus with beef pastrami. Adana kebab – juicy, grilled minced lamb seasoned with red pepper, garlic and herbs. Cucumber and yogurt made with tangy homemade yogurt. Eren's Grill is a new find tucked in a small strip mall in the Tunxis Hill section of Fairfield.
Room: With its monumental murals of tulips and hybicus, warm, muted palette and sense of luxurious simplicity, Artisan makes me feel good. Lunch during Fairfield Restaurant Week was wonderful. Details lost because I was off-duty and not taking photos. The service was excellent, too, despite the room being packed. And great people-watching.
Wings: Smoked Connecticut buffalo Wings with caveman blue sauce at the Dressing Room, Westport. Sesame-hoisin jumbo smoked wings at Dinosaur in Stamford.