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South Norwalk, CT


Chef Shogun
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When I was growing up in Norwalk, South Norwalk (SoNo) always had a few restaurants and sleezy-looking bars and things, but all the sudden now it's starting to be developed (Ok, in the last several years, but I moved away!) and has a lot of interesting-looking things going on. Anybody ever been anywhere in that area? A search of the forum didn't turn up much. I've been to Donovans and The Rattlesnake Cafe with the family a couple of times, and liked Caffiene, but it's too expensive now that my sister doesn't work there anymore!

I'm heading home for the holidays (right after this!)...what should I add to the list after Angela Mia and Super Duper Weenie?

Matt Robinson

Prep for dinner service, prep for life! A Blog

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Lots of good places in and around South Norwalk. Best in order of preference:

Meigas (Spanish) (in Downtown Norwalk)

Pasta Nostra (italian)

Kazu (japanese)

Relish (american/eclectic)

Habana (cuban/latino)

Barcelona (spanish tapas)

"These pretzels are making me thirsty." --Kramer

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I had dinner at Match in SoNo last night which was great (as usual)

Relish hit the scene this year with a bang but each time I go there the food seems to lack focus and if you go and the chef is not present it can be hit or miss. Donovans is still the best burger in Fairfield county and Meigas is IMHO the best restaurant inCT. Right across the street from Meigas is the Fat Cat pie co. which is owned by the same folks that own Fountain Head wines. Pizza, salad and cheeses from the Darien Cheese Shop. Interesting wine list which is priced great also.

If you don't eat your meat, you can't have any pudding. How could you have any pudding if you don't eat your meat!??

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Mecca, Spanish in Norwalk. (I suspect this should be moved to start a new thread).

Meigas gets the press - and big press it is. It has the kinda hip small dishes that everyone loves. The setting is beautiful. The service is terrific. Meigas has been our special occasion restaurant of choice (okay - along with Southport's Paci) for a few years now, but it has now been definitively surpassed by Mecca in the most important category of all, food.

(At the risk of sounding like a publicist, which I am not,...) Jaime Lopez was a partner in the group that owned Meson Galicia, now Meigas. I think he may have run their Wilton restaurant for a while. He struck out on his own with Mecca, first in Westport (so I am told) but in the current loc, around the corner from Meigas, for a few years.

Mecca is a modest, but perfectly fine location, with a small but efficient staff. As with Meigas, the wine list is a splendid representation of even the most obscure Spanish regions (though they really hit home runs with their choices from Rioja, Ribera, and Priorat).

The biggest difference in style between the two is Mecca's emphasis on one dish-style main courses, like stews (now is the season for the incomparable lamb stew), the duck confit, and the stunning seafood green risotto. Sure, you will (once in a while) find baby eels as an appetizer - Jaime can go that way if he wants. But this is (someone clarify what I'm saying here) Spanish style Bistro cuisine.

What I most love about the food at Mecca is the complexity of flavor - these are 'simple' dishes but there is a remarkable depth to them all.

In the last year, the most noticeable chance that I have found at Mecca is a greater emphasis on presentation. The food tastes as good as it always has, but now there is as much to please the eye as the palate, and attract the attention of those who, well, write the reviews.

I can't say enough about the place - the meals I have had are comparable to those I've had at The Frog and the Redneck in Richmond (now closed), Anise in Montreal, and St. John in London. At each of these, while expense may have been spared on location, decore, and in size of service staff, the food reflects a singular vision of a remarkable chef (and in the case of Mecca, one nicest people who will ever welcome you to a restaurant).

Don't get me wrong - I love Meigas. And I am hard pressed to think of a better place to go for Valentine's Day or New Years Eve. But for all of the "best Spanish restaurant in America" and "best restaurant in Connecticut" acclaim in the NYT, Esquire, and Wine Spectator, I have to laugh that it doesn't actually serve the best food in its own neighborhood! We've enjoyed every meal we've ever had at Miegas, but this year on the 31st, we'll be at Mecca.

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Thanks for the tip on Mecca. I've been a few times shortly after they opened, and while the food was good, nothing was memorable. Because of your post, I'll make a point to go back.

Also, not a big deal but I think you are incorrect about Jaime running the Wilton restaurant and being a partner in the group. I think you are thinking of Jose (I don't recall his last name) who ultimately bought the Wilton restaurant on his own after being a partner but ended up selling it to an outside party and moving back to Spain. I believe Jaime may have been one of the managers at Meigas prior to opening up Mecca.

"These pretzels are making me thirsty." --Kramer

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Neither was I particularly impressed with Miegas when I went about this time last year. It was fine, but didn't live up to its billing in the press.

I haven't been to SoNo in more than a year, but there used to be a small African place near the post office that I quite enjoyed (good peanut soup), and a Mediterranean/French spot (maybe it had Sol in the name?) on the same side of the street as Ocean Drive. These spots may be closed because I can't seem to find anything on Google.

Sorry I couldn't be more helpful.

Liz Johnson

Professional:

Food Editor, The Journal News and LoHud.com

Westchester, Rockland and Putnam: The Lower Hudson Valley.

Small Bites, a LoHud culinary blog

Personal:

Sour Cherry Farm.

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Thanks for the tip on Mecca. I've been a few times shortly after they opened, and while the food was good, nothing was memorable. Because of your post, I'll make a point to go back.

Also, not a big deal but I think you are incorrect about Jaime running the Wilton restaurant and being a partner in the group. I think you are thinking of Jose (I don't recall his last name) who ultimately bought the Wilton restaurant on his own after being a partner but ended up selling it to an outside party and moving back to Spain. I believe Jaime may have been one of the managers at Meigas prior to opening up Mecca.

I will stand corrected on the Wilton clarification - thanks! Give Mecca another try. I was faithfully going to Mecca for a year or two before I allowed myself to fall in a "is it just me or is this a truly remarkable place" frame of mind about the place.

Last year around this time, we went to Meigas and Mecca on consecutive nights (my birthday and NYE) and, with those visits, finally shifted to the Mecca camp. Not because of any flaw in the meal at Meigas - but simply because Mecca is that good. I suppose there is a sense of cheering for the underdog because Meigas is so "hot" right now, nonetheless...

Don't go expecting tiny dishes or a fancy-minimalist setting - take the place for what it is.

I should add that they will prepare a tasting menu, if you ask a few days in advance - we had that last Spring for a family event, and were completely pleased. But it isn't what will bring back time and again.

I apologize for the evangelical zeal, but while one great meal can represent a good place on a great night, well over a dozen (even twenty?) meals of breadth and consistency tell me that they are doing something right.

Meigas remains the 'bigger' dining experience, for the bells and whistles. But haul me back to the area after a year in some other culinary wasteland, and my first local meal will be at Mecca.

(Followed by the sometimes maligned Paci in Southport and Thali in New Canaan.)

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I had dinner at Mecca last week. While I do agree that it is good, I really don't think it's on the same level as Meigas. The biggest disapointment of the night was my wife sea scallops with "Spanish Style" pasta.. 5 overcooked scallops with fettucine in a tasteless tomato sauce. Every thing else we had though was quite good. I think Mecca offers a great price/quality ratio for the food. I really did not care for the wine list although they do carry some nice bottles. I think a $30 corkage fee is quite steep for a neighborhood restaurant in Norwalk.

If you don't eat your meat, you can't have any pudding. How could you have any pudding if you don't eat your meat!??

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I had dinner at Mecca last week. While I do agree that it is good, I really don't think it's on the same level as Meigas. The biggest disapointment of the night was my wife sea scallops with "Spanish Style" pasta..  5 overcooked scallops with fettucine in a tasteless tomato sauce.  Every thing else we had though was quite good. I think Mecca offers a great price/quality ratio for the food. I really did not care for the wine list although they do carry some nice bottles.  I think  a $30 corkage fee is quite steep for a neighborhood restaurant in Norwalk.

Sorry you didn't enjoy Mecca - though that wouldn't have been my first choice from the menu. While I stand by my comments re the wine list (noting their especially reasonably priced offerings), your comment leads to another local concern...

...Corkage in general. While I will defend Mecca (unless you are bringing a bottle of Pingus - in which case $30 is nothing - order from their list, I'd say), corkage in Connecticut is a huge hassle. What did you take - just curious? Did you call ahead?

But back to corkage... Carole Peck's Good News Cafe is one of our favorite places, but the wine list is pretty spare and they don't allow it at all. I wanted to bring a friend who is an Oregon winemaker (taking some of his wine) and they were absolutely firm in discouraging it. No BYO. The almost belligerent approach is especially disingenuous from a place which otherwise has a hug your farmer and kiss your pig (before you club it) approach to food. We still eat at GNC, but I remain annoyed, in a small corner of my heart.

Back to Mecca/Meigas - Meigas is wonderful. I LOVE Meigas. I thoroughly enjoy the tiny dishes. But I love the complexity of flavors in the bigger dishes at Mecca. In a way, I think that the food at Mecca is more difficult to do well, without the large staff that can crank out tiny distinct plates at Meigas. I'm not slamming Meigas, which is a splendid place, I'm just saying that I believe Mecca is better.

(And I seriously grooved on the baby eels. Where do you find those babies? I can't believe they are frozen, because they couldn't keep their form, being that small, could they? Can you cultivate 'em in a fishtank, like a home mushroon kit? I want to know!)

And, per Jeff, the price/quality ratio at Mecca is way beyond what you find elsewhere - and especially Meigas.

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Looking back on my meal at Mecca, aside from the scallop dish everything was very good, I think I'll go back soon to do a little more "research". Chris, the wines I brought were a 98' Fontodi Casa Via and a 97' Ferrari Carano Tresor. If you look at his list, their are many bottles that are marked up 3-4 times wholesale! That is a pet peeve of mine, just as the corkage which you mentioned. I wish I could find those little eels also .....how were they prepared?

If you don't eat your meat, you can't have any pudding. How could you have any pudding if you don't eat your meat!??

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Looking back on my meal at Mecca, aside from the scallop dish everything was very good, I think I'll go back soon to do a little more "research".  Chris, the wines I brought were a 98' Fontodi Casa Via and a 97' Ferrari Carano Tresor. If you look at his list, their are many bottles that are marked up 3-4 times wholesale! That is a pet peeve of mine, just as the corkage which you mentioned.  I wish I could find those little eels also .....how were they prepared?

(Firing this off so we aren't late for my birthday dinner at Mecca) :wink: ...

Whatcha bringing a bottle of Ferrari Carano to Mecca for? lol

The eels are sauteed, and here is my precise guestimate as to how they are made... in a small sautee pan, heat some olive oil until very, very hot, toss in some chopped garlic, just as it is toasted in the oil, throw in the baby eels, remove the pan from the heat and bring immediately to the table.

They are like a small dish of 2" angel hair pasta, you'd hardy notice that they are eels. Same texture as pasta, and you taste the garlic and oil, except... there is just the sublime essense of the sea, more in the aroma than anything else. Quite wonderful. Eat them fast while they're hot, before the rigor sets in (they firm up as they cool)! Alas the dish of, I don't know, a couple of hundred of these babies as an appetizer cost $69! Compared with main courses that top out at, what, $25 or $27? But I was glad I tried them once - ordered a couple of other times to share with friends.

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Happy Birthday my friend.......perhaps we could get a small egullet group get together one night for a drink or 2..I know we have a few locals wandering aroun here

Happy New Year!

If you don't eat your meat, you can't have any pudding. How could you have any pudding if you don't eat your meat!??

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Great idea re a Fairfield County gathering - count me in, Jeff.

Here's the 12/30 Mecca report...

We started with a couple of glasses of Cava. I ordered the 'Spanish Platter' appetizer - Serrano ham, Manchego cheese, sausage. Leslie had the always terrific pear salad. Both solidly mainstream Mecca dishes and very good.

We took Jaime's suggestion in ordering a Vina Irazi Rioja. I've had this wine before and do agree with you that the mark-up is a bit high - but the wine was terrific, booming nose, very fragrant, big, New World-style Rioja. I guess the way I look at it is "was it a good $65 restaurant wine?" and the answer is yes. Would I have been happier with a $30 to $35 wine from my basement (plus corkage) - probably not.

I had the pork roast in Medeira sauce, with braised greens, yams, and saffron rice. Not the most adventurous choice (I usually order from the specials, but had recently had the one I would have chosen, duck leg confit, scallops, and white beans - a great, hearty dish) but the nailed the pork and I couldn't have been happier with the preparation.

For dessert, I had the rice pudding (I always get the rice pudding - is there any better comfort food?). Leslie had the orange flan - while I never order flan as 'flan is flan' and I am not usually a fan, I must say that this was splendid. The zippiness of the orange elevated it above the 'mouthful of custard' quality that doesn't usually do it for me.

The meal was wrapped up with shots of green apple brandy brought to the table. I love the gesture and I really groove on the brandy - brought ice cold, it is the essense of green apple. You just want to keep your nose in the glass, because after the Cava and the wine, one sip is like getting clubbed on the back of the head.

But going back to Leslie's dinner... this may be the first sub-par dish I recall in probably twenty trips to Mecca. While I will not back away from my solid belief that this is a source of first class food, I have to say we were a bit disappointed. Leslie had ordered her (and our) old standby - the seafood green risotto. Unfortunately, the risotto was a bit soupy at the bottom of the bowl (okay - maybe it was liquid from the mussels, but we hadn't run into this before). More troubling was that the shrimp did not seem completely fresh. 12/29 they would have been fine, but 12/30 they were slightly shrimp-y. I've never run into that kind of thing at Mecca, and it would have to happen again before I started to worry. But that one dish did disappoint.

Nonetheless, the meal as a whole was a success. Great food (though we were rather pedestrian in our choices). And (referring to an earlier post that I made), prices top out at $24 for main courses). While I still consider Mecca a better restaurant (food for food's sake) than Meigas, I've never had a flawed dish at Meigas, so maybe the momentum is shifting the other way (but we are due for another trip to Meigas before we judge).

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  • 2 months later...

I agree that the latter part of this post should probably be moved to a Mecca only post. I just recently, as in I can still taste the coffee in my mouth, dined at Mecca.

I started the meal with the Roasted piquillo peppers. They came to the table beautifully presented with a small serving of lettuce with a fabulous dressing. The peppers had a nice roasting to them, and the filling was good, Very Good. Topped off with a sauce laced with saffron, I meandered through this dish slowly not wanting it to end. This entree forced me to expect great things from the main dish.

I sampled my SO's codfish croquets, and was equally delighted. The outside was perfectly crisp and fried, and the inside literally melted into my mouth. The flavor was superb. The alioli that it rested on was good, but I didn't think that it added too much to the dish. That's neglecting the fact that I could probably eat the croquettes all day long.

For my entree I ordered the Sweet breads with fig sauce. I was slightly dismayed when my plate showed up rather hot, and the sauce had developed a thin film. The sweetbreads were stacked on top of a layer of spinach, on top of a wonderfully soft rice cake. The sauce drizzled around the stack was a good level of sweetness, paired well with the sweetbreads. However, I wouldn't say the sauce was extra special, just a good fig sauce. My little Moo was breaded in nuts and was a good mix of crunchy and soft, if maybe sauteed a bit too long. A good main course with some flaws, but it was stacked up against the entree.

I also sampled my SO's Suquet of fish and shellfish. My SO liked it very much, but it didn't seem extra special to me. It was definitely full of some nice fresh fish and shellfish, but to me it was just a yummy seafood stew. Granted, I think this is what it was supposed to be.

C'est tout!

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My favorite place in Sono is most likely Relish. Simply mindblowingly good food--not overwrought or too high concept. The only thing that was lacking was the service (our waiter was pretty tanked).

Also, don't dismiss Match. I've heard a lot of people knocking it lately esp with the arrival of Relish, Meigas, Mecca, etc. The last meal I had there was a real eye-opener.

I have yet to try Meigas but I've heard nothing but amazing things about it.

Nothing to see here.

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I just recently, as in I can still taste the coffee in my mouth, dined at Mecca.

I started the meal with the Roasted piquillo peppers. They came to the table beautifully presented with a small serving of lettuce with a fabulous dressing. The peppers had a nice roasting to them, and the filling was good, Very Good. Topped off with a sauce laced with saffron, I meandered through this dish slowly not wanting it to end. This entree forced me to expect great things from the main dish.

I sampled my SO's codfish croquets, and was equally delighted. The outside was perfectly crisp and fried, and the inside literally melted into my mouth. The flavor was superb. The alioli that it rested on was good, but I didn't think that it added too much to the dish. That's neglecting the fact that I could probably eat the croquettes all day long.

For my entree I ordered the Sweet breads with fig sauce. I was slightly dismayed when my plate showed up rather hot, and the sauce had developed a thin film. The sweetbreads were stacked on top of a layer of spinach, on top of a wonderfully soft rice cake. The sauce drizzled around the stack was a good level of sweetness, paired well with the sweetbreads. However, I wouldn't say the sauce was extra special, just a good fig sauce. My little Moo was breaded in nuts and was a good mix of crunchy and soft, if maybe sauteed a bit too long. A good main course with some flaws, but it was stacked up against the entree.

I also sampled my SO's Suquet of fish and shellfish. My SO liked it very much, but it didn't seem extra special to me. It was definitely full of some nice fresh fish and shellfish, but to me it was just a yummy seafood stew. Granted, I think this is what it was supposed to be.

I think that Mecca is at its best when it sticks with 'one-dish' style stews, etc. (Though the sweetbreads are one of my fav dishes there)

In the last year or so, there has been more emphasis on presentation - with an accompanying shift toward small, bright, distinct components to each dish.

While this shift makes Mecca a little bit more like Meigas, and more like "contemporary" cuisine, I have a bit of concern that it takes them away from the focus on what made them unique.

Nonetheless, if the quality remains high, I'm not going to gripe. The core menu, as it were, seems to be staying about the same. But there's nothing like some of the specials that have shown up in the past - the lamb stew, when it pops up as a wintertime special. Or the scallop, snail, and white bean appetizer. Great dish, one bowl, one utensil!

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