Thursday, March 19, 2015

Feeling the love at Amore 2.0

The original Amore Restaurant was a classic, old-school Italian joint on Hope Street in Springdale that served great pizza and pasta.  The Stamford Pizza Tour even crowned it the best pizza in Stamford in 2009!  So what happens when a six-time World Pizza Champion takes over a championship restaurant?  Freaking food magic, that's what.

Bruno DiFabio (not pictured: his World Pizza Championship belt)

That champion is Bruno DiFabio, who is also a Chopped judge and international restaurateur.  He made his very first pizza at Amore years ago, and he's now come full circle.  After buying the establishment from the retiring original owner, Bruno rechristened it Amore Cucina & Bar and did a full renovation, giving it an updated, modern feel and expanding the bar area.

But you're not here to read about interior design, are you?  Let's get to the food!  I was fortunate enough to be invited to a media tasting dinner where Bruno and his executive chef Jared showcased their inspired creations, starting with Bruno's claim to fame: pizza!

Amore offers two distinctive categories of pizza, square and round.  The round pies are cooked in the wood-fired oven while the square ones are cooked in the gas-fired oven.

Wood, fire, cheese, crust, yum.

This is the Juliet: house mozzarella, gorgonzola doce, fig jam, prosciutto, agrodolce.  It was delicious.  I love anything fig, so when you throw fig jam together with savory, salty prosciutto, I'm a happy camper.

Next is the Pitt Master (no relation to Brad).  It has pulled pork (another of my favorite things in the world), red onion, mozzarella, BBQ sauce, and agave nectar.  This one was a little sweeter than I personally prefer, but it was still delicious.

Moving on to round pies, first up is the New Haven White, featuring little neck clams, Amore bacon, house mozzarella, and smoked lemon juice.  Despite the name, this isn't an attempt to copy the signature pie at Frank Pepe's; it doesn't have the classic oily, charred crust or the same cheese blend.  It's just a delicious white clam pie.

This pizza is For the Queen, and it features San Marzano tomatoes, flor di latte mozzarella, pecorino romano, basil and, yes, a sunny-side-up egg in the middle.  It was a little runny from the egg, but so rich and delicious.

I also tried the Holy Cheesus pizza, which had burrata, ricotta, pecorino, mozzarella, parmigiano, and black pepper.  It was so delicious and peppery that I ate it before I could take a picture.  I guess I'll just have to go back and try it again!

I was getting full by this point, but I pressed on in the name of blogging about delicious food.  The sacrifices I make for you, my loyal readers!

The next round of dishes were cichetti, or small plates.  Pictured above is the Polenta, which is topped with a pork and wild mushroom ragu and shaved parmigiano reggiano.  I love all of those things, and when you put them together...oh yeah.

OK, I'll admit it: this was the first time I'd ever tried octopus...and I'm glad I did!  Jared roasted these, so the outside was perfectly crispy while the inside was tender and meaty.  They came in a puttanesca sauce with crispy capers and shaved olives.  I did cut off the suction cups, though.  Baby steps.

Is that sushi?  Yes, sort of.  It's Tuna Crudo with calabrian chilies, parsley, dehydrated pancetta, and red onion.  I love raw tuna, and this had spicy chilies to boot.  So awesome.

It's like they read my mind.  I love goat cheese on salad, and the Beet & Rucula adds it to braised red beets, arugula, and candied walnuts.  Yum.

I forgot to take a picture of the carrots agrodolce, which came with spicy pickled raisins.  As you can imagine, they were delicious, too.  Did I mention the spicy pickled raisins?  I couldn't stop eating those bad boys.

Round 3!  Pasta!

Spaghetti e Pepe has black pepper, blacked artichokes, pecorino, and shaved parmigiano reggiano.  Yet another dish I couldn't get enough of.  Gimme that black pepper!

More clams!  This time they were over linguine, with pancetta, garlic, green onion, dehydrated bacon, and lemon zest.  Another winner.

And finally, the main events of the evening...

In this corner, chicken scarpariello with house sausage, pickled and sweet hot peppers, and duck fat finger potatoes!  Oh my goodness, this dish was amazing.  I could eat the finger potatoes for days.

And in this corner, pork osso bucco with broccoli rabe, warm potato salad, pancetta, and parmigiano reggiano.  The osso bucco was like buttah - it fell off the bone.  All the trimmings were just icing on the delicious pork sundae.

Feeling full?  Lean back and unbutton those pants because we're not done yet!  It's dessert time!

Beignets?  Nope, fried Oreos!  I'd seen these at county fairs, but I just couldn't bring myself to indulge...if only I had known what I was missing.  These warm little bundles of joy are doughy (with just a hint of crunch) on the outside, while the inside is all melty, gooey chocolatey goodness.  They came with a shot of pretzel milk, which I didn't try, but it did smell delicious and very pretzel-y.

And, finally, a waffle with tomato jam and whipped cream.  Tomato jam might sound strange, but it's got just the right amount of sweetness to nicely complement the waffle and whipped cream.

With so many amazing dishes to choose from, it's hard for me to pick a favorite. I guess there's only one way to decide a winner - Bruno, if you're reading this, I'm ready to go title-for-title and put my World Waffle Eating Championship on the line in a no-holds-barred winner-take-all waffles-vs.-pizza steel cage match! 

Or I'll just keep going back to eat at Amore until I can make up my mind.

But the challenge still stands!  Name a time and a place and I'll be there!


Social media stuff:
Amore Cucina & Bar on Facebook
Bruno DiFabio on Instagram
Executive chef Jared Falco on Instagram
MaxEx Public Relations on Facebook

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Stuff to do inside because it's colder than the Arctic outside

- Warm your heart by making a donation on March 5, Fairfield County's Giving Day.  This is a 24-hour, online-only campaign to raise $1 million for over 400 nonprofits working in Fairfield County.

- Get toasty with the bikini bombshells of "Thunderball" at The Avon on March 19 at 7:30 p.m.  It's the 50th anniversary of this classic James Bond movie, and The Avon is showing a brand-new 4K digital restoration!

- Enjoy some warm pea soup during "The Exorcist" at The Avon on March 24 at 8:30 p.m.  Mmm...sacrilegious...

- Watch Faye Dunaway and Steve McQueen heat up the screen in "The Thomas Crown Affair" at The Avon on March 25 at 1:00 p.m.  Sure, the score is pure late-60s cheese, but it's still a cool movie.  Plus, this screening is free!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Fairway Firefighter Food Face-off Follow-up!

After Belltown Fire Department wowed the judges at the Fairway Firefighter Food Face-off, they chose the Stamford Fire Safety Foundation to be the beneficiaries of a Shopping Night, where 10% of all purchases went directly to the Foundation.  Well, Fairway shoppers clearly wanted to help, because the Foundation received a whopping $3,186!!

Gotta love oversized checks.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Would you like a pierogi with your baguette?

It's an international free-for-all here in Stamford!  First up is the Ukrainian festival at St. Basil's College on Glenbrook Road.  It takes place on Sunday, September 14, at 11 AM.  The festival will feature music, dancing, food, crafts for sale, and more!  For more information, check out the festival's Facebook page: Connecticut Ukrainian Day Festival.

Parlez vous Franglais? is a new social/dating event with an interesting premise: Guests have several 12-minute conversations - six minutes in English, and six minutes in French.  I've heard that a bawdy Frenchman showed up for the first gathering and started teaching the other participants all the choicest dirty French words!  The next one will take place on September 23 or 24 at Bar Rosso, so keep checking their website to confirm and to RSVP.

My French is worse than Clark Griswold's, but if someone starts up an English/German Oktoberfest event, I'm there! 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Baseball in Hartford - a $60 million mistake?

I love baseball.  I've attended games from Buffalo to Nashville.  Heck, I'd love to see a minor-league team here in Stamford.  However, there are so many things wrong with the current proposal for a minor-league ballpark in Hartford that I don't know where to begin, but I'll try.

If ballparks were money-makers, private businesses like teams or real estate developers would be all over them.  I'm guessing that stadiums are, in fact, not money-makers, since so many teams stick their local city/county/state with the bill for the construction and upkeep of the stadium.  Pretty sweet deal - for the teams.

Why should any municipality build a facility for a private business to begin with?  How about a building for Stop & Shop?  Why not a building for my blogging empire?  Perhaps it's because Mayor Segarra has stars in his eyes over the prospect of being known as the mayor who brought baseball to Hartford - but this is a poor use of public funds.

To take it a step further, not only would this be a publicly-owned building built for a private tenant, but it's a single-use tenant!  This isn't an arena or a concert hall or a convention center.  It's a baseball stadium, and baseball stadiums are good for one thing: baseball games (and maybe the occasional outdoor concert or wrestling show).

To take it another step, this would be a city-owned building with a private single-use tenant - and said tenant would only use the building about 70 times a year!  So that's $60 million of public money to construct a building that will be empty 290 days a year.  How is that a sound investment?  Can you imagine a city spending $60 million to build a giant warehouse that's only used for the two months before Christmas?

Regarding that investment, I'd love to hear from Mayor Segarra how much the stadium will cost the city after interest, and how long it's estimated to take the city to pay back the loan and turn a profit on the stadium, assuming that's even in the projections.  And will there be an ironclad commitment from the Rock Cats to stay in the stadium for a certain number of years, so the city isn't stuck with an empty stadium and a huge debt?

Speaking of projections, you've probably heard the overly optimistic projections for this project: that 10% of game attendees will stay in Hartford hotels; that the team will draw more than 7000 fans per game (they currently draw 3500 per game); that the stadium will directly and indirectly create more than 600 jobs (with no explanation of how exactly this number would happen).

There are so many ways this can go bad.  Let's take a quick and unscientific look at some of the ways:

-  Mayor Segarra can drive down to Bridgeport for a prime example of what's wrong with this plan.  Bridgeport built a stadium and an arena in a neglected part of the city that's separated from the downtown by a major highway (just like in Hartford), but this hasn't sparked the kind of economic development the city predicted.

-  An arena falls into disrepair and then obsolescence, e.g.: Nassau Coliseum.

-  A stadium is demolished before the city's loans to build it are even paid off, e.g.: Seattle Kingdome.

-  A team decides to move out of a fairly new stadium because they can make more money from luxury boxes in a newer, publicly-funded one, e.g.: Atlanta Braves.

-  A team cries poverty to get the city to build it a new stadium, then is revealed to have millions more than it claimed. That was the Miami Marlins, who, once they got their shiny new stadium, sold off all of their good players.  (Sidenote: any elected official who believes a cry of poverty from someone who owns a freaking baseball team needs his or her head checked.)

-  A team holds its home city or county hostage for a new stadium by threatening to move: countless examples.

In a recent appearance on WNPR's Where We Live, Mayor Segarra cited the success of Dayton, Ohio's minor-league ballpark as an example of what Hartford is trying to do.  He talked about how the Dayton Flyers have sold out the stadium for fifteen straight seasons.  That's all well and good, but let's be honest: we don't live in prime minor-league baseball country.  We have an abundance of sports teams and other big-time activities that occupy our time.  The Bluefish draw decently, but I don't think anyone would say that they've been a runaway success.

Mayor Segarra and Shawn Wooden, President of the Hartford City Council, also talked a lot about the stadium as being just one part of a multi-faceted development for the Downtown North area of Hartford.  The stadium is intended to be the catalyst that sparks interest from developers who'll fill in the rest of Downtown North with ancillary development - retail, housing, etc.  This isn't a bad idea, but it's not a simple matter of "if you build it, development will come."  Sure, that might happen, but do you really want your city to spend $60 million (plus interest) on a risky proposition like that?  If it were that easy to spur development, then cities would go nuts with building "catalyst" projects.  Governments can and do build things that encourage development - things like colleges, transportation systems, etc. - but this is a whole other matter, and the resulting development usually follows indirectly.  Without a firm commitment from a developer to build the ballpark as part of a larger development (the hypothetical one that Mayor Segarra and company believe will materialize around the ballpark), then the ballpark could end up as a lonely outpost surrounded by everyone's favorite urban sight: surface parking.  In other words, without a fully-realized, fully-(privately)-funded, multi-faceted development plan, this ballpark is a huge risk - and cities should not be in the real-estate speculation business.  What if the city builds the ballpark and then the real estate market tanks again?

Now, if ballpark-as-anchor is the plan, then the city should sell (or lease) the land for the stadium to a developer who will handle the construction of the stadium.  A city building a stadium to raise tax dollars on the property around it is like a struggling movie theater deciding to make its own movies.  In other words, stick to the business you know.  Cities shouldn't be in the business of running ballparks, arenas, and the like.

They also talked about the need for private financing for the project, but wouldn't answer host John Dankosky's questions about how that would even work.  Wouldn't an investor want to be a part-owner?  Since then, the mayor has bowed to political and public pressure and agreed to make it a public-private venture.  Here are two articles about the developers' proposals: 
Plans For Hartford Stadium, New Municipal Offices Revealed 
Hartford Gets Four Proposals For Stadium, Development

As awesome as a brewery and ballpark sound, I'm still not sure how these public-private partnerships would work.  Would the developer build the ballpark with the city's money, then the city would own it?  Would the developer and the city co-own and co-manage the ballpark?  It's all very murky, which is not a good sign for the taxpayers.

Overall, here's the thing to remember: if stadiums were money-makers, private companies would own and run them.  Since they're clearly not, we, the public keep getting stuck with the bill.  And that stinks.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Fairway shopping night for the Stamford Fire Safety Foundation!

I couldn't make it to this year's Fairway Firefighter Food Face-off, but I'm excited to share the news about the winning team's shopping night!  Belltown Fire Department has chosen the Stamford Fire Safety Foundation Fund, a public charity that raises funds to provide free smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, fire prevention education materials, and to support public life safety initiatives to all of the Fire Departments within Stamford.  25% of all sales from registered customers at the Stamford Fairway (699 Canal Street) on Wednesday, August 6, from 4 to 10 PM will go to the Foundation!  Heck, 25% of my cheese purchases alone could probably fund their operations for a year.  :)

Friday, July 25, 2014

Coming up at the Avon: Lost Boys, Lost Town, Wizard of Oz, and vote for the next Cult Classic!

Not only is the Avon showing The Lost Boys next Tuesday at 8:30 p.m.; not only are they showing Lost Town, a documentary about Trochenbrod, the only all-Jewish town that ever endured outside of Palestine (with a post-film Q&A); and not only are they celebrating the 75th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz; but now they want you - YES, YOU! - to pick the Cult Classic to be shown on October 21!

Here's the link where you can vote for the digitally restored movie you most want to see -

I cast a write-in vote for The Gingerdead Man, a movie about a murderous gingerbread cookie featuring a star turn from Gary Busey.  I'm pretty sure it swept the Oscars that year.