Monday, August 8, 2011
This past weekend, my husband and I did something that was really interesting, and delicious!! We did a culinary walking tour of New Haven, CT.
We had decided to go to Connecticut for a weekend a few weeks prior. I know, why Connecticut?? That's seriously what pretty much everyone asked me when I told them we were going there. "But what is there to do in CT?"
It was actually my husband's choice since I had the fortune of an impromptu weekend trip to Phoenix to see my friend who was working at the MLB All Star Fan Fest for the week back in July. Since baseball isn't really my thing and my husband was incredibly jealous, I told him that our summer weekend trip that we had been procrastinating on planning was his choice. I figured he would pick Boston to go to Fenway but he ended up choosing Connecticut. The decision partly had to do with my desire to visit Gillette Castle, and partly with his desire to try this steamed cheeseburger place we heard about on Travel Channel's "Burger Paradise." (More of the steamed cheeseburger place in another blog post.)
OK, so we had two activities and another day and a half to fill up. One morning while perusing the web at work, I googled "things to do in Connecticut" and this website popped up with 50 things to do. One little blurb read the following:
"Join food expert Stephen Fries on a Culinary Walking Tour of downtown New Haven that encompasses some fine and legendary New Haven eateries. Among the places his tour has visited in the past are Bar on Crown Street, the Cupcake Truck, Louis' Lunch, Union League Café, Villarina's Pasta Gifts and More, Willoughby's Coffee & Tea, and York Street Noodle House. The three-hour tour departs from the Davenport's at the Top of the Omni New Haven Hotel at Yale, 155 Temple Street. tour dates in 2011 are April 23, June 4, July 9, August 6, September 17, October 15, November 12 and December 10. Cost: $59. Reservations required. Phone: 203-777-8550."
Now, I had never heard of Stephen Fries, but this intrigued me SO much. If you click on the words "culinary walking tour" above, it will take you to the same link I first clicked on, and you can watch the little commercial. I sent it to my husband and he agreed - this was something we had to sign up for. It was only a week beforehand, so I was hoping the August date still had spots, but it did and we signed up right away! We had to be at the top of the Omni Hotel in New Haven by 10:45 am on Saturday the 6th - and you better believe we were! That is where the tour started, and we all got a free sample of Fig Almond jam (made by The Gracious Gourmet), which is what the John Davenport's restaurant in the Omni Hotel uses. We were also given croissants, and a quick speech from the manager of the restaurant.
Also when checking in to our tour at that location, we were given goodie bags full of local Connecticut products to keep. (I LOVE freebies, so this excited me!) Included was a bottle of soda from Foxon Park. I got the Kola flavor and my husband received Cream. We have yet to try them because we didn't have a fridge in our hotel to cool them down, so we'll be doing that shortly at home! Along with the soda, we were each given HUGE chocolate chip cookies from Judies, and a pack of Citrus Garlic seasoning from Salad Jazz. Lastly, we were also given Mesquite BBQ baked fries by Deep River Snacks. We haven't tried those yet either, but my husband is very, very excited to try them. We also received some cooking magazines and other pamphlets of information, but enough with the boring stuff, and on with the tour.
We started out at an unexpected place - a bookstore! Atticus Bookstore Cafe, located on Chapel Street.
The little cafe has baked goods, sandwiches, salads - things like that. And the chef who served us (I THINK his name was Ben but I could be very, very wrong) studied under Emeril! We were served a tasty little crostini - grilled tomato & stilton cheese over caramelized onions and baby arugula. The crostini was made from Chabaso sourdough. While tomatoes aren't my thing (my husband ate my tomato), the rest of the morsel was very tasty and a good, and interesting way to kick off the day.
We have to admit that we were worried we wouldn't be fed enough for the whole three hour tour (especially since it went from roughly 11 am to 2:30 pm and we like to eat lunch), because of the small bite we were given at Atticus, and considering the second stop was a coffee shop! (But our fears were quelled after the 3rd stop). But back to this coffee shop - Willoughby's. Upon walking in, we were given a goody bag consisting of a fabric bag (like the kind you can use to bring your own bags to the grocery stores) with a travel coffee mug and a pack of chocolate covered espresso beans. I was excited about another goody bag (yay free stuff!) but also moderately unimpressed since my husband and I are not coffee drinkers and it was just SO humid outside! We learned about their different coffees and teas (they actually have TONS of teas) and were also fed some cookies and biscotti. Everyone was given a free drink (full small size!) of whatever they wanted too. We each got an iced tea since it was so hot out. We got one "white" iced tea, which was an unsweetened fruity like tea, and one "black" tea, which was just unsweetened regular iced tea. We both liked the black tea much better, and it was refreshing on the humid day. If we did this tour in the fall or winter, I could see getting some hot chocolate or tea - would really hit the spot!
Anyway, after the beverage break, we were taken to one of my favorite spots on the tour - The York Street Noodle House.
Waiting for us was a whole dish of edamame and dumplings!!! There were 3 full sized gyoza (dumplings), one chicken, one vegetable and one shrimp. I loved the shrimp and my husband liked the chicken the best. We were also given shrimp shumai and another little shumai that may have been vegetable or chicken. Either way, I loved them all, and I CLEANED my bowl. (Well, I also put some remaining edamame in a ziplock bag I had with me for later on, but let's not talk about that!) I did polish off all the dumplings. I would definitely go back to this restaurant without hesitation!!
Next up we were in for a treat of pizza and beer at Bru Room at Bar, located on Crown Street.
First they gave us their salad which consisted of seasonal greens, sliced pear, caramelized pecans, and blue cheese with a light vinaigrette dressing, and then we were given slices of just a regular red pie (cheese and sauce) and their mashed potato, bacon, cheese and garlic pizza.
My husband LOVED that mashed potato pizza! It was good, but I liked the regular one better. One of the other tour members told me that New Haven pizza was "WAY" better than New York pizza...and sorry buddy. While your pizza was delicious (I did like it a lot), there is still no topping a good old slice of NY pizza. We were also given 2 beers to try - a pale ale and a specialty ale. I didn't try them since I am not a beer girl, but my husband liked the specialty one more than the pale ale. I can't really tell you any more information about them except that he really liked the beer!!
We also would definitely go back here again!!
Whew - we were starting to get full, but we were only halfway through the tour. Next up was a new stop on the tour, temporarily replacing the famous Louis' Lunch, the birthplace of the hamburger sandwich. It is closed for the month of August, so we didn't get to try it, which was disappointing.
Instead we were treated to a classy little treat at Scoozi Trattoria and Wine Bar on Chapel Street.
This is a very cute little place - and the owners were so excited to welcome this tour.
They gave everyone a taste of one of their wines (don't remember which one) and a delicious bite of their Bruschetta "Pico," - grilled ciabatta bread with avocado, fresh mozzarella, plum tomato, red onion, basil, extra virgin olive oil, lemon and lime. Now, my husband and I didn't think we liked guacamole type foods at all, but boy were we surprised! This was DELICIOUS! So smooth and creamy, yet crunchy... we ate it up. MMM! This place is very classy and also a cute little place for an outdoor lunch. We'd come back!
All right, back on the road. Next we got a break from eating as we were taken to the Wine Thief - a wine and spirits store. The owner gave us a little wine tasting demonstration and we each got to try a white Austrian wine (which I thought was pretty good), a red German wine and a French champagne, which also was pretty good. This stop was nothing special, but interesting and a good break to digest for 20 minutes.
Next up - back to the food!! This time was a "light snack" at Oaxaca Kitchen on College Street.
We were given a guacamole demonstration as the guy made fresh guacamole in front of us, and were given fresh baked chips with a salsa verde that was so spicy my husband could barely handle it and he loves spice, and a red sweet tomato salsa. Despite my dislike for tomatoes, I actually liked that salsa!
And again, we LOVED this guacamole. It was so incredibly good, I can't even describe how much we ate. They call it the El Molcajete and they will always make it table side. They were letting people take some of it with them, but since we didn't have a fridge in our hotel, we sadly couldn't take any of it. We were still surprised at how much we enjoyed this, and the demonstration was neat!
They put avocado, onions, cilantro and a few other ingredients into the bowl and mash it all together. Divine! And the chips were so fresh and warm! We would definitely go back here to eat also since we love Mexican food!
Time for some dessert!! We were treated to a dessert sampler at the Union League Cafe, one of New Haven's fancy pants restaurants owned by Chef Jean Pierre Vuillermet, who is pretty well known in the food industry (though I never heard of him!)
I CLEANED my plate as everything looked so scrumptious and inviting. We each were treated to a chocolate truffle, a mini fruit tart, a caramel dipped cream puff and a French macaroon with raspberry jam. Everything was delicious, though, surprisingly, the chocolate truffle was my least favorite. It had a bitter cocoa dusting over it, and I just didn't like that taste and texture. My first French macaroon was delightful!! The fruit tart, which had chopped kiwi and what looked like papaya or mango, was also really delicious and the cream puff was my absolute favorite.
You can see I cleaned my plate!!
After that scrumptious dessert, we were treated to some artisan chocolates next door to the Union League Cafe at Wave. This is a cute little artsy shop with some chocolates mixed among the other products. I tried a white and dark chocolate truffle with rose water, as well as a mint chocolate truffle. They were good, but it put me over the edge and I was SO stuffed that I felt a little sick!
All in all, this was an amazing and fun tour. It turned out that New Haven was a little over an hour and a half from us, so we would definitely go do this again (for the day instead of a weekend away) if there were friends or family who wanted to join us. The host said he gets repeat customers all the time, and the tour is never the same. There are at least a few changes each time, and if he takes us back to a restaurant, they will try to serve different things than the last time. Stephen Fries runs this from April through December, once a month. It is TOTALLY worth the price of $59 per person, considering the generous amount of food at some locations, the doggie bags some locations will give (if we were driving home the same day we would have taken those), and the goodie bags the hosts put together to give us. We give it 2 thumbs up, 10 stars, whatever! So, if you are in Connecticut, or live within driving distance, or take a vacation to Connecticut, I highly, highly, highly recommend checking this tour out if you are there the weekend he does it.
We know we will probably do this again at some point!!