The culinary landscape of downtown Norwalk improved significantly with the opening of Bar Sügo, offering Italian cuisine that chef/owner Pat Pascarella describes as "food that Italians eat every day."
Bar Sügo's menu features a wide variety of small snacks, salads, appetizers and meatballs, as well as larger servings of pasta and pizzas to accompany several beers on tap, including Allagash White, Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA, StrubbePils or Thornbridge Raven, or one of the numerous bottles of wine.
The interior features a large red-and-white tiled floor, a copper-topped bar, rustic walls covered with large photos, with one wall dedicated to displaying the restaurant's diverse selection of wines. The setting allows for a vibrant atmosphere to complement the delicious food.
Pascarella prepares variations of Italian cuisine using fresh, flavorful ingredients and keeps the price of each of the dishes under $20.
Pascarella graduated from the New York French Culinary Institute and subsequently joined the renowned kitchens of Mario Batali's Esca and Scott Conant's L'Impero before moving to Connecticut to cook at Bella Luna, Grand and Saltwater Grill, and most recently Pizzeria Cortina. He received local recognition as the winner of Stamford's first Iron Chef Competition in 2008. Joining him in Bar Sügo's kitchen is sous chef Joseph Italiano, from Danny Meyer's Eleven Madison Park. Together, the duo is creating a delicious culinary tour of Italy.
The "salumi e formaggi" contain many wonderful house-made specialties, including lardo, duck prosciutto and bresaola plus, a delightful prosciutto di Parma and La Tur cheese.
The "cicchettis" (small snacks) include a wide range of options and guests can customize the choices into a mini-tasting menu.
The highlight was the maple-glazed crispy pork belly, perfectly braised in a grape-accented beer, topped with a maple glaze and served with lentils and pickled and seared onions. The flavors of the dish seamlessly balanced the richness of the meat with the sweet and sour onions and just a touch of earthiness from the lentils.
For a lighter choice, I enjoyed the baby octopus served on a bed of frisee and the scallops al forno. The octopus was incredibly tender and the flavors were brightened by the addition of a hint of lemon. The scallops were perfectly seared and were accompanied by several of Pascarella's purees.
On my first visit, I enjoyed kabocha squash and apple purees and on the second visit, a celery root puree was substituted for the squash. Both were finished with droplets of 25-year-old balsamic vinegar that added a slight sour background to the dish.
The "insalate e primi" contain several salads, plus a host of delicious appetizers. My favorite was the braised short ribs. The beef was braised in red wine, balsamic vinegar and tomato and presented atop faro, kabocha squash puree and garnished with a delightful gremolata.
The meat was moist and extremely tender, while the texture maintained the meat's integrity. The squash and faro added a delightful earthiness, plus the crunchy texture of the faro complemented the creaminess of the squash puree.
The gremolata was accented with a little lemon and horseradish
to give sour and spicy
Other options were a creamy burrata with white anchovies, oil-cured olives and cherry tomato confit, which was a light and delicious choice, and the mozzarella "in carozza" (between bread) that was likewise served with the cherry tomato confit and finished with a broccoli rabe pesto. The contrasting crispy exterior and creamy interior of the mozzarella worked well with the sweet cherry tomatoes and the full-flavored rabe pesto.
The meatballs include six choices, and Pascarella offers a meatball tasting. The options ranged from traditional Mommy's meatballs, a delicious all-beef variety, to my favorite, veal sweetbread meatballs with pearl onion agrodolce, which combined the slight tartness of the sweetbreads offset by the sweet and sour onions.
The pork meatballs were incredibly moist and served with a whipped ricotta and the Ox Hollow's beef meatballs offered the deepest flavor of the six choices.
The highlights of the menu were the house-made pastas that showcased Pascarella's talents, with the pasta cooked just short of al dente. I enjoyed the extra level of texture that each of the pastas brought to these dishes.
Pascarella's simple spaghetti with tomato and basil was full of bright tomato flavors, and when combined with the meatballs from the meatball sampler plate created a memorable and diverse spaghetti and meatball dinner.
The Bolognese sauce was outstanding and served with either pappardelle or cavatelli. Each presented a slightly different textural quality, with the traditional pappardelle supplementing the rich sauce, while the cavatelli played an equal co-star role. The Bolognese is one of the best in the area and included a touch of mascarpone cheese to create a silky finish.
The cavatelli with house-made sausage, broccoli rabe and almonds was a light and enjoyable alternative. The chicken stock-based sauce was light and mild and complemented the other robust ingredients. The taggliatelle with wild mushrooms, farmer's cheese and black truffles was another excellent choice and combined a large and diverse selection of wild mushrooms in a rich broth and finished with farmer's cheese.
And pizza lovers can rest easier now that Pascarella's fantastic pizzas have returned and the new ovens are creating an even better crust. The pizza selections include many of my favorites, from a simple margherita that showcases the delicious tomato sauce and mozzarella, to the ultra-extreme CTbites combination that includes Pascarella's delectable braised short ribs, potato, soft and sweet caramelized onions and topped with oozing eggs.
After only a few weeks, Bar Sügo is delivering outstanding Italian cuisine. As Pascarella said, "This is the food I like to make--¦ and after sampling many of his dishes, I say, "This is the food we love to eat."
For information, call Bar Sügo, 102 Wall St., Norwalk, at 203-956-7134.