By Elizabeth Keyser
3:45 PM EST, November 19, 2012
102 Wall St., Norwalk, (203) 956-7134
Penne alla vodka will never appear on Bar Sügo's menu. Pasquale Pascarella, the chef-owner of the new restaurant on Wall Street in Norwalk, says that if he tried to serve an Italian-American dish like that to his Neapolitan grandmother, "She probably would punch me in the face."
Pascarella, a big man with tattoo-covered arms (the newest is of a Shun knife), is putting his own stamp on Italian cuisine. Ingredient-driven, steeped in Southern Italian tradition, yet informed by classic French technique, with a New American dash of molecular gastronomy, it's the kind of food Pascarella, 28, a veteran of the kitchens of Mario Batali, Eric Ripert and Scott Conant, wants to eat.
Bar Sügo has quickly become the place to meet after work. The copper-topped bar glows in the cozy, wood-lined, candle-lit room. The staff is quick to offer recommendations of their favorite wines by the glass to pair with a platter of house-cured meats (duck prosciutto, bresaola, capicola, guanciale and lardo) and cheeses from Fairfield Cheese Company.
The meatball tasting plate offers six different meatballs that encourage conversation. One night, many at our table liked the veal sweetbread meatball best, but I suspect it was the smoky, fatty flavor of the bacon that overcame any squeamishness about thymus glands. Others liked the deep flavor of the grass-fed meatballs. (Much of the meat comes from Saugatuck Craft Butchery in Westport, a purveyor of local, pasture-raised meat.) The crispy panko coating of a fried meatball was something all could agree on.
One of the punchiest dishes is short ribs. Braised for five hours, the soft, boneless meat, jazzed up with horseradish and brightened with gremolata, a lemon zest, garlic and parsley condiment, rests on farro, an ancient variety of wheat. Likewise, the fire-roasted Brussels sprouts, caramelized and tossed with pancetta and smoked sea salt, is brightened by preserved lemon and lemon zest. Baby octopus is tender, almost smoky in flavor, dressed with lemon, parsley and olive oil, and served over frisée.
Most of the pastas are made in house. Here, the chef keeps close to tradition. His Bolognese is made from ground meat simmered in milk, then wine, then tomatoes. He finishes it with mascarpone and sage velouté for creaminess, and tosses it with house-made cavatelli. The result is pure comfort. (Thrill-seekers may wish for some heat, more sage, or a sprinkle of sea salt — but hey, who's the chef around here?) Agnolotti, puffy half-moons of dough stuffed with ricotta, are simply sauced with pasta water, butter, truffle oil and chanterelles. Dull? Not to our friend who said it reminded her of the Italian food she grew up eating.
Pascarella's fans followed him from Pizzeria Rosso in Norwalk (later named Cortina Pizza, now operating in Bridgeport). He's brought those pizzas to Bar Sügo. Potato is the most popular, a "white" pizza topped with goat cheese, pistachios and truffle honey on a thin, blistered crust. The chef's sweet tooth is also evident in the fig pizza, which despite being topped with prosciutto, ricotta and arugula, seems almost like dessert.
The touches of molecular gastronomy are fun ways "to mess around with texture," says the chef — a pomegranate gelée, thickened with agar agar, was served with foie gras mousse, salty-sweet crunchy granola and fresh gooseberries on a recent night. The fennel salad is dressed with blood orange juice thickened with ultratex3, a modified tapioca that can be used with cold liquids.
Bar Sügo's soundtrack is classic rock with lots of Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. Some love it, others don't. Pascarella loves it. He doesn't want a generic restaurant. Just look at the red-and-white checked floors. "I'm throwing all my passion into this restaurant," he says.
The staff, many of whom are veterans of Fairfield County's best-known restaurants, is friendly and informed. "We picked them for their personalities," Pascarella says, "We train them to know the menu as well as we [in the kitchen] do." Pascarella's sous chef is Joe Italiano, a former garde manger, at four-star Eleven Madison Park in New York City. Italiano is "six months away from being an executive chef," says Pascarella, who is quick to point out that being a chef is more than cooking; it's keeping an unblinking eye on business and food costs. Bar Sügo's menu is reasonably priced. Small plates cost $7, with three for $15 and five for $25. Only one entrée exceeds $20. The foie gras risotto with green apple, duck confit and parmesan emulsion is $24.
He believes the Wall Street area is poised for "rejuvenation," with more condos planned and the Globe theatre across the street to be renovated. By next spring, Bar Sügo's customers can sit outside beneath a pergola in a wine garden seating 30. Open seven days a week from 11:30 to 1 a.m., the restaurant is pulling a diverse age group for happy hour and dinner. The late night bar scene has yet to catch on, though Bar Sügo is said to be the place where local chefs gather.
"We're creating a buzz," Pascarella says.
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