Sunday, February 12, 2012
Cavey's in an interesting place because it is both an Italian restaurant (upstairs) and a French restaurant (downstairs) with separate menus and wine lists. Honestly, there are a ton of good Italian restaurants in the area, so we had no interest in going out to Manchester for Italian food but we both thought it would be fun to go downstairs and try the French restaurant. On the whole, we had a really good night, but there were some issues.
When we walked in there was no one to greet us, except a coat check girl, so we stood around and waited for the hostess of the Italian restaurant to come over, ask about our reservation, and send us downstairs. When we got downstairs, we waited again, because the maitre de was nowhere to be found. Fortunately, a very hardworking and charming sommelier asked us to be seated in a little ante room (complete with a black and white checkerboard tile floor) and offered us a cocktail (I had a reasonably good Manhattan, Mrs. HFG abstained) while our table was set.
This episode framed perfectly the night from a service perspective. The sommelier was polite, hardworking, and very service-oriented. The rest of the staff was adequate but frankly pretty rough around the edges. Food meant for someone else was brought to our table and our server neglected to mention that the kitchen was out of rabbit (one of about only 6 entrees) until Mrs. HFG placed her order. Not the end of the world, but not good in a fancy and fairly expensive restaurant either.
In fact, the service was pretty ragged throughout. The layout of the downstairs is odd and the pass is very narrow so even with a crack staff it would be tough going. Sadly, Cavey's doesn't have a crack staff and there was a constant bottleneck as servers bumped into one another and passed plates between them trying to get things sorted. Oddly, however, there was plenty of staff and they were constantly in motion, but nothing seemed to happen very quickly, which leads me to believe that training and management are issues. That part of the experience made Mrs. HFG and I pine for Max Downtown (in no small part because the staff is similarly attired), because the service there is always on-point.
The decor was also problematic. Cavey's was probably a very beautiful place 40 or 50 years ago, but it is tired. The carpeting is old and worn and the wallpaper is both very outdated (it reminds me of wallpaper my grandmother had in her apartment in 1975) and starting to curl and flake along the baseboard. Also, while many of the dishes are quite modern, the first course and my coffee cup were richly gilt in gold that reminded me of the china my mother has in her ancient hutch; not necessarily a bad thing, though with the tired interior you definitely got the feeling you were in a time warp.
Still, there is a lot of dark wood, there are mirrors, and there is a certain old school charm that makes you feel like Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Sinatra are going to walk in in their evening jackets, sit down, light up, order a bunch of wine, and wait for Don Rickels to come and make fun of them. If management would throw down a new carpet, deal with the wallpaper, and freshen the place up a bit, the old gilt dishware would be really cool and the place would really have that "wow factor" (yes, Mrs. HFG and I have been watching Storage Wars on A&E). You might even think you were at the Casino Royale, even though you were only in Manchester.
For my first course, I ordered the "Fire and Ice" which was a paring of seared foie gras and fresh foie gras with a huckleberry reduction and a small block of what tasted like gingerbread, though with the consistency of cornbread ($20). It was amazing. The HFG is a HUGE fan of foie gras and this offering was just magnificent, with the huckleberry and the gingerbread providing a great textural and taste contrast. Mrs. HFG loved it as well, saying "I don't even like foie gras and I love this." Easily the second best foie gras I've ever had (best was at Le Caveau in Montreal, now closed :< x1,000).
Mrs. HFG ordered the butter lettuce salad with warm goat cheese, pistachios, and roasted beets ($12). I had some of the goat cheese, which was amazing. Mrs. HFG liked it, but thought there were too many pistachios and not nearly enough goat cheese or beets ("there were like three beets on my plate" she grumbled).
For dinner I had the Denver fillet of venison ($37) with glazed winter vegetables. The vegetables were not memorable, but the venison had a great flavor and, cooked to the chef's recommendation of medium rare, had a wonderful taste and color that contrasted beautifully with the charred exterior. I've had venison a couple of times before (the first time was at the Avalon Cafe in Weston, MO - a wonderful little place in a small town outside of Kansas City) and it's not easy to work with. I thought the chef did a great job.
Mrs. HFG had the Angus filet of beef with a beef bordelaise sauce (which is typically made with dry red wine, bone marrow, butter, and shallots) with a potato puree ($36). As with the venison, the beef was well-prepared and had good flavor but I don't think it makes the list of truly memorable meals.
Both of our dinners were very good, though as Mrs. HFG noted, more in the French style, than traditional French cooking. Reductions were more the order of the day than heavy sauces, and the selection of entrees was evocative of French cuisine, though not necessarily what you'd see in Paris (or Montreal) - think New American cuisine in a French style.
For dessert, Mrs. HFG ordered a magnificent concoction consisting of a dark chocolate and peanut praline mouse and caramel ice cream ($10). It was one of the best desserts either one of us can remember having; rich, sweet (but not too sweet), and a wonderful, creamy texture.
I opted for the warm Valrhona chocolate cake accompanied by a malted chocolate milkshake ($10). I liked Mrs. HFG's dessert better, but I have to say mine was very, very good and the chocolate milkshake (served in a miniature cup) was both clever and fantastic; thick and delicious and topped with a generous spoonful of fresh whipped cream. :> x 25.
On the whole, dinner was very good, with a really good first course (absolutely outstanding for me) and amazing deserts, sandwiched around a good dinner.
We also ordered an absurdly expensive bottle of wine. While Mrs. HFG and I like wine, neither one of us is a huge connoisseur. Being Valentine's Day, however, we decided to do it up right and treat ourselves to a first class bottle of wine, which isn't too hard given Cavey's extensive and reasonably priced (relative to what you'd pay retail for the same bottle) wine list. I asked a close friend who is a wine connoisseur and collector to look at the wine list (conveniently posted on the webiste) and make some recommendations. He was very impressed and gave me about half a dozen suggestions.
Ultimately, we decided to go full-bore and order the 1994 Dominus ($267). Dominus is actually a California wine, but the proprietors are from Bordeaux and make their wine in that style. My friend described the '94 Dominus as "one of the legends" in no small part because of its nearly perfect Parker score of 99.
The '94 Dominus was beautiful, with a rich, almost regal, purple color. It also had a great nose, with a mix of cherry and maple syrup. On the tongue, however, the notes were much more earthy and oak, with a strong taste of mushroom. I know that sounds odd, and perhaps not that appealing, but it was a great wine that complimented (and stood up to) every course in both our meals. It was also strong out of the bottle (i.e. it didn't need to open up), though it was not overpowering, and it held its taste all night. It's hard to ask for more than that.
Honestly, this was quite probably the best wine I've ever had and even if Mrs. HFG and I don't go around ordering wine at that price point (we don't), it was worth it this one time for the experience.
Cavey's clearly has a following. It was crowded when we arrived at 7:30 PM and there were still people there at 9:30 PM when we left. Many people appeared to be at least semi-regulars and a bunch appeared to be on their special Valentine's Day date (including the young couple next to us; a very nervous young man whose foot kept tapping and his lovely date who was trying very hard to cut him a lot of slack), so it's clear that east of the river, it is a destination and deservedly so. The food (at least downstairs) merits that following even if there are problems with the service and the decor.
I don't know when we will get back to Cavey's (so many restaurants, so few meals), but we will because you are not going to find better French (OK, French-inspired) food in the area with a wine list to match. Here's the link to their website - http://caveysrestaurant.com/Default.aspx
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Saturday my wife and I spent most of the day at the shore at a birthday party for a friend (and regular reader). Although there was a quite a bit of finger food and a delicious birthday cake we were both pretty hungry by the time we got back to Hartford so we decided to have a late (at least by Hartford standards) dinner at O’Porto on Park Street in Hartford.
O’Porto is in an old factory just over the Hartford/West Hartford line that was redeveloped by Carlos Mouta a/k/a “the Prince of Parkville.” Carlos is Portuguese, although he spent his childhood in
After the fascist dictatorship that had ruled Portugal for about 60 years was overthrown by the Carnation Revolution in 1974 (the university students stuck carnations in the barrels of the soldiers’ guns, who effectively joined the revolution by just standing around instead of breaking up the protests) the new government granted Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bassau, Sao Tome and Principe, and the Cape Verde Islands their independence. This (and civil wars in
When Carlos arrived in the
Anyway, as the name suggests, O’Porto is a Portuguese restaurant (Porto is
To start, we had the ameijoas à bulhão pato (clams sautéed in a white wine and cilantro broth) ($9). It’s hard to get more traditional than this and O’Porto’s offering stacked up perfectly well, with some good-sized claims in a very nice (but not overbearing) broth. The key is that the claims have to take on the flavor of the broth without being overwhelmed by it, and our dish definitely met that standard, with the cilantro providing just enough kick. It was a very good start to our dinner.
Mrs. HFG opted for the Lulas Grelhadas ($18). Lulas means squid, which were grilled in white wine and butter. Squid is another tough dish to get right, from both a textural and taste perspective. You have to cook it just enough so that it is not raw, but not so much that it starts to get rubbery. Also, because the flavor of squid is pretty subtle, it is easy to overwhelm it, especially with butter, which is, of course, very rich.
O’Porto got the lulas just right. They were cooked to perfection (neither Mrs. HFG nor I could think of a more perfectly cooked plate of squid we’ve had) and the flavor of the wine and butter complimented the squid very nicely.
Mrs. HFG’s dinner also had some sautéed vegetables and roasted potatoes which were OK, though not particularly memorable.
I had the Alentejana ($20). Like I said when I visited the Primavera Pub last year, alentejana is a staple of Portuguese cooking and consists of marinated pork cubes and claims, served with cubed roasted potatoes. Unlike lulas, alentejana is a pretty hearty meal and the flavor of the pork is supposed to infuse the potatoes, with the clams providing a counterbalance. I thought O’Porto’s offering worked quite well, though at $20 it is not a bargain. Still, it was delicious and I have no complaints about the taste, the portion, or the presentation.
Although O’Porto has a very nice – and reasonably priced -- selection of Portuguese wines, Mrs. HFG and I both abstained, me because I’d had a couple of cocktails at our friend’s birthday party and Mrs. HFG because she had to drive.
As it was getting late and because we were both stuffed from a long day of eating, we passed on desert, though I did see a lovely flan and a nice serving of rice pudding heading to another table as we were getting our check.
Our service was very good as the food moved quickly out of the kitchen and our table was turned in a friendly and efficient manner – without our server being overbearing or trying to rush us through dinner. Here’s a link to O’Porto’s website - http://www.oportohartford.com/
Here’s a link to O’Porto’s website - http://www.oportohartford.com/
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Notwithstanding my English ancestry, I've always been partial to all things Irish. It probably stems from the fact that I went to elementary school (Holy Family) with many, many Irish-Americans, and from the fact that my favorite teacher was a 5' tall nun named Mary Eileen Hayes. Sister Eileen's older brother Danny was a carnation wearing, Irish-American politician of the very old school. Sister Eileen used to campaign shamelessly for him on election day, enjoining us to tell our parents "to save a vote for Danny Hayes" which we did, no doubt fearful of both God's wrath, as well as Sister Eileen's, should Danny Hayes not get re-elected to the city council.
My affinity for all things Irish has carried over into my adulthood and I am partial to (among other things) a good pint of Guinness pulled from the tap and left to warm to room temperature. Perhaps needless to say, I thus generally like Irish bars and pubs. There are a good number of Irish bars of varying authenticity in the area, but I'm blogging about Vaughan's Public House on Pratt Street in Downtown because I've known Johnny Vaughan since the glory days of the Half Door on Sisson Avenue and because the folks at Vaughan's put together a very nice breakfast for my and my wife's families the day after we got married.
After hitting the gym on Saturday AM I was starving, so I decided to hit Vaughan's and live it up a little (and in the process undo all the good work I had just done :<). I started with an order of the Glenkerry Potatos ($6.59), which are thick-cut potato wedges smothered in a decent curry and sour cream.
You can't eat that sort of food and not have something with which to wash it all down, so I ordered a Smithwick's (pronounced "smiticks"), which is an hearty Irish red ale. For many years it wasn't available in the U.S. and if you wanted it you had to drive up to Canada, buy it, and hope to God that no one at the border was interested in looking through your car, which in the pre-9/11 days was a pretty safe bet.
For lunch, I opted for another Smithwick's and the meatloaf sandwich ($8.99). Vaughan's meatloaf sandwich is definitely inspired by the meatloaf sandwich that was on the Half Door's original menu, but the Vaughan's iteration is definitely an upgrade. Vaughan's meatloaf sandwich consists of a generous slice of meatloaf on some nice toasted marble rye and is loaded with cheddar cheese, horseraddish, onion, lettuce, and tomato. Not fancy, and certainly not healthy, but quite delicious (:> x 15).
For desert, I ignored the bartender's recommendation to have the cheesecake and opted instead for the Apple Brown Betty. At $6.99 it has to be one of the best values out there, as you get a very generous serving of baked apples and cherries in a brown sugar crumble crust, topped with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream with carmel and cream. Delicious (:> x 25).
Vaughan's has a couple of large screen TV's that are usually given over to sports, quite often the English Premier League (or the Premiership as it is known). This isn't too surprising given that Johnny Vaughn came to the U.S. to play soccer at Central Connecticut and then for the now defunct CT Wolves. In any event, as I ate my meatloaf sandwich and downed my Smithwick's I watched a rather listless match between Newcastle United and Arsenal.
As Irish-American bars go, Vaughan's is pretty nice, with a beautiful bar and lots of woodwork throughout. There is even a large mural of famous Irish folks, ranging for Michael Collins to Roy Keane to James Joyce to Sinead O'Connor. It might be a bit over the top, but it's still pretty cool nonetheless.
Ironically, probably the least "Irish" part of Vaughan's is its name, as Vaughan is an English name. Johnny Vaughan, you see, is from Dublin and there are many people from Dublin with English names because Dublin was for centuries the hub of English rule. Thus, many English people came to Dublin and many stayed. Their descendants became what was known for centuries as the "Old English" and they even had their own status in the law until the English in London decided that someone born in Ireland with an English name was really just an Irishman, albeit with an English name.
Still, the English origin of Johnny's last name shouldn't stop you from from going to Vaughan's and having them pull you a pint and get you something to eat. It isn't fine dining, but you will have some good cheer, some good beer, and a good time.
Here's the link to Vaughan's website - http://www.irishpublichouse.com/
Sunday, August 7, 2011
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
After Mrs. HFG and I got home from Harry Potter, we did a few errands and chores and then started to think about where we wanted to go for dinner. It was hot, which made Indian food a good choice. We both wanted to have a couple of beers, so that meant the place had to be close by. That all added up to a trip to Masala at the corner of Main and Capitol.
Masala is now in its third iteration (it’s actually now Royal Masala). Masala 1.0 had absolutely amazing food and was reasonably priced. The service, however, was terrible. By terrible I mean quite possibly the worst service of any restaurant at which Mrs. HFG or I have ever eaten. As good as the food was (and it was really good) my wife and I finally had to stop going there.
Masala 2.0 was a bit cheaper and had pretty good service. The food, however, was mediocre and Mrs. HFG and I only went a couple of times before we concluded it just wasn’t worth it.
Thankfully, Masala 3.0 has the same reasonable prices as its predecessors, food that comes very close to Masala 1.0, and service better than Masala 2.0.
To start, we ordered the vegetarian samosa chat, which is Masala’s take on the classic Indian street food. The chats themselves were perfectly fine, but the array of dips and condiments was very nice indeed (chick peas, onions, tomato, yogurt, and tamarind). The onions seemed very freshly cut and the tamarind was delicious.
My wife had the luckhawi goat curry, which is a house special. It was very good. The flavor was good but most importantly, the goat was nice and tender. That's not easy to do.
I had the lamb vindaloo, which is lamb with cumin, hot chills and malt vinegar. It was quite delicious with a nice blend of spiciness and tartness that really worked well.
We also had an order of garlic nan. The portion was quite generous and good.
We also each had three Kingfishers (if you don’t know what a Kingfisher is, look it up).
Total tab, including a good tip for good service (prompt and friendly, but not overbearing), $114; a very fair price.
Our only complaint was the heat of the food. Our server asked us how spicy we wanted it and we said “medium” which she must have interpreted as “medium for Anglos who aren’t used to Indian food.” Last night, however, my wife met some folks at Masala for dinner and ordered her food “spicy.” She brought some home for me to try and we both agreed it was wonderful.
The interior of Masala is interesting, because there is a ton of exposed brick and hardwood floors. While that doesn’t exactly fit with an Indian motif, it is a very nice space. There is also a comfortable back room with a bar.
Here’s a link to Masala’s website, there isn’t much there, but trust me, this place is good – http://indianrestauranthartfordct.com/index.htm
Knowing that I knew a trip to the movies on Saturday AM would probably mean no delicious pancakes, my wife quickly suggested we try Bolo Bakery & Café in Plainville, which she said had gotten some good internet reviews. When I hesitated, Mrs. HFG correctly sensed I was still trying to figure out a way to get her to make pancakes before we left so she quickly added “I think the people that own it are Portuguese.”
Bolo (which has several food-related meanings in Portuguese) is, in fact, owned by Portuguese immigrants Antonio (pictured at left) and Isabel Abrantes. After years of work and saving, the Abrantes opened a bakery in Parkville (then still the center of the region’s Portuguese community) in 1984 which grew and – with the help of the Abrantes’ son - ultimately morphed into Bolo.
Like its name says, Bolo is both a bakery, offering the full range of pastries and breads, as well as some fabulous-looking wedding cakes, and a café, offering breakfast and lunch.
For breakfast I decided to have the chorizo, cheddar scramble ($6), which consisted of 3 eggs, cheddar cheese, and a generous amount of chorizo sausage. This is a classic Portuguese-American dish (every diner in New Bedford and Fall River has some variation of this on the menu) and Bolo’s take was exactly what I wanted, with good quality sausage and cheese and eggs that were scrambled just right.
The dish comes with toast and either homefries or fruit. I opted for the fruit and in lieu of toast I decided to try 2 pieces of French toast, which were absolutely delicious. In fact, they reminded me very much of rich French toast my mother makes.
I also had a nice cup of coffee and some OJ.
Mrs. HFG opted for a cup of coffee and an omelet (3 eggs) with goat cheese, onions, and spinach ($5.50 - $.50 more than the menu price because of the extra filling). As with my eggs, Mrs. HFG’s were perfectly prepared and the fillings were all fresh and delicious.
The service was friendly and prompt, which is exactly what you want in a breakfast place and exactly what I expect from hardworking Portuguese-Americans. In fact, one of the waitresses looked like so much like my goddaughter’s younger sister that Mrs. HFG teased “honey, these girls look just like you. These are your people!”
Obviously, Bolo isn’t fine dining and it isn’t even a Portuguese restaurant, despite its provenance and the good number of Portuguese inspired menu selections. Rather, it’s a great little breakfast spot with a bakery attached to it. Like I said earlier, although I didn’t sample any of the pastry, it looked great. Still I’ll let you know for sure when I eat my way through it some other time! :p
Here’s a link to Bolo’s website - http://www.bolobakery.com