Saturday, August 28, 2010

East Side Restaurant

Unlike a lot of people, I really like my mother-in-law. Not only is she an excellant cook, she is a very kind and good person, and she never gives me a hard time. So, I was pretty excited when my wife told me last week that her mother was planning to come to Conencticut today with a friend to try the East Side Restaurant in New Britain.

For those that don't know, the East Side has been in New Britain serving absolutely delicious German food for something like a century (yes, a century), the last 70-75 years in its present location on Dwight Street.

The place takes kitch to a new level. There are beer steins and brickerbrack literally everywhere; the male staff wears leiderhosen and the ladies look like Heidi; there is a giant mural of Heidelberg in the main dining room (my wife lived in Heidelberg and said the mural is right on); there is um-pa-pa music like you'd hear at Octoberfest on a constant loop; and if you order a full liter of beer the entire staff comes to your table and says (OK, yells) "when you order the big beer, you get the big cheer! Ticky-tacky, ticky-tacky, hoy! Hoy! Hoy! Ticky-tacky, ticky-tacky Hoy! Hoy! Hoy!"

This would all be WAY, WAY, WAY over the top if the food was not so amazing. The food, however, is that amazing. In fact, if you haven't eaten at the East Side, you haven't really lived.

We started our lunch with the complimentary cottage cheese and coleslaw, which you spoon on to as many saltines as you can stuff into your face. This sounds silly, but the cottage cheese is tangy and delicious and the coleslaw is made with a vinaigrette rather than with mayo, which makes it very light and refreshing (and a perfect pallette cleansor). The first time I went to the East Side I had to be warned about not overdoing it and I have seen many others fall prey to the same temptation.

The other pre-dinner trap at the East Side is the wonderful mini-loaf of light rye bread (served with fresh butter) that magically appears on your table and then reappears as quickly as you and your companions can devour it (:>).

I started with a liter of Warsteiner Pilsner (thus entitling our table to the "ticky-tacky" cheer). A liter is quite a bit of beer (more than 2 1/2 bottles of beer, in fact) but the Warsteiner Pilsner is so crisp and light that it goes right down. There are about a dozen very German beers on the menu (including 3 different varieties of Spaten) and some American brews as well (why anyone would go to the East Side and order a Long Trail or a Bud is completely beyond me). I have had most of the German beers and they are all delicious, but I really like the Hofbrau Original (accurately billed as "the original brew of Bavarian Kings. Full bodied and well balanced".).

All the lunch dishes come with a choice of soup or salad and my mother-in-law and I had the onion soup (my wife and my mother-in-law's friend had the salad (???)). German-style onion soup differs from French onion soup in a couple of key respects. First, there is no wad of cheese or bread, which means it is not a meal in and of itself. Second, it uses either a vegetable or chicken broth, not a beef broth. My mother-in-law and I both though the soup was tasty. Honestly, I don't care how the salads were.

For dinner, I had the sauerbraten and the ladies each had the jager sehnitzel. I was hoping the ladies would all have different dishes so I could talk about a bunch of things, but there you have it (:<).

For the uninitiated, sauerbraten is marinated beef in a sour cream sauce. It is even more delicious than it sounds and the East Side's sauerbraten has the distinction of being plenty tender, but still retaining enough texture that it doesn't dissolve into the rich sour cream sauce.

The sauerbraten also comes with red cabbage (actually red cabbage turns blue when you cook it, so it is necessary to add an acid, typically vinegar, to keep it red) which is just amazing. I also had a choice of a traditional dumpling, a potato pancake, or spatzle, which is an egg noodle. I chose the dumpling, but I wished I had gone with the potato pancake (see below).

Jager sehnitzel consists of veal escalope (a fancy word for thinned using a mallet, roller, or knife handle), which is breaded and fried, then covered in a brown mushroom sauce. It is every bit as rich and delicious as it sounds, with the different textures of the veal, the breadcrumbs, mushrooms, and brown sauce coming together like a symphony. I had a taste of my wife's lunch and it was amazing (A quick aside. My wife almost always makes the better menu choice, so I was pretty satisfied with myself today when she said that she loved her meal, but wished she'd ordered the sauerbraten).

The jager sehnitzel also comes with a side dish and my wife and my mother-in-law had the spatzle, while my mother-in-law's friend had the potato pancake. I am not a big fan of spatzle, but my my wife is and she thought it was delicious. The potato pancake was excellent; brown and crispy on the outside and white and soft on the inside (you also get complimentary apple sauce and sour cream).

For desert I had the bananna cream pie, which is made with real bananas and real whipped cream (:>)(:>). The East Side also makes a great cocount cream pie (also a double (:>)). The ladies had the German chocolate cake. It is absurdly delicious, especially because it has a layer of carimel and cocunut in the middle (about 5 (:>)'s).

The East Side has separate lunch and dinner menus which have a variety of German and "American" dishes (why anyone would go to the East Side and not order German food is beyond me). They also have a take out menu and a separate menu for the outdoor "Beer Garden" that was recently constructed on the roof.

About the only bad thing I can say about the East Side is that it gets very crowded at dinner time, so either go early or make a reservation, otherwise you will either be waiting a long time to get seated or you might even be s-o-l altogether. Also, the East Side does have a small parking lot, but at dinner time it is pretty common to see cars parked for couple of blocks in either direction, so plan accordingly.

One of the best parts about the East Side is that it is not expensive, especially in light of the quality and quantity (the portions are large). Today, our bill (before tip) was $100. When you consider that that there were four entrees and appetizers, three deserts, and essentially 3 beers on the tab, that's pretty good.

I know New Britain is not the hub of local fine dining but there are very few restaurants in Connecticut where you will eat as well or have as much fun as you will at the East Side. So, go there as soon as you can, stuff your face with saltines with cottage cheese and coleslaw, order a liter of beer, and sit back and enjoy a great ride and a great meal.

Here is a link to the East Side's website -

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

King and I Thai Kitchen

My colleague who went with me to the Primavera Pub last month asked me if I wanted to go to lunch today. He suggested the King & I Thai Kitchen on Park Street in the Parkville section of Hartford (right across the street from L'Estrella Bakery). It didn't take me long to say yes as I had been there once before with him.

For many years Parkville was known for its large Portuguese community and you can still find many Portuguese restuarants and other businesses (you can tell which ones they are by the large Portuguese flags they tend to display). The neighborhood, however, is much more Hispanic now, with a large dose of Brazilian immigrants (you can tell the Brazilian businesses by the large Brazilian flags they tend to display, often right next to the Portuguese flags of their next door neighbors). Somehow in this Iberian/New World mix the K&I took up shop in an old house on the south side of Park Street just west of the intersection with South Whitney.

There is nothing fancy about K&I; it's a neighborhood place, not a fine dining establishment. It also has the brickerbrack and tackiness you (or at least I) would associate with a business run by immigrants or first generation Americans. All of these, of course, are good signs, because it means you are probably going to have some tasty, authentic, food at a very reasonable price, which is definitely the case with the K&I, and we even had the added bonus of listening to what sounded like Thai soft rock or easy listening.

Today my colleague and I split a couple of appetizers and entrees. We started with an order of the friend chicken dumplings ($4.95) and and order Thai egg rolls ($3.99). The dumplings contained a very generous portion of chicken (the menu says "stuffed with chicken" and it is true) fried in a nice dumpling. The outside was crispy and brown and the inside steaming hot, soft, and tasty (:>). The egg rolls were filled with vegetables, taro and sweet corn, deep fried until golden and served with pineapple sauce. They were good, but the pineapple sauce was outstanding and provided a sweet shot of flavor to contrast with the vegetables.

For the main course we had the yellow curry with pork ($7.95) and the wild boar basil ($11.95). The yellow curry with pork was good. I would rate it as medium spicy and the flavor was good. I do wish it had been a little thicker, however. Still, it was a very solid choice and we weren't disappointed.

The wild boar basil was just excellent. The meal consists of sliced pork simmered in coconut milk with string beans, red bell pepper, and basil leaves. The menu describes the pork as "tender" and it was. The coconut milk and red bell pepper was a great contrast of flavors, heats, and textures. What I really liked most, however, was that the flavors were not overdone, which allowed you to really appreciate the taste of the pork, which was quite good.

One of the nice thing about the K&I is that the menu is extensive, with a variety of entrees, curries, noodle dishes, and Lao specialities. It will take you a while to work your way through this menu if you are so inclined, but you are likely to enjoy each stop along the way (:>).

K&I also offers several delicious sounding deserts, but we had to get back to the office (:<). Parking is often a pain in the *ss when you go to the many little restaurants and shops along Park Street. K&I, however, has a lot big enough for half a dozen cars, which must have been the front yard of the house in which K&I now resides. There are a bunch of Thai restaurants in the area, including some very good ones (the East/West Grill on New Park Ave in West Hartford and Tamarind Grill on Pratt St. in Hartford come to mind) but the K&I is right up there in terms of quality, and it is very affordable. You can't go wrong with that, especially for a quick weekday lunch.

Here's a link to the K&I's website -

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Spris is exactly the sort of resturant I am inclined to dislike. It is (or at least tries to be) chic and it is pricy. Even worse, it is located on Constitution Plaza.

For those that don't know, Constitution Plaza was a good example of terrible post-World War II uban planning. In the late 1950's, a group of WASP corporate leaders (known as the Bishops) pushed for the demolition of the heavily working class, largely Italian-American, and considerably run down east side of Downtown Hartford that ran along Front and Market Streets (and even further east, almost to the river until the construction of I-91).

In its place was be errected an above-ground plaza with parking below and shopping and resturants above bounded by new mini skyscrapers. As originally conceived, the plaza was to extend to Main Street via a foot bridge running down Temple Street which would connect this city of the future to the most important shopping district in the region (with Sage Allen and G. Fox right next door on Main Street and men's and women's clothing stores still on Pratt and Asylum Streets). On the eastern end (where the Hartford Steam Boiler Building now sits) would be an arena. Consistent with post-war thinking, Downtown would become a massive office park and retail center with plenty of parking and no pesky working class (or worse yet, poor) ethnic types milling about.

Like so many other working-class neighborhoods (Boston's West End and the South Bronx to name two) Front Street and its residents never stood a chance against the rising tide of post-war urban renewal and the raw power and subtle influence of the Bishops. By 1964 the east side of Downtown was gone except for Dominic LaTorre's poultry shop (LaTorre refused to sell to the Travelers and his balls and truly remarkable ability to generate publicity won him many supporters and earned him the nickname "the chicken man"), Constitution Plaza was done (or at least as done as it was going to be), and old narrow Front Street had been replaced by the far more traffic-friendly Columbus Boulevard (the only remaining trace of Front Street's Italian-American heritage).

Because the original developer failed, however, the project was not fully completed. The arena never got built, nor did the 1,500 high-end apartments that had been planned, or the Temple Street bridge. As a result, the Plaza was not connected to Main Street, there was no natural draw to bring thousands of people onto the Plaza outside of business hours, nor were there any residents in the immediate area. This left Constitution Plaza an elevated and isolated office park and its retail area slowly withered away, leaving the plaza even more desolate.

Among the many things that got demolished as a result of the destruction of Front Street were a number of old-fashioned Italian resturants. Some, like DePasquale's (the same DePasquale family which now owns and operates the First & Last Tavern) and the Parma (which was the base of operations of the legandary Democratic powerbroker John M. Bailey and which relocated to Glastonbury - Bailey moved to the Hearthstone (now the Polo Club) on Maple Avenue) are still a part of our collective memory. Others, like the Village Grove Tavern, Pippy's, and Mickey's Villanova Resturant are almost entirely forgotten.

I guess it is somehow fitting that super-modern Spris with its new school Italian cuisine now sits on Constitution Plaza.

I have been to Spris a few times, but only once for a full meal (they have a large and very cool bar). Last night my wife and I decided to try it again.

We started with two appetizers - the eggplant rollattini with pesto goat cheese in tomato sauce($8.50) and the octupus with fava beans ($11.00). The eggplant was simply amazing (:> :>). The flavors were outstanding with the pesto goat cheese and the tomato sauce offsetting each other nicely. The consistency was also good.

The octopus, however, was not that great. We had this appetizer the first time we dined at Spris and it was delicious, especially because the fava beans were soft and tasty and provided a good contrast to the chewy octopus without overpowering the taste of the octopus. This time, however, the octupus was undercooked (not like sushi, but still undercooked) and the fava beans were also undercooked (:<). For dinner, I had one of the specials, a stuffed veal tortolloni ($20) and my wife had the tagliatelle ($19). My dinner was just outstanding. The flavors in the stuffed veal tortolloni were excellent and the pasta was so fresh that it tasted like some one's grandmother had just finished making it from scratch.

The tagliatelle was also very good and the pasta equally fresh. The flavors really came out as you ate, which made Old World patience and manners a virtue.

There was, however, a small problem with the tagliatelle as the shrimp was over-grilled and thus a bit rubbery. Frankly, the dish would be just as strong, if not stronger, if they simply deleted the shrimp and cut down on the number of things that could go wrong in its preparation. On the plus side, however, the lobster broth in which the tagliatelle was cooked was excellent.

It bears repetition that the pasta in both dishes was outstanding. Truly outstanding. If you claim to love pasta and you haven't eaten at Spris, you must do so immediately or you will lose a lot of credibility with anyone who has.

We also had a bottle of '06 Monte Pulciano. It was dry with a sweet finish. It was good, but it probably would have been better had it been decanted as it seemed like a young wine. On the whole we both liked it but thought it was a bit overpriced at $40 (in fact, most of the wine list seemed overpriced and actually a bit pedestrian).

We both had desert and there was nothing pedestrian about either dish. My wife had mint chocolate chip gelato ($6.99). It really wasn't gelato as the consistency was much more like ice cream. Whatever you call it, however, it was wonderful.

I had the Crespelle alla Nutella ($6.99) which is a a crepe with Nuttella ('Hazelnut chocolate'). I also had a scoop of hazelnut gelato, which really was gelato and which really was delicious. The crepe was good, but the Nuttella was fantastic - rich and a wonderful blend of flavors (if you haven't had Nuttella, you need to try it, but don't bring any home, because you will gorge yourself and gain 20 pounds).

The first time we went to Spris the service was not good, which was remarkable given that it wasn't really busy. Last night, with even fewer patrons (if you are wondering how Spris can stay open it is because it does a slammin' lunch business) the service was better. Still, the service was only adequate, which really is inadequate for a fine dining establishment.

The interior of Spris could be fantastic, but it is not. The furniture is a beautiful dark rich wood and there is wonderful stonework (it is really a form of sculpture with stones stacked within semi-open wire mesh containers). The giant red ceiling treatments (which you can see in the picture) are way, way too much and they give off a strange red light that bathes the center of the dining room (as my wife said, "what girl on a date wants to sit under a red light?"). The ceiling treatments also clutter what would otherwise be a spacious and open dining room.

The red ceiling treatments are a good example of trying too hard to be stylish. As Coco Chanel said, "when accessorizing always take off the last thing you put on."

One other thing my wife and I both found annoying was the music. It was too loud and a lot of it was house music, which is an odd choice, even for a place aspiring to be super trendy. The ambiance was somewhat salvaged, however, by a wonderful Sade track. She has an amazing voice and at 51 she is still stunningly beautiful.

On the plus side, there are windows everywhere and you can get a great view of Constitution Plaza, which is bathed in artificial light once the sun sets (you can get an even better view from the outdoor patio). Looking out onto the Plaza you really do feel like you are part of the city of the future (whatever its shortcomings as a piece of urban redevelopment, Constitution Plaza deserves the praise it gets as a piece of urban architecture. It's just a shame that you can't see that from street level and there isn't more on the Plaza to attract greater foot traffic).

Back to Spris. The bottom line is that it is a very good restaurant, but it isn't a great restaurant, it isn't even the best Italian restaurant in Hartford, and it has problems with service and ambiance. Still, if you love fresh homemade pasta, you must go there for dinner. The pasta alone is well worth the trip, even if you don't make Spris part of your restaurant rotation.

Here's the link to Spris' website:

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Monte Alban

When my wife told me last night that she had to drive to Worcester on business this morning my first thought was that there wouldn't be any delicious pancakes when I got back from the gym. My second thought was that I should go to Monte Alban for breakfast.

Monte Alban is a tiny little restaurant on the south side of Farmington Avenue in the West End of Hartford. It has been around for at least a decade and it serves up delicious Mexican food at a very fair price.

I have eaten there dozens of times and, setting aside the seafood, I have probably had almost everything on the menu at one time or another. I read a review on one of those websites that said the mole sauce wasn't great and I tend to agree, but otherwise I've always eaten very, very well.

I particularly like the enchaladas verdes ($9.75), the flautas ($9.75) and the carne asada ($12.50), which is a grilled sirloin with sauteed onions, garnished with pico de gallo and guacamole. Also delicious are the milkshakes, which come in banana, mango or chocolate ($3.50).

The thing I really like about Monte Alban is that it is authentic. I've never been to Mexico, but I had a friend in school who was half-Mexican. He was a real cowboy (hat, spurs, and all) and like many cowboys, he was a pretty darn good cook. The Mexican food at Monte Alban reminds me very much of his cooking, which is either a remarkable coincidence or good evidence that it is the real deal.

Of course, not only is the food authentic, but the place is as well. As you can sort of see from the picture, Monte Alban is sort of fitted out like a Catina and always playing is what sounds like mariachi music, but I know so little about Mexican popular and folk music that I am probably just revealing myself to be a real gringo, so I will stop.

Monte Alban has a breakfast menu (10AM to Noon) and my favorite is the chilaquiles verdes ($6.95) which are pieces of fresh tortilla dipped in a spicy (and I mean spicy) grean sauce (there is also a version using red sauce - also $6.95 - which is good too). The taste is outstanding and Monte Alban's tortilla is pretty hardy, so even as it soaks up the sauce it still maintains its integrity, leading to a very rich and chewy meal. You also get refried beans with all the entrees and I also had 2 fried eggs ($2.80). The beans and eggs definitely help offset the very spicy green sauce. The meal is filling and delicious, but if you are not used to spicy food, you may have a tough time with this (fortunately, there are other breakfast entrees that aren't as spicy, including the ubiquitous scrambled eggs and ham - $6.75). Because the tortillas are so fresh and tasty I also had chips and salsa ($3.75) - the salsa was great, as you might guess -- and a cup of strong, but not overpowering, coffee ($1.75) to wash it all down.

On the weekends at breakfast you can also get two traditional items - sopes ($2.25) which is dough topped with refried beans, lettuce, tomato, and cheese & pozole ($6.50) which is made of white hominy (corn soaked in lime) and chicken in a red broth. The broth consists of garlic, onions, oregano, diced green chiles, enchilada sauce, cilantro, tortilla pieces, and water.

The biggest problem with Monte Alban is the parking, or actually the lack of parking. There are only a few spots along Farmington Avenue and the immediate side streets (Whitney and Evergreen) are usually crowded. Fortunately, Monte Alban has cut a deal with the owner of the Kinko's plaza immediately across the street and its patrons can park at the far end of the lot in the spaces bounded by yellow lines (don't park anywhere else in the lot or you will be towed).

Monte Alban has a separate lunch menu (until 3 PM) with $7.75 specials. There is a very limited wine list, but thankfully there is a pretty good selection of beers including all the ones you'd expect at a Mexican restaurant (Dos Equis, Negra Modelo, and Bohemia, to name 3). There isn't much in the way of desert, just flan and rice pudding (both $2.50).

Monte Alban is a classic ethnic restaurant. It serves good, basic, food with a lot of love at a fair price. One note, the staff is very friendly and most speak English relatively well, though if you go at off hours (like for breakfast, for example) it might help if you know some Spanish.

If you like Mexican food and you haven't been to Monte Alban, you definitely need to check it out. If you are looking to break out of a culinary rut and try something new, you should check out Monte Alban. In either case, you won't be sorry.

Here is a link to Monte Alban's menu, which someone has been kind enough to post:

Here are some links to a map and reviews:

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Johnny Ad's

A good friend read my post about Captain Scott's Lobster Dock and encouraged me to try Johnny Ad's in Old Saybrook. His folks have a place on the water there and he said that it is a local favorite.

My wife was out with her girlfriends yesterday, and I had the day to myself, so I decided to check Johnny Ad's out (to make a trip of it I first stopped at the Bookbarn in Niantic; an awesome used book store just west of the beach). While I like Captain Scott's more, I am not the least bit sorry I went to Johnny Ad's yesterday afternoon and I can see why the locals love it.

Johnny Ad's bills itself as "The Little Seafood Resturant with the Big Ocean Taste." To say it's a resturant is a misnomer (it'really more of a lobster shack), but it does have a great seafood taste.

Growing up, the summer did not officially start until my mother had her lobster roll from Gene's Lobster Shack on U.S. Route 6 in Fairhaven, Masschusetts and Johnny Ad's reminds me very much of Gene's. In fact, not only are they pretty similar places in terms of size and lay out, but like Gene's, Johnny Ad's sits on one of the old U.S. Highways.

Most people today look at the Boston Post Road as a tacky secondary road that skirts the coast weaving in and out of path of I-95, but U.S. Route 1, like Route 6 was one of the first great highways in the history of our country. In fact, although they were far more modest than the Interstate Highway system in capacity, the U.S. Highways were every bit as grand in their concept (if not grander). They were the first national roads designed for the emerging automtobile culture and they helped make middle-class tourism possible in the years before the Great Depression. After World War II, the U.S. Highways were the means by which you could "see the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet" and places like Johnny Ad's (and Gene's Lobster Shack) were the supercool hangouts for the beachgoing crowd. Even when I was a boy in the 1970's people would still talk about how Route 6 had been choked with beach trafffic in the years bfore I-195 connceted Providence to Cape Cod.

Actually, Johnny Ad's really has been around since the 1950's and it still has that feel (in no small part because they play classics from the 1950's and early 1960's - the Man who Shot Liberty Valance by Rockville's favorite son, Gene Pitney, was playing as I walked out, which was very cool). The place consists of a lobster shack replete with all sorts of nautical art and paraphenilia, a small dining room with about 15 tables, a bar the size of an ATM kiosk, an outdoor area with about 15 picnic tables, and a parking lot. It's not fancy, but then again, it's not supposed to be.

Like any good lobster shack, Johnny Ad's is all about the delcious and riddiculously unhealthy (fried) food. They have a pretty extensive menu of burgers, dogs (complete with buttered, toasted buns :>), seafood, and sandwiches, but I stuck to the basics.

I had the fried whole belly clams (the price varies with market prices, but yesterday they were $17.25). They were delicious (:>), though I did taste just a tiny bit of grit (:<) and I wish they had been fried for just a bit longer (:<). Still, they were fresh and tasty, the batter was light and crispy, and the portion was pretty generous for the price (all :>'s ).

The plate also came with fries and coleslaw. The fries were those accordion fries and they were hot and crisp on the outside and soft and warm on the inside. Perfect. The coleslaw was OK, but it wasn't particularly tasty. Then again, you don't go to a place like Johnny Ad's for the coleslaw, do you?

In honor of my mom, I also had a strawberry milkshake ($4.25). Johnny Ad's also serves an extra thick milkshake ($4.75) but what I had was plenty thick, very sweet, and extremely delicious, and I can only imagine how rich and sweet the extra thick shake must be.

The crowd was a mix of families, young guys in baseball hats, and some old timers who probably have been going to Johnny Ad's since the 1950's. I can't blame them. Sitting there enjoying my clams I couldn't help but think about the millions of post-war summertime dreams that found their fulfillment all along the old U.S. Highways in places just like this.

Here is the link to the website for Johnny Ad's -

Saturday, August 7, 2010


Salute is an unusual restaurant. It is neither an old-school Italian restaurant like Carbone's or Francesco's in the South End, nor is it a more modern Italian restaurant like Spris or Peppercorn's Downtown. It certainly doesn't have the old-school feel, nor does it have on the menu most of the classic dishes you'd associate with traditional Italian-American cooking. It also doesn't have the ultra-chic vibe or the cutting-edge cuisine you'd associate with the newer breed of Italian restaurants.

Probably the best way to describe Salute is that it is a restaurant that serves a lot of Italian food; delicious Italian food. In fact, the food is so good that not only do I love it, but my wife, who is an Italian-American with a passion for food and cooking, sings its praises.

The face of Salute is the irrepressible Jimmy Cosgrove, the former part-owner and manager of Hot Tomato's. Jimmy is friendly and funny, but he is also a serious restaurateur who knows his stuff. Jimmy is also classy, but he is in no way pretentious. Salute is like Jimmy.

Salute opened earlier this year and my wife and I have been there at least a half dozen times, always with good results. Tonight was no different.

We started with the sweet potato ravioli ($7). This may be the most popular appetizer on the menu and with good reason (the calamari ($10) is also right up there, however). The ravioli are served in a rich cream sauce (butter, flower, cream, and herbs) which is offset by the sweetness of the filling, which is itself offset by a savory touch of what tasted like brown sugar and cinnamon.

My wife then had the field green salad ($6) while I had the strawberry salad ($8). My wife's salad consisted of greens, and candied nuts, dressed with an oven roasted shallot vinaigrette. It was crisp and delicious, especially because the candied nuts offset the greens. My salad consisted of spinach, strawberries, toasted walnuts, and goat cheese, with a balsamic vinaigrette dressing. My salad was good, though it might have been a little overdressed.

For dinner I had the pomodoro ($16) and my wife had the rose pasta ($19) (all of Salute's pasta dishes can be made with gluten free pasta for an extra $1). Both were outstanding and at least the equal of any Italian food you will have in the area.

The pomodoro was rigatoni in a tomato sauce with garlic, basil, and mozzarella. There were chunks of tomato in the sauce which exploded with flavor once they hit your mouth. They tasted as fresh as if you had picked them out of your own garden earlier that day. The rigatoni was also right on, neither too soggy nor overcooked.

The rose pasta consisted of four cheese tortellini with sweet sausage, mushrooms, and spinach in a light tomato cream sauce. I've had this dish several times and it is a treat. It is, however, pretty filling, which can be good or bad, depending on the size of your stomach and how hungry you are.

Salute's pasta dishes are not complicated, but here is a great balance of different flavors and textures. As Gordon Ramsey would say, "simple food, cooked well" (yes, Ramsey can be a complete jackass, but he does have several Michelin Stars to his name).

We also had an order of garlic bread ($5) that was very much like (if not identical to) the garlic bread for which Hot Tomato's was well-known.

Like I said earlier, Salute serves a lot of Italian food, but there are several "American" dishes on the menu, including an excellent pork tenderloin ($20) and a pretty good hanger stake ($22). Salute also has a desert menu and a separate lunch menu, along with a wine list.

The interior of Salute is warm and friendly, and not overdone. Particularly nice are the light-colored stone accents which contrast well with the dark wood of the furniture. Salute also has an outdoor patio which overlooks Bushnell Park and which is quite popular with the 20 and 30-somethings on Thursdays and Fridays.

I have known Jimmy Cosgrove for the better part of ten years and I was sorry to see him leave Hot Tomato's. I am very happy, however, that he has opened a great restaurant (in fact a much better restaurant than the old Hot Tomato's) that gives a nod (OK, several nods) to the old Hot Tomato's, but which absolutely has its own style and which is already making its own mark on the local food scene.

Here is the link to Salute's website -