Wednesday, August 24, 2011

O'Porto




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 Mozambique, which was a Portuguese colony until 1975.

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 Angola and Mozambique) led to 1,000,000 Portuguese colonists either returning to Portugal or moving elsewhere, many of them to the United States.

When Carlos arrived in the U.S. (with little more than the clothes on his back) his family settled in the Parkville section of Hartford. After graduating from Hartford Public, Carlos had an abbreviated career playing soccer, but ultimately found his way into the real estate business. Carlos has done well for himself, but he never forgot his American roots in Parkville and he has bought and refurbished quite a few buildings in Parkville and helped a number of small businesses get off the ground.

Anyway, as the name suggests, O’Porto is a Portuguese restaurant (Porto is Portugal’s second largest city), though with a very contemporary American feel. Indeed, the interior has lots of exposed brick and ductwork and the décor, furniture, and table settings are all very modern and much more fine-dining than ethnic neighborhood joint.

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.Although I can’t say O’Porto is my favorite Portuguese restaurant, it is a good restaurant that serves authentic Portuguese food (there are also several takes on Portuguese cooking which I would consider “Portuguese inspired”) and has both good ambiance, as well as prompt and friendly service. If you enjoy Portuguese food, or you want to try Portuguese cuisine but want something more upscale than the Primavera Pub, then O’Porto is a very solid choice.

Here’s a link to O’Porto’s website - http://www.oportohartford.com/




Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Vaughan's Public House



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

Piolin

One night about 5 or 6 years ago my wife and I were going to go to Coyote Flaco on New Britain Avenue. It was raining, however, and we could see from our car that the place was packed and people were waiting outside the door trying to stay out of a light rain by leaning up against the building. There also didn't seem to be any parking close by, which meant we'd have to park up on Mountain or Harvard Streets and walk a bit. As much as we were craving Mexican food, we decided to go elsewhere.

As we got to the intersection of New Britain Avenue and Hillside Avenue I saw a giant chick on a sign advertising for something called Piolin. I had driven by it a bunch of times but had never stopped.

Frankly, however, the sign had always intrigued me, as did the fact that the sign said the place served Peruvian food. Although the parking situation was only a little better than at Coyote Flaco, it didn't look quite as crowded, so I convinced Mrs. HFG to give it a try.

That was the first of many trips we made to Piolin, both to eat in and to take out. It was a wonderful little spot, in a gutted house with a simple menu offering broiled chicken, ceviche, and a few other Peruvian specialties. As much as we enjoyed it, however, for some reason it slowly slipped out of our restaurant rotation.

Last night, we decided to get re-acquainted, so we went for a fairly early dinner. When we walked in we were happy to see that, although the place was basically the same, there had clearly been some upgrades. First, the interior had been painted a bright orange/yellow adorned with pictures and what appeared to be evocative of the type of art people native to Peru were producing long before Pizarro and company arrived in 1524. Second, the menu was greatly expanded, with numerous entrees, Peruvian drinks, and even an interesting South American wine list.

My wife decided to start with the ceviche mixto, which consisted of mixed seafood marinated in lemon juice and served with boiled potatoes, sweet potatoes, and red onions. Like any seafood dish, especially a raw seafood dish, ceviche only works if the fish is really fresh, which it was. The tartness of the lemon juice mixed well with the seafood and it was very refreshing. In fact, Mrs. HFG thought it was one of the best plates of ceviche she'd ever had.

For dinner Mrs. HFG had chicharron, which was a plate of fried seafood; squid, fish, and what appeared to be fried, stuffed mussels. It came with salad and fried yucca. Fried seafood is always good (:> x 50) but this plate was particularly good, especially because of the mussels. Mrs. HFG did think, however, that some lemon would have been good and I don't disagree.

I started with an order of anticuchos, which is to say beef heart. I'd had beef heart once before and enjoyed it, though I thought it was a bit salty (Mrs. HFG did not enjoy it, at all). This time, saltiness was not a problem.

Beef heart tastes, perhaps not surprisingly, like any other cut of beef, but the flavor is more intense and the meat is springier, meaning it's pretty chewy. I know it might seem a bit off-putting, but eating beef heart really isn't much different than eating any other part of the animal except for the springy texture.

For dinner, I had the 1/2 broiled chicken, which came with a massive serving of french fries. The french fries weren't that great (they were a bit greasy), but the chicken was very, very good. The skin was cooked to perfection and it, along withe the juicy meat, flaked off the bone. :> x 50. My only criticism was that the chicken tasted a bit salty. The chef probably over-seasoned the chicken just a bit and it did detract a little from the taste. Still, it was very good and those 1/2 chickens (and the whole ones) are reason enough to give Piolin a try.

A word about the portions; they were ENORMOUS. For example, my beef heart "appetizer" consisted of three skewers, each with three large hunks of meat. One would have been sufficient. Two would have been more than enough. Three was too much, even for a ravenous HFG. Then add in a "side" of potatoes and corn and you have gone totally over the edge.

Because of the vast amount of food that appeared on our plates, Mrs. HFG and I barely got through half our food. Happily, our server had everything put in doggy bags in short order and we were good to go.

While our server was friendly and hard-working, the service had problems. My wife's dinner and appetizer arrived simultaneously, with my dinner and appetizer arriving a couple of minutes thereafter. Still, it's hard to complain too much when the food is good (and plentiful).

There was, however, an unexpected upside to the delay in our appetizers, which was we got to enjoy the salsa peruana aji, which is a green sauce into which we were able to dip our complimentary bread. While the bread wasn't great, it didn't need to be, since it was only a platform for the sauce. The sauce is made from the aji chili, lime juice, garlic, black pepper, salt and olive oil. The heat of the chili and the tartness of the lime work very well together.

Total tab, including tip, was just under $65. Now, that might sound like a lot for a neighborhood restaurant, but understand we ended up with about 3.5 meals worth of food; the dinner my wife and I each had at Piolin, my wife's midnight snack last evening, and my lunch today. All in all, a very good bargain, especially considering the quality.

Piolin is a down home ethnic and neighborhood restaurant. It caters, however, not just Peruvians, but to the much larger Hispanic community in Hartford. I have, however, seen Trinity students and perhaps even professors as well, at least during the school year.

Finally, Piolin has expanded, at least sort of, with the proprietors' son having opened his own "Piolyn, Jr." in East Hartford at the intersection of Main Street and Connecticut Boulevard. I haven't been there but if it is anything like its namesake, I would think it has to be pretty good.

I like Piolin. It isn't perfect, but the food is good, it is plentiful, it is interesting, and it is reasonably priced. It's a tough combination to beat.

Here's a link to Piolin's website. It's a very simple site and isn't yet done, but you'll get at least some idea of the place - - http://www.gatuzz.com/piolin/home.htm

If you're interested, also check out Piolyn Jr - http://piolinrestaurant.com/piolynjr/?p=58

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Cantina Cafe Ristorante





Last night I took a drive down to Middletown with two friends (both Italian-Americans), one of whom had been urging me for some time to try the Cantina, which is in the tiny basement underneath the Italian-American Club on Court Street. After urging me to eat a light lunch, my friend cautioned me, "this place is great, but it's old school." While the caution was not needed (I love the old school) the recommendation was certainly appreciated and, as it turned out, quite accurate.

From the outside the Cantina doesn't look like much (actually, it doesn't look like anything, because there's just a small sign and a doorway at the side of the club), and when you walk down the stairs your first impression is confirmed as you enter into a small and somewhat cramped basement with cinder block walls. That said, the place is actually pretty d*mn charming, in an old-fashioned sort of way.

The walls are painted a nice clean white and adorned with pictures and grape leaves hand painted on the wall in different colors. Throw in artificial grape leaves running along the beams of the ceiling, old-fashioned red leather booths, and tables covered in white tablecloths with old-fashioned cutlery and white linen napkins and you feel like you are back in 1970 (adding to the ambiance the friend who brought us quipped, "so, I was at this wedding in Waterbury on Saturday and some guy was trying to explain to me why Good Fellas is a better movie than the Godfather. I asked him, 'are you crazy!?!'").

We started with the plate of antipasti pictured, which had some nice fresh mozzarella, delicious (but mild and not too salty) prosciutto, olives, and sweet peppers (which were OK, but not up to either the mozzarella or the prosciutto. There were also those monstrous hot peppers you see. My friends passed on those, but being the HFG, I had to at least try them. I managed to eat about half of one before the extreme heat got to me. Still, it was delicious.

For dinner, my friend who brought us had the veal milanese ($21.95). First, and in the interest of full disclosure, the portion was massive and probably close to twice as large as what you'd get at most restaurants. My friend can eat, and he only managed to get about 3/4 of the way through his dinner.

Second, it was delicious (and probably an heart attack waiting to happen). The veal cutlet was breaded, and prepared with a generous amount of mozzarella, prosciutto, and peppers in a sauce made from stock, butter, and garlic. This a very traditional dish (my friend being even more old school than I even substituted out the peppers in favor of tomatoes, which is the traditional way to prepare the dish). Needless to say, when I tasted it, the flavors were basic, but very rich and well-blended. Given the portion and the richness of the food, it was more than a meal but quite delicious.

My other friend had the veal eggplant sorrentino ($21.50). This dish is made by breading eggplant and sauteing the veal and than putting a slice of prosciutto, the eggplant, some marinara sauce, and some mozzarella on the veal cutlet and cooking it in the oven until the mozzarella has melted.

Again, the cutlet was enormous (my other friend can also eat but he only got about 1/2 through his dinner and had to bring the rest home) and it was delicious. The eggplant was neither over breaded nor overcooked and there was just enough marinara sauce and cheese to compliment, but not overwhelm the dish. In fact, I thought the veal sorrentino was the best of the three entrees we ordered, and that is saying something because the veal milanese was really good. Still, however, my other friend's dinner was also quite rich.

I had the gnocchi ($21.50). While I don't think it was quite up to the level of either of the veal dishes, it was still very good. The portion was more than generous (though not quite as enormous as either of the veal plates) and the gnocchi themselves seemed pretty fresh and shaped irregularly (which is pretty good evidence they were made by hand). The potato filling was good and certainly didn't overwhelm the taste of the pasta itself. Cooked in a very rich sauce made with stock, garlic, and butter, they were delicious.

If I have one criticism of the food, it is that it is so rich. If you are not used to eating rich foods with lots of butter, you might have a hard time with your dinner, though exercising some portion control (like promising yourself you are only going to have 1/2 of your enormous veal cutlet and bring the other half home) will help a lot.

We also shared a bottle of chianti ruffino ($28), which was adequate for our purposes, though not exactly memorable.

We also had some bread which, while a bit slow to arrive, was hot and right out of the oven.

I don't know whether the Cantina serves dessert (I didn't see any on the dinner menu), but none of us was in any position to order any. We were all stuffed and very satisfied.

As a nice treat at the end, the father of my friend who brought us suddenly appeared from the kitchen and said "come on, I'll introduce you to Tomasso." Tomasso is the proprietor and chef and must be an incredibly hard worker because he seemed to be alone and doing all the cooking himself. While his kitchen was very old-fashioned (including a cast-iron stove) it was clean and well-organized.

For his part, Tomasso was friendly and extremely appreciative of our patronage. He even offered us some sambuca, but it was getting late and we had to drive back to Hartford.

If I have any serious criticism of the Cantina it's that the service is OK, but certainly not great. Our waitress was friendly, but not overly attentive and I don't think she moved her tables very efficiently. Still, with food this good, that's a minor issue and it didn't detract from the overall experience.The Cantina certainly isn't fine dining. It's a super-old fashioned place that serves traditional Italian-American food in massive quantities at a reasonable price. It isn't fancy, and it's not perfect, but the food is delicious and I plan on taking Mrs. HFG there sometime soon.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Royal Masala


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.

I am very happy Mrs. HFG went to Masala 3.0. We had a great meal for a very fair price. It was the perfect way to end a fun (and delicious) Saturday and we now have Masala back in our lives.

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

Bolo Bakery & Cafe

On Saturday, Mrs. HFG and I decided to go see the last Harry Potter movie. Not wanting to stand in line with a bunch of screechy teens (or the sketchy adults that follow screechy teens around :<) we decided to catch the 10 AM screening out in Plainville.

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

Monday, July 11, 2011

Scott’s Jamaican Bakery




The HFG has been out of commission lately with Mrs. HFG’s recovery (she is doing very well thank you for asking), work, and some HFG family issues. Also, I’ll be candid, someone said some very unkind things about the HFG and his reviews which really struck a nerve. :< x 25.

That said, if I can’t stand the heat I ought to get out of the kitchen. Since, however, I love kitchens (OK, I love what comes out of kitchens), and keeping in mind my vast legion of fans and my ever growing army of loyal followers, that isn’t going to happen. :p x 25. So I’m back.

This past Saturday Mrs. HFG and I took a drive up North Main Street to Scott’s Jamaican Bakery, which is a pillar of both the North End as well as Hartford’s small business community. So much so that Scott’s operates three locations (North Main Street, Albany Avenue and Blue Hills Avenue), as well as a wholesale and production operation on Windsor Street. Scott’s, in fact, has been around for over 30 years and pretty much anyone you talk to with strong roots in the West Indian community, or in the North End, Windsor, or Bloomfield will tell you that the Scott family is highly respected and its support and opinion is regularly sought on a wide range of political, business, and community issues.

My wife and I decided that we would order enough for lunch and dinner, so we opted for 2 orders of coco bread ($2.75 each), 2 beef patties ($1.55 each), 2 chicken patties ($1.55 each) and a large order of curried goat ($9.60). For about $20 it’s hard, if not impossible, to come up with 2 better meals.

Coco bread is just that, bread made some coconut milk. It is heavy and sweet, with a very nice taste. In fact, the taste reminded me and Mrs. HFG of the bread you get at Shish Kebab House of Afghanistan, though coco bread is somewhat sweeter and much heavier. It is also delicious and a perfect compliment to spicy food.

Speaking of spicy food, all of the patties were outstanding. They come in pastry, which was not too heavy and the flavor of the patties was excellent and the texture just right. Both Mrs. HFG and I favored the chicken patties over the beef, but both were very good.

Curried goat is not something you will find at most restaurants, so it was almost a must. The HFG has had goat before at and Ethiopian restaurant whose name escapes me (not the Abyssinian in Hartford) and I liked well enough, though I can’t say I was thrilled at the prospect of having it again. Mrs. HFG, however, is actually a big fan of goat, having had a belly full of it while she was stationed in Bosnia serving in the U.S. Army (yes, Mrs. HFG not only can whip up a great meal, she can also blow you away with a .50 cal machinegun).

Goat has a good taste, like venison, but it is somewhat gamy, which isn’t always a good thing. Fortunately, any of the gamy downside was washed away by the delicious curry. I wouldn’t say that the curry at Scott’s is the best I’ve ever had, but it was perfectly good. The curried goat also came with a generous portion of rice and beans, as well as what appeared to be a type of slaw, both of which helped offset the heat and spiciness of the curried goat.

On the whole, it was two delicious and very, very reasonably priced meals.

I haven’t been to the Scott’s on Albany or Blue Hills Avenue, but the one on North Main Street is a down and dirty, no bullsh*t affair. You walk in, you order, you get your order, you pay and you leave. Maybe you take a copy of a community newspaper or a flyer with you. That’s it. There isn’t any cheery décor, or any cleverly-named menu items, or even any perky over-educated under-achieving help with earrings in strange places that can tell you where the wheat they use was grown. It’s just a bunch of hardworking and very nice people pushing out order after order of delicious food and baked goods.

There is a large Jamaican population in this area, so there are other places you can go, but they aren’t going to be better than Scott’s. Try it, you won’t be sorry.

Here’s the link to their website - http://www.scottsjamaicanbakery.com/

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Russell






The HFG has been pretty inactive lately because of Mrs. HFG's surgery (she is recovering quite nicely) but the other night she felt up to taking a walk over to The Russell for dinner. Located at the corner of Pratt and Trumbull in what was once Zu-Zu's coffee bar (which became Xando's then Cosi's or the other way around) The Russell is operated by my neighbor and friend Hugh Russell (if you know Hugh, you know he is charming, on-point, and always impeccably dressed).


Hugh is from Jamacia and The Russsell's cuisine does reflect somewhat his Carrebian heritage, with offerings like jerk or curried chicken sandwiches, wraps, and flatbreads, but the cuisine is actually very eclectic. I've been there for lunch quite a few times, but I was excited to try the dinner menu.


Mrs. HFG and I decided to start with a couple of appetizers, so we ordered the coconut shrimp ($8), which came with an orange marmalade dip, and the yuca fries ($5) which came with a sweet onion aoili dip. They were both excellant.


Yuca is a potato-like tuber. It has a rather mild taste and as fries they are somewhat lighter than french fries. Our order was lightly fried and the dip was fantastic, adding a nice amount of punch.The cocconut shrimp were marvolous. The portion was generous and the shrimp were large and tasty. The light cocconut batter contrasted well with the flavor and texture of the shrimp and the oranage marmalade dip added a welcome sweetness.


For dinner I had the curry chicken wrap ($10) which came with spinach, onion, mango and red slaw. It was very good, with a nice combination of flavors and textures, but I wish the curry had had a bit more punch to it. Mrs. HFG agreed.


My wife had the jerk snapper filet ($18), which came with rice, peas, fried plantains, red and yellow peppers, carrots and okra. It was absolutely outstanding. The flavor of the fish came through and was complimented, but not overwhelemd, by the jerk seasoning. It was one of the best non-waterfront fish dishes I've had in many, many, many years.


On the whole, it was an outstanding meal at a very reasonable price.


It's sad to say, but I know some people shy away from The Russell because there is a perception that it is a "black" place, because Hugh is from Jamacia, the place attracts a large number of African-American, West Indian, and Jamacian patrons, and because it is somewhat known for it's nighttime dance crowd (Mrs. HFG says it rocks). That said, I have never felt less than 100% welcome and well-treated by staff and patrons when I have been there and it is no more a "black" restaurant than Max Downtown is a "white" restaurant. But, if people are going to be timid or just closed-minded there is nothing you can do, except enjoy the food, the ambiance, and the company they won't.


The bottom line is that The Russell is a great little place (litterally) and you should check it out, whether you are white, black, purple, or green.


Here's a link to The Russell's website - http://therussellct.com/

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Roadside Dogger

Mrs. HFG had surgery on Monday morning. She's fine now (sleeping in the other room as I type) but she's going to be on the disabled list for a few weeks. Not only does that mean no delicious Saturday AM pancakes for a while (:< x 1,000), but it also means that we won't be going out to eat either (:< x 5,000).

Still, the HFG has to do his thing. I’ve been home this week keeping an eye on my wife, so after picking up a prescription, I decided to stop by the Roadside Dogger, which parks every AM at the corner of Main and Athenaeum (Athenaeum is the little street that separates the art museum from the Travelers).

Strictly speaking, of course, the Dogger isn’t a restaurant, but it does serve breakfast and lunch every day to people who work Downtown. In fact, it’s one of a good number of trucks that camp out along Main Street and around Bushnell Park, serving a bewildering variety of dogs, burgers, Chinese (or at least Chinese-American) dishes, and more or less anything and everything else you can eat with your hands, a skewer, or a plastic fork.

I am tempted to get philosophical and say the food truck, like Sam Colt’s .45 caliber revolver, is a great equalizer. Around a food truck you’re likely to find stockbrokers, lawyers, government bureaucrats, blue, pink, and white collar workers, as well people from the service industry, students, and more or less anybody else who has $5 to spend and wants a quick bite to eat. There, I guess I just said it. :>

The Dogger is pretty typical of the “American” (as opposed to say “Chinese” or “Middle Eastern”) food truck, which offers up hot dogs, hamburgers, steak and cheese sandwiches, grilled sausages, etc. The Dogger has all these offerings, plus grilled cheese, and ham, pastrami, and tuna sandwiches, as well as a very simple breakfast consisting of a bagel with (plain) cream cheese, a muffin, or an egg and cheese sandwich with bacon, sausage, or ham, and coffee. Not fancy, but then again you are about as far from fine dining as you can be.

For lunch I had a steak and cheese sandwich on a sub roll, with mustard, onions, and peppers. Not fancy, but yummy nonetheless. The steak was OK, but it was hot and the onions and peppers added some good flavor. The sandwich was slathered in yellow mustard, and certainly not brown mustard, which though delicious, would be totally out of place on a food truck. I like yellow mustard, but I could have done with a bit less. Still, my only real complaint (and remember I am judging by the standards of a food truck, not Max Downtown) was the cheese, which was that gooey orange stuff (:<). Still, for $4, it is hard to complain.

One really good thing about the Dogger is that everything is cooked to order. This takes a bit longer, but it means your food is going to be hot and will not have been sitting on a warmer (or worse) before it's served to you.

The Roadside Dogger is not the greatest place to grab lunch Downtown, but it is a solid food truck that serves up basic, delicious, and incredibly unhealthy food quickly, and at a fair price. The next time you are Downtown at lunchtime, swing by, or at least check out one of the many other food trucks in the neighborhood. Although they are only there a few hours a day, they are part of what makes Downtown go.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Peppercorn's Grill

Last week was Mrs. HFG's birthday, so on Saturday we decided to celebrate by going to Peppercorn's Grill on Main Street, right at the edge of Downtown (just north of the intersection of Main and Buckingham Street). For those that don’t know, Peppercorn's has been around since 1989 and has won many local awards and has a very loyal following. Although Peppercorn’s is a good restaurant, the HFG just doesn't see how it can be ranked among the best in Hartford, let alone the area, or how it consistently wins so many local awards.

I know that what I just wrote is probably the most controversial thing I've said in a long time ("There's only 1 reason to go to West Hartford Center to eat and that's the Shish Kebab House of Afghanistan" is probably the most controversial). I also know that what I just wrote won't make any of my Downtown friends and neighbors too happy (many of whom are regulars at, or at least strong supporters of, this neighborhood institution). That said, neither the food nor the service (nor the atmosphere for that matter) at Peppercorn's is top notch.

To start, I had stuffed artichokes with escargot ($12) which were delicious. I thought they balanced each other quite well and that the taste of the artichokes did not overwhelm the escargot.

Mrs. HFG had the lobster bisque ($11). It was fine, but certainly not spectacular.

We also had a salad course, with my wife ordering a chopped salad ($7) and me ordering the special salad ($11). My wife’s salad was overdressed, but otherwise OK.

My salad, however, was good. It consisted of field greens, melon, caramelized walnuts, vanilla, and goat cheese with a vinaigrette dressing. The goat cheese was particularly memorable, as were the walnuts. It was, however, a tad heavy on the vanilla, which made an otherwise great salad merely good.

For dinner I had the ossobuco, which was braised with white wine, herbs, garlic, lemon zest, porcini mushroom essence, and a gremolata ($27). If you know the HFG, you know he loves ossobuco and I thought Peppercorn’s offering stacked up fairly well, though both Mrs. HFG and I thought there was some grit in the demiglaze, which bespoke of using a veal base to hasten the process (:< x 5). Still, it was pretty good.

Mrs. HFG had the risotto del giorno ($26). Mrs. HFG really appreciated the fact that they used fresh corn, which added some great flavor, and she liked the overall taste. She was, however, correct to point out that the consistency was off, being far too stiff; not the end of the world, but not exactly Michelin Star material either.

My wife and I couldn’t agree on red or white wine, so we went our separate ways, with her ordering 2 glasses of the Berendaga chianti ($10/glass) and me ordering 2 glasses of the Groth sauvignon ($9/glass). My wine was good, but not memorable, but I thought Mrs. HFG’s chianti had a great nose and taste to match.

We had cake at home leftover from a small party some of Mrs. HFG’s friends had thrown for her the night before, so we skipped desert.

While our dinner was pretty good, the service was below average, which is completely unacceptable in a fine dining establishment. Our server was overly familiar, not overly energetic, not particularly well-versed in the menu, and made a rather sarcastic remark as I was taking some notes as she was reciting the specials (one of the notes I made was “make sure to mention that the server made a sarcastic remark while I was writing down what I wanted to eat”). Not good, though I will say the other servers in the dining room seemed to move faster and have a better knowledge of the menu, including the one who told the table near us that the soft shell crabs were fresh (at least from the fish market) that day (“had I known that,” grumbled Mrs. HFG, “that’s what I would have ordered for my appetizer”). Perhaps we were just unlucky, but good service in a good restaurant shouldn’t be a matter of luck.

The atmosphere at Peppercorn’s is, I think, supposed to be evocative of a romantic Italian trattoria, with deep tones, low lighting, and cozy seating. It has those things, but frankly the interior is tired, the seating is somewhat cramped, and the place is noisy. I will admit, however, that the new dining area (in the space where Spiritus used to be before it moved to Asylum Street) is much more spacious and fresh, and also that having that extra room does cut down a bit on the noisiness of the original dining area. That new room, however, still doesn’t do all that much for you if you are sitting (as we were) in the old dining area.

Total tab, including an adequate (but by no means generous) tip, came to $172.22; expensive for the overall experience.

After reading this, you might be thinking that Peppercorn's is not that good, or you might be thinking that the HFG is crazy. One is true. Yes, the HFG might have one or two screws loose (:> x 5) but no, he's not saying that Peppercorn's isn't good. He's saying it's just it isn't great either.

Here’s the link to their website - http://www.peppercornsgrill.com/

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Waterfront Grille

Although the HFG is by no means a food snob, there is one type of cuisine about which I am extremely picky; fish. Growing up on the Atlantic Ocean, I have a very different definition of “fresh fish” than most people, including those who might live only 40 or 50 miles inland (i.e. pretty much everyone around here).

In fact, I once insulted the proprietor of one of the area’s best restaurants in a conversation about this very subject. The proprietor recommended to me a particular fish dish, assuring me that it was “fresh” and full of flavor. I asked what “fresh” meant and was proudly told it had been bought at the area’s #1 fish market that same day. With a sigh, I said “then it’s not fresh, is it?”

You see, other than fish you go out and catch yourself, the only “fresh” Atlantic fish is that which is bought on the pier and served the same day. There are a few places inland that make a point of appearing on the docks in the morning to buy some of the daily catch and then racing it back to the restaurant to be served later that day, but they are few and far between. Mostly, what you get in a good restaurant inland is fish bought from a market that day, which (hopefully) they bought off the docks a day or two before that.

Why this matters so much is that fish spoils at a far faster pace than beef, pork, or poultry, so it’s really a race against time once it hits the docks. While the “fresh” fish you’re likely to eat around here is by no means spoiled, it has deteriorated enough that a good amount of its flavor is gone by the time it hits your plate here in Hartford (or West Hartford or Glastonbury, for that matter).

This is all a very long introduction to the Waterfront Grille in my hometown of New Bedford, MA, where the HFG took his mom for lunch on Mother’s Day last week. There are two things I like about the Waterfront Grille. First, it is literally on the waterfront. You can look out at some of the fishing boats that are tied up and you can almost see the State Pier where the catches are sold off as they come in. It’s not fancy, but it is a special kind of ambiance that reminds you where you meal is coming from and the hard work it takes to get it on to your plate.

Second, and more importantly, 85% of the seafood served at the Waterfront Grille is bought at the pier that same day (the other 15% is from the day before). Now that’s fresh.

To start, I had a plate of fried oysters ($11). They were delicious and bursting with flavor and not overly coated in batter before they were dropped in the frialator. Severed with a bit of lemon and a nice tartar sauce, they were wonderful.

For lunch my mother had a Bloody Mary (go mom!) and the baked stuff shrimp ($19) with brown rice and roasted carrots. The presentation was quite nice but the brown rice was nothing special. In fact, it was pretty ordinary. That said, the roasted carrots were tasty and the baked stuff shrimp was amazing. The shrimp were large, there were plenty of them, and they were bursting with flavor. Fortunately, the seasonings and stuffing (made with crab meat :> x 10) didn’t crowd out the flavor of the shrimp.

My father had orange ginger scallops with roasted carrots and spinach ($18). The spinach was almost wilted, but his main plate looked absolutely amazing as it was studded with a number of massive scallops, slightly browned from having been expertly pan seared. Unfortunately, the HFG is deathly allergic to scallops so I couldn’t taste them, but my father assured me that they were outstanding as he worked feverishly to clear his plate.

My stepfather had a seafood salad ($12) which consisted of mixed greens and shrimp, scallops, and lump crab. The salad didn’t look particularly special, but again the seafood did. The scallops and shrimp looked large and juicy and there appeared to be plenty of lump crab. Like my dad, my stepfather assured me that his lunch was delicious as he shoveled the generous portions of seafood into his mouth.

The HFG had the swordfish ($19) in a sun dried tomato pesto and lemon basil aioli, with roasted carrots and wasabi mashed potatoes. The presentation was pretty ambitious for a dockside joint but the chef pulled it off quite nicely. The swordfish was wonderfully fresh, not overcooked, and bursting with flavor that was complimented (but not overwhelmed) by the pesto and aioli. The mashed potatoes were pretty good, but I thought the wasabi was unevenly mixed into my portion, which was a bit strange. I also had a glass of Portuguese white wine ($7) that was OK but not memorable.

The interior Waterfront Grille is nothing special. It is a big room sparsely appointed which sits on a pier. The service, while enthusiastic, is not great. It does, however, serve delicious fish and other seafood and that makes it well worth the trip. They also serve some meat and poultry dishes (the menu is almost the mirror of image of most places – 20 or 30 fish and seafood entrees with a half dozen meat and poultry offerings), but if you go there and order off the non- seafood part of the menu then someone should slap you in the head. Seriously.

There really is not a whole lot of reason to go to New Bedford other than to visit the Whaling Museum or take the ferry to the islands, but if you find yourself there, or the next time you are heading to Cape Cod, stop off at the Waterfront Grille. If you do, you’ll have a nice little meal and you’ll find what fresh fish tastes like. Here’s the link to the Waterfront Grille website - http://www.waterfrontgrille.com/

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Cavos

As shocking as this may sound, I don’t make millions by being the HFG. I do, however, at least have the benefit of a pretty steady stream of restaurant recommendations from friends and regular readers.

On Friday, a friend and former co-worker called me and said he had found the best Greek restaurant in the area. That sounded interesting, so he picked me up at my office and we took a drive down the Berlin Turnpike to Cavos, which is on the east (northbound) side, just north of the Stop & Shop plaza.

Honestly, if it had been almost any other friend, I would have been pretty nervous because the Berlin Turnpike is one of the most God-awful places around and among the least likely places in the area to find something good to eat . The original highway between Hartford and New Haven, the Turnpike was among the first victims of sprawl and there isn’t a whole lot on the Turnpike these days except chains, chains, and more chains.

My friend, however, is a true Italian-American and a practitioner of la dolce vita. He has a genuine love of good food and wine so I was confident that he had somehow found a diamond of a restaurant among the rough of 2nd rate chain stores and no-tell motels.

The interior of Cavos is nothing special. In fact, it is a bit dark and cramped. The service, however, lightened it up considerably as our waitress was friendly, prompt, and high-energy.

Although Cavos has a full menu with all sorts of classic Greek dishes, my friend and I decided to order several small plates for a tapas-style lunch that would allow us to sample a bunch of different things. To start, my friend and I ordered some spanakopita.

The pastry was perfect – light and flaky. The spinach was fresh and not overcooked so as to be wilted and tasteless. The contrast in textures and flavors was wonderful.

We also had an order of tyrokafteri, which is baked block of feta with tomatoes, red peppers, and garlic. While baking cheese sounds strange, doing so seems to take the edge off the flavor of the feta, which would otherwise be overpowering in such a large concentration. It also allows some of the flavor from the peppers, tomatoes, and garlic to find its way into the feta. Delicious.

We also had a skewer of pork souvlaki and a skewer of chicken souvlaki. Sometimes people cooking flesh over an open flame tend to over-season, perhaps because they think that unless they are doing something besides watching the grill, they aren’t really cooking. In the words of a famous philosopher, however, “keep it simple stupid.”

Cavos definitely follows that advice. Its souvlaki was seasoned just enough to add some punch, but not so much as to detract from either the delicious chicken and pork, or the lovely char that formed on the exterior of the cubes. :> x 15.

For desert, my friend and I each had Greek coffee and we split a piece of baklava. The baklava was unbelievably good. Unlike a lot of baklava, it wasn’t heavy or too sweet. It also was brilliantly made with alternating layers of filo (pastry) and sweet syrup filling, rather than a bunch of filling surrounded by some pastry. There were also almond slivers scattered throughout, giving the dish a wonderful mixture of textures and flavors. Our waitress asked us whether it was the best baklava we’d ever had and if it wasn’t it couldn’t have been too far off.

When we were finished, our waitress brought over the bill ($52.40, including a generous tip) and we had a short conversation:

Waitress: “Are you Greek?”

HFG: “No.”

Waitress: “Well, you look Greek.”

HFG: “Sorry, I am half-Portuguese.”

Waitress: “Oh. Same thing.”

It is hard to get any more Greek than that and it is hard to get more Greek than Cavos. I haven’t eaten at every place in the area that serves Greek food so I can’t say that Cavos’ food is the best. I can tell you, however, that it is damn good. I can also tell you that it is well worth a drive down the Tacky Turnpike.

Here’s the link to Cavos’ website - http://cavostavern.com/




Saturday, April 30, 2011

Trinity Restaurant

When I blogged about Pho Boston back in December a reader suggested that I try the Trinity Restaurant on Zion Street. I put it on my HFG to do list, but I never got around to it, probably because Mrs. HFG and I left for London 3 weeks later and things got crazy when we got back.

A couple of weeks ago, however, a friend told me that he and his girlfriend had been there for dinner and loved it. No doubt seeking to latch on to the rising fame and fortune of the HFG (:p) he offered to go back with me so I could check it out.

I was intrigued, not only because a reader and a friend had recommended it, but also because my friend told me the place was operated by an Albanian family and I was really interested to see what Albanian cuisine was all about. On Thursday Mrs. HFG was out of town on business, so my friend and I went for dinner. Although I was pretty disappointed when I read the menu and saw that the cuisine was really more Italian-inspired new American cuisine and not ethnic Albanian food, I wasn’t at all disappointed in the experience.

I started with an order of steamed mussels in a tomato and garlic broth/sauce. The mussels had good flavor and had been properly cleaned. The tomato and garlic sauce was ok and added some flavor, but did not overwhelm the mussels. All in all, it was a good way to start the meal.

My friend had an order of calamari with cocktail sauce. While I can’t say it was the best plate of calamari I’ve ever seen, it was certainly a good dish. The calamari was crisp, but not over-fried, and the cocktail sauce added just enough flavor. Again, it was a solid choice.

For dinner I had lamb oso buco, which was a play on a traditional veal oso buco dish, right down to the risotto. Probably even more than veal, lamb can be tough, so cooking it in the oso buco fashion (browned with either butter, oil, or lard, then braised with white wine and a meat broth flavored with veggies) is a great way to tenderize. Our chef did a great job with the generous lamb shank I was served and the meat was tender and had a wonderful flavor.

My risotto was OK, though Mrs. HFG’s is much, much better. I did, however, have a nice portion of steamed asparagus, which were not overdone, nor weighed down in a ton of butter. They had a nice flavor, which was accentuated by the flavor of the lamb shank under which they were sitting.

My friend had orescchiette (small, ring shaped pasta known as little ears) with some delicious spicy sausage in a tomato sauce with peppers and some broccoli rabe. I thought his dinner was very tasty and also very well-balanced. There were a lot of flavors working and they complemented each other quite nicely.

Although our dinner was pretty good, our deserts were excellent. At the recommendation of the proprietress, I had the tiramisu. In fact, with a smile and in her broken English she assured me that “we make the best tiramisu.” I don’t know about that, but it was damn good; rich without being too heavy and tasty without being too sugary.

My friend didn’t order dessert, but that didn’t stop the proprietress from bringing him some nice crème brulee. I don’t think it was quite up to the standard of the tiramisu, but it was very good and a happy ending to a delicious meal.

Total tab, including tip, came to just north of $85 – not cheap, but still a pretty reasonable price.

As you can see from the picture, the outside of the TR is nothing to write home about. That shouldn’t scare anyone away, however, as the interior is very cheery, with light colors and nice wooden furniture. It isn’t fancy, but it is comfortable. The service is solid and what its owners lack in restaurant expertise, they more than make up for in positive energy, work ethic, and frankly love for their customers and their cooking.

TR isn’t fine dining, but its menu is definitely a cut or two above your basic neighborhood restaurant. The food is very good, the service solid, and the atmosphere upbeat. It’s easy to see why it is a favorite of Trinity students and professors (several parties filed in as we were eating).

The only negative is a complete and utter lack of parking, save open spots along Zion Street. While that isn’t an issue if you are walking from the Trinity campus, it could make it a bit tough if you are coming from elsewhere.

All-in-all I was glad my friend and I went to TR. We had a very good meal at a reasonable price and Mrs. HFG and I will go back – as soon as I clear some other places off the HFG “to do” list. :>

I couldn’t find a website, but here is a link to a map and some reviews - http://www.yelp.com/biz/trinity-restaurant-hartford

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Hot Tomato's

When I started this blog I knew there would come a day when I would have to visit Hot Tomato’s in Downtown. It’s not that there is anything wrong with Hot Tomato’s, it’s that its former owner Tom Altman was someone with whom I had done some business over the years and someone I considered a friend.

Even though Tom was not a cook, he was a very savvy businessman with a good sense of what people wanted to eat, and he built a small empire of restaurants. Tom’s death a few years ago was a devastating tragedy for many, many people and ultimately his restaurants were sold, one by one, to new owners.

I had been in Hot Tomato’s several times while it remained in Tom’s family after his death, but it never felt right. Something, or more accurately, someone, was missing.

Honestly, I was not looking forward to going back because I couldn’t help but think of Tom when I had gone to Hot Tomato’s after he had passed. That said, new ownership was giving it a go, I hadn’t been back since they took over, several of my regular readers have been asking me to go there for quite some time, and life does go on, even if people we once knew and cared about are no longer with us. Thus, my wife and I decided to go there Saturday night for dinner.

Hot Tomato’s is appended to Union Station. It is an unusual space, with a big central dining area and bar occupying an add-on to the station, a kitchen and smaller dining area just to the north of the central dining area and within the station itself and just south of the hall of the station, and a small (and very nice) private dining room that opens off the area with the kitchen.

New ownership has freshened the place up considerably, but those familiar with the “old” Hot Tomato’s won’t be shocked by the décor or interior layout. Frankly, I think they did a great job of changing the feel of the restaurant just enough to put their own stamp on it without losing completely that familiar Hot Tomato’s feel.

We started with an order of Hot Tomato’s famous garlic bread, except it wasn’t. The “traditional” Hot Tomato’s garlic bread was made on Italian scali-type bread, with plenty of garlic and cheese. Our bread was more of a baguette, with not very much garlic at all, and a lot more cheese.

Unfortunately, the garlic bread was pretty ordinary. I am sure there was a sense that a new twist needed to be put on the menu, which is true, but I would not have changed a signature menu item.

We also split a chopped salad. The portion was enormous (more than enough for two) and the salad was pretty good, with crisp romaine, apples, cucumber, bacon, and a few other things. It was, however, way overdressed, which really detracted from the experience even though the dressing (which had a hint of mustard) was pretty good.

For dinner Mrs. HFG had the Brooklyn ragu with 2 meatballs over fettuccini and I had the lobster fra diavlo over fettuccini. Both portions were more than generous, though neither meal was outstanding.

The lobster fra diavlo could have been very good (they did not skimp on the lobster :>) but for the fact that the garlic was burned and that they either added the fettuccini after everything else had cooked or the plate had sat in the pass for too long. The problem was that much of the spice and flavor was at the bottom of the dish, either dragged down by the moisture of the lobster, or the result of simply having plopped the pasta on top of the rest of the dish (rather than adding the pasta for the last bit of cooking so as to let it become infused with the flavors of the dinner).

My wife’s dinner was more problematic. The meatballs were OK, but nothing special, as there was some flavor but not a whole lot. The ragu was a very simple tomato sauce with not much else going on, including an absence of basil or oregano (“Italian food for beginners,” grumbled Mrs. HFG).

One positive note on both dinners was that the pasta was cooked correctly and not overdone.

The total tab for dinner (including bottled water, 2 beers for me, and a glass of wine for Mrs. HFG), including tip, was $119 - pricy for the quality.

Our server was very friendly and hard-working. She was also pretty young and inexperienced, however. Still, she did a solid job, even if she lacked polish.

The new Hot Tomato’s is like the old Hot Tomato’s in as much as it is still a good casual dining spot with a sort of upscale feel. The menu has changed, but a lot of old favorites remain (or have been changed only a little).

It still isn’t fine dining, however, nor is it a perfect causal experience either as there is a lot of work to be done on the execution side. That said, they are working hard to keep the Hot Tomato’s legacy going, and you ought to give them a try, and their shot.

Here’s a link to the website - http://www.hottomatos.net/






Saturday, April 23, 2011

Fire -n- Spice

I had Friday off, but because Mrs. HFG had to work I was again on my own. Just because my wife is working, however, doesn’t mean she doesn’t provide me with a delicious meal. While that usually means her leaving something good in the refrigerator, yesterday it meant taking her advice and checking out Fire -n- Spice on Sisson Avenue in Hartford (a couple of doors south of the relatively well known Half Door pub).

FNS is a very different type of place, especially for the HFG, because it is one of the very few vegan restaurants in the area. The HFG is a carnivore, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate at least some of what vegan cooking is about. As I wrote while Mrs. HFG and I were London, you don’t have to be a tree-hugger to appreciate fresh food that isn’t loaded with preservatives and other chemicals.

FNS is also probably different than most vegan restaurants because it specializes in Jamaican and other Caribbean dishes. In fact, when you walk into FNS you seen an eclectic mix of pictures, paintings, and wall-hangings that are about half the earthy crunchy stuff you’d expect in a vegan place and about half what you’d expect to see in a place that serves food from the West Indies (including several portraits of Haile Selassie, the last emperor of Ethiopia and the person whom Rastafarians believe is the Messiah).

One of the interesting things about FNS is that there are menu items you have to pre-order well in advance because they take so long to prepare. My visit was definitely impromptu, so I was limited to the buffet items they have ready if you walk in off the street.

I had the 5 dish special ($10.95), which allowed me to choose 5 items from the buffet. After some deliberation, I picked the jerked tofu; yellow curried potatoes; red beans and rice; a stew based around beans, peas, and sweet potatoes; and mixed veggies with carrots and red and green peppers; and what seemed to be shallots or leeks. Like all good organic food, all five dishes were fresh, with very strong and clean flavor profiles.

Jerked tofu was a very different experience, but a very good one. I’ve had jerked chicken, pork, and even goat, but jerked tofu is different because of the big difference in texture. That said, the jerked seasoning was powerful and had tons of flavor – exactly as it ought to be.

The yellow curried potatoes also packed a pretty good punch. I don’t know that it was up to the standards you’d find in a good Indian restaurant, but it was delicious nonetheless.

The stew was outstanding. Most stews are based around some sort of flesh and bone, which gives it so much of its flavor (and which it is why it takes so long to stew). This stew, of course, didn’t have any meat but it still had a good rich flavor that was offset quite nicely by the sweet potatoes. (Here’s a hint, the red beans and rice were on my plate to soak up the stew :>).

The mixed veggies were also very good, with plenty of fresh crunch, as well as a good flavor from some sort of marinade.

For desert I had sweet potato pudding, which was the consistency of a thick flan. The taste was pretty subtle, but very nice and a good way to end a delicious meal. I also had a whole foods ginger ale, for a total tab of $15.95. It wasn’t cheap, but it was delicious.

FNS also offers vegan cooking classes, as well as a catering service. The HFG isn’t going to give up eating meat, but he will go back to Fire -n- Spice. Here’s the link to the website - http://www.firenspiceveganrestaurant.com/

Friday, April 22, 2011

Aladdin Halal

I've been out of commission recently with work and other real-life issues. Suffice it to say, however, the HFG is back and even hungier than usual.

Mrs. HFG has been even busier, so I've been on my own for dinner a lot lately. A few days ago I decided to hit an old favorite, Aladdin Halal on Allyn Street in Downtown. (As an aside, Aladdin calls itself a halal because its menu and preparations are in accordance with Islamic dietary law as set out in the Koran. Think kosher, and then translate from Judaism to Islam).

Going back through some recent posts, I noticed I'd been talking a lot lately about how Hartford has seen better days. I don't think that's debatable, but that's not to say that it is without hope, or that there aren't any opportunities here.

Indeed, there are people who still come to Hartford from all over the world because they view it as holding out more promise than wherever it is they are coming from. Aladdin’s owner, Mohammed Agha, is one such person.

Agha came to Connecticut from Egypt to finish his engineering studies at the University of New Haven but a new wife and a baby forced him to make other plans. Taking over what had been a mediocre and very unsuccessful pizza and grinder shop, Agha turned it into exactly the sort of place you can find only in America; an Egyptian-owned restaurant serving pizza, grinders, and food from all over the Middle East and Greece.

I’ve had much (if not most) of the Middle Eastern/Greek food on Aladdin’s menu and it’s all very good. Still, however, I was tired and hungry when I got there so I didn’t muck around trying to figure out what I wanted, I just ordered one of my favorites - a side of dolma ($4.99) and the Koufta kabob combo ($11.99).

For the uninitiated, Dolma are stuffed grape leaves. There are a bunch of ways to do, but around here, I don’t think anyone does it better than Aladdin, who uses rice, parsley, chopped onions, tomatoes, and herbs. The grape leaves are steamed, then wrapped around the filling and topped with a generous portion of a lemon sauce. While grape leaves are a bit tough, steaming them and coating them in lemon sauces definitely softens them just enough to provide a great contrast to the filling. The filling is a nice balance of flavors that really unfold as you chew. Delicious.

Koufta is ground lamb, seasoned with onions, parsley, and spices. It is cooked on a skewer, over a spit, just like any other kebab and I think provides a bit more flavor than your basic kebab, though the texture is different, mostly because the lamb has been ground then re-formed, rather than sliced from the bone then skewered (don’t worry, Aladdin has lamb and chicken kebabs for the less adventuresome).

What’s nice about ordering the kebab combo is that you not only get a generous portion of freshly cooked and delicious meat, you also get a nice salad and some hummus and pita.

As I said, I have had most of the Middle Eastern food on Aladdin’s menu and it is all pretty delicious. One favorite, however, is the sautéed foul madammaz ($5.99). It is a combination of fava beans, garlic, tomato, onion, parsley, cumin, and olive oil (with a nice side of pita to mop it all up and into your mouth :> x 10).

I also like the tabouleh ($4.99) which is parsley salad with wheat bulgur, diced tomato, onion, mint, and a fresh lemon dressing. It is very refreshing on a warm day, which is probably how it became a staple of Middle Eastern cooking.

While the inside of Aladdin is nothing special (it did, after all, start life as a pizza place) the people who work there are exceptionally friendly and very hardworking; proof that at least some people still see in Hartford the same opportunity that has brought people here for almost 400 years.

Aladdin is not fine dining. It isn’t even a family restaurant. It’s really just a pizza place which has a Middle Eastern restaurant grafted on to it; a made in a America special that is well worth the trip.

Here's the link to Aladdin's website -http://www.aladdinhalal.com.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Feng Asian Bistro

The stretch of Asylum Street between Main and Trumbull has seen much better days. Now it just is surface parking on one side and a hodge-podge of old buildings and an ugly parking garage on the other. As late as the 1980’s, however, the block was still anchored by the venerable men’s store, Stackpole Moore & Tryon at the Trumbull Street end and the Hartford-Aetna National Bank Building (Hartford’s first skyscraper) at the Main Street end.

Jammed in along that stretch is an ugly old five story building that had the bad luck of having its façade re-done at the worst possible time (somewhere between 1960-1980). For many years the building was the home of Song Hays, probably the worst Chinese restaurant in which it was ever my displeasure to eat. A few years ago, however, the Ginza Restaurant Group gutted the place and opened Feng Asian Bistro, which has been a very welcome addition to the Hartford culinary scene.

Feng is all about Asian fusion. You will find some traditional Japanese fare (like a delicious bowl of miso soup), but really the cuisine is a mix of Japanese and western elements, techniques, and styles. The combinations are interesting, and by and large delicious. We have been there several times before (mostly with friends) and we haven’t been disappointed.

After being seated in the booth at the right in the picture, Mrs. HFG and I decided to open the festivities by ordering two “flights” of sake, each consisting of three different types of cold sake. In the interest of full disclosure, I love hot sake, but I am not a big fan of cold sake. Still, it looked interesting on the menu.

My trio ($13) consisted of three different traditional cold sakes, ranging from very dry to somewhat sweet. Somewhat like a Japanese baby bear, I thought the dry sake was too dry, the sweet sake too sweet, and the middle sake was just about right. Honestly, I don’t know that I’d order the Sake flight again, but I’m not sorry I tried it. You only live once, right?

My wife’s trio ($14) consisted of three different flavors of sake, though almost immediately after setting it down our waiter returned with a fourth cup and apologized because the bartender hand mis-poured one of the favors. She liked all four, though I did not care for them.

My wife started with a delicious bowl of miso soup with mushrooms and scallions ($6). Miso soup is made with miso paste, which is a combination of fermented rice, barley, or soybeans (most often soybeans) with salt and a particular fungus. The miso paste is then mixed with dashi, which is the quintessential Japanese stock and can be made with a variety of ingredients, though traditionally with dried kelp and dried flakes of tuna, put in water and brought to a boil then strained. The thing about miso soup is that the flavor is supposed to be there, but it should be very mild. The consistency has to be thicker than broth, but not too much. Thus, Miso soup is actually an easy dish to make badly. My wife’s soup, however, was very well balanced in terms of flavor and consistency.

I started with the duck spring rolls ($7) with a hoisin dipping sauce served with some shoestring sweet potato fries. I thought the duck was well done (i.e. not too gamey) and that the shoestring fries were a nice compliment, not only in terms of flavor and texture, but also adding an essentially Western element to the dish.

For dinner Mrs. HFG had the Dynamite Roll ($18), which is a great example of Feng’s fusion cooking. It consists of tempura jumbo soft-shell crab, spicy salmon, jalapeño and romaine lettuce inside and was topped with spicy tuna, shredded crispy kani with momiji sauce, eel sauce, and honey wasabi. Yes, that’s a ton of flavors and textures, not all of which are part of Japanese cuisine, and it would have been quite easy for that dinner to have gone off the rails. It didn’t. Frankly, my wife’s meal was delicious and a real medley of flavors and textures that combined and re-combined with different bites.

I had the rack of lamb ($37), which is about as fusion as it gets, right? My lamb was prepared in a spiced cider reduction with local carrots, parsnips, turnips, and pearl onions. It was quite good and the lamb was tender and cooked perfectly to the chef’s recommendation (medium rare).

I am not usually a fan of fusion cooking because it’s often an excuse for someone who hasn’t mastered even one type of cooking to try to cover that up by mixing two different types of cuisine. Often, the results are unspectacular (and sometimes even disastrous) but the chef hides behind how clever he (or she) supposedly is being by playing mix and match and acting like you are a gourmand if you don’t “get” it. That said, Feng does fusion right, with a strong base in well-prepared Japanese cuisine mixed intelligently with Western elements.

About the only bad thing I can say about Feng was that the service was not tight. The food moved out of the kitchen quickly and our table was cleared very efficiently, but our waiter had a less than complete knowledge of the menu, a bottle of Pellegrino took so long to appear that my wife was sure they had sent to Italy for it, and, as noted, the bartender put the wrong sake in my wife's trio. Still, our waiter was friendly and hardworking, so I can't be overly critical, but it is small things like that which separate a good experience from a great one.

Even though Feng is one of several places in the area (and Massachusetts) owned and operated by the Ginza Restaurant Group you do not get the feel you are eating in a chain, albeit a high- class chain. No, it definitely has a unique feel and is perfectly adapted to its space (which is very New York, being much longer than it is wide) with a great mix of colors, accents, and textures that contributes effectively to the Asian fusion theme without being tacky.

On the whole, however, my wife and I had a good meal and a good time. While dinner was by no means cheap ($112 including tip), it was a very fair price to pay for a very solid meal. Feng is quite different than most restaurants in the area, and the food is quite good, which means Mrs. HFG and I will be going back when our palletes need a challenge and a change of pace.

Here's the link to Feng's page on the Ginza Group website - http://www.fengrestaurant.com/index2.html

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Tamarind Grill & Bar


We are lucky to have more than one good Thai restaurant in the area from which we can choose. That said, and with no disrespect to the East West Grill on New Park Ave in Elmwood (which is really, really good), my wife and I are partial to Tamarind Grill on Pratt Street in Downtown. In fact, this review is long overdue because my wife and I go there a lot (and we also get delivery from there pretty regularly) and we have had many, many delicious meals.

We went again on Friday after work, and I resolved that this would be the trip I would blog about.

Let’s start with the disclaimer; Thai food is obviously very different than what most Americans eat most (if not all) of the time, especially in terms of what the phrase “hot and spicy” means. Indeed, much (if not most) Thai food is a real challenge to the western palate. That’s a good thing, however, because there is a lot more to life (and food) than eating nachos, fried chicken, and hamburgers.

I started with a bowl of the Tom Ka Gai soup. At $4, it is a ridiculous bargain. It consists of chicken in lime leaves, coconut milk, tofu, and red pepper. It has great flavor and is very spicy (the Tamarind menu gives it a 1 pepper spicy hot rating, though I think most people not familiar with Thai food would give it 2), though the coconut milk and tofu do a nice job of balancing out the heat of the dish. I also like the Tom Yum Goong soup ($5), which is a hot and sour soup with prawn (think shrimp) with lemon grass, tofu, and red pepper.

My wife and also split an order of pork dumplings ($7.50). Mrs. HFG thinks Tamarind makes the best dumplings around, and I can’t argue with that assessment. The dumpling itself has a great texture and is never, ever, rubbery, which you sometimes see. The filling is delicious, with steamed pork, sesame, cilantro, and some chili sauce, for kick. Outstanding. It is also served with a soy-based dipping sauce which adds some flavor and moisture.

For dinner, I had the beef hot pot ($15). It is not my all-time favorite Tamarind offering (the mango beef probably is, see below) but it is delicious. More importantly, you can’t get it delivered (nobody is going to carry piping hot stoneware 4 blocks just so the HFG can have a hot pot :<).

One note, both the beef and chicken hot pots are rated as 2 pepper symbols hot on the Tamarind menu, and I agree with that assessment. Still, it is an outstanding choice and you should let the 2 pepper rating scare you away.

My wife had the green curry ($12) (another 2 pepper hot dish, again with good reason) over brown rice. The green curry is a bit different than the sort of curry you’d get in an Indian restaurant as it is thinner, with much more liquid. Still, it is hot and delicious. Tamarind’s green curry is made with chicken, eggplant, peppers, onion, basis leaves, sugar snap peas and bamboo shoots, which are a great balance of textures and which all become infused with the flavor of the curry.

Mrs. HFG and I have had most (if not all) of the food on the menu at one time or another and your really can’t go wrong, regardless of what you end up ordering. One recommendation, however, especially for the more timid; try the mango beef.

The sweetness of the mango cuts the spices and the red, green, and yellow peppers used in the dish. This makes it bit different than a lot of the menu, but it would be a great choice for a beginner and you would still get a great taste of Thai cooking.

One of the best parts about the food at Tamarind is that it is not heavy. You can eat a large (and delicious) meal and not feel stuffed or overloaded. This is the result of them not using a lot of grease or fatty food in their cooking and it also allows the flavors to really pop. While fried foot can be great, there is something really special about flavor profiles that are simply and cleanly prepared.

The service at Tamarind is friendly and hardworking and they are able to deal pretty effectively with the flood of customers who show up every day at lunchtime (seriously, if you go there for lunch after 12 or before about 1:30, be prepared to wait to be seated). Tamarind is a popular spot with people who work in the office buildings Downtown, especially the 20-something crowd, who seem to favor it as a spot for a lunch date. In the evenings, the restaurant is much less crowded, though it is rarely ever even close to empty.

An added plus at Tamarind is the bar. It may not look like much, but it is pretty well-stocked and, more importantly, the people behind it can make a variety of excellent cocktails, ranging from a mai tai, which you would expect, to a margarita, which you would not, to a Manhattan, which I certainly didn't expect (I had two with dinner on Friday :> x 5).

Tamarind is a great place. The food is excellent, the people who work there are very capable and among the most welcoming and friendly in the area, and the prices are very fair. That’s a tough combination to beat.

In fact, about the only negative thing I can say about Tamarind is that, because it is on Pratt Street, there’s not a lot of parking in the immediate vicinity. That, of course, doesn’t matter if you work or live Downtown, but I could see where it would be a pain in the @ss if you don’t. That said, you shouldn’t let that stop you from making the trip, or at least stopping in the next time you go to the XL Center (only 1 block away), Hartford Stage or Theatre works (both 2 blocks away), or otherwise find yourself Downtown. You won’t be disappointed.

Here’s the link to Tamarind’s website - http://www.tamarindhartford.com/

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Polytechnic On20 Restaurant

Henry James wrote that Hartford was the richest little city in America. Indeed, as late as the 1970’s Hartford was not only the insurance capital of the world, it was also a regional banking center (when there were still regional banks) and home to Colt Firearms and Royal Typewriter.

Those days are long gone, of course. In fact, even the venerable Hartford Club is no longer the preserve of the WASP-elite (who are all pretty much gone too), but rather a business club for lawyers, middle-managers, and other haut-bourgeoisie types with just enough money, education, and status to pass for rich and powerful in a town that has seen much better days.

Still, however, there is one place that really harkens back to the days when tiny Hartford was a national city; the Polytechnic On20 Restaurant (“Polytechnic” being derived from the Polytechnic Club, which used to occupy the location). Located (you guessed it) on the 20th floor of the Hartford Steam Boiler building (One State Street for all you GPS geeks), On20 is about as fine as fine dining gets in this area.

On20 is open Monday thru Friday for lunch, and Friday nights for cocktails and dinner. It also hosts many high-level events and major political fundraisers. I have been there for lunch several times and it is impressive, above and beyond the food and service. We are talking power-lunch to about the 9th power.

Indeed, I have seen Congressman John Larson lunching there, listening carefully to serious looking white-haired men talk about who knows what and more or less every table is packed with similarly-stern gentlemen (and the occasional lady) who are no doubt moving and shaking, at least to the extent that anyone moves and shakes in Hartford anymore.

Let’s put it this way, if you go to Max Downtown for lunch, you will see many leading lawyers, stockbrokers, and upper-middle management types from the insurance companies. If you go to On20, you will see the folks that the people eating at Max Downtown work for.

My wife and I decided to go there to celebrate my birthday, but there was no room in the inn the last two weeks, so we couldn’t get a table until last night (don’t they know who the HFG is?!?!?). It was, however, well worth the wait.

My wife started with an absolutely magnificent croque madame, comprised of a quail egg with a slice of ham on perfectly toasted bread with lovely melted French cheese. She thought it was one of the best appetizers she’s had in a very long time and I don’t disagree. Working with quail eggs is no easy thing as they are small and delicate and easily overwhelmed by other flavors. My wife’s dish, however, was perfectly balanced and a well-constructed bite resulted in four different textures (soft cheese, crunchy bread, chewy ham, and slimy egg yolk) and four different flavors (the sharp cheese, the delicious bread, the tangy ham, and the delicate quail egg) coming together in your mouth like a symphony. It was just magnificent and strong testimony to what an excellent chef can do with the most basic of ingredients. It also came with some delicious homemade chips, which was a great compliment from both a textural and taste point of view.

If you follow this blog you won’t be surprised that I had the charcuterie for my appetizer. It consisted of three very attractive preparations; pate, in a thin crust that reminded me of a spring roll; fois gras (:> x 10) bounded by the thinnest of crusts on two sides, and a what looked like a very mild pepperoni or salami in a block (like you might serve fois gras or pate), but which was made from duck. It was absolutely outstanding.

For dinner, my wife had seared tuna over soba noodles, straw mushrooms, and peppers, in a savory sauce. We both thought her dinner was quite nice, with an excellent balance of flavors and textures. In fact, Chef Noel Jones is a master at mixing his textures and flavors to produce subtle and delicious combinations that really unfold as you eat. At first, my wife was only moderately impressed, but as she got deeper into the dish she begin to see (and taste) the medley that Chef Jones had created.

I had the medallions of venison au juis, with head cheese in a green sauce (the color of the wasabi paste served with sushi, though there was no wasabi in it) that tasted of either spring onions or leeks (probably spring onions, since they would have given the sauce its color). I have had venison before and even when it is properly prepared it tends to be a bit tough and gamey. Not last night. Cooked medium rare (to the chef’s recommendation) it was wonderfully tender and with the juis and the sauce quite flavorful.

I won’t lie, I was excited to try head cheese based on the recommendation of Anthony Bourdain. For the uninitiated, head cheese isn’t cheese at all, but rather a terrine or meat jelly made with flesh from the head (though usually not the brain, eyes, or ears) of a calf, a pig, a sheep, or even a cow, and often set in aspic, which is a gelatin made from consommé or meat-stock. Sadly, it didn’t live up to Bourdain’s hype. The texture was soft and not particularly chewy, which was a good contrast to the venison, but I didn’t pick up a whole lot of flavor.

Still, my dinner was excellent and I have no complaints.

With our dinner we ordered a bottle of Washington state cab, called Pitch. At about $40, it was a perfectly satisfactory selection. Actually, for the price it was very nice with a great nose (lots of cherry) and a wonderful hint of cinnamon.

For desert, my wife had the cheese plate, which came with a selection of French cheeses, crackers, and delicious, but not overly sweet, honey (which cut the sharpness of the cheese quite nicely). One of the cheeses was particularly pungent and while I wouldn’t eat it on a regular basis, with a little honey on a cracker, it was great way to challenge the pallet.

I had the so-called cookies and cream, which was a small (but incredibly delicious) chocolate torte with a white chocolate mouse and a small two-layered chocolate cookie. It was fantastic (:> x 25).

I also had a cup of perfectly made cappuccino. That sounds like a small thing, but a lot of non-Italian restaurants (and, sadly, even a few Italian restaurants) can’t seem to do better than liquid drek when making cappuccino. On20, however, got it exactly right, which was a perfect way to end an excellent meal.

The service at On20 is impressive, though I have to say it seems just a bit tighter at lunch than it did at dinner last night. Still, the staff last night was prompt, efficient, polite, well-versed in the menu and the wine list, and well put-together. In fact, probably the worst thing I can say about it was that the hostess handed my coat to me before she handed Mrs. HFG’s coat to her. If that’s the low point, you are doing pretty well.

You only get a partial sense of it from the picture, but the view from On20 is spectacular, as it wraps around the south and west sides of the Steam Boiler Building, giving diners a view of downtown, the Travelers Tower, the Science Center and the Connecticut River. That alone makes it worth the trip. The décor in On20 is formal but relatively simple, which is good because it doesn’t detract from the food, the service, or the often very serious purpose for eating there.

My only real complaint about last evening was the other diners. When I posted about Max Downtown I went on a mini-diatribe about people who go to fine dining establishments “wearing jeans, sweaters, and sneakers, with their similarly attired bratty eight-year-olds in tow.” Last PM wasn’t quite that bad, but it wasn’t good either.

First, there were the young ladies wearing cocktail dresses that would have been too short for them when they were 12, let alone 22. Dear God.

They, however, were easily eclipsed by their gentleman (and I use that term loosely) friend, who wore his dress sneakers to compliment his blue blazer and dress slacks. He, in turn, was eclipsed by the doctor (or nurse) at the next table that came to dinner in his scrub shirt and a pair of khakis. By comparison, the half-dozen men scattered throughout the dining room wearing coats but not ties, or light colored suits (it’s only March!) seemed properly-attired.

Gentlemen, On20 is a first class place and it merits first class attire. Go rent Dr. No, Goldfinger, or any other classic Bond movie. You will see 007 wearing a dinner jacket, a bespoke (i.e. hand made) suit, a bathing suit, or nothing at all. We can’t all be Sean Connery, or even Roger Moore for that matter, but we can at least be better than Larry the Cable Guy.

In any event, On20 is serious dining. The food is complicated, the atmosphere quite formal, and the prices are high (dinner last night came to just north of $210, including taxes and a fixed 20% gratuity). That said, for a fine-dining experience you won’t do better in this area, especially at lunchtime and if you fancy yourself a foodie, or a mover and shaker, then you must go there.

Here's the link to On20 -http://www.ontwenty.com/pages/menu.html