Thursday, November 19, 2009

It's Almost Turkey Day!

Everyone getting excited for Thanksgiving?!?  Only a week away...K and I are heading out to California to visit family for the holiday with Sweetie. 

I wanted to take some pies over to K's office before we left to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving and, of course, show off our cute daughter.  Mission accomplished---I made pumpkin pie from a Cook's Illustrated recipe--it was the best pumpkin pie I've ever eaten.  (Sorry, Mom!)  You have to pay to look at most of the recipes on the site, but I am telling you it is well worth it.  All recipes are tried and tested--I love Bon Appetit and Food and Wine as much as everyone else, but I promise you will be more satisfied with the recipes at Cook's Illustrated on the whole.  And of course they have a print edition, too.

So believe it or not, we're actually going OUT on Thanksgiving this year, but I think it will be a wonderful dinner.  We'll be heading to the Montage in Laguna Beach for their Thankgiving feast.  While in L.A., we're also going to check out The Must Bar, which is a popular gastropub that was recently written up in Bon Appetit.  Will let you know how everything turns out!

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

New Local Favorite

As new parents, date nights are rare so you want to make the most of it.  K and I got the opportunity last night to get out of the house so we tried a restaurant I've been dying to go to for a while: Chris's American Restaurant on Federal Rd in Brookfield.  I'm really excited to report that this quaint little restaurant did not disappoint. 

Chef Owner Chris Bruno has clearly poured his heart and soul into this restaurant and has reason to be proud of his 19 years of work and the resulting menu which is inventive and varied--I'm loving the international influences, particularly Asian.  (More on the food in a minute.)  The space is small but cozy and we loved the fireplace and candles.  It was a little disappointing to be seated at the smallest table in the corner of a nearly empty dining room, however it quickly became clear that was necessary as the place filled up--surprising on a Wednesday night during a supposed recession!  The by-the-glass wine list was small but clearly well thought out and I chose the Harlow Ridge Pinot Noir (with which I was extremely pleased) and K had a Bass. 

It was hard to choose off the extremely interesting menu, but we started off with the Avocado "Carpaccio" which was great.  Plated like you expect carpaccio to be, it consisted, of course, of thin slices of avocado, but the sauces and condiments were clever and delicious--rice wine vinaigrette, wasabi mayoinnaise, and soy mirin, along with pickled ginger, nori strips, and cucumber salad.  I was really pleased.  We followed that up with Chicken Ferrara (tender chicken with spinach, mushrooms, roasted peppers, sherry and cream over penne) and Wok Fried Panko Crusted Tilapia (perfectly cooked with red chile sauce, Japanese black rice and baby bok choy--which was a tiny too undercooked for me, but that's a personal preference.)  We really enjoyed every bite, which means the portions were right on, too.  I did have to add salt and pepper to the chicken ferrara--and it's extremely rare for me to salt anything--but that did the trick.  Oh and the entrees came with a delicious salad and house vinaigrette--sadly, a complimentary salad that the chef actually takes pride in is something that is all too rare these days.  Unfortunately we didn't have time to stay for dessert, but I'll report on that the next time we go, which hopefully will be soon.

As for service, we can't complain--one of the best things was that the server knew the menu which is extremely important to me, and usually is to chefs but the passion for the food doesn't always translate to the front of the house.  I'm glad it does at Chris's.  Oh and thank goodness they marked our table (took our used utensils and brought new between the courses)--why in the world is this still the exception as opposed to the rule?  I did have to ask for a to go box as I was not offered one, but I think we threw the server  for a loop by asking for the check before we were finished eating--hey, we were enjoying ourselves but this was date night and there was a movie to catch!  Next time we'll make a point to linger longer.

So check out Chris's website at (you'll need some time to decide what you want...but don't forget the menu is printed daily and might have even more choices) and then head over to the restaurant for a great dining experience.  From the site to the ambience to the food and even the plating, the attention to detail at this restaurant is really inspiring.  Let me know what you have and how you liked it!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Weekends in West Hartford

K and I are both still in the Army Reserves, which means we have the pleasure of attending Drill (also known as "Battle Assembly") one weekend a month.  We do our best to make these weekends bearable, which (of course) means treating ourselves to a good meal for lunch on both Saturday and Sunday while we're in West Hartford, CT, where the Reserve Center is.  After all, we're making pretty good money during those weekends, plus we're lucky enough to spend those weekends together even though we're working, so we want to make the most of that time! 

If you're familiar with West Hartford at all, one of the first things that probably comes to mind is all the great restaurants along Farmington and LaSalle Avenues, as well as the new restaurants in Blue Back Square.  Of course there's the ubiquitous Max Group, which are great, but I've had fun checking out a bunch of other ones.  Some of the places we've been to recently include Cocoa (which recently opened), The Counter (a "Custom Built Burger" joint) and Rizzuto's (a local chain Italian restaurant that doesn't feel it).

Cocoa turned out to be fairly good--we ate outside because it was an amazing day (the last of the season, probably) so I didn't really experience the ambience inside, but it seemed very nice and cozy--the whole theme really does remind you of a cozy cup of hot cocoa--haha!    Apparently they also have a garden patio which I'll have to check out when the weather warms up again.  At any rate, they weren't serving their whole menu on Sunday (curses!) but believe it or not, their "light fare" menu is really varied and we all found something appetizing to us.  K had the vegetable stir fry with sticky rice and grilled shrimp, I started with a salad and then had the baby back ribs with cornbread, and our friend had a dijon chicken sandwich with cole slaw and sweet potato fries (not made in house, but still good).  It's not cheap but not exhorbitantly expensive.  Everything tasted really fresh--my salad was huge, ribs came with extra bbq sauce (just the way I like them) and the cornbread was as good as my Nonnie's in North Carolina.  (Bad cornbread is unforgiveable!)  The service wasn't anything to brag about, but I'm pretty patient when I'm the only party seated in a certain area, plus they brewed us fresh ice tea so I'm not complaining.

The Counter is a chain (across the country, mostly in California, plus Ireland and Australia) but intriguing truly is "build your own burger" to proportions you've never seen before.  The choices are endless and it's a lot of fun to pick and choose...UNLESS your indecisive like me!  I eventually made up my mind (1/3lb beef with Gruyere, Sauteed Mushrooms, and Peppercorn Steak Sauce on a bun) but if you can't, there's always the signature burgers or sandwiches and leave the decisions up to them.  They advertise that their beef is 100% Natural, freshly ground Angus Beef, raised on a vegetarian diet without hormones or antibiotics--Certified Humane.  It would be interesting to see who regulates such claims, but either way that must be better than some of the alternatives.  It may seem gimmicky, but it was a lot of fun and I'd definitely go again when I'm hankering for a burger.  Oh and try the Fried Dill Pickle Chips--yum!

Rizzuto's is a place I've been able to go to a couple of times--they make their own pasta in house (the choices available change every day) and have a good wine selection, as well as fresh market fish, wood-fired pizzas, and a great antipasto selection.  (In case you don't know already, I'm all about the starters and often judge restaurants by them....)  The ambience is very upscale but comfortable, and I love the open kitchen.  This time I started with the Artichoke Fritters, then had the fresh linguine with pepper and handmade meatballs.  The Fritters were definitely tasty but a bit underdone--I can't stand it when there's unfried batter on the inside--and the pasta was tasty but I couldn't figure out why all my linguine was clumped together.  It was pretty disconcerting--that's something I'm going to have to look into and how to prevent it.  But overall it's an enjoyable place to eat.

So stop by West Hartford and try one of these fun eateries when you get a chance and let me know what you think!