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 nonetheless...it 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!