Foodie Mini-Mecca; Delicacy International Market, Cheers Wine and Spirits, Cosmos International and More!Posted: November 25, 2012
Delicacy International Market, 774 Farmington Ave., West Hartford CT
Cheers Wine and Spirits Shoppe, 772 Farmington Ave., West Hartford CT
Cosmos International, 770 Farmington Ave., West Hartford CT
In a drab little set of buildings on Farmington Ave. in West Hartford, you will find an international foodie mini-Mecca of sorts. Cosmos International is an Indian grocery but offers much more than a huge selection of Basmati rices, fresh spices of all sorts, nuts, dried fruits, vegetables, etc. You’ll find a very fine smoked Spanish paprika, Bulgarian feta cheese and other surprises all sold at remarkably low prices. At a counter at the back of the store, Cosmos sells prepared Indian dishes to take away; both vegetarian, like saag paneer, as well as meat dishes like chicken or lamb curry. They also make dosa – a wonderful south Indian pancake. Take out (only) lunch is $5.00 and includes a vegetable and a meat curry. The folks who run Cosmos are delightful and always helpful. It’s hard to leave the place without all sorts of items you don’t really “need.” Not to mention their huge assortment of Bollywood movies available on DVD.
Gaspar usually parks his Peugeot 404 station wagon in front of Cheers Wine and Spirits Shoppe, located between Cosmos and Delicacy International Market. Cheers is a small liquor store with a better than average selection of wines and liquors, especially for a store this size. Not as special as Cosmos or Delicacy, it’s nevertheless very convenient and the owners are friendly and willing to order anything they don’t stock so long as it’s distributed in Connecticut. This is where Gaspar buys Zacapa 12 year old Guatemalan rum.
Should you require additional sensory stimulation, visit Delicacy International Market, a few doors to the west of Cheers. On the left, you’ll be seduced by a display case showcasing a large assortment of smoked fish, both whole and in fillet form. There is also a selection of caviars. Delicacy’s website claims they sell “Connecticut’s widest selection of products from Belgium, Norway, Germany, Italy, Sweden, England, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Ukraine!” Hard for Gaspar to verify that, but it could well be true. Tasty prepared foods are also available at the other end of the counter in the back of the store.
Two other nearby establishments are worth mentioning; Aby’s Bakery, an Argentine bakery just across the street which Gaspar discussed in an earlier post, and Europe Food and Deli at 200 Park Road, West Hartford. Europe focuses on food products from Eastern Europe in particular. You can find a lot of Russian and Ukranian foods there ranging from predictable stuff like caviar to dairy products like butter. They have a very good price on salmon roe (sold by weight). The clientele speaks almost exclusively Russian which makes a visit that much more fun for Gaspar, who picked up a bit of Russian from his former cooking student Anatoly Kazakov.
320 Park Road, West Hartford, CT
contact info and hours see the websiste
further info on their Facebook page
EDIT: There is no wifi.
Anyone interested in finding an easy shortcut to cooking tasty dishes should familiarize themselves with a wonderful condiment available at C Town supermarkets in the Hartford area. Instead of spending the time to make your own, you can purchase ready-to-use sofrito in various sized containers and from various manufacturers. Sofrito forms the basis of many dishes in Spain, Latin America, the Caribbean and elsewhere. Sometimes it goes by other names, and the ingredients vary. C Town carries various Puerto Rican varieties which contain an assortment of sweet peppers, culantro (broad leaf cilantro or shadow benni), garlic, onions, tomatoes, etc. Sofrito is not spicy. Add to any stew, rice dish, egg dish, beans or soup. Keep some in your fridge and you won’t regret it. Gaspar recommends most any brand, just be aware that Sofrito Ponce has a lot of salt in it, unlike the other brands. It’s sold refrigerated, in the vegetable section.
By the way, Sofrito Puerto Rico (the one on the bottom in the photo) is excellent and made locally, in East Hartford. Read about the company in this Hartford Courant article.
While Gaspar always procures sofrito at C Town, the Courant article says Sofrito Puerto Rico is sold at Whole Foods.
Blue Back Square | 53 Isham Rd West Hartford, CT | 860.206.0290
Click here to visit their website and view the menu and prices
There is much to be said in favor of creating a convivial restaurant environment that encourages the sharing of sisterly or brotherly camaraderie. So when Gaspar received an invitation to a luncheon with some of his dearest friends; Pedro Lucumi, Dr. Motumbo 3X, Selig Mwandenga, Kotoku Sakae, Goodtry Methuselah, and Aquiles de las Baleadas, he jumped at the opportunity despite the fact it would mean venturing into Blue Back Square in West Hartford, known to some as “Blue Blood Square.” Goodtry sent excuses from Shanghai, Aquiles bowed out; they were both sorely missed. Nevertheless, the large booth at UMI Sushi & Tapas accommodated the remaining five amigos, who enjoyed their outing tremendously – despite the decidedly uninspiring food.
UMI is a clever restaurant with plates of sushi making the rounds on a conveyor belt or kaiten. This restaurant format is not uncommon in Japan, where customers can even fill their tea cups from a spigot at their seats. The little plates that circulate on the conveyor belt all have a colored band around them with different hues denoting different prices. UMI also features high-definition televisions, colorful lighting, and a posh bar serving sake cocktails such as “Tokyo Sunrise” and “Sakerita.” The room could be described as trendy or kitsch. It’s certainly comfortable. However, the sushi is mediocre at best.
You can’t make sushi without rice; and you can’t make good sushi without good rice; well prepared and properly seasoned. Sadly, this is where UMI fails. The variety, texture and seasoning of their rice is all wrong. It’s not the right kind of rice, it’s not properly cooked, and it lacks a well prepared vinegar-sugar-salt dressing. If you can’t get the basics right, it does not matter much how good the other ingredients are. As any reader familiar with Gaspar’s taste knows, he is not obsessed with so-called authenticity in cooking. To the contrary, he admires adaptability, so long as it is carried out with sensitivity. So while you’d be hard-pressed to find a “BLT roll” in Japan, Gaspar harbors no inherent prejudices against such concoctions. Unfortunately, at UMI the bacon was soggy and the roll tasted rather musty. Like the “BLT”, the traditional maki rolls were also insubstantial and tasteless. And so it went. Gaspar did not try the ramen or udon but if he were to visit UMI again, he’d strongly consider that option instead of the sushi.
In-keeping with the high-tech atmosphere, there is a gadget on the table with several buttons you push if you want service, a refill, the check, etc. Selig sarcastically theorised that pressing the buttons administered a small electric shock to the server in order to get her attention. Gaspar could not help but feel all the lights and buttons were a bit gimmicky, as was the inclusion of the word “tapas” in the restaurant’s name. But if you’re looking for a good place to watch a sporting event or have a few drinks, and you don’t mind the “plastic” atmosphere of Blue Back Square, then UMI Sushi & Tapas could be a agreeable option.
UPDATE: SADLY, THIS RESTAURANT IS OUT OF BUSINESS
453 Washington Street, Hartford CT | (860) 882 1601
Monday – Saturday 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. | Sunday 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m
With gratitude, Gaspar thanks his friend the esteemed professor of African history Dr. Selig Mwandenga for referring him to this new Hartford restaurant, open just a month or so on Washington Street. Visiting In God We Trust Afrikan Restaurant is the sort of culinary experience that reinforces Gaspar’s decision to abandon the world of so-called high cuisine. The restaurant’s owners are from Ghana, and they serve traditional Ghanaian and Nigerian food. While the cooking at In God We Trust may not be fancy, it is very nearly heavenly!
Yacine and Gaspar could not make up their minds what to eat because everything looked so good. The proprietress was kind enough to assemble a couple of huge plates of food with fish, beef, rice, and an assortment of vegetables including carrot, cabbage, plantain, cassava, black-eyed peas, among other things. Served on blue glass plates delivered on blue plastic trays, each item was distinctive and delicious. Spiciness (heat) could be detected but it enhanced the flavors and never overwhelmed them. At the next visit, Gaspar might request more heat, but Gaspar’s tolerance is high.
Bright colors adorn the restaurant. The furniture, oddly, looks like what you might have found in a 1950s American domestic kitchen . This is a small place with only five tables. It was not crowded, but Yacine and Gaspar visited mid-afternoon on a Saturday. As Yacine and Gaspar enjoyed their lunch, load after load of groceries was delivered to the kitchen. It looked like the restaurant routinely produced a lot of food. In God We Trust is located near Hartford Hospital, Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, The Learning Corridor and Trinity College. Gaspar enthusiastically looks forward to his next visit. Much of the menu remains to be explored.
E-Mart supermarket, previously reviewed here, is closed for renovations. It’s supposed to open again soon under another name: Central Supermarket. The new sign is already in place.
Abyssinian Restaurant, 533 Farmington Ave, Hartford, has been under new management for about a year. It is vastly and dramatically improved. The new staff is delightful and the cooking is very tasty and fresh. Gaspar looks forward to returning, and to writing a full review. Their website is here.
Gaspar and a friend tried the relatively new restaurant: Gyro Palace, at 7 South Main St in West Hartford. At $8.99, the Beef Gyro was not only overpriced but comprised of very poor quality meat, filled with gristle and inedible bits. The meat was salty but otherwise barely seasoned, and the white goo on the sandwich tasted nothing like tzatziki sauce. If you go to this place, stay away from the beef gyro! And don’t look for the traditional lamb gyro, they don’t have it.
1234 Farmington Ave, West Hartford
11:00 a.m – 9:30, Closed Sundays
Sandwiched between a pizza shop and a Chinese take out joint at 1234 Farmington Ave. in West Hartford you will find Pick & Mix Korean Restaurant, a unique and welcome addition to the local culinary scene. The name of this restaurant does not inspire confidence but it does describe their version of bibimbab, a signature dish of Korea. At Pick & Mix you choose the ingredients to produce a “personalized” bibimbab. Gaspar first sampled bibimbab on a Korean airlines flight years ago. The flight attendants served a room-temperature bibimbab with white rice and, through gestures, communicated that the proper way to eat it was to mix all the ingredients and the hot paste thoroughly with chopsticks. It wasn’t bad for an airline breakfast, but the young, friendly and enthusiastic staff at Pick and Mix prepare a much better bibimbab!
The restaurant is small, with three tables and an eating counter. It is impeccably clean and brightly lit. More importantly, the food is fresh, well prepared, delicious, and healthy. To order the bibimbab, you choose white rice, brown rice or noodles, then veggies, a meat and a sauce. Sauces include hot paste, teriyaki, soy lemon, olive oil, or sesame oil. All the ingredients are carried back to the kitchen from which they quickly emerge, stir-fried and presented in a very hot stone bowl on top of the rice or noodles. Gaspar never favored this sort of mix ‘n match procedure, believing instead that the cook, who knows the ingredients best, should choose which flavors and textures to combine. However, it would seem difficult to make a wrong choice at Pick & Mix. To accompany the main dish, you get a bowl of very simple miso soup, and a plate of refreshing kimchi. All in all, an impressive and inexpensive offering at $7.95 (lunch) or $8.95 (dinner).
Gaspar and Yacine both chose the sweet potato noodles, which are thick, translucent, succulent, and bear no hint of sweet potato. The veggies were crispy and the meats (beef highly recommended) well seasoned and tender. Your bibimbab does not get cold even if you eat slowly because of the heavy, hot bowl. If you like you can order steamed or fried dumplings filled with pork, beef or veggie. There are a few alternative main dishes that look promising but which Gaspar has yet to try; spicy pork, eel (a favorite of Gaspar) , and another classic Korean dish, bulgogi (a type of barbecued beef). There is also fried chicken with various sauces. All in all, Pick & Mix is a lot of fun. The food is honest and rewarding to the palate. Enjoy!