Jerk Pit Café: Open Late, Tastes Great

Jerk Pit Café, 2940 Main St, Hartford, (860) 527-2214

Mon–Wed: 11am–12mid, Thurs 11am–2am, Fri & Sat 11am–5am, Sun 2pm–2am

Hartford has no shortage of Jamaican restaurants, but many of them are take out only. Jerk Pit Café offers diners a comfortable, impeccably clean dining room and really well prepared food. Gaspar visited recently with his friend Fosforíto Whitman, a renowned gastronome and educator who has recently settled in the area.

On the menu, you’ll find many traditional Jamaican dishes such as curry goat, stew chicken and steam fish, but also weekend specials such as fish tea.

Gaspar and Fosforíto tried the jerk pork and the oxtail. Both were very tasty and beautifully seasoned. The jerk pork in particular was tender yet also lean, not laden with fat. The plantains were sweet, moist, and perfectly cooked. Along with two drinks and and a side order of plantains, the bill for two came to $24.

Jerk Pit is open very late, which is unusual for Hartford, and very welcome! Gaspar would drive a long way for the pleasure of a meal from the Jerk Pit Café!

JerkPit1JerkPit3JerkPit4

Jerk pork

Jerk pork

oxtail

oxtail


A Sweet Surprise at Cora Cora Restaurant

Cora Cora Restaurant, Shield St. Plaza, New Britain Ave, West Hartford

click here for Cora Cora’s website

Cora Cora is one of the area’s finest Peruvian restaurants. It is a spacious place with terrific service and a large, varied menu.  Some of Gaspar’s favorite dishes include the papa a la huacaína,  which consists of boiled potato smothered in a creamy chili-cheese sauce, or the arroz chaufa, a fried rice dish introduced to Peru by Chinese immigrants many generations back. Try the seafood arroz chaufa.

Gaspar has enjoyed the hospitality and fine cooking at Cora Cora many times, but was recently delighted when, during a lunch time visit with one of his apprentice chefs, the owner surprised his guests with a triple treat: a plate of three different ice creams, home made from Peruvian / Andean fruits.  The flavors were lucuma, a fruit that looks like an avocado but tastes sweet, granadialla or passion fruit, and chirimoya, sometimes known as custard apple.

Anyone who enjoys tropical fruits or sweets needs to try these ice creams. They are unique, and delicious!

Assortment of home made ice creams at Cora Cora

Assortment of home made ice creams at Cora Cora (L to R): lucuma, granadilla and chirimoya


Le Bijou Pastry Shop & Restaurant, O’Camelo Restaurant, Ipanema Café: More Great Portuguese Cooking

Bijou Pastry Shop & Restaurant, 9 Heath St, Hartford

O’Camelo, 1841 Park St., Hartford

Café Ipanema, 1850 Park St., Hartford

Devoted connoisseurs of Hartford’s inexpensive restaurants will be well aware of the terrific values and delicious meals that await them at the city’s Portuguese bars and restaurants. Previously, Gaspar has sung the praises of The Nutshell Cafe and Primavera Pub. However, the deliciousness does not end there.

Le Bijou Pastry Shop & Restaurant is a small, neighborhood place that offers wonderful home cooking. During a recent visit with his friend Goodtry, Gaspar sampled a huge dish of very tender grilled pork chops served with a creamy, smoky rice and beans. Goodry had the small fried fish, which came with an olive oil, cilantro and onion based sauce on the side. With two glasses of red wine and two espressos, the tab came to only twenty dollars (incredibly) at lunch time. If you go on a Saturday or Sunday evening, you might be treated to live music – performed not by hired musicians but by regular patrons of the restaurant who bring their guitars to play and sing (and drink) with friends.

O’Camelo is a bit more upscale. Gaspar visited recently with his wife Yacine and they had the place to themselves. Nevertheless, they enjoyed a plate of wonderful garlicky olives and bowls of the traditional garlic-cilantro soup with poached egg and bread known as sopa alentejana. The main dishes followed; a grilled cuttlefish and a codfish smothered in onions and peppers. Both were very tasty; only the unseasoned steamed broccoli and string beans were a little disappointing. Service was very friendly, but not overly so, and the bill came to $40 for the soups, the two main dishes, and two very pleasant glasses of house wine.

Ipanema Café is relatively new, but the owner-chef is well known in  Hartford, having operated for years another very popular restaurant on Franklin Avenue called Chale Ipanema, which closed down a while ago. Ipanema Café took over the location of the former Brazilian restaurant known as Patio da Rainha. Gaspar visited for lunch with his old friend the Brazilian virtuoso percussionist Galindo Berimbau. Both had a busy afternoon ahead so they ordered sandwiches rather than a full blown meal. The grilled pork and grilled chicken sandwiches were excellent. They were served on fresh bread and accompanied by homemade fried potatoes. It was hard to resist the flan, but one order would have sufficed for both Galindo and Gaspar. It is delicious and very rich! The bill was around $23, which included the sandwiches, two orders of flan, and two espressos. Gaspar looks forward to returning to Ipanema Café to try the many temping offerings on the menu. There’s also a billiards table and a dance floor.

Bijou Pastry Shop & Restaurant

Bijou Pastry Shop & Restaurant
O'Camelo

O’Camelo Restaurant

Ipanema Café

Ipanema Café

Pork chops with rice and beans at Bijour

Pork chops with rice and beans at Bijou

Sublime white and red beans with rice at Bijou

Sublime white and red beans with rice at Bijou

Fried whole small fish at Bijou

Fried whole small fish at Bijou

Sauce for fried fish (or anything else) - olive oil, onions, cilantro...

Sauce for fried fish (or anything else) – olive oil, onions, cilantro…

A very full glass of Portuguese red wine (house wine) at Bijou

A very full glass of Portuguese red wine (house wine) at Bijou

Dining room at O'Camelo

Dining room at O’Camelo

garlicky olives at O'Camelo

garlicky olives at O’Camelo

Grilled cuttlefish at O'Camelo

Grilled cuttlefish at O’Camelo

Very full glass of Portuguese wine (house wine) at O'Camelo

Very full glass of Portuguese wine (house wine) at O’Camelo

Ipanema Café interior

Ipanema Café interior

Pork sandwich, home-made fried potatoes. Chicken sandwich in the background

Pork sandwich, home-made fried potatoes. Chicken sandwich in the background

Decorative paintings at Ipanema Café

Decorative paintings at Ipanema Café

Flan at Ipanema Café

Flan at Ipanema Café


Foodie Mini-Mecca; Delicacy International Market, Cheers Wine and Spirits, Cosmos International and More!

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.


J. René Coffee Roasters: Coffee and Community

320 Park Road, West Hartford, CT

contact info and hours see the websiste

further info on their Facebook page

EDIT: There is no wifi.

preparing the siphon vacuum machine

roasting machine


Sofrito: a Quick, Go-to Flavor Booster

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.


UMI Sushi & Tapas: Merry-go-round Sushi and No Tapas

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.

Spicy Rainbow Roll, which looks good but did not taste like much, and the Seaweed Salad. The color of the rim of the dish indicates its price. There is a price chart on the wall.


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