156 Shield St, West Hartford (Shield St. Shopping Plaza)
(860) 519 1740
One of the culinary voids long suffered by the greater Hartford area consists of the lack of any decent Chinese restaurant. At last that drought is over. Shu Restaurant brings us stunning Sichuan food, bursting with flavor and spice. The owners of Shu are from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province. To Gaspar’s delight, they do not shy away from using all manner of ingredients unfamiliar to the average American palate, such as tripe, frog’s legs, or pork intestines. If you like spicy food and normally laugh off warnings on menus about heat levels – take heed. Some of the dishes may precipitate perspiration on the forehead! But the use of chilies and peppers is handled so masterfully – there is such intense flavor accompanying the spice – that you may find yourself ignoring the milder selections on the menu.
However, milder, more subtle dishes also abound, as well as familiar ingredients like chicken, beef, shrimp and duck. Chicken with multi mushrooms offers a delicate variety of black mushrooms, tree-ears, and other fungi. The Chengdu Style Crispy Fried Chicken is not only crispy but incredibly tender. One of Gaspar’s favorite dishes is not listed on the web menu, but you can find it in the “hard copy” menu at the restaurant. It consists of a whole sea bass steamed with chilies, as pictured below. Also on the restaurant menu you’ll find the Shu Spare Ribs, which are smoked before being stir fried in the wok. Their smoky bacon flavor, enhanced by fermented black beans, make them irresistible.
All these dishes and many, many more represent a spectacular bargain given their consistent high quality. Enjoy, explore the menu, and do make reservations if you plan on visiting on a weekend!
1801 Park St, Hartfford CT
Kien Oriental Market is a Hartford landmark. It’s been in business a very long time at the same location on Park Street. You will find a large stock of Asian groceries and staples, but what draws Gaspar Sancoche is the kitchen in the back, which puts out some great Vietnamese food that you can eat at a stainless steel counter, sitting on one of five tall stools – or take home. Everything is made to order so don’t expect instant service – but you get your food fairly fast, and you can watch it being prepared. There’s a selection of toasted banh-mi sandwiches with crisp pickled vegetables and cilantro topping a choice of grilled or cold meats. Or you could choose from a variety of noodle soups including pho, spicy beef, duck leg with egg noodles and others. Prices are very reasonable; the most expensive dish is $9.50. There’s a 50 cent surcharge for orders to go. Whether you’re buying groceries or prepared food, you’ll find everyone at Kien to be very friendly and helpful. If you do eat on-site, just be aware this is not really a sit down restaurant. The level of comfort is, well, what you’d expect from sitting on a tall stool at a metal counter. However, it’s worth it for the food.
Regarding Gaspar’s Chourico Hot Portuguese Brand Sausage, Gaspar Sancoche does not endorse this product nor is he associated or affiliated with it in any manner whatsoever. Thanks to the kind reader who brought the existence of this product to his attention. Gaspar Sancoche has no opinion of Gaspar’s Chourico not having tried it. However, Gaspar Sancoche suggests a visit to Solmar Fish Market on Park Street in Hartford, where they sell their own chourico, several different varieties, home made.
8 Mountain Ave
Bloomfield, CT 06002
Only about 15 minutes from central Hartford or West Hartford, this is by far Gaspar’s favorite Indian restaurant in the area. Naatiya specializes in South Indian food, with a lot of vegetarian dishes and plenty of meat and fish dishes as well. The menu is on their website.
The lunch buffet is extremely popular and there is a good variety of dishes to choose from. On weekdays the price is modest considering the quality and quantity – only $10 per person. The weekend lunch buffet includes more items such as a fabulous fish curry and home made ice creams – $15 per person. These are all-you-can-eat prices, with dosas delivered to your table included with the buffet price. Dosa is a savory pancake or crepe-like bread made from rice flour. They are stuffed lightly with potatoes or other fillings. The dosa that comes with the buffet lunch is very simple, but huge, more complex dosas are available at dinner or from the menu.
At mid-day, the place can get crowded. Lots of workers on their lunch breaks from nearby offices, it would seem. Weekend lunch you see a lot of Indian families enjoying the great food. However, there are plenty of tables and booths. Gaspar and his associates have not ever had to wait to be seated. There is also a bar serving Kingfisher beer.
All the food Gaspar has tried at Naatiya has been extremely well spiced and satisfying. Gaspar’s vast knowledge of world cooking traditions is admittedly somewhat limited when it comes to the Indian subcontinent, yet the difference between Naatiya’s South Indian dishes and those served by the more generic Nepalese-owned restaurants in the Hartford area is clearly apparent. Ready yourself for a distinctive culinary experience.
And if you can’t make it for the lunch buffet, do go for dinner. The menu has a great selection, including the large dosas, which are crisp and delicious served with three different sauces.
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!
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!
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.