Where in the World is Gaspar Sancoche? Belting down belt noodles at Xian Noodle Factory, among other places.

No, Gaspar Sancoche did not climb the lofty ladder to the hereafter. Besides, if he had departed this world, it would more likely have been via the down escalator. Why then, does Sancoche resurface at this particular time? Food news to share.

First of all, head over to Xian Noodle Factory at 450 New Park Avenue, West Hartford. This is a fairly new restaurant serving the world-famous, hand-pulled belt noodles from Xian, in Western China. It is a very humble, down to earth place with very limited seating. Apparently, the restaurant also goes by the name Teriyaki Noodle Factory, though there is nothing Japanese about it.  Don’t expect  “atmosphere,” only a counter and a couple of tables. But you won’t find this food anywhere else in this area. Very high quality and delicious. Limited hours. Wednesday through Friday 4:00 to 8 pm. Saturday 11:30 to 8 pm.  The reason for the limited hours is that the owners also operate a food tuck by the Old State House. Food truck hours are 11:30 – 2:30 Monday through Friday.  Very highly recommended, especially for take-out.

xian 2xian menuXian noodle factory

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Open for just over a year, Han Restaurant at 310 Prospect Ave. in Hartford, specializes in Sichuan Hotpot. Don’t come here if you’re in a rush because you’ll want to relish every bit of vegetable, meat, seafood or noodles that you yourself cook in simmering broth at your table. There is a sauce bar where you make your own dipping sauces (or use the ready-made ones). Most importantly, don’t be put off by the seemingly complex menu. It’s really very simple and the fully-English speaking staff will be  happy to explain it to you. The easiest way to order is to select the “Mini Hotpot Combo”. This consists of a huge platter of diverse vegetables, an egg, and noodles. All of which you cook in the broth along with your choice of proteins such as lamb, flounder, etc. You also get to choose from several broths. The mildest is the mushroom clear soup. Here is Han’s website.

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La Casita del Sabor lives up to its name. It is a “casita” (little house) at 1405 Park Street, Hartford, and the little house is full of flavor. La Casita is a small place. Maybe six tables. They specialize in foods from Central America and the Caribbean. With the recent closing of Rosita’s and Camilla’s, La Casita del Sabor is one of the few, if not the only place in Hartford serving Salvadorian pupusas, a delicious, thick, tortilla-like dish prepared on the griddle and stuffed with your choice of ingredients such as cheese or beans. They also have great Puerto Rican mofongo and Mexican tacos, among many other things. Please note that you can find a menu online, but it’s missing a lot of stuff, in fact it’s missing some of the best stuff, such as the daily specials.

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Looking for a huge variety of food, including grilled meats? Banana Brazil is for you. They recently opened a restaurant in Hartford after success at their other locations in Waterbury and Danbury. There are several Brazilian buffet restaurants around Hartford, such as Bem Brazil and Brazil Grill. They are all good, but Banana Brazil has by far the biggest buffet. There’s a huge selection of salads as well as vegetable, rice, meat and fish dishes. Their selection of grilled meats, however, is smaller than some of the other places, but they use quality meats and cook them well. It’s also the most economic of the local Brazilian buffet places. Highly recommended, especially for hungry carnivores (plenty here for vegetarians as well).

Banana Brazil

Banana Brazil, owners at the grilling station.

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Gaspar also notes the arrival of two Middle-Eastern restaurants: Zaytoon’s Bistro on Park Road and Zohara on Farmington Avenue in West Hartford Center. After one visit to each of these restaurants, Gaspar came away rather disappointed. In both places he sampled lamb; shish kebab at Zaytoon’s and lamb chops at Zohara. Both were disappointing. Zaytoon’s kebab consisted of five small, overcooked and tough pieces of meat for $18.99; at Zohara the two lamb chops ($23) were fatty and tough. Yet both these places seem to be well liked. The service at Zaytoon’s was lovely, but mediocre and impersonal at Zohara.

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Finally, Gaspar and associates big a fond farewell to Murasaki Restaurant, for over 15 years the best sushi place around. Enjoy your retirement dear friends!

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Shu Restaurant: Beyond Imagining!

156 Shield St, West Hartford (Shield St. Shopping Plaza)

(860) 519 1740

Click here for restaurant website.

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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!

Steamed Sea Bass with Chilies

Steamed Sea Bass with Chilies

Chicken with Multi-mushroom

Chicken with Multi-mushroom

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Shu Spare Ribs

Hot and Sour Soup with Seafood

Hot and Sour Soup with Seafood

Sea Scallops with Black Pepper Sauce

Sea Scallops with Black Pepper Sauce

Chengdu Style Crispy Fried Chicken

Chengdu Style Crispy Fried Chicken


Kien Oriental Market

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.

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Duck leg with egg noodle and black mushroom soup

The menu

The menu

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Gaspar’s is not Gaspar’s: Clarification and Disclaimer

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.

 

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Naatiya Indian Restaurant

8 Mountain Ave
Bloomfield, CT 06002
Tel: (860)-726-0126

http://www.naatiyarestaurant.com/

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.

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lunch dosa

 


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!

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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