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


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.


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