Sunday, May 1, 2016

Two visits to Vito's

Vito's has two branches in my part of CT: Vito's by the Park, in Hartford, and Vito's by the Water, in Windsor. I recently had the opportunity to eat at both places and I liked them enough to sit down and write a review.

Vito's by the Park is on a major street in Hartford, just a few blocks from The Bushnell. There's construction going on at a neighboring intersection, which makes parking a bit tricky. Fortunately my friend had been there before and guided us to convenient on-street parking at Pearl Street. Five of us went to dinner on a Tuesday night, before catching "Matilda" at the Bushnell. Nobody had an appetizer. The bread basket was really good: it had focaccia and plain rolls served with a sundried tomato spread.

I ordered the house special, which is a Chocolate Truffle Pappardelle Bolognese made with chocolate truffle pasta. The pasta was a dark brown and paired perfectly with a meaty red sauce. On top was a generous scoop of ricotta and a small heap of gremolata. I adored it and everyone else who tried it also though it was impressive.

My friends ordered the lobster ravioli (very good), the osso bucco (out of this world), the spaghetti carbonara (also very good), and a gluten-free pizza with shrimp and bacon (she said it was fabulous). We then had too much time before the show started, so we split a chocolate lava cake, a tiramisu, and a gluten-free chocolate cake, all of which were excellent.

Yesterday we took our family to Vito's by the Water. Recommendations are absolutely required for the weekend: the bar was heaving at 5pm and half the tables were already filled. By the time we left at 6:20, the place was nearly full. If you call early enough you can request a table with a view. We didn't get a table right by the window, but were still able to appreciate the water, the sunlight, and the pair of geese swimming past us.

They served the same bread basket with a similar but not quite identical spread: the waitress said that this one had anchovies, feta, and tomato paste. We got the Flatbread of the Day, which was described as "Caprese style" - in our opinion it had far too many onions and not enough mozzerella, but the frisee on the side was a big hit.

I had the same dish as last time. I thought the execution was slightly better the second time: the pasta was truly al dente and the ricotta scoop was more generous. The rest of the party had the hangar steak (very good), the haddock special over corn and sweet pea risotto (well executed but slightly too salty), the classic carbonara (a huge hit), and the porchetta (another huge hit). Service was a little slow but our waitress was a gem and offered a second bread basket to keep us going. We had to leave early - I had work - so we didn't linger for dessert.

Would we go back? Absolutely! I was impressed by how well the staff handled our party and another party that had very small children. The food was done well and reasonably priced. (Most entrees $18-28, specials slightly more.)

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Millwrights: a review in 2 parts

Millwrights is rated "the best restaurant in CT" and is within an hour's drive of us. We first went there in early September, and again last week.

The September visit was on a Friday night and the place was packed. Reservations definitely required! We went for the tasting menu + wine pairing (about $75 per person for the food and $45 per person for the wine; we split a single serving of wine.) The whole experience was almost 3 hours long, but so beautifully coordinated that it didn't feel like a drag. The food ranged from really good to amazing, and of course I took discreet notes...

1) Oyster on the half-shell, with some kind of flavored vinegar, and gougeres (little puffed buns) on the side

2) Crostini with marinated heirloom tomatoes over house-made ricotta

3) Fluke ceviche

4a) Cornbread with herb butter

4b) Tapioca pudding with the flavors of clam chowder

5) Seared scallops

6) Seared foie gras over toasted brown bread with plum sauce

7) Stuffed quail with thyme cream sauce and roast carrots

8) A pair of desserts that I neglected to write down, although I believe one was akin to a brownie and the other was some sort of pastry with fruit.

The March visit was mid-week. We had a reservation, but at 6pm only one other table was filled. By 8pm, when we left, it was well on the way to being full, but still wasn't packed. We also noticed that many of the other tables were having the tasting menu, just like us! We didn't do the wine pairing on this visit but did share a really good mixed drink (the Fig Ole Biddies) and then had cappuccino with dessert. The whole experience was a bit under 2 hours, probably because the place wasn't as crowded.

1) Oyster with ginger and pink peppercorn mignonette: I love raw oysters but this combo wasn't quite doing it for me. Probably my least favorite course of the evening. The gougeres that accompanied them were great!

2) Roasted heirloom carrot with farro, "farro milk", and mint yogurt sauce: this dish was a revelation. We nearly licked our plates in our efforts to get every last bit of flavor. Definitely one of my favorite courses. It's on the regular menu and I would certainly order this if I wasn't doing the tasting menu.

3) Scallop crudo with lemon oil and watercress: another revelation. DH doesn't even like seafood and he enjoyed this one. I adored it. Another favorite. It's not on their regular menu at the moment and I really hope it makes an appearance there; I would order this again.

4a) Cornbread (or sourdough bread, for me) with black sesame butter: fantastic! The butter had black sesame seeds, honey, and sea salt all worked into it.

4b) Tapioca pudding with all the flavors of clam chowder: we'd had this last time and thus knew what to expect. I thought it was delicious but lacked the charm of novelty this time.

5) Grilled foie gras over toasted brown bread with lightly pickled vegetables: I'm not a huge fan of foie gras but this was perfectly cooked. The vegetables were a nice contrast to the richness of the meat.

6) Duck breast with sunchokes, celery, peanuts, and a rice dumpling: I don't know how they got the duck that perfectly moist and tender, but it was amazing. The accompaniments sound odd, but they actually worked really well with the duck.

7) Grilled fish (I think it was swordfish, but I'm no longer certain... a thin filet with the skin on) with grilled fennel and parsnip puree. This was my second-least-favorite dish, because the fish seemed overcooked. The vegetables were great, as always.

8a) Blood orange sorbet: a lovely palette cleanser while they made our coffee.

8b) Hazelnut Bombe: a chocolate shell resting on a flourless chocolate cake, filled with hazelnut mousse. Absolutely amazing and another one of my favorites.

(I hated the cappuccino. The less said, the better.)

So would we go back? Absolutely! The food and the service were both top-notch. Reservations recommended at any time, and required for weekends.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Recipe Round Up

I'm only going to list the good ones here... no sense wasting space on some mediocre recipes and poorly executed baked goods.

Vegan Black Bean Soup from Smitten Kitchen: cheap, easy, delicious, and healthy. Will definitely make again.

Dry Fried String Beans No Wok from Serious Eats: easy and delicious (even though I couldn't find the Sichuan peppercorns). Will definitely make again.

Spiced Oat and Pear Blondies from Bon Appetit: a little crumbly, but easy and delicious. A remarkable number of my students wanted the recipe.

Szechuan Eggplant Stirfry from Food Network: first time I made it just as described and it was lovely. Second time I omitted the cornstarch and added some mushrooms and peppers - even better! Leftovers are also great cold or hot.

Wartime Sourdough Chocolate Cake from King Arthur Flour: very easy, yummy, and a great way to use up spare sourdough starter (you weigh the starter, then subtract half of that from the flour and half of that from the water in the recipe.) The cream-and-chocolate icing was rather gloppy and never fully solidified, but my kids viewed that as a feature rather than a bug.

So out of the twelve new recipes I've tried this year, these are the five I'll definitely be making again.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Movies I loved in 2015

So I meant to do this post right after the New Year began, but life intruded (oh, life!) and then I got sick, and this post is always a flaming ratfart anyway because my opinions change almost daily.

I watched 33 movies (and Max Max: Fury Road twice) in 2016, which is slightly better than the "two per month" for which I aim. Favorites, in no particular order except possibly chronological by viewing because that's the way my notes are organized:

The Wind Rises
The Woman in Gold
Mad Max: Fury Road
Inside Out
Mr. Holmes
The Martian
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

(This worked out to ten movies with only minimal editing on my part. I had a quick debate about whether Big Hero 6 made the cut, and decided that it didn't.)

I was making a conscious effort to watch "good" movies this year, instead of just my usual entertaining escapism. This means that I'm going to be slightly more in touch when the Oscars are awarded, and also that I'm starting to lose my taste for truly inane action films. Furious 7, to name one, seemed to have more obvious plot holes than usual. Avengers: Age of Ultron, to name another.

So overall, it was a good year for movie viewing. I'd hoped to see Carol and Trumbo while they were still in theaters, but didn't find them near me.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Sick x2

Eleven days ago, I had a tickle in my throat. Ten days ago, it was a full-blown sneeze, cough, wheeze, ache, and a low fever. I never did figure out if it was a particularly horrible cold or a weak version of the 'flu. I did get my shots back in the fall, so a cold seems more likely...

Two days ago, I was still coughing but mostly getting better. Except that I was exhausted. And my stomach felt iffy. Sure enough, Monday night I started throwing up. And kept throwing up for the rest of the night. Then I had 18 hours of crapping liquids. Then my entire body ached (apparently I pulled some muscles while vomiting) and made it tough to sleep.

The upshot? I've missed four days of work in the past two weeks.

I can't even bear to think about how much work is waiting for me when I get back tomorrow...

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Great books I read in 2015

Please note: the order is thematic rather than ranked. Several of these are rereads, and many of them were published prior to 2015.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
Feed by Mira Grant
The Technician by Neal Asher

F/SF (note that all of the above could also plausibly go into this category)
Armada by Ernest Cline
The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett
The Bees by Laline Paull
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie
Uprooted by Naomi Novik

The Year We Fell Down by Sarina Bowen
The Chocolate Temptation by Laura Florand
Two of a Kind by Susan Mallery

The Clock Strikes Twelve by Patricia Wentworth
Ghosts of Belfast by Stuart Neville

My summary statistics for the year: 147 books read: 116 new and 31 rereads. 41 new authors tried: from above, that includes Neville, Mallery, Florand, Bowen, Cline, Hawkins, Paull, Addison, and Lockhart.

I'm putting together on a separate post on how my Hugo-nomination list is shaping up.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Two great poems

Sadly, I have read very little poetry in the years since I left college.

However, I recently read a wonderful poem, which references another wonderful poem... so I'm saving them here for later.

First poem: Sirens by Sarah Howe
References another poem: Elegy for Jane by Theodore Roethke