Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Review of Han Restaurant (West Hartford, CT)

Han is a hot-pot specialty restaurant located on a side street in West Hartford, CT. There's plenty of parking. Reservations recommended for popular times, but we walked in on a Thursday at 1pm and there were plenty of booths still available.

Han is slowly branching out to include more foods that aren't hot-pot. The hot-pot is so yummy that I haven't tried anything except their fried dumplings, which are quite good.

The specialty, of course, is hot-pot. They have a choice of a dozen types of broth, many of them either sour or spicy. For beginners, I recommend either the Mushroom or the Chinese Herbal broth.

The lunch special is quite a bargain: broth, noodles or rice, a choice of basic protein (lamb, chicken, shrimp, fish, or beef) and a platter of vegetables and mushrooms, all for $11.99 per person. If you're a heavy eater, you might want to order one more serving of meat.

The dinner menu is bit pricier, but portions are larger. The vegetable platter at dinner is huge and can be shared over 2 or 3 people. There are several pages of options for things to put into your hot pot: mushrooms, meatballs, noodles, meat, a whole page of vegetables!

One of the best features of Han is their sauce bar, which features about two dozen different options, plus a couple of pre-made sauces. It's hard to go wrong unless you hate cilantro and accidentally put it in your dish. I really like both pre-made sauces and will jazz them up with diced preserved vegetables or cilantro and scallions.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Review of Shu Chinese Restaurant (West Hartford, CT)

Shu is a small, friendly restaurant in the same shopping plaza as A-Dong Market and Pho Boston, at 160 Shield Street. Reservations recommended, particularly if you go with a party larger than 4 people. The dishes are reasonably priced but the portions are a bit smaller than at other places, so order some appetizers or another entree to share with the table. This is a Szechuan restaurant so they take their spice seriously: a one-pepper rating here would be a two-pepper rating almost anywhere else, and even the no-pepper ratings have a bit of zip to them.

We went there with family and had a marvelous dinner.

For appetizers, we ordered the fried pork dumplings (very juicy and tasty), the Cheng-du potatoes (just French Fries with Szechuan pepper powder dusted over them but so, so good), and scallion pancakes (literally the best I have ever eaten.)

For the main course, we had tea smoked duck (very good), crispy beef with coconut sauce (too sweet for me, but the kids loved it), sauteed string beans (tasty and perfectly cooked), young pea greens with garlic (divine, as always), lobster with scallion and ginger (tasty, but very hard to eat with just chopsticks!), and steamed pork belly with preserved pickled vegetables (melt-in-your-mouth good).

I left to pick up some groceries from A-Dong Market before they closed, but the rest of the family stayed to eat dessert. I believe they ordered one of everything (it's not a long menu) and thoroughly enjoyed them.

Monday, August 20, 2018

26th day of Summer Vacation: in which we laze around and eat really good food

We decided to rest our feet for a day and enjoy the lovely view from our rental units. We got a carry-out lunch from a little sandwich shop called Cicinin Panini al Metro. I have no idea what was in them, but man were they good. (Edited to add: one was soprasetta and the other was roast beef with Asiago.)

We went for our "fancy dinner" of the trip to Ristorante il Vicoletto. You should definitely eat there, and you should also definitely make reservations. We were lucky that they could squeeze us in at opening time, but we were given a firm departure time of 7:45 so the 8:00 seating could get the table.

Appetizers: spinach souffle in cream sauce (so good) and seafood appetizer, consisting of chopped smoked salmon, a grilled scallop in pea sauce, hot shredded cot, an anchovy wrapped with pickled red peppers, grilled octopus over a squash sauce. Also so good.

First course: Four of us had gnocchi in cream sauce with a huge piece of crispy fried pork; the others had squash ravioli with saffron sauce. Both so good. So rich.

Second course: MIL had a seafood tagliatelle in saffron sauce, from the 1st course menu. The rest of us had lamb chops or rib-eye steak, but I had salmon in curry sauce with mussels and fried oysters. The salmon sat on a raft of steamed spinach. It was divine. Everything was really good.

The house special dessert was apricot and Grand Marnier cake, and that was very good, too.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

25th day of Summer Vacation: in which we take a train into Switzerland

We took a train to Domodossola, and then another train over the mountains to Locorna. Lovely views from the train, although it was hard to get good pictures.

Lunch there at Sensi: Ristorante Fred Feltpausch, which had a nice view of the water and some very aggressive sparrows.

I had the chicken marsala with saffron risotto (the former too salty, and with too much sage; the latter very good.)
DH and I split a caprese salad that was competent, but not amazing.
Younger Son and DH each had pasta carbonara, which was very rich.
MIL had lake trout with saffron risotto. She said it was very good.
FIL had a pasta dish with basil, tomatoes, and maybe capers? or anchovies?
Elder Son had some kind of schnitzel with fries.

Then we took a slow ferry back along Lago Maggiore, to Stresa. MIL thought the ferry left at 2:10, but it actually left at 4:15. We walked around town and found a nice shopping district. I finally managed to find good face lotion and we bought freshly squeezed orange juice and Swiss pastries. But we spent a lot of time sitting around on the dock.

There was no passport control either way, although we'd been warned to take our passports with us.

The ride back was lovely and took about 2 hours 45 minutes. Most of us sat inside, under A/C, playing cards. I popped outside every half hour to take pictures.

Then DH and I went out to eat by ourselves. We found a lovely little place (edited to add: Luina Albergo Ristorante) that advertised fluency in English. Limited menu, but the food was really good. We shared a salad of rocket, Cafone cheese, and pears with balsamic dressing. Then he had schnitzel with fries and I had fish-filled ravioli with a sauce of tomatoes and more fish on top. It was divine.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

24th day of Sumer Vacation: in which we voyage to Isola Bella

Isola Bella is one of the three habitable islands in Lake Maggiore. (The other two are Isola dei Pescatori and Isola Madre) It's home to astonishingly beautiful gardens and a castle stuffed with artwork. The grounds are home to several white peacocks and peahens, which make the most astoundingly awful screeching noises.

Isola Bella was the center of command for the region for many years. Napolean and Josephine stayed 2 nights on the island. The Strasa Conference of 1935 was held there, in one of the final attempts to curb the ambitions of Hitler's Germany.

The ferry ride is only about 10 minutes each way, with great views for all of it. The castle itself is gorgeous. The grotto in the lowest level is crazy-cool, although I don't know what those rooms actually got used for. Also, the view into the lower gardens from the grotto rooms was just gorgeous:

There are several nice-looking cafes and restaurants outside the grounds, but we hadn't budgeted time to eat there. Next time, I would build in an extra hour and have a drink and a snack at one of the restaurants by the docks. As it was, we just had lunch at the (not very impressive) cafe within the garden. The high point of lunch was definitely my MIL's flower salad:

The gardens are extensive. Not as many flowers as I'd thought, but lots of amazing statuary.

On the way back from the ferry, we had gelato at a great place - Langola del Gelato -  I had "perla nera" which translates to Black Pearl but is actually chocolate with rum and chunks of dark chocolate. Nice music outside; too. I didn't take photos of the musicians but I should have - they really looked like The Civil Wars although their singing wasn't quite as good. They were incredibly good for street musicians and we threw a few Euros into their guitar case on our way out.

Monday, July 16, 2018

41st day of Summer Vacation: the movies you watch on airplanes

On the way over: Charlie Wilson's War (coincidentally, I was also in the middle of reading the book) a lot of fun and very good performances by Julia Roberts, Tom Hanks, and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

On the way back: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Holy shit this was good and I completely see why it got all that love at the Oscars last year. Later, I read that Frances McDormand is actually 60 in real life, and had suggested playing Amanda's grandmother rather than mother, but they felt that it needed to be a mother-daughter relationship and just had her play a woman in her 40's. Given that the character, Mildred, has led a tough life, I thought that the aging worked fine.

The Post: also very good. Holy shit, Meryl Streep is just in a league of her own. Also, very interesting story and description of the time (1970).

Justice League: possibly the worst movie I've seen this year. No, seriously. Makes "The Covenant" look like high art; at least it had a coherent plot and a comprehensible villain.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

23rd day of Summer Vacation: in which we explore Stresa

We're safely esconsed in our lovely apartment in Stresa. It's got a tiny elevator for luggage but is clearly meant to be a walk-up. Our place has two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a tiny kitchen, and a large living-dining room. The deck is small but can hold a couple of chaise lounges and a 4-person table. Also a drying rack, because although we have a laundry machine, there's no dryer!

We were all pretty jet-lagged by the time we drove into Stresa on Thursday. We unpacked a bit and walked downtown to find dinner; we just walked until we found someplace quiet. The woman spoke good English, and the menu had an English section... we were too tired to wrestle with translating Italian! It's called La Botte Trattoria and comes highly recommended by several guidebooks.

I had wide noodles with saffron cream sauce and mushrooms. Also baby artichokes cooked in butter and garlic. It was really good!
FIL: eggplant ravioli with a concentrated sundried tomato garnish (really good)
DH: Gorgonzola risotto with pear puree (he didn't love it)
Elder: Milanese chops (thin veal, breaded and fried) and french fries (very good)
MIL: Cod in tomato and polenta. I thought the cod was overcooked but the polenta and sauce made a great combo
Younger: spaghetti carbonara (very good, no visible bacon)

Then we went down the street for gelato. (Gelateria - good prices, good gelato, although not the best we had in that city.)

The tourist area in Stresa has about a dozen gelato places and two dozen restaurants, all within about 5 blocks of each other. I got postcards and Bergamot soap.

My FIL and I went to the Friday market in Stresa. (Open 6-2, I believe) It has lots of clothes, leather items, and tourist gear. There's a smaller food area, where I mostly failed to get any good pictures. Sorry! You'll have to envision vans with umbrella awnings that pop out of the top to make the stall.

The sausage and cheese vendors give you free samples, but they're also very pushy! Very few people spoke very much English - they kept trying Spanish, German, and French on us. I got a blue shawl, and we got sausage, cheese, and cookies. Also pre-cooked chicken and pork ribs, very good. Then we found a tiny little bakery, run by Americans, and got a huge round loaf of whole-wheat bread that was extremely good.

Now off to see the Isola Bella, a tiny island in the middle of Lago Maggiore.