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Friday, June 13, 2014

Out: Luca Ristorante

My husband and I recently had dinner at Luca Ristorante in Cheshire. We received a gift card for Christmas and were encouraged by the positive feedback from a family member that dined here years earlier and I think that “years earlier” is the key phrase. Luca may have been a hot spot at one point, but our experience left quite a bit to be desired.

To begin with, I called to make a reservation for a Friday evening about a week before. When we arrived, there was no record of my reservation. This turned out to be okay as there were tables available, which was surprising since we could hardly find an open spot in the parking lot.  

There are several main sections of this restaurant. On one side is the bar/lounge area, the other is the dining area complete with an over the top chandelier and also a banquet room for parties towards the rear of the building.  Despite the bar and dining areas being separated, the noise from the bar overflowed and almost drowned our dinner conversation.  Then, of course, the live entertainment began. The entertainment itself wasn't bad, but it did clash with the background music that was already playing in the dining room, and continued to play.

Our wait staff was prompt at first. A new waitress was training and so in this review I am allowing for quite a bit of flexibility in terms of service.  Luca’s offers the traditional Italian banquet food at a moderate price.  The portions are of acceptable size.  My husband ordered the lobster macaroni and cheese which is as delicious as it sounds. The dish is very heavy as you can imagine, but we did notice the amount of lobster in the dish was lacking, especially for the $24 price tag. I ordered a dish with risotto and scallops.  I love scallops and never buy them to make at home so I frequently order them when they're available. Unfortuantley, these 'pan seared' scallops were  essentially burnt. I even scrapped off the blackened exterior of thick burnt seasoning and while it did make them somewhat more edible, I remained incredibly disappointed.  

After we finished eating, it took a good twenty-five minutes for our waitress to bring our bill. I used this time to make a stop at the ladies' room. For a restaurant with a giant sparkling chandelier in the main dining room, I expected a nicer bathroom. Both toilets were backed up with wads of paper, the doors on the stalls had no hooks for purses, and the sink looked like it was in desperate need of a good cleaning. At this point, we were not offered any coffee or dessert, not that we would have ordered any... We were ready to get out of there. 

Maybe we hit Luca's on a bad day, but based on our experience, I'd give the restaurant a solid D. We won't be visiting again.

- Nancy

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

In: Spicy Chicken Quesadilla

I don't really know my way around the kitchen, but occasionally I have the urge to throw a meal together with whatever ingredients we have lying around. When we want something quick, quesadillas are high on the list because they take very little effort, but are a lot healthier and more filling than ramen. This was by far the tastiest thing I've ever made, so, I was compelled to share it with the Internet. Please try it out and let me know how it could be better!


1 flour tortilla
Frank's hot sauce
Dash of oregano
Grated mozzarella cheese
JD's Baconnaise
1/2 cup of pre-cooked sliced chicken (this was leftover from a roast chicken)
1 Tbsp Olive oil

Lay the tortilla out and spread JD's Baconnaise spread over the entire thing. Liberally sprinkle mozzarella cheese on half of the tortilla. It doesn't have to be mozzarella, it's just all we had at the time. Splash it with as much Frank's as you desire and throw a little oregano on there.

In a nonstick pan: heat olive oil over medium heat and throw in the chicken to warm it up for a few minutes. I added extra hot sauce and threw on some salt and pepper, but next time I would toss all that together in a bowl first. I can guarantee there will be a next time. 

Add the chicken to the quesadilla and fold it in half. Then lightly brown both sides of the tortilla in the same pan. Enjoy!

I have to say that the baconnaise adds an interesting flavor to it. Feel free to try other things, but this has a certain barbecue-bacon quality which went well with the Frank's hot sauce. This DIY meal has a lot of room for variety, so, throw in your favorite ingredients and see what happens! I won't say you can't go wrong, but it can't go right if you don't try.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Out: Bin 228

Bin 228 is a small wine bar in downtown Hartford and I mean small. Dimly lit, cozy and alluring are good ways to describe this "date night" type place. It's also great for a pre or post show drink nestled across from Theater Works and Hartford Stage and The Bushnell are nearby. Tip: The wait staff expect you to walk in and flag one of them down if you want to be seated. Don't wait in the doorway puzzled like we did.

Grilled flank steak over baby spinach
Despite warnings from family and friends we went to Bin hungry. I ordered the grilled flank steak over baby spinach because I'm a sucker for anything with gorgonzola. It was sprinkled with roasted red peppers, grilled asparagus, chunks of gorgonzola and drizzled with a balsamic reduction dressing. To my surprise this was very tasty. The flank steak was tender and the asparagus nicely grilled. I wolfed it down while Nancy poked at her order with disappointment.

Bin 228 on Urbanspoon
She ordered the Tramezzini with bresaola, arugula, parmesan and lemon truffle oil, which basically amounted to a dry sandwich with thin slices of salty beef on stale bread. She was not a happy camper. She postulated this dish is a mere incentive refill your glass and I think it worked because she gulped down her Jelu Malbec. I ordered a white (piedmonte) before knowing what I was ordering, so the pairing was wrong, but it didn't matter and I thought the Gavidi gavi from VillaSparina was very good. Go to Bin 228, take a deep breath, and order a glass or two of wine. Then spin the roulette wheel that is their menu and hope you get lucky.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

In: Linguini with Shrimp Scampi

This recipe could be great if it wasn't quite so lemony. Perhaps I mismeasured the amount of lemon juice necessary (I halved the recipe).

Anyways, besides the overwhelming lemon taste, I liked this dish for two main reasons. 

#1. It's quick, easy, and the few ingredients it called for I mostly had on hand. (I suppose that's more than 1 reason)

#2. It looks fancy! Serve it up with a crunchy salad, some warm cheesy garlic bread and a nice glass of white wine. Great dish to serve when you're having company. Everyone needs a mastered-go to-companys coming dish. This could easily be it!

I will definitely try this again, but cut back on the lemon.  And I will be sure we have wine on hand  to accompany it!

Linguini with Shrimp Scampi
Recipe from Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa Family Style

Vegetable Oil
Kosher salt
1 1/2 pounds linguine
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
5 tablespoons good olive oil
3 tablespoons minced garlic (9 cloves)
2 pounds large shirmp, peeled and deveined (just buy them that way)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (4 lemons)
1/2 lemon, thinly sliced in half-rounds
1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes

Drizzle some oil in a large pot of boiling salted water, add 1 tablespoon of salt and the linguine, and cook for 7 to 10 minutes, or according to the directions on the package.

Meanwhile, in another large, heavy-bottomed pan, melt the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic. Saute for 1 minute. Be careful, the garlic burns easily! Add the shrimp, 1 tablespoon of salt, and the pepper and saute until the shrimp have just turned pink, about 5 minutes, stirring often. Remove from the heat, add the parsley, lemon zest, lemon juice, lemon slices, and red pepper flakes. Toss to combine.

When the pasta is done, drain the cooked linguine and then put it back in the pot. Immediately add the shrimp and sauce, toss well, and serve.


Monday, October 8, 2012

Out: El Paso Mexican Restaurant

El Paso Mexican Restaurant is not much to look at, but do not pass it by or write it off. Didn't your mother teach you not to judge a book by it's cover? Well, this book has tasty mexican food inside, so, open your mind and take a seat. We drove past this place many times ourselves and wondered if it was any good. It took one recommendation from a coworker to finally motivate us to try it. I [Matt] love all food (if you don't know that by now, this blog will soon prove it), but I don't spend a lot of time in authentic Mexican restaurants. I find that most are just margarita pumps where the food is an afterthought. El Paso absolutely has it the other way around. 

Carne enchilada chimichanga
El Paso Mexican Restaurant on Urbanspoon
My sparse run-ins with authentic Mexican food leave me ill-equipped to justly describe the awesomeness. I've never had an enchilada inside a chimichanga before, but I would certainly order this again. Savory chunks of pork dressed with chili sauce, beans, peppers and cheese filled this tortilla wrapped masterpiece. The Internet told me that carne enchilada means "chili dressed meat", but there is not really chili in the chimichanga. I think the pork bathed in chili before resting inside it's final home. The accompaniments are excellent as well. The guacamole is smooth and not overpowered by lime juice. The pico de gallo is fresh and dances gently on your taste buds. Finally, the rice was full of flavor and I would have easily cleaned my plate if I didn't need it for lunch the next day. 

Chorizo enchiladas

Nancy ordered the Chorizo enchiladas and I was jealous the moment they appeared on the table. Chorizo is a magical sausage that has a distinct and amazing flavor. Find it and eat it! These enchiladas come with a choice of green, brown or red sauce. She selected red (pictured above). The red sauce was fairly mild and mild is my speed. I don't care for food where the capsaicin takes over your entire face and you can't taste anything but burning. While Nancy snuck bites of my guacamole and pico, I kept reaching for her refried beans. We love refried beans!

It was the perfect comfort food for the dribbling rainy weather we were having that day, but I encourage you to go no matter what kind of day you're having. It's probably great apocalypse food too. Our only regret was that we didn't leave room to try the coconut flan, but don't worry, we'll be back.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Out: Sushi Red

Sushi Red is probably the closest you can come to a traditional Japanese sushi joint in CT. The owner and chef (the same guy) respectfully bows as you enter and directs your seat. We chose the bar for that up close and personal experience. I've been here before, but Nancy thought the open air kitchen stood out. A lot of sushi restaurants will make the sushi up front for you to see, but the entire kitchen behind the chef is exposed. The chef has nothing to hide and we agreed it makes for a refreshing setting.

$9.45 is a fair price.
Sushi Red on UrbanspoonWe're compelled to order a Dragon roll when we go to a sushi place, because I've been doing that since I started frequenting Japanese-American restaurants. We had options: Dancing Dragon Roll, Red Dragon Roll, and Orange Dragon Roll, but decided on the standard one. The maki is light and simple compared to it's garish cousins doused in eel sauce and loaded with cooked eel. It is a no frills version of what we're used to, but it still delivers on freshness and flavor. Certainly, the artful zen garden-like slices in the avocado invite you to take another piece.

6 pieces of nigiri sushi and 4 pieces of sashimi isn't overboard is it?
Of course, we didn't stop there, this is me we're talking about! While hunting through the menu I had a feeling the sushi would be excellent and boy was I right. The chef winked as he slipped extra tako (octopus) on our plate and it was telling of his feelings about his dishes and his customers. The fish is very fresh and very tasty. The chef knows what he is doing when it comes to simple traditional sushi. The accompanying sauce drizzled over the tako was a nice touch albeit unusual. His rice had something we couldn't put our finger on, but we didn't ponder it long as we were busy stuffing our faces. Also, the soy sauce is noteworthy featuring a hint of tanginess. At the end of our sushi binge we were given free mochi ice cream. What flavor? Do you have to ask? Green tea of course! And it was a generous gesture. Sushi Red is hands down a fantastic, local, one-man-show sushi place.


Location: 450 East Street Plainville, CT 06062