Barcelona Wine Bar & Restaurant (West Hartford)

Barcelona is one of the sexiest restaurants in West Hartford. It’s the perfect place to bring a date or lover or dine with friends. There is something very intimate about sharing a bunch of small plates. It is the perfect opportunity to try a variety of different dishes.

Friday was the first time I’d been back since they renovated. I loved the decor and ambience before but it did seem like more space was needed. Now it’s even better than ever. We arrived sometime between 6 and 7pm and got a table in the outdoor dining area. One of our two waiters brought over a menu and it did not take me long to select the Aviator (Ransom Old Tom Gin, Liqueur de Violettes, Luxardo Maraschino, Lemon Juice) as my beverage of choice.

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Shortly after we placed our order we were brought a complimentary watermelon, cucumber, and feta salad from the kitchen. It was light, summery, and refreshing. The official start of summer isn’t for about another week but summer started for me that night in my mouth with the first bite of that salad.

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We also shared the spicy eggplant caponata, the kale salad with toasted hazelnuts, grilled hanger steak with black truffle vinaigrette, pork belly a la plancha with mustard, and 12-hour braised short ribs. For dessert – churros with a chocolate sauce for dipping. Everything was terrific My favorites of the night were the multidimensional flavors of the caponata, the tender and flavorful short rib, and the crispy and soft churros, but honestly, I loved it all.

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My dining companion commented that the kale salad tasted “healthy, in a good way” – the acidity of the balsamic drizzle was nice against the butteriness of toasted hazelnuts. The pork belly would have been too dry without the wet of the mustard, but together it was good. The hanger steak was an ideal medium rare and the black truffle vinaigrette had a smokey complexity that added depth to the dish. We also enjoyed using the warm, crusty, delicious bread as a vehicle to sop up the sauce from the eggplant caponata.

We had a great time here and I look forward to a return visit soon. I would also love to check out a wine or cooking class in the near future.

971 Farmington Ave
West Hartford, CT 06127
(860) 218-2100

Haywire Burger Bar (Westbrook)

ImageHalf the week I am a resident of the shoreline, and the other half of the week, I live in the burger capital of Connecticut:  West Hartford.  Prior to Haywire’s arrival my boyfriend and I would talk about how the shoreline desperately needed a burger joint.  Finally, Haywire opened.  For some reason, it took us a while to get here even though we both love burgers.  After an unsuccessful attempt to dine here a month ago, leaving because the wait was too long, we finally returned on Friday.  Glad we did.

ImageWe sat at the outdoor patio area.  The menu contained many enticing options – it was hard to choose, but I finally decided on the Brie Burger which has brie cheese, apricot preserves, and bacon.  The boyfriend ordered the Frico which comes with crispy provolone, pickles, onion and spicy ketchup. The crispy provolone cheese was quite a sight!  There was so much of it, it reached out way beyond the sides of the burgers.  I was lucky enough to have one of the big slabs of crispy cheese and it was delicious.  We were both very pleased with our burgers.  The fries were average, but satisfying enough as they came out hot, crispy, and salty.  They were listed as shoestring fries yet came out thicker than I imagined.  Not a complaint at all, the thicker the better (for the most part).

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My boyfriend thought this was as good as Plan B in West Hartford, but I respectfully disagree.  Plan B has always reigned supreme in the Connecticut burger scene, in my opinion, and continues to.   A few gripes:  out of soap and toilet paper in womens restroom (hostess was kind enough to let me use her hand sanitizer) and the parking lot is far too small.  The restaurant was not at full capacity and many people, us included, had to park at nearby establishments and walk.

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730 Boston Post Rd
Westbrook, CT 06498
(860) 391-8479

 

Hen & Heifer (Guilford)

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Hen & Heifer is an excellent addition to the shoreline, particularly Guilford, with it’s delectable array of French pastries.  When I learned of their upcoming opening several months prior, I began stalking their opening and, finally, two Thursdays ago, they opened their doors for business.  I went today to find out what this place is about.

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I walked in a couple of hours before closing.  Immediately, I noticed the macarons, They had vanilla, raspberry, salted caramel, and milk chocolate.  They weren’t as puffy as I have seen at other places but they still looked very good.  Since it was just about the end of the day, they’d sold out of some things (like croissants – which they explained they make 4-5 dozen of every morning but they tend to sell out within a couple of hours).

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There were still plenty of treats left such as charming, good-sized, sugar cookies in the shape of chickens (they’d sold out of the cows earlier), a chocolate tart, lemon olive oil cakes, whole wheat carrot muffins, banana financiers, coffee cake, madeleines, and a yogurt jam granola parfait that looked that looked exquisite.  They make their own rhubarb jam and granola while the yogurt is made fresh at a farm nearby.

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Beverages available today included coffee from Ashlawn Farm in Lyme, CT, hot and iced (iced coffee brewed Japanese style, which is a hot brew placed immediately over ice), housemade lemonade infused with cardamom and black pepper, fresh squeeze orange juice, and bottled beverages: Fever Tree Ginger Ale, Saratoga natural spring water, and Coke/Diet Coke.

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I was curious about both the iced coffee and the lemonade so the owner and his employee, Brett, gave me a sample of each over ice.  While cold brew is my preference for iced coffee, theirs was quite good with some vanilla + caramel syrup mixed in, and a splash of milk.  The lemonade was sweet and tart, the black pepper and cardamon adding an extra element of interest to the strong lemon presence.

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After much deliberation, I finally, with the help of the owner, decided to try the cannele, which originates from the Bordeaux region of France.  He was absolutely on point with his recommendation.  This new-to-me (I’ve never seen it elsewhere and he noted that it’s even difficult to find in French bakeries in NYC) pastry was described by him as  custardy, like creme brulee, but also bread-like.  I took it outside to enjoy at one of the outdoor tables.  The outside seating area is small but wonderful, having an intimate feel similar to sitting on a friends deck or patio while soaking in the sun.

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The cannele was impressively delicious.  With each bite I was met with a firm, slightly crunchy exterior delicately scented with a touch of honey – the result of lining the uniquely shaped copper baking pan with a combination of butter and beeswax.  This contrasted beautifully against the soft and custardy interior that was speckled with vanilla bean.  It was amazing.  After finishing, I immediately went back in to get another for my boyfriend, because something this good needs to be shared!   In addition, I picked up a salted caramel macaron for myself, and it was fantastic as well.

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The inside space is quite small with minimal seating.  There is more seating outdoors.  The owner, trained at the French Culinary Institute, was a pleasure to talk with as was Brett.  I’m thrilled to have Hen & Heifer join the Guilford food scene.  I will be living here full-time by next month and I’ve a feeling I will be coming to Hen & Heifer quite regularly.

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6/2/13 Update:  Tried the almond croissant, chocolate croissant, and yogurt parfait today.  Heavenly.

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6/9/13 Update:  I can’t get enough of this place.  I brought back the beautiful glass container for the yogurt today and got a caramel for returning the jar.  I bought two more yogurts, two caramel mararons, one chocolate macaron, and a fresh squeezed orange juice.   All delicious.

23 Water St
Guilford, CT 06437
(203) 689-5651

SweetWorks (North Attleboro, MA)

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I was super excited to come to SweetWorks for brunch this past weekend with a bunch of girlfriends in between bachelorette day activities.  A review of the menu revealed many scrumptious sounding items both off the breakfast and lunch menus that caught my attention.  So much potential!

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We came on Saturday around noon, pleased to find that the small restaurant was not packed and that our group could be seated right away.  Immediately, my eyes were drawn to cakes, cupcakes, cakeballs, pastries, and other beauties in the dessert case.  I went to check out the ice cream options since they were right next to this display case.

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Most of the group ordered breakfast items but I wanted lunch so I went for a cup of the chicken noodle soup and the spinach salad, as well as a cappuccino.  Service was spotty and aloof with both our waitress and the employees behind the counter.

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My chicken soup arrived long before anyone else had food in front of them (I ordered it as a soup + salad lunch) but I was polite and waited and the soup cooled.  The soup itself was nothing special; it tasted pre-made.  The salad was satisfying though – with a warm bacon dressing,  and I was pleasantly surprised by how good the cappuccino was.  Also, when the food arrived our table was short one set of silverware and I was starting to get hangry from having to wait even longer after the soup had been sitting in front of me.

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Someone from our group went up to the counter at one point to order the Wedding Cake Balls to bring home with us (our friends wedding was the next day) and noted that while there were a handful of employees behind the counter it took a while for anyone to help her even though no other customer was there.  The cake balls were tasty, and I liked the rest of the food, but service could’ve been better.

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38 S Washington St
North Attleboro, MA 02760
(508) 695-3626

Wildflour Vegan Bakery and Café (Pawtucket, RI)

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Ever since I learned of Wildflour, I’ve been dying to come check it out.  I finally had the opportunity to drop by today since I was back in the area for a wedding this past weekend.  This place was everything I hoped it would be and more.

Wildflour did not exist when I lived a few streets away (10th St. – just over the line in Providence) half a decade ago, and in a way I am glad it didn’t.  I probably would have been here more often than I could afford on my research assistant salary.  While it’s pricey, I think it falls into the expensive but worth it category.

I came around lunch today.  After several days of unhealthy eating (more cheese and bread consumed in the past three days compared to what I usually eat in an entire month) this is exactly what I needed.

I splurged on a Rainforest Smoothie ($8 – omg!!) and a more reasonably priced kale salad that had quinoa, carrots, and a dressing so good that I saved half to use for home cooked vegetables later.  I also picked up a Henry’s Hemp Bar for the drive home to Connecticut and a sample of raw cheesecake.  I loved it all.

Their dessert case was a thing of beauty – fully stocked with gorgeous goodies including raw, vegan, gluten free items.  Big variety of attractive cupcakes, cakes, truffles, cookies, bars, bread.  All of their prepared items looked fresh and tempting as well.  I’d love to come back and try some of the fresh juices and more baked or raw goods.

727 E Ave
Pawtucket, RI 02860
(401) 475-4718

Hartford Baking Company (West Hartford)

(photo credit: Yuchen Z. of Yelp)

Over the past year and a half it has become my absolute favorite spot in the area.  When I think about my upcoming move down to the Connecticut shore, I know that this is the place I will miss most out of all the other places I go.  I’m so much of a regular that I’ve become friendly with many of the employees as well as many of the other regular patrons.  It is my top choice for all of the following:  getting work done with the free wifi, picking up my favorite cold brew coffee ever, and/or having breakfast or a snack.

(photo credit: Scott K. of Yelp)

As much as I loved their brie and jam for breakfast, I used to pray that they’d create an scrumptious breakfast sandwich – something a little more substantial.  One day, soon after, their HBC egg sandwich was born:  two eggs, aged Cabot cheddar, spiced potatos, and onion jam on a pain de mie roll.  It is fabulous.  I used to think the potatoes were superfluous but after having the sandwich a few times I now think it is pretty perfect.

(photo credit: Hartford Baking Company Facebook page)

I continue to love their baked goods:  scones in all the flavors, financiers, brioche.  Their bread cannot be beat.  The sticky buns, cakes + cupcakes, and and other sweet treats always catch my eye with their beauty.  Recently, they’ve introduced other new stuff like their own version of a grab-and-go oatmeal blend, homemade granola bars, and more sandwich options.  I had their tuna melt last week and it was was heavenly, especially coupled with their flawless cappuccino – another “best ever.”

(photo credit: Sarah D. of Yelp)

It’s been incredible, and a great honor, to watch HBC grow and flourish over the past year.  As more and more people became aware of it’s awesomeness, it has gotten busier and busier but remains a cozy and wonderful place.  Without a doubt, this will be the place I miss the most after I move.

(photo credit: Alex K. of Yelp)

P.S. – They were kind enough to share their cold brew method with me.  That was one of the best moments of my life.  I love Hartford Baking Company!

625 New Park Ave
West Hartford, CT 06110
(860) 570-1579

Burtons Grill (South Windsor)

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I decided to come here for lunch on Sunday since it had been a long time since my last visit.  So happy with that decision because I had an impressively delicious lunch that I’ve continued to think about throughout the week.

The spacious restaurant was about half full when we arrived.  We were seated right away  and brought bread and a tasty garlic and herb butter spread.  I ordered the Steak Sandwich, described on the menu as:  “seasoned, grilled sirloin served on griddled ciabatta with a pesto cheese spread, roasted red peppers, arugula and provolone cheese, drizzled with barbeque ranch, served with hand cut french fries.”

Holy deliciousness.  The flavors went together beautifully!  The steak, which I requested at a medium doneness, was more medium rare in some bites.  I didn’t mind at all, but I’m sure it would have freaked some people out.  I ate half for lunch and tried to save the other half for lunch the next day, but I could not.  Later that night I had to have the other half for dinner since I enjoyed it so much earlier in the day.

The fries?  They were the best I have had since I went to Nosh in Portland, ME a couple years ago and overdosed on their bacon-dusted fries.  The difference is that these didn’t have any special magic bacon powder fairy dust coating them.  They were just flawless in their simplicity from the perfect execution on the part of the chef.  Well done, crispy crunchy (dark caramel/tan in color) exterior with a soft and smooth inside.  Un-freaking-believable.  I was so addicted, I continued to mindlessly eat them even as the waitress was taking away the plate. I told her, “I’m sorry.  Those fries are like magnets to my fingers.”

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100 Evergreen Way
South Windsor, CT 06074
(860) 432-4575

Blackie’s Hot Dog Stand (Cheshire)

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I was in Cheshire today for a meeting that ended right around noon.  Perfect time for me to hit up Blackie’s for a hot dog since I don’t find myself in Cheshire often and I’ve heard so much about this place.  As I drove there I was thinking, “I hope they take card, don’t have any cash on me, no ATM in sight.”
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I had a feeling it was a Cash Only operation, so I was thankful that a hot dog only cost $2.00 because I found enough change in my car to pay for lunch.  Since it was 75 degrees and sunny the whole place was opened up, allowing patrons full view of the open road and the cars whizzing by.  You really do feel like you have gone back in time here.  One of the employees mentioned that they’ve been open since 1928!
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Ordering was a breeze with the simple menu.  I knew what I wanted from the moment I arrived and as soon as the words, “hot dog” escaped my mouth I had a juicy one right in front of me.  I slathered on some of the famous relish, some mustard, and ketchup and enjoyed my tasty and inexpensive lunch.  I will be back, but next time I won’t wear a suit, especially in hot weather.
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2200 Waterbury Rd
Cheshire, CT 06410
(203) 699-1819

Pai Men Miyake (Portland, ME)

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My sister and I were here for a late lunch yesterday.  I’d never been but it has been a spot I wanted to hit up after seeing their menu last winter.  My sister had been, for the ramen, and she had a pleasant experience.

We arrived at 3pm and I was surprised how busy the restaurant was.  The place was pretty packed, which doesn’t take a whole lot since it’s not a large restaurant to begin with.  There were a few two-person high tables available up by the open kitchen so we were seated immediately.  There’s also outdoor seating which I am sure would be lovely in the warmer months.

Right away, I loved the brick wall on one side, the raised wood wall of the other side, within the narrow, high-ceilinged, open-feeling restaurant look.  Labeled jars of spices lined a partition wall by the bathrooms. We sat so close to the action in the kitchen that the smells that wafted over and the sizzling sounds of cooking at high heat were very much part of the experience.  This made my stomach rumble even though I’d already had my first lunch a few hours earlier.

A review of the menu revealed many unique and interesting items.  We decided to get a few things and split.  We went with a house salad, a shiitake mushroom sushi roll, a tuna roll, and gyoza.  To drink my sister ordered the Yuzu Lemonade and I the Tandem Malt Iced Coffee.

Everything was terrific.  The gyoza was a textural dream.  Pan seared to perfection, they were soft on some sides and had a nice crispy crunch on the seared side.  Great with the accompanying dipping sauce.  The salad could have used more dressing, but it was was also very good and quite large.  Our favorite thing of the entire meal was the shiitake + avocado roll.  This is undoubtably the best vegetarian sushi roll I have ever had!   Shiitake in a sushi roll is genius as it imparts a woody, earthy, savory taste while maintaining a firm softness.  The tuna roll, while good, was not quite as memorable.  The shiitake roll was definitely the highlight of the meal.  After a bit of inquiry, I discovered that they are soaked in tamari and mirin prior to being used in the rolls.

Tandem Coffee Roasters Malt Iced Coffee was excellent.  I could drink this every day of my life.  An alcoholic version is available with vanilla bean vodka.  I think that will be a must-try for a day when I don’t have a 5 hour drive ahead.  My sister loved her drink, made with sake, and said it wasn’t too strong and had good flavor.

Service was great and prices were very reasonable.  I will be back and I want to try the ramen next time!

188 State St
Portland, ME 04101
(207) 541-9204

NoRA Cupcake Company (Middletown)

I had my first NoRA Cupcake cupcakes at last summers Yelp Elite event at Eli Cannons.  I shared the Irish Carbomb and  Chocolate Chip Cheesecake with the Yelp Hartford community manager, Emily.  They were amazing.  So flavorful, moist, and tasty. I was impressed.
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I stopped in the store a few days ago, for the first time ever, and instantly loved it.  Even before I walked in the cheery pink and black signage in front of the store lifted my spirits.  When I stopped through the door I was met with a burst of fun, funky, whimsical decor that I just adored.  The high ceilings and spaciousness are other elements that contribute to the overall feel of the place.

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After adjusting to the sensory overload of colors, objects, delightful smells of bakery, my eyes fixed on the cupcake case.  Lavender Earl Grey cupcakes caught my attention first, a flavor I’d never seen anywhere else.  I had to have it.

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I also had to have the Jamaican Moon which sounded unique and interesting.  I asked what was in it, she told me twice, and the only thing I retained from the list of ingredients was Onyx Moonshine, rum, and chocolate.  That was all I needed to know.  Both of these cupcakes were terrific as well.

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When this place initially got a lot of buzz, I thought I would never be a customer because $4 is a lot to pay for a cupcake.  I still think it’s a lot but it’s worth the splurge for flavors you won’t find anywhere else (I’m dying to try some of the savory flavors), a space that cannot be beat (I’d love to meet up with friends here), and great customer service.

Cannot wait to come back.

700 Main St
Middletown, CT 06457
(860) 788-3150

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