Cora Cora (West Hartford)

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Taking advantage of the fact that we were both home on Monday as a result of the remnants of the Blizzard Charlotte / Snowpocalypse / Winter Storm Nemo, my roommate and I decided to go out for lunch.  We didn’t want to go far as the roads were still pretty bad. Lucky for us we’re not far from a handful of great dining options.  Cora Cora is among them and it my first choice.  I’d read about their lunch special and had been wanting to check it out.

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A review of their online menu revealed three course offerings ranging in price from $11.50 to $13.50, but their in person menu had one fixed price of $13.50 as their lunch special.  There were many different appetizer and entree options from which to choose, and also a choice of rice pudding, ice cream, or jello for dessert.  In addition, the lunch special includes a beverage with the options being several Coca Cola products and their specialty drink, “chicha,”  a Peruvian beverage with purple corn and pineapple.  It was fruity, refreshing, and had a hint of spice similar to cinnamon.

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All of the appetizer and entree options looked good to me but I finally decided on the Cora salad and the seafood fried rice (chaufa de mariscos) while my roommate ordered the ceviche and the sliced rib eye in house special sauce, red onions and tomatoes served on a bed of french fries, with white rice (lomo saltado).  We shared all of it to maximize the experience of trying all the dishes ordered and everything was terrific.  The salad was presented nicely and was dressed in a light orange vinaigrette. The ceviche, made with tilapia, was fantastic.  The meat for the rib eye was ordered medium and came out perfect with a hot pink center and was juicy and flavorful.  The fries + sauce + rice of this dish, when combined, was heavenly.

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One the menu it states that the portions are smaller so I was a bit concerned about how filling lunch would be, but we were both stuffed before dessert even arrived (and we both have impressive appetites).  We only had several bites of the warm rice pudding that we both ordered, but it was delicious like everything else.

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Coming here for lunch that day was a great decision.  We were incredibly pleased with our experience.  The service was excellent too.  We enjoyed our time here so much it made us wonder why we don’t come here more often.  From now on we will.  I have a feeling we’ll be here again very soon!

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P.S. – Dip the warm bread they give you (and if they don’t give it to you, ask for it) into the yellow dipping sauce that is meant for the cancha (the giant corn kernels).  Holy yum.  So good!

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P.P.S – Is it just me or does anyone else get the urge to pet or run your fingers through the fuzzy murals hanging on the walls?  Probably just me.

162 Shield St
West Hartford, CT 06110
(860) 953-2672

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Sweet Maria’s (Waterbury)

IMG_1074If you’re in the Waterbury area and you’re looking to satisfy your sweet tooth, look no further than Sweet Maria’s. This place has it all, from cupcakes to full sized cakes, to cookies…you will not be disappointed. I stopped by on Thursday to check them out with cupcakes on my mind.

From the modest looking exterior you would not expect to walk into a white, pink and black, very feminine-themed bake shoppe (think: boxes of truffles with gorgeous pink tulle ribbon + bows). The atmosphere is unapologetically girly, bright, and fun.

Left to right from at the entrance: a case of cakes and cupcakes, some K-cups for the Keurig machine (I wish they had espresso but oh well), the largest selection of fresh baked delicious looking cookies I have seen anywhere, and then the sunny eating room with a Keuring machine, tables and chairs to match the decor, and gorgeous cakes on display.

Directly behind the cookies cake is an open view into the kitchen providing the opportunity to see the bakers working. That was great! The chocolate kahlua walnut bread was available for sampling and it was so good I had multiple samples of it. The guy behind the counter also let me try any cookies I wanted. I opted for a coconut macaroon and ended up buying a mexican wedding cookie, a snicker doodle, and a apricot thumbprint. The cookies have been voted best cookies in Connecticut time and time again. I can see why. I inhaled all four of mine before I left the parking lot.

Cupcakes of the day were: red velvet cupcake topped with red sugar, red velvet cupcake topped with coconut flakes, chocolate mousse, strawberry mousse, Chubby Hubby (peanut butter filling, peanut butter frosting with a pretzel atop a chocolate cupcakes), s’mores, and key lime. I brought home a red velvet without coconut, chocolate mousse, strawberry mousse, and Chubby Hubby.

All the cupcakes were good though different than ones from other bakeries. Instead of being somewhat dense and crumbly like the ones from many gourmet cupcake shops around the state, the ones here are much lighter, fluffier, and sponge-cakey – almost like the texture of cakes made from box mix. But, flavors were better than box mix cupcakes. I loved the creamy frostings – especially the cream cheese frosting that had the perfect tartness to sweetness ratio.  I personally prefer the texture of the slighty denser and more crumbly cupcakes though.

I was a big fan of the prices too. At many places $10 will get you two to four cupcakes. Here, I got four cupcakes and four small cookies for less than that. A great value considering how much I enjoyed it all. Other fun things about Sweet Maria’s: they have a Cake of the Month club, host baking classes, and even have some of their recipes on the website. Check it out for all these things and more, and to view some photos of their beautiful creations!

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159 Manor Ave
Waterbury, CT 06705
(203) 755-3804