NIXS Hartford, Hartford, CT

NIXS Hartford, Hartford, CT

Last week I was invited to a pre-opening red carpet event at NIXS Hartford restaurant and lounge in preparation for their grand opening.

NIXS Hartford pre-opening red carpet event - we were photographed on the red carpet!

NIXS Hartford pre-opening red carpet event – we were photographed on the red carpet!

We “VIPs” were invited for a first look at Hartford’s newest eatery in the emerging Front Street district of Hartford. The Front Street district is a component of Adriaen’s landing, a state-sponsored, master planned development that attracts activity to downtown through retail, restaurants, entertainment, conventions, museums and residential living.

You can find NIXS Hartford at 40 Front Street.

You can find NIXS Hartford at 40 Front Street.

You can find NIXS Hartford at 40 Front Street, directly across from the CT Convention Center and next to the soon-to-open Infinity Music Hall. It’s the newest of four restaurants located in the Front Street district.

NIX Hartford restaurant and lounge is part of The Bostonian Hospitality Group with other locations in Boston, Nantucket and Newburyport.

NIX Hartford restaurant and lounge is part of The Bostonian Hospitality Group with other locations in Boston, Nantucket and Newburyport.

NIX Hartford restaurant and lounge is part of The Bostonian Hospitality Group with other locations in Boston, Nantucket and Newburyport. The NIX name pays tribute to one of the small islands in the Boston Harbor.

The Hartford location serves contemporary American small bites, has a raw bar and serves New England micro brews and craft cocktails.

NIXS Hartford serves contemporary American small bites, has a raw bar and serves New England micro brews and craft cocktails.

NIXS Hartford serves contemporary American small bites, has a raw bar and serves New England micro brews and craft cocktails.

The restaurant’s décor reminded me of a swanky NYC industrial loft, with high ceilings, a combination of wood textures and industrial fixtures and lighting. There are several seating options – high tables at the bar, a dining area with tables and half round booths, outside seating or comfy lounge-style couches.

The restaurant’s décor reminded me of a swanky NYC industrial loft.

The restaurant’s décor reminded me of a swanky NYC industrial loft.

NIX Hartford uses the “Play Nice” have fun mantra and that certainly was the atmosphere at the pre-opening party!

“Play Nice” have fun is the restaurant's mantra.

“Play Nice” have fun is the restaurant’s mantra.

I had the opportunity to sample several of the restaurant’s craft cocktails.

nixs photo 5

NIX craft cocktails

NIX craft cocktails

I loved the creative names each was given – William Fly Tai; Large Marg; Dawn of the Daiquiri; Bad Wolf; Orchard Avenue; Strawberry Rhubarb Smash and Beach Please.

I love the creative names each cocktail was given.

I love the creative names each cocktail was given.

My favorite was Beach Please – a seasonal cocktail with a hint of cucumber that was very refreshing!

Additionally the restaurant had several food stations set up with samplings of their menu items.

The restaurant had several food stations set up with samplings of their menu items.

The restaurant had several food stations set up with samplings of their menu items.

nixs photo 14

We tasted their signature mini burgers, with a special sauce – the chef wouldn’t divulge the ingredients.

We tasted their signature mini burgers, with a special sauce.

We tasted their signature mini burgers, with a special sauce.

nixs photo 11

The chef wouldn’t divulge the ingredients to the “special sauce.”

There were several seafood items featuring grilled tuna and tuna tartar – both were delicious!

There were several seafood items featuring grilled tuna and tuna tartar.

There were several seafood items featuring grilled tuna and tuna tartar.

nixs photo 9

My favorite was the grilled scallop on top of braised kale over a homemade potato chip drizzled with bacon gravy. Wow – a mouthful of amazing flavors!

My favorite was the grilled scallop on top of braised kale over a homemade potato chip drizzled with bacon gravy.

My favorite was the grilled scallop on top of braised kale over a homemade potato chip drizzled with bacon gravy.

NIXS Hartford is a great addition to the Front Street community. In addition, the restaurant will be offering live entertainment – bands and DJs – on Saturdays. I look forward to going back for dinner very soon!

 

Have you tried any of the NIX restaurants?

Have you been to the Front Street district in Hartford yet?

Have you ever been to a pre-opening VIP red carpet event?

 

Disclaimer:  While I was invited to the NIXS Hartford pre-opening VIP event by the restaurant’s marketing and public relations team, the opinions and views expressed above are my own and describe my personal experience at the event. 

Rizzuto’s Restaurant & Bar, West Hartford, CT

Rizzuto’s Restaurant & Bar, West Hartford, CT

Rizzuto’s is one of five full-service restaurants in West Hartford’s Blue Back Square shopping and dining area. The Rizzuto’s brand has four locations in Connecticut – Stamford, Westport, Bethel and West Hartford, which opened in 2008. The West Hartford location is known for its rustic Italian menu and stone-fired Neapolitan pizzas.

Rizzuto's is one of five full-service restaurants in West Hartford’s Blue Back Square

Rizzuto’s is one of five full-service restaurants in West Hartford’s Blue Back Square

The restaurant offers Happy Hour specials Monday thru Friday from 4-7 pm and some evenings at later times.

The restaurant offers Happy Hour specials Monday thru Friday from 4-7 pm and some evenings at later times

The restaurant offers Happy Hour specials Monday thru Friday from 4-7 pm and some evenings at later times

I had been to Rizzuto’s happy hour previously, when they offered drink specials and complimentary counter snacks and nibbles. We enjoyed it then, but recently the restaurant revamped their Happy Hour menu and I think it’s for the better.

The Happy Hour menu now features many drink specials for $5; including sparkling Prosecco!

The Happy Hour menu now features many drink specials for $5; including sparkling Prosecco!

The Happy Hour menu now features many drink specials for $5; including sparkling Prosecco!

Additionally, it has a great small bites menu with most items priced from $3 – $6.

Rizzuto's has a great small bites menu with most items priced from $3 - $6.

Rizzuto’s has a great small bites menu with most items priced from $3 – $6.

My friend Katie and I recently went to Rizzuto’s for Happy Hour prior to attending an advanced screening of the movie The Hundred-Foot Journey, which we loved. It’s a beautiful movie – perfect for foodies, like myself. Be sure to eat before you go to this movie or you will be hungry!

We started out with a few Happy Hour nibbles. We ordered the crab and sweet corn fritters with cilantro and basil salsa verde. The fritters were nicely crispy and not at all greasy, but were largely the batter filler. They could have used more crab and corn inside.

Crab and sweet corn fritters with cilantro and basil salsa verde

Crab and sweet corn fritters with cilantro and basil salsa verde

We also ordered the Black Angus sliders with tomato jam, which were paired with matchstick fries. The burgers were very juicy and flavorful and set on top of a homemade bun. The matchstick fries were a nice accompaniment.

Black Angus sliders with tomato jam

Black Angus sliders with tomato jam

Lastly, we ordered the margherita pizza. It had a great crust that was crispy on the outside, but slightly doughy on the inside. The basil, tomato and mozzarella toppings were very fresh.

Margherita pizza

Margherita pizza

Knowing that we’d be at the movie until after 9, we opted to share an order of the baby arugula salad and the cavatelli pesto chicken entrée. We had tasted this pasta dish before and knew it was delicious – and it was again.

Cavatelli pesto chicken entrée, I snuck a bite from the corner before we snapped a pic - oops!

Cavatelli pesto chicken entrée, I snuck a bite from the corner before we snapped a pic – oops!

The cavatelli pesto chicken entrée has grilled chicken, basil pesto, roasted tomatoes and light cream. It’s a very rich dish – I’m glad we shared it.

We had a great selection of food before walking to the movie theater. Rizzuto’s Happy Hour is a fun stop in West Hartford’s Blue Back Square. I’m glad to have tried their mid-summer revamped Happy Hour menu and am sure we will be back again soon!

 

Have you tried any of the Rizzuto restaurants in Connecticut?

Have you seen the movie “The Hundred-Foot Journey?”

Where’s your favorite place for happy hour?

Grilled honey Dijon salmon

Grilled honey Dijon salmon

I’ve recently become a lover of salmon. I’ve heard for years the health benefits of salmon. Salmon is an excellent source of protein and a great source of Omega-3 fatty acids, which has received lots of attention. Omega-3 has been proven to reduce the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis and depression – and it’s important for healthy brain functions.

I enjoy salmon grilled with a flavorful marinade. I’ve developed this recipe that is light but packed with amazing flavors, complimenting the fish.

Grilled honey dijon salmon with black-bean quinoa and  zucchini ratatouille

Grilled honey dijon salmon with black-bean quinoa and zucchini ratatouille

Grilled honey Dijon salmon

2 tbsp honey

2 tbsp Dijon mustard

2 tbsp fresh dill (if you don’t have fresh, dried dill weed will work too)

2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Zest of one lemon

2, 6oz salmon filets

Whisk together the honey, mustard, dill, lemon juice and lemon zest in a 9” square baking dish. Place the salmon filets into the honey mustard mixture and allow marinating for 2-3 hours, occasionally flipping the filets and spooning some of the marinade over the filets.

When ready to grill, heat the grill to medium heat. I use the Cuisinart inside griddle and it works very well. Be sure to spray the grill plate with non-stick spray. Place each salmon filet on the grill opposite of the direction of the grill plate so you will get good grill marks. Discard the marinade. Cook the salmon for 6-8 minutes per side or until the fish flakes easily with a fork.

I pair the grilled salmon with black-bean quinoa and either zucchini ratatouille (my recipe) or an Ina Garten recipe for middle-eastern vegetable salad.

Grilled honey dijon salmon with black-bean quinoa and an Ina Garten recipe for middle-eastern vegetable salad

Grilled honey dijon salmon with black-bean quinoa and an Ina Garten recipe for middle-eastern vegetable salad

 

Do you like salmon?

How have you cooked salmon? Do you have any good recipes to share?

Sorella Restaurant, Hartford, CT

Sorella, Hartford, CT

Earlier this year, I dined at Sorella restaurant before a UConn Women’s Basketball game. That night also coincided with the winter Taste of Hartford restaurant week. We had a great meal. So when the summer Taste of Hartford promotion returned, I was anxious to eat there again.

Sorella opened in November 2013. It is located on Main Street in downtown Hartford. The restaurant, whose name means ‘sister’ in Italian, is one of three in the Dish Restaurant Group.

Sorella restaurant is located on Main Street in downtown Hartford.

Sorella restaurant is located on Main Street in downtown Hartford.

As you enter the restaurant, you will notice that the décor is not their strong point. Although I do think the old-time Italian family photos hanging on the walls are charming, and the view of the Old State House from our table was delightful. But for foodies like myself, we aren’t hung up on the décor as long as the food and dining experience is top notch – and they were!

The restaurant specializes in simple Italian favorites – wood-fired Neapolitan pizza, fresh pastas and creative antipasti. The atmosphere is comfortable and family-friendly. The bar area takes up about one third of the restaurant and the remainder is for the dining room.

Because it was the Taste of Hartford restaurant week, we had our choice of items from the full restaurant menu and the special promotion menu. The Taste of Hartford menu consisted of a three-course meal (appetizer, entrée and dessert) for $25 – a great deal!

Taste of Hartford menu consisted of a three-course meal (appetizer, entrée and dessert) for $25

Taste of Hartford menu consisted of a three-course meal (appetizer, entrée and dessert) for $25

Christine and I decided to order from the Taste of Hartford menu. Mike opted for the full menu because the item he wanted wasn’t one of the price-fixe menu entrée choices.

Christine and I both started with the Prosciutto di Parma appetizer. It consisted of tissue paper thinly sliced prosciutto topped with arugula, locally sourced strawberries all drizzled with aged balsamic vinegar. The combination of sweet, salty and savory flavors made this appetizer “every bite delicious.”

Prosciutto di Parma appetizer consisted of tissue paper thinly sliced prosciutto topped with arugula, locally sourced strawberries all drizzled with aged balsamic vinegar

Prosciutto di Parma appetizer consisted of tissue paper thinly sliced prosciutto topped with arugula, locally sourced strawberries all drizzled with aged balsamic vinegar

Upon the waiter’s recommendation, Mike chose the garlic bread. The short loaf was loaded with mozzarella and provolone cheeses, and roasted garlic. It was served with a side of marinara sauce. It was a gooey and tasty.

The garlic bread was loaded with mozzarella and provolone cheeses, and roasted garlic, served with a side of marinara sauce

The garlic bread was loaded with mozzarella and provolone cheeses, and roasted garlic, served with a side of marinara sauce

For my meal entrée, I opted for the grilled Atlantic salmon filet. The salmon was placed on top of a bed of cold farro salad with light vinaigrette dressing. I asked for the filet to be cooked medium well and it was cooked as ordered. I enjoyed every bite!

Grilled Atlantic salmon filet

Grilled Atlantic salmon filet

Christine ordered the Fusilli Bolognese. The pasta was served with a hearty beef and veal red sauce topped with fresh pecorino cheese. The dish brought me back 20+ years because it tasted just like my Nona’s meat sauce.

Fusilli Bolognese

Fusilli Bolognese

Mike ordered the rigatoni saltimbocca. This is the same dish he had last time we dined here. He remembered it being so delicious and wanted to have it again. The saltimbocca sauce is made with ground veal, prosciutto, sage, wine and pecorino cheese. While it may not look like the most exciting meal, the combinations of flavors from the sauce are true to the dish’s name in Italian – “jumps in the mouth.” I had to steal a few bites because it is amazingly delicious! I found the recipe for this dish online so I’ll have to try making it at home.

Rigatoni saltimbocca

Rigatoni saltimbocca

Since Christine and I ordered from the Taste of Hartford menu, our meals did include dessert. There were two choices on this menu. We opted to each order a different one so we could try both.

She ordered the nutella chocolate tart. Mike and I had that last time we dined and remembered it was very yummy. The tart has a cookie-like crust with a rich chocolate center, dusted with sea salt and paired with vanilla cream. I love the chocolate and salty combination!

Nutella chocolate tart

Nutella chocolate tart

I ordered the Oleficino olive oil cake. I had never had an olive oil cake before, but I had seen a picture of it beforehand and I wanted to try it.

Oleficino olive oil cake with citrus curd and lemon sorbet

Oleficino olive oil cake with citrus curd and lemon sorbet

Olive oil cake is a rustic Sicilian cake that has a very moist center and a crispy crust. It came with a citrus curd and was topped with lemon sorbet. It was refreshing and delicious. Surprisingly, our typical chocolate-loving dessert family was won over by the olive oil cake as a new favorite.

The service was very friendly, attentive and courteous. I’d recommend reservations, especially when there are events in Hartford (e.g., UConn basketball) or pre-theater, as the restaurant is busy for dinner. The restaurant also serves lunch six days a week. There is street parking or a pay lot directly across the street, which is where we’ve parked.

We had another great dinner at Sorella. We will gladly return – and we may not wait until the next Taste of Hartford restaurant week!

 

Have you ever eaten at Sorella restaurant in Hartford?

Have you tried any of the restaurants participating in the Taste of Hartford restaurant week?

Blueberry Muffins

Blueberry Muffins

It’s amazing the memories your favorite food can arouse with one smell or taste.

When I was a kid, my uncle Mario would pick blueberries in late July/ early August from a few bushes he had in his yard – unless the birds ate them first. Some years there were barely enough berries for one small pie. But when the crop was large, the berries would be shared for both families to enjoy. My mother would make blueberry muffins. I remember the smell coming from the oven.  We ate them hot, with butter melting upon its touch.

A few years back, I asked my mom for her blueberry muffin recipe.  She pulled out an old Crisco cookbook – the kind you sent away for with several product labels. The cookbook’s pages are yellowed and tattered, and the binding is fragile but several recipes continue to be family favorites.

Last week, my daughter and I visited Kuras Berry Farm in West Suffield, CT.  If you haven’t discovered it, I highly recommend adding it on your “summer bucket list.”  They have a farm stand with fresh-picked berries, or you can do what we did — pick your own.

Kuras Berry Farm is located at 1901 Mountain Road, West Suffield, CT

Kuras Berry Farm is located at 1901 Mountain Road, West Suffield, CT

The blueberry bushes were loaded with ripe berries.

The blueberry bushes were loaded with ripe berries!

The blueberry bushes were loaded with ripe berries!

The farm provides pickers with baskets that have a thick rope attached on either side.  You tie the rope around your waist with the basket in front of you.  Off you go into the field to pick your berries!

Here I am in the berry field with half my basket filled.

Here I am in the berry field with half my basket filled.

In 30 minutes, we picked 5.15 lbs. of berries.  They were plump and sweet.  We enjoyed eating them and shared some with family and friends.

In 30 minutes, we picked 5.15 lbs. of berries

In 30 minutes, we picked 5.15 lbs. of berries

Fun facts about Blueberries:

  • Blueberries grow on bushes, making them easy to pick.
  • While small in size, they are full of Antioxidants, Vitamin C and Fiber.
  • Cover and store them in the refrigerator for up to 10 days, washing just before use.
  • To freeze:  Spread berries on a baking sheet and freeze until frozen. Transfer them to an air-tight container or plastic bag.

 

With so many berries, I reached for the blueberry muffin recipe and made it. They were delicious! But no matter how hard I try to recreate them, I can’t get mine to taste exactly as I remember my mom’s.  Why is that?  Maybe my taste buds have changed since I was a kid, or maybe it’s the secret ingredient that mom’s add – love.

 

Blueberry Muffins Recipe (from the 1949 Crisco Cookbook)

2 cups sifted flour

3 tbsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

2 tbsp. sugar

1 cup milk

1 egg slightly beaten

3 tbsp. melted Crisco, cooled to room temperature

1 cup blueberries, plus a few more

In a large bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.  In a separate bowl, combine the milk with the egg and Crisco. Stir the liquid and dry ingredients together.  Add the blueberries and fold lightly, until all ingredients are just moistened.  Spray/grease the muffin tins.  Fill each cup two thirds full with batter.  I added a few extra berries to the top of each muffin.  Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown.  Makes 12 medium-size muffins.

The muffins are hot out of the oven, bursting with the fresh blueberries.  Yum!

The muffins are hot out of the oven, bursting with the fresh blueberries. Yum!

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed my quick trip down memory lane and that you have a chance to stir up some of your sweet memories.

 

Have you ever been blueberry picking?

What’s your favorite blueberry recipe?

What favorite food takes you on a trip down memory lane?

Pesto Sauce

Pesto Sauce

If all the sudden your summer garden or patio planters have been exploding with fresh herbs as mine have, you might be thinking, as I was, what can I do with all this basil?  After all, you only need a few leaves to season the spaghetti sauce or create a tomato, basil caprese salad.

Basil picked fresh from my patio plants

Basil picked fresh from my patio plants

Fun facts about Basil:

  • A culinary herb originally from tropical regions of Asia and mainly used in Italian cuisine.
  • It’s an herb plant that belongs to the mint family.
  • Contains exceptionally high levels of beta-carotene, Vitamin A (for healthy eyes) and Vitamin K (vital for clotting your blood).
  • Picking the “cream of the crop:” Look for bright green leaves with no insect damage or brown spots.
  • Trim the basil stem bottoms and place in a glass of water (like flowers in a vase). They will last about a week.

 

Making pesto sauce is one of the best ways to extend the basil harvest:

When your plant begins to burst with a bounty of basil, a great way to preserve and extend the harvest is by making pesto.

Pesto sauce originated from northern Italy.  It was traditionally made in a marble mortar with a wooden pestle.  Lucky for us, we have quicker methods using modern kitchen appliances that allow us to make the sauce in minutes!

Not only is the sauce easy to make and delicious, but it’s extremely versatile.  You can put pesto on pasta, spread it on a sandwich as a condiment, use is as a sauce on pizza, or season meats, chicken or seafood with it!

Here’s my recipe for Pesto Sauce:

Homemade pesto sauce - ready for the pasta!

Homemade pesto sauce – ready for the pasta!

Pesto

4 cups fresh basil leaves (packed)

10 leaves of flat-leafed (Italian) parsley (just the leaves, not the stems)

½ c chopped walnuts or pine nuts (if anyone has nut allergies, you can omit the nuts and the pesto will still taste great)

4 cloves garlic, peeled

½ c grated Parmesan cheese

¼ c grated Romano cheese

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Directions:

In a food processor, blender or chopper, pulse together the basil leaves, nuts, garlic and cheeses.  Slowly stream in the oil slowly while it is blending.  Check the consistency and if needed add in another ¼ cup of olive oil.  Stir in the salt and pepper to taste.

You can make homemade pesto in a few minutes with a food processor, blender or chopper

You can make homemade pesto in a few minutes with a food processor, blender or chopper

 

The homemade pesto will keep in the refrigerator for 1-2 weeks.  A thin layer of olive oil on the top of the sauce will keep it from discoloring.

Making pesto sauce is one of the best ways to extend the basil harvest!

Making pesto sauce is one of the best ways to extend the basil harvest!

 

Do you like pesto sauce?

Have you ever made homemade pesto?    

Lobster Landing, Clinton, CT

Lobster Landing, Clinton, CT

What a better way to spend the July 4th weekend than with a day trip to the CT shoreline!  After a weekend filled with errands and picnic hosting, I thought it was high time we left home and headed to the coast before the weekend ended.

Our journey south would include a stop at the Clinton Outlet Mall, because they were having great sales for the holiday weekend.  We were looking for a place to grab a quick lunch afterward.  I had read in the July edition of Connecticut Magazine a story on favorite summer dining places.

The July edition of Connecticut Magazine has a story on favorite summer dining places around the state.

The July edition of Connecticut Magazine has a story on favorite summer dining places around the state.

Before we left the house, I looked through the article to see if any were in that area.  I noticed a place called Lobster Landing in Clinton.  I mapped it and noticed that it was only four minutes from the outlet mall.  Perfect for our post-shopping dining!

Lobster Landing is built right into the Clinton marina. It reminded me of a New England fishing shack postcard.

Lobster Landing is located in Clinton, CT.

Lobster Landing is located in Clinton, CT.

The place is what I would call your typical “summer shack” style restaurant, complete with outdoor dining at picnic tables with plastic chairs shaded by white awnings, waiting in line to place your order and great simple food.  Inside the actual shack, is a fresh seafood market.

The menu is minimalistically simple.  There are three items on it – I kid you not!  Lobster Landing serves lobster rolls, hot dogs and sweet Italian sausage subs.  That’s it – plain and simple!  They also have an assortment of beverages, chip snacks and gelato/ ice cream.

Lobster Landing's The menu is minimalistically simple.

Lobster Landing’s menu is minimalistically simple.

We arrived at a great time – when we were able to find a parking spot on the road and the line to place your food order was short.  The parking lot is very small, but you can parallel park on the street, which we did.

There’s a group of friendly college kids who take your order and serve your food.  They have an efficient system and keep things moving quickly. So if there is a line, don’t be afraid to wait a few short minutes.

I ordered the lobster roll.  I had to try it since I had read online that this place’s lobster rolls were one of the top 5 in Connecticut and the best according to the readers’ poll in the Shoreline Times.

Inside of a toasted, top-loading foot-long roll is one-quarter pound of fresh chunk lobster that’s been steamed in a buttery sauce with a touch of lemon.

Inside of a toasted, top-loading foot-long roll is one-quarter pound of fresh chunk lobster that’s been steamed in a buttery sauce with a touch of lemon.

Inside of a toasted, top-loading foot-long roll is one-quarter pound of fresh chunk lobster that’s been steamed in a buttery sauce with a touch of lemon.  It’s not a lobster salad with mayo. The lobster roll was amazing and definitely stood up to all the claims I had read. I can still taste it as I write about it!

Mike and Greg ordered the sweet Italian sausage sub with roasted peppers and onions and topped with mustard vinaigrette.  It too was a good-sized sandwich, loaded with the toppings.

The sweet Italian sausage sub has roasted peppers and onions and is topped with mustard vinaigrette.

The sweet Italian sausage sub has roasted peppers and onions and is topped with mustard vinaigrette.

As we each enjoyed our sandwiches, we took in the beautiful view of Clinton harbor.

Our view as we ate.

Our view as we ate.

Lobster photo 5

The weather was picture-perfect – very few clouds in the sky, warm sunshine with a comfortable breeze.

A picture-perfect day on the CT shore.

A picture-perfect day on the CT shore.

Lobster Landing is a great summer find.  It’s plain, simple, no-frills food that’s purely delicious!  Be sure to try it this summer before it closes up for the season!

 

Have you ever eaten at Lobster Landing in Clinton?

What’s your favorite place on the shore for summer seafood?