Friday, November 21, 2008

Max's Oyster Bar, West Hartford, CT November 2008 Grade: A-

Joanne and Amy write

Every once in a while it's nice to forgo the adventure of trying a new place and fall back on a sure thing, to sit down to dinner where you know your meal will satisfy. Max's Oyster Bar is one of those places. Dining there last night, for only $20.08, was extra pleasing.

Last night, like many others, Amy and I both knew what we wanted to order before we got there. The CT Restaurant Week menus were available on line and we had already made our decisions. No stammering indecisively over the menus, asking questions, or tying up an already in-the-weeds server.

I started with Max's classic chopped salad, with Gorgonzola and sherry vinaigrette, which was dressed perfectly. For my main course I chose their grilled Bay of Fundy salmon with a maple syrup glaze, served with a apple and potato hash and pomegranate nage. It was outstanding. The generous salmon filet was cooked perfectly with a beautiful crust and the precisely diced apple potato hash was sweet yet tart and a perfect accompaniment.

I chose the clam chowder to start. It came in a stainless steel mug that was poured into my bowl by the server, and was accompanied by a wax-paper bag filled with homemade oyster crackers. The chowder was thick and appetizing, with plenty of clams, few potatoes, and bits of applewood smoked bacon. The shellfish pappardelle was excellent as well. The papparedelle was made in house, and it was cooked al dente as it should be. There was plenty of shellfish also - two grilled jumbo shrimp and several littleneck clams and mussels - tossed in a fiery fra diavolo tomato sauce. The portion was just right. Creme brulee is one of our favorites, and we both chose it as our finale. The cool, velvety custard had rich vanilla flavor and a flawlessly burnt sugar crust. The only downside was the topping of too-tart chopped strawberries. A little shortbread cookie on the side was a nice extra touch.

This restaurant is typically busy, being located in West Hartford, but was even more so during Restaurant Week. Thus, it was easy to forgive the lagging service. Our friendly waiter (who Joanne mentioned was in-the-weeds) was as attentive as he could be given the situation he was in, delivering double-tiered platters of shellfish to tables of six or eight in addition to taking care of us and several other "deuces." Besides, the gap between courses gave us time to gossip and digest. Our water glasses were kept full and our table was cleared in a timely manner throughout the visit.

It was certainly worth our while to brave the unseasonably cold weather to visit Max's Oyster Bar for what we knew would be an excellent meal and an exceptional deal.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Ted's Montana Grill, South Windsor, CT November 2008 Grade: A

Joanne and Amy write:

I remember on one of my solo visits to
Ted's Montana Grill, while sitting at the bar at a fairly quiet hour, thinking--as I looked around and burger juice dripped down my chin--"oh my god, Ted Turner is brilliant. This is a diner in disguise! Steak house style dining room in an upscale outdoor mall, with a flattop grill." Just then, I looked over and saw a stainless steel bowl going over a burger to steam it. Diner style, indeed. Despite higher-than-diner prices, Ted's consistently delivers a good burger worth the price. Because I love their burgers and onion rings so much (if I can keep my hand out of the dish of complimentary half-sour pickle coins long enough to eat them), I don't deviate on the menu. Amy, however, who also frequents with her husband, has delved deeper into the menu than I.

The first time I went to Ted's was shortly after it opened four years ago. My husband and I sat at the counter overlooking the kitchen. The cook working in front of us was busy, but he took the time to talk with us and gave us several samples - of the bison chili, the freshly cut french fries, and an onion ring or two. It was dinner and a show--with freebies! I ordered a ribeye that day, and I've ordered it several times since. Available in beef or the slightly sweeter-tasting and much leaner bison, it's always grilled to perfection and drizzled with butter sauce. Between my husband and me, we've tried different soups, steaks, burgers, chicken dishes and seafood at Ted's and we've never been disappointed or gone home hungry. In fact, the only time I didn't leave with leftovers was when I tried the perfectly-portioned Blue Plate Special (diner lingo--maybe Joanne is on to something) of short ribs over mashed potatoes. That one time, I completely cleared my plate.

I go back to Ted's often, not because of their prices, but because of the consistently good food and service I get within a unique concept restaurant. That concept is two-fold: fresh and green. Fresh: Ted's doesn't freeze or microwave anything. Everything is made to order, even the lemonade. Green: Each location recycles, is non-smoking, uses low-voltage lighting, and strives to be 99% plastic-free. The atmosphere also beckons me...I openly declare my love for the Craftsman-style decor while keeping my fondness for the hokey "Montana-at-the-turn-of-the-century" music more secret. But the burgers...that's where it's at. Thick, juicy, with any kind of topping you can think of, they are amazing. Just ask Joanne.

While I ate every single half-sour pickle coin in the dish, Amy started with the tortilla soup, a warm and creamy cup of comfort on a rainy day. For the main attraction, Amy ordered the "naked burger," medium-rare, with fries. I ordered the cheese burger (medium), with American cheese, loaded with mushrooms and bacon. Instead of french fries, I substituted onion rings. Our server accomodated Amy's request for a slice of raw onion, and mine for a side of their horseradish mayonnaise to accompany my onion rings--and which also found its way onto my toasted, buttered, burger bun. Once we assembled our giant creations, the task of getting our mouths around them was worth the reward of the moist and delicious burgers. (Ladies, there's nothing dainty about eating these!) Both my onion rings and Amy's fries were crisp and delicious as well. The Big Sky cabernet sauvignon (exclusive to Ted's) accompanied them well.

This and countless other great dining experiences for both of us at Ted's puts it firmly on our list of favorite restaurants.