Category Archives: Travel

Travel with us empty-nesters to places here and elsewhere.

Good Mexican food in Enfield, CT

Spending 17 years in Southern California kind of spoils a person with it comes to really good, even inexpensive Mexican food.

taco-loco      Places like Taco Loco in Laguna Beach satisfy the gourmet with their amazing fish tacos. And, for a more upscale experience, Las Brisas in Laguna, fills the bill.

Even chains like El Torito Grille, roadside stands and the out-of-the-way family-owned little “holes in the wall” give patrons the authentic experience, almost in any city in SoCal.

So moving to Enfield, CT was an adjustment, looking for good, authentic Mexican, not Tex-Mex cuisine.   tt-15

The Taqueria Tavern in West Hartford gave us quite a few great meals, until they closed recently. It was a distance to get to just for a quick Mex meal, so we didn’t do it often. That makes me feel bad that we may have contributed to the demise.

264721_401710439878062_119125761_n     We found it at Acapulcos Mexican Family Restaurant & Cantina, right here in Enfield, and we will not be strangers.

This restaurant’s goodness could be because co-owner, Ruben Huerta has all the family values needed for the ambiance and service, and all of the Southern California food experience needed to bring us the real thing.

Acapulcos, at 61 Palomba Drive, isn’t as easy on the pursestrings as some of the little places in CA are, but we have always felt our dollar well-spent there.

The mole is delicious, the seafood fresh, the Margarita’s yummy, and the table-side guacamole–a little nod to the upscale, modern Mex fare–is a lot of fun and very good.    Unknown-2

Taqueria Tavern, while it lasted, was our fave. Dave ran a hospitable Mex cocina and tavern, and we always felt like family there. But the hike to get there from Enfield was a deterrent, so we were grateful to find Acapulocos to fill the void left by the taqueria and our being spoiled by Southern California and its plethora of choices.

 

Asian cuisine excellence in Granby?

Who would think we would find the best Asian cuisine we have experienced in six years in New England in Granby, CT. Yet we did.

As a former Southern California food critic, I have to say my New England choices for Asian cuisine have been plentiful but mostly disappointing–until this week when we happened into Han Asian cuisine in Granby.

This eatery was far and away the best Asian food we have had in six years here in Connecticut, and maybe one of the best anywhere in the best of’s we have had in California, New York, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Massachusetts. We haven’t been to China, but my ex is Chinese, so I consider myself somewhat of a connoisseur. The only one, perhaps better, or at least equal, was in Idyllwild, CA at a restaurant which boasted President Nixon’s personal chef.

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In Granby, at Han Asian Cuisine, Owner James Chen is intimately involved in everything about his patrons’ dining experience.

We had a new server, Dana, who was a bit nervous about pleasing, but did a great job of making our evening pleasant.

James stopped by our table twice to make sure all was well, and to approve our up-charge for pineapple rice, with our two Chinese dishes which were usually served with plain rice.

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My husband chose a sizzling platter of vibrant, colorful steak, scallops and shrimp in a rich, brown oyster sauce that was so flavorful, I almost regretted getting my pork spicy coconut curry, which was also very tasty, especially with the pineapple rice to add a touch of sweetness to the spicy curry, also a colorful dish, served in broth in a soup bowl.

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Both entrees were beautifully presented, and steaming hot, as was every dish we spied from other tables. The chef has the artistic flair Chinese cuisine is known for, and the food doesn’t have that American mishmash so many refer to as Chinese food. This is the real deal in taste, freshness and artistry.

We dined on the patio, which on this balmy Thursday evening, made us glad we had just returned to our Connecticut home from the Valley in sunny (and hot) Los Angeles.

I am totally confident in giving an unqualified recommendation to Han Asian Cuisine to anyone wanting fine dining for Chinese, Thai or Japanese, including sushi, fare.

We didn’t need a reservation on this Wednesday, but as the word spreads, I would bet on a weekend their will be a need for them.  Congratulations, James, for giving our region a gem of an Asian restaurant.

They even have free WiFi, but everyone I saw was busy eating their delicious food–not wasting time texting as at so many ho-hums places. We too, forgot our cell phones, and dined sumptuously.

We will be back–often.

Mystic has mystique and more

Hubby and I tend to avoid looking and feeling like tourists. But the reality is, you have to visit a place often enough to get to know what it has to offer–and then you can proceed to getting to know some locals and getting their feedback about life there.

Mystic, Connecticut is a place we love to visit.

After about a dozen visits in six years, we are finally getting the hang of hanging out in Mystic. There was a learning curve, worth every visit, every moment there.  data=VLHX1wd2Cgu8wR6jwyh-km8JBWAkEzU4,j8oDDkklR6vV-vTmxY31nEcl5-cnadQs6dhmxufzJTYDae85eNDlxFQ-WpT8Ag9JJeMNkowYg1ysQLVOx10upLMATX3XvMgoisWf1MGSYTHorv2ABOrW6KIoOsfv3wc3PIwDNItlhH1hkKpg7UxbNajD0Hhou_-roWgEt4u4oHPzEgVRVNhefm0l0sECxMyU9gHtrBWo

Our introduction to the seaport area was a birthday surprise for me from hubby dear. He knew I like to play the slot machines on occasion, so we stopped for a couple hours at Foxwoods Casino and played the pennies (with our $50 limit). incentive

Then we left Foxwoods on that sunny July afternoon to meander the winding back roads leading to the seaside town of Mystic. We were headed for the only thing strangers have ever heard of there: Mystic Pizza. It was a great surprise. The pizza was wonderful, the service fun and friendly, and the Julia Roberts movie–of which the establishment says: “We’re the pizza that made the movie famous,” was playing on looped closed circuit TV’s around the dining area. mystic-pizza-intro-3

Our next visit was, in spite of our best intentions, as tourists, where we researched “things to do” in Mystic and found quite a few. We visited the oldest steam-powered cider mill still existing in North America, http://www.bfclydescidermill.com and afterwards, went to Mystic Seaport, http://www.mysticseaport.org, had fried clams, and noticed (for another time) the Mystic Aquarium. And, of course, we returned to Mystic Pizza for our evening meal.

The next few times we found wineries, B&B’s, and by then had obtained a membership to Mystic Seaport, so we could enjoy a whole day there, and we also discovered Bartleby’s, http://bartlebysmystic.com, one of the local coffee shops, which became another destination for us.  store_front_sm

We joined Mystic Aquarium, http://www.mysticaquarium.org and tried that visit the next time, but halfway into touring the place, I became so dizzy and “seasick” from the parabolic glass surrounding me, we had to leave. Aquarium’s are fun, but evidently not for the alternating dominant visioned, in spite of the grand colors and displays of exotic fish.

Subsequently we watched the progress of the Charles W. Morgan, the last wooden whaling ship in the world, as it was being restored, having been in the Seaport’s shipyard since 1941. In six years, we have enjoyed boarding the ship, watching the craftsmen restore her, and were excited to know the ship was reading for launching in 2013. Now the CWM is sailing Coastal New England in summer of 2014. The historical restoration is fascinating, and quite remarkable. http://www.mysticseaport.org/visit/explore/morgan.  d2013-07-0619_11-315x209

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1841   and March, 2014

I even bought Jay a day of sailing for his birthday–which took him to Newport, Rhode Island for the day, even though sponsored by the Seaport in Mystic.

But since we are now in the process of buying a home in Connecticut, our travels have been curtailed except for California, Florida (usually business but we work in visits), and of course my semi-annual trips to Rockford for my client there, and because we are still selling a home there. And, since we have done the tourist thing, we are ready to call Mystic more than a place to visit. It is a weekend destination, for more than a couple of times a year.

What that has done for us, strangely, is to make us interested in the tourist attractions, familiar enough to get to know people there. Now, instead of touring the Seaport, the Aquarium, getting Mystic Pizza, and seeing the Cider Mill again (although its wines and ciders are worth stopping by), wonderful as these places have been. we have decided to explore like locals–even though we’re still either doing a day trip, or finding a hotel.

Last month, we got to Mystic on Thursday evening  and combed the Internet for reviews of coffee in Mystic–deciding that maybe Bartleby’s, great as it is, wasn’t the only brew in town. Sure enough, we found it wasn’t even the shop with the most stars. My daughter has convinced me that Yelp is a must, so we perused the reviews and decided to try a place more off-the-beaten-path on Steamboat Wharf because they were also local roasters.

We arrived at the wharf but were stymied about where the roasters were. At the address we had, we only saw the Green Marble Coffee House. We grabbed a local walking that way and asked him where the roasters were. He smiled and said he was on his way there–and we realized it WAS the Green Marble. Come to find out, the Green Marble is the consumer cafe where the roasters serve their coffees, teas, and many other goodies. Our local told us The Green Marble had hundreds of coffee choices–unlike only several at Bartleby’s, which is good, but limited. And the Green Marble coffees, he assured were really fresh.

http://www.greenmarblecoffee.com. (read about their beans.)

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Wow, were we glad we found Green Marble. Not only was this amazing, freshly roasted coffee, but the clientele, all local, were fun.

Table space on this Friday morning was sparse, so we sat down next to another couple, who lived in the area, but had formerly lived close to where we are, and he was a fellow employee before retirement of where my hub works. So we had a lively conversation, and really felt like we had made friends. We even shared church stories, and were delighted to say Happy Easter to those who shared this celebration. Thai food seems to abound in Mystic, so we did Thai for dinner, which was on the early side, since three hours at a coffee shop tends to merge into lunchtime. Saturday morning we repeated our coffee find and spent some time driving around the area, enjoying the sea area homes. Our Green Marble friends suggested gelato at Mystic Market, http://mysticmarket.com since we had complained no gelato shops were found yet by us. So we headed over there.

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We found Mystic Market East on the hill, on Route 1, and enjoyed perusing the food cases of extensive gourmet grocery and bakery items. We went to the gelato counter, ordered from friendly staff, and sat down to our pistachio and chocolate treats. Here is where I have a major complaint. This gelato had been made fresh, but then was stored and brought out in rotation so that the really fresh ice cream could be stored next. What a disappointment. It tasted a little less wonderful than the containers we get from Big Y grocery store. If we wanted gelato that has been stored, we can buy that at home.

Word to Mystic Market: Make yours special!

Saturday afternoon, we headed for home, looking forward to Easter in Southwick.

But all in all, Mystic had become ours, more so than we had imagined. We shall return

Sturbridge and the Willys

Having been in New England now for almost five years, we decided on a staycation in Sturbridge Village over Thanksgiving weekend.

Actually, we had a Groupon for a hotel in Sturbridge, which I remembered at Stockbridge (I do get these easily confused). After explaining to Jay that we’d be staying at the Red Lion Hotel, then go to Norman Rockwell (which frankly we have done enough, I mapped the route from our home, and realized it wasn’t Stockbridge at all.

It was Sturbridge, in the Sturbridge Village area, which we have never been to. The hotel was the Sturbridge Host Hotel and Conference Center. A good deal all around with discounted tickets to the historic village.

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But, it wasn’t until we were walking around the rustic, historic Massachusetts site that we realized why we felt so at home there: we both have ancestors from Massachusetts.

Jay’s more famous relative is Willy Dawes, the one who got through the lines to warn that “the British are coming.” Family lore has it that Longfellow knew it was Dawes, not Revere who made it through, but that Paul Revere sounded better in a poem. Hmm. Also the family says Willy pretended to be drunk, so got through–but that he probably didn’t really need to pretend. Jay’s Granny Mac, recently died at 101, and was the oldest living Dawes, of the William Dawes Who Rode legacy.

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Quite a family history, Dawes is, including the VP under Coolidge, Charles Dawes. Anyway, that is Jay’s Willy.     Image

Mine, who may or may not have as illustrious a claim to fame, was Willy Russell, a Massachusetts farmer from Cambridge, born in the 17th century, who lived in Concord, and decided to go to medical school and become a doctor. He was a handsome chap, the family says, and the women in the town would feign illnesses so they could get in to see the tall, dark doc. He ended up saying this was a lot of hooey, and went back to farming.

So we have Willy’s from Massachusetts, and felt that explained our at home feeling when we are in a historic Mass. locale.

We enjoyed many facts of our visit, including standing to watch the Shooting Match with those flint muskets, costumed and shooting at targets for prizes of sheep and such. I was standing next to Mike, from Torrington, and we had a lively conversation about his being a practicing Puritan. Fun.    Image

We had our pork loin with apples and pomegranate at the OxHead Tavern, on the hotel premises, a homey establishment with an illustrious history of its own. We loved the crackling fireplace, good service, good values and friendly people there, including a table visit by the manager, the aproned-Giuseppe Fasulo, who couldn’t have been more cordial.

The Sturbridge Coffee House (The Fireside Inn) in Fiskdale, up the road on Main Street, was also a real treat. Though perhaps not historic in its current form, we loved the coffee and treats, and had two breakfast there, wishing they were closer to us. We have a Panera and a Starbucks, but nothing like this homey place.

All in all, we felt like we had returned to our history, and at Thanksgiving, the perfect time to visit Mass. as descendants of the Mass. SOR (Sons of the Revolution) Willys.