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Thursday
Nov102011

My favorite local restaurant - Besito

One of my fondest memories of Restaurant Week down in NYC is the night, years and years ago, that I arrived for a reservation at Mesa Grill, Bobby Flay's famous first restaurant.  At the time I associated "Mexican" and "Southwestern" food with repetitive ingredients, uninspired spices, really sweet fake margaritas, and a generally limited menu...boy, did I have a lot to learn! 

The dining room at Mesa Grill NYCSitting upstairs at Mesa, my appetizer, which I'll never forget, was a slow-cooked pulled pork served open face on a small handmade tortilla with indescribable smoky, spicy, wondrous flavors...I was hooked!Besito West Hartford Dining Room; Click to Visit Besito's WebsiteFast forward: now a transplant (miles from Mesa Grill) married to a California transplant (miles and miles and miles from Dona Tomas), where do we go for our fix?

Besito in West Hartford may be the most consistently delicious and wonderful restaurant I've been to.  We have eaten here countless times and have absolutely never been disappointed...this is saying a LOT.  Restaurants are dynamic and even the best have an off-night or a misstep.  Not at Besito in my experience.

The welcoming space manages to feel, at the same time, cozy and yet impressive with remarkably high ceilings and a beautiful candlelit back wall.  Whether you grab a booth with a large group, sit out on the terrace under heatlamps, or decide to pack into the buzzing bar area, Besito feels both lively and energetic and yet, casual and relaxed.  The drinks are second to none...no sour mix overload in your margarita here.  If you order a Tecate beer, they serve it to you with a salt rimmed glass.  What fun!

Tonight, we skipped the appetizer (too eager for the main event) but I highly recommend the salad with julienne jicama and house-pickled sweet onions...it's light, balanced, and a great way to start the night alongside housemade tortilla chips and spicy red salsa delivered to every table. 

Besito West Hartford BarBesito recently refreshed their menu to add a few items, one of which is the best dish I've had here...and maybe anywhere in a long time: The Enchiladas of Barbacoa and Chorizo.  Sound basic?  It is.  However, this dish didn't win my heart for its innovation, but instead, for its finesse.  Barbacoa, as any Chipotle-devotee can tell you, is shredded spicy beef and Chorizo, just a traditional pork sausage used throughout Latin America, Portugal, and Spain.  The generous dish arrives with the filling between two large homemade tortillas under a rich brick red paprika red pepper sauce with the usual finely shredded lettuce and light white cheese.  Where's the magic?  As my mouth actually waters right now, I think the secret here is the perfectly diced potatoes that you almost can't perceive...and yet, this is what breaks up what would otherwise be too much flavor and decadence.  The potato pieces throughout the enchilada filling allow you to taste the wonderful individual ingredients...Mmm. 

Allie ordered the beef tacos, served do-it-yourself with cooked-to-order marinated skirt steak.  On the table, perfect refried black beans, and white rice with sunflower seeds complete the picture.  We drank beers and, as always at Besito, laughed and carried on... 

At the close of the meal, your server delivers Mexican worry dolls (and tells a nice story about how they will make your next morning as relaxing as your meal has been)...did I forget to mention that even if you forego dessert, along with your worry dolls come hot, housemade churros (I would liken them to a Mexican donut...in any event they're sweet and fried).  I don't eat these treats then...instead, I put them in the fridge when I get home and then the next morning crisp them up in the toaster oven to have with my coffee...my mouth is watering again.

If you haven't been to Besito, GO.  If you have, GO BACK!  And, for our readers in New York, don't fret, they have two locations on Long Island: in Huntington Village and Rosyln. 

We love Besito and go often enough that there's a very good chance you'll see us there next time you step out for some of their terrific food and drink(s)!

Wednesday
Oct192011

Rain, Part II

There's a scene in Disney's Ratatouille where a famous and persnickety French restaurant critic is served the humble country dish of ratatouille instead of some finer cuisine and we expect disaster to ensue.  Instead, we watch as he's emotionally transported to his childhood and declares the meal the most delicious he has ever eaten.

Split pea soup is, similarly, a humble dish.  But, my wife actually "fist-pumped" when she tasted it...and, at the end of dinner said, "I've never been this happy...ever."  Whoa. Really, it was just traditional split pea soup and we ate it poured right over some crusty bread (thank you Hartford Baking Company!) with a nice cold beer to wash it down...no vegetables, no salad, no dessert...just soup.  The method (not "recipe" because it isn't an exact science) is fool proof and while I tend to fancy myself an innovator, or "creative" in the kitchen, I strongly discourage messing with this one...it's time-tested and I trust that you, too, will resist the temptation.  It's just that good as is.First off, bring 2 quarts of water up to a boil, dump in 2 rounded cups of dried green split peas and simmer for 2 minutes uncovered.  Then, remove from heat and cover.  Let this soak for an hour.  Next, thinly slice a whole onion and add this to the soaked peas.  Get a nice ham bone (ask your butcher).  Mine weighed just under 1.5lbs (a perfect size) and add this to the onions and peas as well.  Finally, a pinch of Oregano (that's where the magic comes from - I wouldn't believe it either...but it's true), 1/2 tsp of salt and almost as much freshly cracked black pepper.  Cover the pot and put it back on the heat at a light simmer for 1 1/2 hours.  You can almost leave this alone...but check in occasionally to give it a quick stir. Here's the glory: remove your ham bone and pull the meat off...you can shred, dice, or cube it...I did a little of each. Finally, chop up 2 carrots, 3 stalks of celery, and 1 potato.  Add the vegetables and ham back into the pot and cook for approximately 45 minutes on low heat.  Check for doneness and cook to your desired tenderness of the vegetables (check the carrots; they're the slowest to cook).  I know of at least one person who swears it takes only 30 minutes...but then, I like the soup to take its time...you definitely don't want to burn the bottom so check in on this every so often to give it a nice stir.  Set up a buffet...right there on the kitchen counterServe it how you like.  I never bother making an entree to follow because I'm just not talented enough to conjure something that could stand up as a second course after this.  We drank some nice brown ale and the whole thing came together such that on this cold rainy day, I'm now warm for the first time.  Humble?  Maybe, but then, this was definitely the first time anyone, let alone my wife, fist-pumped over dinner.

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