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Entries in West Hartford (53)


max's oyster bar, a favorite local haunt

Yesterday was a perfect Saturday.  Waking up late to a blanket of fresh white snow, we heard early-on that travel plans to New York had been cancelled...with "found" time on our hands, we set out to do absolutely nothing more than relax.

Other than firing up the new snow blower for the first time (whoa!) and finally purchasing that pair of snow boots I've been promising myself, we frankly didn't accomplish a thing.  Well, other than soaking up a truly restful winter day.  Our late wakeup meant a late first meal (about 1:00 PM) so by the time we snuggled into a large booth for dinner, in the unusually quiet Max's Oyster Bar in West Hartford Center, it was after 10:00 PM.

Why isn't this brief write up just an "update" to our previous post about one of our favorite restaurants?  Because last night Oyster Bar was different.  At first, I thought it was the magic of the snowy day that changed the experience...but now I know, "what we made of it" transformed a special occasion spot into a perfect cap on the end of our low key day.

Click here to read about some other times at Max's Oyster BarInstead of exploring the wine list, Allie just had a glass of Sancerre and I ordered Max's  Brewtus Maximus beer (made locally by Hooker Brewery).  Instead of my usual interest in the raw bar, we shared a house chopped salad (perfectly diced tomato, carrot, scallion, bell pepper, and crisp lettuce in a light vinaigrette with blue cheese crumbles).  For dinner, Allie loved the grilled salmon served with a bright but balanced miso broth, exotic mushrooms, and baby bok choy.  With my beer, I couldn't resist the fish 'n chips...crispy, light...wonderfully fresh.

Maybe my favorite part of the meal: dessert!  Foregoing the usual banana cream pie, we went for the "chocolate melting cookies"...the small serving of 3 warm, literally melty, chocolate wonders had us swooning...

In sum, Saturdays are often for going-out-and-going-crazy, or unusual indulgences, but last night may have been my favorite trip to Max's Oyster Bar ever...  Of course it's fun to go out with a group of dear friends, have a large platter of fresh oysters with cocktails, discover the last '07 bottle of Chardonnay on the wine list, order the special entree, and negotiate a "few desserts for the table to try"...  But then, looking back on last night and all of our previous, countless trips to Oyster Bar, I've learned that the "usual" Oyster Bar extravagance is what we make of it...and while there isn't more fun to be had...last night was special.  The service was spot-on, the food fresh-fresh, and everything was truly delicious...maybe most delicious of all was that Allie and I, just the two of us, discovered a new Max's Oyster like our snow day: a place to warm up, keep your voices low, and relax...  So, cheers to a favorite local haunt...whatever you choose to make of it.


perfect pizza wine

As Allie and I persevere with paper plates and no stove (the kitchen renovation was briefly stalled due to a long story about flooring), we continue to nuke, order in, go out, and talk our way into other houses just as the dinner bell rings.  Last night I picked up two ingredients for a perfect night: 1) a large veggie pie from Luna Pizza in West Hartford Center, and 2) a truly delicious bottle of 2007 Pelissero Dolcetto D'Alba Munfrina.

While I don't love the word "pairing" (because like many other things in this food and wine world, this word seems to have taken on a pretentious life of its own!), there is a method to the madness and reason for the craze.  It's all about, frankly, what works with what.  Like a team where the players work well together and work better together than they would alone...synergy., why was this just right and how might I remember for the future so I can repeat the magic?  First, a quick background on Dolcetto.  The name actually means "little sweet one" but don't be fooled: this wine is from the Piedmont region in Italy that produces some of the velvet hammers, most notably Barolo (from the Nebbiolo grape).  Barolo is the very essence of a great big Italian wine that can (and should!) age for a while so that the strong tannins can soften and give way to rich fruit.  Dolcetto, by contrast, can be aged a little but is generally consumed relatively young (the wine we drank last night I had purchased only 30 minutes prior whereas a bottle of 2006 Barolo in my cellar will probably stay there for another 10 years before I open it).  The "little sweet one" name is fitting, therefore, in contrast to Barolo...but, this is no small-time wine.  What did we like about it?

This wine hits all the marks, especially with our pizza.  Unbelievably good.  The elegant balance of red and black cherries with just the right amount of strong acid and some tannins to give the fruit structure.  The magic here is that throughout dinner, the wine assumed different characters: at times drinking easily on its own (as I rested between pizza slices), complimenting the acid in the tomato sauce and cutting through the dairy fat of the cheese and the breading on the eggplant topping, and finally, fading away a bit as I took a break to just scarf a slice.  In addition to my own opinion on flavors, I love the general history of this wine...or, should I say reputation.  Dolcetto is an everyday wine in Italy as suggested above.  Pizza is more of an everyday, not that this isn't gourmet and sophisticated in its simplicity...but, this is no slow roasted cut of beef served with wild mushroom risotto.  It's a schoolnight dinner and an absolutely delicious one at that.

What will I remember for the next time I choose a pizza wine?  First and foremost, I'll probably remember the name of this varietal: Dolcetto.  Of course, there will be a range with other bottles but just as people declare: "I love Pinot Grigio" one could say "I love Dolcetto."  I'll also remember the flavors: this wine was so right because of its balance of fruit with relatively high acid...we also liked those Italian-style tannins!  Finally, I'll remember the producer, Pelissero.  There are so many names out there; if you find a producer you like, there's a good chance that while the next wine you purchase from them may be very different, it will be of a similar quality (i.e. a brand name).

This Pelissero '07 was particularly delicious but I think a younger less expensive variation on this theme would also fit the bill. Cheers!