Sep 21, 2011
02:46 PM
Discover Connecticut

Best of Connecticut Road Trip: West Hartford & Bristol

 

Here's a new series that we're introducing to Connecticutmag.com where we will be regularly presenting day trips around the state that feature stops at Best of Connecticut winners.

Let's start with a trip to West Hartford and New Britain featuring three (actually four) Best of Connecticut winners that combines fine artistry, both in the kitchen and the studio.

Obviously, you can do this drive in any manner you see fit, but we would start with lunch at Besito, right on South Main Street in West Hartford. Housed in a gorgeously renovated bank building that it shares with Fleming's Steakhouse, the restaurant is a pleasant, open space that serves excellent Mexican fare. The lunch menu offers traditional items—quesadillas, taquitos, tacos, enchiladas, etc.—but the star of the show is the guacamole, made tableside (which you can read about in detail below). Besito's tortilla chips are an excellent complement, light and salty ... better plan on a cervaza or two.

From there, it's a short ride to New Britain (I-84 West to Route 9 to Route 71 to Lexington Street) for an afternoon of high culture. In "Hard-Hittin' New Britain," The New Britain Museum of American Art almost seems out of place, an oasis of world-class art in a contemporary facility that really showcases works from Thomas Hart Benton and Sol LeWit as well as Frederic Church, Childe Hassam and dozens of other American Impressionists. Plan on spending a few hours to enjoy it properly.

By now, you may have worked up an appetite (a walk around the adjoining Walnut Hill Park could help), so it's back to West Hartford center the way you came as Grant's is literally around the corner from Besito's. (Again, you could do this ride a few different ways.) Although Grant's was honored this year for both its chocolate cake and pastry chef Fran Marino, the options for the main courses are just as impressive, featuring Modern American cuisine. Steak is the star here, with fresh seafood and seasonal offerings playing key supporting roles—an excellent meal to top of a "best" day.


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Best of Connecticut winners.

Here are the Best of Connecticut write-ups from the September issue for each of the winners:

Besito
West Hartford,
(860) 233-2500 (besitomex.com)

Guacamole en Molcajete (a traditional Mexican lava stone bowl used for grinding and mixing), made tableside, is one of Besito’s signature treats. Order it mild, medium or caliente and watch as your server develops the ideal mix of fresh, ripe Hass avocados with chopped cilantro, jalapeño chilies, onions and tomatoes (seed-free) and a sprinkle of salt—but no lime (that’s not authentic). Served with a basket of housemade (but not greasy or oversalty) tortilla chips, it’s plenty for two, but if you’re anything like us, you’ll be disinclined to share.
 

Chocolate Cake
Grants Restaurant
West Hartford, (860) 236-1930 (billygrant.com)

Transport yourself to chocolate heaven with Grants’ delicious and near-legendary warm chocolate soufflé cake, accompanied by pistachio crème anglaise and pistachio ice cream. This rich, dense chocolate masterpiece, created by pastry chef Fran Marino, has a hidden surprise inside—a warm chocolate sauce that oozes from the center, taking chocolate cake to a whole new level.
 

Pastry Chef
Fran Marino, Grants
West Hartford, (860) 236-1930 (billygrant.com)

Billy Grant thinks so highly of pastry chef Fran Marino’s desserts that he ferries them to all three of his restaurants—Grants and Bricco’s in West Hartford and Bricco Trattoria in Glastonbury. Diners are equally enamored, ordering cakes and pies weeks ahead of time to take home for special occasions. Favorite Marino creations include chocolate Nutella pie, ricotta cheesecake with shortcake crust, and olive oil pound cake with mascarpone sorbet and fig and Armagnac sabayon.
 

New Britain Museum of American Art,
New Britain, (860) 229-0257 (nbmaa.org)

When its $26 million expansion was completed in 2006, the New Britain Museum of American Art—the first museum in the country dedicated to American art—became a state-of-the art facility of national importance and a destination for art lovers everywhere. Ten separate galleries showcase art from Colonial times to the present, including Hudson River School landscapes, Thomas Hart Benton’s “The Arts of Life in America” murals, modern works by Georgia O’Keeffe, Andy Warhol and New Britain native Sol LeWitt and a comprehensive collection of illustrations. The museum also presents changing exhibits as well as a variety of educational programs and social get-togethers such as Art Happy Hour and First Friday live jazz performances.
 

Best of Connecticut Road Trip: West Hartford & Bristol

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