1 Twenty Two in New Milford, CT

Fine Italian dining or pizza parlor?
Looking for a good Italian restaurant in New Milford. Outside of town, headed north toward Litchfield on route 202 sits 1 Twenty Two. The name a take on the street address, 122 Litchfied Steet, the place is out of the hustle and bustle of New Milford proper with plenty of parking. No three-hour limit as on the green in town.
Happy and I stopped on our way home from a visit to family in Pennsylvania for an early dinner. Got there about 4:30PM, but to my surprise, there were already diners seated in the both the pub and restaurant. A good sign. We’ve been by the place many times with the admonition that we should try it if we are in the area at meal time.
You enter through the pub, which brought up prior bad experiences. (See my McLadden review) But unlike that occurrence, the hostess offered us a choice of seating, dining room or pub. We chose the dining room, a good one as there were only one other family there due to the early hour. That was sure to change as the staff were setting up for a large group yet to show.
1 Twenty Two is something of a trend in Italian dining if I read the scene correctly, pizza joint married to wonderful and sophisticated cuisine. Not sure how I feel about the movement. It does make economic sense. Serve a wider audience, build a bigger business. Maybe that is what one has to do to survive in this highly competitive arena. But from the Grumpy position, the melding mashes the extremes of fine Italian cuisine and pizza-by-the-slice into something mediocre, dulling the fine dining experience while raising the art of pizza a level above mere take out. Perhaps this is what is necessary for success. It seems to be working. 1 Twenty Two has been jammed packed when we have passed by on other occasions. DaCapo in Litchfield hosts the same crowds, Bacci’s in Torrington the same. Can’t argue with fame and fortune.
But what of the food? I ordered a special of the day, tortellini carbonara. Excellent dish, actually a large soup bowl brimming with cheese filled tortellini swimming in a well-seasoned cream sauce with peas and bacon. (Sorry too dark for a pic) A prodigious amount of food but no doggy bags required. Only flaw in the dish, the sauce was a little soupy, could have been thickened more. Perhaps after simmering throughout the diner hours it might have developed more consistency but we were early and maybe we cut into the simmer time. Small point, all the flavors were present and accounted for and there was nothing left in my bowl at the end of the meal.
I pared the meal with a glass of Montepulciano, a fruity, flavorful wine. Convention dictates I should have gone with white wine to go with a dish, but Grumpy often swims up-stream on these matters. The Montepulciano pared well with the carbonara.
Happy ordered the Lemon Chicken Romano, a panko encrusted boneless chick breast with a lemon sauce perched atop garlic mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli all smothered in a coating of melted mozzarella. I sampled some the following day. Lemon and garlic flavors were subtle and understated, no one taste dominated the dish making for a delightful combination.
The meals were served with small, warm ciabatta loaves drizzled with herb infused olive oil. A nice touch.
Happy ordered her usual root beer and therein lies the beginning of the unraveling of the experience. Our server was enthusiastic and attentive, but with a forced attitude, a little on the smarmy side. But I digress. The root beer came out in a bottle sans glass. A lady, ordering a full meal and not being offered a glass for her beverage? So pizza-parlor-like and totally at odds with our expected dining experience which was not pizza at all. Says something about the difficulty of even the staff to bridge the fine dining/pizza joint gap.
Happy and I shared a Bomba for desert. Normally we wouldn’t do desert but Bomba on the menu requires exploration. We love these things and they are all of different construction. The chocolate coated ice cream ball of the 1 Twenty Two version came out halved drizzled in chocolate sauce with a healthy (maybe unhealthy) dollop of whipped cream. Chocolate and vanilla ice cream were encased in the ball and separated precisely according to flavor in each half shell. How did they do that?
We were handed forks to deal with the dish. Folks, can you say melting ice cream? Forks? Our waiter disappeared before we discovered the problem. But when we asked about spoons, we were greeted with a bit of attitude. He provided a mumbled explanation, the bomba shell was thick and required a fork to cut through it. (not!) But a look of distain told of his opinion as he tossed the spoons on the table. Now Happy and I are of an age where our strength may not be what it used to be, but to assume we couldn’t handle a chocolate bomba shell with spoons? Or maybe the dishwasher was late for his shift and we were demanding extra flatware.
Lest the reader become confused by my ranting, we enjoyed our meals at 1 Twenty Two and would return again. I’m just caught up in this fine dining/pizza joint dichotomy and do not know what to make of it. I suppose one should accept what is and move one. When Cipriani in New York starts serving pizza by the slice and beer from a bottle, I suppose the transition will be complete and there will be no choice in Italian cuisine.
Ambiance = 7
Cozy place, set up in smaller dining areas as apposed to one large open room. Better for sound control.
Service = 6
See comments above. Service was good but came with an attitude.
Food Quality = 9
Both our dishes were excellent and showed definite signs of creativity in the kitchen.
Value = 8
Pricing is fair for what you get. I expected higher prices considering the area. Pleasantly surprised.

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Casa Toro – Coopersburg, PA

Maybe it’s my arriving at an age where separating conversation from background noise is becoming more and more difficult, but I really do not like restaurants that feature a cacophony stewpot of loud voices and background music. With all the technology in the audio industry, why can’t dining establishments use enough soundproofing to at least allow a normal table conversation without yelling?
Took my Pennsylvania family out to dine last weekend. They chose a Mexican restaurant that would be compatible to everyone, no small feat. The place was full, but we managed a table for seven without much delay. Casa Torro is Mexican with a Cuban influence. They offer a separate listing of Cuban dishes, an interesting mix which unfortunately none of us took advantage of.
Knew the place was loud the minute we entered, but I relegated the din to the background and concentrated on the menu. All the usual dishes are available. Fajitas were a popular item for our crowd. I had the beef option. The entrée is served on the classic hot skillet nestled in a wooden tray. Pretty standard stuff with a Casa Toro twist of a fitted hot mat for the skillet handle to prevent burns. A nice touch.
They offer an interesting choice with the Fajitas, straight bell peppers or a “mix”. Our waitress informed us that the “mix” was spicy. I went for it as the old taste buds require a boost in the flavor department from time to time. Well, Grumpy’s here to tell you that their definition of spicy is pretty damned hot. Jalapenos replace a good portion of the bell peppers in the dish and they were potent. A bit over the top in the heat department in my opinion. Managed to enjoy the dish by culling out a good portion of the Jalapenos and it was delicious. I would definitely go with straight bell peppers the next time.
The noise level intruded when out waitress had to repeat menu items and we had to repeat our orders for her. Conversation at our table was at a minimum, you couldn’t hear the person across the table and after having to ask to have comments constantly repeated we stopped communicating for the most part. It’s a shame really, because the food is excellent, despite the heat of my dish I found my meal to be great quality wise. Paired with a Negra Modelo the dining experience was complete. But table communication is important. Otherwise you are just eating and you might as well be noshing alone out of the fridge.
I’d like to return to try their Cuban menu. Unfortunately, I’ll need some separation time to dull the noise experience of the last visit.
Ambiance = 4
The place was clean and neat, open and airy. The openness is working against them. The full bar at the front, contiguous with the main dining room is a part of the noise problem. There are a couple of side rooms and if I return I would request seating in one of those. Lest you think this is a Grumpy problem, the younger generation in our group commented on the din once we exited the establishment.
Food Quality = 8
Excellent Mexican cuisine. The steak was tender and lean. My vegetables were prepared well, not over cooked as in some instances, an indication of fresh preparation. Except for the heat in my pepper “mix” my dish was flavorful and well spiced. The heat was my error, I was warned by our server. I just prefer the pungency of the dish not destroy any taste buds I have left. As a bonus, they serve enough tacos to last the meal. A common complaint with Fajitas is that the tacos run out long before you can come close to finishing the dish. Not true at Casa Toro. Of course, I did set aside a portion of my jalapenos. Just kidding.
Service = 9
Our waitress was on her toes. With this group of seven the demands were frequent but we never we without. She accomplished a great level of service without hovering.
Value = 7
The food excellent, the service outstanding, pricing fair, what drags this category down is the noise.

Pleasant Valley – Fourth of July Parade

Took in the celebration of America’s freedom both big and small this year. Watched a portion of the Capitol Fourth from Washington, a small portion of the fireworks in Boston and the whole of the celebration from New York. Spent more time with the latter because it was repeated somehow. They all are quite similar and  I didn’t recognize the redundancy right away. Probably guilty of snoozing at some point with the remote in hand. The shows were, well, snooze worthy.  
I point all this out to underscore my ho-hum attitude toward all the glitz and glamor of the big shows fueled by a feeling of loss—loss of liberties, loss of coherent and caring leadership, loss values the founding fathers fought and died for. The current occupants of seats of government have, by and large, abandoned those values and taken up greed and lust for power as the objective to holding office.
What are all those millions spent on pyrotechnics displays in celebration of? Some multibillionaire’s new tax break? Excuse me for lack of enthusiasm, tax breaks are not in Grumpy’s economic wheelhouse. I’m not the 10%.

Instead I am faced with a nation that seems to have lost its collective way. Government of, for and by the people has given over to pay-to-play politics and the power of amassed dollars. Independence Day has slid into Subservience Day where the rich buy power and arrange to keep all rest in poverty by hamstringing programs necessary to economic survival of the 90%.
The formula is well known and well documented by history. But we pay no attention to history. I can not understand why we study it so diligently when we fail to recognize the signs of repeating atrocities or worse yet recognize the issues but refuse to speak up. That latter, the failure of decent people to speak up, was what allowed Hitler to get so far with his purging of Germany of anyone he personally deemed as undesirable. Sound familiar folks? So I hereby add my little squeak to the groundswell of decent. It is far from enough.
But then…. Well, we had a house guest for the holiday. It was suggested that we attend the Fourth of July parade in Pleasant Valley. Curious, but not overly enthusiastic, I agreed to go along. Now for those of you who don’t know this area of New England, Pleasant Valley is a section of Barkhamsted, a small, rural, blink-your-eyes-and-you’re-through-it settlement. Connecticut has a penchant for naming clusters of residences with appellations that have nothing to do with the incorporated entity, Pleasant Valley, Pine Valley, Collinsville all part of regular towns. None of them officially recognized by the State but all with post offices that I suppose means recognition by the federal government. All meaningful to residents, but just plain confusing to out-of-staters. “Oh, yeah, that’s right down route 44 just east of Pine Valley” – say what?
You get my drift. How big a deal could a parade in Pleasant Valley be? We went over the river and through the woods, literally folks, and wound up in Pleasant Valley maybe twenty minutes before the purported start time. Where are the crowdsA smattering of folk around the parade terminus but nobody further up along the parade route. Where were all the spectators? Were we in the right place? Take a look at the lack of crowds to the left. Another horrible thought dawned, what if every resident was marching and we were the only reviewers.
Like the Farmington River behind us, at ten to the start time the crowd flowed in, people jockeying on both sides of the street to place lawn chairs. The route filled up. There couldn’t be this many people in Pleasant Valley and I suppose there aren’t. Most, I suspect, were strangers who managed to find the place by turning right or left at the Route 44 blinker and proceeding towards Riverton.
              Right on time the parade began and it was a parade with all the elements.

stars and stripes

 

 

army truck

 

jeep

A display of military equipment, albeit vintage.  Equipment veterans could identify with from previous wars, not the mega million show of might proposed for Washington. These pieces have meaning. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Decked out vintage farm equipment. This is after all a rural community.

Farmall

 

Even a band, and in fine tune.

star band

balloon float

LL float

 

 

 

 

 

               Floats of all kinds

PVUMC float

 

 

Generally, people having fun.

 

 

 

 

 

little fire truck

 

Fire apparatus, the ridiculous to the real thing. Lots of Fire trucks.

 

 

 

 

When all was said and done it was a good time for all, marchers and audience alike. The event harked back to a gentler time when political viewpoints were suborned for the celebration of the birth of the nation, when divisiveness didn’t permeate everything and when people could come together for a common cause without friction or agenda.
I think I saw a MAGA hat float by, but it was kept low key. Or perhaps I chose to relegate it to the minor distraction that it was. And I know there were more than a few Trump supporters participating and spectating, but no one knew, no one boasted their position. Liberal or conservative, we were all there for the celebration. If one could bottle the atmosphere in this small town for this special day and spread it nation-wide, we might get back to some semblance of reason and logic. Possibly regain a workable society. If anything, perhaps this one little parade represents, HOPE.

Ocean’s 8 – Drowned in Ocean’s past

At the prompting of Happy, we took in Ocean’s 8 at the Gilson the other evening. I had trepidations about wasting time on a remake, they rarely live up to the hype and pale in comparison to the original. Had to admit, the concept of the all-female gang was intriguing and the cast which included Sandra Bullock was a plus. A lot of kudos and throw-backs to the original Ocean’s 11 and the remake of the same name here.
I saw the original staring the “Rat Pack”. Didn’t see the Clooney effort. As I said, no loss as I view rereleases of films a sign of script weakness and lack of writer’s imagination which usually translates to “ho-hum” or outright snoozing. Can’t comment on the Clooney version, but for Ocean’s 8 the tie back to the original is an anchor dragging the script down. I feel this movie could and would stand on its own with another name and no pedigree. Shame, but it’s all about the box office these days and I suppose the links to past successes give the producers a leg up economically. But that hampers the cast of glittering new names, recognizable by new audiences from achieving success on their own. When you have a cast that includes the likes of Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Ann Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson and Rhianna, why do you need the reference?
The movie opens with Debbie Ocean being released from prison and beginning a “life on the scam” the minute she exits the last prison gate. I don’t think we ever are told what she’s in for but a good guess a con gone wrong. A loose end of sorts, but may not matter, although it leaves those of us concerned with story and back story wondering whether we missed something important. Takes you right out of the flick for a few minutes.
Again, not to worry, you are immediately overwhelmed with the rapid introduction of the seven other members of the gang against a backdrop of Ocean’s almost continuous cons. The only scam that comes to mind, probably because it’s the only one other than the main heist that is fully developed, is a con to obtain necessary cosmetics without money. Bullock collects what she needs from the counters then proceeds to an isolated clerk and demands to return the goods for full credit. Clerk asks for a receipt, but of course there is none. After a heated back and forth, Bullock exclaims her intent to keep the items—scam complete except for a request for a store bag to put the items in. Cute and almost believable and a good set-up to the bait and switch of the main heist of jewelry from a gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Ocean’s 8 is fast paced, and plot twisty, but for some reason the producers feel the need to continuously reach back to prior Ocean versions. They even brought in Matt Damon from the Clooney remake. There is a cameo of Bullock at the crypt were Danny Ocean’s ashes are held. Totally unnecessary.
James Corden does a cameo role as a tenacious, Columbo-type, hard boiled detective. Not. I like Corden, but he should stick to spoofs and car pool karaoke, it’s hard to take him seriously for a dramatic role when he carries so much of his late-night show host vibe to the screen.
Maybe I’m jaded by the experience of the original film, but the “Rat Pack” worked together frequently in movies and Las Vegas. They were comfortable with each other, knew without prompting the reaction of their set mates. In culinary terms they were a well-seasoned, well-aged filet mignon all the flavors mingling and blending flawlessly. I suppose there were egos, but in the Rat Pack those were kept off the screen, only showing the audience tension only when there was supposed to be tension. The show was king.
My sense was that the cast of Ocean’s 8 had not totally subordinated their separate egos. But then again perhaps it was the spell of past Ocean’s that caused the forced performances. With the exception of Mindy Kaling, nobody seemed to be having fun.
I say again, what a shame. The movie’s premise was sound, the cast able, but the binding to past flicks doesn’t allow this show to get off the ground. An entertaining evening in front of the big screen, enough action and plot twists to keep an audience interested for sure, Ocean’s 8 would have been better as a stand-alone with a different title, and not having to live up to Ocean’s of the past.
Just sayin’.

 

 

CrimeConn – Try It, You’ll like It

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While in the area I took the opportunity to attend CrimeConn at the Ferguson Library in Stamford, CT. Always held in June, or at least that’s the way it been for the last five years. Used to be at the Westport Library and I attended those sessions religiously. Mystery Writers of America moved the venue to Stamford two years ago for some unknown reason. Shame, Westport put on a good program and for $25 you got the program, breakfast, lunch and two full spread snack breaks. The food was worth the price alone.
With the move to the Ferguson, the price went up to $65. With added distance and cost, I didn’t attend. Apparently, Mystery Writers saw the errors of their ways, at least partially, and reduced the price to $45 dollars, $30 dollars if you were an early bird. I wasn’t and didn’t plan to attend but I found myself in Norwalk the day before the event and could easily extend my stay an extra day.
The quality of the program has remained at the usual high level. The panels and guest speakers were informative and entertaining. We got breakfast and lunch, adequate, but not anywhere near the spread at Westport, but attendance at CrimeConn should be not CrimeConn Progbe about the food but the program.
Mystery Writers of America is about murder, mayhem, thrills, crime and the writing of such. Yet the breadth of experience of the panels accommodates all authors from memoir to romance. In short, there is something here for everyone. No one should go away without some level of enlightenment.
Panels this year dealt with the movement of literature to the screen or stage, the use and research of historical facts as a basis of fiction, self-publishing how-to’s and why’s, and an insiders view of the traditional publishing world.
We even had a real live “Bones”, a forensic anthropologist from the Connecticut Medical Examiners office as a main speaker. An interesting presentation on a number of levels, not just for the murder prone crime writer.
A standard feature of the program is the published author interview. This year was S J Rozan, a multiple award-winning author and publisher of over 15 novels and multiple short stories. These interviews invariably touch on all aspects of the authors journey to publication and are a valuable peek into the life and struggles of a real time writer.
Despite the increased cost and change in location, I would recommend CrimeConn to any writer seeking to improve his or her craft. The presenters are real people—authors, editors, publishers, agents (yes, agents show up here and are accessible), story coaches, TV producers. They’re all here and they are all willing to help you out. While the program is structured, there is an informal tone to the conference, folks are accessible and the size of the conference guarantees interaction if you want it.
I highly recommend CrimeConn for any writer in any genre. It is a wonderful tune-up for those bigger conferences in New York and elsewhere, a place where you can practice your pitches and approaches in a relatively non-competitive environment.
I’ll be considering future events now that I have figured the logistics of Stamford and settled the parking issue.
CrimeConn. Try it. You’ll like it.

Where there’s a “Will” (Shakespeare that is) there’s a way. A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare on the Sound

MND blog 4

The bard has been quoted, “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” Well, I must’ve been extremely wise back in the day because I felt the fool reading all those assigned Shakespearean works. Didn’t understand the language even though it was supposed to be English. As a consequence, meaning and nuance escaped me. To say I hated the assignments would be a mild understatement.
I sat in class, nauseated by the professor waxing eloquent over the words of Will, lost in confusion of language wondering only how I could manage a passing grade. By the nodding heads of my classmates, I was not alone.
“There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so” to quote Will again. Now that one is clear, but perhaps it is the experience of years that makes it so. But my thinking in regard to Shakespeare remained jaded by those dull academic experiences.
MND blog 3But “All the worlds a stage” claims Will and by God he is correct. To see his works performed by a competent stage company is to clarify, to lend meaning to his works. His plays were meant for the stage and to see them come alive yields the context necessary for understanding.
Happy and I have had the experience for two years in a row at Shakespeare on the Sound in Rowayton, CT. True to the Shakespearean approach, the performance is held yearly in an outside theater nestled in a natural bowl on an inlet of the sound. The audience is seated on blankets in the midst of the performance space where actors exit, enter and deliver lines through designated aisles. There is a stage or maybe more than one as was the case with the presentation of Macbeth last year. Five in all methinks for Macbeth with the main action centering on a firepit in the center. This year’s, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, was confined to a single stage, backed up to the sound with characters once again exiting and entering through the audience.
Shakespeare on the Sound is an annual event occurring in June and well worth taking in even as a destination event. I mentioned a “competent cast” above and this repertory company pulls from talent largely trained in theater and certainly experienced in the arts. Julliard, NYU Tisch School of the Arts, Yale University School of Theater Studies, Columbia and Brown/Trinity are a few of the schools represented by this cast. ActingMND blog 2 credits are pages long. “Competent cast” is an understatement for this company.
That appellation was tested when a brief shower called a halt to the production. Talk about upsetting the flow, the sequence. But the shower passed, the stage was wiped down and the show picked up almost as though it were a paused CD. No bobbled lines, no hesitations and most importantly not loss in intensity of the moment. Now that’s professional.
But I come back to Will’s two quotes above: “All the world’s a stage”, and “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” Witnessing the dramas unfold MND blog 1before me, putting those stilted words I came to hate so much in the context an actual play, the meaning of the work came alive and for the first time comprehensible. Rest assured that my “bad thinking” has been converted to “good thinking” about the works of the bard. I expect yours will be too, if you have the opportunity of attending a performance of Shakespeare on the Sound.

Credit photos to Wendy Allen

Thai Ocha – Simsbury

After spending some time exploring the Simsbury Art Trail Happy and I hopped up Hopmeadow Street for a bite to eat at Thai Ocha a quiet little bistro on the Simsbury Granby boarder. The parking lot was nearly empty and we debated on whether to give the place a try. The advice of Gordon Ramsey, not my favorite person by the way, but none-the-less versed in the restaurant business is to avoid establishments that are not crowded.
Glad we didn’t heed his advice on this one. One young couple was exiting as we came in and another couple was finishing up and left before our diners were served. We had the place to ourselves. Grumpy’s kind of dining but with some trepidation. The comments from the other table on how everything was delicious and perfect didn’t do much to squelch my doubts. I mean, what else do you say when your server askes how everything was?
With Ramsey’s voice rattling around in my head, we ordered. I latched onto a Singha beer. Have had it before and it’s good brew, light but full flavored and thirst quenching. I needed the beer for the latter from all the statuary viewing and maybe to cover some less than stellar food?
Happy selected a meal from a list of cashew nut dishes, served with onions, mushrooms, celery, bell peppers, scallions, and pineapple chunks stewed with chili paste.cashew chicken The dish comes with various options, chicken, vegetable, tofu, pork, beef, shrimp, squid, and mixed seafood. Happy chose the chicken.
The addition of the chili paste might make some reticent to try the dish. There was a bite to it but not an overbearing heat, just a nice tang that let you know the chili’s were there but not enough to destroy the flavor of the other ingredients. I sampled the leftovers the next day and it was delicious.
I ordered their Thai Mango Chicken, a dish that as the name implies has chicken and Thai chicken with mangomango along with onions, bell peppers and tomatoes swimming in a red curry sauce. The sauce had a pleasant bite to it and comparing the two entrées the curry carried a bit more heat. (Can you say Vindaloo?) But again the spice did overpower the other flavors.

 
The menu at Thai Ocha is amazingly broad for a small place. It has a lot of seafood options for those inclined in that direction. The food is well prepared and properly spiced from my perspective. The chicken in both dishes was fork tender, not tough from overcooking.
It’s a shame that that more folks were not dining here. Perhaps it was the fact that is was a Sunday night, of perhaps their location out of town almost to the Granby line is a factor. I hope they survive because this is definitely a “keeper”  and well worth the small trek up 202 to get here if you find yourself in Simsbury or Granby.
Come to think about it we’ve eaten in four Simsbury restaurants and only one was what you would call crowded. The busy one got one of the worst reviews I have ever given out while the other three netted great reviews. (Grumpy 4 – Ramsey 0) As to not trying the less than crowded restaurant, I say you can’t find the diamond in the rough unless you are willing to inspect some pebbles along the way.  Don’t know why I listen to that guy.
Ambiance = 7
Cute little place that must have been something else before. They have decorated with Thai pictures and statuary but haven’t erased the prior establishment’s identity entirely.

Service = 9
Polite, friendly and attentive without being overbearing. When Happy had a coughing fit from something going down the wrong pipe, our server was at the table in seconds asking if he could help.
Food Quality = 8
I am not particularly well versed on Thai cuisine, but in comparison to what I have encountered, this was excellent. They do exceptionally well with their flavorings, not over spicing to the level of anesthetizing the taste buds, allowing the subtler flavors to come through. My dish was a prime example. The curry sauce, while hot, left room for the coconut milk base to shine through.
Value = 8
Good food, reasonable price even though the place wasn’t crowded. Gordon Ramsey – take that.