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Aug 27, 2008 10:45 AM

1st Anniversary Dinner - Hartford

My husband and I will be celebrating our first wedding anniversary at the end of the month. We'll be in the Hartford, CT area and were hoping for a nice dinner out in the area. Suggestions?
Any type of food other than asian/sushi is good.
Price isn't really a concern (although we're not looking to break the bank).
We're ok going casual or fancy - we'd just like a really great meal with a great atmosphere
...and for any of your possible suggestions - what is the dress code for the restaurant?
Thanks in Advance!

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  1. Not sure if the "Hartford area" means downtown or in suburbia, so I'll try to cover a bit of both. Also, let us know where you are traveling from, as that might influence your selection. I wouldn't necessarily recommend the same set of restaurants to someone from Kansas City as I would someone from Portsmouth N.H.. If New England is new to you, perhaps you want a quintessential New England experience. If you are from a big city, perhaps you want something other than "downtown dining".

    That said, a first anniversary dinner should be special, and wine prices aside, any place in this area is likely to fall within the same price range, give or take. There are no $110 per person prix fixe menus around here. Every place that I would consider for a special night is going to run $8-$14 for apps; $22-$30 for mains and $7-$10 for desserts. The only way you are going to break the bank is if you add on a big time wine. That is entirely up to you, and completely within your control.

    Downtown Hartford:
    Max Downtown-On weekdays it is a power scene, and on weekends it is a lot more "normal". Business casual. No jacket required, but you will certainly see people wearing them. High cuisine that can hold its own in any major city. Steaks, chops, chicken, several fish options, pork. Contemporary American is how I would describe it. But they also have a blackboard menu of Chop House classics that has all the standard cuts of beef for people who don't want an imaginative or fussy meal. Probably the best food in downtown and a nice atmosphere to boot, if you enjoy the urban dining feel.

    Peppercorns. Italian, but not of the "spaghetti and red sauce" variety. Osso Buco, veal, chicken, artichokes, risotto and pastas with creative sauces, many with braised meats. Decor is just so-so, but still special enough to qualify for an anniversary. Slightly less than business casual.

    Dish. Very urban with exposed concrete and infrastructure. Contemporary American with some trendy options like braised pork belly. Not as fancy as Max, but with a similar city style. Slightly less than business casual.

    Another place that gets mentioned a lot here are Trumbull Kitchen, but I don't consider that an appropriate place to celebrate a personal event.

    West of Hartford:
    In West Hartford:
    Max's Oyster Bar. Sister restaurant of Max Downtown. (You'll see that a lot in this post.) Exclusively seafood, with a few landlubber fall-backs. A bit loud and casual for an anniversary, IMHO. But the food is good and very professional. Business casual.

    Grants. A brassiere with a mix of French and American cooking. Slightly less than business casual.

    Bricco. Same owner as Grant's. Italian. A bit less sophisticated (culinarily) than Peppercorn's, with a greater emphasis on pastas. Very well prepared food. Slightly less than business casual.

    Apricot's. Lovely setting in a New England tavern-style building right on the Farmington River. Unfortunately, sometimes the atmosphere outshines the food, which can be inconsistent. When it is on, it is very good. Romantic and certainly a setting worthy of an anniversary. Business casual. Jacket not required, but you will see some.

    East of the River
    2 Hopewell. In an old New England tavern. Great setting if you are coming from elsewhere. Short, but varied menu. Plenty of standard proteins, like short ribs and halibut. But the chef usually adds one or two creative twists that make the presentations memorable. Business casual and definitely a place that one would consider for a special night out.

    Max Fish. See Max's Oyster Bar above. Primarily fish, though the menus at the two places are not the same. If you love fish, (and I'm thinking that may not be your focus), I would consider this.

    Max Amore. Might get mentioned here, but I wouldn't go here for my first anniversary.

    Cavey's. Two restaurant options here. The first is a prix fixe French that is the most formal of all the restaurants in the area. Not sure if it is required, but I would never eat in the French dining room without a jacket. In my opinion, the best restaurant in Central CT, and the first and only place I would consider to take my spouse of one year. Elegant and romantic with doting service and excellent food.

    Upstairs at Cavey's is the Italian restaurant. Like Peppercorn's, this is not a typical red sauce Italian. Highly prepared dishes from all over the Boot. Not uniquely Northern Italian, but that is certainly a big part of the focus. If wine matters to you at all, this is the absolute best choice in the area. Cavey's maintains both a French/American and Italian/American list, but you are free to order from either in whichever restaurant you are in. The Italian is business casual.

    That's a start. If you fill in some blanks about what you'd like ideally, perhaps a few more choices will pop into my head.

    1 Reply
    1. re: FoodieJim

      If you like Italian I would recommend Carbones, on Franklin Ave. They have a good wine list, and good service. Check the menu from web site enclosed in this post( Also I understand that the 2 Hopewell in Glastonbury is good. They have 2 separate menus,one upstairs and one for the downstairs bar area. ( The Mill on the River would also be excellent for a first anniversary dinner.( Very nice place the food is usually very good a good variety and reasonably priced for our area. Hope this helps you in some small way .Good luck and Happy Anniversary.......Earle Ct.

    2. FoodieJim covered it really well--i would throw out two more ideas.
      MetroBis in Simsbury (stretching the definition of "Hartford area") has great food and attentive service. it can get a little noisy in there but not as bad as Bricco or Max's Oyster. dress is casual.
      depending on when your anniversary is, and if you wanted to do something slightly different, ON20 is only open for lunch Mon-Fri but it is THE most amazing lunch. a prix-fixe three-course meal begins at $35 (without wines, which could double your bill). dress is business casual. you will be too full for dinner, but then you can just have some champagne & dessert later in the evening. :)
      happy anniversary!

      1 Reply
      1. re: rudysmom

        It was August 17, 1975 that we celebrated our 1st anniversary at Cavey's downstairs. Highly recommended for a wonderful dinner and long lasting memories.

        When we went to Peppercorns during 2008 Taste of Hartford and there was an insert in the menu indicating that it would continue to be offered during the month of August. I would call to confirm, but it is an excellent deal:

        (please note that price does not include tax, beverage, or gratuity)

        Appetizers (choice of)
        Fiori di Zucchini ~ crispy beer battered zucchini blossoms stuffed with a peppered mozzarella

        Bruschetta ~ with garlic, fresh plum tomatoes, mozzarella and extra virgin olive oil

        Insalata Mista ~ tossed greens with carrots, red peppers, radicchio, and tomato with balsamic vinaigrette

        Entrées (Choice of)

        Ravioli all ‘Arancia ~ housemade ravioli filled with ricotta, spinach, and orange rind in a sauce of fresh orange, sage, butter and parmigiano reggiano

        Il petto di pollo ruspante in Crosta di porcini ~ roasted porcini crusted free range chicken breast on its own natural sauce served with Idaho potato puree and sauteed greens

        Pan Seared Golden Snapper ~ with herb roasted potatoes, sauteed fresh vegetables, and a lemon caper butter sauce

        Dessert (Choice of)

        Tiramisu ~ with crème chantilly



      2. FoodieJim has done an excellent job in recommending suitable restaurants in the Hartford / near Hartford area, but he's being optimistic in suggesting a $22 - $30 range for main courses - try an upper limit of $40 or so. Any of the Max locations or Apricots works. Happy Anniversary!!

        3 Replies
        1. re: 02sbxstr

          Thank you all for your suggestions! I'm going to give all the suggestions to my husband and let him narrow them down and pick one.
          FoodieJim - I actually grew up in Portsmouth, NH. But we'll be traveling from S.Fairfield County, which is where we live now. Does that change any of your suggestions?

          1. re: milano14

            It would not. I entertain a lot of out-of-towners on business, and when people come from big cities like Chicago or San Francisco, sometimes they want the "full on" New England charm. And other folks are convinced that if it isn't urban, it can't be top notch. So my routine varies. But being from N.H., and now from Southern CT, you have gotten your fill of both, I am sure. So a quaint New England Inn isn't going to "wow" you.

            Following up on some of the other posts, I really should have included Carbone's, so thanks to Earle for bringing that up. Once upon a time, it was the beginning and end of Hartford dining. But then it slipped into, what I feel, was a caricature of itself. Dark lighting, red leather (naugahyde?) booths, table-side flambe preparations for no good reason. You half expected Dino, Frank and Sammy to be sitting in the booth behind you. So I took it off my roster. But several kitchen changes later, it is back to being a viable option, especially for a special dinner.

            I did not include Metro Bis because it is a bit of a hike from downtown Hartford on back roads and I wasn't sure how far you wanted to drive. If there is going to be Champagne, drinks and/or wine as part of the celebration, (and by golly, there should be), I wouldn't want to make the drive back to Hartford "over the mountain" as we say up this way. But it is a very fine restaurant, albeit a bit more casual than most of the others mentioned.

            As for prices, I am going to stick by my original statement and add that this applies if you don't order hunks of red meat. We never order steak at restaurants, always opting for something more creative. When I dine out, I want to see what the kitchen can do. Broiling a steak tells me nothing about the talent in the kitchen. But I digress. If you order rib eyes or Porterhouses, you certainly can bump the cost up to $40 anywhere. But other than that, finding a $35 entree in the Hartford area is pretty hard. By way of example, the Dinner Menu posted on the Max Downtown website does not list a single entree over $29 until you get to the "Chop House" selection of steaks. In any event, I am betting that $5-$7 here or there won't deter you from a memorable evening.

            1. re: FoodieJim

              I'll partly accept your price range with your (now expressed) qualifier, but the truth is that $40 is more accurate. In fact, I only saw 1 entree for less than $30 at Cavey's downstairs, which was your primary recommendation. Eliminating the high end menu items is deceptive.

        2. I agree with Rudysmom. If you can take the day off or get out early go to On Twenty for lunch. Noel Jones is doing the best work in the Hartford area. They offer the three course prix fix but are always happy to extend your meal. Last time I was there, lunch it lasted over four hours and was comparable to meals at top restaurants in major cities at half the price. I'm actually going there today to celebrate my father's birthday.