Chris texted me a photo - a list of duck specials, and there were several from which to choose. I called him immediately. "Where are you?" I demanded, "Are you eating duck without me?" He replied, "I wouldn't dare," and described the dish he was eating. I wish I could remember what it was, but I was still stuck on the duck thing. Mouth full, he raved about the new place he discovered, well, new to him anyway. Turns out it's been open ten years, and is right around the corner from his work. "Wanna come back for dinner tonight?" he asked. "If you don't mind going back twice in one day," I said, thinking he was kidding. When he said, "I could eat here every meal," I knew I was in for a treat.
And East-West Grille on New Park Avenue in Hartford is, in fact, a treat. Specializing in Laotian food, along with other traditional and fusion Pan-Asian dishes, the restaurant serves Eastern food in a "Western" setting - a diner, of all things. The decor is 50's diner-turned-Asian restaurant, and as expected has lots of red, with pretty curtains dividing the diner's booths, straw baskets and hats hanging about, and fresh flowers on each table. East-West is Zagat-rated, earns top scores from local food critics, has a small but pretty outdoor dining area, and serves beer and wine.
Let me describe our first outing together which occurred last week. The server is shocked that I have never tried sticky rice, and brings some to try in a small lidded basket. She teaches me to roll the white and purple mixture in my hands, flatten it into a patty, and dip it in one of the sauces she's delivered. Chris has been here before (four hours earlier!) so he's all into it. Excellent! We want gyoza but the server steers us in another direction, admitting that is one of the few things that is not made in house. She suggests the chicken curry samosas, featured on the spring special menu. The samosas are lightly fried pastries stuffed with minced chicken in a spicy curry sauce. They taste good, but there is a texture issue - the filling is a bit mushy and reminds us of baby food. I order the panang duck, described succinctly on the menu: "half boneless roast duck topped with kaffir lime leaves, mixed vegetables and coconut milk." It has two "spicy" symbols next to it. This is my favorite Thai dish, and I'm wondering if it will be as good as the one Sawadee (where I get my usual panang fix) makes. This duck ROCKS. Tender, moist duck with the crispiest skin ever is served over shredded lime leaves and sauteed red and green peppers, green beans, carrots and bamboo shoots in the cutest ceramic duck dish. Don't even ask me what Chris ate. Some salad I think since he wasn't that hungry for dinner (wonder why?). It was no surprise to me, but he wasn't too full for dessert, and we shared the deliciously sweet coconut ice cream with coconut sticky rice and go home to chill out in a food-induced coma.
I think about that duck all week and when we're planning this week's date night, much to Chris's delight, I suggest East-West. This time we get the gyoza which, although not house-made, are prepared lightly battered and fried. They're good, but the sauce they're served with is incredibly salty. While I enjoy the panang duck again (how could I not???), and it was fantastic again (add points for consistency!) Chris is very pleased with his spicy "tom-kar" - a soup made with coconut milk, mushroom, onion, pepper and ginger - which is offered with a choice of proteins that he opted out of. I try it and it's great - sweet yet spicy, it warms me right up. He loves his entree as well, jasmine rice stir-fried with egg, pineapple, cashews and raisins, which is both sweet and savory at the same time. We can't fit dessert this time but we're satisfied so that's okay.
After thanking Chris for "discovering" this gem (thanks also goes to Paul who recommended it!), I exclaim "So long, Sawadee! Sorry, but East-West has stolen our hearts." We highly recommend a visit (or even two in the same day!)