J is nestled in Barry Square just outside of the Frog Hollow and South Green neighborhoods. It’s near Hartford Hospital, CT Valley Girl Scouts, and across from the Children’s Medical Center. It’s not far from Trinity College or Downtown. It’s about a mile from my house, and Google Maps tells me that it takes five minutes to get there, whether I drive or ride my bike. In spite of its accessibility to me, I had never visited the restaurant until last Wednesday.
Because we had made reservations, we were seated immediately. The waitstaff were attentive, which is not always the case at restaurants when part of a party shows up before the rest. I stuck with the non-alcoholic beverages for the evening, but given that our group sought several refills of the same type of wine, my assumption is that they found something good. The house wines were priced at $25 per bottle, but others ran from $25-63.
The Taste of Hartford menu here was among the more impressive in terms of vegetarian options. While I will settle for pasta, it’s often uninspired in most restaurants. I do get tired of eating the same thing all of the time. J broke from the “throw some noodles at the vegetarians” model.
J’s first course options were all vegetarian salads, except for one. I did overhear that items could not be removed, so if someone really wanted iceberg salad without the bacon, she could not get that. But what would anyone want with iceberg lettuce anyway? The other first course options were much more appealing: Greek, Arugula, or Watermelon salads. I tried the watermelon chunks with basil, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. The menu calls it EVOO, but that’s way too pretentious and Rachael Ray-sounding for my liking. It sounds like a weird flavor combination and it’s definitely not one I would have thought up. I liked it. The vinegar was not overpowering at all — the watermelonness of the salad was still very apparent.
The second course was all variations of crostino, which to the common person, is basically a small piece of thick toast with something on top of it. One could select three types of crostino — 14 varieties in all: chicken, two types of steak, prosciutto, lamp chop, shrimp, crab, scallops, calamari, clams, asparagus, spinach, peaches, and mushrooms. Everyone’s orders were delicately arranged, though I heard some grumbling about the taste of the calamari. Since that’s not something I would touch even if I were promised large sums of money, I can not comment. I had the “shaved asparagus” which, frankly, is a phrase that encourages my inner Beavis & Butthead to make a guest appearance. At any rate, it was tender and flavored with lemon and olive oil. The Parmesan was a nice touch, balancing out the potentially pungent vegetable. The next crostino I ate was the grilled peaches. In hindsight, I probably should have had this last, as it was sweet and dessert-like. Grilled peaches on mozzarella with just a touch of balsamic vinegar is something I would definitely order again. The mushrooms with tomato marmalatta was my least favorite of the three, probably because I ate the peaches beforehand, and I much prefer sweet to savory.
The third course — dessert — was a tough decision to make. They ran out of the peach and blueberry crunch crostata by 7pm, which narrowed our options to the Hungarian Raspberry Shortbread and the Mocha Fudge cake. Anyone who knows me will guess that I ordered the chocolate cake. Normally, that would be a fine guess to make, and you’d be right, but in this case, the chocolate was competing with shortbread. In a perfect world, I could have gotten a raspberry mocha fudge shortcake. I did sample a friend’s mocha fudge cake and determined that it was equal in goodness to the raspberry shortbread.
Something else to note is that J has one of the largest parking lots in the city.