Category Archives: New Haven

‘Read and Feed’ would have been a better name, I think.

The Traveler Restaurant
(Exit 74 off Interstate 84)
1257 Buckley Highway
Union, CT 06076

Dear “The Traveler Restaurant,”

Your food sucks. It’s flat-out awful, in fact – your chef or team of trained monkeys can’t even cook an omelet without screwing it up. There should be some kind of law against bad diner-style restaurants just off expressway exits, particularly ones that this critic visits with high hopes and an empty stomach after sitting in stop and go traffic on the Mass Pike for far longer than it should ever take to drive thirty-odd miles.

Nonetheless, I grudgingly admit, you are charming and original. I haven’t been to another restaurant that gives away books free with every meal, nor have I been to any that feature a fully stocked used book store in the basement. You have both, and that’s truly bizarre.

Another pleasant surprise was a box of 7” records that yielded titles like Stevie Wonder’s “For Once In My Life” and the Holland-Dozier-Holland nugget “Band Of Gold” (both revelations in monophonic). While fifty cents is expensive for a 7” of questionable condition, both of the above and most of the other eight discs I selected had some information left in the grooves, though I think you’re going to have a hard time blowing out your remaining stock of Conway Twitty and Dean Martin vinyl.

The 12” LP box was abysmally void of anything interesting, though, much like the meatloaf sandwich that somehow included nothing recognizable as meatloaf. Good thing I ordered it with cheese, or I might have had to more closely ponder the loaf’s ingredients. My ex-roommate’s mother found your onion rings palatable merely because they included whole rings of onion; this is scarcely a big endorsement.

I suspect, though, that you have already established your business model, and it includes more gimmicks than quality. That’s your prerogative, of course, and you will no doubt continue to haul in customers that like the idea of free stuff, as well as the oddball literary types that seemed to be prevalent the other night. You just might not have me as a customer again (that is, unless you get in a new shipment of records – I loves me a good gimmick).

Sincerely,
Mike King of “Twenty bucks a day.”

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Operation roadfood: Peruvian in New Haven.

I didn’t really have a good base for what’s good in Peruvian cuisine until recently, when a stop at New Haven’s Machu Picchu enlightened me to what I had been lacking at the lackluster Smith Street and 5th Avenue joints.  Who says New Haven is just Yalies and proto-hamburgers?

The name belies the restaurant’s atmosphere: it ain’t no rich Inca’s resort hotel kitchen.  Lovably dive-y, in fact, and filled with regulars sucking down Chinese-style noodle dishes, hidden behind plates of chicken bones and rogue napkin piles.

They’re smart, because the most delicious item on the menu is easily the beyond-perfect roast chicken ($12 for a whole), which defies its status as “grilled” on the menu by tasting like it had been smoked!  Easily the most tender and juicy bird I’ve eaten in the last year, and possibly in my lifetime.  I could have devoured the whole plate.

Instead, I went polite and sampled a few of the other things we ordered.  The salad that came with the chicken was hilariously perfunctory, but the fries were good (we sadly didn’t try the salchipapas).  The lomo saltado ($10) improved the fry formula by taking the spuds and using them as the potato portion of a tough beef stir fry that tasted like it had a French onion soup base.   Tasty, in a “tastes like Mom’s fifteen-minute recipes” kind of way, if only mom had access to a fry-o-lator.

Against my sometime anti-seafood-in-a-non-seafood-restaurant bent, I also tried certain parts of the mixed seafood ceviche (it’s unclear to me, as I was not the one ordering, how this differs from the alternately-listed “seafood mix ceviche” – both $12), and found the squid to be particularly well-served by the citrusy brine – I would have ordered it with four-alarm spice levels, though, and the lowering of said made for a ho-hummer kind of experience.  The portion, as with everything, is LARGE.

I would be remiss not to mention the ridiculously good juices, too.  While my papaya was great, the clear winner of the evening was the mango, which came out looking almost jellied.  Both were in enormous glasses and cost somewhere in the neighborhood of two bucks.

I’ve got the menu in front of me here and it’s making me hungry.  Sadly, unlike most of the places I review, it’s a bit far away (not even close to the train) to make a random evening of.  Rest assured that I’ll be going back whenever possible; if you’re looking for a meal not too far off the CT Turnpike in the New Haven vicinity, you ought to try it.

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