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What I Wore: Jalapeno Heaven Restaurant Tasting

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All I remember reading was “FREE” and “Mexican food” when I signed up to attend a Mexican restaurant tasting this past Sunday at Jalapeno Heaven in Branford, Connecticut. The event was organized by fellow CT Blogger Bonnie Dingus of the Home Place blog who has been friends with Jalapeno’s owners Hector and Gail Flores, for years.

Before I delve into my review, there are a few things that I need to disclose so that you can understand my perspective/where my head was at while I was there and when I wrote this:

  1. Although I have traveled to Mexico and eat Mexican food all the time, I am not a connoisseur  or expert on the cuisine.
  2. I am Jamaican, and next to American’s we are beyond proud of our culture and cuisine (as in, we actually and truly believe that “no where no betta than yard”). As a result, we tend to compare our dishes with other “ethnic” cuisines which I did here.
  3. I was famished when I arrived at the restaurant.
  4. I’ve never written a food review before
  5. I included enough info to encourage others (well, at least a fellow yardie) to try Mexican food.

In  conclusion, this review is written from the perspective of a newbie who has a slight bias towards Jamaican food.  So there wont be a lot or anything on textures and authenticity and all of the other fancy terms that food bloggers and critics use. You can hop over to Jenny Wielk’s Sweet Jenny blog for that. 

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The tasting was held in the upstairs private dining room of the restaurant.  We were greeted by Scott, from Karma Tequila who gave us a crash course on how tequila was made and of course, tequila.  Gail Flores, the co-owner was also there with sangria, and a basket of the most colorful, delicious nacho chips that I had ever tried.

Appetizers

Appetizers from Jalapeno Heaven in Branford, Connecticut

Appetizers: (First row) Hector’s Chili | (Second row) Cream of Seafood Tortilla (spicy cream soup) |Nacho chips served with salsa and salsa verde | (third row) Firecrackers (open-face jalapenos, stuffed with shrimp, covered with queso sauce), Chipotle Chicken Chalupa Bites.

Notes:   The soup was actually pretty good and is something I would definitely try again. The closest dish we have to chili in Jamaica is stew peas and Jamaican stew peas has nothing on Hector’s Chili!  It was delicious, mild, comforting and beyond good. I’m giving myself a huge pat on the back right now for downing two of those firecrackers. Surprisingly, the burn wasn’t as intense as I expected it to be. The salsa verde with tomatillo’s, they seriously need to bottle that stuff and sell it. My least favorite of the appetizers was actually the chipotle chicken and that’s probably because I eat chicken every day and I am developing a dislike for it.  Please note that the appetizers, like most restaurants, are served in large portions and are meant to share. However, when I go back, I am ordering the chili as an appetizer. I gave the appetizers 4 out of 5. If I rated them individually though, my fives would go to the chili, the salsa verde and the firecrackers.

Entrees

Appetizers Jalapeno Heaven in Branford, Connecticut

Entrees: Chimichanga w/Refried Beans (flour tortilla stuffed w/pork) | White Enchilada w/Spanish Rice  (shredded chicken) | Filet De Chipotle w/Potato Mexican Pancakes (filet mignon grilled and served over mushrooms) | Tequila Lime Shrimp Combo (served with Mexican shrimp cake)

Notes:  In my opinion, pork should be spicy and well seasoned. The pork was too bland for me and I also had no love for the refried beans. Chimichangas, this one at least, has nothing over Jamaican jerk pork. In hindsight, I think a helping of the salsa verde would have helped to kick the flavor up a notch.  As much as I don’t  care for chicken, the enchilada was pretty good. The filet de chipotle was excellent. The meat was tender and was DONE just like Jamaican’s like it (not red and bloody). I didn’t care for the Mexican pancake because it reminded me of hash browns.  The Tequila Lime Shrimp was good, but I did not like the Mexican shrimp cake which reminded me of salt fish fritters. To be clear, I love saltfish fritters. I would have loved the shrimp cakes too, but they were too salty for something that did not include salted cod. I would also rate the entree course 4 out of 5.  The enchilada and filet de chipotle gets my fives from the entree sampling.

Drinks

Karma Tequila toast at Jalapeno Heaven in Branford Connecticut

Cocktails: (top row) Karma Tequila Cointreau Silver shots | (second row) Taking a sip of the pomegranate margarita sampler | Connecticut bloggers (photo via Bonnie Dingus of Homeplace Blog) |  (third row) Karma-Rita (margarita) Pomegranate Margarita

Notes: Ok, so my liver is constructed a little different. This means that I don’t absorb alcohol really well and because of this, I actually try not to drink. I did take a few sips of each drink though and the margarita’s were great. It was smooth actually, and this was confirmed when a few of the bloggers manned up and took a shot of Karma, straight. There weren’t any scrunched up faces which tells me there was no burn upon entry or while it was going down. One thing all that free flowing alcohol did though was to give us all liquid courage. We all look like a bunch of old friends, right (See second row, photo on the right)? Some of us were meeting for the very first time. I rate the cocktails 4 1/2 out of 5. This actually should be a 5 , but I was afraid you guys would think I was a little bias.

 Desserts

For desert, we were served a sampling of Bananas Foster, Apple Chimichanga and Carmel Flan. They were all GREAT! I even ate the flan which is something I never cared for.  It had a nilla wafer crust and the carmel was just right, not too sweet. By the way, I am not sure what happened to my dessert photos. But I think by that point, the Karma was flowing,  our bellies were full which subsequently let to a lot of laughing and socializing with the other bloggers and I just forgot that I was there on assignment. I don’t care if you think I am biased by the way, but dessert was a straight up 5!

Location/Decor/Ambiance

Jalapeno Heaven is located at 40 North Main Street right off of I-95 in Branford, Connecticut. It was super easy to find. The exterior and interior of the building is decorated in true Mexican style: stucco, bright colors, and lots of  touristy type Mexican memorabilia. Parking is plentiful and the restaurant is located in what looks like a safe area! I think this would be a great place for a informal get together with friends, families or for foodies who like to try different cuisines.

My overall opinion, 4 out of  5 stars.
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What to Wear:

Stretchy pants or anything with spandex, an elastic waist and extra room is the best thing to wear if you are attending a tasting.  I chose this floral, high-low, topless dress that my mom brought back from her trip to Montreal. It was also super hot that day which made this light and airy, roomy and festive dress the best choice for the occasion.

Ossie snapped these photos of me at the Connecticut Historical Society right before I took the 45 minute ride to Jalapeno Heaven in Branford, Connecticut.

XoXo, Natasha

Disclosure: We were invited to participate in the 12-course tasting by owners Hector and Gail Flores. The opinions expressed are my own.

 

About Natasha Samuels

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16 comments

  1. I love it! So cool and chic!

  2. I love your blog so I nominated you for the Liebster Award! You can check out the rules and questions here:
    http://poor-fashionista.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/the-liebster-award.html
    xx

    • Hi Constance. Thanks for the compliment on the blog and the nomination. It’s my baby so I truly appreciate the feedback. I don’t know what a Liebster is but I guess I will find out really soon. (-:

  3. Mexican food is one of my faves, Italian is first. sorry, buddy – i’ve never had the pleasure of trying authentic Jamaican cuisine. you picked the perfect dress…festive, colorful, and non-restricting…perfect for a huge meal!
    miss donna recently posted..blogging lessons | dream big and have faithMy Profile

    • Thanks Donna. I am surprised that there are no Jamaican restaurants in Austin. I will make a note to post a recipe or two next month that you can try at home. (-:

  4. Love this dress so much that I featured YOU in my post on Tropicals. Check it out.
    Neti* recently posted..TropicalsMy Profile

    • I inherited my sense of fashion from my mom. At my age, she still picks up things here and there for me. Thanks for the feature. Looking forward to checking it out when I get home. Mi deh pon di road yah now!

  5. It is hard for Jamaicans like us to find food that compares to our Cuisine. I read the entire review and enjoyed it. But, I have to disagree with the Stew Peas comparison ’cause that’s my favorite and I have had Mexican chili. Your Mom has great taste in dresses, I would like one of those Please!
    Neti* recently posted..OOTD #2My Profile

    • Neti, I think I should have included the fact that I was NEVER a fan of peas. I was one of those kids that sat down and picked the peas out of rice and peas and passed when I was offered peas soup and/or stew peas. I started eating the dish a few years ago, mostly because of the salted pigs tail (-: [side note: I tried making the ital version using smoked turkey neck, btw.] But for my palate, chili wins. (-:

  6. LOVE the dress and the food looks DELICIOUS! I do love Mexican!! It was so interesting to hear your take compared to Jamaican!
    JulieK recently posted..Happy Birthday, Little BoyMy Profile

    • Hi Julie. Jamaican food was the only food that I ate until I was hired to work at an Indian based company in 2004. My experience there is what finally forced me to open up and try other ethnic dishes. Unfortunately, my mindset is still “is this going to taste better than Jamaican food?” I am glad you liked the post and I am glad that you liked my no name, discount dress (-:

  7. Thanks for the link!! I loved the dress you wore! It was soooo pretty! (nothing, in my opinion, will ever top jerk pork, curried oxtail and coco bread. I heartttttt Jamaican food! I wish we could all review Peppers in East Hartford!!) It was nice to see you again! 🙂
    Jenny recently posted..Mocha Frapp weather!My Profile

    • Hi Jenny,
      I am familiar with Peppers and actually their food is pretty good. There is also Dunns River on Main Street, Channers on Albany Ave and Island Cuisine on Farmington Ave. The issue with all of these restaurants is that they are not in the best areas of Hartford where I would feel comfortable inviting the group. Second, except for Dunns River, most of these are take out. Whenever I introduce my American friends to Jamaican food, I almost always head to Negril in the village in New York City. It’s a true restaurant (including bar) and the vibe is so great there. And yes, jerk pork set the standard for pork for me.(-:

  8. I would absolutely be down for free Mexican food! It is one of my faves–especially chimichangas (though I’m sorry yours wasn’t the best!). When I was pregnant with my daughter, she wouldn’t tolerate ANY ethnic food (Chinese, Mexican, etc.)–little so-and-so! It was so depriving. I also think you look absolutely beautiful in this dress Natasha!
    Frannie Pantz recently posted..Nieces PiecesMy Profile

    • There were actually other bloggers who loved the chimichangas, it just wasn’t for me and I think it’s because I expect pork to be spicy. (-: