A fountain's mists drift over a cool, quiet water outside the windows of Vito's By the Water, where chefs have been cooking up traditional Italian food for many years. Following recipes that have been in the owner's family for years, they craft traditional entrees such as New York strip steak with demi-glace or lobster ravioli with vodka-cream sauce. They also adorn thin and Chicago-style deep-dish stuffed crusts with quality toppings such as baby clams, breaded eggplant, and seasoned ricotta.
Vito’s has also sponsored a “So You Think You Can Cook” competition, handing the kitchen over to nine aspiring chefs for a three-day cook-off. Like many timed cooking competitions, this one required the chefs to create a dish using a mystery ingredient, such as bacon or love. The winner received a farm-to-table dinner for 10.
Floor-to-ceiling mirrors reflect 2,700 square feet of glossy, hardwood floors ringing with the staccato of dancing high heels. Brass poles sprout from the floor, supporting whirling women as they learn sensual routines and build upper-body strength by suspending themselves skyward.
Pole Control Studios' owner, a seasoned performer with a BA in sports science, designs programs that scale up in difficulty while centering around fitness. The studio inducts exercisers in the flirtatious art with an introductory class, where each dancer learns correct posture, transition work, and how to use high heels to tap out Morse code. From there, guests foray into more than 75 types of empowering fitness classes that build on the basics, imparting techniques for climbing, controlled spins, or inversions. Pole Fit and Sensual Stretch supplement pole-dancing prowess with intense cardio, squats, lunges, and body-elongating posework.
The aromas of Indian and Himalayan spices mingle in the kitchen at Royal Masala Restaurant and Bar, where chefs simmer curries and roast lamb and prawns in a tandoor. Guests dive into specialties such as flavorful biryanis, creamy chicken tikka masala, and vegetarian stuffed naan. They savor these dishes in an elegant, comfortable dining room with brick walls and a central chandelier.
Masala Wok's expansive menu features an assortment of Asian and Indian culinary concoctions crafted with fresh veggies, meats, and spices. Journeys down the Spice Road can embark with an appetizer of zesty battered chicken lollipops, an Indian take on wings ($4.99 for four, $8.49 for eight). Palates access subcontinental delicacies such as the spicy southern curry with red-pepper-bedecked fish, shrimp, chicken, lamb, or paneer in a mustard-coconut sauce ($8.99) or head for steamy Southeast Asian environs with the Thai-influenced spicy basil plate ($8.50 for chicken, $8.35 for paneer, $9.50 for shrimp or fish). Chefs stir-fry orange chicken with scallions and carrots in orange sauce ($8.50) and whittle skewers from stolen sorcerers' wands for the enchanting chicken malai kebab—yogurt-marinated boneless chicken kebabs grilled with cheese, spices, and cilantro and served with rice and naan ($8.99).
Golden-fried clam strips, fantail shrimp, and bay scallops anchor the tables at J’s Crabshack (formerly Tinker’s), sending up clouds of steam next to hearty steak and lobster dinners. Founded by chef and scallop fisherman James Tinker more than 20 years ago, J’s Crabshack has grown into a bustling seafood hotspot, where an aquarium teeming with eels and tropical fish overlooks the dining area. The shack’s market counter dishes out freshly snagged raw shrimp and scallops, earning recognition as runner-up for best fish market in Hartford from the Hartford Advocate in 2011. The restaurant’s culinary team, which includes James Tinker II in its ranks, works diligently to serve guests in the ocean-themed catering hall, then sticks around to burp everyone postmeal.