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Party for One - Firebox in Hartford

For women business travelers, it's often a "party of one" - so why not make the best of it? Full and busy day with clients, then off to an enjoyable dinner - a mid-week date night with yourself. Firebox Restaurant in Hartford was the perfect fit.

Located south of downtown in Frog Hollow, in the Billings Forge Community Works founded by the Melville Charitable Trust to revitalize the neighborhood, Firebox is an unlikely location for a high-end dining experience. And if you're not a local, you may not think to venture into an urban renewal zone to do just that. It's housed in the repurposed red-brick complex of a former manufacturing company and provides job training in the culinary arts, a community garden and artists' studios as well as operating a farmer's market, catering business, bakery cafe and the noted Firebox Restaurant. 

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Before taking on the Billings Forge venture, Executive Director Carey Wheaton owned five award-winning restaurants in Cambridge, Massachusetts, including her partnership in the trend-setting East Coast Grill with nationally known chef, cookbook author and food impresario Chris Schlesinger back in the 1980s.

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So back to the dining experience - it starts with valet parking, always a bonus for a solo womantraveler, then moved on to a fantastic table just off the kitchen - with a bird's-eye view of the bar and the restaurant action (i.e., service at other tables), which Womantraveler loves, but not noisy, crowded or impersonal.

The migration - from Blue Point oysters to a duck breast so tender as to melt in the mouth and presented in a reduction with winter vegetables, served at the waiter's suggestion with a rich red wine blend (Cabernet Franc, Grenache and Syrah from Les Baux, France). Suffice it to say, I kept ordering for over 2 hours of smartly designed dishes with expert preparation and service. 

All in all, an uplifting story, premier dining and the promise of changed lives through education, training and meaning in a community.

Also in the area:

Lodging - Avon Old Farms Hotel, 279 Avon Mountain Road, Avon 800-836-4000. - comfortable colonial-style rooms and lovely woodsy setting; versatile dining and pub options at the Seasons Restaurant so you don't have to go offsite for an excellent meal and sincere service.a

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besides Firebox downtown and Seasons, 10 miles west in Avon, we like Max-A-Mia, for casual Italian dining, including a pleasant patio, 70 East Main Street, Rte. 44, in Avon -