Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Bee And Thistle Inn

Located in Old Lyme.

Our evening did not begin auspiciously.
We arrived timely for our 7:30 reservation. Our hostess, a very young-teenager?-girl directed us politely, but without explanation to a nicely appointed ante room.
We seated ourselves on the sofa facing the blazing fireplace.And waited.
Eventually the girl returned and offered us drinks. We waited. The young man who would be our server brought our drinks.
Finally, we inquired as to the status of our table and were promptly seated.

The Bee & Thistle is another Connecticut charmer.
Decorated simply and traditionally, elegant without being pretentious, it oozes New England.

We had another good Sancerre.

I started with the quail with carmelized squash and roasted grapes. I had never had quail before, and did not know what to expect. It was excellent, having a nice grilled flavor. The squash and grapes were a nice accompaniment.
My wife had the goat cheese and heirloom tomato salad. While it was certainly good, the cheese was nice and creamy, it was nothing to write home about.

For mains, I had the pistachio and dijon encrusted rack of lamb, and my wife had the diver scallops.

The lamb ranks as the best I have had. Perfectly cooked, nicely flavored, excellent.
My goat cheese stuffed red bliss potatoes were also excellent.
It's one of the better meals I've had.

My wife had the diver scallops...unfortunately. We both love scallops. What's not to love about these sweet, succulent sea dwellers.
However, these scallops tasted "fishy." Perhaps they had been stored in too close a proximity to some fish. Shame.

For dessert, I had the lemon custard sponge cake, being a fan of all things lemon. It did not disappoint. Nice, lemony without being overpowering. Lovely.
My wife had the pear ginger crisp and was well satisfied.

All in all, a nice meal.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Copper Beech Inn

Located in Ivoryton.

The Copper Beech Inn is one of those special places which lend New England its charm.
Nestled away in a small rural town, there is no reason not to want to come to the Copper Beech.
We came to eat.

The dining room is warm and comfortable. Appointed nicely, but ultimately unassuming. Comfortable in its own skin, if you will.

Another meal, another Sancerre. I love this wine, as it never disappoints.

To start, I chose the pork belly with a black garlic glaze, cucumber pickled radish-cilantro, and scallion pancake; my wife, the Grilled Cheese Sandwich: oxtail, Pleasant Ridge Reserve cheese, black truffles, horseradish foam and smoked mushrooms.

My pork belly was good; loved the pickled radish.
However, the scallion pancake was awful: thin, hard and dry.

Ah, but now the grilled cheese: the best! One of the best dishes my wife and I have ever eaten. Simply lovely.

For mains we had the halibut with almond puree, ricotta gnocchi and sorels and morels; and the veal chop with cheddar croquette and spring onion salad.

Both were very good, nicely prepared and tasty.

But it's the grilled cheese we'll remember.

Bill's Seafood Restaurant

Located in Westbrook.

This classic seafood joint sits on the Patchogue River adjacent to the "Singing Bridge" in Westbrook.
They don't take reservations, and they dont take credit cards.
So show up early on a Friday or Saturday night, especially if you expect to sit outside on the deck, and bring cash.
The primary draw of Bills is the outdoor seating on the deck with its multitude of picnic tables.
Summertime on the shoreline does not get better than this.
And a lot of people are onto that fact. Which is why you'll have to queue up and expect a wait of about 30 minutes for you table, if you arrive at the height of dinner hour.

Inside you won't find anything special, except maybe the Dixieland jazz band, and the old couple dancing.
The room is relatively dark, with substantial old wooden tables and a nautical theme throughout.
But the deck is where you want to be. Fortunately, you'll be lined up near the bar, so enjoy a cocktail while you wait.

Once seated, you will find the wait staff attentive and quick, given the size of their audience.
Our waitress brought drinks for two tables, and took our order with only one hand free.
Bill knows how to turn tables.

I ordered the New England Clam Chowder, and a special, Jamaican Jerk Swordfish on a bed of greens with the house vinagrette.
My wife chose the seafood chowder and mussels in a white sauce.

Complaint: my chowder was only just warm.
Compliment: my wife's seafood chowder was excellent. Perfectly balanced, and not too fishy.

My wife's mussels were also very good.

Now, to my swordfish. There was nothing Jamaican or Jerky about it. I doubt it had ever even been introduced to a habanero.
However, it was seasoned nicely and cooked to near perfection.
The vinagrette was slightly sweet and very tasty.

For dessert, you can visit Ashley's Ice Cream located on the same property.

Overall, a very good dining experience.

Sunday, April 5, 2009


Located in Old Saybrook.

Attached to the Country Barn Furniture store on Main Street, Aspen is dining in a slightly upscale, but still relaxed atmosphere.

The dining room is modern, but still warm with it's earth tone appointments.

Though it's a tiny bit noisy, the menu reassures you that you are not in a typical Friday night grille.
It's more lively than loud.

Not surprisingly, seafood offerings are prominent on the bill of fare. Certainly this is not unusual in a shoreline New England town.

Appetizers include grilled tiger shrimp, the ubiquitous clam chowder, calamari, yellow fin tuna, and lump crab cakes.

I started with the pan seared foie gras, I seem to always start with foie gras, served with a brioche crouton, pear marmalade and a cherry reduction.
My wife ordered the grilled hearts of romaine salad with pancetta and dill and avocado dressing.

We were offered bread, but had to ask our server for bread plates.
The bread came with a very nice, creamy butter.

My foie gras was very tasty, no complaints, but not the best I've had.
My wife was served the wrong salad, and debated whether to have this error corrected.
Thank goodness she did. The grilled hearts of romaine she had served as proof that not all salads are created equal.
Lovely flavor, it put in the mind of a nice steak!

For mains, I had the braised pork shank with parmesan polenta, roccolini, and rich red wine veal jus; my wife, the seared monkfish medallions truffled potato gnocchi, brussel sprouts, and brown butter with lemon sauce.

Now, I am of the opinion that any thing braised should simply fall apart with moist succulence simply when you look at; and though the meat did fall off the bone, it was not as moist as I would preferred, though the flavor was fine, if subtle. The polenta with veal jus was fantastic.
My wife's monkfish was also slightly overcooked but still good. The truffled gnocchi was, to my taste, overpowering, but she enjoyed it.

Again, we had a white wine from the San Cerre region of France and it did not disappoint.

For desert, I had the chocolate bombe, which was rich, creamy chocolately goodness.

So, the shoreline now has a nice addition to its fine dining roster.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Lenny & Joe's Fish Tale

Located in Madison.

Not all Lenny & Joe's are created equal.
With 3 locations, two, including Madison, are counter service. Westbrook is family style, with a wait staff.

Lenny & Joe's, while a slight cut above, is still a roadside fish place.
And that's a good thing.

The fare is simple, affordable, and tasty.

Service is quite impressive at the Madison location.
We ordered and were given #63; they were serving #39 at the time. But within 10 minutes our order was up.

Your choices are the classics: shrimp, scrod, clams, lobster, rolls, and even a hotdog for the kids. Yes, Lenny & Joe's is kid friendly, with plenty of outdoor picnic tables and an ice cream stand, not to mention a carousel.

Inside, you're responsible for finding your own table. Don't be offended if other diners hover, waiting for you to leave. The place is popular and seats are at a premium.

You won't be overwhelmed with the decor, but who cares. That's not the point.

My wife and I got the fish and chips with a side of coleslaw; my son, the hotdog.

Your food is delivered on cardboard plates and styrofoam bowls. You carry it all on the big plastic tray.

The food, all of it, is good.
Roadside good.
And that's good stuff.
Perfect summertime stuff on the New England shore.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Fresh Taco

Located in New Haven.

Fresh Taco is definitely a take-out only place.
They have a couple of tables, but you feel like your intruding when seated.

I've eaten here a few times, and I'm disappointed to report that my most recent visit left me a bit dissatisfied.

I go there for one reason, and one reason only: the Tex-Mex Chili Taco.
Essentially, it's a bunch of greasy chili in a taco, with the ususal toppings.

And it's always been greasy goodness.

Unitl my last visit.

It was a bit bland.

And really, that was my only reason for going there.

Donovan's Reef

Located in Branford.

What those other guys only pretend to be: Your friendly neighborhood bar and grill.

Roomy, spacious, and dimly lit, Donovan's Reef isn't gourmet dining, but it is a good place to meet for a beer, maybe a burger, or even some of the steak, seafood, or pasta entrees they have on the menu.

There's plenty of bar space, what with a second one upstairs, and plenty of tables, a couple of those upstairs too.

They offer the usual fare: salads, wings, sandwiches, dips, get the idea.

Donovan's is a cut above any of those chains, and it's a bit nicer inside.

So support your local bar and grill!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Brasserie PIP

Located in Ivoryton.

Certainly not a brasserie strictly defined, but that's quibbling.
PIP, attached to the much-lauded Copper Beech Inn, is the little brother to the main dining room.

The Inn is a typically nice, moderately upscale New England Inn.

Nice dining in a nice atmosphere.
Not formal, but not too casual either.

This was our first visit to the Copper Beech, but we will most assuredly return.

As it was Valentine's Day, we were offered the $75 4 course prix fixe menu.
Though, as my wife pointed out, calling it 4 courses may have been a bit cheeky, as the second course was a one-bite palate cleanser.
But, again, that's quibbling.

Service was prompt, courteous and knowledgeable throughout the evening.

We ordered the Sancerre Sauvignon Blanc.
I know next to nothing about wines, but this was excellent. Bright, crisp, fruity. Just lovely.

On offer for starters were Wellfleet Oysters, Squash Bisque, Arugula Salad, and Sear Foie Gras.
My wife chose the bisque, I the foie gras.

My wife enjoyed the bisque, and it was tasty, but the curried pumpkin was a bit much for me.
The seared foie gras, served with a pistachio tuile, pickled apples, blackberry jam and french toast, was excellent. It melted in the mouth.

Three one bites were offered. I chose the picked beets with goat cheese, my wife the blood orange bellini.
Both were on point. Especially the beets. Beets are a vastly underrated, underused ingredient.
So, the next time you see beets on a menu, try them.

Next up where the entrees. We decided on the Roasted Chicken with carmelized onion-cheddar bread pudding, royal trumpet mushrooms and mustard jus; and Organic Salmon with a cider-bacon braised cabbage, and smoked potatoes.

My fish was excellent, perfectly cooked, and slightly sweet from the honey-mustard glaze. The cabbage was also good, but the potatoes fell short as I tasted no smoke.
The chicken was good, though not the best we've had, but we both appreciated the bread pudding effort, which was also nice.

For dessert I chose the lemon tart as I love all things lemon, and my wife chose the brown butter chocolate cake.
My wife lodged the minor complaint that her cake was a bit dry, but other than this, both were very good. The creme fraiche ice cream served with my tart was a nice touch.

All in all, a very nice evening.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Porky Pete's Barbecue & Fixins

Located in Essex.

There two wonderful things about barbecue: 1) When it's done right, it's downright delicious; and 2) With a little practice, anyone can do it right.

Porky Pete's does it right.

Humbly located in the building which also houses the Essex Mart Citgo gas station, Porky Pete's exists solely to to serve up good pulled pork barbecue sandwiches and St Louis style ribs, with a few "Southern Sides."

Since there are no seats, it is, by default, no-frills take-out only.

Inside, there is simply a counter, to which it taped the non-extensive menu.
On the walls behind the counter are various album covers of 60's rockers, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, like that.

We ordered pulled pork sandwiches, coleslaw and potato salad.
Other sides, cornbread and baked beans among them, are offered.

The potato salad is basic, a little dry, with a few red peppers.
The coleslaw is of the finely chopped variety, no vinegar, and nicely oniony.

The pulled pork is very smoky, and, unusual for barbecue pork, a bit hot. Which is fine, as it's very tasty.

So, if you find yourself on Route 153, between Interstate 95 and Highway 9, give Porky Pete's a try. It's worth it.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Craftsteak At MGM Grand At Foxwoods

Located in Ledyard.

Craftsteak is celebrity chef Tom Colicchio's gift to Connecticut.

It's the incredible taste, not the exorbidant prices, which make it such a gift.

Mr Colicchio is co-host of Bravo's Top Chef.

He also owns other properties in New York.

On our lone visit so far, my wife and I took along her mother.

The dining room is, of course, large(it's in a casino, afterall), and nicely appointed.

The menu features, as you might expect, steak.

But these aren't your garden variety steaks.

These are the grass fed, corn fed, wagyu variety.

Now, if you're like me, you think there's nothing terribly special about steak.Oh sure, it tastes great. But you can accomplish that at home, simply by buying a prime rib-eye and throwing it on the grill. I never order steaks at restaurants; and consider Outback a really great scam.

That's what I had always thought, and practiced.

I was wrong. And so are you.

In other words, if you think you know don't.

I started with fresh bacon(Colicchio's terminology for pork belly), my wife with hamachi, my mother-in-law with a Caesar salad.

The salad was fine, as expected.

I don't care much, at all, for raw fish, so I'm no judge of the hamachi, but my wife enjoyed it.

My pork belly was good, but I have to admit, I've had the Hole In The Wall Pub in Little Wilbraham, England.

Onto the mains.

I had a grade 11 wagyu New York strip steak, my wife the skirt steak, and mother-in-law the corn fed filet Mignon(she committed the sin of ordering it well. She knows better, being a test cook for Delia Smith, but cannot bring herself to eat steak with even a hint of pink.)

Sides are served family style, meaning one order will feed 2-3 people.
I wasn't buying this, so we ordered 3 sides: fingerling potatoes with bacon, Tokyo turnips, and cippolini onions.

The food arrived.
Oh, my!
Not only did I finish my 7 ounces of New York strip(at $30 per oz. I couldn't justify 8 ounces), but helped my wife finish her skirt steak.(And I'm not a big guy.) Impossible to describe the flavor, suffice it to say, you will never eat a better steak...ever!
My wife's steak was cooked well, after being ordered medium. Our server offered to return it to the kitchen, but suggested we taste it before doing so. It could not have been better. Or maybe it could have, but we didn't care!
The steaks were served with 3 sauces, the only one of which I remember was chimichuri.
Simply delicious.
I didn't care for the filet mingnon, but it was cooked well, so it's really not fair to judge it...and it wasn't wagyu, doubly unfair, perhaps.

The fingerling potatoes and bacon were excellent, as they should have been. Fingerlings have a dense, buttery texture, and bacon, well, it's bacon!
The cippolinis, roasted, were also excellent. Nicely caramelized. Very tasty.
The Tokyo turnips were so salty as to be inedible. But we didn't complain.

If you like steak, go!
If you love steak, go!
If you think you know steak...go!

Cafe Grounded

Located in Guilford.

A local breakfast and light lunch establishment, which also serves limited menu dinners Thursday-Saturday nights.

We have never sampled the lunch or dinner menus, so I can only speak to the breakfasts we've tried.

The restaurant is housed in an old airplane hanger-type building.
Think: the barracks in Gomer Pyle, USMC.

It's a relatively small space occupying two levels.

Downstairs, you can, in good weather, dine on the front patio.

Inside on the main floor are the counter, kitchen and a few tables.

We always opt to sit upstairs.

A few of the tables are indeed old airplane seats.
And I must say, they look very uncomfortable.

Otherwise, your choice of seating are of the bistro variety.

Choose your table carefully, as some are not level.

The food:

Ah, to a (displaced) southern boy, there are few things better than biscuits and gravy.
And Cafe Grounded serves, as a complete breakfast, some delicious, if very heavy, biscuits and gravy.

Easily my favorite thus far.

We've also tried the eggs, apple wood smoked bacon, sausage patties, home fries, and grilled veggies.
All are very tasty, especially the home fries, which have a hint of spice to them.

You won't be raving about the place, but you will know you can get a nice meal in a nice local place.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Madison Beach Hotel-Crow's Nest

Located in Madison.

The Madison Beach Hotel touts itself as "The Shoreline's Best Kept Secret."

It is.
And for good reason.

We live in the adjacent town, and until we happened upon it, quite by accident, on the internet, had never heard of it.

Given that shoreline dining opportunities are a rarity in Connecticut, we were, needless to say, quite excited at this find.

The hotel is located directly on the Madison beachfront.
Inside are the restaurant, The Wharf, and, upstairs, the Crow's Nest Lounge.
We opted for the lounge.
Since the food comes from the same kitchen, I'll assume that the Wharf food is just as awful as that of the Crow's Nest.

To start we ordered an antipasto plate.
This was abhorrent.
It had obviously been sitting out all day.
The Parmesan shavings were so rubbery as to be inedible.

And then it happened.
Our waitress, stood at the table with a list in her hand, comparing what was on the plate to the items on her list, ensuring that we were given exactly what we ordered.
It was the oddest dining moment I have ever been witness or party to.

We had both ordered the fish & chips.
These were awful, both the fish and chips.
The batter had been scorched.
The chips were of the frozen variety, and of the especially awful frozen variety.

It is very disappointing to find such a coveted piece of real estate occuppied buy such an awful dining establishment.

We will not return.

du'Glace Bistro & Patisserie

Located in Deep River.

Situated in the heart of Main St in a rustic red 100 year old building, du'Glace is certainly inviting from the outside.
The patisserie, which adjoins the bistro, is closed in the evenings.

Once inside, you notice a small bar area to your immediate right.
Directly ahead of you is the hostess station.
It appears that the waitresses take turns, when they are available, with the hostessing duties.
My wife had made our reservation for 7:30 Saturday night.
Our reservation could not be found by the first waitress.
Enter the second waitress. She found our reservation had been entered for Friday night.
"No problem," we were told.
No one had called to confirm our reservation.
She proceeded to seat us immediately.

The dining room is not small enoug to be called intimate, but it is cozy.
There are exposed blacks pipes and support beams overhead.
The walls are painted a creamy, slightly orange color.
Two of the three walls(the front is a window) are decorated sparingly.
The third has 3 painted murals. They are nice and not intrusive.

The menu is a 4"x11" laminated card.
My wife observed that this could mean the menu doesn't change that often.

Appetizers included frog legs, grilled garlic sausage, escargot, tomato and basil tart, and a bacon & leek among a few other offerings.
Also on offer was a chicory & bacon salad with warm vinaigrette.

My wife chose the bacon & leek tart, which also came with a side of mescalin salad; I chose the chicory & bacon salad.

Entrees included trout almondine, calves liver in a bacon cream sauce, sweetbreads in a creamy mushroom sauce, coq au vin, and steak frites, among others.

My wife chose the steak frites; and, deciding I could prepare liver to my satisfaction at home, I chose the sweetbreads.

The wine list is good, but nothing special.
I had a Riesling, my wife a pinot noir. Both perfectly acceptable.

Placed first on our table were two Gruyere choux pastry.
These, of course, were light and tasty.

Then our tiny bread loaves arrived, warm, but not freshly baked, though they were accompanied by some nice butter.

Our starters arrived.
My wife's bacon & leek tart was very good, though not exceptional.
My chicory & bacon salad was exceptional. The warm vinaigrette was nicely balanced, and the bacon-oh, my!-large slab bacon was smoky wonderfulness.
Full disclosure: I love the pig-his belly, his ribs, his bacon!

So, we're off to a good start.

Then the mains arrived.

Since the mains are served with no side dishes, I had ordered carrots vichy, having no idea what that meant.
It means mint. And I don't care for mint.
Mint should only appear in juleps and my toothpaste. But that was my fault.
The creamy mushroom sauce was rich and overpowering.
The portion was too large for finishing.

Now, the is their steak frites.
The cut was skirt, which my wife ordered medium.
It was prepared to order and was a nice piece of meat. Good steak.
However, the unpardonable sin of any bistro is frozen frites.
And these were frozen frites.
Forgettable but unforgivable.

For dessert my wife ordered the raspberry chocolate tart, and I had the chocolate bombe.
Both from the patisserie, we assume.

The desserts were winners.
And one of my pet peeves is the seeming unending trend of pairing raspberries with chocolate.
They worked well together in tart form.
My chocolate bombe was indeed nice. Creamy chocolate through and through.

All in all, not a horrible experience.
But the sub par entrees don't warrant a repeat visit.

We will, however, sample the patisserie when we are up that way again.