April 19, 2014

A Feast of Nibbles – Part II

Lee White (left) is a resident of Old Lyme in a section of town where she and her house are the oldest members.  She has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976 and has been extensively published in the Worcester (Mass.) Magazine, The Day, Norwich Bulletin, and Hartford Courant.  She currently writes Nibbles and a cooking column called A La Carte for the Times and Shore Publishing newspapers, and Elan, a quarterly magazine, all of which are now owned by The Day. 

Chaplin’s
165 Bank Street New London, CT 06320
Tel: 860-443-0684

A couple of weeks ago, friends invited me to Chaplin’s in New London for dinner.  I arrived and saw friends from Norwich there, too.  I found my friends visiting with the owners of Muddy Waters who were dining, too.
 
Once we five were at our table, we ordered all the appetizers (five appetizers and two salads), four entrees and both of the desserts.  All were incredibly good, but the most amazing were the appetizers.

Before they arrived, we shared toasted bread with a zippy salsa.  Appetizers included calamari with hot peppers, lobster cakes, crab cakes, mussels, a Caesar and another I can’t remember.

Owner/chef Jack (who once owned a place in Bozrah called Daddy Jack) truly knows how to season fresh, fresh ingredients.  All menu items are reasonably priced and delicious.

By the way, I ate halibut amandine.  Never had a nicer piece of fish, ever.

Octagon at the Mystic Marriott Hotel and Spa
625 North Road Groton, CT
Tel: 860-326-0360

A few weeks I was invited to a wine dinner at Octagon, that gorgeous restaurant at the Mystic Marriott.  It was a lovely five-course dinner created by the hotel’s executive chef, Steve Rosen, to complement incredible wine from Stonington’s Jonathan Edwards Winery.

As the steak entrée was served, my friend Elise made a visit to the powder room.  I took my first taste of the truffled mashed potatoes, then my second and my third and my fourth.  When Elise returned, I asked if she wanted her potatoes (she rarely eats carbs).  I took hers and gave her my steak.  Those mashed potatoes are still in my taste memory.
 
After the dinner, I asked Steve how he makes them. “Black truffles and white truffle oil,” he said.  What, I asked, gave the potatoes a bit of a kick?  Just a tiny bit of Tabasco sauce, he replied. 

The mashed potatoes are not with all the restaurant’s entrees, but beg and whine and maybe you can get some, too.

Stella D’Oro
1231 Boston Post Road (Rte. 1) Old Saybrook, CT
Tel: 860-388-6590

We loved to go to Stella D’Oro even when we lived in northeastern Connecticut, when Nancy and Andy took us, although with a group of Morgan owners, back in the early 90s.  When they called last week and suggested we eat there before going to see “Crazy Heart” at the Madison cinema, I looked forward to it.

After dinner I was even happier.  I ordered the chicken piccata, and it was one of the best I tasted in years.  The three thin slices of chicken was sauced with white wine, capers and a little butter (or maybe a little more butter), along with sautéed spinach.  I ate every bit.

Today, a few days later, I pine for it.
 
I may have to make another trip this week.

A Feast of Nibbles – Part 1

 Lee White (left) is a resident of Old Lyme in a section of town where she and her house are the oldest members.  She has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976 and has been extensively published in the Worcester (Mass.) Magazine, The Day, Norwich Bulletin, and Hartford Courant.  She currently writes Nibbles and a cooking column called A La Carte for the Times and Shore Publishing newspapers, and Elan, a quarterly magazine, all of which are now owned by The Day. 

P.F. Chang’s Chinese Bistro,
West Farms Mall, Farmington CT 06032
Tel: 860-561-0097

I’ve read about P.F. Change’s China Bistro (there are 200 in all, but probably more by the time you read this), but I was happy to see that there is one of the restaurants at West Farms Mall in Connecticut (there is one in Stamford, too).  On a recent shopping excursion, a friend and I (she had been to many, she said—I had not) decided to have an early dinner there.

While I visited the ladies’ room, she ordered the Chang’s chicken lettuce wrap, explaining when I returned that everyone orders these and everybody likes them.  (Sure enough, our waitress said more then half of all the customers add them—I’m sure that percentage will rise once more locals visit the restaurant.)

This appetizer, which we shared, was as yummy as I had heard.  Chopped chicken is mixed in with lots of veggies and nestles atop tiny thin rice noodles.  What we do is take a leaf of iceberg lettuce, plop the chicken mixture, rice noodles and one of three different sauce on top  (Chinese mustard, a spicy chile oil, soy sauce, or a combination of all or none), wrap the package tight and chop away.  It was terrific.

Was the rest of the meal as good?  Not really, but the lettuce wraps are worth a trip anyway.

By the way, there is a recipe for the wraps on www.recipezaar.com if you want to try this at home.

Zinc
964 Chapel Street, New Haven CT 06510
Tel: 203-624-0507

A few weeks ago, my friend Elise and I went to Yale Repertory’s commedia dell’Arte “A Servant of Two Masters,” which I loved, but Elise and other friends also there that night did not think was so wonderful (I think it was the modern touches, maybe).

On the other hand, Elise and I had an incredible dinner at Zinc before the theater.  I hadn’t been to Zinc in a decade and I can’t really remember what I had, but that night I had two small plates (burrata mozzarella and house-cured salmon gravlax, dried like thin slices of pastrami) that I thought delicious, and the dessert sent me over the moon.

The dessert?  A parfait filled with house-made Tahitian vanilla ice cream, caramelized bananas and spiced rum-soaked raisins.  I think there was a little more than a little hot chili powder in there, too.  Not for everyone, maybe, but I can’t wait to have it again.

Muddy Waters Cafe
42 Bank Street, New London CT 06320
Tel: 860-444-2232

Not too long after we moved to Connecticut, we visited a restaurant called Hughie’s in New London.  As we alit from our car in the restaurant’s parking lot, the smell of garlic wafted under our noses.  While there was plenty of Italian food at Hughie’s, along with our genial host, Hughie Devlin, what we longed for was the Love Salad, created by Hughie’s mother who was the restaurant’s chef. 

Hughie’s was lost to us when New London acquiesced to Pfizer’s “request” that homes and businesses be razed for its corporate campus.  And we know how that worked out.

But the Love Salad, like the phoenix, rose from the ashes and twice in one week I had two of them.  The lettuce is fresh and bracingly cold, chunks of tomato tasted almost like summer, the slices of Genoa salami and provolone blanket the lettuce and the vinaigrette is perfect, simply perfect, under a snow of Parmesan.

Muddy Waters gives you two big slices of garlic bread on top of the salad, and a plate with some more.  There is superb coffee and also offered are other non-alcoholic drinks, muffins, cookies, H&H bagels and other breakfast treats and big sandwiches—plus music some evenings.

I will try the rest of the restaurant’s food, but, oh, that Love Salad … especially when Hughie Devlin sits and has lunch with me!