Turning the Tide: Harbour House is a splendid new incarnation
The transformation of the Inn at Mystic's former Flood Tide Restaurant into the new Harbour House brought some changes to the landmark establishment.
There's a new deck from which diners may take in spectacular views of Long Island Sound and Fishers Island. The large bar area opens onto that deck and offers live music and a weekday happy hour, complete with half-price appetizers, from 3 to 6 p.m.
But the most striking thing about the latest incarnation is what hasn't changed: the casual, elegant atmosphere, and the commitment to great food and service that were so indicative of the original Flood Tide. This, along with a menu that brings together local, seasonal seafood and the creative mind of a chef, make Harbour House an exciting addition to the local dining scene.
We first visited for brunch, served 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. The brunch menu is a combination of items from the breakfast and lunch menus, with the addition of some of the regular appetizers and flatbreads. It ranges from Ahi Tuna Tacos, three for $12, to a Breakfast Flatbread, with scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, cheddar and fresh mozzarella, $10.
On a clear, bright Sunday morning, we ordered Flood Tide Crepes, which come as a pair, filled with "sweet, fresh lobster meat, mushrooms and shallots in a Madeira wine cream sauce," $13; and Smoked Pork Belly "Bacon," "cured and cast iron roasted with house made cranberry apple mostarda," $9. That was followed by Day Boat Flatbread, topped with Alfredo sauce, Stonington scallops, and a mix of asiago and aged parmigiano reggiano cheeses, $13, and the Ahi Tuna Salad, "sesame crusted, seared Ahi tuna, baby greens, fried Japanese noodles" served with wasabi vinaigrette and tamari dipping sauce, $14.
The crepes were indeed filled with sweet, fresh lobster, not overstuffed but plenty for the price. The Madeira cream sauce was decadent and rich, setting a high standard for the meal.
These were matched by the pork belly, thick slices of rich, fatty, porky luxury that was perfectly complemented by the tart, sweet mostarda. It was as if a familiar holiday pork roast with cranberry relish was given a creative twist, with this as the result. It tasted festive - like Christmas on a plate.
By itself, the Ahi salad was sharp and salty from the wasabi and the tamari, rather one-note. However, although ordered by chance, it paired well with the very rich and cheesy Day Boat Flatbread and its slices of silky, sweet, perfectly cooked scallops, all atop a thin, crisp and chewy crust. I would be very happy to eat this every day.
Our next visit was for dinner on a chilly Thursday night, and the place was hopping. The bar was full and spirits were high. Happy hour had just ended and later, there would be live music. We were seated in the lower dining room with windows that face the pool. Some of the tables here feature window seats topped with comfy, blue cushions. These afford a view of the upper dining room and the overall bustle of the place.
Despite the level of activity and the different atmospheres in each of the dining areas, our little table came with plenty of quiet. We didn't have to shout to be heard, yet we also could enjoy the feeling of dining in a happening place.
We started with the draft beer menu and its 24 options. My husband opted for a Massachusetts brew, Clown Shoes Hoppy Feet, $9, and I went with the Founders All Day IPA, $7. Harbour House also has a large wine list and a generous selection of specialty martinis, $10-$12, and cocktails, $9-$12.
Tucked into our basket of complimentary focaccia bread was a small canister of dark grains, described by our server as apple wood-smoked salt. With the flavored olive oil on our table, the salt made for a delicious, smoky dip for our bread, very nice with our beer.
From the specials menu, we ordered the soup, Butternut Squash Bisque, $8. Another special, Grilled Pesto Shrimp Flatbread, $13, caught my eye but I turned to the regular appetizer menu instead for Stonington Harbour Bommers, $12, scallops wrapped with bacon in a pomegranate molasses glaze.
We thought we should sample a salad and settled on splitting the wedge, $10. We finished with two entrees from the specials menu, a grilled pork chop in an apple brandy-dijon cream sauce, $26, and the 14-ounce apple wood-smoked prime rib of beef with horseradish cream sauce, $24.
The golden-orange squash bisque was topped with a white swirl of fresh cream, reminiscent of a fancy coffee. The sweet yet savory soup was a taste of fall, as were the fresh, local scallops, tender and smoky from the bacon.
The wedge salad - topped with diced tomato, sliced shallots, bacon pieces, blue cheese crumbles and balsamic vinegar - was adequate, as was the pork chop. Although its brandy-Dijon sauce was tasty, the meat itself was quite bland.
The prime rib, however, arrived perfectly cooked to order and full of flavor. Both entrees were accompanied by a delicious saute of snap peas, carrots and tiny green beans, and a pile of delicious roasted potatoes, crispy on the outside and creamy in the middle.
All in all, Harbour House appears to have raised the bar when it comes to pleasing its diverse clientele, whether they stay at the hotel year after year or stop by for a quick bite after work, whether they're celebrating a special occasion or coming in for a weekday breakfast. And they seem to have done it while keeping a respectful eye on what came before.
Harbour House Restaurant at the Inn at Mystic
3 Williams Ave., Mystic
(860) 536-9604; www.innatmystic.com
Cuisine: Eclectic mix of seasonal, local seafood with American classics
Atmosphere: Casually elegant
Service: Friendly, skilled
Prices: Breakfast and brunch, $6-$18; appetizers and flatbreads, $8-$13; dinner entrees, $12-$35
Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Credit cards: Yes
Handicapped access: Once inside, interior dining areas on many different levels.
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