Favorite restaurants of 2010

Diners have lunch at The Mystic Boathouse restaurant in Mystic. Day restaurant reviewer Katie Warchut says the former Jamm's restaurant got a makeover this year and now offers diners a warm and welcoming atmosphere, an extensive drink selection and reliably good seafood, burgers and more.
Diners have lunch at The Mystic Boathouse restaurant in Mystic. Day restaurant reviewer Katie Warchut says the former Jamm's restaurant got a makeover this year and now offers diners a warm and welcoming atmosphere, an extensive drink selection and reliably good seafood, burgers and more. Sean D. Elliot / The Day Buy Photo

From Mystic to New Haven and from Westerly to Chester, The Day's restaurant reviewers pick their favorites of the year:

THE MYSTIC BOATHOUSE, MYSTIC

If you're a local who normally avoids the Mystic tourist district off I-95, the Mystic Boathouse will change that. The former Jamm's restaurant was made over this year into a place that's warm and welcoming with nautical touches. The highlight is its beautiful wood bar with an extensive drink selection. The menu itself is not necessarily out of the ordinary, but it offers reliably good seafood, burgers, pizza and more. The raw oysters tasted fresh, and the mussels tender in a lemon butter broth. Their lamb chops were nicely pink inside, topped with a sweet fig jam and garlicky pesto. Whether you're going for drinks, casual or upscale food, the Mystic Boathouse will deliver.

- Katie Warchut

CABO TEQUILA GRILL, CHESTER

It's a wonderfully quaint little spot in the picturesque downtown area, and the margaritas possess great charm and kick. As an appetizer, the grilled shrimp tostada featured five giant crustaceans with exotic spices, mango and avocado. From the entree choices, the tilapia tacos, with planks of delicately fried fish and crisp corn tortilla shells, and the fat verde enchiladas, with stewed chicken and a thick, homemade tomatillo sauce, were true winners.

- Rick Koster

TERRA MAR GRILL, OLD SAYBROOK

Three reasons to go for brunch at Terra Mar Grill at Saybrook Point Inn in Old Saybrook: the view, the variety, and the plush hominess of the inn.

Any seat in the dining room offers views of Saybrook Point Marina and Long Island Sound, which makes any large meal settle better in the belly. "Brunch" here means more than three dozen meal options and a mountainous dessert table - from Eggs Benedict and Chicken Marbella to salads, cakes, pies, and cookies. And scones. And rolls. And muffins.

Brunch is set up in one of the inn's many banquet rooms, so brunchers need to travel back and forth to load up their plates. Which is fine, because the walking makes room for more, and the inn is so warm and welcoming, you feel like a guest wandering around in a well-to-do host's home. It's a feast for all five senses, so save up some cash ($30 a person).

-Marisa Nadolny

SEASONS AT THE OCEAN HOUSE, WATCH HILL

It was with trepidation that a friend and I dined at Seasons during the fall. After all, word-of-mouth this summer gave little reason for hope for this Watch Hill newcomer. But after the first bite of a complimentary amuse bouche I was certain we were in good hands. That first meal, with local seafood, game and vegetables, and impeccable service, was, simply, perfect. Dinner for five on the Saturday following Thanksgiving, when everyone has a valid excuse for exhaustion, was only slightly less satisfying. Here, at last, is the ambitious kitchen where you can take your parents for that special occasion, or just eat splendid food while gazing at the ocean. If management can sustain this quality, competition for tables during the high season should become extremely tight. Save your shekels as the experience is worth every one of them.

- Charles T. Clark

WHISTLE STOP CAFE, DEEP RIVER

I only have a few requirements when eating out for breakfast and the Whistle Stop fulfills all of them: 1) breakfast served through the afternoon; 2) some interesting, quality ingredients; and 3) crispiness in my bacon and potatoes. The Whistle Stop is tiny, but cozy, feeling as if you just came down for breakfast in your own kitchen. The menu ranges from traditional breakfasts to egg dishes with goat cheese, roasted red peppers, smoked salmon, and artichokes. We loved the Neptune eggs benedict with cream cheese and crab meat and a special with a potato pancake (crispy, of course), horseradish cheddar and beautifully runny eggs. The cinnamon bun French toast and homemade corned beef hash will undoubtedly bring us back again.

- Katie Warchut

CAPTAIN'S PIZZA, NEW LONDON

One of only 6 million mom 'n' pop pizza/grinder joints in southeastern Connecticut, the latest version of Captain's, with new owners, is a veritable standout. For one thing, their crisp-crust Italian style pizza menu features a true New England rarity - a green olive topping option - that makes any pie combo a heavenly thing. The grinders are huge with fresh, chewy bread and heaped ingredients. The dining room overlooking the Parade and the train station is clean, and the staff is warm and welcoming. This Captain is here to stay.

- Rick Koster

CASA DELLA LUCE, WESTERLY

Ignore the strip mall location. Two chefs who worked together at David Burke Prime at Foxwoods - Mark Lacz and Kyle Beausoleil - have been making some great Italian dishes and gourmet pizzas amid Westerly's commercial Route 1 since they opened this year. They kept the flavors of the bacon cheeseburger pizza just right, and managed to keep the roasted red potato pizza from being too heavy. But more than just pizza, an array of homemade pasta dishes make for a more sophisticated meal, despite a casual atmosphere. Highlights on our trip were the arancini or crispy risotto balls, filled with peas and gooey cheese; baked pesto gnocchi with sweet roasted tomatoes and dollop of ricotta and a broccoli and cheddar risotto.

- Katie Warchut

THALI TOO, NEW HAVEN

My wife is a vegetarian. Bafflingly, most of my friends have become vegetarians. With great reluctance, then, I agreed to accompany several of these freaks to Thali Too, an Indian Vegetarian restaurant of some renown. Before I got in the car, I was given an airport security-style body search to make sure I wasn't sneaking in any Slim-Jims. Tell you what, though: this was a fine experience. A wide variety of Bombay street vendor snacks - Tiffins - made-to-order breads and basmatic rice specials gave us plenty to sample, and Ragda patties (with roasted cumin, chutney, ginger-potatoes and chick peas) was superb.

- Rick Koster

GOLDEN CHOPSTIX, WESTERLY

Am I dreaming? Pinch me! After five terrific dinners at Golden Chopstix, I'm hard-pressed to remember a single meal at any of the restaurant's regional Chinese competition. The small plates of dim sum are pretty and packed with flavor, with Eggplant Home style and pan-fried Leek and Scallion dumplings among the many home runs. If you're brave, this is the place to try chicken feet and fish maw (a kind of bladder, but don't recoil). Baby bok choy glisten, and snap when you bite into them; snow pea shoots are stir fried with garlic and come in a glorious emerald heap. The staff is superb - they light up when asked for recommendations so don't be shy. Snub General Tso and request the Chinese menu for authentic dishes you simply can't find outside our big cities. It's a modest miracle.

- Charles T. Clark

HEIRLOOM, AT THE STUDY

AT YALE, NEW HAVEN

You don't have to spend the night at The Study at Yale to feel perfectly comfortable at its in-house restaurant, Heirloom.

The geography helps. The Study at Yale, New Haven's newest boutique hotel, is tucked away on the quieter end of Chapel Street amid Yale Gothica, museums, shops and coffee houses. It's like coming home to the ultimate city-loft apartment - one with its own coffee bar.

The creature comforts continue on the well-planned menu. Homey items like macaroni and cheese flavored with ham hock; tomato soup (with cheddar croutons); crab cakes; salads; and items like Croque Provencal (a hot ham and cheese sandwich with tomato) await the lunch crowd, while the dinner menu features old-fashioned updates like cider-braised pork chops, lamb loin chop, filet mignon, and Atlantic salmon. (Small-plate versions of lunch and dinner items are available at the bar.)

But don't stop there - dessert awaits, along with a selection of sweet wines, port and brandy. Sometimes a night out just isn't quite over until the caramel cheesecake, Calvados, and tawny port have been served.

Or there's always the Bulldog brownie - this is Yale territory after all.

- Marisa Nadolny

RESTAURANT L & E, CHESTER

A cumbersome name (it's complete moniker is Restaurant L & E and French 75 Bar) but a welcome addition to the Chester dining scene and a relief, since it replaced the memorable and romantic Restaurant du Village, which vanished far too soon.

We enjoyed our series of beautifully prepared and flavorful small plates and look forward to returning this winter. Memorable dishes included fried oysters in a smoky Remoulade and a fitting combination of monkfish, lobster and Jerusalem artichokes in a light tomato sauce.

A plump and tender poussin with pureed celery root seemed the essence of spring. Desserts were novel.

Our warm banana bread was joined by maple walnut ice cream and a delicious bitter caramel sauce. Management has kept du Village's cozy bar and the dining room is, if anything, just as pretty as it was in the past.

- Charles T. Clark

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