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Daybreak's Best of 2013: Restaurants

Day staff

Publication: The Day

Published December 25. 2013 4:00AM   Updated December 31. 2013 1:40PM

4 ROOSEVELT ASIAN BISTRO

4 Roosevelt Ave., Mystic

(860) 572-8700

http://4roosevelt.com

When I think of 4 Roosevelt, I immediately get a tingle in my nose, a remnant of the fiery and flavorful dishes I sampled for my review. From the life-altering papaya salad to the perfect shrimp curry, the preparations at 4 Roosevelt offer some of the highest expressions of basic ingredients I've had the pleasure to enjoy. We loved seven out of seven dishes sampled and have been recruiting friends to make the trip out to Mystic with us, just to add more dishes to the approved list. Factor in great ambience and friendly staff, and you've got greatness.

- Marisa Nadolny

11TH GREEN RESTAURANT AND PUB

Wood River Golf Course

78A Woodville Alton Road, Hope Valley, R.I.

(401) 364-0700

www.woodrivergolf.com

Lots of restaurants tout good food at affordable prices, but the 11th Green actually delivers. The dinner entrees here average about $15, and there's a good chance you'll take some home. And then there's the Wino Wednesday deal of two entrees and a bottle of wine for $29.95.

We've yet to have something that wasn't first rate but the most memorable are the veal saltimbocca, a glorious mixture of veal, prosciutto, mozzarella and mushrooms in a Marsala wine sauce; chicken risotto; and the best Rhode Island clam chowder I've ever had. The atmosphere at this family-run restaurant is laid back and casual.

- Tim Cotter

BLISS GOURMET

631 Boston Post Road, Westbrook

(860) 339-5392

www.blissgourmet.com

You might scoff at a place that calls itself Bliss, but scoff not at the name of this prepared foods and gourmet grocery market in Westbrook. If you offered miles of fresh-made pasta/orzo/green/quinoa salads, alongside fried ricotta balls, frittatas, sesame noodles, grinders, soups, baked goods and so very much more, wouldn't you feel justified in cutting to the chase in your venue title?

Meanwhile, shop the butcher counter if you prefer to prep your own steaks and seafood, or grab a coffee, a muffin and a seat at a cafe table if you've got time in which to truly enjoy your bliss. Then get up and start shopping the cold case where dinners, soups, salads and fun desserts and cheeses await your menu plan.

In short, here's my nickname for this place: Foodie Heaven.

- Marisa Nadolny

BUON APPETITO

386 Norwich-Westerly Road, North Stonington

(860) 535-2333

www.buonappetitoristorante.com

We might've been the last ones to discover this place. Or maybe not, if you haven't been there yet. When we went for dinner, the place was packed and many diners seemed to be regulars. The menu is extensive, ranging from calzones and pizzas to steaks, chops, seafood and Italian dishes. Everything, from the antipasto, to the entrees, especially the Stonington scallops and swordfish, and the desserts were excellent.

We returned for lunch, which was much more subdued, and I had a classic genoa grinder on a hard roll.

- Tim Cotter

FAT CAT GRILL & BAR

381 West Main St., Norwich

(860) 886-0054

Tucked in a strip mall on the main drag in Norwich, the Fat Cat is a welcome destination. You can sit in the totally comfy bar up front, the more family-friendly dining room in the rear or, if the weather's nice, a side patio. The menu is solid, well executed and representative of the host family Nousiopouls' Greek heritage. We loved such dishes as the Eggplant Florentine, a Greek quiche special, Chicken Oscar and a maple-mustard-teased roast beef panini. The staff is eager-to-please, and the bar is a pretty nice place to watch a ballgame.

- Rick Koster

GASPAR'S RESTAURANT

385 Bank St., New London

(860) 440-3663

www.gasparsnewlondon.com

If you're talking about the best restaurant in the city then Gaspar's is in the conversation. The kitchen does wonderfully creative things with fresh vegetables, seafood and beef, flavorful cheeses and a wide variety of vinaigrettes. We particularly enjoyed chili crusted shrimp, lobster ravioli and chicken caprese. The menu is on the small side, but that only left us feeling that great care went into our meals.

- Tim Cotter

ITALIAN EXPRESS

13 Hamilton St., New London

(860) 439-1444

www.italianexpressllc.com

They say all good things come to those who wait, and in the case of Italian Express, this is very true. In my last official review of 2013, I discovered this wee little eatery that delivers big, giant, Italian flavor, run by spectacularly nice people. The house-made sausage and peppers knocked my socks off and I've made it my mission to recommend it to as many folks as possible. Plus, how can you not love a place where A. you can get a slice of pizza; and B. a slice is actually two pieces of pie? Daily specials are creative and the desserts are heavenly. What's not to love? Oh, and try the arancini - the sauce that comes with is as enjoyable as the main attraction.

- Marisa Nadolny

MAÑANA CAFE

970 Poquonnock Road, Groton

(860) 440-8301

As per their gorgeous and delicious efforts in Stonington's Milagro, Martin and Genine Zavala have opened this spot and are twirling innovative and creative recipes based in fine continental Mexican cuisine. Seared Tuna Tacos with Mango Salsa, the vegetarian Echiladas al Horno (with vibrantly fresh spinach, onions and mushrooms), and Cod a Veracruzana were wonderful. And Pork Ribs a la Diabla, with a spicy crema fresca sauce, was maybe the best dish I had all year. The restaurant is lovely and colorful, and the small bar up front is an ideal place to explore their several designer tequilas.

- Rick Koster

THE RUSTIC CAFE

516 Boston Post Road, East Lyme

(860) 691-0477

therusticcafe.com

For folks who believe "pub food" is a sub-culinary form typified by pickled eggs and nachos, consider the work of chef Stevie Blanchard. Having earned legions of fans at Stash's and the Bank Street Cafe, Blanchard has anchored at this delightful and tiny neighborhood spot. Yes, Blanchard can throw down burgers and dogs, wings and chowders with the best taverns, but he's also creative and can adeptly spin such things as Ricotta ravioli, cinammon/chipotle spare ribs and ginger/carrot soup. The atmosphere is friendly and like a clubhouse, featuring weekend live music and an outdoor patio and firepit.

- Rick Koster

THE SEA GOOSE GRILL AND RAW BAR

265 Post Road (Route 1), Westerly

(401) 315-0788

www.theseagoose.com

The folks who own the Sea Goose acknowledge on their website that we're pretty lucky in these parts to have access to some of the world's best, freshest seafood. Combine that good fortune with their seemingly innate ability to anticipate a 2013 restaurant-goer's every need and you have one of the best new restaurants in the region. Clams and oysters - raw and cooked - lobster, local flounder, haddock and bluefish meet grass-fed brisket, Berkshire pork, even spaghetti and meatballs on the Goose's creative and eclectic roster of daily lunch and dinner specials. The restaurant's upscale yet casual, beach-y atmosphere will make you feel like you're on vacation even though you live next door.

- Jill Blanchette

SOMEWHERE IN TIME CAFÉ

3175 Gold Star Highway (Route 184), in Old Mystic Plaza, Mystic

(860) 536-1985

www.somewhereintimecafe.com

Best four words ever strung together? "Breakfast served all day." Somewhere in Time offers the sweet - such as Christmas French toast made with apple cinnamon bread and drizzled with caramel and walnuts - and the savory - i.e. breakfast burritos and huevos rancheros. They also serve a delicious lunch. This place is somewhere delicious food is served in a homey atmosphere by people who genuinely seem happy to see you.

- Jill Blanchette

THE WEEKAPAUG INN

25 Spray Rock Road, Westerly

(888) 813-7862

www.weekapauginn.com

Executive Chef Jennifer Backman demonstrates her understanding of fresh, local ingredients in every dish she prepares, from her simple yet memorable native greens salad with quenelles of local ricotta cheese, to her braised lamb with shallot comfit and grilled Brussels sprout leaves, to her espresso crème brulee topped with banana-brown sugar mousse and two tiny churros. The food is consistently surprising and delicious from course to course and from meal to meal. And although the inn's "comfort and low-key luxury" come at a hefty price, if you're looking to splurge, you won't be disappointed.

- Jill Blanchette

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