Seahorse is a fine Noank destination

Grilled swordfish (Eileen Jenkins)
Grilled swordfish (Eileen Jenkins)

Coming from New London, there are two ways to access the Seahorse Restaurant in Noank. You can go directly to Marsh Road off of Groton Long Point Road or take the longer, more circuitous route through the charming village. We typically employ the latter, if only so I can be bitter:

"Look at THAT rich guy's view of the sea!"

"How much do you think THAT house cost?"

"Wait! They've got waterfront balconies on BOTH floors?!"

And then you end up on Marsh Road, which takes you into Spicer's Marina and —

"I'll bet that's Tiger Woods' boat! See the putting green on the foredeck?"

"Look at the road crew of college kids loading cases of Chateau La-whatever on that Heesen Yacht!"

— and of course the tiny but perfect Seahorse Restaurant fits snugly in amidst the vessels, which, in all honesty, include plenty of working boats as well as the more luxury-style craft. Because, after all, Noank was originally a fishing village and is still a working port, if you will, which helps explain why the seafood at the Seahorse is fresh and, by the way, really well prepared.

The 'horse is bipartite in layout. As you enter, there's a large, family-friendly dining room on the right with high-backed booths and tables and plenty of framed artwork capturing the nautical motif. Perfectly comfortable.

To the left, though, is the smaller tavern, its five-sided bar and a few two- and four-top tables nestled next to a fireplace and under the iconic ceiling painted with fish scales. The bar area is apparently a popular gathering place for the whole village, and regulars include working fishermen, Noank residents, and folks in the know from across the region who love the food and ambience. It also attracts us.

The food at the Seahorse is, in fact, pretty damned good. While not extensive, the menu obviously features seafood, chicken and beef options, all of which are represented amongst appetizers, soups and salads; sandwiches and wraps; anytime entrees; pasta dishes; and dinner entrees. There are also daily specials.

Here are some highlights from recent visits.

• Oysters on the half shell ($2.50 each) — These are medium-sized babies from Noank waters, served on the requisite bed of crushed ice with a mellow cocktail sauce and lemon wedges. I like the tangy finish to the oysters. A lot of Atlantic and northern oysters — or so it seems to me — are sweeter than the Gulf variety I grew up with, and the Noank bivalves rang some nostalgic bells.

• Fried fish sandwich ($12 with steak fries and coleslaw) — There's a lot of magic to this seemingly simple construct. The tomato, lettuce and pickle were all absolutely fresh. The hunk of fish was quick-fried in a brittle batter that provided a crunchy contrast without overwhelming the delicate flesh of the cod. The bun — an oft-overlooked element — was an amazing star-cut sandwich roll out of the Calise Bakery in Lincoln, R.I. Oh, and the tartar sauce was an alchemical blend of creamy and tart that also worked well on the thick-cut fries.

• Grilled swordfish (a special for $25 with choice of two sides) — The meaty steak was wonderfully cooked, sported grill marks and was not at all too dry, and it fully occupied an entire half of the serving platter. Accenting the subtly innate flavor was a creamy lobster/dill sauce. A forkful of this combo was best whilst resting on my tongue as a sort of reverential gesture. Accompanying were perfectly steamed florets of buttery cauliflower and boiled potatoes in glistening in melted cheese.

• Open faced steak sandwich ($20) — This was remarkable and almost didn't get ordered, given the seafood-centric theme of the place. Glad I did. Eight ounces of sliced sirloin, cooked medium rare with a wizard's precision, and arrayed across a slab of toasted white bread, which served as a fine way to soak up juices as opposed to a "sandwich" component. Steak fries were an ideal compliment. So good!

As noted, the Seahorse bar is great fun. My wife Eileen also loves it there. However, she's also a vegetarian, and that presents a bit of a culinary problem because there's just not much on the menu for her. As she says, "If I were talking to another vegetarian about it, I'd say you don't go to the Seahorse for their veg food. You go for the atmosphere. The pickings are slim. At some places, I can see a good argument for offering more veg options on the menu. But the Seahorse is in a marina. It's there to serve seafood, so enjoy the other aspects of the experience."

That said, she enjoyed the gorgonzola salad ($9,$13), which comes with mesclun greens, chunks of the titular cheese, walnuts, roasted red pepper and balsamic vinagrette. Eileen asked them to substitute tomatoes for the peppers, and that worked out pleasingly enough.

She was less impressed with pasta primavera, but mostly because, for $20, she was hoping for a more exotic vegetable component than red/green peppers, onion, zucchini, summer squash, mushrooms and cherry tomatoes. With nicely cooked, gluten-free pasta and a serviceable white wine/lemon sauce, the dish was certainly acceptable — and that it was on the menu at all counts for something.

Throughout our visits, the small waitstaff could not have been more gracious or accommodating. With three renowned lobster/clam shacks, Carson's Store, Sherman's Market and the Seahorse, tiny Noank is a dining Mecca.

Pasta primavera (Eileen Jenkins)
Pasta primavera (Eileen Jenkins)

If you go

The Seahorse Restaurant

65 Marsh Road, Noank

(860) 415-4280, seahorserestaurant.net

Cuisine: Focus on fresh seafood along with beef, chicken, pasta and more

Atmosphere: Dining room comfy and family-friendly while the adjunct tavern attracts locals, tourists and working fisherpersons

Service: Very polite and eager to help

Prices: Moderate to expensive

Handicap access: A wooden ramp leads to main doorway

Reservations: Large parties or weekends

Credit cards: All majors

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