Culinary masterpieces at Dev’s on Main
One doesn’t walk into the Prado Museum in Madrid and begin eating El Greco’s “The Burial of the Count of Orgaz.”
One doesn’t enter the Belvedere in Vienna, pull out a napkin, and start gnawing Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss.”
And one certainly doesn’t ask security personnel at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. for hot sauce because the taste of their Frederic Edwin Church landscapes is a little bland.
And yet, during recent visits by my wife Eileen and I to the Dev’s on Main restaurant in Niantic, we felt as though, with each dish, we were enjoying genuine works of art.
It’s that good.
New digs in a new town
The chef of the restaurant is Rachel Devendittis, long popular in the area for her imaginative menus and delicious cooking at previous Dev’s iterations in New London on Bank and State streets. The Niantic move was perhaps a bit of a surprise for fans of the longtime Whaling City destination(s) — and, yes, Candace Devendittis and her sainted Mom, Miss Bunny, are still hosts/owners — but it’s a beautiful restaurant and only a short drive away.
In fact, Dev’s on Main is in the heart of the surging Niantic nightlife scene and fits in comfortably with plenty of varied restaurants and bars in the area. A long, narrow building running perpendicular to Main Street, Dev’s is simple but elegant. There’s a black and white color scheme with a polished blond wood floor and a wooden paneled ceiling, large, muted tone prints on the walls, and chic, vertical waterfall installations at the entry and rear of the room. A large, sleek bar runs along one wall.
It was crowded on both of our visits, but there are sound baffles on the wall that help hold down the conversational volume — which in any case provides a happiness vibe. Later in the evening, when it quiets a bit, you can hear recorded music from the direction of the bar. (Parliament! Carl Carlton! Kool & the Gang!)
A sensible strategy helps
Chef Rachel seemingly cannot help herself from experimenting with all sorts of styles and cuisines, and we’re all better for it. The best way for her to do so — in a fashion best experienced by diners — is through a menu that offers a variety of Small Bites dishes, Lighter Fare and Entrees.
You can trust me: Whatever you order, it’ll be delicious. The problem is, then, WHAT do you order? How do you strategize? Frankly, a favorite entrée of mine is Dev’s is Citrus Chicken ($28). There are two generous, pounded-flat boneless chicken breasts studded with crushed bits of pistachios and shreds of Parmesan cheese, then tenderly sauteed and ladled with a rich, playfully tart lemon/citrus/caper crème.
The presentation is gorgeous, with the chicken reclining on an undulating terrain of mashed potatoes. It’s also functional; the fork through the chicken forces an enveloping swell of potatoes for each bite. And don’t forget the firm, fresh green beans that form a crescent along one side.
It’s a wonderful dish. But it’s filling — and so what to do about all those Small Bites or Lighter Fare options that demand attention? Perhaps it’s best to visit Dev’s often!
Last weekend, Eileen and I each had three Small Bites selections, which made for a dazzling and adventurous meal. Our fantastic server, Corey, suggested she bring the plates out separately so we wouldn’t be overwhelmed. We trusted her to prioritize and she was spot-on.
What we ate
Marcus Burratas ($9) — E envisioned greens in a starring role, but the buttery burrata and tangy tapenade were heroic. With the addition of blistered tomatoes and grilled bread, the experience became a “choose-your-own-adventure” depending on what you put on your fork or the bread on any given bite.
Amalfi Risotto ($11) — Beautiful: Folded creamy spinach and risotto inside a crispy, fried exterior, then misted with truffle oil and shavings of Parmesan cheese. The only thing Eileen would change would be to add a little more truffle oil on the plate because its zing provided an exclamation point to the luxuriant construct.
Vegetable Purses ($8) — What these are (in a less poetic description) are pot stickers — and a lot of them. They were served with steam rising over al dente wrappers that encased tender but still-chewy veggies. The purses came with two dipping sauces: a serviceable soy and an incredible sambal Eileen volunteered to drink by the quart.
Wu Chow Shrimp ($10) — Three large crustaceans wrapped and flash-fried in a delicate, paper-thin tempura batter – the way tempura is SUPPOSED to be made. Soy sauce offered a salty wash, and a following taste of an adjacent and cooling cucumber salsa added an ideal and empathetic component.
Snow Fingers Noodle Bowl ($15) — This slightly messy idea is from a supplemental “new items” menu, and well worth your time and efforts. Chewy noodles floated in a green curry broth along with snow peas and crisp bamboo shoots. These earthy elements pleasingly jousted with shreds of snow crab as well as two large legs you can happily tear apart for the greatness therein.
Don Quixote Ribs ($10) — A stack of three succulent, lean St. Louis ribs were shellacked in a so-called Pomodors Chipotle BBQ Glaze. It was sweet and smokey and delicately underscored the pork flavor at the heart of the dish.
Corey didn’t even have to ask if we’d “saved room for dessert.” “What YOU need is dessert!” she said — and so we selected, from several enticing sweets, the Black & White ($9), which was a not-so-small cylinder of joy: white and dark chocolate mousse layered on top of chocolate cake and then graffiti’d with a lavish chocolate sauce.
As New Londoners, E and I now have to drive a bit further to enjoy the Dev’s experience. But: If a new museum opened five miles away and continued to roll out the masterpieces, it’d be worth the drive, right?
Dev’s On Main
255 Main St., Niantic
Cuisine: A fireworks show of clever Mediterranean and nouveau American dishes
Atmosphere: Comfortably elegant; perfect for a big evening out or to relax after a day at the beach
Service: Outstanding even at peak hours
Prices: Moderately expensive but certainly within the context of fine dining
Handicap accessible: It’s a narrow floor plan with a lot of tables but still manageable
Reservations: Worth a call on weekend nights
Credit cards: Yes