A handy round-up of Day critics' recent dining reviews

84 Tavern on Canal in downtown Westerly is a notable experience for several reasons: prompt, attentive and friendly service; a cool but not pretentiously so atmosphere; and a menu that's got a lot to offer at any meal. For Sunday brunch, you can go to the extremes of sweet and savory — the thick cut Oreo French toast with cream filling ($8) to the Federal Hill omelet ($9) with spinach, roasted garlic tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and a dollop of pesto on top.

At lunch or dinner, you can get appetized (the state of being blown away by your first course starter) by one of several delicious apps, including two plump crab cakes served with greens, lemon wedge, and Cajun aioli ($14); a similarly crabtastic plate of cremini mushrooms stuffed with mounds of crab meat and Ritz cracker stuffing ($9); and baked mozzarella and garlic-roasted tomatoes atop rustic Italian crostini with a drizzling of balsamic reduction.

The fried cauliflower wrap ($10), with its crispy cauliflower, red onions, greens, sweet pickles, and ranch-style dressing, is a worthy entree. Same goes for the toasted crab melt ($16), and the four cheese Quattro Formaggio flat bread with cheddar, Gorgonzola, fresh mozzarella and Parmesan ($12).

— Alex Nunes

Norm's Diner

171 Bridge St., Groton

(860) 405-8383

Diners are as much about comfort and conviviality as they are about simple, satisfying food — and this is why the new edition of Norm's Diner in Groton is such good news.

Under new ownership, the joint is sparkly-clean, repainted and tweaked with interior design updates. The staff's friendly and the food reliably tasty. It's a pleasant place to invest in leisure. On recent visits, I was particularly impressed by the hot turkey sandwich with gravy ($9.50). It's served open-faced on your choice of bread, slices of which are spread across a sizable platter. Thereupon is heaped carved breast meat, melted cheese and a savory golden-brown gravy. Don't hesitate to dip the accompanying fries through said gravy.

Also, while we can all agree a double cheeseburger can be found almost anywhere in a society clustered with fast food and hipster restaurants whose caviar-raised cattle actually wear porkpie hats to designate coolness, the Norm's version ($10.25, $11.95 with fries) is griddle-crisped perfection. Two five-ounce, juicy patties, cheese (your choce), lettuce and tomato on a plain but fresh bun: nothing special — just done beautifully.  

— Rick Koster

La Marea

732 Middlesex Turnpike, Old Saybrook

(860) 391-8614

Log on to La Marea's website, and you'll see the suggestion to make reservations close to the top of the page. Take that advice so you can be assured of enjoying a lovely meal in a farmhouse-mod-chic setting in the Essex end of Old Saybrook.

La Marea specializes in Italian fare, and if the regulars on the entrée menu don't leave you stuck in indecision, wait'll you hear the specials — I couldn't resist the lamb ragout with rigatoni on a recent visit. The decision to go with the special was not made easier by the appearance of drool-inducing dishes like Gnocchi Primavera and pappardelle sautéed with porcini mushrooms and sausage. Plus, the wood-fired pizza is excellent and its seven variations on the menu offer a spectrum of flavor experiences, from eggplant-fontina-sopressata pie to your classic Pizza Margherita upon which the tomatoes burst with bright, zesty flavor.

If you can't get a table, the bar area on two recent visits bustled with patrons dining on delicious dishes at the bar, which offers its own creative menu of cocktails. I recommend the Lavendar Collins as a great way to toast a wonderful meal.

— Marisa Nadolny



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