Dev's on State: A new location for one of NL's finest restaurants

My brain refuses to cooperate, so Dev's on State will never sound right; it should be "Dev's on Bank" because, well, that's where this popular bistro and unofficial social club, which opened in 2007, was located for so many years. In two different Bank Street locations, no less!

However, Dev's is now on State Street — across the street from the Garde Arts Center in the lovely former location of Hanifan's Irish Pub (with its magnificent hand-crafted bar).

Maybe the Devendittis family that owns and operates this amazing place could borrow a strategy from Major League Baseball's Los Angeles Angels, which at one time were known as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Dev's Of Bank On State.

How's that?

OK, I hate it, too.

Anyway, for the purpose of this review, we'll just officially acknowledge that it's Dev's on State OR ... you could call it one of the best restaurants in the region — because it certainly is.

One new feature at Dev's is a polished blond wooden street deck for outdoor dining. It's raised a few feet off the State Street sidewalk with a railing, plants, flower arrangements and umbrellas. It's a clever idea and many diners have enjoyed its perspective of the cityscape and New London's intriguingly diverse passersby.

On our visit, it was a beautiful evening and would have been ideal for the deck — if not for increasingly grim warnings about Eastern Equine Encephalitis Virus. As the sun was melting into the horizon and gloaming drew nigh, with its mosquito-magnet qualities, we opted to sit inside at a raised section overlooking the street. Not the same, but very nice.

Besides, inside, Dev's is a lovely restaurant that provides all the atmosphere for a Special Night Out as well as casual opulence for Happy Hour or post-work office gatherings. Dev's is a long, narrow room, with a sky-high ceiling, that extends perpendicular to State. There are two sections of tables running parallel to the bar on the right. Furniture is glossy dark wood with black tablecloths; the walls and ceilings have an autumnal gold accent with patterned wall hangings and large, framed illustrations. There are faux gas lamps along one wall and low hanging lighting fixtures over the middle of the room.

Service on our visit was outstanding. Our server Bree was described by my wife and our friend Mary Kate as "adorable" and "an effortlessly great waitress," and various other employees checked in over the course of the evening including Candace Devendittus, who owns Dev's with her iconic mom, affectionately known as Miss Bunny. 

Here are some dishes we enjoyed. Well, hell, we enjoyed everything we ate — and all credit to Chef Rachel Devendittis and her accomplished staff. Each presentation was gorgeous and delicious. From the Starters section of the menu — and it's worth noting that this expansive section of 30 options running the creatively conceptualized gamut from seafood, lamb, pork, veggies, beef, breads, cheese and on and on — works ideally for those wanting to plan a meal of mix-and-match small plates. 

• Caprese Flatbread Pizza ($6) — This was the best of Dev's vegetarian options, which is always a priority given my wife's proud designation thereof. We enjoyed three slices of crispy-chewy dough topped with ripe Roma tomatoes, quality mozzarella and a sprinkling of basil beautifully apportioned to provide accent without dominance.

• Vegetarian Pot Stickers ($7) — A generous batch of the sealed dumplings, served warm and with a nice dynamic between the flash-fried exterior and the melange of shredded veggies inside. The filling wasn't particularly flavorful, but the accompanying sesame soy and spicy sambal sauces more than compensated.

• Cambodian Street Steak ($8) — Two long strips of citrus-marinated charbroiled flank steak, serenaded by a Kingston Trio of lemongrass, oyster sauce and fish sauce — and with quarter-moons of fresh lime for augmentation. Wow.

Our entrees and the selections from an accompanying "lighter fare" menu that includes salads, sandwiches and noodle bowls, were similarly inventive; prepared with a nod to classic bistro fare but bursting like bottle rockets with ingenious twists.

• Filet Mignon ($32) — Behold an eight-ounce hockey puck of steak sat perched atop a cumulous cloud of creamy mashed potatoes. A hot grill had provided a wonderous, slightly crunchy husk that sealed in juices from the precisely pink, medium rare interior, and the velveteen sun-dried tomato/bechamel sauce, which coated the surface of beef, was almost criminally good. If this tripartite assault wasn't enough, steamed broccoli florets added a nice textural and flavorful complement.

• Seared Salmon ($26) — As good as the filet mignon was, this seafood entree was mind-blowing. A designer slab of fresh salmon, with a seared surface and a velvety center that gave the almost hallucinogenic quality of eating a dream. The drizzled avocado-dill sauce was an empathetic counterpoint. It was similarly served with mashed potatoes and broccoli.  

• Grilled Caesar Salad ($9) and Toasted Fennel Tomato Soup ($5 small, $7 large) — This "lighter fair" combo served as an entree for my vegetarian wife. The salad included half a head of romaine, delicately charred, with an anchovy-free-but-still-flavorful dressing and a generous sprinkle of parmesan clinging nicely to the leaves. It was beautiful to look at, added a nice textural change to the traditional Caesar, and was served with a slice of grilled bread instead of croutons. Option to add steak, chicken or salmon ($7) to make it a full meal. As for the tomato soup, it can easily be a one-note dish, but Dev's toasted fennel added another layer of flavor and it worked effortlessly in tandem with the Caesar.

• A word about desserts. I don't care how full you are — indulge in the deep-fried cheesecake with warm berry sauce ($8).

We're pretty lucky in that New London has more than its share of really nice restaurants. Dev's on Bank — er, State — is an all-star for the whole region.

Dev's on State

Dev's on State

312 State St., New London

(860) 442-3387

Cuisine: Imaginative takes on bistro with wide reaching and well executed ambition.

Atmoshere: Pretty and impressive; works for a special night out or for a relaxed and comfortable evening.

Service: Superb and familial.

Prices: Very reasonable with small plates/lighter fare ranging from $4.50-$17 and entrees topping out at $32.

Hours: 3-9 p.m. Tues.-Thurs, 3-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat.

Credit cards: Yes.

Handicap access: Level entry way and roomy aisles.

Reservations: Special occasions or large parties.

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