New London's Thames Landing Oyster House is a keeper
Located in New London across from the railroad station and at the egress to ferries and Waterfront Park, in a picturesque corner building, the Thames Landing Oyster House is a welcome addition to an oft-tornadic downtown dining/bar scene. Besides, who doesn't like a fine oyster house?
For, indeed, Thames Landing IS a good and promising enterprise. Longtime citizens know the location well in a dining capacity. Most recently, it was the Stonefleet Tavern and, before that, Zavala's. Decades ago, it was a restaurant called, well, Thames Landing.
All those spots had promise but for a variety of reasons didn't make it. Here's hoping the Oyster House, which is owned by New London High School/Mitchell College grad and chef Jose Martinez, becomes a permanent fixture.
The layout consists of a bar area facing State Street and a main dining room with views of the waterfront. The mood is stately yet relaxed, with soft aqua accents, and it's very clean. There are framed sea/fishing pieces hanging on the walls, comfortable and roomy tables and window-front cushioned benches, and just enough décor — suspended oars, for example — to provide atmosphere without going (wait for it) overboard.
As The Day is located just across Parade Plaza, an easy stroll away, I've recently found myself eating lunch in the Landing's tavern area. The food's very good, and the service, if a bit tentative in a way reflecting inexperience, is smilingly earnest.
The restaurant's menu is small and tends towards the more casual — as might be expected from an "Oyster House." There are soups, appetizers, salads, paninis/wraps, burgers, tacos, seafood, and pasta options. And, yes, most of these reflect the oceanic motif you'd expect.
Here's what I've tried:
New England Clam Chowder ($6.99) — A bowlful of this wonderful stuff checks all of the tired critic's boxes ("thick" and "hearty," of course), but let me add that the plump, sweet bits of clam are in equal ratio to the toothsome potato chunks.
Oysters on the Half Shell (PTM) — The selection depends on what's fresh; Martinez, who frequently makes the rounds and checks with diners, is committed to absolutely fresh products. As a southern kid who grew up on the warm-water oysters of the Gulf, I've come to love the smaller, sweeter bivalves up here in the northeast.
Im my samplings so far at Thames landing, I enjoyed the Malpeque, a thin, sickle-shaped oyster from Canadian waters, for its flash of salinity and a sweet finish. A Niantic Bay sample was bigger with a slightly bitter (but not unpleasant) kickoff that mellowed on the way down. The oysters were $2.75 each, and while the shells were on ice and served with a wedge of lemon, I didn't get any cocktail sauce or crackers. Personally, that OK with me, but it's an oversight some diners would notice.
Coconut Shrimp ($7.99) — You get five specimens so large they enter neo-prawn territory. The crust is crisply delicate and flecked with coconut so that the sweetness and batter work in support of the shrimp rather than in dominance. And the tangy plum dipping sauce is similarly subtle — as it should be. Nice touches all around!
Shrimp Basket ($15.99) — After success with the coconut shrimp, I went big for the whole entrée. I got eight ideally fried crustaceans that popped with flavor as I bit through the tasty but, again, thin batter. A huge batch of golden fries, tart cocktail sauce, and a coleslaw with just a touch of mayo completed the greatness.
Taco Sampler ($19.99) — This dish combines one each from the menu's fish taco offerings. That includes blackened salmon, shrimp, and a "fish of the day" contribution. Man, these were good — to the extent that I'd like to get separate dishes for all three because I can't imagine not having the opportunity to trade bites from one to the next.
The tacos are served on flour tortillas with an anchor of shredded and tart cabbage, then ladled with the respective seafood. All were pretty wonderful. Martinez adeptly avoids the heavy-handed tendency to "Cajun spice" blackened food into submission. The seasoning was certainly present and added a flash of torque, but, again, it worked in service to the fish. Too, the problem with blackened anything is that the technique easily dries out whatever it is being "blackened." But the salmon kept its integral moist flavor. We've talked about the shrimp already. Works just as well in the taco format. And just-off-the-boat planks of quick-fried halibut were delightful.
And, drizzled atop each taco, a tasty remoulade/mustard sauce. Yes!
Cheeseburger ($10.99) — I tried this because one can never have too many options in terms of fine burgers. This half-pound offering was just right. It came on a newly-baked brioche roll with lettuce and tomato. I chose Swiss from the cheese offerings. The patty was medium as asked, seeping just the right about of juice with each bite. No mayo or mustard onboard, and the menu doesn't mention any. Might wanna ask if that's your thing. A note: the spear of dill pickle was crisp and had a perfect vinegar bite.
I'll be back at the Landing with some regularity, I suspect. They have a Cuban panini ($12.99), hot and cold lobster rolls ($19.99), and a roasted salmon cakes appetizer ($9.99), all of which call to me. Too, there are daily specials and that e'er-changing oyster menu.
Chef Martinez had it going on. Any gentle faux pas from the waitstaff are novice mistakes that will be, based on the collective charm and enthusiasm, quickly overcome.
2 State St., New London
(860) 574-9232, www.facebook.com/Thameslanding
Cuisine: Basic and simple seafood with an emphasis on tavern-style fare, but with some nice entree options, fresh daily oyster specials, and wonderful appetizers and sandwiches. Chef Martinez clearly knows what he's doing and brings a clever touch to standards.
Atmosphere: Casual but stylish motif with subtle decor and an aqua/white color scheme. The bar area is excellent for watching a game, having a quiet lunch or meeting pals for after-work happy hour. The dining room is slightly more formal but works as both a relaxed night out or a Big Occasion.
Service: There was a bit of a tentative quality among the servers as though they were uncertain at times. But it IS a new place, and the staff could not have been nicer or more desirous to please.
Prices: Very reasonable, with nothing over $19.99.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday and Monday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, and 11 a.m. to midnight Thursday through Saturday.
Handicap access: Steps up from State Street and a small entry alcove. Once inside, it's plenty spacious.
Credit cards: All majors.
Reservations: Maybe weekends for large parties.
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