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    Friday, August 12, 2022

    Restaurants recently reviewed by The Day's writers

    Herb’s Potato Pancakes Benedict (Eileen Jenkins/Special to The Day)

    AJ Noodle Bar

    210 Main St., Old Saybrook


    Phone: (860) 339-3660

    July isn’t exactly the peak time for hot noodle soup cravings, but find an air-conditioned room and consider a bowlful of ramen from AJ Noodle Bar in Old Saybrook.

    We highly recommend the bulgogi ramen soup ($14), which presents an interesting conundrum: Which ingredient is the best part? The thinly sliced and grilled strips of steak? The abundant wavy noodles with perfect texture? The soul-saving savory broth? Answer? All of the above.

    More ramen dishes are available (including a veggie option with tofu starring as the protein), along with rice bowls, tempura and hibachi options, and other delectables often offered in Japanese restaurants. The agedashi tofu appetizer ($6.50) was particularly delicious. If you think tofu is a bore, try it again with the vinegary sauce that comes with agedashi tofu.

    AJ’s is definitely gaining renown for its titular noodles, but we suspect just as many folks are heading over there for the bubble teas. While AJ’s doesn’t offer as many flavors as some bubble tea specialty shops, the two out of the six available we sampled recently were delightful. The green tea flavor in the Matcha bubble tea ($6.50) didn’t get drowned out by the accompanying sugar, milk, and tapioca pearls, and it proved downright refreshing on a recently warm day. The Thai bubble tea, a light-orange spiced black tea with milk and sugar ($5.50), even got a rave from my typically sweet-averse co-taster.

    In short, AJ Noodle Bar is full of surprises, from its menu and chic space to its efficient online ordering system. The tapioca pearl on top? Kind and welcoming staffers who are enthusiastic new members of the Old Saybrook community. 

    — Marisa Nadolny

    Surf Cantina

    15 Canal St., Westerly

    There are all kinds of margaritas and specialty drinks to choose from at Surf Cantina, like the Westerly Vice, a libation concocted with 1800 Coconut tequila, triple sec, lime, cream of coconut, and strawberry. Now that’s a mouthful, and just $11.

    All the cocktail specials and margaritas are $11 each, and they are a good choice alongside tacos priced at $12 to $17, a Surf Smash Burger, $12, Mexican Flatbread, $11, or the Sun & Sea Pasta, $23. The pasta dish includes grilled shrimp, bacon, grilled corn, garlic, cream, spinach, and queso fresco.

    Open since last fall, Surf Cantina is another good option for cocktails and a bite when visiting downtown Westerly. They serve up soups and salads, appetizers, sandwiches and tacos, and full plates. If you just want a quick small bite, they have offerings like Yuca Fries and Sweet Plantains, both $6. 

    If you visit on a fair-weather day, the big garage doors that open the eatery to Canal Street will likely be up, allowing sunshine and fresh air to spill in.

    — Ann Baldelli

    Herb's Country Deli & Restaurant

    1115 Norwich-New London Turnpike, Uncasville

    (860) 848-9888

    It's possible to separate Herb's Country Deli & Restaurant from Herb's Country Store, which is right next door. But why would you want to? It'd be like going to see Simon & Garfunkel but putting your hands over you ears every time Art sang. Or Paul. Not sure about the harmonies, but you get the metaphor, right?

    Anyway, the deli and restaurant is full of great folks on staff, a wildly diverse clientele gathered in homage to great food and a menu that puts a clever spin on the basics, and a jumbled but instantly comfortable layout and ambience.

    Truthfully, we're slowly working our way through the many options, but here are just two of the excellent examples of the greatness that awaits you: Potato Pancakes Benedict ($14.95, a visionary example of a culinary afterlife with pillowy clouds of potatoes and an eternal sunrise of poached eggs topped with velvety hollandaise sauce); and the Stuffed English ($11.95, where, tucked inside of a buttered, toasted English muffin, a group hug happens between delicious sliced roast beef, a fried egg, roasted peppers, bacon, and melted Swiss).

    Take time to study the coolers with a dazzling array of homemade pies, and allow 15 minutes to wander next door and invest in all manners of New England country store delights.

    — Rick Koster 

    Bulgogi ramen at AJ Noodle Bar in Old Saybrook (Marisa Nadolny/Special to The Day)

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