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    Sunday, May 19, 2024

    Review: Happily gorging on the Bay

    Staring out the window at Niantic Bay, we couldn’t decide whether the gray afternoon was in fact April being cruel or, more pleasantly atmospheric, masquerading as Sorrow’s preferred dark day of autumn rain.

    Pasta Primavera at Constantine’s on the Bay (Eileen Jenkins photo)
    Blue Cheese Fondue Stack at Constantine’s on the Bay (Eileen Jenkins photo)

    That’s about as literary as you’re gonna get from me because, as an Increasingly Large Man who enjoys sloth and gluttony in equal measures, I was seated in the dining room at Constantine’s on the Bay. And I was happily gorging with an eye on an impending nap.

    How’s THAT for poetry?

    Limoncello Martini (Eileen Jenkins photo)

    My wife Eileen and I were visiting the seasonally re-opened restaurant, which first appeared last fall on Niantic’s bustling Main Street in a location that had previously housed the Main Street Grille and, I believe, Frank’s Gourmet Grille.

    There’s a tripartite floor structure dominated by a large, square dining room proper with polished wood floors and decorated in marine tones of blue and white with large, whimsical paintings of various sea creatures, and the aforementioned windows looking across the railroad tracks and boardwalk to the water. But there’s also a narrow bar area to the right with three TVs and, beyond that, an overflow tavern area separated by low partitions for a bit of privacy but also with clear sight-lines to televised action — which on this Sunday included a nature show and an auto race as opposed to, well, the final round of the Masters.

    Seasonally, there’s also a covered outdoor back porch, the roof of which serves as an open-air deck with umbrella’d tables.

    Caloric custodians

    According to their website, the Constantine folks regard themselves as “custodians of New England gastronomy, reinventing classic flavors with a modern, homemade touch.”

    Indeed, the lunch and dinner menus reflect a strong seafood presence as well as creative and representative offerings. In addition to starters, soups/salads/sides and “Sandwiches and More,” there are dinner possibilities divided between “Seasonal Favorites,” “The Classics” and “New England Expectations.” The latter three headings are copywriter-speak for, respectfully, beef, chicken and seafood.

    The appetizers list is fairly extensive and ranges from expected (calamari, crab cake and mussels) to less typical choices.

    In addition to our rainy Sunday visit, Eileen and I stopped by for lunch in the bar one day. We tried all sorts of things, and here’s an encapsulation:

    ∎ Blue Cheese Fondue Stack ($15) — A complex, heavenly delightful compilation anchored by wedges of garlic toast. The blue cheese was baked/broiled seemingly right into the bread, so even if I didn't swipe my piece through the fondue pooling under the Jenga-like stack of bread, I still got the full taste of blue cheese and it was delightful. When I DID swipe a piece of bread through the fondue, it was HEAVEN.

    ∎ Coastline Caesar salad ($12) — Eileen truly ordered this based on the menu’s description that it included “crispy capers.” Well, the capers popped in her mouth like small arms fire (if such a thing was delicious) and provided an earthy zing to the just-plucked-from-the-garden romaine, creamy dressing and crunchy croutons. And shaved parmesan. An elegant presentation with substantial taste.

    ∎ Cup of Lobster Bisque ($8, daily special) — Richer than any Trumpian-inflated self-worth estimates! It also had that delightful orange/pink sunset-coloring. The lobster presence was mostly shredlets of meat, but they were plentiful and offered flavor and textural components to the creamy sherry base.

    ∎ Carpaccio ($17) – Disappointing. Up front in the menu description was “shaved filet mignon” – of course, right? – but the emphasis was on “shaved”; the one layer of beef was almost see-through in its thickness and sat plastered flat against the plate with an overly sweet balsamic glaze and heaps of arugula. Also present were capers, a few grape tomatoes, flakes of parmesan and red onion – the latter of which I’d asked to be left out.

    ∎ Black Bean Quinoa Burger ($15 ) — Eileen can be critical of what she sees as the region’s limited options for those of her vegetarian ilk, proclaimed this “one of the best housemade burgers I've had in recent years. You could see the veggies and the seeds. The onion roll almost held it all together (I find it acceptable when homemade veggie burgers fall apart). And the whole thing was substantial — I felt very satisfied, like I imagine meat-eaters feel after a great burger!”

    ∎ Popcorn Shrimp Po Boy ($17) — Outstanding and almost New Orleanian. First, the plentiful crustaceans were larger than what I associate with “popcorn,” and the crisp and ale-infused batter wasn’t so thick or strongly flavored as to overwhelm the shrimp essence. The roll – fresh from Giuliano’s a few doors down, I suspect — offered fresh and sturdy support.

    The sandwich was dressed with shredded lettuce and tomato and, while I would’ve liked a few dill pickle slices, the Remoulade dressing offered a tart spangle. The accompanying fries, some with skins on, were hot and offered a nice counter-punch.

    ∎ Pasta Primavera ($26) — A garden’s worth of vegetables: spinach, sliced mushrooms, snowpeas, artichoke hearts, onion and cherry tomatoes, and julienned zucchini, carrots, and red, yellow and orange peppers. We’d asked if the chef could leave the meat off another pasta dish and our server immediately audibled and said they’d make a pasta primavera. The noodles were wide and flat (maybe pappardelle). And tying it all together was a perfect white wine/butter sauce. This was thoughtfully made, not just slapped together for a damned vegetarian, and delicious. Maybe add this to the menu?!

    ∎ Lazy Lobster ($30) — As befitting my above-expressed desire to do much beyond eat and rest, this Constantine innovation – handpicked lobster with sherry butter cracker crumbs — seemed created with me in mind. The bountiful chunks of lobster — with claw and tail meat — were served in a low, scalloped dish, bobbed in the piquant sherry/butter sauce flecked with parley.

    The cracker crumbs were sorta subsumed by the chemistry of the dish, but that just added some density when my fork trawled lumps of lobster through the morass. I envision a cardiologist leaning sternly over the table, about to offer a filibuster on clogged arteries — and then knocking me out of the way to steal the dish for him- or herself. Oh, yeah: broiled spears of asparagus and several small seasoned and roasted potatoes with a pleasant citrus aftertaste.

    ∎ For dessert? E and I split a serving of Crème brûlée ($7), with that perfectly gooey chilled custard underneath the Break This Glass! topping of caramelized sugar.

    Service on both visits was fine. The bartender was witty and quick at lunch, and our server in the main room at dinner was obviously caring as per her pasta ad-lib. We enjoyed Constantine’s on the Bay and anticipate return visits, particularly with summer creeping up and the outdoor seating. There’s much yet to explore.

    Constantine’s on the Bay

    252 Main St., Niantic

    constantinesonthebay.com, (860) 850-5087

    Cuisine: Self-described “custodians of New England gastronomy”

    Atmosphere: Casually pleasing with seascape-y touches; two-level outdoor decks seasonally.

    Service: Pleasant — even funny — and willing to ad lib as needed

    Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Tues.-Sun., dinner in the dining room is 3-9 p.m. Tues.-Sat. and 3-8 p.m. Sun. Bar hours are 3-9 p.m. Tues.-Thurs., 3-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat., and 3-8 p.m. Sun.

    Reservations: Good idea for large parties

    Credit cards: Yes

    Handicapped accessibility: Yes

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