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Resurrection of Leon's, New Haven

Rumor has it that Leon's Restaurant, a venerable New Haven institution will be taking over the site of the former Rusty Scupper. I haven't seen anything in print yet but I have heard they are hiring. Can anyone confirm?

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  1. Although this is second-hand info, I can confirm this. The family is reopening Leon's at the site of the Rusty Scupper. The ironic thing is that when that building was built, Leon's was supposed to be the first tenant, but for whatever reason, the deal fell apart. I know that the family that ran Leon's (the Varipapas) and the landlords (the Fuscos) have had a longstanding relationship.
    I know that ultimately, the Fuscos want to develop hign end condos on that site, so I am not sure how long Leon's will stay there, or if things go well for them, whether they will be accommodated in the new project.

    1 Reply
    1. re: lsnhc

      It made the front page of the New Haven Register today. They plan on being open for New Years eve.

    2. Monday noon, January 7: I didn't realize it when we headed off for lunch, that we were going to lunch on the very first day of the re-opening of Leon's in New Haven, CT. They occupy the building that was once the home of the Rusty Scupper at 501 Long Wharf Dr., at exit 46, on I-95.
      The decor is more elegant and sophisticated than before and they have devoted more interior space to a bar/eating area which is partitioned off from the main dining area. I like what they have done with the interior as it retains and adds to the warm woods that were present before. It might be a little quieter than before because of the partition but it seems that they have done nothing more with the interior re-design to keep the noise down, which can be significant during lunch or a private event. BTW, This was where I had my first date with my true-love, over five years ago. I remember fondly eating outside and sipping on a pinot grigio as the seabirds flew around. I love that atmosphere.
      Let's hope Leon's fixes a few things so we will want to go back....
      There were three in our party and we were seated quickly and our reservations were not really necessary. Better than the Rusty Scupper, we received drinks and bread fairly promptly. The bread is very good, Italian, of course. The wine list is decent. Two of us ordered the seafod chowder which was fabulous. We both raved over it. Dense flavors in a thick, dark brown base with plenty of seafood bits and a scallop plopped in the middle. I ordered the crabcake appetizer, to share and six raw oysters for myself. When the oysters arrived I was supprised to see that there were no condiments accompanying them, as described on the menu; just one lemon wedge. I noticed a dark speck on one oyster and thinking it was a small piece of shell, I tried to remove it. It did not budge. That should have been my first clue but I juiced them up and dug in. After the first chew I quickly spit it out! Yuck! It has been so long snce I had a bad oyster, I can't even remember when....
      Then I remembered that they looked dull and dry when they were served and the speck that didn't move.... so I suspect they were shucked many hours earlier.
      When I mentioned that the oyster I ate was really bad the waitress took it as a joke and I had to say, "No, they are really bad and I almost threw up!" I think there might have been a weak apology and they were removed from our presence (and did not appear on our bill).
      On to the crabcakes: The crabcakes were some of the worst I have ever eaten. I did not read the fine print to see that there was one crab, one salmon and one lobster cake that constituted the appetizer. The menu starts off in bold print saying, "Crab Cakes". The salmon cake was almost passable and the least dense, while they all were like a rubber ball; very gooey and dense with lots of breading. The exteriors were perfectly smooth! Is this an Italian style I am not familiar with?
      At this point my stomach was churning and I had no appetite. My partner and our guest fared better with their entrees: chicken and hot sausage with pasta and another pasta dish which was similar. Sorry, I didn't get what it was. I still had a jumpy stomach at that point. They both enjoyed their entrees and the food looked good. My partner pronounced it "better than the Scupper".
      We were disappointed that there was no further mention of the oysters nor any attempt to console us. As we left we mentioned the bad oysters and the hostess asked if we spoke to the manager. We said"no". She did not offer to get him or do anything for us, either. This is not how we are used to being treated if there is bad food. I'm not talking food you don't care for, or food poorly prepared; but food that makes you sick. They didn't seem to care or want to comp us anything.
      My partner is different from me. As soon as she settled at her office she called and spoke to the manager. He said he would "take care of us" and make up for it on our next visit.
      I hope so.

      1 Reply
      1. re: grhoff

        I returned yesterday for lunch at Leon's (so this was my second experience). My partner has been back many times with both her (adult) daughter and son and she likes the food and has few complaints. The manager recognizes her on sight. He was not officially there yesterday.

        My experience was good this time with the exception of a couple of minor items. The bread was OK, but could have been fresher. We started with a yellowfin tuna carpacchio appetizer. It was topped with pieces of cucumber, grated radish and drizzled with a weak Limoncello vinaigrette. I'm not sure what the vinaigrette base was, but it wasn't mustard. It seemed more like buttermilk or perhaps mayonaise base. The tuna itself was excellent sashimi grade.
        Another issue I had was the "dead" glass of Pinot Grigio, which had next to no flavor. It was if it was watered down. The waiter quickly brought me a glass from a freshly opened bottle and it was fine and a darker color! The bartender said the bottle (from the first glass) had been open from the day before.

        The seafood bisque was lukewarm and "jiggly" in the bowl. It was so over-thickened that it was nearly pudding consistency. It had decent flavor, but the thickness wasn't from a condensed, cooked down cream and seafood soup base. It was too weak in flavor for that. This was one of the poorer seafood bisque renditions I have had in New England.

        I had the Veal Fontina; scaloppines sautéed, bathed in a veal sauce and covered with Fontina cheese. This was on a bed of fresh spinach with a mix of generic and wild mushrooms (not just wild mushrooms, as advertised in the menu). This was a good dish and way too much to eat, with three large scaloppines. Same for my partner's "Gypsy Chicken" or "Chicken Zingara"; a very large, tasty portion of sautéed chicken, fennel infused sausage, well-sauteed onions, garlic and potatoes, filling a large, deep plate.
        The service was great and overall it was a nice meal. We had four glasses of wine and no dessert. The bill, with $20 tip, was $125. Perhaps a little steep but the portions were large and the place has a nice atmosphere and a great view.
        Personally, I'm still waiting for something really good of this kitchen (that's cooked) related to seafood.

      2. Wow! What a nice suprise to read that Leon's was relocating here. I always remember them being famous for there panne cotto. Boy, but with cheshirecat's review, it does make one leary. I, too, hope things improve. You cannot beat that beautiful location. That went in really fast too.

        9 Replies
        1. re: cheereeo

          The "old" Leon's on Washington Ave was my family's favorite restaurant for many, many years. Their classic Southern Italian food was unmatched anywhere. When they closed and relocated to Hamden, everything went down hill. In the "old" days, Eddie and Gene Varipapa ran both the kitchen and the front of the house, and the quality standards that they maintained were virtually flawless. When the next generation took over in the second location, it was just not the same.
          While I, too, was excited to see their resurrection, the fact is that many years have passed since they last served meals (even the not-so-great meals) and the the restaurant business has changed significantly. In it's glory days, (the 60's and 70's), when you went out for dinner in New Haven, odds are that it was either Italian (or Italian influenced) or Chinese (with the occasional trip to places like Chuck's Steak House). Today, as tastes and sophistication levels have risen, New Haven has literally become a culinary mecca for very diverse cuisines, and in my opinion, the Leon's name will only get people in the door once. If they cannot provide first class cuisine and service, as was the case in Hamden, they are doomed to failure.
          I truly do hope that they get their act together and become a destination eatery, as I would always prefer to see locally owned restaurants succeed (as opposed to chains), but to achieve the success of the first location, they've got to deliver "the goods." So far, scargod's review (and Leon's brazen $125 per person New Year's buffet - without liquor) do not indicate that there has been a good start.

          1. re: lsnhc

            Today I arrived at Leons at approximately 12:15, there were two seatings of people in front of us and had a wait of almost 10 minutes to be seated. While waiting the phone was ringing and no one answered it. Upon which a gentlemen that arrived and heard the phone ringing, told us he phoned yesterday 5 times before getting an answer to make reservations.
            We were seated and after a considerably long time (1:00) we were told that there was a mix up in the kitchen that usually they had a 12 minute serve time and they were sorry and would give us a "something, something". Well that happened to be a seafood salad which I do not eat! At 1:30 our lunch time was well past the approved time of our employment and we left. I am certain we will never return and warn anyone who has to return to work after lunch break to take caution. (BTW We never did get our Lunch!!)

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            1. re: marzz

              I cannot believe the comments about this restaurant. The comments about them not answering the phone are true from my own personal experience. They also do not return phone messages. There is stupid and dumb and then there is this apparent fiasco.

              1. re: grhoff

                My partner (who was with me on the first outing) and her adult son went back recently and they recognized her. The manager came over and asked what he could do to make up for our unfortunate experience. She said it was me that needed to be made up to, not her. She said she was more interested in relationship building than being comped some food. Still, he gave her a free glass of wine and a loaf of their wonderful bread, which comes from Bread and Chocolate, in Hamden. They had a flawless meal and were doted on. I finished off her scallop salad, when she got home and it was delicious, with a nicely balanced dressing, that in no way overpowered the scallops.
                Understandingly, I know opening day can be tough, and they were obviously not totally ready to open since there was an electrical contractor's truck parked prominately at the front entrance. On my next visit I will be curious to see if they can make decent crab cakes...
                I do have a slight correction to my previous post: On the menu for the trio of crabcakes appetizer it says, "[B]Tortini di Mare[/B] A trio of "crabcakes"," after which the description continues, with the caveat that it is [I]not all [U]crab[/U] cakes[/I]. I did not read that part.... my eyes shot to "crab cakes" at the beginning, and I read no further.

                1. re: Scargod

                  I had dinner there last night.. everything was wonderful..pana cotto is the BEST i every had..nobody can beat Eddie Varipapa's pana cotto. I also had the calabrese peppers with pork chops WOW.. unbelivable. Great place. A must place to be seen at.

                  1. re: grhoff

                    I've dined at Leon's twice, both times were exceptional. Most of the former Rusty Scupper staff are there, so there must be some kind of quality, professional and friendly service floating around Leon's. Calamari is to die for. Unfortunately, rumor has it that they only have a 2 year lease, which means they can either be kicked out or rebuilt when the high rise is set fourth. For now, I will dine there as much as my budget allows. Good job!!

                    1. re: Browneyedmom

                      i dined at Leon's last night, with a party of 8.
                      I had a reservation, so they were expecting us. all staff was attentive , and nice, and i got the feeling that they were appreciative of our dining there.

                      the decor is phenomenal. great views of the sound.

                      I had penne amante, which was like penne ala vodka, except that they use cognac instead of vodka. very good and very good portion. other diners in my party had baked ziti phyllis- was huge and was just golden and cheesy; lobster ravioli;veal fontina;clams and linguine;scrod;steak with several dipping sauces;whole wheat pasta with vegetables. I did not try any of the other dishes, but they all looked great, and everyone was enjoying their dinners.

                      They also had a ton of specials- a whole sheet of specials. There really was something for everyone- suit every taste.

                      desserts- they make their own cannolis and their own ny style cheesecake. also offered creme brulee, a gelato trio, and a lava cake. their may have been 1 or 2 other desserts.

                      Overall, i had a great experience, and would definitely go back. in fact, i cant wait to go back. the prices were fair. i did not think it was too expensive. i am going to invent occasions just to have a reason to go back!

                  2. re: grhoff

                    Went for lunch yesterday. They finally got pretty busy for a Saturday lunch. They had some kind of event going on in the main room and there was a piano player. I arrived early and waited for my partner to arrive. Gave me a chance to schmooze with two waitresses, who also tended bar. They said the grandson was running the place.
                    We sat in the bar area where they have two-top seating along the circular window. It has a great view of the water.
                    We had calamari, "beans and greens" (escarole) and I had scallops Athenian. All was good and I really enjoyed the feta crumble with the scallops and tomato sauce. Reminded me of having bits of tasty bacon in a similar dish.
                    The food was all good and service was near perfect.
                    Several things struck me. I posted earlier about sending a glass of white wine back because it was tasteless; Now I know why. I watched them pour small amounts of wine from multiple bottles, together, into one bottle. These were obviously from the night before because I arrived at 11:30 and there was hardly anyone there.
                    There are vestiges of the old Rusty Scupper (besides some old employees) still abound. The carpet in the circular seating area, where we sat, is filthy and old. You can clearly see where it merges with the new carpet at the steps to the main level. The overhead lighting is of the exposed wiring style and the "old" lint was still there.
                    Still, I'll go back again. I may not drink the house wines....unless it's for dinner.

                    1. re: Scargod

                      "I watched them pour small amounts of wine from multiple bottles, together, into one bottle."

                      Makes me wonder what's going on in the kitchen behind closed doors.

              2. We went to Leon's on Sunday night and asked to have the tasting menu. We were presented with an outstanding corner, water view table and quick, attentive, professional service from A.J. throughout the meal. He was never obtrusive and always prompt. A.J. even went into the kitchen to find out what we would be eating in our 8-course tasting menu so that we could properly order drinks. All of that said, the most impressive part of the evening was the food. Each course was perfectly prepared, amazingly tasty and highly creative. It afforded me the opportunity to try a few dishes I would never have tried otherwise such as raw scallop and fois gras. Each course was complimented with the perfect complimentary "dressings" and garnishes that were not merely decorative, but added flavors for each dish. In the midst of our meal, the chef, Will Talamelli, came out to our table (which is a personal favorite thing for a restaurant to do) to find out how we liked our meal so far and to entice us with the remainder of our menu selections. The courses got better and better as the night progressed, marrying many great dishes in the perfect order with just enough time in between to discuss what we had just enjoyed, but not too much time so that we were impatiently waiting for the next course. Everything was prepared impeccably. From the raw oyster with tangering foam to the mixed berries with orange powder (and cool spoons, by the way) to Salmon with Lobster and white and green asparagus, overall, this is by far the best dining experience I have had in a very long time. The owner even came over to the table at the end of the meal to see how our experience was. We are not famous, special people, but Leon't made us feel like we were. As a note, we ate at a Mario Batali restaurant two evenings later and our Leon's experience blew Batali's off the map. Will is a terrific chef who clearly has a bright culinary future and Leon's is doing it right. We can't wait to go back. What's the Rusty Scupper again?... I forget.

                2 Replies
                1. re: mikebetsy

                  You had a "tasting menu" not the pre-fixe or banquet menu? Have you been to Leon's before? I was not aware of this menu possibility and the web site doesn't mention it. Is Talamelli the chef who they started out with in January?

                  1. re: wtalamelli

                    Thanks for the info. I may take you up on that, though the scotch with food sounds like a waste of good scotch. I did a flight of scotches recently at the Driskill, in Austin, that was very enjoyable, but that was before a meal there. Perhaps I will wait till there is a wine pairing.

                2. decent restaurant, nice bar area, a bit on the expensive side with most menu items over $20.... and that would be for a pasta dish. anything with meat or seafood was over $24. portion sizes not bad, service was good. No salad with your meal unless you order it a-la-carte. Not sure if i'll be too quick to go back.