For a high end dining experience in Essex or nearby communities go with (in no order):
Restaurant du Glace, Deep River
Copper Beech Inn (either room), Essex (Centerbrook)
Cafe Routier, Westbrook
Gabrielle’s, Essex (Centerbrook)
Liv’s Oyster Bar, Old Saybrook
Jack’s Saybrook Steakhouse, Old Saybrook.
For an interesting meal, not necessarily high end, try:
Griswold Inn (esp. wine bar or Sunday Hunt Breakfast), Essex
Black Seal Tavern, Essex
Taste of China, Clinton
Several possibles in Chester, Old Lyme, etc, but farther away.
And finally, if you are around for Sunday Brunch, the classiest one is:
Water’s Edge Resort Restaurant, Westbrook
hmmm, serious food couple, that does make it a bit intimidating.
I second the river tavern in chester, J. rapp is seriously committed to local ingredients and does work hard.
I have a soft spot for Lupo in Chester. unpromising location, but modern, clean dining room and bar, decent small plates, quite a bit worth while.
The Gris, or Griswold Inn in Essex has a great tap room with an funny, old WASPY crowd mixed with boaters, and tourists, NOT a great dining exp. but a fun place for a drink and some funky, fun music.
I am going to add The whistlestop Cafe in Deep River for breakfast, not fancy, but great, Heddy and crowd make some amazing omelets and you might get lucky enough to have still warm jam or jelly on the table. Tiny place, sometimes a wait, The Cannes Omelet with shallots and goat cheese is a personal favorite.
I have not been to Cafe Routier since they moved to westbrook, but in their old location they were fun, funky french. Not stuffy. worth a try.
Olivers has not been worth eating at in 10 years.
The Copperbeech is getting really great reviews for their more casual dining room.
Restaurant du village in Chester is also good French and the town is charming.
Liv's was mentioned already, might be worth a try.
There is a place called the Griswold Inn Which has been around a long time in Essex See Web Site(http://www.griswoldinn.com/Pages/Dining.htm) Can not give you a personal opinion but maybe some of our Chowhounds from that area can give us some input into that place. Also I found another one for you Called Oliver's Restaurant and Tavern, Re. web site (http://www.oliverstavern.com/) Hope these help. I took a quick look at the menu for Oliver's , it seemed a little on the moderate price list for burgers and sandwiches , But the choice is up to you. Good luck;;;;;;; Earle Ct.