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Mar 20, 2009 05:34 PM

New Haven (or vicinity) suggestions for MIL's big birthday lunch with kids?

We are looking for a good restaurant to celebrate my mother in law's 75th birthday. There will be 10 of us - 6 adults and 4 kids (age 4 and under). The inlaws live near New Haven and other relatives are coming from Providence so we want some place in New Haven or east. This is for a sunday afternoon lunch. I have been looking online as I am not very familar with the New Haven restaurant scene. We would love someplace with good food, good service and not too small or quiet for the kids. It is a big birthday so somewhere with good service that will make it a special meal for her would be great. Some place big or where we could step outside with the kids if needed would be great. A hotel restaurant with good food would be ideal or even a small neighborhood place that has a bit of room to move in it is fine (my experience with a toddler is that a small cramped restaurant is bad for everyone). We are open to all kinds of food and the kids eat everything so that is not a concern. Any suggestions? some place outside the city, maybe in a more rural setting, if not too far to get to, could be good too. Thanks!

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  1. The first place that comes to mind is Skappo, which is Italian (Umbrian, which is quite different than the Italian food you tend to see in Connecticut, usually Southern Italian or Tuscan). It is a very small place, but they have large tables and will reserve space for you. I'm assuming because of the children this dinner will be earlier in the evening. I wouldn't recommend it later in the evening with kids, but I've seen children there around five or six. It's a family run place, with, I believe, five family members doing all the work, maybe four. The one time I was there when there were small children, the mother in the family that runs it spent a good deal of time interacting with the kids.

    3 Replies
    1. re: danieljdwyer

      Call paul at lakeview tavern in branford. I had my grandma's 85th an 90th birthday parties there. great food, and the price was beyond reasonable. and plenty of room outside for the kids. you can utilize either of two very nice dining areas. I know I'm always plugging the place on here- but that's only because out of the dozens of places I've been over the last 20 plus years there isn't another guy who treats his customers like he does. WTNH held a function there about a month ago.

      1. re: shoreline

        Is there a view? A lake view or anything? It's just that it looks strip-mallish. Outdoor seating?
        I'll wear my heavy parka!

        1. re: Scargod

          no there's no view, and I've ribbed paul about that over the years. but there are many historic photos of the lake in one of the dining rooms. The food is good and a gathering like the one in question would be very affordable. I know that if I threw the party referred to above at the view for all those people it would cost 1/2 of what it would cost at the other places mentioned. I would stab a stranger in the eye with a butter knife for my grandma, and I wouln't have her last 2 big birthday parties there if it was lame.

          If you're a self-important beret wearing cheese nibbler lakeview might not be right for you. But if you want to be treated special and get a reasonable price for a great meal then the view is the place. On a sunday afternoon they could have the run of one of one of the dining rooms, providing there are no other functions. There aren't many places that have survived on the hill as long as lakeview, they must be doing something right.

          The other places mentioned are great as well.

    2. I would suggest the Saybrook Point Inn. They have a great buffet on Sunday, and I have taken my kids there numerous times. Request the big round table near the window-- the kids can watch the boats go by and get outside if they are restless.

      1. I'm only suggesting Leon's (Italian, in New Haven), because they have a lovely setting on the water, lots of room, interesting views and places to walk, all around the restaurant. Seagulls to watch, etc. The food is decent.

        1. Thanks. Is Leon's at a location that used to be something else (The Rusty Scupper) or something like that? That is a good set up for kids - able to walk around, look at the boats, etc. My husband says he went to Leon's as a child but it was in a different neighborhood then. And the food is okay? You say decent below.

          5 Replies
          1. re: sally30

            Yes, where the Rusty Scupper was until Leon's reopened there on January 8, 2008. I believe the Scupper was not able to renew its lease.
            Leon's gets very mixed reviews from me. I had bad oysters on my first visit (the day they opened), and I don't like Jello-jiggly seafood bisque.
            However, I have had some good meals there and a number of average meals, too. I had about six lunches at Leon's last year; many are documented here and you can see that my feelings towards them fluctuates.
            Some think it is fantastic. Search the New England board and you decide. Perhaps they have gotten past some of their issues. SO and I like their beans and greens. I doubt that you will regret it. Most fish/scallop dishes are good. I just don't put it in a class with Tre Scalini and L'Orcio.
            I don't know if this is inappropriate or not, but if you decide to make reservations there, I would ask that you be given an experienced, knowledgeable waiter. I took four mature family members there for lunch and had several mistakes and miscues by the waiter, that unnecessarily caused the meal to have delays and last for over two hours. We weren't horribly resistant to a long, leisurely lunch (and we did get some free drinks), but I doubt you want too long a meal with kids!
            It does have a great ambiance that weighs in heavily in our decisions about returning....

            1. re: sally30

              I would recommend Sage over Leon's. It has a similar waterfront setting, but is actually at a livelier spot on the harbor. The food is nothing to rave about, but it's solid. Leon's is not. Sage is very basic; think steak and mashed potatoes, lobster rolls, and baked stuffed shrimp. The kind of food that is rarely fantastic, but nearly impossible to screw up. Leon's seems to be reaching for something higher, but falling very flat in doing so. If the kids are picky eaters, I'm not sure what Leon's has to offer. Sage has things like pizza, hamburgers, and french fries. I've been there many many times, going back to when it was the Chart House, and I've never had bad service or bad food. I've only been to Leon's once and I got both.

              1. re: danieljdwyer

                I disagree on Leons: we took MIL there for a dinner recently and it was very good. Beautiful view, easy to park and very festive atmosphere--perhaps too festive for us in the bar area but fine in dinng room. How do you find them falling flat? We all ordered different things and it was all well done. Sage is nice as well and more relaxing, but Leon's food is better, imho. Service was a bit spotty, but food and view were worth it.

                1. re: newhavener07

                  I'll admit the possibility that Leon's has vastly improved since I first went there, a couple of months after it first opened. But the problems I noticed didn't seem to be things they could really improve on without taking a completely different approach. Between two of us we had a clam appetizer, a shrimp appetizer, a steak entree, a scallop entree, coffee, and dessert.
                  I wanted to get oysters, but the server, even after checking (supposedly at least) with the kitchen and manager, could not tell me what kind of oysters they were, where they were from, or how fresh they were. Incompetent as the front of the house and kitchen both often were at the Rusty Scupper, they at least knew this kind of basic information.
                  The appetizer was described as Portuguese but tasted overwhelmingly of chorizo (which is Spanish, and not close enough to Portuguese chouriço to conflate the two). The clams not only did not have any clam flavor, and were overcooked to the point of having released all their juices and shriveled up. I think this may have been the only time in my life I ate clams and had no interest in soaking up every last bit of the broth with bread. And now that I think of it, not only did I have to ask more than once about bread, it was about as good as the bread at Olive Garden.
                  The shrimp appetizer was the highlight of the meal. The shrimp itself was not terribly good quality (I would be surprised if they buy it raw in the shell), but the dish was well executed. Where the clam dish came off as having been executed by someone who was trying to follow a recipe without having any fundamental understanding of the flavors and technique involved, the shrimp dish was very obviously well within the chef's comfort zone.
                  The steak entree was reminiscent of banquet food. The steak itself, which the menu claimed was aged, had very little flavor on its own, though the cooking was executed well. The sauces it came with were not especially good; they seemed design to mask the blandness of the meat rather than to highlight what little flavor it had (which is the quintessential approach taken in mediocre banquet food).
                  The scallop dish was also very much reminiscent of banquet food, but at least good banquet food. There were two main problems with it. The more major of the two problems was that the scallops were very clearly purchased frozen. You can't sear a frozen scallop. The pasta was not well cooked, though, to be fair, it may have been perfectly executed at first, as it was obvious from the texture of the scallops and the pasta that the chef's timing was off and the scallop and pasta dish sat around for awhile while they finished the steak. The sauce was decent enough to make it an okay dish overall, but okay in the way of wedding food or chain Italian.
                  The coffee we were served was the stale, nearly flavorless garbage that makes "American coffee" a degrading term overseas. Dessert was decent, but there's no way it didn't arrive at the restaurant frozen in a box.
                  Now, that's my "trying hard to be as fair as possible" review. There were also a lot of little nitpicky things that bothered me, but I'll skip over most of those as they could be things that wouldn't really bother anyone but me. The one I will point out I am only pointing out as I have seen a similar criticism of Sage. I've seen more than one review claim that Sage seems to be trying to be fancier than they actually are. Leon's screams faux-upscale. From the terminology they choose to use to the reaching for flavors they can't execute to the decor, they clearly think they are a fancy restaurant (and so, I gather, does a lot of the clientele). If they were completely unpretentious, they would use a term like "fixed price menu" or "set menu", even "chef's menu" or the usually inaccurate "tasting menu". If they were actually upscale they might use a term like "table d'hôte" or "prix fixe", or even stick to one of the basic English terms above. Instead they use the made up term "pre-fixe". That really just screams out, "I want to be fancy but I totally don't get it so I'll just pretend."
                  But, that's only a minor issue. The real issue is that, while they clearly demonstrated to me that they are capable of putting together a good meal, they also clearly demonstrated to me that they are very capable of putting together a bad meal and don't appreciate my business much. I have no reason to go back to a place when instead I can go somewhere where I know my meal won't be bad, and I know my business I'll be appreciated.

                  1. re: danieljdwyer

                    Daniel, I think the key words here are "a couple of months after it first opened." Most reviewers give a restaurant at least a few months to work out the kinks in menu and service, especially if it's a new venture. (Yes, Leon's was in business years ago elsewhere, but it was basically a new venture this time around.) Yes, it sounds like you had a bad meal, but I would give it another chance. The menu has been pared down since then and I would also stick to what they seem to do best, seafood. Within those parameters, I think you can get a great meal.