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Nancy's Rosemary and Sage, Old Saybrook, CT

linguist Aug 4, 2009 08:58 AM

My wife and I found ourselves in Old Saybrook yesterday evening, and on the way back to Guilford we stopped at Nancy's Rosemary and Sage. It's not in the Chow database, apparently, but the location (1080 Boston Post Road, Old Saybrook; phone 860 388-1166) has an interesting history.

This was the original site of Cafe Routier, until 2001 when they moved to Westbrook. In early 2002, the restaurant was re-opened under the name "Rosemary and Sage" by Mickey Josephs, and operated as a fairly high end bistro: well regarded, though it didn't become as well known as Cafe Routier had been, I think. In mid-2003, a car drove into the place and wrecked it; it was closed for nearly a year, but re-opened (still as Rosemary and Sage) in June of 2004. After less than a year, though, the restaurant was sold to its current owner, who reopened it in 2005 as "Nancy's Rosemary and Sage." Mickey Josephs, in the meantime, moved his base of operations to Hamden, where he opened Mickey's in 2006. I've now been to all three of the restaurants here, and also to CR in Westbrook - I guess I have to go to Mickey's to complete the cycle.

OK, you're looking for food, not history, but I think the story of this place is interesting. And I'm puzzled that there has been essentially no mention of it in its current form on this board, at least as far as I can tell.

Bottom line: it's well worth a visit. The food is quite good, and carefully done with attention to ingredients and sources. There's a full bar, with lots of specialty cocktails for those of you who like that sort of thing and a quite decent wine list at very reasonable prices. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the menu is that nearly all of the main courses are available both in full sized and "petite" portions, with the latter running roughly 2/3 the price of the full portions. This makes it eminently practical to have an appetizer, main course, and one of the home-made desserts and get away still able to walk (depending, of course, on one's patronage of the bar in the meantime).

For the summertime, there are several tables outside. The place is on route 1, and there's a gas station next door, so you won't confuse this with Paris, but the noise level was not at all unreasonable, and the outdoor seating was really quite pleasant (on the first non-rainy summer evening in some time).

A basket of pretty good garlic bread is brought when you sit down, with a strange but seductive sauce involving yogurt, garlic, and something purple. Try it - you'll finish it. My wife then began with a creamy tomato and garlic soup, which she liked, and I had clams casino: a simple dish that's easy to ruin (cf. Leon's travesty, for example), but that was just perfect here. Very good, fresh, tender littlenecks simply adorned with a bit of bacon and some herbs. Then she had the "scampi bianco" [sic], fine fresh (not frozen) shrimp with spinach, artichoke, and sun dried tomato over linguine. I had coconut shrimp, again very fresh and made to order, with good fries and ok coleslaw. I know this wasn't the greatest test of the restaurant, and there are other more interesting and more complex things on the menu, but that's what I felt like last night.

The desserts, as I say, are all said to be made in house (presumably not counting the Haagen Dazs ice cream....). My key lime pie was just what it should be (speaking as a one-time Floridian), and I would be more than willing to try most of the other things on the dessert menu, including an apple rumble, a blueberry dish of some sort, homemade cheesecake, etc. And I would probably have room for one of them, given the possibility of the small portion entree.

Service (from Nancy herself) was detailed and personal. She knows what she's doing and wants to do it right. Her restaurant is less formal and less ambitious than either of the two previous incarnations on the site, but it's well worth a visit, and I hope it will get more attention.

  1. n
    NYCevents Jul 18, 2011 12:15 PM

    I am planning a corporate retreat in Old Saybrook next year and am having difficulty finding fine dining restaurants online for dinner while we're there. Nancy's Rosemary & Sage sounds delicious, but what is the atmosphere like?

    Do you have any other recommendations for either high end or trendy restaurants in the area?

    6 Replies
    1. re: NYCevents
      linguist Jul 19, 2011 04:38 AM

      I haven't been back to Nancy's for some time, so I can't testify to its current condition. In any case, I wouldn't say it was "high end or trendy" — just pleasant. In the area, you'll probably find Liv's Oyster Bar more what you're looking for, or nearby in Westbrook, Cafe Routier. Some people on this board promote the idea that the bar at CR is better than the dining room. I disagree completely: I have eaten in the dining room many times, and it has always been interesting and good. They did have a problem with staff attitude a few years ago, but that was fixed (in part as a resonse to comments here on CH!). I recommend them with no reservations (although you should GET reservations, especially on weekends).

      A little further afield (because not on the shoreline) up in Chester, you'll find Restaurant L & E (the onetime Restaurant Du Village), a very good sort-of-French place that will also certainly meet your needs. Others will push the Brasserie Pip, which is fine, or the more formal restaurant in the same building whose name I forget (still the Copper Beech Inn?), in Ivoryton. Both places have good food, and differ considerably in atmosphere. I prefer L & E to either, but YMMV.

      -----
      Liv's Oyster Bar
      166 Main Street, Old Saybrook, CT 06475

      Brasserie Pip
      46 Main Street, Ivoryton, CT 06442

      Copper Beech Inn
      46 Main Street, Ivoryton, CT 06442

      1. re: linguist
        n
        NYCevents Jul 19, 2011 02:08 PM

        Thanks! This is a huge help. Let me know if you ever need NYC or New Orleans recommendations.

        1. re: linguist
          j
          jdgall Jul 19, 2011 03:24 PM

          Pips is the only restaurant at the Copper Beech Inn. They have changed both the dining room and the bar into the Pip's bistro.
          Would not recomend L & E their menu is basically tasting, very very small portions. Try Gabrielle's, Liv's, Bee & Thistle or Cafe Routier instead.

          -----
          Copper Beech Inn
          46 Main Street, Ivoryton, CT 06442

          1. re: jdgall
            linguist Jul 20, 2011 10:05 AM

            Well, we disagree on L&E. Personally, I'd rather have a reasonable quantity of excellent food on my plate than massive portions and a styrofoam container to take home. I have never gone away hungry from L&E, and the food is very good.
            Of the other choices you mention, I can certainly agree that Cafe Routier is also fine (and does put more food on your plate than L&E). Liv's is also good, though not as good as the other two, IMO.

        2. re: NYCevents
          f
          few Jul 19, 2011 05:49 PM

          What time of year? If it is around the fall or winter - I would recommend one set of places. If it is summer, quite another. there are several very historic and good eating spots for fall/ winter . Other times along the river/summer style eating...... there is always the Saybrook Point Inn which I have done corporate meetings at. If you have a very large group - that is your best bet, next biggest dining room would probably be the Griswold INN in Essex

          1. re: few
            n
            NYCevents Jul 20, 2011 06:59 AM

            Thanks! We would be staying at the Saybrook Point Inn. It might be this October, but will most likely be in May 2012. I just have to present a bunch of options for things to do in the area.

        3. kattyeyes Aug 15, 2009 05:55 AM

          Good morning, linguist. Remember our "food fight" re Sakura Garden? ;) I raved about Glastonbury; you went to Hamden and came back with "your mileage may vary" and a general disappointment about your meal there.

          Our mileage varied quite a bit from your experience at Nancy's Rosemary & Sage. Let me start by saying if you like garlic bread made out of a grinder roll, you'll love the garlic bread here! I'm not saying it's not tasty in its own way, but I guess "pretty good" isn't clueing anyone into the fact that it isn't even "real" bread. As to the "strange but seductive sauce" you described, it's aioli. I don't believe it contains yogurt, but I could be wrong. The pink comes from a beet reduction (I asked as I was similarly intrigued as to what it was). The pink actually makes it look like some sort of strawberry dip, but it really is aioli!

          One of last night's dinner specials was Lobster Casino--a casserole of picked lobster meat, swimming in garlicky butter. Not to be snide, I honestly thought "casino" indicated the inclusion of bacon and sometimes bell pepper. My dining companion ate the whole thing and said he'd never eaten anything quite like it. He did enjoy it. It was an immense portion of lobster and he was stuffed. To me, it was like serving a lobster roll without the bun. I took a taste and there was nothing wrong with it, but I was unpleasantly surprised when the check came and the dish was priced at $32.95. As this particular item had been handwritten on their white board, it might have been nice of them to add the price. My guy didn't care--he only said had he known that, he would have chosen something else. As the rest of their prices don't approach the $30 range, I thought it was rather sneaky that this "special" would command a "surprise" price like that.

          Our waitress was very pleasant and checked back with us throughout the meal to see how everything was (and to explain the pink aioli!). There appear to be lots of regulars here as I saw a couple of the waitresses hugging the customers and saying how good it was to see them--just to give you a feel for the place. Unfortunately, the high ceilings and rather close proximity to other tables makes it hard to have a conversation without "What? Excuse me? Say again?" which isn't fun, especially when it seems you can hear everyone else's conversation better than you can hear your own. :(

          The portions here are generous. I was torn between ordering carpaccio (which I had just enjoyed very much at J Gilbert's the night before) and clams casino as a starter. The waitress enthusiastically recommended the carpaccio as an appetizer. When the appetizer arrived, I was surprised to see we both had a full plate of carpaccio--my first thought was that we received two separate orders, which isn't what I wanted...I was trying to save room for dessert AND if we were going to have two apps, we would have wanted the clams casino, too...so I asked and was pleased to find out we had ONE order (total) in front of us, but because our waitress knew we were sharing, she split it into two portions. A very nice touch and PLENTY of food. I did like it. I will also tell you I liked the carpaccio even better at J Gilbert's.

          I decided to try a petite portion of the broiled scallops with lemongrass beurre blanc (so said the menu). Here's where I'll share with you I'm spoiled. I cook scallops at home, live with someone who cooks delicious scallops AND have had wonderful scallops prepared with perfection at Casa Scargod (which, unfortunately, is not a public restaurant)...I've also enjoyed scallops at Liv's and La Tavola (in Waterbury). These scallops were fine, but not in the same league as the others. I couldn't taste the lemongrass whatsoever and am well aware of its flavor as it's growing on my deck. Buttery, yes, and the scallops themselves were tasty, but I didn't feel the dish was prepared as described. I barely ate my sugar snaps--they were sort of oily. I don't know what was on them, but I've had them fresh from my friend's garden and these were nothing like that. On the other hand, the mashed potatoes were flavorful.

          All in all, I was already somewhat underwhelmed, but had been saving room for this meal all day, so I ordered the key lime pie (one of my favorite desserts)--I concur, this was a very delicious key lime pie, served over a circular pattern of strawberry gel. It really was quite good. The cappucino sucked and I wished I had waited and just grabbed a cup of "comfort coffee" at Dunkin' on our way back. I do appreciate good cappucino and even brew it at home--this was NOT it.

          I won't say the whole evening was a bust--I will say we won't go back, though. Whenever the check comes and I take note of the total, I try to think of other places we've spent similar money and how our experience compares. In this case, I can think of several restaurants in a similar price range that are far more worth my dining dollars (Liv's Oyster Bar is one in the immediate area), and for far less money, I've had many happier meals at Samurai.

          3 Replies
          1. re: kattyeyes
            Scargod Aug 15, 2009 06:37 AM

            Oh, you're such a spoiled, crabby cat! However, the meal seemed to have some definite plusses to go with the misses. I am the same way. Like our recent $96 Chinese meal, I thought of all the fantastic meals I have had around $100, and was disappointed with what I got for my money (and then there was the noise and cafeteria feel). There should be consistency of quality throughout the meal to command those prices. You, at least, gotta have good food! I'm a good bread geek myself. I don't like average, pedestrian bread in an upscale restaurant.

            Thank you for the compliment, and yes, I'll fix scallops for you again, one day. I have huge pots of lemongrass and ginger I keep forgetting to dig into. Next time: Thai style!
            It may be hard for restaurants to get sugar snaps like mine, picked minutes before use, but they should be fairly good for days. Yours were probably overcooked, in too much oil and left laying in the oil to cool and soak it up. A travesty!

            1. re: kattyeyes
              linguist Aug 15, 2009 06:48 AM

              Very sorry to hear that, Kattyeyes. My review was based on one visit, and since we sat outside the limitations of the interior didn't affect us (I do remember from the old days that the inside tends to be somewhat noisy and claustrophobic). It sounds as if the main killers for you were the lobster special (especially its price) and the cappuccino, but otherwise you survived the evening. We had better luck, perhaps through more fortunate choices.

              I'm not sure if you meant the discovery that the beet-tinted sauce is an aioli to be a dump on it, but personally, I'm fine with that ... it is good, and it makes the (admittedly mediocre) bread more attractive.

              Anyway, I won't push the place. I'm not in that area often enough to have a good sense of the alternatives: we went to Terra Mar a few times in the past, and that was certainly good. I've been meaning to try Liv's, and maybe the next time we're in the neighborhood I/we will.

              And in the meantime, we completed the trifecta on this location and its history by eating at Mickey's in Hamden, which was quite good (though my main dish "Rachel's Pollo" was much too salty, due I think to the use of inferior American prosciutto). We ate outside there too, and while the view of scenic Dixwell Avenue isn't particularly idyllic, the place is set back far enough from the road by a nice green lawn that we found it perfectly pleasant.

              1. re: linguist
                kattyeyes Aug 15, 2009 07:05 AM

                That's OK--as I said, the more I cook (and surround myself with other good cooks), the more spoiled I am to find something fantastic (i.e., show me something I can't do at home--wow me) when we're out.

                I'm not knocking the aioli at all--it really was tasty. It just begged for real bread--not a kicked up grinder roll. ;) Even if they put out baby carrots or other veggie dippers, they'd be better vehicles to enjoy the aioli. I LOVE AIOLI...esp. on French fries. The only funny part was that it was pink...it made it more of a challenge to figure out what it was.

                For months now, I've wanted to try Terra Mar (besides for drinks as we did one day after walking the causeway). Wish anyone who had visited recently would post a review. Their menu is definitely of interest to me! And the setting doesn't hurt. ;)

                I think you'll enjoy Liv's. Much nicer setting than Nancy's and though I know you're not a cocktail person, theirs are outstanding and inventive...not to mention the food, which just shines on its own no matter what you're drinking! We only went once, but really enjoyed our meals.

            2. kattyeyes Aug 9, 2009 09:28 AM

              NOTE: CLOSED ON SUNDAYS

              I was just about to head down for lunch--glad I called first.

              linguist, have you tried Samurai yet? I've posted a few times about it and can't believe no one else on the shore a) goes there b) likes it or c) even chimes in to say they disagree with me. ;)

              How 'bout Edd's Place? It's been too many years since I've been, but what I remember was positive--and its location is kind of quaint, overlooking the marsh. Would love to hear recent feedback on it. If I make it there today, I'll report back.

              2 Replies
              1. re: kattyeyes
                linguist Aug 9, 2009 02:31 PM

                Kattyeyes, I regret to say that when I tried Samurai last Tuesday, I was not delighted. The focus here again seem to be on the hibachi tables, and after that, on "Asian fusion cuisine," and what I was after was sashimi ... yes, Tuesday is half price night for (some, not all of) the sushi/sashimi menu, and half price is not a disincentive in itself :-), but the range of fish and rolls available was somewhat limited (including the regular, full price menu, and certainly extending to the list of three somewhat generic cold sakes). The things I had were at best OK: certainly better than my experience at Sakura Gardens in Hamden, but equally certainly not a good reason not to drive to Orange when I want sashimi.

                Hmmm... Edd's Place. I'll look into it.

                1. re: linguist
                  kattyeyes Aug 9, 2009 02:36 PM

                  Got it. We actually went today, but I'll report on the Samurai thread rather than hijack your post. I will say that if your focus is on sashimi, Samurai wouldn't be my top pick for you. And you and I are totally on the same page re Wild Ginger. But I do really like the Chinese and Thai dishes at Samurai, so if you're in the neighborhood and in a Chinese or Thai mood, do give them a try.

              2. f
                FarFar Aug 8, 2009 08:16 AM

                As the owners of a summer place in Old Saybrook, my wife and I have visited R&S off and on over the years (in fact, the car that drove completely through the dining room and landed in the marsh behind the place did so about 5 hours after we had eaten there one night!). We ate there earlier this summer and liked their new menu so much that we went back several times thereafter in the space of two weeks and brought friends. The menu has dinner entrees, in both full and "petite" sizes, as linguist has noted, as well as a more casual sandwich and salad selection. All are delicious!

                1. kattyeyes Aug 7, 2009 02:55 PM

                  This is great to know--thanks for your detailed review. I've driven by this place so many dozens of times and all I knew about it was the fact that a car hit it (as you mentioned).

                  As odd a comment as this may be, I really love clams casino and it's hard to find them period...nevermind find good ones, so I'm very glad to know we can add another restaurant to the rotation when we're in OS. The smaller portions are appealing. And I am a big fan of key lime pie, too! I'll report back when we get there.

                  <<A basket of pretty good garlic bread is brought when you sit down, with a strange but seductive sauce involving yogurt, garlic, and something purple.>> I'm both amused and intrigued. Can't wait to figure out what it is. ;)

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