'Assaggio Ristorante On The Harbor' ...Stratford, CT
Happy 2010 Hounds. Our last meal of '09 was a visit to 'Assaggio Ristorante On The Harbor' on New Year's Eve before a great laugh-filled show nearby. This post has defected to the New England board rather than Tristate. Supposedly it all depends on where in our state the restaurant is(as if anyone knows who belongs where anyway!) but I say CT is CT so let it be. Thanks in advance for having me...but please be gentle for I can tell when I'm not wanted :) . This was the first visit which was part of that original Tristate board thread:
Given their number of creative offerings we made sure in advance that we'd be choosing from the considerably sized everyday menu and not one with limited selections as is frequently the restricting case on "holidays". Those that have been here before know it is quite a nice space and perfectly suitable for clean-casual which was certainly us given our plans afterwards. We were seated in a smaller area with a handful of tables that is on the right as you first enter the dining room. I would state a preference to not be here in future visits when the comedy shows are calling across the street as the attractiveness of the seatings is in the larger and more open areas further inside(these are the better booths and tables that can be seen in the 'RestaurantsCT' link).
I first had a VERY nice 'Nero d'Avola' red wine by the glass and my co-pilot tried an equally pleasing German 'Riesling' while we browsed about the menu. Both glasses were the lowest priced(and the most enjoyable) of the different wines we each had throughout the meal so they made for a rather fine sipping-start. I later moved to one of their Italian 'Rosso' blends before a 'Pinot Noir' while she switched to a 'Terre di Tufi' white Tuscan blend and then a Jordan 'Chardonnay'.
We started with the 'Grigliatina Di Mare'(grilled fresh calamari and a head-on Maya shrimp..both with a spicy roasted pepper tarragon sauce) and the 'Insalata Di Mare'(baby shrimp, New Zealand mussels, calamari, extra virgin olive oil, herbs and lemon dressing served in a martini glass). While the 'Insalata Di Mare' was worth a try, we missed having the addition of modest amounts of scungilli that appear in other chilled mixes of fresh seafood similar to this. We both agreed this sets apart the better examples from the rest in different preparations and felt it would have improved this one too(certainly just a personal preference in all). The fresh calamari was perfectly grilled(as in very lightly) with an appropriate amount of the described sauce on alternating pieces among the several mantle portions given. The head-on shrimp was simply how we should all be enjoying these buggers but too often don't("I want BRAINS" as they say in 'Return Of The Living Dead'). To think places like 'Ibiza Tapas' took them off their menu says we pass more than venture and are reluctant to order them in restaurants that wish to serve them...a crustacean nation are we? Hardly. If we all had our "thinking caps" on we'd know that there's no "Bad Brains" in the head-on enjoyment of shrimp. So let's get it together and eat em' properly! Who's with me? :
We then created our own second course by choosing the 'Arezzo' Salad(mache topped with goat cheese, green apple, artichoke, and an Italian citrus dressing) and the 'Valentina'
(bresaola or air-dried beef with a bed of wild arugula, shaved Parmigiano Reggiano, extra virgin olive oil and lemon). I would have preferred that the 'Arezzo' Salad was less dressed
..hey, just like my date ;) ....but it was still good. We both gave the nod to the 'Valentina' as an appetizer we wouldn't hesitate to order again. All its ingredients were singing more than my poor woman's flighty dining companion...."Do-re-mi-fa-so"!
For an entree I had the 'Costoletto Di Vitello Al Campari', a lovely medium-rare pan roasted veal chop sautéed with shitake mushrooms, caper berries, fresh thyme, hot cherry peppers, a "touch of Campari", and demi-glace. This honkin' sized chop was a winner and unexpectedly came with welcomed portions of pan-fried and seasoned chopped potatoes and sautéed escarole in addition to the listed ingredients. The plump caper berries were quite olive-like in appearance, certainly similar in size and with their stems still attached, and a somewhat recent discovery for us(they can be seen in the pictures in the 'RestaurantsCT' link too). I again accused her of ordering a bit boring by going with the 'Cacciucco Di Pesce In Úmido'(the fish of the day sautéed with mussels, clams, shrimp, garlic, and herbs in a white white and spicy tomato sauce). This was a rather pleasant surprise in flavor though as it was served atop squid-ink pasta. The absolute kicker was that you are given the choice of having head-on shrimp in this dish as well, "More brains.......
BRRRAINS"! Alright that's enough(it's almost over if you've made it this far). Of course we went with these when asked, so thanks much 'Assaggio' for giving several to enjoy. I have to say that this option was a rather nice touch to the dish even though I took the ingredients out of the "swan" shaped foil it was served in(for the only swan I can tolerate is a cooked one on my plate!). You think I'm kidding? Oh, lighten up already. I haven't tried one yet. :)
Check My Brain:
As posted on Tristate board:
Some great pics from Frank Cohen at RestaurantsCT.com("food porn" as he often jokes!). Be sure to click on each one for a nice close-up/enhanced shot as you scroll down.."Bow Chika Bow Bow".. :)
An article with a bit of owner and chef history from Todd Lyon at the New Haven Register: