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Mar 7, 2010 05:28 AM

Leon's improving with age?

Yesterday we had lunch at Leon's. Leon's is at the location where SO and I met eight years ago when it was the "Rusty Scupper". It was such a beautiful day I wanted to go where foremost, we would have a view. Had I thought of the taco trucks in time, we might have done that, though it was still slightly chilly for eating outside.
Leon's is a place SO goes to semi-frequently for business lunches. I have sort of a love-hate relationship with Leon's that goes back to the day they opened. I just can't abide a upscale restaurant in a very prime location who can't get their shit together half the time and get everything right once in a while. Yesterday was no exception.
There were not many cars in the lot and the restaurant reflected this. There were two waiters for about ten tables that were occupied. We arrived about 12:30PM, not the earlier time the check has on it for "order started". Our ticket start time was wrong, but our final receipt time was correct. This may seem like an odd observation, but we weren't there two hours!

They had a $20 bottle of 2005 Silver Ridge Merlot as a special on the menu (not on the wine list), so we had that. We asked the mature and experienced waiter what he thought of it. Though it was pretty good it did not have much body, but was fruitier than I expected from our discussion. Not a bad $20 bottle of wine, but more like a Beaujelais than a Merlot.
We received a nice amount of warm, crusty, well-made bread to start off with and Parmesan cheese infused olive oil for dipping.
I had six blue point oysters and the veal kidneys with onions appetizer. I knew I was going to get some or half of SO's hamburger.
The oysters were fresh enough, but like Sage, a mile down the beach, they can't seem to get oysters to you without shell detritus. Sand crunch in clams is one thing, big chunks of oyster shell is another.
The kidneys were wonderful. There was a rich, natural brown gravy that coated the meat and sauteed onions. This was a simple dish, well prepared.
SO ordered the broccoli rabe burger, rare. This was topped with Provolone, and sauteed broccoli rabe. It was a delicious hamburger even if it was overcooked. We debated sending it back; it was so far from the rare she ordered,with almost invisible pink in the middle. It came with a large portion of wonderfully cooked large fries that were dusted with a Parmesan-parsley mix. We are finishing them today for lunch!

The food was good enough. The oysters were $3 each, the kidney appetizer a good value @ $8 and the burger and fries for $13. The bigger issue was the mediocre service from a experienced and polished waiter when there was very little business. Some delays can be attributed to the kitchen (which there were), but not clearing plates in a timely manner, never refilling our glasses and slowness in processing our bill are inexcusable.
Perhaps it's me, but it seemed noisy in this main dining room. On a slow, laid-back Saturday afternoon when the restaurant seems on autopilot, with very few patrons, you would think the restaurant would be rather quiet.
I would not let my criticism deter you from trying Leon's. You could have a good meal or a so-so meal. Probably you would have nothing to cry foul over or justify having a hissy fit. I am spoiled by the availability of top quality food and service in New Haven and wished Leon's was consistently better.

Leon's Restaurant of New Haven
501 Long Wharf Drive, New Haven, CT 06501

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  1. sorry my attention span doesn't allow me to read all the details above but i agree with the last line.

    why can't it be the consistent leon's of old? that is, the old location. that place used to rock non-stop. not so with the new locale one bit.

    6 Replies
    1. re: MasterofLightChick

      and the question is???????????????
      Which old location?
      Hamden which was fair or Daggett Street which was wonderful?

      Leon's has gotten worse with each generation of ownership.

      Location doesn't make up for not great food and poor service. I was a guest at the new location 2 weeks ago and found the food ordinary and service intolerable. Our waiter did not know anything about the preparation details and less about the wine list. I have to be in the Maritime center on business this week, but it is not that far to very good restaurants in ninth square or Wooster St. I won't be going back to Leon's anytime soon.

      1. re: bagelman01

        The ONLY comparison you could make would be to the Washington Ave./Daggett St. Leon's, as the Hamden location could not even compare to the original. Back in "the day," Leon's was our go-to restaurant, with food unlike anything else in the area. It was the first place I ever had Scungilli salad, Fried Calamari, Panne Cotta, and so many other dishes that ultimately became mainstays of every Italian menu. It was always fun going there - Gene tending bar and kibbitzing with the customers, and Eddie (THE Eddie!) coming out of the kitchen to make sure that you loved the food (which you always did!). Sure, you could get the "regular" stuff on the menu, but nobody had seafood like Leon's and whatever was "special" on their supplemental menu was invariably as good as it could possibly be.
        Of the restaurants that have closed in New Haven, the one I lament most is the original Leon's.

        1. re: lsnhc

          Don't know if you're old enough.........
          We alternated Sundays: One week Leon's on Daggett for Seafood, my favorite-Lobster Fra D'iavlo and the opposite Sunday at the original Frankie's on State Street for Pasta (usually Lasagna). We kids kept busy plaing with the parrot.

          1. re: lsnhc

            SO, who has been in the area long enough to know both locations has said the same thing.

            1. re: Scargod

              While Frankie's left New Haven when I was very young, I DO remember going there with my father and having lunch at the "steam table." A little of this....a little of that...
              We also loved the old Papa Coppola's on Wooster St. (current location of the Joker's Wild Comedy Club). Now, I guess I'm showing my age!

              1. re: lsnhc

                no older than I am...................
                I still have 3 porcelain coated steam pans from Frankies, never have to worry about burning the bottom and ruining the sauce.

                Eating out in 1950s and 60s New Haven was alway interesting and usually very good. Close enough to New York to ensure quality ethnic ingredients, and a sophisticated enough clientele to support many restaurants.

      2. We went for our wedding anniversary in October. I had written a long and detailed review, but when I went to post it for some reason it did not post. Suffice to say that I was very disappointed with my meal and the overall experience.

        Service by the waitress was really good, attentive, freindly and knowledgable; however if I even paused while eating the busboys tried to take my plate. I literally mean I had my fork in my hand and was talking to my hubby and they put their hand on my plate. I had to tell them no less than 4 times PER COURSE that I wasn't done. At one point during my main course I put my fork down and they actually DID take my plate away. I was not done yet. I just gave up, and called after the guy to have him wrap it.

        I ordered the panne cotto, which was really not very good. I much prefer tre scalini's version. also, there is some sort of pork in there (maybe ham)--an ingredient not listed on the menu--not a big deal for me, but it may be for others.

        I also ordered the butternut squash risotto, which was a special that night. Somehow it managed to be both undercooked and gummy at the same time. None of that nice creamy consistency it should have had. Really, really disappointing

        My DH loved his food--he had clams casino and the zuppa de pesce. he also eats very quickly, so he did not have to battle to keep his food LOL!

        If it were up to me I would not return...

        1. This has been a huge debate with this restaurant. I just spoke with a guy this afternoon who had just ate there and said it was terrific. Does it matter if you know the chef? Maybe yes maybe no. You would like to think that no matter who you are, restaurant critic or Joe Slacker, you get the same service. So many mixed results.

          9 Replies
          1. re: triggs73

            Exactly. Very mixed. And some are not so particular.
            Knowing that you like Antonio's and Cafe Bravo, I would like to hear about your recent experiences at Italian places similar to Leon's and which ones you like the most. A new thread?

            1. re: Scargod

              I have a funny recommendation I always forget about. But the poster talking above how Leon's used to be with all the old school dishes that become popular. Well, the River Cafe (House) in Derby reminds me a teeny tiny bit of that Old School style. Their Panne Cotta is great and total Old Italian! Any one else like this hidden little hole in the wall?

              1. re: MasterofLightChick

                I did a review of River Restaurant in Derby, Ct.
                Yes, I'd say old school, but a fish special was nice and the restaurant was a pleasant surprise. They really need some PR work for a restaurant stuck in a corner with no suggestion of what is inside.

              2. re: Scargod

                You know...I have to venture out of my comfort zones and hit your fav, L' Orcio and also Adrianna's, I've heard good and bad things about the lattter. I just went to Antonio's this past Sunday and had a beautiful piece of Chilean Sea bass. Although, NEw Mill in Plainville/Southington is not known for his Italian but he makes GREAT italian food. Sauce is excellent, meatballs are to do die for. Bin 100 is another place. You and I will have to meet up for a nosh.

                1. re: triggs73

                  Notice Adrianna's is not on my map: I know I went there once, but I can't remember it. I may have not been impressed?
                  Antonio's and Cafe Bravo are on my map, but I have not been to either yet. Email me!

                  1. re: Scargod

                    We've been to the "new" Adriana's once since the reopening with decidedly mixed
                    results. While the good dishes were good, if not memorable, my pork chops were not at all good - overcooked and completely uninspired. I don't think that I would avoid Adriana's, but I definitely would not go out of my way to return.
                    I still think that for moderately priced Italian, LoMonaco's in Branford is an excellent (if underrated) choice. Consistently good food, delightful servers, and a very moderately priced wine list with several interesting choices.

                2. re: triggs73

                  I just found this on my phone. It's from a little while back. It speaks to what is wrong with Leon's. They just don't seem to care very much about details. Besides the food is the restaurant environment. This shows the filthy windows and tied up dirty, frayed, old curtains.
                  I go to Leon's for the view. You'd think they would keep their windows clean with such a premium view. And who thought of the classy treatment of the curtains? I didn't enjoy looking at them while I dined. They're still there.
                  The photos didn't upload. I'll try again.

                  1. re: triggs73

                    Photos from Leon's. Moderators can move to post above if they wish.