Brief kid-less bliss
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After years of wanting nothing more than to be a Mom, it was delightful last weekend to have four meals without my two tiny tots while my sister Calico kindly watched them for me.
After dropping them off Rolando and I stopped at Lenny's Indian Head in Branford, just east of New Haven, for a Shore Dinner that began with a pitcher of Bass Ale. Then came a cup of Rhode Island chowder, which I haven't had since my eight years in that state. Rather than a tomato or milk-based broth, its base is a murky rich gray-brown clam broth. I don't like clam chowders that taste like clam-flavored thick white sauce, and this was a real rustic, killer soup. With it came two sweet raw cherrystones on the half shell, something else I don't think I've had since 1993 when I left Rhode Island.
Then came as its own course some fresh sweet butter and sugar corn, then a boiled lobster perched atop a huge platter of steamer clams. It took me about an hour to make my way through that and I savored every blissful minute of it. Then was a huge chunk of watermelon with a knife and fork and some needed coffee. All but the Bass was part of the Shore dinner and it was heavenly.
A few short hours later we were still stuffed but it was time for our reservation for the 8:30 seating at Le Petit Cafe, also in Branford. When this place opened it was affiliated with Jacques Pepin and was called a "bouchon lyonnais," but now current chef/owner Roy Ip is French-inspired and very original, creative and talented. He offers two seatings of a prix fixe dinner at $39.50. Dinners out these days are so rare that I wanted to pick a great place. This was praised by Chowhound and eGullet and Zagat, and we weren't disappointed. Les amuses-bouche
began our meal: intensely gingery and sweet pickled chunks of beet, an assortment of cumin- and garlic-flavored olives and my favorite: crusty bread fresh from the oven and a crock of sweet butter generously studded with black truffle.
Then I enjoyed a huge diver scallop wrapped in prosciutto with grapefruit sections and a cilantro sauce. Rolando had an exquisite house-made duck and pork pate studded with Grand Marnier-soaked cherries. He had a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon and me, a nice white Bordeaux.
Then came a great salad of organic mesclun topped with warm tangy French goat cheese, then the entrees. Rolando's was the star, a rack of NZ lamb with Provencal crust, unbelievably good, and served with a gratin of potato and celery root. My wild Canadian halibut was just slightly dry but fresh, mild and fluffy, and the best part was that it hid a pile of exquisite sauteed slices of trumpet royale mushroom.
For dessert I dug into a tart passionfruit creme brulee and Rolando had a peach tart in puff pastry, both flawless. Chef Ip kindly stopped by our table to chat (I love it when chefs have time to do that) and told me all about the mushrooms so I could describe them in my column "Ravenous" this week.
After a night in Niantic and a Mystic morning, we capped off the adventure with luscious fried clam bellies from the Sea Swirl, recommended by the tipsy barkeep at John's Irish Pub.