Story and photography by Manos Angelakis
Two Bridge Street
Old Saybrook, CT 06475
Fresh Salt is the fine dinning restaurant at the Saybrook Point Inn & Spa, in the hamlet of historic Old Saybrook, Connecticut. (see Saybrook Point story in Hotels & Resorts).
We were seated in the main dinning room by a freshwater aquarium inhabited by brightly hued fish darting to and fro in search of morsels of food and entertaining us with their antics. Outside, the sailboats and power-cruisers moored in the marina, bobbed on the gentle swells. A huge orange-hued moon shone on the waters of the Connecticut sound.
It is an attractive room, jam-packed the day we were dining there with a mixture of locals, yachts-people from the boats moored in the marina slips that are part of the property, as well as hotel guests. Outside on the patio, a fire pit attracted guests sipping Peter Marshall's -- the resident mixologist -- delicious cocktail creations.
The focus of Chef Leslie Tripp, the master of the Fresh Salt kitchen, is using local ingredients sourced, if possibly, within a 75 mile radius. He has first access to the bounty of the sea by getting every morning the daily catch from a number of boats, plus fresh seasonal vegetables that are also delivered daily by select regional purveyors. This is farm-to-table cooking at its best.
Before I even start talking about the food, I would like to comment about the service. Well seasoned staff took care of us, recommended dishes for us to try, knew how each dish was created, made sure that our water glasses were always full, and was attentively efficient.
The food was exceptional.
We started with raw fish and shellfish: a Citrus Cured Fluke Crudo with cubes of roasted beets and Edamami, yuzu, and wassabi-mayonnaise dots and micro-greens; a Big Eye Tuna Tartar on a bed of avocado, dried cherries, coconut, yuzu wassabi, topped with crisp-fried wonton noodles and micro-greens; and Stonington Scallop, with snap peas, micro-greens and red onion, and yuzu white soy dressing. All dishes were made with fish and scallops that were in the sea the day before.
Then came the main courses.
One of the culinary expertise indicators that I use when I have Italian or Italian-style dishes is Chioppino, a mixed seafood dish that includes lobster (langouste), calamari, scallops, mussels, and sometimes clams in a tomato and saffron sauce, usually served over thin spaghetti or capellini with a slice of crusty baguette on top. A not very competent kitchen will send the dish out too salty, or with a plethora of the cheaper ingredients (lots of rubbery calamari and no lobster) but not the expensive ones or with overcooked pasta. In this case, the Chioppino I ordered came out perfectly cooked and with the proper ingredients.
Barbara’s main was The Block Island Swordfish Chop, with lobster risotto, barigoule -- a traditional Provençal blend of artichokes braised with onions, garlic and carrots in wine and water -- and tomato confit. The chop is taken from the cheek of the swordfish and is flavorful and tender; there are only 2 chops per fish. And at Fresh Salt, a highly coveted dish.
Dessert was a Brownie Pudding, with fresh raspberries, sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar. A sample was brought to us, crispy and crunchy on the top and warm and soft in the center.
On the dessert list I saw a Pineapple Upside Down Cake, a classic Crème Brûlé, and a Strawberry-Cream Trifle (I like a good trifle from my days in London) amongst the other offerings. But the Brownie Pudding was the perfect ending to this meal.
The wine list is compact but well designed for the dishes created in the Fresh Salt’s kitchen. Forty four white and rosé wines from around the world, including Champagnes and sparkling wines, and fifty reds. They included two of my favorite Proseccos and a very nice rosé Cava from Spain. The only thing that I don’t think goes quality-wise with the rest of the list is the Freixinet, Carta Nevada, a very low quality Cava. There are so many excellent Cavas in the tri-state market not much more expensive than the Freixinet; I see no reason to have a clunker like that. The reds are a bit heavy in California wines, but there are quality red bottles at practically every price point range.
There is also an excellent collection of Single Malt Scotches, a Johnny Walker Blue blend, American Bourbons, and Cognacs and Armagnacs. A bit limited on the ports, I thought, but frankly, with the beverage choices nowadays available to the after dinner crowd, I don’t know if there are enough port aficionados to warrant a wider selection.
And a great time was had by all!
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