Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Fall (and a Couple of Places to Eat)

OK I get it already. I’m on board. Why I have been so pig-headed over the years is just beyond me. I am 42 years old and for the first time I get it. You see friends, I stepped out into the fall air here in Mystic, Connecticut and saw my breath because it was cold outside. And I liked it. I liked the change from beads of sweat gathering on my brow to the rush of cold air entering my lungs. Now this may not seem like any major epiphany to most of you but to me, this is huge. I have spent most of my life denouncing everything related to cool weather. Aside from enjoying a little snow skiing (which I haven’t done in 20 years), Football season and of course the holidays, fall and winter have been very depressing times in my book. I was always a flip flop and “cut off’s” beachy kinda guy and winter just put a big damper on that for me. Sure the bars and restaurants down on the beach were still open but those clear plastic sheets would come down over the porches enveloping the place like “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble”.

Another part of autumn that was lost on me was this silly “leaves changing colors” thing. Being a Floridian, I hadn’t experienced this. You don’t see bright red or yellow palm frons falling in Tampa. No sir. And doesn’t the color change just signal that you’ll be doing some serious yard raking in just a couple of weeks? YUK. But after experiencing nature’s painting of the landscape, it is difficult not to be drawn in and consumed by it. It produces a warm feeling inside even as the crisp air touches your skin. Perhaps that is the desired effect to help combat the impending bitter months just ahead. Well, over analyzing doesn’t change the fact that I have come to enjoy the look and feel of autumn.

I have had an interesting and overly busy work week up here starting too early and finishing too late but I have been surrounded by some neat folks. Myself and a colleague have been facilitating a class for the global regions of our company (blah, blah, blah) but what that really means is that we have folks from around the world here. We have had a few great meals and I want to share a couple of places with you.

Seafood Crepe Topped with Lobster at S&P Oyster House, Mystic CT

Westerly, Rhode Island (just down the road from Mystic, Connecticut and home to my divisional headquarters) is not a big town. But for a little New England nook, it has a bustling little culture to its own. It reminds me of the town in Michael J. Fox’s Back to the Future. Just off the downtown path is a restaurant I frequent called 84 High Street. It is a perfect choice for business dinners because it can accommodate both small and large parties and depending on the day of the week, they have been able to deal with decent sized groups on little to no notice. So on a Monday afternoon we headed from the office and meandered through town to 84 High Street (the name also doubles as the address –no points for originality but no excuse not to find it).

What sets this place apart are the culinary chops of chef/owner Christopher Champagne, who graduated from Johnson and Wales culinary academy. He interned with a few notable folks and has hobnobbed in the James Beard Award circles but his roots remained in Westerly. Opening his own place was a destiny and a touch of serious class in an already artisan town. I take a certain pride in finding this place noteworthy and THEN finding out the chef had a pedigree.

I ordered a pasta dish. Specifically I ordered the Pasta with Shrimp and Peppers. This was quite terrific with a peppery broth and big, meaty shrimp whose sweetness was not lost. Now if adding artichoke hearts and spinach sounds like a busy dish, it is. But it also works just perfectly. The flavors worked exceptionally well together and there was a bit of heat to the dish too.

A Busy but Delicious Shrimp Pasta from 84 High Street

Later in the week, S&P Oyster Company in Mystic was our destination. I have been to this riverfront restaurant before and I don’t recall anything worth writing about. Well perhaps my opinion was hasty. I had a fantastic meal. I kept to the pasta theme but this time with scallops that were monsters. Add the “Anything-with-bacon-in-it-is-a-fantastic-dish” factor and this meal was exceptional. I will add this place back to my list of recommended places in Mystic.

Look at that Scallop. Unbelievable. S&P Oyster House moves up on the list.

The coolness that was in the air early in the week was replaced by a late season low pressure system that kept skies blue and temperatures warm. These were perhaps the last days of shorts and flip flops for the season because it is chilly in New England right now. I know this because I watched the baseball game from Boston on TV tonight (I’m back in Florida). It looked like another fall night. I have several trips up there before the end of the year and I already have a menu planned for another get together (it involves those little mini pumpkins).

So I look forward to seeing my breath and the crispness. Soon that will evolve into blankets of clean white snow that refresh the landscape. The smell of wood burning fireplaces and cinimonny apple drinks are just around the corner and I’m 100% on board.

No comments: