photo: fb @SPOyster Fresh Air and Great Food in Mystic Warmer weather in New England…
No visit to Mystic is complete without the kind of indulgent meal served at Chapter One. The sleek, modern interior is comfortable and fresh. Tables of four line one side of the room. During busy periods, a long high-top table provides a community dining experience for singles and doubles. A few floral paintings dot the uncluttered walls. White cloth napkins, beautiful glassware and flatware add to the thoughtful details in this “upscale dining” destination.
International flavors infuse the American menu and it doesn’t bother me to realize this may be the only full-service restaurant in Mystic where fish and chips aren’t served. Plenty of fresh seafood, dry-aged steaks and pastas are on the menu. We’re immediately smitten with lusciously gooey French onion soup. The broth is something special. A question about its preparation directed to our waitress, Michelle, results in a visit from Executive Chef, Bret. He explains his choice to use roasted fat back rather than classic marrow bones in order to extract maximum beef flavor. All that extra attention to detail is worth the exquisite results. And we’re only getting started.
Lobster nachos with goat cheese, fresh avocado and Siracha drizzle arrive on a platter so large that I wish we had help eating them. The “Devils on Horseback” appetizer arrives in style. Medjool dates are stuffed with Gorgonzola, wrapped in cherry bacon and grilled on tiny bamboo skewers. Nestled atop crispy kale in a wine goblet and drizzled with balsamic reduction, they’re perfectly sized for nibbling. Taste buds dance and our smiles widen. We’ll both return just for this appetizer.
Pan seared Stonington Bomster sea scallops decorate a bowl of luscious tomato basil risotto with asparagus. Topped with freshly shaved Parmesan, this delicious, light meal highlights local, fresh ingredients.
I typically hesitate to eat pasta made with squid ink but am feeling adventurous enough for Black Lagoon Lobster Fettuccini. Lobster tomalley butter sauce is a gorgeous pink contrast to black fettuccine. Studded with lobster chunks and fresh tomatoes, a whole lobster tail with shell rises from center to announce deliciousness below. A generous portion of stiff Parmesan black pepper whipped cream luxuriously melts onto the whole dish. Sauce and butter dance seductively together and Chef Bret’s savory whipped cream is genius.
The simple presentation of the signature 28-day dry-aged 16 oz. ribeye steak allows the exquisite meat to literally stand on its own. At a cost of $44 this special-occasion meat is perfectly cooked and so tender that a steak knife isn’t needed. The slightest hint of thyme garlic butter enhances the flavor and a dollop of sweet onion chutney garnishes the plate. My dining companion, Tish, is grateful this steak isn’t overpowered by the black peppercorns so often used to camouflage inferior meat. I’ll dream about this show-stopping indulgence.
Side dishes are thoughtful and well-executed. Bacon roasted Brussel sprouts are a little on the sweet side but oh-so-good. Restaurant manager, Peter, says his 10-year old will eat them. I believe him. Japanese mashed potatoes are a creamy, chunky yellow and reminiscent of sweet potatoes. I’m surprised to learn the exterior of this vegetable is a vivid red. Grilled zucchini and summer squash are available along with red Himalayan rice and other sides.
The creativity and enthusiasm of this young chef are a great foundation for success. A culinary graduate of Lincoln Tech with 5 years’ experience at Water’s Edge (in Westbrook), Bret Pangelinan incorporates flavors and techniques from various cuisines. Italian and French influences are evident but he glowingly describes Asian-inspired dishes on or off the menu. “I grew up helping my mother and grandmother cook so dinner would be ready faster” Bret says. “Kitchen became a therapy for me while growing up and I want to be a teacher of young minds” he explains when referring to his young kitchen staff. His arm bears a tattoo landscape of vegetables so I, too, believe in his culinary calling.
Desserts are now made on-site and today’s offerings include New York style vanilla bean cheesecake with fruit compote, blueberry muffin bread pudding, and a chocolate layer cake with the buttercream flavor of the day. I’m too satisfied to eat it here but take out is available for me to enjoy and share later.
When it opened last summer, Chapter One served only dinner. Current lunch specials include $10 soup & sandwich or soup & salad. The full lunch menu sports kale salad, spinach salad, pastrami sandwiches and seared salmon burgers. Brunch is served from 10am-4pm on both Saturdays and Sundays. Eggs, pasta, quiche, breakfast flatbread, Filet eggs benedict, Wagyu beef burgers and salads are available.
As with most locations downtown, on-street parking is limited but paid parking is adjacent to the Mystic Museum of Art. This would be a great place to meet a friend for a weekday appetizer and drink. A full bar is available and open until 1:00 am Mon-Thurs. and until 2:00 am Friday and Saturday evenings. Late evenings are boisterous but weekday lunch is quiet and two relaxing hours pass as we linger over each bite. Service is attentive and friendly without being intrusive. Friday and Saturday evenings upgrade with crisp white tablecloths to elevate the fine dining atmosphere. My friend and children’s author, Tish Rabe, describes our visit this way: “The staff and Executive Chef were charming and I would definitely try it again.” So will I, Tish. I think Chapter One and Bret have a bright future in Mystic.
32 West Main St. Mystic, CT. 860-245-4123. Reservations accepted. Open 7 days.
Appetizers: $10-14. Lunch: $10-20. Dinner: $26-33 (prime steaks $35-48).
Menus available online: chapter-one.com