(Sorry about the lame stock photography in this post - I thought my coworkers might think it was weird if I pulled out a camera and started photographing everyone's dinner - although I now that I have several meals with them I am thinking they may have been pretty cool about it.)
I had been to Tony D's exactly one time since living in New London. It was for my former employer's company Christmas party. We shuffled in off the street to a very basic nondescript banquet room with nondescript folding tables and chairs cushioned in a nondescript color. We severed ourselves from a buffet that had grown room-temperature as opposed to hot by the time Noe and I made our way up. We thought the calamari was pretty excellent, but everything else was run-of-the-mill, slightly bland buffet food.
I know better than to judge a restaurant by a banquet experience (quality ALWAYS gets sacrificed - at least a little - for quantity) but still, Tony D's didn't exactly jump to the top of the list when trying to come up with places to go for dinner, even though people around town kept telling me it was a dependably good meal.
We popped in toward the end of Food Stroll, hoping to get a taste of that fabulous calamari (they were out). We went into the restaurant itself for the sample, rather than the bland and boring street front banquet room. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the restaurant itself had a ton of personality - dark wood contrasted with white napkins, low lighting, waiters dressed in black (I really hate white shirts on waiters, FYI - probably because I wore won for so long and because it is DUMB - waiters spill things!) The lounge was dominated by a large bar with an elevated seating area for more private conversation. The dining room walls were lined with intimate booths and the tables were spaced far enough apart that you wouldn't be on top of the party next to you.
We ate our bite of tortellini in the lounge and moved on. But I found myself back at Tony D's not a week later for another company dinner (we ate out a lot last week - out-of-towners in for meetings).
We were seated at a long table in the dining room. Water was immediately poured (a step that gets neglected in a surprising number of restaurants around here) and we perused the wine list (limited, but not terrible - I am forever spoiled by the Earle when it comes to wine lists). Tony D's was out of the first Chianti we selected, but our waiter was quick to suggest a substitute and the whole table was pleased with the result.
Our waiter was good, by the way - great timing, didn't forget anything, refilled wine/water glasses on every trip to the table, and recited the specials from memory. Compared to some "nicer" restaurants I've eaten at in Southeastern CT, this is above and beyond the norm.
For my entree, I was about to select tortellini with grilled chicken and pesto (mmm, pesto!) but got sidetracked by one of the specials - a fresh-of-the-docks piece of halibut served with a little bit of mushroom cream sauce alongside a mound of whipped cauliflower. There were several components that appealed to me - the fresh, local fish; cauliflower rather than potato for a side; the words "cream sauce" - so I made a last-minute entree switch. Actually, I think four or five out of eight of us made that switch.
When the fish arrived, I was immediately pleased just with the presentation. It was beautifully plated, a nice size without being gigantic, and had a squiggly drizzle of thick cream sauce with large mushroom pieces visible (as opposed to drowning in a pool of runny, mushroom-less sauce).
I cut into the halibut with my fork - no knife necessary - and the crispy brown crust opened to reveal hot and flaky white fish - fully cooked but not dried out. The subtly rich flavor of the cream sauce enhanced the mild fish rather than overpowering it. This was a dish of mild flavors, not strong, but just because you don't have a powerful flavor doesn't mean that everything in the dish doesn't compliment each other harmoniously.
The whipped cauliflower was more or less like an airier version of mashed potatoes, with a slightly grainier (not overly grainy, just a little more so that mashed potatoes) texture. Sort of nondescript, but still a nice break from potatoes.
We decided to be decadent and order some desserts for the table. I unfairly judge every "Italian" restaurant by the quality of their tiramisu, and Tony D's is the closest I've found in CT to the style of my friend Richard's (former pastry chef at the Earle) - lady fingers lightly soaked in a mixture of espresso and cognac, enough to soak up both flavors but firm enough to hold their shape - mascarpone, egg yolks, and sugar whipped and folded into an airy confection, and lightly dusted with cocoa powder. Richard, yours is still the best - but this one is pretty good.
The show-stopper of Tony D's dessert menu is not the tiramisu, however - it's that other Italian confection, the cannoli. The shell was crispy, indicating that it may have actually been fried on the premises (maybe - I can't confirm this, but the shell was crispy, fresh and delicious) and the ricotta mixture inside was definitely lightly enhanced with something - maybe lemon zest, perhaps a touch of amaretto? Whatever it was, it was subtle and wonderful. The whole thing was dusted with powdered sugar. Some people shy away from desserts without a chocolate component, but please, if you find yourself eating dessert at Tony D's, order the cannoli. I promise you will not be disappointed (unless you like sickly sweet cream filling and slightly stale shells - in that case you'll be devastated).
I've learned my lesson about ignoring restaurants based on one slightly weird banquet experience. I need to try out more of Tony D's menu before I rank it as a favorite, but the dishes I tried on Tuesday made a major case for going back.
New London still isn't close to Ann Arbor in terms of variety and general quality of dining options, but I'm discovering more, better restaurants every day.
Happy New Year!
2 years ago