What is it about summer that instinctively sends us to the shore for a meal? A gentle salt-tinged breeze, the diamond sparkle of the sun on the water, boats bobbing at their moorings, gulls wheeling overhead – all this whets the appetite, encourages our thirst, and makes everything taste better.
Casual, sophisticated, or anything in between, we “must go down to the sea again” for a summer meal. The good news is there are lots of places to eat by the water. The hard part is choosing where to go.
Dining on the dock at SoNo Seaport is a summertime essential for us (sonoseaportseafood.com). There’s nothing like sitting right out over the water, watching the boats come and go, and eating the fresh harvest of the sea, simply and expertly prepared. I’m not alone in my enthusiasm for SoNo. The place is jammed on every sunny summer day.
Lobsters are a tradition for us – bright red and steaming (sometimes you get one with roe) – “coleslaw or corn – fries or baked” asks the server. We celebrate the end of the school year on the dock with our bibs billowing in the breeze, shell crackers in hand, and lemony butter dripping all around. Fish and chips is a good choice when I’m not up to wrestling with a lobster: fresh, flaky fillets steaming hot in their blanket of crisp batter. I like fries and slaw with this, too. Fried fish is a staple of dockside restaurants up and down the coast, and it is here, too. Try the local oysters or clams with their hot crunchy breading for a bite of the sea.
At Harbor Lights I feel like I’m on the bridge deck of a luxury cruise ship as it steams across Norwalk Harbor (harborlightsrestaurant-ct.com). With water on three sides, a fresh salty breeze blowing in the open windows, nautical planking on the floor, and attentive service, you can see how I get this feeling. It could be the SS Harbor Lights.
Seafood is what you expect, and seafood is what you get at Harbor Lights. Sea bass, swordfish, sole, salmon, tuna, and lobster; pan seared, grilled or steamed with the chef’s creative and colorful presentations; it’s a waterside feast. Steaks, pasta and risotto are also on the menu. Try some of the not-often-seen greek wines – crisp, light and fruity, perfect with the seafood.
I like the swordfish with pineapple-mango chutney. Scallop, shrimp and lobster risotto is another summer Harbor Lights favorite. Grilled sea bass with a Mediterranean salad of cucumber, tomato, onions, olives, feta and basil has great summer flavors.
Paloma – new on the waterside dining scene – is at the meeting point of Long Island Sound and The Rippowam River in Stamford’s South End (palomagrill.com). There are several new restaurants in the big Harbor Point development, but Paloma has the prime territory along the marina. It’s a hip and happening place with a lively buzz. But you might also see the wild swans gliding easily along the river as you take in the sunset.
Food Network host and star, Aarón Sánchez, is the creative chef behind this latin-accented restaurant. The scene is animated, energetic and fun. The capacity just about doubles when the outside seating is open along the water. Wood-grilled steaks and fish, ceviche, and extensive raw bar choices range across the menu in a variety of small plates and shareable platters.
Mexican is the home cuisine for Chef Sánchez, but the Paloma menu travels creatively across the latin world with dishes including Mexican Street Corn infused with chipotle crema, Cuban Style Chicken, Shrimp or Lobster Ceviche, Chorizo Empanadas, Short Rib and Mushroom Arepas, and Octopus Tostadas. The menu is full of interesting twists, innovative matchings, and original seasonings. It’s hard not to overeat.
Paloma has a big selection of tempting cocktails featuring latin spirits including tequila, mezcal, pisco, cachaca, and rum. I couldn’t try them all but did enjoy The Paloma with grapefruit creme brulee nectar, lime, sea salt and reposado tequila I want to go back to try an Orchard Street with apple, lime, mulling spices calvados and a kick from mezcal chilies. The cocktail ingredients splash over to the menu with accents like tequila Mignonette sauce on the oysters.
These are just three of the many excellent local options for dining by the water. I’m sure you have some favorites, too. Anywhere with an ocean breeze, lapping waves, and a water view is good for me.