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And may we recommend ... these three dishes

By Rick Koster

Publication: The Day

Published September 27. 2012 4:00AM

Remember when there was an Arby's at the Crystal Mall in Waterford? It was a magical time to be in southeastern Connecticut. Sadly, though, just like the stranger in Roy Buchanan's "The Messiah Will Come Again," the Arby's went away.

O, how I fret and and wail through the endless hours!

Someday, yes, an Arby's will re-appear in our zip code. Until then, I roam like a ghost, searching high and low and in places with and without a maitre d' - looking for dishes that offer comfort and appeasement.

It's time, then, for another Rick Koster report: Three Things I've Eaten Lately That Are Cool. Cooler, in fact, than even Arby's.

Panzanella Salad

Stonefleet Tavern, New London

For several years, this glorious spot of real estate at the base of State Street, hard to the train station and the main access to the waterfront piers, was the site of Zavala's. After being empty for a while, it's now occupied by a new bar and grill type venture called Stonefleet Tavern.

While they're still fine-tuning the menu, initial results are promising, and the folks in charge are friendly and well meaning. On a recent Sunday afternoon, stunning in its early autumn perfection, we sat in the bar area to have some lunch and enjoy the breeze through the open windows.

Here's something great: the Panzanella Salad ($9) - and you could do worse than to pair it with a pint of Shipyard's Pumpkinhead Ale. The beer is light, almost pilsner in base construction but has the requisite fall spangles of caramel, nutmeg and cinnamon.

Sip it along with bites from the salad: A huge plate of cubed focaccia bread, slightly stale (as required) and toasted, tossed with garden-plucked tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, capers and basil. Then throw in tart gorgonzola and drizzle with a punchy vinaigrette. It's a calculated balance of the ingredients, with none of the distinct flavors overwhelming the others. The focaccia was a nice touch; we'd only experienced this salad with French bread.

Tuna BLT

Azu, Mystic

I've been in civilized discussions that escalated to near violence over the premise that the core recipe of a BLT is inviolate - that is, that to add ANYTHING to a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich (on white toast with mayo, natch) is an act of treason worthy of Aldrich Ames.

Thing is, I used to subscribe to that theory. I must say, though, that the Fish BLT ($13) at Azu in Mystic is a pretty magnificent achievement. For one, you can choose from salmon, tuna or cod. I went with tuna and, on prompting from the kind waitress, requested the fish be prepared with a sushi-esque light sear.

Two thick, hickory-tinged, criss-cross bacon slices sang delicate harmonies with a generous shingle of precisely prepared tuna filet. Fresh tomato slices, sturdy sheets of lettuce and pickle chips provided contrast and support - and a thatch of thin, crisp French fries added to the fun.

Lemon Chicken

Golden Chopstix, Westerly

This is one of those celebrated Asian restaurants where actual Asian folks prefer to eat. Yes, there are two menus: one for more Western tastes, and another with true indigenous delicacies involving chicken feet, fish maw and sea whelks.

Well, sir, a person such as myself couldn't resist the opportunity to experience something new and different!

Well, actually, I could.

Let me say this, though. The Golden Chopstix version of the perhaps pedestrian Lemon Chicken ($9.00) was astounding.

An entire butterflied breast was flattened, coated in a paper-thin batter and quick fried. It was then sliced diagonally for easy dipping into the accompanying dish of sauce - which, unlike typical versions that are syrupy and reminiscent of the interior of a lemon fried pie, was dark, velveteen and with a grand, sour snap against a hint of sweetness. The dish comes with steamed white rice for counterpoint. All told: Wow.

MORE

Panzanella Salad

Stonefleet Tavern

2 State St., New London

(860) 439-0810, stonefleettavern.com

Fish BLT

Azu

32 West Main St., Mystic

(860) 536-6336, azuct.com

Lemon Chicken

Golden Chopstix

62 Franklin St., Westerly

(401) 348-6666

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