As cool weather leads us into autumn, we know what's coming: a winter in which we'll find comfort in food - great, big portions of food.
Thank goodness for those baggy sweaters and elastic-waist snow pants.
If you're already planning gastronomical excursions, well, we're here to help. We are taking a glance back at some of the highlights of our restaurant critics' reviews of the year so far. We've culled a few paragraphs and highlighted some representative dishes. THE WEEKAPAUG INN
25 Spray Rock Road, Westerly
My husband chose the Soup of the Moment, a corned beef stew, $8, and the fish and chips (beer-battered cod, with house-made potato chips), $16. I tried the New England clam chowder, $8, and the chicken pot pie (with puff pastry and roasted garlic gravy), $17.
Our lunch was piping hot and delicious, start to finish. My husband's soup tasted like a corned beef dinner, with a rich, salty broth, big chunks of meat, and just the right amount of cabbage and potato. My chowder was thick, full of tender clams and bacon.
The fish was lightly battered, crispy and perfectly cooked. The chips were plentiful and irresistible. The chicken pot pie was over the top, a bowl of braised chicken and fresh peas in dark, rich gravy, topped with a circle of puff pastry. So good.
- JILL BLANCHETTETHE RUSTIC CAFE
516 Boston Post Road, East Lyme
The menu is modest and boasts what might be described as American pub food with designer twists.
Recently, the specials included a shrimp and Ricotta ravioli ($13), cinnamon/chipotle spare ribs ($18 rack, $11 half rack), Kansas City dry-rubbed beef brisket ($12 platter, $8 sandwich), and carrot-ginger soup ($7 bowl, $5 cup).
The spare ribs were sizable and meaty, redolent with smoky flavor and easily pulled from the bone with mininal toothage. And, oh, yes: the cinnamon/chipotle crusting on the exterior was a terrific tug-of-war between piquancies that yet didn't overwhelm the innate pork-ness of the ribs.
Brisket? Slices of tender meat, with a ribbon of fat on one edge to keep it all moist, and the outer, exterior side veneer of some sort of rub that whispered of cumin - but what do I know? It was pretty wonderful.
- RICK KOSTER2 BROTHERS RESTAURANT & PUB
20 Hartford Road, Salem
The menu is heavy on Italian. ... The Mediterranean ravioli ($14) stood out in presentation and taste. Cheese ravioli and chicken were served with sauteed spinach and roasted red peppers in an Asiago cream sauce. Highly recommended.
2 Brothers claims to be "more than just pizza," and this is never more true than with their desserts. Our waitress read off a never-ending list of options, and we settled on a lemon-filled cake, chocolate cake, blueberry cream cake and pistachio cheesecake. It was a beautiful sight when the desserts, all made on the premises, were brought to our table. They were so big we should have shared, but what's the fun in that? The cheesecake wasn't the typical dense cream cheese dessert on a graham cracker crust, but a fluffy cake with a pistachio frosting. I was stuffed but ate every crumb.
- TIM COTTERMI CASA II
31 Golden St., New London
The food is excellent and the menu is expansive. ... Chilaquiles ($10.50): We haven't seen these since our days back in Texas. There was a ton or so of corn tortilla chips covered in the Casa's amazing green sauce (so piquant!), sprinkled with shreds of queso fresco and topped with an egg done your way - fried or scrambled. Big, big flavor.
Ground Beef Burrito ($9.95; you can also order this with chicken): Wow. The beef has been seasoned with something like chili powder and maybe cumin, which works wonderfully. The red sauce ladled over the flour tortilla also has a slightly bitter, almost mole component; not sure how they pulled it off but it's wonderful. Yes: there's cheese and sour cream melting in concert with the sauce. The menu says it comes with a side salad but the platter contained rice and beans, which I actually preferred.
- RICK KOSTER4 ROOSEVELT ASIAN BISTRO
(also known as Rice)
4 Roosevelt Ave., Mystic
For dinner, we selected two main dishes: the Panang Curry ($15) - mild coconut curry with peanuts and kaffir lime leaves - with shrimp and the Lemongrass Pork. While three other curry sauces are available, and accompanying "proteins," as the menu calls them, include pork, veggie, sliced flank steak, calamari and duck among others, we were more than pleased with our selection, which came served with perfectly prepared jasmine rice. We agreed that we could probably eat the curry every day if we had to, with its smooth broth, crispy peppers, invigorating lime accent and wonderful heat. Shrimp were plentiful and a great partner to the curry sauce, which, we also agreed could cure what ails just about anybody.
- MARISA NADOLNY