Outriggers Restaurant, Stratford
Outriggers Restaurant ★ (Good)
Connecticut’s wandering shoreline is full of surprises, and Outriggers is one. With a boatyard to starboard and a marine supply store to port, it looks like a neatly painted storage shed. Enter and find a window-walled dining room, an open-air deck, and an unimpeded view of a saltwater harbor crammed with pleasure craft—sailboats, stinkpots, spiffy sportfishing boats with chrome superstructures catching the light. No commercial harbor this; these boats are here for fun.
And so are we. At the marsh-fringed mouth of the Housatonic River in Stratford we grab an umbrella table on the deck and order margaritas from one of a crew of attractive young servers in khaki shorts and Hawaiian shirts. As the dress code suggests, the mood is not-to-worry casual, the decor nautical without overdoing it. A navy-blue-and-white color scheme and a few mounted trophy fish on the walls just about do it.
But the ocean comes into its own on the menu. Scallops, salmon, scrod, sea bass, clams, oysters, calamari, shrimp, swordfish—where to begin? With more than 20 seafood appetizers on the printed menu, we choose grilled tenderloin tips, one of the recited specials, not to be perverse but because it strikes us as an oddity. Part of the appeal of Outriggers is the fact that chef-owner Bruce Miller does things a bit differently. The tenderloin tips are no exception. Skewered, grilled medium-rare, tender and juicy, they’re served with classic pico de gallo, as well as spicy dipping sauce and a golden heap of some of the best onion straws in recent memory.
Crab cakes are another story, a sad one—thin and dry, all crust and no crab flavor. But Outriggers can do better, and they do, starting with a seductive pasta mélange consisting of jumbo shrimp sautéed with caramelized onions, sun-dried tomatoes and mushrooms, laved with a luscious Gorgonzola cream sauce and served over tender ribbons of house-made pappardelle.
Outriggers is chummy, tables close together giving us a good look at what other people are eating: a lot. Their entrées occupy large dinner plates rim to rim. Ours do, too. Big appetites will be happy here.
With dinner orders, there’s even a complimentary salad, and it’s good. Forget perfunctory mixtures of cabbage and carrots, this is an interesting mix of fresh greenery on pretty glass plates. A choice of dressings (including honey-poppyseed and golden oldie Thousand Island) is served on the side.
My swordfish standards are high—too high, probably. We can’t all go to Nickerson’s fishing dock in Chatham, buy a slice of swordfish just off the boat, and within the hour grill it on the beach. But I’m in Stratford, in critical mode, so I order it. What I get is a pleasant piece of fish, not flabby or rubbery, but a bit overcooked and not exactly sparkling with flavor. However, the chef has crowned it with an appealing topping of artichoke hearts, diced tomatoes, roasted red peppers and Gorgonzola cheese that helps a lot—if only the fish hadn’t arrived cool on a cool plate.
An elaborate salmon preparation is on the list of specials. Stuffed with crabmeat mousse, served on a bed of spinach and topped with hollandaise sauce, it sounds sumptuous. But the simple life is what summer on the shore is all about so I eschew the special salmon creation in favor of grilled salmon on the regular menu. Good choice—great choice, in fact. The salmon is perfectly grilled, pale pink with marks of char you can taste, crispy around the edges, moist within, shimmering with teriyaki glaze and strewn with ivory-colored sesame seeds. Served alongside is a huge blob of red-skinned potatoes mashed with the skins on, not pretty but tasty and filling enough for a midshipman on sea duty.
In deference to landlubbers, we decide to try osso buco, surprised to find it among the usual steak and chicken contenders. A thick-cut, bone-in veal shank, braised without browning, arrives swathed in a rich, creamy ivory-colored sauce quite different from the tomato-based garlic and anchovy sauces that often characterize the dish. I absolutely love this sauce and there’s plenty of it to moisten both the meat and the excellent risotto served with it. The veal falls away from the bone, but under its velvety sauce this veal is tough. As if to compensate, there’s marrow in the bone, a spoonful or more. Yum.
Most of the desserts are commercially made—cheesecake, coconut cream pie and the like—but one or two are made in house, notably a luscious apple crumble.
Service at Outriggers is intelligent, energetic and eager to please, but bafflingly slow. Is it because everybody is so willing to do everything, they get in each other’s way? But the jolly crowd around us is in no hurry to leave. They’re here to hang out and enjoy the water view, the salt sea air, and the pleasure of one another’s company. We settle down and do so, too.
Outriggers Restaurant At Brewer’s Marina
Foot of Broad St., Stratford (203/377-8815)
Lunch Monday through Saturday 11:30 to 4:45. Dinner Monday through Thursday 5 to 9, Friday and Saturday till 10, Sunday 11:30 to 8. Major credit cards. Wheelchair access. Price range: appetizers $3.25 to $11.95, entrées $18.95 to $27.50, desserts $6 to $6.50.Outriggers Restaurant, Stratford