The Seared Local Diver: a smorgasbord of scallops and lobster claw, delicately arranged over a bed of risotto with a Malaysian curry-inflected sauce

New London has always punched well above its weight in terms of nightlife for a city its size. Any mid-size city trying to attract visitors and young people to live in their urban cores should take a walk down Bank Street to see what a dense concentration of bars, restaurants and — crucially — arts and cultural institutions can do to make a city feel alive. But this combination does not a thriving hub make. There has to be something more, a sense of differentness, a sense of place. New London has this quality in spades. The town is very much tied to the water of the Thames River, and maintains this connection with vigor.

The new restaurant from owner Dawn Thompson and chef Eric Delano combines a sophisticated menu with the kind of down-to-earth attitude that one associates with New London. Filling the space formerly occupied by Gaspar’s, the well-regarded and much-missed institution, 385 Bank retains some of the same seafood focus, elegantly plated with ambitious arrangements. Those missing the sea-based offerings of Gaspar’s will be pleased to find many similar dishes at 385. The soups kick off a menu that is very much a product of its location. The clam chowder is an excellent iteration of the coastal New England classic. There is a fairly extensive raw bar, with the range of oysters, clams and shrimp scampi one hopes for when dining in sight of the Thames River and the fishing boats in it. If the raw bar is not your thing, the lobster bisque should be worth checking out if it is anything like the clam chowder.

The dinner entrées are a nice combination of French cuisine and the fresh-from-the-water seafood hinted at on the appetizer and raw bar menu. Our old friends fish and chips are there ($18). The Mediterranean bouillabaisse ($30) comes stuffed with clams, shrimp, mussels and cod in a complex stew. My dining companion opted for a plate intriguingly called “Seared Local Diver,” a smorgasbord of scallops and lobster claw, delicately arranged over a bed of risotto with a Malaysian curry-inflected sauce ($26). It was delicious, and it’s always great when a dish gives you the feeling of being some sort of Poseidon-like sea god, commanding the creatures of the sea to arrange themselves before you.

The filet mignon ($30) is an interesting twist on the classic cut of beef. It is served smothered in a peppered veal stock emulsion, with mushroom, alongside an “asparagus-gouda” strudel, which was somewhat confusingly served with a plastic pipette full of a spicy-sweet sauce which was tasty enough, once dispensed.

Though the menu, decor and price point all communicate a high-end experience, 385 Bank has a totally relaxed atmosphere. Our waiter was dynamic and full of banter, making us laugh and teasing us for asking certain questions. Don’t be fooled: 385 Bank is a spot where you can laugh out loud and have a bit of fun. There is a bar for you to sit at and eat or just drink if that’s more your speed. Big shoes to fill in the former Gaspar’s, but 385 Bank does it well.

This article appeared in the April 2018 issue of Connecticut Magazine. 

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Staff writer from Middlefield