Seaside Surf and Turf at Shell & Bones in New Haven
All photos by Jeff Kaufman
New Haven isn’t lacking for high-quality, award-winning restaurants, most within a tight, four-block area. On a bustling Friday night you can stop off in downtown and have your pick of delicious dining experiences, but on a recent weekend a group of friends and I decided to venture off the beaten path, instead heading down to Long Island Sound for a surf-and-turf feast we had been dreaming about for months.
Situated in the former Sage American Grill space below the Pequonnock Yacht Club in the historic City Point neighborhood, Shell & Bones opened in August as a collaboration between Daniel Kay and longtime partners Marc Knight and Robert Bolduc of Geronimo Bar & Grill in New Haven and Fairfield. Renowned Connecticut chef Arturo Franco-Camacho (below), formerly of Roomba, Bespoke and Suburban, heads the kitchen here, serving up hearty meat and seafood dishes that appropriately reflect the restaurant’s ideal waterside locale.
On our recent visit, the weather hadn’t quite warmed into a full spring bloom, so we nestled at a table next to the restaurant’s stunning, two-sided fireplace in its sophisticated white-washed dining room. A long window looked in on the kitchen where the chefs were hard at work. A large, U-shaped brass bar provided ample seating and naturally divided the room into more casual (high-top tables and booths) and more formal (lower two- and four-seater tables) seating. During the warmer season, the restaurant will open the many windows that look out onto the Sound and seat diners on the patio. We can’t wait to go back and dine on some fresh seafood al fresco.
The food Franco-Camacho is serving up at Shell & Bones is at once familiar and new. You will find plenty of recognizable favorites here like the classic bucatini and clams, a meaty bouillabaisse with mussels, clams, shrimp, scallops and cod, and a succulent prime New York strip with a wild mushroom-bacon sauce. But prepare for some unexpected dishes like their Atlantic cod chowder style, a fresh take on a classic New England chowder with pan-roasted cod, potatoes, corn, leeks, celery, bacon and a light cream sauce.
It only makes sense that a restaurant called Shell & Bones would feature an impressive raw bar. Here it includes Atlantic and Pacific oysters, littleneck clams, shrimp cocktail, and scallop and shrimp ceviche. Order them individually or opt for the Tower of Shells, which piles jumbo lump crab, a North Atlantic lobster, four shrimp, six oysters and six clams together, and can feed a group.
We covered our table with a wide variety of appetizers — from the comforting, lightly battered crunch of calamari served with a spicy Asian sauce to the completely unexpected organic chicken liver spread, which was sweet and savory with a raspberry-parsley gastrique and spread on toast. A cold, roasted octopus salad (left) with harissa yogurt, English cucumbers and black olives delighted with its expert control of spice.
When we finally moved on to entrees, my three dinner companions went by land while I opted for the sea. My salmon (below) was masterfully prepared and served over crushed beets (one of my favorites), grilled asparagus, braised radishes and Meyer lemon. Thai-braised short ribs with BBQ jumbo shrimp, called the Shell & Bones, offered a spicy take on the traditional surf-and-turf combination.
The restaurant’s signature meatloaf — in a pomegranate-molasses glaze with mashed potatoes, asparagus and caramelized onion demi-glace — was perhaps the most disappointing dish we sampled. My dining companion who ordered it called it “nothing special,” particularly when put up against our other entrees. On a return visit we would skip it. But one item we would have again is the filet mignon with herbed croutons, crab meat, asparagus and béarnaise sauce. The meat was so tender it was literally falling apart in the bowl. Everyone at our table agreed it was the best of the night.
We lingered at our table, catching up with each other over glasses of red and white from the curated wine list. (Shell & Bones also boasts a variety of beers and cocktails from the bar.) We were attentively looked after by our waitress, but there was no rush. We were permitted to stay as long as we liked, and we felt at home as a result. We asked for recommendations often, and were pleased with what turned up. It’s clear the staff has been well trained, and their first priority is the diner.
After a brief pause, we decided to try the banana tres leche cake, which was excellent. The banana flavor wasn’t too strong; instead it was moderately sweet — a perfect cap to our surf-and-turf meal.
AMBIANCE In a nod to its location and surf-and-turf menu, the aesthetic of Shell & Bones is nautical without being too on the nose. The walls and ceiling are painted a clean, rustic white, which lets the simple décor, like a wood-carved mermaid over the fireplace, stand out. Wooden floors and blue chairs bring warmth, and glass bottles in wire shelves over the bar add a little splash of color.
SERVICE Professional yet approachable, the staff here is knowledgeable about what’s on the menu and is able to make thoughtful recommendations when asked. Our service was highly personal, and we didn’t feel rushed to give up our table on a busy Friday night.
FOOD A mixture of old and new, the kitchen at Shell & Bones is turning out refined interpretations of many American favorites while pushing the limits in other areas. Their land-and-sea focus is nicely curated, offering a variety of options in both categories alongside fun appetizers and a fresh raw bar.
Shell & Bones
100 S. Water St., New Haven
Hours: Tues.-Thurs. 4-10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m., Sun. 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Closed Mon. Price range: Appetizers $11-$18, dinner entrees $16-$38
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