When Thomas Keller took over Napa Valley’s the French Laundry in 1994, he ushered in a new era for American dining, one where the menu changes daily, the ingredients are fresh and homegrown, and the service is impeccable. More than 20 years later, the Restaurant at Mystic, Connecticut’s new Spicer Mansion hotel, appears to have torn more than a few pages out of Keller’s book.
Opened in May, the Restaurant features daily menus created by executive chef Jennifer Backman—a veteran of New England restaurants at top resorts like Castle Hill Inn and Ocean House—are the result of a hefty roster of local suppliers and purveyors, as well as foraged ingredients like salt and oysters from the Atlantic coast.
The Restaurant’s meta moniker is fitting, as dishes offer many flourishes and surprises, yet remain steadfast in honoring the pure integrity of the ingredients they showcase. On a recent fall evening, the menu highlighted the bounty of the East Coast: Foie gras from the Hudson Valley was combined with concord grapes and peanuts for a new twist on the PB&J; sea scallops from Cape Cod sang with the last of the season’s summer squash and sweet corn; and Ninigret oysters from Rhode Island received a spicy treatment with tomatillo, guajillo, and a dash of tequila. A vegetarian menu also featured fresh local eggplant, heirloom tomatoes, and freshly picked herbs and blooms.
Backman’s efforts to build a genuine culinary movement in small-town Connecticut are worthy of applause—but only time will tell if the Restaurant will indeed go the way of the French Laundry. Michelin stars or not, Mystic’s new shrine to fine dining is no doubt worthy of a gastronomic pilgrimage. (spicermansion.com)