La Marea, Old Saybrook
La Marea in Old Saybrook doesn’t need me to tell you to go there. We waited a few weeks for the team to sort themselves out (always a good idea when it comes to a new restaurant), and the parking lot was positively packed when we arrived at 6:30 on a Wednesday night. Juliana and Nino (fresh from Rustica in Chester) own this new Italian spot in a building on route 154 that morphs into a new eatery every few years. None of them stick and it’s the sort of place we think of as cursed. But not La Marea, because it’s got all the parts right: an interesting menu with lots to choose from for every kind of diner, sweet staff, and a renovation that took the structure back to the studs for a complete transformation, from white washed pine ceiling to hefty chandeliers, and an open kitchen. Let’s call it Haute Barn. From a starter of perfect Margherita pizza to my wood-fired roasted chicken with salty kale and fingerlings, every course that arrived at our table was competent and yummy. Kids will love watching the pizza master flip pies into the air and grownups should not miss the homemade Bailey’s. Stracciatella (chocolate chip) ice cream with a shot of espresso is the way to go for dessert. Maybe it was that Bailey’s, or the fact that the owner is Juliana, or perhaps the crispy biscotti, but it brought me back to a long-ago moment in Tuscany, when my husband and I spent hours in a romantic castello nibbling biscotti, sipping Vin Santo and trying to speak to our charming waitress, whose name was also Juliana. If a local joint can transport you to Tuscany, I think that means go.