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All Smiles at Relaunch of The Essex in Old Saybrook

OLD SAYBROOK — The relaunch of Chef Colt Taylor’s The Essex at a new location on Main Street in Old Saybrook is good news for a town that appears poised to make a significant leap toward becoming a dining destination in the eastern half of the state.

Taylor, who also owns Los Charros Cantina in the nearby town of Essex and is planning at least two other restaurants in the area, including an outdoor spot, Smoke on the Water, at Saybrook Point has a way of attracting talent and goodwill as was evident on Thursday night, when a few dozen writers, publicists, photographers, and freelancers gathered to celebrate and try the entirely revamped menu.

It was all smiles in the open kitchen and front of the house.

Colt’s cooking, which he describes as a modern approach to classic American cuisine, is characteristically ambitious, seafood-focused, and draws freely from Japan, Spain, and the Mediterranean.

Aged tuna on toasted milk bread (Credit: Monique Chaisavan Sourinho / Bee the Love )

Aged tuna with caviar, soy, egg yolk and chive on toasted milk bread – one of the first and best bites of what stretched into four hours of lively conversation, eating and drinking – had much in common with Claus Meyer’s New Nordic traditionalism – at once hypermodern and nostalgic.

Taylor’s clam chowder – which replaces traditional salt pork with koji, kombu and dulce, a nod to Japan – will surprise as a near purist rendition of the New England standard, barely thickened, and very good.

The Essex eschews the de rigueur hamburger, but next time I stop in it will probably be to try the steak frites at the bar – a 20 oz ribeye at $52, while not cheap, sounds like a deal for two with a glass of wine. The cocktails we tried were well-conceived, well-executed refinements of the classics. And the bar and the restaurant space appear to have managed the trick of a summertime nautical theme in blue tones, murals and painting, that remains cozy and inviting in the colder weather.

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