Oyster Club: Oyster Club, Mystic, Conn.
This is the kind of restaurant you wish every town had: friendly, unpretentious, and comfortable, with efficient service, decently priced wines, a constantly changing menu that respects the seasons and draws from local farms and fishermen, and really good food — sometimes unexpected, even sort of daring.
Chef James Wayman is a North Carolinan who gained a measure of fame in eastern Connecticut cooking at River Tavern in Chester before coming to Oyster Club when it opened last year. Among his signature dishes are a crispy Thai fish salad and a non-traditional but much-loved lobster roll (mayonnaise or butter? neither: apple butter) sprinkled with crispy shallots and served with hand-cut fries sprinkled with celery salt and cayenne. Recent menus have included things like hubbard squash soup with quince and lobster, handmade memelas (Oaxacan corn cakes) with braised goat and pickled piquillo peppers, red wine-braised stew of calf's heart and tongue with black lentils, pan-roasted swordfish with ginger and miso-carrot purée, and a slow-roasted New York strip steak with "rich potato purée" and leek and wild mushroom sauce — plus an almond brown butter cake with blueberry compote for dessert.
At a recent special-event dinner at Oyster Club, Wayman served fried cardoons with mint, fresh Point Judith squid simply sautéed with garlic, squash-enhanced polenta with wild mushrooms, and baby goat braised with cranberry beans, with sautéed goat liver, kidneys, and heart on the side — all of it superb.
There is a terrace in front of the restaurant, most attractive in good weather, and a small but bustling bar with an "oyster bar" — serving a small selection of bivalves from the Mystic area and neighboring Rhode Island — at one end, really just a corner of the bar with a sociable oysterman shucking as fast as he can. The restaurant's happy hour, weeknights from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., featuring $1 Noank oysters and $2 Narragansett beer, has got to be one of the great deals in Connecticut.