Thursday, October 18, 2012

Bouillabaisse - Harbor Lights, Norwalk CT

Western Connecticut is one of the wealthiest areas in the country. It should come as no surprise that there is a fairly high concentration of quality restaurants in the area. I had heard some of my coworkers thought highly of a certain seafood restaurant on the bay in Norwalk called Harbor Lights- so naturally I made sure to urge the team to give the place a try the next time a business trip took us to the area.

Harbor Lights is a little off the beaten path, but is right on the water with spectacular views of the local marina. Th dining room is spacious with high ceilings, and kept in impeccable shape by the staff. There is no doubt that you've just entered a "nice place" when you arrive.

Our french-accented waiter clued us in on the special of the day- the Bouillabaisse. When we showed interest in it, he stated that there was no need to look at the menu- the Bouillabaisse was the only choice. One of my companions asked what a Bouillabaisse was, and I said it was a fish stew- like a French version of the Italian-American Cioppino or a Zuppa de Pesche... Our French waiter, in a stereotypically French manner, overheard and took offense- Non! It is not a Cioppino! It is a French fisherman's Stew! I found this exchange funny... and while I find humor in a Frenchman acting in a typical snooty French manner- I have to respect him for his passion for his food and culture...

Needless to say, just about all of us ended up ordering the Bouillabaisse. We also ordered a selection of appetizers. The standout of the bunch was the grilled octopus. It smelled fantastic- almost steak-like. The octopus was perfectly cooked- tender with a little chew to it, but nor a hint of the chewy, rubbery texture you'd expect by looking at it. It had a meaty flavor - the char and smoke from the grill made it taste as steak-like as it smelled- it was a probably the best single bite of the evening.

The Bouillabaisse came shortly after- the bowls wer piled high with pieces of red snapper, jumbo shrimp,  squid, mussels, and clams, topped off with a few slices of char-grilled french bread. Hiding under the shellfish was a rich fish broth with a pinkish-salmon color that carried the scent and taste of tomato and bell pepper. The broth seemed to embody the flavors of all the different fish on the plate at once, and the individual pieces of fish/shellfish retained their integrity and held their own flavor and texture. Our overly French waiter was right, there really was no other choice.

There was a dessert afterwards- I had a very nice vanilla creme brulee with a well-formed carmelized crust of toasted sugar over an intensley vanilla flavored custard- but it was an afterthought- the Bouillabaisse stole the show that night.

Lesson- when an obnoxious French waiter tells you to stop reading the menu and order the special, just order the special.

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