Say “Mediterranean Cuisine” and the first thought that pops into anyone’s mind is usually “Italian food.” However the waves of that long and ancient body of water lap the shores of Spain, the south of France, Greece, Turkey, the Levant and the North African coast. Each of these countries and regions have their own distinct type of “Mediterranean Cuisine.” Here are five restaurants where Connecticut diners can sample the favorite dishes of caesars and sultans, philosophers and farmers and of course, the fishermen who ply the waters of the most famous of Western Civilization’s seas.
588 Franklin Ave.
Hartford, CT 06114
Located in Hartford’s South End, Carbone’s has been serving fine Italian food since 1938. Three generations of the same family have taken this from a little fried chicken shack and grinder shop to an elegant, upscale restaurant with lunch, dinner, tastings and even special Mediterranean menus. Beloved for its gnocci alfredo, lobster risotto and whole-wheat pasta panatela (prepared with roasted garlic, peppers, spinach, toasted pine nuts, virgin olive oil and Romano cheese), this pricey and prestigious yet welcoming restaurant is almost exclusively Italian in its cuisine. However, Carbone’s prides itself on offering dishes not only from the family’s own southern Italy but also from Greece and Spain.
901 Wethersfield Ave.
Hartford, CT 06114
Billed as “a sunny taste of Spain” for over a quarter of a century, this restaurant (named for the sun-drenched Mediterranean beaches of the Iberian Peninsula) has been serving up dishes drawn from the region’s unique blend of Jewish, Christian and Moorish heritages. From its elegant and lush seafood casserole known as mariscada to the amazing paella – and there is not just one but four varieties of that sinfully sensational saffron rice-based dish – Costa del Sol’s chefs truly capture the flavors of the Mediterranean. It is no wonder that its booth is a regular and crowded stop for those attending the annual Taste of Hartford.
770 Campbell Ave. W.
West Haven, CT 06516
The Ottoman sultans long ruled the Eastern Mediterranean as well as much of the North African littoral areas out to the west. To delve into the cuisine of that region without a taste of Turkey (the nation, not the bird) would be to not only ignore 500 years of history, it would also deprive the senses of the wonderful tastes and smells of true Turkish delights. Saray in West Haven prides itself on offering “a wide variety of traditional Turkish fare.” The menu includes kebabs and cold starters, bulgur and rice pilaf and many types of fish. The bread is home made and the yogurt sauce is superb. No sultan would ever think of ending a meal without his Turkish coffee and at Saray it is as thick and as sweet as any served in the seraglio.
402 Sargent Drive
New Haven, CT 06511
Greece is the mother of democracy, the cookbook and the olive and no visit to the Mediterranean and no sampling of that region’s cuisine would be complete without a slice of spanakopita (spinach pie), a scoop of moussaka (layers of eggplant, potatoes, seasoned ground beef and béchamel sauce) or a bite of souvlaki (a pita bread sandwich of lamb or chicken with tzatziki sauce). The Greeks have been writing down their recipes since 330 BC and at the fun and affordable Greek Olive in New Haven, any family can enjoy a banquet of Homeric proportions as they embark on their own Odyssey for breakfast, lunch, dinner or dessert.
500 Steamboat Road
Greenwich, CT 06830
Provence is that southern part of France that languishes along the northwestern shoulder of the Mediterranean. Its cooking, like its culture, is rooted in that of Rome and Carthage, two great empires that in the centuries before Christ battled to dominate the great sea. The cooking of Provence is unlike that of any other part of France and L’Escale boasts of being “authentically Provencal” from its terracotta floors to its fruits de mer. From risotto aux asperges to traditionelle bouillabaisse and from cotes d’agneau grille to paillard du poulet, L’Escale serves as fine a presentation that can be found this side of the Mare Nostrum, let alone in Connecticut.
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