Hungry? Broke? Desperate? Don’t worry – restaurant Week is here. WEEKEND explored 4 classy, popular and up-and-coming restaurants in New Haven and dished out what good deals and meals are out there. Masticating yet? (look it up, you philistine.)
SCENE: Two highly under-qualified restaurant critics, EF and EB, enter Zinc. They are seated at a table. It is not the best table. In fact, it is an awkward table smushed to the side of the restaurant’s long thoroughfare. “If only they knew who we are,” EB and EF thought at once. The waitress asks if they would like a drink. They decline, but open the menus.
EF: I am hungry.
EB: I pregamed with some peanut butter from the dining hall. Sorry. But this way I won’t be biased by hunger. Also, will Zinc be better than dining hall peanut butter? I’m really into that peanut butter.
EF: Ooh, the Salmon.
EB: Definitely the salmon. Although the Vegetable Bolognese looks really good
EF: And the Organic Greens with Pistachio Vinaigrette and Piquillo Pepper Relish — or the soup? I feel lame ordering greens during restaurant week.
EB: Yes, the Tomato, Fennel + Orange soup is more interesting.
They do not consider the Shrimp Bruschetta, because capers are gross.
EB: Flan or Berry Crumble?
EF: Flan because it’s the first one on the list. I like that we picked the first one listed in each category so far.
EB: Also, I feel like flan is more … [Words fail her, but she definitely feels that flan is the right choice.]
EF: Can berries crumble?
The waitress returns. They proceed to order. EF orders because they only have enough money in their budget for one prix-fixe menu. EB has assured EF that she only wants a salad — she did pregame in the dining hall, after all — but that she will have bites of EF’s food.
EB: Can I also get the Organic Green salad?
The waitress gives her a look.
EB: I’m on a diet.
The waitress leaves.
EF: Is that going to be enough?
EB: I was seriously considering just getting a glass of wine.
The dour waitress brings a small plate of toasted things and gingery dip.
EF: Yay, a bonus! What did she say these were?
EB: No idea. Corn something? I love free things.
They each try not to be the one to kill the toasty nibbles.
Reflecting on their order, the girls use the menu’s abundant choices as a metaphor for life. As in, they have a lot of choices right now. They are graduating in May. Intro Psych-grade psychoanalysis ensues.
The food arrives.
EF: Ooh, the Tomato, Fennel + Orange soup!
EB: That smells great. It smells like borscht, but orange-y.
EF: Ow! Too hot!
EB: It’s soup.
EF: It tastes like chunky earth. You know what I’m trying to say? Not like dirt.
EF: Like eating the organic aisle. Er, your grandmother’s garden.
EB: I actually dig this. And I don’t usually like “takes” on things. I want a traditional tomato soup, just done really, really well. But this is good. I’d get this again.
The bowl leaves. The next course arrives.
EF: Ooh, the Pan Seared Salmon with Sweet Cabbage + Caraway Slaw and Rye Berry Risotto!
EB: What even is a rye berry?
EF offers a forkful of risotto, ponders.
EB: Whoa, this tastes like the holidays at your parents’ friends’ house when you’re six. As in, it’s kind of spicy in a cinnamon-y way, but it also has a kind of foreign taste. Like feeling lost, and your parents are off in another room, and you have to play with kids you don’t know and who might try to trick you into locking yourself into a side room.
EF: Huh. [Masticating.] The salmon is perfectly seared. It’s so perfectly pan-seared. This is exactly what I want from a restaurant: I want them to do something that I couldn’t do. Sometimes I imagine myself cooking food that in reality I could never make, but, as it happens, someone can.
EB embarks on diatribe against “New American” cuisine. This diatribe has been redacted for the sake of just about everybody.
EB: … but the salmon is really good.
EB is approximately 4/10 of the way through her salad.
EF: All of the food is too hot, but after 20 seconds it’s perfect.
EB pauses to Instagram the food. Follow her at @thebrookestagram.
The plate departs. Dessert arrives.
EF: What is this? [Pokes at what appears to be two small granola clumps sitting next to the little flan.]
EB: I think those are the Candied Almonds.
EF: With the Cinnamon Flan, I feel as if I’m eating Cinnamon Toast Crunch!
EB: Yum. The texture of the flan is perfect, though.
The two fall into silence.
Contact Eliza Brooke and Emily Foxhall at
firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com .
The world is a dangerous place. You can’t trust just anyone; they may try to deceive you, rip you off and make your life suck. So you must imagine that I was pretty skeptical when I found out I would be writing about 116 Crown for WEEKEND. “116 Crown?” Sounds more like a street address than a restaurant name, if you ask me. How could I be sure that this was even an establishment that serves food? I couldn’t be sure by looking at their website that they wouldn’t kill me if I went alone, so I had my good friend Alex accompany and protect me. We arrived promptly at 5:30 p.m. and were thankful to find that, in fact, 116 Crown was a real restaurant that existed and that also served delicious food.
The waiter seated us in a small booth and asked us what we wanted to drink. We said, “Water,” and he gave us four options: Cucumber-infused water, distilled tap water, distilled bottled water and distilled sparkling water. That sure is a lot of types of water — highly suspicious. We opted for distilled tap water, but later in the evening the waiter surreptitiously switched it out with the (admittedly tastier) cucumber-infused one. Some might call that nice. I call it underhanded and dishonest.
It’s really creepy when people order the same thing at a restaurant, so I ordered from the prix fixe menu while Alex got a burger. After we ordered, the waiter smiled and left my menu with me (but not Alex) in case I “changed [my] mind.” Changed my mind? What would cause me to change my mind? That’s pretty suspicious. I mean, I was happy with what I ordered and didn’t end up changing my mind, but it was as if the waiter was trying to warn me of something.
That something must have been “food of mysteriously high quality.” My first course was a large spinach salad with Gorgonzola, walnuts and strawberries. Though slightly overdressed, the salad was curiously delicious, the strawberries curiously fresh and the bits of nuts and cheese curiously flavorful. Even more disturbing was the hanger steak I received for my main course, which was cooked way too perfectly and served over a dollop of potato purée and red cabbage. I grew increasingly anxious that something was slipped into my cucumber water that made me hallucinate that I was eating an extremely tender cut of beef and that I would soon be hypnotized into working for 116 Crown forever, serving martinis to the after-work crowd at the restaurant’s light-up bar. Thank God that didn’t happen! Also, thank God the dessert I ordered — a rich chocolate trifle — was sweet enough to distract me from the nagging thought that the booth’s cushion was going to swallow me whole.
I was most paranoid when we received our check, especially since it took a while to get the attention of our waiter. What took so long? Was he whipping up a contingency plan since the drugged cucumber water scheme didn’t pan out? Probably, because when we received the check, it was tucked into a small, black Moleskine. I opened the notebook, thinking that it was our waiter’s diary that would have a desperate “Save yourselves, fast!” message or perhaps an antidote for the spiked cucumber water. No, it was actually a guestbook with two messages: “Gird your loins — Restaurant Week approaches!” and “Bring back the Rolito.” This was horrifying. What happened to these people? Why didn’t they sign their names? Did they write these statements under duress? I signed the check quickly, and Alex and I left before the glass of olives at the bar could sneak up on us.
It’s important to question things, people. You can’t just blindly accept great food when it’s handed to you. The world doesn’t work like that. The next time you’re at a restaurant, especially one as nice as 116 Crown, ask yourself if you’re enjoying a lovely dinner or just a part of some construct. For me, as much as 116 Crown’s food had a suspiciously delicious nature, the experience was the former — a lovely dinner.
Contact Will Adams at
With mismatched cups, colorful lighting, loud music and a generally busy atmosphere, Zafra’s vibe suggests “snacks and drinks with buddies” more than “New Haven Restaurant Week.” For this cramped Cuban bar on Orange Street with only about 10 tables, a $32 price tag just seems a bit much. And, sure enough, the bill associated with a Restaurant Week dinner may well surpass what you’d spend on a typical meal at Zafra.
When we arrived at Zafra on time for our reservation, a wait of “just two more minutes” ended up escalating closer to 20. The host was apologetic, though, and, to the restaurant’s credit, after being seated at a small two-stool table towards the back of the space, each round of orders came quickly out of the kitchen.
Of the three appetizer options, we chose the ceviche and papa rellena (in Spanish, “filled potato”).
The ceviche — served stone cold inside a halved and hollowed coconut shell—featured shrimp, mango, red onion, tomato, and lime juice. It was light, refreshing, and clean. Still, it lacked the aji or chili of more traditional renditions, and, as a result, didn’t really ever have the kick that you’d expect from ceviche. Instead, the mango was left alone to dominate the flavor of the dish.
The papa rellena was less successful: a dry and overdone potato did no favors to the chili-like picadillo that filled it. Spicy cherry peppers and jack cheese added zest, but these notes didn’t make up for the otherwise underwhelming course.
But the platillos principales came out quickly enough — and were good enough — that we could forgive the rocky start.
Heralded by the menu as “Our Specialty!,” the hearty lechon asado would easily satisfy any college student’s appetite. (Some made its way back to the suite in a takeout box.) The slow roasted pork, rich and fatty, was tasty, and the yucca and sautéed onions served alongside it were mild, allowing the house-made tangy mojo sauce to take the fore. The highlight of the sides was a cup of black beans, with a smoky chipotle preparation that managed to stand out.
We also ordered the Carribbean snapper, which came recommended by the host. Being presented with the snapper dish felt like receiving a sacrificial offering: the fish was served whole—all 14 inches of it, eyeball still in socket—over a bed of Cuban red beans and rice, peppers, and shaved carrot. The fish was flaky, so it was easy to debone. It was easy to eat, too: the meat was delicate, perfectly cooked, and delicious—flavorful, but not too fishy. The skin, blackened and spiced, was a treat in itself. The sides, on the other hand, were lackluster: For all their color, the red beans and rice were overcooked and bland; the tostones (fried and salted green plantains) came out more chewy than crispy. Even so, the snapper made the entrée a winner.
When the host returned to collect the food, he asked us if we’d eaten the snapper’s eyeball. “The eyeball is meant to give you good fortune,” he said. “And I’ll tell ya — I ate one recently, and I’ve had great fortune!” For some reason, good fortune was sounding less appetizing than dessert, so we chose to go straight to the latter.
Both desserts, though small in portion, were large in flavor. Hazelnut Rum Bread Pudding was served hot and smooth over caramel sauce. The sauce tasted a touch burnt, but in a good way—like the torched top layer of a crème brûlée. Bread puddings can often be soggy; this one wasn’t. It was easy to cut, chewy, and rich. The mocha caramel flan was equally good: its sweetness wasn’t overpowering, and berries layered on top helped make the dessert feel refreshing.
In the end, our dinner at Zafra wasn’t bad—the main courses and desserts beat Yale Dining at its best—but, for a $32 Restaurant Week menu, you might be better off going somewhere where that price is a deal, rather than an uptick. As for this Cuban bar, the most appealing option might still be ordering bar food: on our next visit, count us in for the nachos and mojitos being enjoyed at the table next to ours.
Contact Daniel Stern and Skylar Shibayama at
firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com .
Ever since the ROÌA Restaurant and Café opened on College Street last March, most of the buzz has been about its architecture. The ’20s-themed restaurant exists in what was the dining hall of the Taft Hotel over a century ago, and months of renovation were put into the space. But now that the pomp of the reopening of the space had settled, I wanted a chance to taste the dining experience for the food itself.
The first thing that struck me when I entered the restaurant for dinner was how spacious the main dining area was. I had to concede — the renovation truly was impressive, with beautiful woodwork and a decorative plaster ceiling. I felt the history of the building, especially with jazz music filling the wide two-story space. But something about that spaciousness felt a little off to me: More than half the tables were still empty at 7:15 p.m., and it was strangely very bright. It felt very much like a café; I would have liked the lighting to be dimmer for dinner.
The service staff was very friendly and attentive. We didn’t have to wait very long for any of our requests. Sometimes the attention we were given was overwhelming, and made it hard to have a conversation. It was an atmosphere that was appropriate for an opening week, but a month in, it was a little distracting.
To start, we ordered local diver scallops with a celery root puree, port wine reduction and watercress salad. Unfortunately, the serving size was very small — just three scallops — but they were cooked and seasoned perfectly, and the celery root puree was an interesting addition that I liked a lot. We were also served delicious sourdough bread, which was carried over in a very cute wicker basket.
For the entrée, I ordered the arctic char with whipped potatoes, lacinato kale and thyme cipollini onions. I am usually not big on fish, but the char was delicious. The presentation was eloquent and simple. My date ordered the Tagliatelle Bolognese — egg yolk pasta with natural beef and veal ragu. He commented that the Bolognese was a bit too sour, but in all, he loved the dish so much he gave me dagger eyes whenever I stole some from his plate. Again, the use of simple but delicious ingredients was a huge success for the dishes. The entrees were modest in style but so flavorful that they offered a unique aura to the dish.
For dessert, we ordered panna cotta infused with mint and served with orange confit, as well as rice pudding with vanilla bean, salted caramel and roasted pistachio. Both were delicious — again, ROÌA was striving for a delicate flavor instead of large portion sizes or sweet frostings. The panna cotta was presented in a small jar, which added to the stylish décor that the restaurant offers.
Still, with a venue so big, ROÌA has huge shoes to fill. All the empty seats did make the experience feel a little odd: for the price, the emptiness and the lighting made the environment a bit too casual. A month out from its opening, the restaurant would benefit by seeking to fill more of its seats perhaps through more vigorous marketing, if only to improve the ambience. Nonetheless, the potential is definitely there.
I have no doubt that ROÌA — with food so delicious and a staff whose excitement is very obvious — will fill those seats. It will take some time to develop the reputation of some of New Haven’s other restaurants, but I believe that ROÌA soon find itself as a New Haven classic for years to come.
Contact Karolina Ksiazek at