Robin Goldstein LAW ’02 and Clare Murumba LAW ’04 want you to eat a grilled doughnut. They want you to travel to the waterfront to try fresh soft-shell crabs. They want you to eat well. To that end, they have enjoyed — and suffered through — hundreds of meals in more than 150 restaurants in the greater New Haven area, all in the name of the greater culinary good.
The authors of the “The Menu,” self-described as a “relentlessly opinionated” guide to dining in the greater New Haven area, Goldstein and Murumba are knowledgeable and enthusiastic about eating well. When determining their top picks, these exceptionally experienced restaurantgoers consider everything from taste and price to atmosphere, ambition, creativity and attitude. Whether you are looking for a cheap meal or an exquisite dining experience, these two Yale Law graduates and local entrepreneurs can tell you exactly where to go to find the best eats in town.
Goldstein said his favorites for an elegant sit-down meal are Ibiza, a pricey Spanish tapas restaurant in downtown New Haven, and Le Petit Cafe, a small French-style eatery in Branford, Conn.
“Ibiza [has] just the most creative food — really cutting-edge stuff,” he said. “And Le Petit Cafe [has the] perfect blend of atmosphere — low-key but elegant — and great French food.”
For something in between a quick bite and a fancy dinner, both Goldstein and Murumba recommend BAR for its thin-crust pizza and microbrewed beer. Also the site of a social bar and dance club, BAR is a “sleeper” on the restaurant scene, said Murumba.
Despite their accomplished palates and sophisticated taste, these budding entrepreneurs still have greasy junk-food fixes that they just can’t live without. Their fattening favorites include a Cheeseworks Burger from Louis’ Lunch for Murumba and The Dandy, a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich from Yankee Doodle, for Goldstein.
“I love Yankee Doodle,” he said. “It’s like death by butter — but a very tasty death.”
The authors said “The Menu,” which came out in May 2003, has been well-received in the area. Murumba said the book has sold 4,000 copies — a large number considering the limited market. The pair said they were unprepared for how fast the books sold, especially considering their lack of heavy advertising.
Goldstein said he believes its unprecedented popularity indicates the need Elm City residents have for a book like “The Menu.” The restaurant scene has improved dramatically in the last decade, said Goldstein, who came to New Haven in 1999, and the city now boasts a thriving dining culture.
“There are a lot of new places that have opened, and the new places are often more creative and more unique [than older establishments],” he said. “It’s an exciting place to be right now.”
The success of “The Menu” led its authors to expand their idea and produce another “Menu” containing 222 reviews of dining destinations in the five-college area of Massachusetts, including the towns of Northampton and Amherst.
Murumba said she believes there is a relatively unexplored market for restaurant guides in college towns, as evidenced by the popularity of the pair’s projects.
“College towns tend to have a more sophisticated palate than other towns of the same size,” she said. “They tend to attract restaurateurs, and restaurant ideas tend to blossom in them.”
The authors said they have found their niche and plan to launch their “unapologetically honest” restaurant guides in other cities and recruit local sources to write reviews.
Because the culinary scene in the Elm City is ever-changing, the authors have also begun to revise and augment the information provided in “The Menu.” The book’s Web site features a list of restaurants that have closed and information and reviews about establishments that have opened since the book’s publication and is continuously being updated.
Tiffany Ng ’05, who started working as a student intern for Goldstein and Murumba during her sophomore year, worked on the Web site shortly after the release of the first “Menu.” She also collected information concerning changes in the “food map” of New Haven and assisted with the book’s sales and publicity.
Ng said “The Menu” helps students explore the often underrated culinary options available in the Elm City.
“We tend to get stuck in the Yale bubble and, based on the preconceived notion that New Haven is a terrible city, don’t bother to break out of it,” Ng said. “‘The Menu’ reveals the volume and variety of restaurants in New Haven, and its reviews are just intriguing enough to draw students outward for culinary adventure.”
Working for Goldstein and Murumba has not only allowed Ng to gain experience in areas of interest to her, including writing, reviewing and publishing, but has also inspired in her what she describes as a “love/obsession” with food.
Ng’s favorite spots in New Haven include the Back Room at Bottega and the “ethereally chic” Blue Pearl. She also said Bentara makes the best noodle soup in town.
So break free of the dining hall’s monotony and grab yourself some smoked duck nachos from Zinc, some chicken mole from Fair Haven’s Guadalupe La Poblanita, or some hush puppies from Sandra’s. The menu is endless.