The Restaurant at Spicer Mansion
15 Elm St.
Mystic, CT 06355
Mystic, Connecticut is a charming small town in New England within driving distance from New York City. To be exact, the travel time is less than three hours. It makes an ideal weekend escape away from the hustles and bustle of New York City. This town is known for its seaport, the aquarium, and Mystic Pizza; a pizzeria popularized by a 1988 movie starring Julia Roberts. It also has a developing dining scene that was notice by the Boston Globe. The newspaper published an article last September on the growing restaurant community in Mystic and how it is slowly becoming a foodie town.
The Historic Downtown is where most of the restaurant are concentrated. The one that peaked my interest was The Restaurant at Spicer Mansion, located up the hill on a residential street, and a seven minute walk from the main drag. Spicer Mansion is a luxurious eight room hotel, and a Relais & Chateuax member property. The restaurant is the only one in Connecticut to received four stars from Forbes travel guide.
Built in 1853 as a summer home by renowned ship captain Elihu Spicer, the mansion had sadly fallen to despair until the Gates family purchased the property in 2003. It underwent an extensive renovation. Some of its old motif was kept while also giving the interior a fresh new look. All eight rooms were modernized, a dining room was added, the basement was turned in to a speakeasy bar called Room 9 Speakeasy, and the top floor was converted to a lounge.
The dining room is bright and refreshing. The interior is welcoming with colors of white and light grey pattern against the dark wooden fixtures for contrast. Rectangular tables covered in crispy white cloth on top of burlap sack are paired with comfortable benches. The walls are decorated with framed oil paintings, and an oversized Persian rug covers most of the wood flooring.
A set menu and a six course tasting menu priced at $130 are the dining options. On my visit, I had the tasting menu that began with a terrific amuse bouche of Wagyu tartare with truffle aioli. This bite-size snack was great way to make an impression.
The first course was the Pan Seared Bombster Scalllop-preserved cucumber, pickled mustard seeds, sunflower seeds. The top layer of the scallop was seared a bit too much, and was almost burned. What a pity, since I like the thought and the taste of the scallop and its deep sea sweetness with the different sour and pickled notes on the plate. The next course was the Pan Seared Foie Gras – quince, brioche crouton, honey comb, which overall, could have been better. The foie gras was over cooked and dry. A would-have-been great combination of richness from the foie gras, the honey comb sweetness and the quince citric zing if executed properly.
The first two dishes were a let-down so far but all was not lost. My meal was redeemed by the remaining courses starting with the Squash & Wild Mushroom Risotto-grana padano, shaved squash, autumn leaf smoked walnuts. The creamy risotto had a nice sweetness to it. The mushroom imparted an enticing earthiness while the walnuts added crunch to the texture; all the while, also rendering a touch of nuttiness with a smoky element. This was the best dish of the tasting.
For the main course I was served the Roasted Venison-Blueberry Compote, sweet potato hash, baby fennel pistachio. The plating could have used a little refinement, but as far as the dish itself, it was excellent. Lean venison was sous vide then roasted, creating a wonderful tenderness and flavor. In addition, there was also some delightful ground venison meat mingling with other ingredients. Giving the dish a nice touch of sweet berry tartness were drops of blueberry compote.
The cheese course Grand Formage-dried fruits, house mustard, pickles and bread. I trusted the recommendation of my server who chose two different types of cheese locally sourced from New England which surprisingly were very good.
Prior to dessert, I was presented with a cup of hot apple cider from Mystic’s very own Clyde’s Apple Cider Mill.It was fitting for the cold evening. Dessert was the Butternut Squash Ice Cream-gingersnap, brown butter, roasted pears, maple. The ice cream distinctively tasted like a butternut squash, and the roasted pear was a pleasant fruity cohort. Serving as sweetener were dehydrated caramel and crumbs of ginger snap cookies which is also being used for textures. This well-rounded dessert dish has a cold fruity, and sugary features that works together. For the finale a gelatin with a subtle sweetness was served.
The disappointment was hard to hide since I really wanted to like this meal as a whole. The food had an interesting concept and different flavor elements that complements one another. But it simply lacks the execution which is such a shame, since the kitchen is capable in doing so, shown with the risotto, venison and the dessert. The presentation also needed a little bit of refinement. On the other hand, the $95 wine pairing consisting of six glasses did its job.
I find the staff at Spicer Mansion to be genuinely welcoming and eager to please. The same can be said to those who work in the restaurant. The dining room has trained servers that are well informed and their undivided attention is focus on the diner. Service is a definite strong point of this property.
When Spicer Mansion opened, OHM Hotel Management Inc. managed the operation and assigned one of their own in the kitchen. The cooking at the restaurant was received with positive review. Media outlets like the luxury lifestyle magazine Robb Report, did a write up calling The Restaurant at Spicer Mansion as the answer to French Laundry in the east coast. However, when the owner ended the contract with the management company,there has been multiple chef changes, which more than likely led to the inconsistency of the kitchen.
During my stay at the Spicer Mansion, I saw the owner Brian Gates quite a few times lingering in the property. At dinner he came by my table while I was in between courses and chatted a bit. He mentioned why he purchased the mansion, his future plans and why he decided to take over the day-to-day operation. I realized that he is a hands on owner who wants to truly provide a complete experience for every guest. As much as I was disappointed with my dinner, I see the potential of the restaurant. If I am ever around the area, I would certainly visit The Restaurant at Spicer Mansion again.