Food Scenery

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W hile it cuts an imposing 19-floor figure on Temple Street, the Omni New Haven Hotel is often overlooked by those who hang their hats in the city. It’s a place for travelers, not locals, we think. But John Davenport’s, the restaurant perched on the top floor, is well worth a trip.

The restaurant adjoins the hotel’s Bar19 and is set up so that every table faces floor-to-ceiling windows. My dinner companion and I arrived at 5 p.m., when the sun was still up and shining on our north-facing view of the city. While most of our fellow diners seemed to be hotel guests, the view’s charms are surely best appreciated by diners familiar with what they’re looking at. Below us, seagulls wheeled over the New Haven Green, streets bustled with workday traffic, Yale’s spires towered and, farther back, the red crags of East Rock flanked Prospect Hill and Newhallville.

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We started with drinks, a Rye Manhattan ($12) and a Fig & Moonshine Mule ($11). The Manhattan was the strongest I’ve ever had, with an exceptionally generous pour of Bulleit Rye and heady notes of cherry, tobacco and cinnamon, all served in a disarming martini glass with a cherry sunk in the middle. The Mule was overly sweet—blame the addition of pomegranate—but still tasty thanks to its star ingredients: smooth and potent regional moonshine, sourced from Onyx Spirits in Hartford, and rich, fig-flavored vodka.

Our waiter Robin Franco (no relation to moviestar James Franco, she buoyantly volunteered) brought sips of shrimp bisque to start the meal. The soup was silky and thick, umber-toned and sweetened by carrot. Next we tried the Lobster Mac ($8), and if there’s one food meant to be eaten at the top of a very tall building overlooking a city, it’s lobster. Here, the fat-cat ingredient was treated playfully: tender claw meat and Kraft-style elbow macaroni smothered in an orange cheddar sauce and topped with a buttered breadcrumb and chive crust.

For entrees, I tried the Seafood Bouillabaisse ($30) and my companion ordered one of the day’s last Prime Rib ($33) dinner specials, a Davenport’s standard Franco says tends to go fast. At a massive 20 ounces, it was hard to imagine the prime rib doing anything quickly, but, cooked medium rare and served with caramelized spears of grilled asparagus atop a buttery potato puree, it disappeared in record time. The stew was beautifully plated, garnished with streamers of fresh dill and a tower of grilled sourdough. The yellow tomato and saffron broth was golden and summery, piled high with briny mussels, sweet scallops, tender salmon and, of course, more lobster.

By the time we’d finished our main course, a purple dusk had descended over the city, and the streets below were lit by headlights and streetlamps. Inspired by the expansive view, we tested our luck and ordered dessert: the Brownie a la Mode ($8), which arrived piping hot in a cast-iron skillet. Crispy at the edges and gooey at the center, it would have been an ideal brownie and a sweet ending to a decadent dinner, even before the lavish additions of embedded cookie dough bites beneath a mound of vanilla ice cream.

While the restaurant’s Puritan namesake might not have condoned such extravagance, John Davenport’s delivered rich dishes that balanced hominess and sophistication. Far from warhorse meals intended for the jetlagged, the fare on the 19th floor was thoughtful and indulgent and right at home in New Haven’s ambitious culinary landscape.

John Davenport’s
Omni New Haven Hotel at Yale – 155 Temple St, 19th Fl, New Haven (map)
Sun-Thurs 4:30pm-midnight, Fri-Sat 2pm-1am
(203) 974-6858
www.johndavenports.com

Written and photographed by Sorrel Westbrook.

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Sorrel is a California transplant to New Haven. She studied English at Harvard and fiction at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She spends her free time among her house rabbits and houseplants, looking at maps of Death Valley. She loves New England for its red brick and rainstorms and will travel great distances in pursuit of lighthouses and loud music.

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