Published September 20. 2012 4:00AM
When it comes to seafood, my summers always seem to take a predictable path. Having been relatively deprived of the classics over the wintertime, I dive right into the whole belly clams, lobster rolls and clam cakes when May and June roll around.
But, by this time of year, I usually find myself a little tired of the clam shack mainstays. If I'm going out for seafood now, I prefer a restaurant that carries unique catches and prepares them with the kind of creativity you don't see at every seafood place.
If you share this trait, you'll certainly enjoy Fresh Salt at the Saybrook Point Inn in Old Saybrook.
One of the perks of dining at Fresh Salt is the stunning view that hits you when you turn off of Route 154 and into the Saybrook Point parking lot. When I arrived around 7 p.m., I was lucky enough to take in one of those beautiful September evenings in New England. The sky was a warm pink color at the horizon point where it met Long Island Sound. The nearby homes were bathed in a golden glow projected from the descending sun.
The restaurant's entrance is a quick walk along a small marina and up a patio area, which is fully equipped with a fireplace that's turned on once the sun goes down. The atmosphere inside was elegant and thoughtful. There were framed drawings and prints designed to evoke a nautical feel. My favorites were the historic photos of Saybrook Point and the blue prints of two lighthouses hung just behind my table.
The large windows in the dining area allow you to take in the wonderful view from a more climate-controlled vantage point.
Some of the menu items at Fresh Salt looks familiar - lobster tails and New England and Rhode Island style clam chowder - but other items feature familiar ingredients with a twist.
For starters, we tried the crisp sautéed Chesapeake Bay soft shell crab and shrimp and scallop ceviche.
The soft shell crab was one of those wonderful dishes made with ingredients you would have never thought to pair together, but realize taste fabulous upon first bite. It came with tempura crusted soft shell crab, grilled watermelon steak, slaw and lemon tarragon tartar.
In addition to the crustaceans, the ceviche featured avocado, peppers, fresh citrus and olive oil. It was a wonderfully refreshing dish, and, in the absence of sorbet, I counted this as my palette-cleanser going into the main course.
The main plates I tried were the wild caught ivory king salmon, the special of the day - swordfish stuffed with olive tapenade, topped with parmesan cheese with a side of asparagus - and the Mauntak style striped bass with clams, potatoes, corn and lobster broth.
One thing I must say about all of these dishes is how fresh the seafood was and how well it was prepared. There's nothing worse than getting a $25 seafood plate and biting into your dinner only to taste an over-cooked and tough salmon steak.
The fish at Fresh Salt had a moist, almost buttery taste. The main courses were also well paired with exceptional side dishes. This was particularly true of the swordfish.
Aside from salads and sides, there were virtually no options for vegetarians, but there were several dishes for a diner who prefers to stay away from seafood. There was a roasted Amish chicken with soft polenta and citrus mostarda, Long Island duck with caramelized local peach and sweet corn risotto, and filet mignon.
The wait staff was attentive and friendly. They were also very accommodating with my one-year-old son, who accompanied us. But I would tell parents this is probably not the best restaurant to bring small children to.
While dining, I made the comment to my father that my son was probably the only person in the restaurant under 27 (my age). He replied that my wife and I were "probably the only people under 40!"
The waitress brought us a high chair, and the other patrons were mostly tolerant as my son spun his napkin around his head like a festive reveler on New Year's, though we got a few looks when he began yelling "Ahhhhhh!" and shaking wildly in his seat. Still, I know I saw at least one guy at a table nearby smiling.
Fresh Salt was expensive but predictably priced for a high-end restaurant directly on the water in Old Saybrook.
Appetizers ranged in price from $7 to $15, with some raw bar samplers costing upwards of $88. Main dishes were priced between $24.50 and $33.
If I went searching for unique seafood experience, I certainly found it at Fresh Salt. The breathtaking view, delightful ambience and quality service weren't bad extras either.