I notice that there hasn't been much mention of Cafe Routier on this board for a while, and Scargod's excellent map indicates it as a place he hasn't been to. My wife and I had a very nice meal there the other night, so I thought I'd bring it up. We've been going there off and on for years, since the early days at their old location in Old Saybrook, and in my opinion CR (which has matured a lot since its early days) and Le Petit Cafe in Branford continue to be the two outstanding places (of a traditional, more or less French inspired sort) on the shoreline outside of New Haven.
The CR menu is divided into three portions. On the right hand side, there's a part that doesn't change, with a few standards. Of these, I find the crispy oysters generally very nice. The mussels are fine, but I wouldn't go here for that. If you like meat loaf, that's there too. And the steak in the steak frites is acceptable, but nowhere near as good as Roy's steak at Le Petit Cage. On the other hand, the fries are probably the best around: Roy used to have great fries, but a couple of years ago something changed (I think he now makes them in bulk and freezes them), and they are now quite ordinary. CR's fires continue to be excellent.
The middle part of the menu is a section of seasonal specialties, and the left had third is a regional menu from somewhere, changing roughly monthly. Currently, the regional menu is Gascon, and what we had the other night was all from that. The foie gras terrine was outstanding: possibly the best cold foie gras dish I've had in years (and I tend to order the foie gras all too often). Both my wife's cassoulet and my duck breast were also wonderful: I think my own cassoulet is better than theirs, but I spend enormous amounts of time on a dish which is the only thing I'm going to be serving. The profiteroles we had for dessert were "correct": relatively high praise for a somewhat abused dish.
The comparison with Le Petit Cafe has to be made. CR has a substantially wider menu, though if what matters is finding the one thing you want to eat, you're quite likely to find just what you want in either place (Roy is stronger on fish, I think). The regular turnover in the regional menu at CR is interesting and welcome, and over the years Roy's menus haven't changed as much as one might wish. CR has a fairly serious wine list, while LPC's is quite limited. LPC provides a small and intimate space, with highly personal attention from all of the staff (including Roy and Winnie), while CR is somewhat more anonymous (the wait staff are generally quite attentive, though the host tends to be less of a pleasure to deal with).
Anyway, both of these places are serious restaurants, for which we who live in the area can be grateful. Each has its strengths and weaknesses (I haven't gotten very far into either), but you can be assured of a satisfying meal at either. Scargod, if you really haven't been to CR, you should go some time.
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