Tonight I found myself at a place to which few ChowHounds are likely to venture (at least intentionally): Noodles Restaurant, in the North Madison Shopping Plaza, on rte. 80 a little bit east of the intersection with rte. 79 (up from Madison). But I did not feel I needed consolation. This is not a corner of the state of CT that many of us pass through regularly, but if you do, Noodles is not a bad place to stop.
Noodles, as the name suggests, has a preponderance of pasta dishes on their menu. It's not a red checkered-tablecloth Italian place, so the pastas are varied, and not all covered in red sauce. About a third of the menu has nothing to do with pasta, and includes a variety of fish and meat dishes. Assuming no one in your party was really counting on foie gras and truffles, I don't think anyone is going to be unable to find something that meets their needs.
The interior is pleasant, in a funky dark kind of way. Out of season Christmas lights on the walls, handmade quilts hanging behind glass, good space between tables, booths around the walls and generous tables in the middle. A separate bar, so that if you're in the dining room you're not affected by the TVs (and also so that if that's what you're after, you can find it in the spacious bar area).
I had Clams Casino to start: entirely correct, good little clams with a bit of bacon, red pepper and garlic butter. No junk in them, no attempt to be clever. A bit of angel hair in the middle of the dish (they really want you to eat at least some pasta...), nicely al dente and not a bad accent. Then I had a hanger steak au poivre, rare as ordered, and a side of onion rings: if you like your onion rings battered, you won't do better than these, light, fresh, nice and hot ... I prefer mine floured (as at Lennie & Joe's or Lenny's), but these were an excellent example of their kind. The steak was perfectly OK, though the sauce didn't have a lot of character in itself. Desserts were all from outside, but all looked good. I had a raspberry almond tart that I wouldn't mind eating again.
The wine list has a dozen or so whites and a dozen or so reds. I drank a glass of Kendall chardonnay and part of a bottle of a Lodi CA zin that I didn't know, but which was quite OK. Nothing on the list more than about $30/bottle: no magic here, but again, you'll find what you need.
The service was pleasant and attentive. The place was about 2/3 full on a rainy Friday night, and there were quite enough servers to handle the room even if it had been full.
So ,,,, this is not a place I would go a long way out of my way for, but on the other hand it strikes me as a well run and generally good mid-line restaurant that you could count on if you were in the neighborhood. Obviously a lot of locals do.
Which brings me to my next point. It seems to me that as an alternative to the Yelp-like system of 1-5 stars as a rating, it makes sense to rate many restaurants in terms of how far you would be willing to drive to get to them, assuming you wanted the general sort of food they have to offer. So for instance in the New Haven area I would rate Ibiza or Thali at around 40 miles each; Japanese places like Wild Ginger (20) or Wasabi (15), etc. Another Japanese place, East (also in Orange) has probably gone from a 25 down to about a 15 with the change in management a year or so ago. For Chinese, Lao Sze Chuan surely rates a 20, Clinton's taste of China around a 12. For fried seafood, I would rate Lenny's in Branford as 12-15, but I know others would put it more at 3-5. Lennie & Joe's in Westbrook rates a 15 (I've driven further than that to get there, but I don't want to exaggerate), but the one in Madison is only a 5 by me. In Gullford, Guilford Mooring is about a 2: entirely worth going to if you're in the area, but not worth going out of your way for. On the other hand, Whitfield's (the place on Guilford Green that has been occupied by a succession of places better than this, perhaps the best of which was Esteva as run by the Steve of Steve'sCenterbrook Cafe) would get a rating of 0: if you're parked outside, and hungry, it;s OK to go in, but not otherwise. On this scale, i would rate Noodles at about 3-4 miles. And since there's not a lot else within that distance, if you're near, that's where you should go.
You get the idea, I think. The mileage rating is not a pure quality scale: some places you would go farther to get to because there's nothing else similar that's closer,while other places that are objectively better restaurants have so many good alternatives in their vicinity that you would have to be pretty motivated to single them out.
So I propose this as a quality scale for Chow. At least within the general area where a given place is a realistic possibility,how far are you willing to drive to get to it, as opposed to going somewhere else?