Sensational local seafood restaurant Shipwright’s Daughter takes the Mystic food scene to the next level.

Chef David Standridge greets our table in his signature New York Yankees hat (a bit uncommon on the East Coast of Connecticut) and offers to try smelt. If the first development was amusing, the second one left me confused. Smell? Really? To borrow the phraseology of those who live much further from the land: “this is not food, this is what food eats!” I trusted the chef, tasted the fried smelt, and after that I felt a strong desire to eat everything else on the Shipwright’s Daughters menu. You should too.

Standridge, a Yankee by both ancestry and MLB membership, grew up in the Appalachian Mountains of northern New Jersey, a descendant of a grandfather from the back of the Appalachians in Alabama. Gathering and fishing were a natural part of family life as a child, and the tradition of home cooking influenced his early food experiences. “Taste profiles and the like stay with you,” he says. “It could be almost genetically related to food and wine.”

Flash forward. Standridge, currently a graduate of the Le Nôtre Culinary Institute, works at Quattro at the Houston Four Seasons. What was this classic French trained chef working in a gourmet restaurant eating in the kitchen? “Mostly Mexican food,” he jokes. “While working in Texas, I was introduced to all these flavors…of moles, especially how they can be extensive and change with the seasons.”

Add these flavor profiles to his repertoire and add two small plates to our table.

Served with spring vegetables and sourdough bread, Standridge’s first marinated local squid is an example of cultivation throughout his career. The inspiration here was Mexican escabeche, pickled vegetables served with chips and salsa. Oily and acetic, with a few tender shoots and slices of spring root vegetables, the bowl of beetroot glistens bright purple. “We get the squid very fresh, and if you cook it and put it in the oil quickly, you can keep that fresh taste,” he explains. “It keeps longer so you don’t always need it, it helps the food cycle.”

Having fallen for the pending homemade sourdough, I can’t help thinking that this would be a rather sublime appetizer as we drink drinks at Shipright’s bar, just as our drinks arrive.

The second plate is a pork head, served in a kind of crispy terrine on mole verde pickled apple, coriander and pistachios. This too would be a great accompaniment to a few drinks and once again showcases the chef’s Oaxaca influence. In the summer, he cooks squid-ink moth with pickled blueberries and seaweed, topped with aged local tuna.

The plate itself attracts the attention of my interlocutor. She runs her hands over it, and later I remember to ask Standridge about finding more material in The Shipbuilder’s Daughter. Much of their glassware is made by local artisans such as Lindsey Meiklem Dean of Glaze Handmade and business partners Ami Hussey and Magali del Castillo of Ahmee Ceramics, both in Stonington.

Our drinks are classified as gin bowls and are simply named Citrus, Floral, Salty and Spices on the menu. I choose Savory, an ice-clear blend of Hendrick’s gin, Mastiha Antica, celery and tonic bitters, and enjoy the complex flavor of the drink, as well as the fresh aroma of the cucumber garnish. Seasonal cocktails such as the 24 Carrots (homemade ginger vodka, carrot ice, limoncello and basil) are rotated at the direction of mixologist and bar manager Claire Procaccini.

My companion has Citrus (St. George Botanivore jasmine gin, Italicus bergamot liqueur, Bitterman’s Boston bitters, tonic water). I try it and grow simply slightly jealous.

Standridge left Texas to help open Joel Robuchon’s atelier at New York’s Four Seasons Hotel in 2006 and remained there until 2012. “In Houston, I felt like I could do anything. I came to New York and it was a whole new world,” he admits. He partially attributes the experience to his view that he will never be satisfied with his latest creation. “I always try to do the following. I am ruthless.”

The next novelty on our table are oysters, which I can’t resist if I have them, and fried smelt recommended by the chef. I choose fried oysters over raw oysters just to see what Standridge and sous chef Michael McHugh can do with them. The four of them arrive bathed in ruby-colored chili oil, cilantro and pepper microgreens. The oysters seem to disappear the moment they touch our table, which overlooks the heart of Mystic Village. I will remember to place a double order next time.

“I’ve always wanted to work on the New England coast,” Standridge says. “I stumbled upon Mystic at a birthday party, saw the food scene, and got a job at The Whaler’s Inn (upstairs from Shipwright’s) in 2019. Bravo Bravo has been here for 20 years, but we restored it to the ground and developed the whole concept.

“I wanted to make something that reflects Mystic and fits in with the environment, but at the same time next generation, offering world class cuisine.”

As proof of concept, Shipwright’s and Standridge have since been nominated by the Connecticut Restaurant Association for the best restaurant and chef in the state.

Take crispy fried smelt, for example: the tiny fish are covered in butterflies and served with their tails like fried shrimp, wrapped in quick seaweed and flour. According to the chef, algae is what changes the fish on the plate and in the waters of the strait, not far from the shore. The fish lives among the cleansing seaweed leaves which keep its meat very light and salty, which is quite the opposite of what I expected. It is served alongside a small slice of lettuce with a dollop of pepper cream dressing and a square stick of “layered potato”, almost fish and chips style.

This latter points to a thought that is embedded even in something as seemingly simple as the potato wedge in The Shipwagoner’s Daughter. The potatoes are first made almost translucently thin on a mandolin, then brushed with cream and herbs, stacked and fried until golden brown. Soft on the inside, crispy on the outside, one bite and my Irish heart almost sang. Instead, I later ask Standridge, “Why did it smell?”

“All the fish on the menu is because it’s local and we can get it,” was the reply. Just like that one. “We serve what we can. This is how we can serve fishermen because it is a tough industry for small boats. We get it from Josiah Dodge – we don’t import anything.

“I really like small fish. Underutilized species,” he laughs. “Most of the fish I want are on the bait list.”

As if to confirm his words, during dinner, a small plate of mackerel uninvitedly falls on our table. I have personally used this fish as bait up a notch up the food chain from smelt. The difference between cynicism and skepticism is that with the latter you can change your mind, and dear reader, my mind has changed.

Fragrant, but surprisingly soft fish was pierced by the marinade. A blend of rich and healthy oils from the mackerel itself and Kalamata olive tapenade blended and rested on sourdough toast. My companion and I were already half way through the dish before I thought about adding some emerald puree on the plate to the bite, and were rewarded with bright, herbal and fragrant parsley. The dish that I missed on the menu became the favorite of the evening.

It’s not all seafood at Shipwright’s. Standridge, McHugh et al. want to present a specific dining experience rather than a narrow focus. In this vein, I opt for Striped Beef Tenderloin from Painted Hills, Oregon (with lots of flaky potatoes), king trumpet mushrooms, and shishito. Perfectly done beef, medium rare and served sliced ​​with a dollop of fluffy Béarnais. espumataking a classic combination and adding craftsmanship and delight.

I pair this with a glass of Gal Tibor “Titi”, a red biker jacket from Egri, Hungary. Deep and rich, like a fruitier Cabernet, it is on the list of wines compiled by Kathleen Standridge.

It’s all part of a collaborative effort, from fishermen to Rhode Island native McHugh, with his knowledge of local sourcing, like mushrooms from the coast in our plate of bucatini. “The bottom line here is that people can come and have a formal dinner and it will be very special, but you can also come and have breakfast at our Scrimshaw coffee shop during the day or grab a bite during happy hour,” Standridge sums up. .

I would like to try all three.

Shipbuilder’s daughter
20 E. Main St., Mystic
860-536-7605, shipwrightsdaughter.com, @shipwrightsdaughter on Instagram
Open for breakfast and dinner daily, brunch on Saturdays. & Sun., Weekday Scrimshaw coffee concept
Accessible for the disabled


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