Red-Right-Return. An important rule to heed out in the harbor, these three words also might guide you to the at in Stonington. Whoever placed the nautical lights above the front door showed appropriate attention to detail, because the green light is on your left as you enter and the red is on your right.
With or without the navigational aids, I shall return soon enough to the Dog Watch for another bowl of their bouillabaisse. The kitchen boasts that this seafood classic is the best bouillabaisse in America. I haven’t eaten enough bouillabaisse in New London County, let alone America, to judge such a claim. But if you asked me if I could eat this stew, and only this stew, for supper every night for the rest of my life—not that I would, but could I do it if I had to and still be happy?—I suppose I could.
I mean, there are worse miseries to suffer through than a meal of fresh seafood in a steamy-hot bath of saffron-tomato broth. More miserable ways to spend an evening than coaxing tender, creamy mussels out from their shells with your fingertips, and flaking apart chunks of cod and scallops with the tip of your spoon, and plucking the tail off a thumb-sized shrimp, and then ladling the broth over the entire thing to let it all soak in.
True to custom, the Dog Watch bouillabaisse comforts hungry souls with several types of shellfish and finfish simmered in the broth. I counted a half-dozen mussels, about as many scallops, a clam, a shrimp, and loads of squid, not to mention several pieces of fish. I’m sure some of it was cod, but who knows what else was in it. When a gentleman delivered the bowl to me at the bar—I think it was one of the owners—I asked him what fish to expect. It depends on the day, he said. Once he counted nine varieties of seafood.
Whatever the fish it used, the kitchen deserves credit for making a stew in which each and every ingredient can be tasted and savored in its own right. No single flavor or seasoning dominates. The saffron-infused broth warms each spoonful but does so mildly. Nothing is too oily or garlicky. The broth is thin and invites sipping. Notes of fennel pop up here and there. Slices of onion and finely chopped scallions add texture and earn attention without being disagreeable. The boldest flavor comes from the rouille slathered, traditionally, across a slice of crusty bread, but once dispersed in the stew, it too is content to share the bowl with the seafood. A squeeze or two from an accompanying lemon wedge blends into the other flavors, like the colors on an artist’s palette.
Be prepared to pay for all this deliciousness. The bouillabaisse costs $19—up $2 from the old price posted on the Dog Watch’s online menu. (A lot of other dishes have crept up by a dollar or two as well. Careful, guys! Don’t push your luck. Not all of your customers actually live in Stonington Borough.) As long as that price holds steady, however, it’s worth red-right-returning.