OCTAGON Restaurant, Mystic Marriott Spa & Resort, Groton, CT.
All right, I’m not Bing Crosby looking at mystic runes in King Arthur’s Court but I report from the Connecticut seaport of Mystic. Mystic is actually comprised of the villages of Groton and Stonington. Since the settlement in the 1650s by ‘ye olde’ colonists, the port has enjoyed a reputation as a shipbuilding centre. For hundreds of years, this area has produced clipper ships, tall ships, whaling ships, schooners, steamers and US Navy cutters.
By the 20th century, Groton was the “submarine capital of the world.” The first nuclear submarine, the Nautilus, was launched from Groton and is on display as a historic vessel. There is a historical link between Jaeger LeCoultre and Groton. The crew of the first nuclear submarine USS Nautilus (SSN571) was presented with JLC Geophysics after their historic submerged journey to the Geographic North Pole. Groton is the homeport of the USS Nautilus.
USS Nautilus history and photo below, copyright of Submarine Force Library and Museum
History of USS NAUTILUS (SSN 571)
Construction of NAUTILUS was made possible by the successful development of a nuclear propulsion plant by a group of scientists and engineers at the Naval Reactors Branch of the Atomic Energy Commission, under the leadership of Captain Hyman G. Rickover, USN.
In July of 1951 Congress authorized construction of the world's first nuclear powered submarine. On December 12th of that year, the Navy Department announced that she would be the sixth ship of the fleet to bear the name NAUTILUS. Her keel was laid by President Harry S. Truman at the Electric Boat Shipyard in Groton, Connecticut on June 14, 1952.
After nearly 18 months of construction, NAUTILUS was launched on January 21, 1954 with First Lady Mamie Eisenhower breaking the traditional bottle of champagne across NAUTILUS' bow as she slid down the ways into the Thames River. Eight months later, on September 30, 1954, NAUTILUS became the first commissioned nuclear powered ship in the United States Navy.
On the morning of January 17, 1955, at 11 am EST, NAUTILUS' first Commanding Officer, Commander Eugene P. Wilkinson, USN, ordered all lines cast off and signalled the memorable and historic message, "Underway On Nuclear Power." Over the next several years, NAUTILUS shattered all submerged speed and distance records.
On July 23, 1958, NAUTILUS departed Pearl Harbour, Hawaii under top-secret orders to conduct "Operation Sunshine," the first crossing of the North Pole by a ship. At 11:15 pm on August 3, 1958, NAUTILUS' second Commanding Officer, Commander William R. Anderson, USN, announced to his crew "For the world, Our Country, and the Navy - the North Pole." With 116 men aboard, NAUTILUS had accomplished the "impossible," reaching the geographic North Pole--90 degrees north.
In May 1959, NAUTILUS entered Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Kittery, Maine for her first complete overhaul--the first of any nuclear powered ship--and the replacement of her second fuel core. Upon completion of her overhaul in August 1960, NAUTILUS departed for a period of refresher training, then deployed to the Mediterranean Sea to become the first nuclear powered submarine assigned to the U.S. Sixth Fleet.
Over the next six years, NAUTILUS participated in several fleet exercises while steaming over 200,000 miles. In the spring of 1966, she again entered the record books when she logged her 300,000th mile underway. During the following 12 years, NAUTILUS was involved in a variety of developmental testing programs while continuing to serve alongside many of the more modern nuclear powered submarines she had preceded.
In the spring of 1979, NAUTILUS set out from Groton, Connecticut on her final voyage. She reached Mare Island Naval Shipyard, Vallejo, California on May 26, 1979--her last day underway. She was decommissioned on March 3, 1980 after a career spanning 25 years and almost half a million miles steamed.
In recognition of her pioneering role in the practical use of nuclear power, NAUTILUS was designated a National Historic Landmark by the Secretary of the Interior on May 20, 1982. Following an extensive historic ship conversion at Mare Island Naval Shipyard, NAUTILUS was towed to Groton, Connecticut arriving on July 6, 1985.
On April 11, 1986, eighty-six years to the day after the birth of the Submarine Force, Historic Ship NAUTILUS, joined by the Submarine Force Museum, opened to the public as the first and finest exhibit of it's kind in the world, providing an exciting, visible link between yesterday's Submarine Force and the Submarine Force of tomorrow.
The restaurant goes by using the tag-line, “The art of steak”, and so no prizes for guessing what they do best
. The focal point of the restaurant is a 16-foot octagon open flame grille.
There are other visual treats like this huge painting by Roy Carruthers entitled ‘Le Sommelier’ and a beautiful collection of hand-blown glass art.
The clean design decor is of lightwood and glass as well as coloured glass fixtures. I was more drawn towards the glazed wine cellar.
There is a large choice of wine from all over the world with the expected dominance of USA producers. As an illustration of the choice, ‘Big Reds’ ranged from Californian merlot to Petrus Pomerol 1990.
As my AMTRAK train arrived late into town and dining time was limited, I chose a quick drinking merlot, Sterling Vintner’s Choice 2000 from St. Helena, Central Coast, California.
Wine notes: berry aroma, soft but full-bodied, some oak but not overpoweringly so for a Californian. Dining alone (again), I could not have a range of wines with my food courses; this was a good choice for the whole job.
Chef’s tidbit: Kalamata olive tapenade on grilled bread had a smoky richness to tame the initial taste of the newly opened wine. I left the bread cone/basket alone, as I knew that space would be at a premium. This was the US of A where ‘men are men (fat)’ and portions are HUGE.
Starter: Grilled Artic Chard, Foie Gras, Prosciutto Ham and Polenta with reduced Prune Sauce. This was a well-executed trio of produce from land, sea and air. Chard is similar to salmon. As usual, the portions in America are huge, so I only took a tasting bite of the polenta. This dish could be a main course in most countries. The sweet prunes went well with the foie gras and the saltiness of the oily fish made it possible for the merlot to accompany the dish instead of a sweet wine.
Main: Charred 12 oz. Filet Mignon seemed a ‘sensible’ portion compared with the 30 oz. rib eye, which was offered initially
The restaurant uses only certified Angus beef, which is lean with fine marbling of fat for maximum taste. Only the top 17% of the whole herd is thus certified. I left it to Chef to decide how much my meat should be cooked.
My steak being made medium rare. The charring is needed to impart flavour; there is nothing like burnt fat and smoky proteins for flavour.
Photo with ambient lighting to show true colour of steak as seen by the diner.
The steak arrived with grilled giant onion slice and béarnaise sauce (hollandaise-like sauce made with white wine and tarragon and shallots instead of lemon juice). I think the steak’s 12 oz. designation was only a ‘minimum’ weight....it must have been larger: groan
I ordered a side dish of sautéed spinach with garlic which unexpectedly contained chilli and lemon juice. The slight tartness of the lemon juice was a great way to cut through the taste of the meat. So, should a hollandaise sauce have been served instead? [see above]
I was particularly taken by the stylish and useful steak knife provided
Dessert: I was quite content without a dessert course but what would the readers say? “Wimp!” Therefore, I capitulated and ordered my standard test dessert of crème brulee.
The result was passable but not of the first order. Hey! I call them as I see them. The crème was thick and creamy but there was no discernable vanilla taste or visible vanilla pods. The caramel coat was too thick and applied with a modern flamethrower.
Advice: Stick with the main courses.
My server, Renata, from Hungary was congenial, knowledgeable and technically competent, which is remarkable considering she had been in the job for only a month. Some people just have it. This ambitious young lady had been to catering school in Hungary but could not get into the food service industry in USA at first application. She persevered in Housekeeping, Reception and as Greeter before finally being “promoted” to Server this year.
Her manager, Mr Federico Luzzi should be proud of his choice. I am sure he was because I told him of my personal satisfaction.
1. When it comes to service, some people just have it.
2. It is amazing where one can turn up epicurean delights; even from a cold, sleety, East Coast seaport in March.
3. The Submarine Force Museum in New London, CT is fun.
Restaurant Pictures and Text copyright Melvyn Teillol-Foo, 2003.