By MARYELLEN FILLO
I am a seasonal diner.
Let me explain.
There are restaurants I associate with certain seasons and visit when the suitable season arrives. So when last weekend's weather included summer-like sun and temperatures, I knew it was time for a lazy ride to "the country" and one of my favorite "summer" restaurants, Chatterley's in New Hartford.
For me, that means a mood-setting ride to New Hartford along the back roads that hug the Farmington River. The ambience continues once you arrive in New Hartford, the quintessential Litchfield County community, park the car and walk to the Bridge Street restaurant at the village's most visible downtown corner.
The charm and décor of the place reflect an era that has long gone by.
Frosted glass-and-wood partitions, glass wall sconces with beaded trims, lace café curtains, tulip glass chandeliers and rich aubergine-colored dining room walls are reminiscent of the 1890s, when Victorian style ruled. Upholstered chairs, comfortable booths, an outdoor eating area and a lively bar make it a place to sit and stay awhile, especially on one of those perfect, precious summer-like evenings.
But enough about the building. Chatterley's knows it is all about the food.
An attentive staff and expert chef made the evening even better for me and my dining companions thanks to entrees that were almost too pretty to eat.
A plate of pan-seared Chilean sea bass, mango ravioli, tomatoes, scallion and citrus butter sauce was picture-perfect. A generous lamb shank has similar plate appeal thanks to the mound of sweet potato gnocchi and red wine demi glace that served as the perch for the slow braised piece of meat. Grilled chicken bruschetta, a special that evening, and a New York strip steak were also attractively presented.
And when we picked up our forks and knives, the appeal continued with everyone nodding and sighing, affirmation that the food was worth the ride.
Our limited conversation during dinner was music to owner Paul Samele's ears.
"It's about good food, good service and making the place comfortable not only for adults but families as well," said Samele, who first got into the business 12 years ago when he opened his first restaurant in Torrington. "It's a competitive business and if you are going to stay in business, you have to give customers what they want," said Samele. "You have to give them a reason to keep coming back."
The menu is an eclectic blend of times and taste. Sensitive to those who are trying to eat more healthfully, Chatterley's offers a wide array of seafood and salads including a poached pear, stilton and walnut salad and potato-crusted Atlantic salmon. Appetizers range from the expected house soups to the more exotic plum-glazed shiitake mushrooms stuffed with pork. Other salad offering are equally diverse, including a classic Caesar to a crisply fried goat cheese-and-greens mix that includes mandarin oranges and blueberries.
Desserts could not be ignored despite a meal that included crusty bread, salad and ample entrees that for some of us turned leftovers into lunch the next day. My personal pick ... the chocolate hazelnut mousse torte, a combination of two tastes I like best.
Appetizers and salads range from $4 to with dinner entrees ranging from $17 to $23.
Dinner ended up lasting nearly three hours, affirming the fact that when warm weather finally arrives here in the northeast, it is time to slow down and enjoy it.
Chatterley's made it easy.