A rambunctious family sitting next to middle-aged rowdy revelers. A kitschy nautical theme with a wooden deer-head on the wall. Faux fine-dining amidst the chaos of a glorified beach bar selling merchandise.
Confusing mixed messages are the name of the game at the inexplicably-named Red 36, a restaurant located at the very edge of a harbor dock in Mystic, Connecticut. Clearly trying to appeal to any type of vacationer, the predominant reason every sort visits this shack-by-the-sound is even clearer: the 360-degree views of the water and accompanying boats, with accordion glass doors pulled all the way open, removing the barrier between outdoor terrace and indoor decor. The raw fish smell of the former gives way to the fried fish smell of the latter. Imagine an upscale Seaworld (where the visible animal torture is kept in the kitchen) offering a gourmet option for intrepid travelers of all kinds, one conducive to kids throwing temper tantrums while geriatric kids-at-heart throw back shots.
Perplexed yet? Ditto.
Whereas the vibe of the restaurant was obscured by so many disparate elements, the most memorable of the varyingly solid dishes were those that matched this discombobulation, with a mishmash of ingredients masking the inferior quality of each.
The most photogenic of the bunch were the two attractive Spicy Shrimp Tacos. The technicolor presentation presaged a rainbow of tastebud explosions, with each bite literally exploding all over my plate, table, clothes, etc. (NOOOOT appropriate date food for romantic adventures). The noticeably crispy and piping-hot shrimp contrasted nicely with the overly saucy and cool chipotle aioli, guacamole, pico de gallo, and sour cream, with none overpowering the others. Yet since the prawns were reserved for the top half of the soggy tortillas, the bottom portions were almost exclusively just wet red and green cabbage, otherwise known as a salad with questionable dressing.
Sogginess also pervaded the too-salty Clam Grilled Flatbread, which isn’t a descriptive title since the garlic, oregano, and especially bacon, parmesan, and olive oil dominated the paltry mollusks. The hard silver trey leaked oil as the waitress set it down, less a testament to her inferior handling and more an indicator of the overflowing liquid. The fluids seeped into the otherwise acceptable crust, a problem that did not befall the properly burnt corners.
The crest of the wave that was this meal was probably the Paella Style Risotto, which bore the texture, makeup, and overall taste of the former but the overwhelming creaminess of the latter. Befitting a restaurant located on the water, each member of its composition (the mouthful of a list, each utilized sparingly: shrimp, clams, mussels, chorizo sausage, roasted chicken, peas, and oven-roasted tomatoes) basically swam in the CREEEAAAAAMY saffron risotto, which diminished the contributions of each into a slimy sludge of satiation. Most bites were layered with gooey flavor; some were just goo. Eventually, the muck and mire coalesced together after the unobstructed wind cooled the dish; scarfing down the bodacious bowl quickly enough to avoid this questionably disgusting outcome was an impossibility.
Not needing the wind, the clumps of truffle cream sauce doused on the bed of pappardelle atop which sat two measly Seared Scallops came pre-coalesced, with smatterings of criminis and shaved parmesan. Instead of the desired silky smoothness, the sea salt-topped bivalves were alarmingly hard to cut with a fork. They tasted as if they were served a day too late after being caught.
The same held true for the flaccidly-displayed Tier 1 selection from the raw bar, which came with two bland shrimps hugging each other, three oysters (the least generic part about them was the waitress not knowing which was which kind), and four clams. The ocean burst forth from the last, though they looked like they had just been taken out of a freezer given the Flubber-like movement of the mass as one frozen entity.
The sweeeeeeet Brownie Tower (BROWNIE TOWER!) also arrived overly frozen, drizzled in the chocolate-iest of chocolate sauces. Despite the salivatingly eye-catching name (BROWNIE TOWER!), it was less a glorious mass of homemade brownies ever-reaching towards the sky, and more a conventional vanilla ice cream sandwich with store-bought brownies replacing the cookies. Also, major points off for bastardizing the dish with unlisted canned whip cream. Blasphemy.
But the ultimate sacrilege was the Fried Green Tomatoes, the epitome of a special that’s anything but. Disregarding the black bean and corn salsa haphazardly tossed over the hash-brown lookalikes, the first bite was reminiscent of when you detect an unknown smell in the air and try to sniff it out, only to realize your neighbor just dropped a stealth SBD. That was also my last bite.
After the waitress introduced herself at the end (the end?! Very little made consistent sense here), she politely suggested that we come again. Unless I one day find myself in Mystique, Connecticut simultaneously with an uncontrollable family and a hankering for excessive imbibing, I think I’ll pass…