Summer sunsets + sailboats + sophisticated seafood = a recipe for romance.
“We provide the lights, patrons provide the dates—and it’s wonderful!” says Jimmy, manager of on the waterfront in East Norwalk. (Jimmy is shy about giving his last name.)
The 10-year-old restaurant is Norwalk’s premier venue for a romantic tete-a-tete or just stepping out in style where you can see the tides and currents rolling the sailboats at anchor in the channel just yards beyond the opened windows. (It has its own dock for seafaring customers to tie up.)
The atmosphere is intoxicating, with its airy dining spaces recalling the deck and outfittings of a well-appointed yacht and its tall windows open to the elements on a perfect day or evening.
The cuisine at Harbor Lights is designed to pique a refined palate as well as satisfy a serious appetite for raw fruits of the sea.
Take, for example, the “Harbor” selection from the raw bar menu.
At $125, diners are overwhelmed by a whole poached lobster, East Coast oysters ($14), cherrystone clams ($14), littleneck clams ($14) and jumbo Gulf shrimp ($8). And that’s just an appetizer.
The focus is on Mediterranean-influenced seafood. Other appetizers include Octopus Mediterraneo ($13), Snow Crab Cakes ($13), Mussels with Chorizo Mariniere ($12) and Oysters Rockefeller ($12).
The lone non-fish appetizer is the Pinchos (beef on a skewer with chimichurri sauce) ($12).
Entrees range all the way from Grilled Mahi Mahi ($28) to Lobster & Shrimp Risotto ($26) to Broiled Seafood Combo ($32) to the piece de resistance, Lobster Santorini ($45) (1½ lobsters stuffed with crabmeat and shrimp).
The Cioppino ($26) blends mahi, shrimp, scallops and salmon chunks with shellfish in a saffron tomato clam broth.
Beefeaters need not feel overlooked at this fishlover’s haven. The filet mignon served with mushroom risotto ($32), New York strip steak ($28) and Bourbon-marinated pork chop ($24) round out the menu.
Desserts, mostly $7, include fresh berries, cakes and gelatos.
Fernando Garcia is executive chef.
The waterfront experience is what has made Harbor Lights popular. It got off to a somber start with few guests when it opened three days after the 9-11 attack.
“It was very scary,” said Jimmy, recalling the immediate aftermath of 9-11. “Everything was brought to a halt.”
These days, business is booming. Harbor Lights is a neighborhood hangout and a destination dining experience.
A polished marble bar sets a tone of elegance. Amber lights provide soft lighting which enhances the views of the water, Jimmy says.
Rita Startup of Norwalk has brought her niece, Deirdre Casey, to dine at Harbor Lights for years, ever since she was 6. (She’s now 13.)
They always sit in a south-facing table for two, order a “Mary Jane” cocktail for Deirdre (ginger ale flavored with Grenadine) and stretch their arms out the open window to toss bread to the swans who arrive on the high tide.
“She’s just mesmerized,” said Startup. “She says this is the most beautiful restaurant in the whole world.”
82 Seaview Ave. in East Norwalk
Open 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week