Having already earned back-to-back spots on Connecticut Magazine's Best of Connecticut in 2009 and 2010, Liquid Lunch keeps bellies full and spoons out of the unemployment line with a slurp-worthy twist on midday meals. Culinary Institute of America graduate and owner Fred Bialek and his wife, Michele, were inspired to open the first Liquid Lunch in 2004, when they'd grown tired of lunchtime standards such as pizza, burgers, and lightly salted printouts of old PowerPoint presentations.
Today, at Liquid Lunch's still-growing roster of locations, a rotating lineup of gourmet soups cascades across the menu alongside six staple soups, including vegetarian lentil and split pea with ham. For an extra crunch, diners can plunge fork-first into salads, or explore healthy Sammiches, which escort taste buds around the globe with names influenced by their ingredients and spear-pickles engraved with necessary passport information.
Amici's Restaurant's chefs stir pots brimming with fresh pastas, plate golden rings of fried calamari, and grill new york strip steaks. The servers then transport the platters of Italian fare to the dining area, which is enclosed by exposed-brick walls and filled with round tables draped in crisp, white cloths and topped with bottles of olive oil for drizzling on fresh bread or silencing squeaky olive-oil bottles. Paintings of quaint cafes hang above the full bar, where a sleek stone counter reflects the restaurant's red and white exterior with a decorative wrought-iron café table and chairs for two.
To Manny Sarmiento, American food isn't really American. The chef recognizes that it's the product of a number of international influences, and he draws attention to those influences in the fusion cuisine he creates at 500 Degrees. Sarmiento puts his stamp on dishes such as the "1946 Blend" burger and the Chicken a la Manny, the latter of which complements an organic, oven-roasted chicken with cherry peppers, lemon, and roasted potatoes.
The New York Times recently applauded the chef for his willingness to mix a variety of international cuisines, but no review of 500 Degrees is complete without a note on the interior. The elegant dining area alone is worth the price of admission, with a tin ceiling, exposed brick walls, and a glass terrace that overlooks the river.