For those of us who remember the original Leon's in downtown New Haven, run by Eddie Varipapa and Eugene Varipapa, the "new" Leon's in North Haven is a disappointment. Now located in a strip mall on US Rt 5 in North Haven, it is still owned by a Varipapa family member, but the old culinary excellence is not there.
Compared to contemporary Italian restaurants in the New Haven/Hartford area, it is just OK, not outstanding.
The restaurant is nicely decorated, very clean, and the service was outstanding. They still serve that crusty bread upon arrival, which was excellent. The house salad was quite nice, by the way. But the menu items, while nicely presented, were only average.
For an appetizer, we chose the clams casino, remembering the originals from long ago. Leon's kind of "wrote the book" on clams casino, the likes of which we haven't experienced in many years. To be fair, the menu called them "baked, stuffed" and a "Leon's classic in our style". They were simply baked, stuffed clams - too much breading and little flavor. Even as baked, stuffed clams, they were not distinguished, and we feel we could do as well buying them at a local supermarket.
Our entrees were nicely presented but without much flavor. The sauces were bland and did not accent the food well, although my wife stated that her shrimp had a good flavor.
The food seemed fresh and was freshly prepared (except for the clams), and the service was outstanding, but we can find food just as good at a much lower price-point.
We lament the passing of a great restaurant which had a bold, innovative chef. Too bad.
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