Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Culinary Adventures Through Newport, RI

My aunt has a timeshare, and recently decided to use her allotted time for a week in Newport, RI, which is about 40 minutes from where we live.  They had traveled earlier in the summer and didn't want to go too far.  They couldn't take the whole week off to spend at the timeshare, but didn't want it to go to waste either, so they asked me if I wanted to spend a few days during the week with my cousin in Newport. I said, "Yes, please!"  I could definitely use a few days away from my house, and Newport is a wonderful summer resort town.  Unfortunately for us, we landed here during a week of drizzle and clouds, but we're making the most of it :-D  Our hotel is right in downtown Newport, and we have been enjoying walks to the wharfs, window shopping (and some real shopping), and of course eating!!  I'm pleased to share with my readers some of the lovely eateries we visited, in case you ever find yourself in this beautiful town!

 ~ Day 1 - Dinner ~

Cafe Zelda
528 Thames St
Newport, RI 02840
(401) 849-4002

I immediately loved the decor in this small restaurant space: dark blue walls with thin white stripes, with photographs and models of sailboats throughout the cozy room.  There is an adjacent bar with a door closing it off from the main dining room, keeping the noise level to a minimum.  It's so very Newport :)

Photo from Cafe Zelda website 

We decided to order a couple appetizers to share, and opted for the Warm Gorgonzola Sourdough, which was a thick, gooey, creamy bath of warm Gorgonzola cheese and cream, topped with fresh diced tomatoes, and served with crispy toasted bread for dipping.  It was incredibly mild in blue cheese flavor, with a slight punch of tang at the end.  I love blue cheese of all kinds, and really enjoyed this dip/spread.  The fresh tomatoes were a nice touch of acid and color as well.

**I'd like to apologize in advance, the two photos of the appetizers turned out pretty poor.  I'm  in the process of driving myself crazy trying to take better low-light photos in restaurants, and took these using a higher ISO so they have a lot of "noise" and aren't even completely in focus :( I didn't want to make my dining companions wait for me to try a million different settings, so the quality of the photos suffered.  My entree photo turned out better because I changed the ISO back.  I think using flash can make the photos too bright and washed out.  If anyone has great, sure-fire tips for using a point and shoot to take photos in low light without excessive blur and noise, please let me know!

Warm Gorgonzola Sourdough $9 

Our second appetizer was equally delicious.  It was their take on sushi, a nice piece of ahi tuna, wrapped in seaweed, then breaded and fried to form a crispy exterior while keeping the fish raw.  It was served over a bed of seaweed salad with wasabi, and a ponzu dipping sauce. I loved the texture of this dish, with the soft, melt-in-your-mouth raw ahi with a crispy fried surprise.  I had never had seaweed salad before, but absolutely loved it! It had a crunchy texture and a strong sesame flavor. I could eat a huge bowl of it, and will have to keep that in mind next time I go for sushi!

Nori Wrapped Ahi Tuna $12 

Cafe Zelda offers weeknight dinner specials.  On Monday night they have a small selection of half-priced entrees, while the rest of the weeknights they offer a special prix fixe menu at a very reasonable price.  I decided to order off the regular menu instead of trying one of the three offered half-priced entrees, although a couple of my dining companions tried the specials and really enjoyed their food.  I immediately landed on the scallops as soon as I read the description... native corn, heirloom tomatoes, haricots verts, and citrus vinaigrette. Sold. It was the perfect dish of summer vegetables with my plump sea scallops.  The scallops themselves were a little on the small side compared to some others I've had, but they were delicious nonetheless and the dish was incredibly filling!  I was ready to burst by the end of the meal and couldn't even make room for dessert!  I loved the fresh vegetables on my plate, the sweet corn, the tart and juicy heirloom tomatoes, and the crispy sweet haricots verts.  It was heavier on vegetables than actual scallops, which looked a little unbalanced on the dish, but the five scallops I did have were tender and the meal as a whole was very very filling.

Seared Bomster Sea Scallops - with native corn, heirloom tomatoes, haricots verts, citrus vinaigrette $24 

~ Day 2 - Lunch ~

The Mooring
1 Sayers Wharf
Newport, RI 02840
(401) 846-2260

I remember Giada DeLaurentiis dining here in an episode of "Giada's Weekend Getaways," and the appetizer she chose looked really delicious.  I decided that someday I would have to try it, and that someday finally happened.  The Mooring has a great waterside location with an excellent view of the harbor from both outdoor and indoor seating.  It's a pretty large restaurant with a convenient pay parking lot directly in front.  A giant metallic fish hangs over the bar, a perfect setting in this mostly seafood establishment.

The amazing appetizer that I knew I had to try was the Bag of Doughnuts which consists of fried savory treats very similar to traditional Rhode Island clam cakes.  If you never heard of a clam cake, it's essentially a fried clam fritter, and is oven served alongside white clam chowder.  It's amazing.  I don't often indulge in a series of fried dishes, but on occasion I think it's worth the guilt.  These fritters contain a mixture of lobster, crab, and shrimp and are served with a knock-your-socks-off-amazing chipotle-maple aioli.  If you think sriracha aioli is amazing (and it totally is) this takes the spicy aioli in a mildly sweet direction with just a perfect mixture of flavors.  I would happily bathe in a vat of this sauce.  But I was also quite content dipping my delicious "doughnuts" into it.  Yum!! I would order this again and again, until my arteries crust over.

Bag of Doughnuts - Lobster, Crab and Shrimp Fritters with Chipotle-Maple Aioli $11 

Lunch consisted of sandwiches for both my cousin and myself.  The entrees are the same price for lunch and dinner, and I can't bring myself to spend over $25 on a lunch entree unless it's for something really special, and considering we were eating dinner out as well that night, we both decided to keep it simple.  She opted for the open-faced turkey sandwich with melted Muenster cheese, crisp bacon, basil pesto and fried egg on top. That's a serious sandwich! Mine was a simple fried sole sandwich with tartar sauce.  I thought the fish was cooked nicely and the tartar sauce was tasty, but the bread to filling ratio was a bit bread-heavy.  It was delicious and fluffy, but overwhelmed the delicately tasty fish.  In any case, it was a good sandwich, and the fries were nicely seasoned.  Lunch was filling and satisfying...

Open-Face Turkey Sandwich - Hickory Smoked Turkey, Muenster Cheese, Bacon, Fried Egg, Basil Pesto, Buttered Artisan Bread $12 

Fried Sole Sandwich - Mooring Tartar Sauce $12 

~ Day 2 - Dinner ~

Mamma Luisa Italian Restaurant
673 Thames St
Newport, RI 02840
(401) 848-5257

When I noticed that Mamma Luisa had 4 1/2 stars on Yelp, it immediately intrigued me. That is no easy feat. I perused the menu and started drooling. Everything sounded really good. Reservations made, we were ready to go!  To start, the restaurant is housed in an old Victorian-style house off the main stretch of tourist-populated Newport streets. They serve comforting home-cooked food in an elegant setting.  There are three unique dining rooms, two downstairs, and one upstairs, and an adorable sitting room by the bathrooms.

Sitting room :)

Onto the food... they offer four different types of bruschetta. For our starter, we chose their fava bean version which had a sweet fava bean puree spread over toasted crusty bread, topped with Pecorino Romano and salty prosciutto.  Excellent.  Oh and backtracking to the regular bread, delicious and warm with a jug of olive oil at each table. They charge $1 for each additional basket of bread though, fyi. On another note, they have a separate page on the menu devoted to their vegetarian items, a great idea to help narrow down choices for those with dietary restrictions.

Fava Bruschetta - Mashed Fava Beans, Shaved Pecorino Cheese, Prosciutto $8.50 

Time for awesome entrees. My cousin went with their Tagliatelle al Pesca, which was served in a cute fish-shaped dish.  The sauce was light and simple, a barely-there type deal, but it was perfect with the fresh, sweet, perfectly-cooked seafood. Mine was the Spaghetti Carbonara, or "cholesterol on a plate" as I like to call it. Perfectly al dente spaghetti and salty, crunchy pancetta all coated with a thin veil of black pepper-spiked egg, with some Pecorino Romano cheese and cream for good measure. Finally garnished with one thin, crispy slice of pancetta. Gluttonous Heaven. One of the best Italian meals I've ever had, food done right, great service, cozy but upscale atmosphere, seriously great prices, off the beaten path. Win win win.

Tagliatelle al Pesce - Egg Ribbon Pasta with Sauteed Shrimp and Sea Scallops with Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Garlic and Basil $18.50 

Spaghetti Carbonara - Spaghetti with Pancetta, Eggs, Pecorino Cheese, a Touch of Cream and Black Pepper $14.50 

~ Day 3 - Lunch ~ 

Castle Hill Inn
590 Ocean Ave
Newport, RI 02840
(401) 849-3800

I've already sang the praises of Castle Hill Inn, and my love for this gorgeous venue is unwavering.  Although the weather was overcast during this recent visit, with just a teeny bit of rain, it made no difference to the incredible experience.  The service is of course first class.  I have never had a moment of unhappiness when visiting Castle Hill.  It's like a fairy wonderland of awesomeness.  Lunch was no exception.  My sister joined us and started off with a delicious chicken soup with black beans and corn, almost like a tortilla-free tortilla soup.  It was served with grilled flatbread.  She then had the burger, which she loved!  The aioli that topped it was delicious.  My cousin had the turkey sandwich, which she also really enjoyed.

Chicken Soup with Black Beans and Corn $8

Local Grass Fed All Natural Beef Burger - House bacon, Grafton cheddar cheese, shaved onion $18

Turkey Sandwich - Arugula, pancetta, fontina cheese, roasted garlic-thyme aioli, sourdough bread $15

I couldn't resist the sound of their special lunch entree.  It consisted of a tender poached lobster tail perched atop a bed of perfectly cooked English pea, roasted corn, and lobster claw meat risotto. The dish was finished with a tomato-parmesan nage and some basil oil.  Could you resist a dish like that? I definitely couldn't! The lobster melted in my mouth, absolutely perfectly cooked, while the risotto had a great al dente bite and was nicely free-flowing (as risotto should be) surrounded by a pool of flavorful sauce.  Totally worth the price tag.  I practically licked my plate clean... practically.  When it was all over, I whispered sweet nothings to my lobster corpse... like the true food freak I am :-D 

Poached Lobster Tail served over a bed of English pea, roasted corn, and lobster claw meat risotto, with tomato-parmesan nage and basil oil $28

Proud member of Plate-Lickers Anonymous... look us up on Facebook!

~ Day 3 - Dinner ~

The Red Parrot
348 Thames St
Newport, RI 02840
(401) 847-3800

In selecting the locale for our final Newport dinner, our only stipulations were that it be cheap and convenient.  We went with the Red Parrot because it was conveniently across the street from our hotel (and at this point we were lazy) and fairly cheap compared to other nearby options.  It was also pretty average.  The menu rivals Cheesecake Factory's in length at 22 pages!  It has something for everyone, focusing on a somewhat Caribbean, but mostly American palate.  There's nothing exceptional about the food, but if you are dining with picky eaters, chances are they will find something on this menu to eat.  If you're dining with financially-challenged diners, they will find some pretty cheap options here as well.  My cousin ordered a simple blackened chicken Caesar salad, while I went with their jerk chicken wrap.  It was seasoned pretty well with a nice sweet touch of pineapple inside, but nothing extraordinary.  The fries were below average, the tortilla chips stale.  I guess you get what you pay for! The payoff for coming here and saving our money came later with dessert... stay tuned :)

Blackened Chicken Caesar Salad $9.95 

 Caribbean Jerk Chicken Wrap - chicken breast grilled with jerk spices, lettuce, tomato, red onion, grilled pineapple, melted swiss cheese in a wrap $8.95

~ Day 3 - Dessert ~

Cold Fusion Gelato
389 Thames Street
Newport, RI 02840
(401) 849-6777
Here's the payoff.  Luscious, silky, creamy gelato.  Giada ate here during her trip to Newport (along with the Mooring and Castle Hill Inn as well).  The flavors change daily, and on any given day there are about a couple dozen gelato choices and about a half dozen sorbets.  The flavors I went with were mudslide (chocolate with Kahlua, Bailey's and vodka) and toasted sesame and honey.  Wow.  Both were exceptionally good, but the toasted sesame and honey especially was incredibly unique!  Flavors I would never had considered using in a frozen dessert, and now I have no choice but to attempt my recreation of this tasty treat.  Wish me luck :)

And they lived happily ever after.  The End. 


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