Though I was not a frequent diner at the Mooring’s previous incarnation, friends remind me that it was considerably more like a venerable waterfront bar and seafood shack than its current spiffed-up self. In 2005, the restaurant closed for six months of renovations, and it re-opened last spring. During the Mooring’s facelift, wood surfaces took on darker tones and sleeker lines, brass accents were added — including a large brass fish over one of the two bars — and cloth napkins became de rigeur.
Nonetheless, the bare wood tables and the sandwiches served all day give the restaurant a casual, seaside feel, appropriate to its wonderful view of Newport Harbor. We were seated on the glassed-in porch, just inside the deck that rises over the lapping waves below. Lights from nearby docks gleamed on the water and flags atop masts fluttered in the breeze.
The Mooring is owned by the Newport Harbor Corporation, which also owns and operates Blackstone Catering, 22 Bowen’s Wine Bar and Grille, Castle Hill Inn, Smokehouse Café, and most of the Newport waterfront festivals. Casey Riley is the corporate chef, overseeing the menu, with his emphasis on locally grown produce, organic whenever possible, and topnotch seafood from fishermen using sustainable practices.
In revamping the menu, Riley and executive chief Brian Mansfield have wisely kept some past favorites, such as the Mooring’s chowders, both clam and scallop; Jonah crab cakes; seafood pie (with fish, scallops, shrimp, lobster, and cognac cream); fish and chips; and Mooring scampi (with lobster and scallops, as well as shrimp). There are even two salads earmarked as Mooring classics: the Caesar (wedges of Romaine, rosemary croutons) and the Uptown (a sauté of lobster and shrimp, grilled salmon, arugula, and a cucumber-pepper salsa).
We turned our attention to the other items on the menu. Entrées range from $19 (fish and chips) to $35 (grilled beef fillet) and $44 (beef with shrimp). Side dishes are each an additional $5. Appetizers include seared rare tuna; house-cured salmon; Rhode Island jonnycakes,; calamari; a combo of lobster, crab and shrimp fritters; a special risotto; soups, including chowders; and salads. The special soup that evening was smoked corn chowder ($7 bowl, $6 cup), and Bill couldn’t resist the idea of anything smoked. Thick with potatoes and tasty with the corn, the chowder definitely pleased him.
On the other side of the table, Marie ordered the organic field greens ($6) and Gary the chopped salad ($7). Marie repeatedly told us how good her salad was, with grape tomatoes, toasted walnuts, and chevre enhancing the greens, as well as the Verjus-raspberry vinaigrette. (Verjus is a special juice from unripe wine grapes, used to add tartness to sauces and dressings.) Gary’s salad also had many accoutrements: avocado, cucumber, mandarin oranges, fingerling potato chunks, toasted pumpkin seeds, crumbled bacon, and feta cheese, all tossed with a light orange-buttermilk dressing.
Bill and I, meanwhile, enjoyed the chef’s special risotto ($7), with shiitake mushrooms sprinkled on top, caramelized onions, and Irish cheese winding through its velvety texture. I particularly appreciated that the arborio rice kernels still had some bite.
Bill and Marie both ordered the Statler chicken breast ($20) with spinach, prosciutto and Asiago stuffing, accompanied by roasted parsnips, carrots, and potatoes. Pan-roasted in a sherry sauce, the chicken was melt-in-your-mouth tender. Gary’s Hereford short ribs ($22), braised in Trinity IPA, were also falling off the bone, savory and tasty.