When Cheeky Monkey folded up in Newport at the end of 2006, many of us wondered how such a creative venture could disappear. But, it turns out, the Monkey had just gone into hibernation due to the restaurant property being sold, and it has reappeared in Narragansett, to the obvious pleasure of South Countyites, who filled the place on a recent wintry Thursday evening.
|Cheeky Monkey | 21 Pier Marketplace, Narragansett | Wed-Sun, 5:30-10 pm | Major credit cards | Full bar | Sidewalk-level access | |401.788.3111|
Co-owner Jeff Cruff (with wife Stephanie) is also the Cheeky Monkey chef and had been the chef in Newport, with Hank Kates as owner. The Narragansett venture was a big step for the Cruffs, who opened in mid-September, but they are very optimistic, since they’ve had more business through the tricky winter months than they did in Newport, and they are counting on a good response from summer tourists.
The Cheeky Monkey name is actually British slang for someone who does something bold or brash, and the originators of the restaurant took the name and ran with it. Back are the five large monkey portraits, one in the dining area and four in the bar/lounge room. Other monkey faces gaze out above wall sconces and a wooden one hangs from the chandelier. The jungle motif is carried out in the fabric of the chair seats and bar stools. The flatware has bamboo-like handles.
And the menu still leans in a tropical/Asian direction, with a couple of banana-based dishes to boot. Cruff held onto many of the Monkey’s customer favorites, such as lobster bisque, fried calamari with a fiery cherry pepper sauce, and the panko-crusted tuna nori roll with a lemongrass dipping sauce, among the appetizers, and the sesame-seared tuna and paella, among the entrées.
What called to us from the starters were the steamed mussels with coconut red curry ($8). It was just as delicious as it sounds: plenty of minced garlic, cilantro, coconut milk, roasted peanut oil, and a kick of cayenne. The mussels were large, plentiful, and not overcooked. We enjoyed them very much, and we couldn’t resist dipping chunks of ciabatta into their wonderful broth.
Despite the alluring entrée specials, especially the flounder in papillotte, we stuck to the regular menu, with its excellent variety of offerings. Our choices were difficult, from grilled Moroccan BBQ salmon, with curried home fries, to a Black Angus filet with a shiitake-cognac demi-glaze; from seafood paella with chorizo to a brick-seared boneless half-chicken with portobello risotto.
But I was in the mood for homemade mushroom ravioli ($16), and Bill for the mesquite-smoked pork tenderloin ($20). Both of the main attractions were tasty and good, but we each kept mentioning the accompaniments to our dishes. Mine had crispy breadcrumb-covered chunks of eggplant, a mix of shiitake, crimini, and portabello mushrooms in the sauce as well as the ravioli filling, a generous portion of pine nuts and smothered arugula, and some oven-dried tomatoes. The eight oval ravioli were precisely the comfort food that the cold night called for.
Bill, meanwhile, was admiring the bits of scallion and sweet red pepper that garnished his mashed potatoes, and making repeated comments about the slightly vinegared collard greens, such as “They really open up your taste buds to the meat.” I asked him if the “banana BBQ sauce” came across, and he said that he could taste a bit of banana, but that it wasn’t overwhelming. He polished that plate clean.
Cheeky Monkey has a small but careful wine selection, and Bill found a red wine he loved: Yard Dog Petit Verdot, (2005), from Australia. A blend of three grapes, this wine has a rich texture and intensely earthy flavor that made it a great choice to accompany his barbecue. It turns out that this wine is a fairly new one, made in small batches by a band of Aussie wine rebels.
We looked over the dessert/after-dinner menu and yearned after the bananas Foster, the chocolate cake, or even the pumpkin crème brûlée, all house-made. The bananas Foster, which we’ve had at the Newport location, is comprised of bananas that are baked in a free-form pastry shell, covered with a banana-rum cream sauce and served with vanilla ice cream. The final touch is to flambé the whole with Bacardi 151 rum at the table.
Alas, our time was short, and desserts will have to wait for our next visit to Cheeky Monkey. I can assure you it will be quite soon.
Johnette Rodriguez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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