A TOUCH OF CLASS A view of the Club Room.
Although it looks a lot more welcome in the middle of Newport's Bannister Wharf than the proverbial blind man's elephant, depending on where you sit in this sprawling 18th-century building, the dining atmosphere can impress you as fun or formal or in-between.
In the summertime, the Bistro is light and breezy with its wall of windows removed. The most informal place is the Candy Store at harbor level, with its bar running the length of the room. The fanciest spot is the dimly lit Club Room, with its glowing mahogany and 12-meter models and race photos.
Regular customers tend to return to their favorite rooms, but if they wish to order something from one of the other menus, fine. Bear in mind that this privilege extends to you as well. Even if you're not wearing a yachting cap, if you remember something from the Club Room that would really hit the spot, don't hesitate to ask. Executive chef Ted Gidley insists on this policy, no matter how crazy it can drive his kitchen.
Gidley is also fussy about what ends up on your plate. Years ago, he worked in a number of Newport restaurants before becoming sous chef under Brian Halloran at Clarke. After he learned what he could at a short culinary masters class on the French Riviera, with Roger Verge at Le Moulin de Mougins, he was anointed executive chef in 1994.
Four of us were here during Newport Restaurant Week, when three-course dinners were only $30. For the occasion, some restaurants offered special menus with dishes that were easier and less expensive to prepare. But that's not the style of Gidley and Chef de Cuisine Bryan Waugh. There were four appetizer choices and four main dishes, all items from the regular menu. And since the portions didn't seem downsized, this was quite a showcase and a generous deal (the regular menu prices are noted below).
The starters included clam chowder ($5.95) and pan-fried crab cake ($12.95). The ladies in our party chose the beet salad ($13.95). This was a delicate array of thin red and yellow slices, with bits of mild blue cheese, tiny wild mushrooms, plus whole almonds and pearl onions under a garnish of red leaf lettuce. Nice. Even the citrus vinaigrette was gentle.
Gary and I had to have the carpaccio beef tenderloin ($12.95), which was topped with a wide slice of Pecorino Romano. He suggested, and it made sense, that the meat must have been chilled nearly to freezing for rounds to be sliced so paper-thin that they nearly melted on the plates. This isn't a complaint — with white truffle oil and lemon, they also melted succulently and flavorfully on the tongue.
We were similarly compelled to have the braised lamb shank ($24.95), moist and plentiful atop butternut squash risotto and some black trumpet mushrooms. The lamb jus was nicely accented with rosemary. Speaking of juicy, Johnnie's roasted and deboned half-chicken ($22.95) was swimming in pan juices, which flavored up the mashed potatoes as well. Perfectly cooked, the crisp skin was a marvelous bonus. Marie's sautéed salmon filet ($23.95), fresh and mild-tasting, was beautifully complemented by an asparagus and leek salad, its sesame vinaigrette just right with the fish.