Review: Canfield House

Not just for robber barons
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  January 25, 2012

Interesting atmosphere in the lobby. A wealth of surrounding wood paneling, an Art Deco tasseled lamp on the host station, and the pièce de résistance: a tall roulette wheel, beckoningly still. For a moment I felt like a robber baron ready to gamble away a fistful of ill-gotten gains.

But this was not the turn of the 20th century, so there is no longer a bustling casino on the third floor (that roulette wheel stopped spinning in 1905). Now the Canfield House, constructed in 1860, is a restaurant. The only thing left over from the prior establishment is a reputation for fine dining.

The original owner, Richard Canfield, of the eponymous solitaire card game, made and lost his fortunes gambling at seriously naughtier pastimes. He started out running a little illegal faro parlor in Pawtucket but, by 1904, a crime-busting district attorney shut down all his gambling operations in New York State, where he had moved operations.

The elegant atmosphere of Canfield House carries over into the large main dining room with its barrel-vaulted mahogany ceiling, numerous chandeliers, and ample paneled surroundings. Scott and Zelda were nowhere to be seen, but 14 women, members of a convening Red Hat Club, brought sufficient color to the atmosphere.

We unfolded our napkins and looked over the menu. Embellishment seems to be a running theme. Among the appetizers, the scallops ($10) are not only wrapped in smoked bacon but accompanied by Cabernet blackberry syrup and crumbled Wensleydale cheese; the calamari isn't your traditional, homely Rhode Island style but drizzled with a wasabi aioli and sweet soy-ginger, with green onions and toasted sesame seeds instead of pepperoncini. Entrées range in price from rack of lamb and filet mignon in the high $20s to baked haddock and wild mushroom ravioli, both $16. There is a pub downstairs with an inexpensive, informal menu, from "Mad Maggie's" chili through burgers and pastas.

But we were here for the Tuesday-through-Thursday dinner-for-two special — 11 entrée choices, with a bottle of wine, $35. The array will fit any appetite. P.E.I mussels and littlenecks for a light one; baked scrod or pan-fried tilapia for a medium; steak frites or braised pork for a hearty hunger. There were also two items that seem to be mandatory on menus around here, linguini with clam sauce and chicken Parmesan, though not veal. (I'll note the regular price below, when the dish is on the regular menu.)

With that twofer, you can get a house salad for $3.95 or a Caesar for $4.25. I ordered a couple of non-specials starters, to get an idea of them. The soup of the day (price varies) was described as corn and scallop chowder but also contained plenty of clams. Creamy, wonderful. Since we were in a mansion, I ordered their variation on oysters Rockefeller: oysters Canfield ($13). Besides sautéed spinach there were bits of shiitake mushrooms, plus feta cheese and lemon buerre blanc. Another sensible and hearty combination.

I had the braised pork shank, a goodly amount on-bone, well-sauced and well-accompanied in a sprawling, juicy bed of cannellini beans. There were also some micro-greens on a pile of marinated shredded carrots, for a sweet contrast to the savory. A well-thought-out plate.

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