Seafood on the coast of New England should be no more difficult to find than pebbles on a beach. Yet, judging from the obliviously disappointing seafood restaurants we'll never give another chance, it's more like finding gemstones. Sometimes you encounter, say, a calamari ring that's tender rather than a tiny inner tube, and you lift it in admiration as it glistens in the light.
Jamestown FiSH owners John and Cathy Recca and executive chef Matthew MacCartney are apparently concerned about such matters and others. They make a point of sourcing locally and regionally, unless you order something that's not seasonal, such as shrimp, which they get from the Gulf of Mexico this time of year and serve with a spicy seaweed salad.
More than a dozen wines, a wide-ranging array, are available by the glass, and selections by the bottle are vast and sobering, with the nearly two dozen from France's Burgundy region listed separately from the nearly three dozen from France at large. (A $450 Dom Perignon Oenothèque anyone?) Don't sulk, beer drinkers: you can indulge in an Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock ($9) from Germany or a 22-ounce. Jack D'Or from Pretty Things in Massachusetts.
I neglected to make a reservation, so we only stared into the elegant dining room for a moment, like street urchins with noses pressed to window glass. Actually, the hostess was quite courteous and informed us that there were tables upstairs at the bar, where the full Newport Restaurant Week prix fixe menu could be served.
There was a dramatic view of the Newport Bridge and its necklaces of lights, so our seating wasn't so bad. The local scenic photographs on the walls were peruse-worthy and bartender Peter Anderson clearly was a people person, so we were fine.
The main menu is interesting for several reasons. First of all, except for the baby arugula salad ($12) and the raw bar platter of a half-dozen shellfish ($15), the 13 starters avoid the whiff of same-old. The locally farmed mussels aren't steamed with white wine as we see everywhere but rather are served as a mussels salad ($12), de-shelled and dressed with coconut, curry, braised leeks, and cilantro. There is a salumi platter ($15) assortment of five different kinds, with olives and cheese.
I began with a cup of their signature fish soup, which is $10 on the regular menu. Although subtitled "Chowder of the Mediterranean," it was not in fact a chunky chowder but rather a purée. Tasty, though, with its saffron tomato base and accents of fennel and mild hot pepper coming through nicely. Johnnie had what was billed as "NOT Just Another Fall Squash Soup!" Again puréed, giving that Cuisinart plenty of business, this one had the sweetness of squash against a bit of spicy hotness and complemented with the almond hint of amaretto cookie. What pleased her most were the announced "Mustard Fruits of Cremona," which started with an earthy bite and ended sweet.
Besides their eponymous sea fare, they also offer chicken, beef, and pork. Their regular menu lists pan-roasted Dover sole at $40, seared tuna at $29, and herb-encrusted halibut at $27, with the menu changing frequently, according to availability. For our main courses we wanted to limit ourselves to the equivalent, to check out their likely freshness and preparations, so she and I ordered monkfish and swordfish, respectively.