A celebration destination
White Horse Tavern is full of tradition, not only because it first operated as a tavern in 1673, but because many Rhode Islanders — including us — have made it a place for annual celebrations, such as birthdays and anniversaries. But a recent lunch date at the White Horse reminded us of the differences between traditions old and new, good and not-so-good.
What’s good about the old is the smoky smell of history that permeates the dark beams and wood surfaces from the large fireplaces in the 17th-century tavern. Low ceilings, black Windsor chairs, small windows with deep orange curtains, and hurricane-globed candles on white linen-topped tables are all elegant evocations of an earlier era.
Also in the restaurant’s grand traditions are the old-fashioned New England dishes and the excellent service. Both the waitress and the hostess were quite helpful and attentive. The signature chowder was crammed with clams, fat quahog pieces that far outnumbered the potato chunks ($5 for a cup).
Our second appetizer was the fried calamari ($12), with plenty of capers and lemon juice on top, and a spicy aioli for dipping on the side. Though the squid rings were tossed with fried tentacles (not always my preference), they were all quite tender and delicious.
Next up was a dish, created in the past year by Chef David Deen, which has quickly become a new tradition: lobster mac and cheese ($20). Bill’s eyes got big just thinking about it: Rhode Island lobster meets childhood favorite. What could be better? Some grilled fennel, toasted walnuts, and a delectable creamy sauce for starters; Great Hill Blue and Vermont cheddar for the cheeses; enough lobster for a chunk in every bite. Brought to the table bubbling hot, this has become an instant classic.
I wanted to order the paupiettes of sole (stuffing between two fillets), since it was described as a lobster-and-artichoke mousse, finished with a lemon-truffle sauce ($22), but it was not to be. The filling included crab, the only seafood to which I’m allergic. My choice shifted to the vegetable ragout ($20), with white beans, spinach, and sun-dried tomatoes, accompanied by grilled summer squash; three vegetable purees: eggplant/garlic, celeriac, and sweet potato; and a vol-au-vent with green and wax beans and slivers of carrots poking out of it. This was a terrific presentation.
But here’s where a tradition can go awry. Many cooks are unaware that the best method for dried beans is the simplest: soak and simmer, in just water. If seasonings or vegetables are added before the beans become tender, the oil in them can coat the beans and leave them as hard as peanuts. So it was in this ragout, though hopefully, since this is a new entrée, the kinks will soon be ironed out.
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