A place that succeeds by design
By JOHNETTE RODRIGUEZ  |  April 16, 2008

Fluke | 41 Bowen‘S Wharf, Newport | Wed, 4-8 pm; Thurs, 4-9 pm; Fri-Sat, 4-10 pm; Sun, 12-8 pm [Open 7 days starting may 1] | Major credit cards | Full bar | Sidewalk-level access | 401.849.7778

When the young woman welcomed us to Fluke — the new restaurant where Le Bistro used to be — she said, “The rest of us are upstairs — would you like to join us?”
And so we did. We followed Geremie Callaghan, co-owner, with husband Jeff, to the third floor bar/lounge that looks out on Bowen’s Wharf and the northern end of Newport Harbor. The last remnants of a sunset lingered, and stars began to dot the dark blue sky that we could see beyond the mast and rigging of a boat at the dock below.
It was a slow Wednesday night, with two people at the bar, chatting amiably with the bartender and with Geremie, and one other couple, out for the first time after a new baby, having drinks. They praised the bianco cobbler (blackberries, sage, lemon juice, and bianco vermouth) and the juniperitivo, which Bill had already set his sites on, made from Junipero Gin (from the Anchor Steam folk), pomegranate molasses, mint, and lime juice. Both juices were fresh-squeezed, and I indulged in one of the four non-alcoholic “cocktails,” the passion pom fizz, with passion fruit, pomegranate, and lime juices. It tasted very bright and refreshing.
You might expect the menu at a place named Fluke to feature seafood, and it does, but not exclusively. Jeff says the name also plays on the “fluke” of these two long-time New York residents (Newport natives) finding a spot for a restaurant on Bowen’s Wharf just when they were looking.
They designed the menu with as much creativity as the cocktail list. It begins with $4 and $5 “snacks,” such as olives, deviled eggs, or almond-stuffed dates, and continues to a cheese and/or charcuterie plate, with five cheeses and four sausages ($12 for three, or $15 for five).
Next are three sandwiches, with fries and slaw: a burger, a crab cake sandwich, or a shrimp po’ boy ($10-$16). There are more than a dozen small plates, ($6-$17), followed by a dozen large plates ($14-$36). You can truly “have it your way,” from modest portions of Hudson Valley foie gras, littlenecks, or calamari to full-fledged entrées of flounder, swordfish, lamb shank, or ribeye.
An appealing wintertime “price fix” special for $20.08 (it ended April 1) was a choice of one small plate, one large plate, and one house-made dessert. This rare opportunity to have our own desserts and to mix-and-match our other courses made us leap for the special. Bill stayed with the seafood theme: lobster bisque and the shrimp po’ boy; I stuck by the veggie options: grilled marinated artichoke salad and the vegetable napoleon.
The menu stresses “made from scratch” for both the chowder and the lobster bisque, and the bisque definitely tasted homemade, with plenty of lobster chunks. My artichoke salad had a bit of smokiness from the grilling, and the hearts, along with sun-dried tomatoes, were soaked in lemon juice and olive oil, a particularly good appetite-sparker.
Not that my main dish really needed such, because it was so aromatic and so good. Stacked discs of zucchini, summer squash, and eggplant, which had been cooked to just the right tenderness, were interspersed with basil pesto and topped with a bit of mozzarella. This was accompanied by a wedge of delicious polenta and a small mound of garlic-sautéed spinach.
To my right (Bill sat next to me, so we’d both have the harbor view), he was thoroughly enjoying the po’ boy, that New Orleans sandwich made with crusty French bread (from Bristol Bakery). The shrimp were dipped into club soda before they hit the Creole-seasoned flour and were deep-fried. The sandwich was assembled with a remoulade sauce, sliced kosher dills, shredded cabbage, and the shrimp. Bill gave it a big thumbs-up.
Our desserts ($6) were Bermuda rum cake and molten chocolate cake. Other choices were a chocolate roll, apple tart tatin, and Crescent City bread pudding. Understanding the imprint his Louisiana sojourn had made on chef Martin Butler (also a jazz musician), we leaned toward the bread pudding, but our final choices were very good, too.
We didn’t indulge in Jeff Callaghan’s well-chosen wine list, with selections from small vineyards both domestic and European. The wines are definitely something to come back for. As, indeed, is much of the menu, which changes seasonally to take advantage of local ingredients.
The second-floor dining room has white linens and natural wood, plus windows onto the harbor. It adds a hint of formality to a romantic outing or a celebratory dinner. But, truly, the food doesn’t need anything fancy around it — it stands on its own.

Johnette Rodriguez can be reached at johnette.rodriguez@cox.net.

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