We just spent three nights in Newport, RI and had a wonderful meal, a decent meal, and a pretty bad meal, and I thought I'd share a bit about all three...
The wonderful meal was our dinner at the Spiced Pear (which is located in The Chanler, which was where we stayed, and a fabulous experience in itself). We had the six-course tasting menu (primarily seafood, with one sliced steak course), and each of those courses was beautifully prepared with a wonderful level of complexity that "worked". (One of my pet peeves is complexity for its own sake and an ensuing result that's often just "weird"; this was NOT a problem here!) What was particularly inpressive was that the food-- the equal of what's served at any three or four-star place in our native New York City-- was prepared (on our quiet night there) by what seemed to be just a three-person kitchen staff! The wine pairing choices were delicious, and the service was extremely warm and accommodating, with my only (mild) complaint being the server's tendency to reach over us to remove plates, rather than walking around. He was a really great guy, and I was going to point this out to him in a friendly way for his own future reference, but I fear that if I had, my embarrassed girlfriend might have thrown me off the Cliff Walk, so I didn't.
Our "okay" meal was dinner the next night at the Castle Hill Inn. There, too, we had the tasting menu with a wine pairing, and while the food was good, it just didn't seem to have the same level of care and complexity as at the Spiced Pear (while the prices were comparable-- as in, "high"). The disappointment started with the bread they served, which was basically a plain white bread (not even a sourdough or crusty baguette!), with no other choices offered and, again, while the food was decently prepared, there was just nothing particularly memorable about it considering the triple-digit prices they charged. Here, too, the waiter was an extremely nice guy, but here, too, he had a habit of reaching over us to remove our plates, rather than walking around to retrieve them.
Our "pretty bad" meal was at Shells & Scales. Having been there (and liked it a lot) when it first opened 20+ years ago and again around 15 or so years ago, I was really looking forward to it. We ordered a broad sampling of things and were hugely disappointed, as the fish was either overcooked or-- in the case of a calamari in some kind of vinegar concoction-- tongue-burningly weird. Unless we caught this place on an off-night (and it was an uncrowded Saturday evening, so that really shouldn't be an excuse), I'd have to say that it's living off of a reputation from long ago. At least the wait staff was quite nice and friendly.
A few other notes about the Spiced Pear:
We had its famous burger a couple of times (once for lunch, and once as a late-night snack) and both times it was fabulous (as were the french fries), and this praise comes from a health-oriented guy who rarely eats either burgers OR fries. (In my relationship, it's the woman who's the true burger & fries expert, and she concurred completely about how good it was.)
Breakfasts at the Spiced Pear were also great (with an incredibly warm and friendly wait staff), although if they hadn't been included in our overnight stay, we probably wouldn't have paid the high prices for the relatively small portions. (On the other hand, we'd been eating so much for dinner that the portions didn't NEED to be any bigger... it's just that perhaps they SHOULD have been!)
I hope that future Newport visitors find this helpful, and any comments or criticisms are, of course, welcome.
Spiced Pear Restaurant
117 Memorial Boulevard, Newport, RI 02840