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DeWolf Tavern

 wholly satisfying experience
By JOHNETTE RODRIGUEZ  |  August 25, 2009

Our previous visit to DeWolf Tavern was on a wintry December eve, and I had been yearning to take in the setting in the summer. Thus we recently perched ourselves on a balcony overlooking Bristol Harbor, cooled by the constant sea breeze that set the moored sailboats a-bobbing. We admired the broad new boardwalk hugging the water's edge, and we once again recalled the history of the 1818 building behind us.

This former warehouse for merchants James and William DeWolf was part of their rum-producing business in the Triangle Trade, and our waiter Steve mentioned the irons still visible in the basement walls where kidnapped Africans may have been kept before becoming slaves somewhere in New England. The restored interior of the Tavern highlights the original rough-textured stone walls and wooden beams, with fireplaces adding to the 200-year-old atmosphere.

The menu, however, is a contemporary mix of award-winning Chef Sai Viswanath's Indian training and his love of Rhode Island seafood. Thus, both appetizers and entrées feature oysters, clams, mussels, lobster, and swordfish.

I was drawn to the tapioca-crusted salt-cod cake ($6) and the broiled feta tikka ($9), while my friend Nina enjoyed a spinach and olive salad with a buttermilk dressing. She had chosen a Sunday-night special: $28 for a three-course meal, with either soup or salad, tandoori lobster or steak, house-made sorbet or ice cream, plus a glass of white or red wine.

The feta tikka had been marinated in garlic and olive oil, broiled with a dried-mango chutney, and surrounded by creamy puréed spinach. Served with garlic naan bread (similar to pita), it was absolutely delicious.

The tapioca pearls in the cod-cake seemed to hold it together rather than just being on top. The cake was turmeric-yellow and crispy on its edges, accented by tamarind chutney, plus a bit of yogurt-cilantro sauce, and adorned with mesclun greens. So many tastes, so complementary to one another.

As Bill arrived from another tasting event — what can I say? — and settled in, his eyes fell on the tandoor-roasted lamb chops ($27). The medium-rare chops were as good as they sounded, with the smokiness of the charcoal-fired clay oven permeating them. He greatly appreciated the al dente basmati rice, the sharp chutney, and the cooling mint-and-shallot raita (yogurt sauce) accompanying them.

We all had tastes of Nina's tandoor-roasted lobster, exclaiming over the smoky taste in the firm, sweet lobster flesh. It was expertly cooked. Nina also loved her mashed potatoes and stir-fried snap peas.

Some of DeWolf's signature dishes would certainly be worth another visit. The seafood stew has lobster, shrimp, scallops, mussels, and crab in a coconut, coriander, star anise, and mustard seed broth. The sweet potato gnocchi have a sauce of spinach, feta, pancetta, and olives.

But I was attracted to the vegetarian entrée, which you build yourself from a list of side dishes (three for $15). I couldn't resist the roasted corn with poblano pepper, the broccoli rabe in coconut milk, and the cauliflower Manchurian. The latter is a reminder of India's neighbor China, with cauliflower flowerets parboiled, then batter-fried and doused in a sweet-hot sauce — terrific!

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