UPSCALE CHARM Meritage is buzzy but restful.
When we arrived early on a recent Wednesday for supper at Meritage, we were surprised to find the parking lot full, as well as the lounge/bar area. Was it the "almost-half-price" apps before 6 o'clock that lured the locals? The super-generous margaritas? The wood-grilled pizzas? The high-tops in the bar were packed with the after-work crowd; the long dining room behind the bar was filling with family groups, twosomes, and foursomes of friends.
Then we noticed the table-tent announcement: "Guy's Night" — entrées half-price for men that night. Score for the guys! Meritage also offers many other specials on various evenings (see website), and every night has bargain-priced apps and pizzas before 6 pm and after 9:30 pm at the bar (their sister restaurant, Chardonnay's, in Seekonk, does the same).
Bill began his Meritage adventure with a pear martini, which was full of fruit flavor; later he had a glass of Argentinian Gascon Malbec, which we both liked. Meritage (which rhymes with heritage, by the way) is known for its carefully selected wine list — a meritage wine is a blend of two or more varieties of grapes for both reds and whites. The restaurant draws from several small vineyards in California, plus Italy, France, South Africa, Argentina, New Zealand, and Australia.
Our meals continued with two carefully-chosen appetizers from a baker's dozen, plus nine pizzas and seven salads. From a few chicken and several seafood dishes, including Rhode Island-style calamari, Bill ordered the pan-seared scallops ($10), jumbo-sized with a tasty wakami salad and a sriracha dipping sauce. I gravitated toward the salads; bypassing the house, the Caesar, and the pear/Gorgonzola, I picked the roasted beet with arugula ($10). Sliced roasted red beets on one side of the oval plate and golden ones on the other side framed an arugula salad topped with goat cheese and candied walnuts. Quite delicious.
The dozen-plus entrées ranged from two chicken and two pork possibilities through five seafood dishes (lobster mac and cheese is now as ubiquitous as calamari), meatloaf, and three steak options. There are more than half-a-dozen pastas and five sandwichy ideas (blackened fish tacos among them). The capellini putanesca beckoned to me, the jambalaya to Bill. But in the end, he went for the pork medallions ($22, or $11 on Wednesday), and I got the oven-roasted cod ($20).
Bill didn't say much during his first few bites, each pork piece swirled in the Dijon/port/brown sugar sauce. But when he was able to pause for words, he mentioned how pleased he was with the judicious use of Gorgonzola — a very nice accent to this dish but often overdone so that it detracts from the main attraction.
My cod was perfectly cooked, leading me to note that even with the large turn-out of meals from the kitchen, the quality of the food didn't suffer. It was perched above a delicious bed of jasmine rice that was covered with creamed spinach and topped with crispy onion rings. Lots of nice texture contrasts, as well as subtle flavor variations.
For dessert, there are several offered with Ben & Jerry's ice cream (a fire-grilled banana split, a s'mores ice cream pie, and a warm brownie sundae). The crème brûlée came highly recommended, as did the chocolate mousse. But in the end, we were simply too sated from the generous appetizers and entrees to even attempt splitting a dessert.