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Restaurant Reviews

The West Deck

Not to be forgotten
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  August 27, 2008

Shame on us. There we were, scratching our heads over which Newport restaurant to choose as the destination for an out-of-town visitor who wanted to see the town, and we didn’t think of the West Deck until last. It then immediately leapt to the head of the list.

The West Deck | 401.847.3610 | 1 Waites Wharf, Newport | Mon-Sun, 5-10 pm | Major credit cards | Full bar | Sidewalk-level accessible
It’s Johnnie’s favorite restaurant in that city, partly because of the usual friendliness and helpfulness of the staff on a location (Thames Street) that can be hoity-toity. That means a lot to me, too, but if it came down to choosing between their delicious jumbo lump crab cake and alert wait staffers removing dishes even when it’s not their table, the dishes would stay.

Memories, memories: the creamy saffron risotto; the pork, grilled to pink succulence; the calamari, every tender little ring gently sautéed in browned butter.

We had to have that calamari on this visit, so the three of us started by sharing an order. In its customary preparation, the default state appetizer has its deep-fried, pepperoncini charms, but even those patriotic about Rhode Island sometimes grow guiltily wistful about other variations.

The West Deck version, ($9; not backed up by the usual suspect as an option), is magnificent, subtle where the other is assertive. The buttery, sautéed rings are piled on a bed of hummus studded with currants and pieces of almond, and surrounded by pita triangles. The three of us minimized politeness in sharing it. Two-dozen wines by the glass gave us plenty of choices for what to have with it.

Other starters included escargot with portobello ($9.50), and baked oysters au gratin ($13). I also had the Bermuda fish chowder ($8.50) that Johnnie enjoyed on our last visit here. It sets itself far apart from other chowders, arriving with a small pitcher of Gosling’s dark rum and a bottle of Outerbridge’s sherry pepper sauce. I’d ordered a Dark & Stormy to use up my full allotment of rum, knowing how the dish would need only a dash. The entire combination was tasty, though the chowder was more of a vegetable soup, potatoes absent.

We chose a table on the portico, rather than on the marina-side patio and bar where there was live music, to make conversation easier. The windows were wide open, so we were comfortable, having a view both of bobbing boats and the busy inside kitchen. There are a few tables there and some counter stools facing the wide-open kitchen, in case you want to enhance your relaxation by watching people work. Even with its informality, this is a place with tablecloths rather than Formica under your forearms, a fit place for a date.

Despite a recent visit to Maine, Johnnie hadn’t enjoyed her favorite crustacean in a while, so she chose the lobster risotto ($32). Julienned zucchini and squash came atop the creamy rice, which was generously studded with the shellfish and as well as pieces of sweet red pepper, all of which was under a dusting of grated Parmesan. “It’s just perfect,” declared the diner.

Our guest from Germany ordered a special that he wasn’t familiar with: striped bass ($29). Rolled in panko crumbs, seared and roasted, it was thick enough to remain moist and flavorful. He was as appreciative of the accompanying vegetable bounty, which included mashed sweet potatoes and fennel, plus a few green beans for looks, as well as rice.

Not wanting to break up this seafood theme and having a light appetite, I chose the spinach salad with seared tuna ($19.50). The baby spinach contained mung bean sprouts and yellow bell pepper, drizzled with a delectable dressing, slightly sweet, that we were told contained the liqueur Coco Lopez.

I didn’t specify how I wanted the fish cooked, but it arrived properly rare, thickly encrusted with white and black sesame seeds, and topped with seaweed and green edamame soybeans, all redolent of sesame oil. It was a treat for my nostrils as well as my taste buds.

There are more than a half-dozen desserts offered ($8.50-$11), such as a Grand Marnier crème brûlée and an apple tart tatin. We wanted their molten-centered chocolate concoction, but were told it would take 20 minutes. We didn’t do badly, instead having the blueberry cobbler, which was hot and sweet with melting vanilla ice cream and a tasty cake component.

Yes, shame on us for momentarily forgetting the West Deck, distracted by fancier, more prominent waterfront restaurants. Sorry, chef Robert Biela. It won’t happen again.

Bill Rodriguez can be

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