It's never only the food that we're taking in — it's also the ambience. Whether we're at the counter of a funky diner or at a posh occasion where we can't identify all of the forks, the atmosphere informs the enjoyment and expectation of every bite.
The Loft is the restaurant at NYLO Providence/Warwick, a new hotel, so the impression that diners get over their Point Judith calamari or apple-tini is going to affect how they anticipate the digs upstairs; Crisp salad, crisp sheets.
|The Loft | 401.734.4460 | 400 Knight St, Warwick | Sun-Thurs, 6:30 am-10 pm; Fri-Sat, 6:30 am-11 pm | Major credit cards | Full bar | Sidewalk-level accessible|
We were seated across from the bar, where the nautical theme was immediately apparent in every direction. The bar itself was a wave-like, undulating curve simulating a sea serpent by its covering of large, silvery scales. The barstools are stylized silver mooring posts with decorative wraps of thick hawsers.
Our table, like all the others, was a shallow, glass-topped Plexiglas box containing hundreds of seashells. Above us, hanging light fixtures looked cupped in hands with branch coral fingers. Wicker wall sconces were seahorse-shaped. It was surreally, complexly entertaining. Both Captain Nemo and the Little Mermaid could enjoy dining here. (Assuming they ignored the industrial-style raw concrete supports and walls, not the most appetizing of architectural styles.)
The menu offers enough seafood items to satisfy the prompted craving. There's a raw bar, which includes "Truly Jumbo Shrimp" ($3); half of the 10 other starters recently scuttled or swam. With only seven entrûes listed, the menu seems designed to encourage assembling a tapas-like meal. To that purpose, the appetizers are called "Small Dishes," and run from New England clam chowder ($4/$6) and stuffed littlenecks ($9), to grilled chicken skewers ($7, thematically marine-ated with "crusty pirate BBQ").
After ordering wine from a lengthy list, we started out with the fontina-stuffed arancini ($7). The four golden, grease-free balls of fried rice and cheese were as creamy inside as they were crunchy outside. The basil aioli drizzled around the bowl could have used more of the operative herb, but our second appetizer made up for that.
The pan-fried eggplant pizza ($10) — listed as a flatbread — had plenty of pesto as a base, on which dollops of fresh mozzarella and lightly breaded pieces of eggplant were distributed. Alternatives include one with prosciutto, fig, and gorgonzola ($11), and one not only with lobster, ricotta, and pink vodka sauce but also a soupçon of tarragon and truffle oil ($13).
Johnnie didn't have much of an appetite, so she considered the salads. There were only four, but you may add protein, from grilled steak ($10) to grilled Ahi tuna ($8). She could have chosen heirloom tomato, baby spinach, or Caesar salad, but she tried their simplest one. The local field greens salad ($5) was a good deal, and appetizing, topped as it was with oven-roasted tomatoes, strips of marinated cucumbers, and pieces of radish, all tossed with a tangy "herb-lemonette."
She filled up by having something from the "Just a Little More" list of sides, a half-portion of risotto ($8). It was a plentiful bowlful, packed with wild mushrooms and roasted asparagus, made even earthier with truffle oil. Other sides included roasted asparagus with slow-roasted "two-day" tomatoes, plus Parmesan and black pepper polenta, and both roasted and fried potatoes, most $5 or $6.
A friend with us had an even lighter appetite, so she picked from among the eight sandwiches and burgers ($8-$18). There are interesting choices, such as the whiskey and orange grilled steak, and portobello with baby spinach, roasted peppers, and smoked Gouda.
The priciest one, the Loft burger, combines black Angus beef with a crab cake in a combination she wasn't adventurous enough to attempt. The descriptive adjectives on her cilantro-lime chicken ($9) came through, but she was disappointed that the billed avocado was merely a smear, rather than slices on the modest portion of chicken. There were those slow-roasted tomatoes, though, and plenty of sprouts, as well as the mesclun salad she chose instead of French fries.
My appetite required one of the "Not So Small Dishes." I considered the molasses-brined pork loin ($21), largely because of its espresso gravy, but chose the pressed chicken ($18). It was a sectioned quarter, well-crisped, atop escarole and slices of both sweet and hot sausage, a round-robin of complementary tastes. I filled it out with a side dish, "Mom's secret" mac and cheese, which was nothing to write home about.
We ended the meal by poking spoons at a delicious baked half-pear ($8), which rested in a pool of rich sauce, perhaps a wine reduction. As we tried to fathom the intriguing taste, the adorably distracting decor faded right away.
Bill Rodriguez can be reached at email@example.com.