[Sidebar] May 11 - 18, 2000
[Food Reviews]
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Good vibes and good food

by Bill Rodriguez

Water Street, East Greenwich, 884-6363
Open Mon-Thurs, 5-10 p.m., Fri-Sat., 5-11 p.m.; Sun, 3-10 p.m.
Major credit cards
Sidewalk access

Some waterfront restaurants sell their view more than their entrées. Some of these can get by on their upscale reputation even after losing the chef that got them there and the kitchen can no longer distinguish squid rings from slices of batter-fried inner tube. And then there are restaurants that re-earn their rep year after year, preparing the trickiest fare there is to cook -- seafood -- which requires the timing of a culinary Michael Jordan. Places like the Harbourside, in East Greenwich.

Actually, and unfortunately, its full name for 29 years has been Harbourside Lobstermania. Half-Anglophile, half-wacky. But don't worry about some culinary version of Crazy Harry's Used Car-rama. (This week only: an extra bucket of tentacles with every order of calamari!) It's just that the popular crustacean has provided this place's claim to fame. As we overheard a businessman at an adjoining table say to an out-of-town guest, "If you like lobster, this is the place."

Harbourside is located in an unassuming gray building on Water Street. It's attached to Greenwich Bay Clam Co., which has its own fishing boat docked nearby; It looked like the seafood was going to be fresh. The bar area is downstairs, where only a light-fare menu is available -- except for handicapped patrons, who can order from the upstairs menu. Up in the main dining room, we were struck on our early evening visit by how light and airy the space is. Picture windows on three sides look out on a marina and East Greenwich Cove, complete with wheeling gulls and sailboats heeling in the distance. There are plenty of window tables, but most of them are for more than two, so get there early if you're a couple. Philodendrons dangle from the ceiling, seascapes and such decorate the walls, and hurricane oil lamps are on the tables.

Appetizers are the usual clam bar favorites, with steamed littlenecks, clams casino and stuffed quahogs flagged as house specialties. Less than obvious options are marinated herring ($3.95) and scallops wrapped in bacon ($6.95). I chose the calamari ($5.95) only after our waiter mentioned what the menu doesn't -- that it's served with a side of marinara sauce (I usually want something a bit more interesting than the traditional Rhode Island preparation with hot pepper rings). But this version (sans tentacles, for the squeamish) had such a tasty herbed lemon sauce on the batter-fried rings that the red sauce went mostly unused. By the way, the quahog chowder ($1.95/$2.95), made with broth instead of cream, briny and rich with chopped clams, gets a thumbs up.

Harbourside has nearly 20 beers and hard ciders, nine wines by the glass and a short but choice list of bottles. Entrées come with a salad bar ($5 by itself) that is simple but adequate. Iceberg lettuce or spinach, and marinated mushrooms as the only surprise offering -- except for a tangy house dressing with a sour cream or buttermilk base.

When it came to our main courses, how could Johnnie pick anything but the signature "Lobstermania"? Given her choice of being alone on a desert island with me or a lobster, she would immediately ask whether a large pot and matches were part of the offer. For $13.95 she was served a one-pounder, split and broiled, stuffed with what tasted like Ritz cracker crumbs, plus scallops and shrimp, moistened with Chablis rather than water. The stuffing tasted as good as it sounds and, more importantly, the meat was cooked to perfection, remaining sweet and juicy.

I didn't do badly with my special, a swordfish and stuffed shrimp combination ($14.95). The fish was an inch-thick slice, and it, too, remained moist after grilling. The butterflied shrimp weren't overdone, and the cracker filling, though seafood-free, was delicious. In addition to the salad bar, we had a choice of red bliss, baked or French fries, plus vegetable. Both of the stir-fried veggies, with their sweet teriyaki sauce, and my partner's mashed carrot/ turnip combo, were welcome. Turnips have too strong a flavor to be found on most menus, so I was impressed to discover them here. Can sea urchin roe be far behind?

Desserts are inexpensive. In addition to cordials, and coffee and parfaits with liqueurs, there are such favorites as mud pie and cheesecake with strawberries (each $3.50). We shared the kitchen-made grapenut pudding ($2.75), which was custardy and not overly sweet.

The Harbourside, as everybody calls it, seems to deserve its popularity. Now, if we can only officially re-christen it.

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