[Sidebar] October 26 - November 2, 2000
[Food Reviews]
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Turtle Soup

Sublime dining on the Bay

by Johnette Rodriguez

113 Ocean Road, Narragansett, 792-8683
Open (winter hours) Tues-Fri, 4 p.m.-1 a.m., Sat-Sun, 12 p.m. - 1 a.m.
Major credit cards
Ramp access

It was an Impressionist sunset on Narragansett Bay: a light blue sea met a pale pink sky at the horizon, the white sails of a boat gliding slowly into the picture. We were sitting with friends in the dining room of Turtle Soup, inhaling the view.

This year-old restaurant made waves with visitors to Narragansett this summer, and their praise for the food lured us there. Turtle Soup is the most recent in an extended line of eateries to open on the first floor of this turn-of-the-century seaside inn, currently called the Ocean Rose Inn. The long, low room, with slate floors and slatted-wood ceilings, looks as though it might have once been the porch for the main building. With so much architectural detail, including pillars and arches, there's little need for other decor, though a large ceramic turtle perched atop the room divider does echo the restaurant's name. As for the walls, with such a vista, who needs paintings?

Tearing our eyes away from that mesmerizing scene, we began to make the tough decisions about dinner. As we did so, we munched on a marvelously varied plate of thick warm bread slices -- our favorite, the herbed focaccia, is house-made. Turtle Soup's menu lists a half- dozen salads and nine sandwiches, but we all gravitated toward the heftier entrees, with three of us choosing seafood -- no doubt influenced by the view, as well as a rousing backseat chorus of that '40s favorite, "We want some seafood, Mama," when we first caught sight of the ocean on our way to the restaurant.

From the wide-ranging appetizers (including Cajun shrimp, calamari, crab cakes, Tortuga mussels), we created our own fusion menu: Chinese pot stickers ($7) and pesto pizza ($7). The small veggie dumplings were steamed and served with a spicy sweet-hot Thai sauce that was quite delicious. The six- slice pesto pizza, with a bit of mesclun salad on the side, was topped with sliced grilled portobellos, fresh tomatoes and plenty of mozzarella. Bill loved the crunchy crust, and we were all equally enamored with the combination of tastes on top.

The salmon ($13) ordered by one of our friends was topped with a honey-mustard vinaigrette and toasted walnuts -- it was terrific. The salmon steak was perched on a mound of red-bliss mashed potatoes and surrounded by a colorful portion of pea pods and carrot slivers. A sample of another friend's tuna ($11), served with similar accoutrements, proved similarly good.

The tequila-lime treatment of grilled sea scallops ($15) appealed to me, as did the jerk seasoning on the grilled pork chops ($13) for Bill. The five large scallops were perfectly served by the lime, as well as a fennel-radicchio slaw adorning them. Bill declared the pork chops the best he's had, and we both enjoyed the creamy potatoes and crisp veggies.

Executive chef Leigh Ann Saunders comes to Turtle Soup after stints at the Atomic Grill and the Catering Collaborative, and her humor is as welcome as her eclectic cooking. Under the description of the "turtle salad" (actually a Southwestern-tinged chicken breast), the fine print reveals that "no turtles were harmed in the creation of this salad," and "The Hemingway" sandwich is the fish of the day. The bar has weekly featured wines, a good selection of beer and specialty drinks.

Desserts at Turtle Soup look to the theme; there are two with chocolate and caramel, a la "turtle" candies. One is a chocolate torte with caramel, and the other is a chocolate brownie with ice cream and caramel, the latter referred to as a "turtle chubby." We ordered two to split and could not finish them.

But such decadence was somehow appropriate to the gorgeous fall evening, the stimulation of our surroundings, both inside and out, and the luscious meal we'd just consumed. As we walked out through the front patio and across the road to the sea wall, our senses all tingling, we felt the ocean breeze, smelled the briny water, and heard the waves on the rocks. Once again, we might just have stepped inside a seascape.

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