BY JOHNETTE RODRIGUEZ
|dining out |
(401) 253-2884 |
520 Thames St., Bristol
Open Mon-Sat, 5-9 p.m.
Major credit cards
Ramp (bathrooms aren't accessible)
Despite more than 411 miles of coastline, Rhode Island has precious few dining
spots with a water view. Bristol's S.S. Dion, across from Independence Park and
Bristol Harbor, is one of them. This view is seriously impeded, however, if you
chose to eat inside. You must arrive early to secure a spot on the deck,
surrounded by blue canvas stretched between railings, with a blue and white
awning overhead. Though the S.S. in the restaurant's name refers to owners
Steve and Susan Dion, the obvious steamship reference is carried out in the
nautical canvas-and-rope half-walls of the outdoor space.
On a recent sultry evening, the breezes from Bristol's sheltered cove were
quite welcome, as were the impeccable freshness of S.S. Dion's signature
seafood and the friendly attentiveness of the staff. Complementary crackers
with an herbed and whipped cream cheese spread preceded the usual bread and
butter, giving us ample time to contemplate the menu while staving off hunger
Please note: the tap water in Bristol and Warren never recovered from
shortages in the '70s and '80s and it still has a metallic taste, even in the
sodas from the bar and the ice cubes. So don't stint on the San Pellegrino, if
your summer thirst can't be quenched by beer or wine from S.S. Dion's thorough
list of American and French whites and reds, German and Italian whites, and
Sakonnet Vineyard's "Eye of the Storm" blush wine.
Though S.S.Dion does offer eight classic Italian-style veal and chicken
dishes, plus three steak and three vegetarian options, the heart of the menu
is seafood, with six seafood pasta dishes, eleven seafood entrees, four grilled
items and additional nightly specials. The S.S. could stand for salmon and
swordfish, a combo featured in their "mixed grill." And, according to Steve
Dion, whose establishment has been in Bristol since '83, swordfish is their top
Not knowing this until after our meal, I nonetheless ordered something quite
similar: grilled halibut, a special that night ($19.95) and Bill caved in to
his garlic craving with seafood scampi ($21.95). Both meals included salad,
with pasta for the scampi, and potatoes and veggies for me.
There's a choice of five seasonings for grilled fish at S.S. Dion, from
Bernaise ($2.50 extra) to dill/shallot/mustard, lemon/garlic, horseradish/dill
and olive oil/herbs, called "spa." I stayed on the health path with spa,
wanting nothing to overpower the taste of the halibut, and was glad that I did.
The clean, bright taste of the fish with delicate herbs was exquisite. The
mashed red bliss potatoes were a treat, and the whole baby carrots were not
overcooked. (I often avoid zucchini, my other option, for fear of sogginess,
but a passing dish looked quite nice.)
Bill couldn't stop raving about the capellini under his seafood: al dente as
he likes it; much more efficient than flat linguini for soaking up the garlic
chunks, chopped herbs, and butter in the sauce. He also enjoyed the generosity
of seafood -- a half-dozen littlenecks, three jumbo shrimp, eight New Bedford
scallops, and the tail and one claw of a small lobster.
Seafood options also dominate the appetizers, beginning with New England clam
chowder and ending in fried calamari -- this is Rhode Island, after all. In
between, the standouts are garlic shrimp kabobs, mushroom caps with seafood
stuffing, and steamed littlenecks or mussels, in either a white or red sauce.
With heaping bowls of the latter all around us, we succumbed to the mussels, in
a lemon, butter, and wine sauce, which had plenty of chopped garlic to scoop up
from the sauce, peasant-style, with hunks of bread.
Desserts at S.S. Dion are not house-made, primarily because they want to
devote their efforts to the main event. However, the selection is simple and
good: lemon and watermelon sorbets, cheesecakes, and chocolate mousse cake. We
split a wedge of Oreo cheesecake, and it was dense with layers of chocolate and
vanilla, not just the cookies, though there was one tucked in.
By dessert time, I'd moved around the table, so the setting sun wasn't glaring
at me. But its reflection in the water formed the shimmering background to a
modern- day Seurat, as boaters sailed or motored past, and Bristolians walked
dogs, RollerBladed, pushed strollers, or bicycled along the final yards of the
East Bay Bike Path. It's a peaceful and lush scene upon which to feast your
eyes while enjoying the seafood feast.
Issue Date: July 25 - 31, 2002