[Sidebar] January 1 - 8, 1998
[Food Reviews]
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From tapas to tortes, a cuisine that spans the Continent

by Johnette Rodriguez

21 Pier Market Place, Narragansett
Open Wed - Sun, 5:30 to 9 p.m.
Major credit cards
Sidewalk-level access

When a small breakfast cafe in Westerly started serving dinner almost three years ago, it was the buzz of foodies in South County. The problem was that the dinners werre offered only on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and we never got there on the right day before we heard that the restaurant had closed.

Well, the buzz about Woody's (named for a fictional dog) has started up again, because owners Ted and Kim Monahan have reopened, this time in Narragansett. We're glad they're back, and we're glad they've taken over the location of the short-lived Cucina Casalingua.

They've kept the lace curtains and cream-colored walls with spring-green ceiling accents, the sconces framing plates with fruit motifs, the marble-tiled floors and black enameled chairs. They've also kept the standards of the previous inhabitants: friendly, attentive service and a careful, creative kitchen.

Although the first of the appetizers (called tapas) nods toward the Southwest (squash-and-red-pepper quesadillas with a chipotle creme fraiche) and a Provençal broth provides the base for two seafood dishes, most of the Monahans' specialities are Italian or, more specifically, Tuscan, as in a spicy white bean sauce, a Tuscan relish served with grilled scallops, and the Tuscan bread salad, which we couldn't resist.

We actually started off with the Provencal shellfish roast -- P.E.I. mussels, clams, and scallops in a very light but deliciously savory tomato broth ($8.81). It was a generous portion for two, with bread slices thoughtfully provided to absorb some of the broth.

Next came the Tuscan bread salad ($8.77) with Greek olives, red pepper, wide slivers of freshly grated Parmesan, mixed baby greens, and the requisite large, soft bread chunks soaked in a vinaigrette -- a completely different experience from a few crunchy croutons. A theme had begun to appear in this meal.

My entree choice had thick slices of grilled pizza as its first layer, sundried tomato couscous as the second, and a mound of roasted vegetables decoratively placed on top. This vegetable papoli ($14.14), as it is called, can be ordered in a "traditional cafe" portion for $1.50 less, as can five other items on the menu, primarily pasta dishes.

The veggies were capped with a roasted red pepper wedge and a parsley sprig (still thinking in holiday colors?), and spilling out of the pile were wax and green beans, asparagus spears, and large slices of eggplant, zucchini, and yellow squash. All were deliciously roasted, except for the beans, which were a bit underdone for my taste.

Despite the temptations of grilled duck, pistachio-encrusted lamb, free-range chicken, and Napoleon-style salmon (atop mashed potatoes and vegetables), my partner was in a meatless mood as well. His whim was Mediterranean ravioli with white bean sauce ($16.01). Filled with grilled eggplant, roasted red pepper, and ricotta, these six large ravioli had whole, stewed tomatoes, as well as the white beans, to complement them, and they had a tasty pizzazz.

In keeping with the bread/starch theme of this meal, for dessert my half-Italian partner chose "Tuscan lime doughnuts" ($4.50) from a list of house-made, scrumptious-sounding options (new in Narragansett, since desserts at the old Westerly location were from a Pawtucket bakery). These included open-faced apple crostata with vanilla ice cream, plum pudding with hard sauce, pumpkin cheesecake, and a chocolate torte with warm raspberry sauce.

The "doughnuts" were akin to beignets, sopapillas, or that Rhode Island festival favorite -- doughboys. My partner explained that fried dough with sugar had been traditional fare in his house at Christmas, and these had the added kick of lime zest in the sugar. Served piping hot with a glass of cold milk, they were a comfort food extraordinaire to cap this meal.

So although the Johnson & Wales-trained Monahans have cut out breakfasts and lunches at Woody's and now concentrate only on dinners, it's as good for their patrons as it is for them. They can focus more effort on the things they love best: the fancy twists and turns of continental cuisine, from tapas to tortes.

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