Past and Presents
Rococo profusion with a wink
by Bill Rodriguez
2753 Main Road, Tiverton, 624-2890
Open Thurs, 5-9 p.m.; Fri & Sat, 5:30-9 p.m.; Sun, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
Major credit cards
Past & Presents is an entertaining idea that got out of hand. Thank
goodness. It started out in another location as a Victorian gift shop in 1994
and, in natural progression, added a tea room two years ago. Last month, it
turned a spacious portion of the gift shop into a dining room, and the
You see, the place doesn't take itself seriously at all, even with all the
pinky-lifting implicit in the high-tea ritual. The restaurant, from
décor to menu, establishes a kind of campiness for blue-hairs with a
sense of the absurd and for the rest of us who are into excess. Rococo
profusion with a wink.
In the restaurant, a central square column is wound with gauzy netting and
grapevine tendrils that spread across the ceiling, dangling with ornaments like
the fairies' idea of a Christmas tree. The top of one wide window sports a
crazy quilt of various lace patches. Across another window top is an array of
hats -- not big Victorian bonnets but equally festive pillbox variations
decorated with feathers or flowers. Diners with pun- or wordplay allergies
should avoid the place, however -- or have someone whisper their order for them
-- because you can't get through the appetizer list without groaning ("Silence
of the Clams" stew, $9.95).
As my regular dining partner and I waited for a friend, we nibbled on
fresh-baked cranberry scones as we anticipated our order of "Mr. Bill's Grilled
Baby Buggy Bumper Caps" ($6.95). (The proprietors are Bill and Judy Galloway.)
These consisted of a portobello mushroom cap grilled in olive oil and topped
with pesto, sundried tomatoes, and goat cheese. A tasty choice.
When there were three of us, we looked over the range of entrées. For
seafood, one of us chose the fresh Chilean sea bass ($18.95), a special that
evening. She was curious about it, having read recently that it is not really
sea bass but rather a much uglier cousin called a Patagonian toothfish. Beauty
contest reject or not, it was firm-fleshed, delicately cooked, and topped with
baby shrimp in a white wine, lemon and capers sauce.
My other companion chose a signature dish, the "Past & Presents Roasted
Chicken" ($13.95). It was succulent, herb-infused and stuffed with a dressing
of scones rather than bread crumbs. It, too, was appreciated.
I had something titled "Destination: Orient Express." The two fat pork chops,
marinated in plum sauce, were delicious, and the concoction they lay atop
wasn't bad either, just a bit bland and not what was described in the menu. I'm
a big moo shi fan at Chinese restaurants, and I'll accept a wide range of
variation. But this was akin to chop suey served on crispy noodles.
As for their original quaint culinary offering, afternoon tea, they serve a
three-tier assortment of finger sandwiches, desserts, scones and so forth for
$12 a person, as well as a la carte sandwich and salad choices. High tea,
served all day Sunday, is $5 more and comes with additional hot items. Wine and
cocktails are also served, some of them from period recipes.
All baked goods are made in their kitchen, as are the dinner desserts. The
latter's menu suggests "Life Is Unpredictable . . . Order Dessert First." And,
indeed, there is a sort of last-meal intensity to them. For example, their
bread pudding ($5.50) packs in white chocolate, orange crème anglaise
and a kiwi "salsa."
I couldn't resist their Black Forest cake ($7.95), a dense, flourless
chocolate confection accompanied by the above orange sauce and also caramel
sauce, plus bing cherry ice cream that unfortunately had crystallized.
Executive chef Tim Murray's version of tiramisu is called TiraMiTimmy ($5.95),
since Su had nothing to do with it. (Yes, yes, su means "up" in Italian, as in
"take me up" to heaven, which the dessert's name promises.) Served in a tall
glass, the top portion is a blend of mascarpone with whipped cream, lightened
further by minimized espresso soaking the ladyfingers and adding raspberry tea.
We had no reluctance in polishing it off.
Past & Presents is a lot of fun. What it may lack in culinary finesse it
certainly makes up for in sense of humor.