[Sidebar] June 17 - 24, 1999
[Food Reviews]
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Spain of Narragansett

Delectable Iberian fare delights in South County

by Bill Rodriguez

1144 Ocean Road, Narragansett, 783-9770
Open Tues-Thurs, 4-10 p.m.; Fri & Sat, 4-11 p.m.; Sun, 1-9 p.m.
Major credit cards
Handicapped access

Clam cakes and chowder are all well and good as summertime staples down at the shore. But sometimes after a hard day sunnin' and funnin' on a South County beach, you want to get serious about dinner. Dress-up togs, cloth napkins, pretty plates. While top-class restaurants have been sprouting around Providence like truffles, Spain of Narragansett, sibling of the elegant Cranston restaurant, has reigned for years as one of the best fine dining spots down south. As a recent trip attests, visiting the resort town incarnation remains a reliable and pampering experience.

Wood smoke mingles with salt air as you walk up to the elaborately landscaped peach stucco walls surrounding the courtyard. Spain used to be right at Narragansett Pier, smack at the water, but being ensconced in Point Judith greenery is restful in its own way. The indoor dining area gives the impression of a Mediterranean courtyard, although there is no skylight. Potted plants, arched colonnades and similar images of Spanish architecture surround us in large photographs. Water falls over earth-color tiles at the far wall. The center of the large dining area is as dim as a trysting bar, making the candles necessary, as well as romantic, on the tables.

We were greeted by an austere gentleman who introduced himself as our captain for the evening. He was the one who would take our orders, aided by a couple of affable young men eager to bring bread (fresh and varied), keep our water glasses full, and all but salute in giving us highly attentive service. We knew we were in good hands.

The appetizers (all $7.95) consist of the standard fare -- clams casino, stuffed mushroom caps, even calamari -- plus various shellfish in garlicky preparations. Being a garlic lover is good reason to come to a Spanish or Portuguese restaurant, and Spain delivers well on the expectation. Even the meat categories each have at least one item featuring the brash bulb. Soups ($3.95) include the traditional Andalusian cold gazpacho, plus black bean, but be forewarned: if anyone at your table orders garlic soup and you're not averse to the concept, you won't want to stop with just a taste. It's mellow and heavenly, deep brown and not overpowering since roasting garlic sweetens it. You'll wish the cup-sized portion were a bowl. My dining companion warmed up her appetite with a Xula salad ($5.95), which consisted of a head of Boston or Bibb lettuce, its core replaced by pimento and grilled red onion with crumbled Gorgonzola in a sweet citrus dressing. Despite appreciating my soup, I was quite willing to go halfsies.

Oddly enough, for such a full-court press with the service and ambience, main course menu prices are quite moderate. They start at $9.95 for an aptly named Pasta al Pobre, and most are between $15 and $17. Of course, you can go whole hog, or rather whole lobster. Spain has always offered hefty ones, and, at $7.50 per-pound, our choices that evening were 4-12 pound leviathans. Major appetites can also be satisfied with a couple of $29.95 "served for two" offerings: tenderloin "Jefe" and paella Valenciana.

Johnnie managed to get her lobster appetite satisfied without risking dreams of being chased by towering crustaceans. Four shellfish combinations include lobster with shrimp, scallops, clams and mussels. Her mariscada salsa verde ($16.95) was so full of fresh and properly cooked seafood that the penne were outnumbered. A bonus was the white wine and clam sauce, so nice to sop up with the tasty French bread provided earlier.

My entrée was Pollo Andaluza ($13.50). Two chicken breasts were stuffed with spinach, cheese, diced smoked ham, and pine nuts. Then the lightly floured meat was sautéed with restraint, but 'til golden. I could have used more than a hint of cilantro in the tomato sauce on top, but I suppose the dish made me greedy for every taste offered. Saffron rice and vegetables, with mushrooms, accompanied it, and the smoky grilled items among them were particularly enjoyed.

Spain of Narragansett makes their fresh fruit desserts and flan, but a tray of supplementary cheesecake, torte and mousse wedges certainly looked tempting. However, the flan ($3.95) is not to be passed up -- the dense custard's brown-sugar sauce has a citrusy tang that is a refreshing taste with which to end a meal.

Let the sangria, or the other moderately priced wines, flow. Spain has established itself as a South County institution, alongside those less exotic special-occasion, bring-your-parents, Yankee restaurants down thataway.

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