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
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
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.