Doggone good food
by Bill Rodriguez
457 Chapel St., Block Island, 466-5230
Open Mon-Sun, 5-10 p.m.
Major credit cards
Handicapped access (limited aisle space)
The way I figure it, if I'm in a resort town and planning to pay
higher-than-Providence restaurant prices anyway, I better go for funky
atmosphere as well as good food. It's to remind myself of my common humanity.
On Block Island, if you dine at the Atlantic or the Manisses, the elegant
ambiance, as well as the bill, might make you think you're a Rockefeller. At
Eli's, though, the whimsical atmosphere will elicit nothing more harmful than
fantasies of being fed to death.
Eli was chef/owner David Silverberg's late, beloved black lab, and the
restaurant is sort of his memorial. Judging by the food there, Eli must have
been the Brillat-Savarin of dogdom. No kibbles en brochette, but some of
the human equivalents I sampled could prompt sighs of satisfaction.
Reminders of the restaurant's namesake are everywhere. There's a dapper Eli in
a chef's toque greeting you at the door, one in stained glass amidst doggy
bric-a-brac on a wall, even a wrought iron one in the restroom. Eli and
assorted canine pals cavort in snapshots under several tables' glass tops. The
decor sustains that informal tone, from knotty pine wainscoting to wildflowers
on tables, displayed in preserve and Mason jars.
A corner bar fills maybe a quarter of the small place, so you have to sidle
between closely spaced tables. There's a decent wine list, with several
available by the glass, although on this humid day it was the Anchor Steam beer
on draft that won me over. An immediate disappointment, however, was the
complimentary garlic bread: not only stingy with the active ingredient, but
rather spongy for the French bread it looked to be modeled after. Chacon a
Appetizers and salads ranged from a black bean hummus crudite ($7) and
pan-poached local mussels ($9.50) to salmon carpaccio ($11.50) and a tempting
lobster salad on buckwheat soba noodles tossed with satay sauce ($13.50). We
chose the smoked fish assortment ($10.50). Three sizeable pieces of bluefish,
mackerel and salmon came on a bed of mixed lettuce, accompanied by marinated
Bermuda onions, crackers and a sour cream/Dijon dip. It was great with the
When Eli's opened in 1992, next door to its present digs, it received an
immediate and enthusiastic reputation for its array of imaginative pastas. On
our visit, only four of the 15 entrees were pastas, chef Silverberg having
expanded into realms of hoisin duck, cumin-floured chicken breast and surf 'n'
turf. Although his signature shrimp puttanesca is no longer a daily offering, a
special we couldn't resist was scallops with wild mushroom ravioli ($26). The
preparation was unusual: chopped-mushroom ravioli baked under copious
mozzarella, accompanied by fresh asparagus, numerous and huge sea scallops,
plus whole crimini, porcini and oyster mushrooms, which are strong tasting
enough to stand out of the melange. The mascarpone pink sauce was delicate
enough to not mask the scallops. A successful combination.
Being in a harbor town, we had to try the fresh seafood, too. Several of the
offerings at Eli's incorporate Asian yellowfin steak was encrusted
with regular and black sesame seeds, seared on
the outside and medium rare inside. Taste contrasts and complements to the mild
fish were plentiful and varied: delicate fresh mangoes and roasted red peppers
next to mixed wild and saffron rice; string and wax beans next to a robust
red sauce fortifying chunks of eggplant. I would have been in heaven with some wasabi and maybe a teriyaki dipping sauce.
As it was, the dish made being earth-bound
quite pleasant enough.
The portions of both entrées were huge, easily enough to fill two
people. That is such a sensible practice that there is a hefty $7 charge for
splitting an order onto two plates, though nothing would prevent you from
sharing one appetizer and one main dish. Eli's prices are quite high for such
an otherwise down-scale place, with most of the day's entrée specials
$30 or more.
Despite the plenty, Johnnie and I felt professionally bound to have dessert.
Although tiramisu and two kinds of cheesecake are kitchen-made there, I had a
hankering for their carrot cake ($5.50). Fresh out of the oven, it was worth
the wait for it to cool off so that the delicious, not-too-sweet cream-cheese
frosting could be applied. Definitively yummy.
For a shrine, Eli's sure is a fine restaurant. At the risk of the chef choking
up over it, don't hesitate to ask for a doggie bag.