[Sidebar] September 2 - 9, 1999
[Food Reviews]
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The Place

Newport's tucked-away treasure

by Johnette Rodriguez

28 Washington Square, Newport, 847-0116
Open daily, 5:30-10 p.m.
Major credit cards
Sidewalk-level access

When you find an excellent restaurant tucked away in the corner of a larger establishment, it's a bit like knowing the password into a speakeasy -- a different world opens up behind that door. So it is with the Place, set into a corner of the popular burger pub Yesterday's.

On one side you hear cranked-up music and the rattle of beer mugs; on the other side, the murmur of genteel conversation and the clink of wine glasses. The Place is an elegant bi-level dining room with booths and tables on the mezzanine level, overlooking large fern-laden windows and a wall-sized poster-art print on backlit glass. Photos of turn-of-the-century Newport, art deco and Tiffany lamps, brass rails and dark wainscotting complete the feeling of amiable comfort.

Taking his cues from Latin, Mediterranean and Asian cuisine, executive chef Alex Daglis has made deliberate fusion decisions that promised gustatory delight and delivered on everything we tried. One emphasis at the Place is on the grill, with Thai curried shrimp, chipotle-marinated chicken, tournedos with a wild mushroom-ancho chile sauce and maple-glazed duck breast. Another focus is on wildly creative appetizers, including a salmon and scallop salad with fresh fennel, beets and jicama; duck enchiladas with mango salsa and Vermont goat cheese; and lobster and shrimp wontons spiced with cilantro and lemon grass.

Looking toward the complexity of our entrees, we settled for a simpler, signature item at the Place, the lobster and corn chowder with shrimp ($6.95). Carrots gave the chowder a beautiful color, Cajun bacon added a sweet undertaste and the lobster and shrimp were luxurious tidbits.

From the entree side of the menu, our party of four had some hard decisions to make. Bill could not break with his tendency to hoist the carnivore flag, and he went for the hoisin-glazed pork tenderloin ($19.95). Our friend from Marblehead, Massachusetts, chose the Chilean sea bass ($24.95), as did I, and his wife picked a special of the day, red snapper medallions with lobster sauce ($26.95), which I had enjoyed on a previous visit.

Seared with an Asian five-spice crust, the sea bass was served with a port wine reduction sauce, a few pan-seared scallops, a large grilled portobello cap, sweet pepper risotto and grilled asparagus. It was garnished with a mound of grated carrots and a generous sprig of fresh basil. Neither the spices nor the port overwhelmed the delicious sweet-fleshed fish and scallops, and the vegetables sang the same tune. Only the risotto disappointed, since it was underdone.

Bill was thoroughly thrilled with his pork, billed as a "salad," as the expertly grilled tenderloin was thinly sliced atop a bed of mesclun greens, with accoutrements of avocado, grilled Vidalia onions, portobello mushrooms and sweet potatoes. The greens were tossed in a cilantro vinaigrette.

The red snapper was accompanied by two beurre blanc sauces, one with lobster stock and another with guava paste, nicely swirled on the large black plate. This is another signature dish that had drifted off the menu because of the difficulty of getting snapper, but Daglis hopes to offer it whenever he can. The snapper sat on angel hair pasta (half squid ink, half plain for a black and white effect), with asparagus and summer squash radiating beneath it, and a lobster claw crowned the snapper. In presentation and in taste, all four of us gave this one the prize.

Hardly believing our appetites, we studied the dessert menu. The chocolate creme brulee beckoned, as did the mango sorbet. We could certainly trust the warm peach bread pudding or the chocolate hazelnut torte. In the end we succumbed to the decadence of the chocolate waffle and the warm blueberry tart.

Upon the arrival of the latter, a chorus of mmmmms issued from both sides of the table. The Marblehead visitors loved the tart, its shell lined with an almond-hazelnut paste. We eked out bites of everything around and on top of the delectable chocolate waffle: the bananas foster, the vanilla ice cream, the fresh whipped cream and the strawberries and blueberries decorating the plate.

The Place is a Rhode Island treasure, good for showing off to friends, but also nice for a romantic treat for two.

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