[Sidebar] October 21 - 28, 1999
[Food Reviews]
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Hearty fare in a warm environment

by Dawn Keable

5454 Post Road, Warwick, 884-1255
Open Mon-Tues, 4:30 p.m.-11 p.m., Wed-Sat until 11:30 p.m., Sun, 3 p.m.-11 p.m.
Major credit cards
Sidewalk access

My husband, Andre, knew just where to find Meritage; His former girlfriend used to live nearby. But if you're not working from the same point of reference, the restaurant is located on the Warwick/East Greenwich line in the same building that used to house Mr. Marco. Fortunately for me, Meritage didn't exist when Andre was previously frequenting the area. Otherwise, someone else may have been so impressed with his choice of romantic dining spots that they would've snatched him up for themselves.

You probably wouldn't get that idea from the outside of the building alone. The nondescript facade gives such a distinct impression of a banquet hall that you might catch yourself looking over your shoulder for the arrival of the bridal party. But if you remember the old adage to not judge a book by its cover, you'll make it to the more enticing world inside.

Decorated in warm tones with art deco accents, the bar and main dining areas offer a cozy atmosphere. The sound of Miles Davis coming from wall-mounted speakers made for a romantic atmosphere. Dim lighting was enhanced by the glow of candles in mesh holders on each table, as well as on ascending pillars on each side of the unlit fireplace. Everything was in place for an intimate dinner for two -- until I realized that Andre had the ideal vantage point to watch the baseball playoffs over my shoulder.

Luckily, I had the necessary tool to snap him back to attention: the arrival of zippy shrimp ($8). Seasoned with teriyaki sauce and Cajun spices, the appetizer featured five firm wood-grilled shrimp on a bed of spinach. The shrimp were expertly prepared, and our forks duked it out for the delicious spinach garnish, which had an appealing Asian influence.

With no more greens left, our main courses called. For me, that meant diving into the Yucatan scrod ($11). Topped with a mixture of cilantro and cornbread, the filet was baked to perfection. And while this creative combination added a bite of subtle tanginess, it didn't overpower the natural flavor of the fish.

Andre opted for the 10-ounce sirloin steak ($13). Cooked medium-well, the wood-grilled meat's charbroiled exterior was so crispy that he wondered what the inside would yield. But my partner wasn't disappointed with the moist and juicy center. He silently looked for clues on how to replicate this feat on our backyard grill, but couldn't restrain himself long enough to solve that mystery.

Both of our dishes came with identical accompaniments: smashed potatoes and butternut squash. Good thing, otherwise someone would have been jealous. The red bliss spuds were mashed with their skins on for a hearty side dish. Mixed with butter and garlic, the lumpless potatoes were ultra-rich and creamy. And the lightly sweetened slices of butternut squash were a delicious way to welcome us into fall. Every ounce of this hip comfort food was quickly cleared from our plates.

Looking for a bit of adventure for dessert, I chose pizza melba ($6). Topped with a sweet blend of mascarpone and cream cheese, banana slices, blueberries, and then drizzled with a fruity melba sauce, this was the bargain of the night. The small wood-grilled pizza, with eight crunchy pieces, could have easily served two couples. But on second thought, you may just want to opt for a take-out container for the leftovers, rather than share this taste sensation with anyone else. (And once you get it to your fridge, mark your name on it.)

Andre went the more traditional route with a slice of tiramisu ($5). Luckily, his safety net of espresso- and rum-soaked ladyfingers was no less delicious. With alternating layers of mascarpone and a rich creme anglaise, this creamy confection was so captivating he momentarily forgot that baseball was still happening. See, Meritage really is enticing.

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