Sometimes a burger or a heap of nachos is just what the appetite (and budget) ordered. Sometimes nothing less than white linen elegance will do. A Newport place ambitiously named the Place bills itself as "the wine bar and grille at Yesterdays." The latter restaurant describes itself as "an alehouse;" it has 36 microbrews on tap and a menu that skews playful and Caribbean. Oy — a pint, mon.
Yesterdays is the sort of place you go after an afternoon of popcorn at the movies. But we had been watching films at the annual Newport festival, so the Place it was.
Same entrance, different worlds to the right and left. The upscale restaurant — open only Thursday through Saturday — is all ferns, polished brass railings, and leather-cushioned chairs and banquettes. It's kept from getting all men's clubby on us by numerous frosted glass Art Deco hanging lamps. Black-and-white photos of Newport cover the walls. Fanned-out napkins stand upright at each setting like little Sydney opera houses.
The restaurant was originally conceived of as a wine bar, so there are 15 wines by the glass, as well as flights of various samples, and more than 150 by the bottle. You are handed the sister restaurant's menu for the wine list, so the three dozen draft beers are available too.
Temptations among the seven appetizers include grilled lobster pizza ($11.95) with asiago cheese, and a cream sauce to complement rather than obscure the seafood; and a spicy tuna sashimi stack ($9.50), with layers including avocado, mango, and crab salad.
We chose the oyster wontons ($9.25), and the presentation was impressive: Three fat, pinched purses alongside a small salad of mixed greens, topped with chopped tomatoes, were served in a long, black boat of a platter, which made the colors pop out dramatically. The steamed wontons contained oysters, wild mushrooms, and prosciutto, accented with ginger and lemongrass, in a pool of sesame-flavored buerre blanc.
I also tried the soup of the day, which was curry chicken ($9.95). This time the canvas was white: a square bowl with a decorative pile of cilantro over diced tomatoes atop the creamy yellow soup. It could hardly have contained more chicken, and the curry wasn't too hot for my taste, although our waitress scurried to get some water for my benefit.
There were only a half-dozen entrées, which to me usually signals fresh ingredients and well-considered decisions in the kitchen, headed by executive chef Alex Daglis Jr. There are only two meat choices — grilled rack of lamb and sirloin — the rest being seafood. I toyed with the idea of the seafood stew ($25.95), the shellfish topped with grilled wild salmon, but its green Thai curry broth was too similar to my soup. So seafood pad thai it was. I was curious about what would be done with a $24.95 version of a common, inexpensive dish. With a sweet-spicy tamarind sauce and plenty of sea scallops and shrimp, it was tasty and worthwhile. But it seemed designed for people who wouldn't like traditional pad thai. Instead of vermicelli rice noodles, which I especially love in the dish when they're thin yet firm, these were wide, wheat, and cut short — impossible for chopsticks, but just right for forks. I wouldn't recommend it.
Johnnie enjoyed her dish. The lobster with plum wine and ginger ($31.95) was simmered in coconut milk, although that ingredient came across more in the accompanying "vegetable Napoleon." That last component consisted of a medley mildly seasoned with red Thai curry, between two fried triangles of wonton wrappers. The claw meat was more tender than the rather chewy split tail. A cone of sushi rice was on the side, as well as a tangle of fried rice vermicelli, as on my dish.
The meal-cappers were one of those lists of mouthwatering dessert descriptions that could keep you indecisive until you've worked up an appetite to order them all. The crème brûlée trio finessed such vacillation by providing chocolate, coconut, and ginger-lemongrass. We decided on the chocolate waffle ($7.50) and were content. Two dollops of whipped cream with sliced strawberries, two pieces of banana, two small waffles, and an easily divided scoop of vanilla ice cream — obviously it was designed to prevent fights. If you don't like to share, don't come to the Place.
Bill Rodriguez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.