A cool spot for summer
by Johnette Rodriguez
(401) 792-3999, 1 Beach St., Narragansett
Open daily, noon to midnight. Lunch served, 12-3 p.m.
Dinner, 5-9 p.m. weekdays; 5-10 p.m. weekends
Major credit cards
Water view restaurants are somewhat scarce in the Ocean State. But at Oceana,
with its sweeping outlook over my favorite beach -- the surfer-speckled
crescent of sand and waves called Narragansett Town Beach -- what could be
better? Well, on the evening we were there, two things. After drinks outside on
the deck, we moved inside to escape the smokers, and the smoke-free
restaurant's wrap-around windows maintained our glorious view. And, for a
special surprise, we had a spectacular preview of the Quonset Air Show right on
our doorstep: a diving, swooping biplane, a team of stunt parachutists,
trailing red smoke, and a hovering Harrier.
Concentrating on menu choices after all that took some doing. Bill and I split
a spicy tomato-shrimp-corn soup ($5) that had delicious layers of flavors, and
we shared a plate of fried squid tossed in a Thai marinade ($10) with the two
friends we had in tow. They split a mixed greens salad ($6) and the portobello
mushrooms stuffed with goat cheese ($8). The salad was spiked with Gorgonzola
chunks and the mushroom caps floated in a port wine reduction. The only
disappointment was the squid -- their coating seemed a bit soggy, and I
couldn't detect the Thai-ness of their sauce, just a few bits of chopped hot
Though Oceana's chef, John Sweeney, turns out a popular version of New England
clam chowder ($6) and the lobster parfait, in a brandy sabayon ($12),
beckoned among the appetizers, we were puzzled by the limited selection of
native seafood among the entrees. Granted, a menu that spreads itself across
pork or lamb chops, duck or chicken breast, and three beef dishes, may want to
highlight the exotic, such as Mahi Mahi and Escolar (flown in fresh). But we
stuck to the local, and chose blackened Atlantic salmon ($18), enjoyed by one
friend, and the sea scallops ($16), enthused over by me. Bill picked the penne
with shrimp, pesto and cherry tomatoes ($14), and our other friend landed on
the roasted eggplant ravioli ($14).
The salmon was not too spicy, resting atop a mound of basmati rice, surrounded
by a lemon beurre blanc and accented with a cucumber relish. It was so
yummy that our friend was summarily nominated to the Clean Plate Club. My
scallops were also delightfully presented, in a crisp phyllo dough shell, atop
a rice pilaf, themselves carefully seared and dotted with black sesame seeds,
slices of pickled ginger and a tiny dollop of wasabi -- the strong green
horseradish favored by sushi fans.
Bill's shrimp were fine, though the pasta only had a soupçon of pesto.
The extra garlic and the tiny tomatoes did play nicely off the shrimp. The
roasted eggplant in the ravioli was overwhelmed by the ricotta occupying the
same pockets, but our friend found the ravioli soothing and satisfying along
with the braised greens and sage in the cream sauce covering all.
Enticed by the dessert descriptions (by pastry chef Gemma, formerly at
Ginger's Bakery and Cafe in Wakefield), we watched as a lemon sorbet in a
spun-sugar basket was brought to a nearby table, adorned with sparkling fruit
slices. We contemplated the apple torte, the cheesecake, and the crème
brûlée. In the end, both sides of the table succumbed to splitting
a strawberry brûlée ($6). Served in fluted parfait glasses, the
strawberries floated in a port wine sauce and were topped with a thick layer of
whipped cream whose drizzled sugar topping had been slightly broiled. With
abundant contrasts in textures, and terrific complements to the season's first
strawberries, this dessert was a winner.
As for atmosphere at Oceana, you have options: the crowded but family-friendly
bar scene on the deck (with a full menu), or the quiet air-conditioned elegance
of the indoor dining room. The latter has wide, white-backed chairs with soft,
upholstered seats (no tussling over who gets the banquette), white and gold
linens, and cream-colored walls with natural woodwork. It's as if the light
pouring in the large windows had brightened everything inside, including the
staff, a friendly and attentive bunch, with bus-persons whisking away dishes
and combing away crumbs faster than you could wish.
With a wine list that features a dozen offerings by the glass, both domestic
and imported, and a menu that features everything from pasta and seafood to
steak and potatoes, Oceana is destined to become a hot new summer hang-out.
Especially with that cool view of the beach and the cooling breezes that brush