Cara Restaurant, Newport, RI Review
Elevated dining at the edge of the sea and the path to Newport. A travel restaurant review from Always Wander.
Introduction To Cara Restaurant
Cara is the on-site restaurant at the luxury hotel, The Chanler At Cliff Walk in Newport, RI. I wandered down for the weekend, and I happened to be staying there. I will add information about that in my Newport City Report, but for now we need to get to the restaurant! I don’t usually make a habit of dining in-hotel, as frankly often times the restaurants just aren’t that good (outside the super high end ones filled with Michelin stars to draw the folks in). However this being what is probably the best example of fine dining in Newport, I decided it made sense. Not to mention it made it very easy after getting all dressed up to not have to leave. Convenience? Laziness? Stop judging me, let’s move on.
It’s what I would certainly categorize as fine dining, and would probably add “elevated” to that. I wouldn’t say it’s quite Michelin level (yet), but it’s of that style if that makes sense. The decor fits with the rest of the hotel, which is a very classic, old time feel - but VERY high end finishes throughout. The kitchen is partially open, so it does add a touch of modern flair into the space. There are lovely views of the water, since the restaurant is basically on top of the famous Cliff Walk. During the day, it’s a wonderful companion to your meal. At night, don’t expect to see much because well, it’s open water! No lights out there :)
We happened to be there during restaurant week, so they had a special prix fixe menu of the typical format - pick a starter, pick a main, and then you get dessert as well. That being said, there’s also a true tasting menu of six courses - with optional wine pairing. And a full vegetarian version, which is great to see. We chose the tasting menu (regular), sans the wine pairing. As you’ll see from future reviews, it’s my opinion that at these kinds of restaurants, if it’s within your budget you should always go with the tasting menu. You’ll get the best of what that chef has to offer, served as it’s meant to be served. Of course you might not like everything, but you might also be blown away, and maybe even discover something new along the way. Like I did! Read on for the details as well as my final thoughts and evaluation.
This is my review of Cara, the restaurant at The Chanler at Cliff Walk, Newport, RI. I was not a paid guest in the restaurant, nor was my meal comped for this review.
Cara Restaurant Food Highlights
I already mentioned that while there was as special prix fixe on for Restaurant Week, we decided for the tasting menu. It was a six course, not counting the amuse bouche. There were two fish plates, a vegetable focused plate, two meat focused, and dessert. We quickly ordered, and surrendered ourselves to the chef’s whims! OK that was a bit dramatic. I’ll do my best to make sure that never happens again. This menu was $135.00 per person, which I felt was a good value considering the setting and comparing to NYC prices. On to the food highlights!
Amuse Bouche and Cocktail: We started with the ol’ quick bite as a welcome from the chef, which was a tuna tartare topped with micro basil. Fresh, classic if unadventurous, and tasty. I’m not one to ever say no to a bite of tartare, be it tuna or otherwise. For my cocktail, I chose one of their house creations, the Evening Fog. I’m a gin guy, learned a lot about it while living in London and visiting Europe often, so I go right for the gins every time. I’ve not been very impressed with the gin selections at bars and restaurants since I’ve been back home in the US, so I was happy to see they made the drink with a good one, The Botanist. This gin hails from Scotland and goes down easy. Add some citrus elements to compliment the gin, a touch of sparkling wine, and you had yourself a winner. Was crisp and delicious.
First Course: For the first course, I have to say, the chef tricked me and he tricked me good. Described as Caviar, with asparagus and lemon. The best part of a tasting menu is that you’ve often times seen the list of items, but you can’t really imagine how they are going to prepare it. It’s fun. So when the dish showed up, presented very well, and with the Imperial Caviar in a classic quenelle (are you keeping track at home of how many French words I throw in here?) on top of what appeared to be a mini grilled cheese? I was a bit disappointed. Grilled cheese and caviar? What kind of gastropub trick was this? I was delighted to be wrong and to find that the bread was toasted and buttered brioche. What I had mistaken for cheese was, in fact, a custardized egg yoke. THIS. DISH. WAS. KILLER. It’s very rich - and if it helps I will admit I’m not really much of a caviar person. Can be a bit too fishy for me. But, as it often does, the yoke provided a real depth of flavor that also cut the caviar a bit. Combined, they almost had a truffle like flavor. This was a rousing success. The asparagus and frisee greens, and small drops of lemon cream finished it off nicely. What a dish.
Second Course: Next up, was the simply described Lettuce with onion and bacon. I’ll say on this one, I never saw this coming either. The servers showed up with what is a fairly common (but always cool) occurance in high end restaurants - a bowl and an extra element that needs to be poured in at the table. Maybe I’m easy, but I love that effect. So in this case, we had in the bowl an onion custard (new to me) and some finely cut scallions (green onions for those of you outside the US) with bacon pieces. Then, they poured in a beautiful, bright green soup. This was the lettuce! You may be asking yourself, “Lettuce SOUP, Ferguson? What in the name of pretentious, lame, internet food writers are you talking about?” Well trust me, it was lovely. Light, fresh, and totally unexpected. When mixed with the onion custard, which was wicked onion-y by the way, you had a really great dish. We both loved it.
Third Course: Now, we move onto the second fish course. Scallops with peppernade and oysters. This one was good, but not the strongest of the dishes. I think, each ingredient on it’s own was very good, including the peppernade, which was new to me. But the same thing that made the peppernade tasty (the roasted pepper flavor) - tended to over power the scallops. In my experience, scallops are very hard to pair with because their flavor is so delicate. So when tasted together, all I got was the peppernade. The scallops were, to be fair, lovely and fresh. Sliced thin and just seared on the bottom, it made me feel home in New England as usual. The oysters, while I don’t know exactly how they prepared them, were cooked and therefore more concentrated than a fresh one. That might be too much for some (for me it is sometimes) - but they were still good here. It looked nice, and though I can appreciate the attempt at combining some good ingredients, together it mostly tasted like pepper. To reiterate, it was still nice. Each component was very good, just missed on the combination.
Fourth Course: Here we begin the first of the two meat focused dishes. They went with a classic here, and we got Duck with fois gras and blackberry. The duck was very nicely prepared, cooked perfectly medium rare - which is how duck should be served. Listen to the chef :). There were some cooked root vegetables mixed in, and a few pieces of romanesco which was very pretty on the plate. The surprise here for me, was that the blackberries were PICKLED. And well, I loved them. It really cut through the rich duck flavors and added a little punch to it. Worked really well, and was again something new. So, points there. This dish was very nice and succeeds.
Fifth Course: Our second meat dish, the very popular choice of ribeye. Wagyu Ribeye with celeriac and chanterelles. They did a great job turning it up a little bit, however. This is a tasting menu, so it’s not a full rib eye. But a healthy slice of delicious meat. In this case they used Wagyu ribeye, which was melt-in-your-mouth good. I will say that I have to guess this was American Wagyu, as I’m not sure many restaurants have the ability in this country to import real, Japanese Wagyu. I could be wrong, and if the people at Cara would like to correct me, get in touch and I’ll update here! This is not meant to take anything away from it - the meat was delicious and crusted well on the outside, while the characteristic fattiness of the marbling inner portion did not disappoint. Served with it: roasted celeriac, some beautiful chanterelle mushrooms, shaved brussels sprouts. Finished with a tasty sauce, and finally freshly shaved, real truffle. For those not familiar with a real truffle, this is not what you get in the truffle oil you see in gift shops, or the “truffle” fries you get down at the trendy sports bar. This might as well have a different name. They’re earthy, almost musty, and wonderful. They added to the fragrance here, but in no way interfered with any flavors. Very nicely done dish.
Dessert Course: On to our final course, the dessert. I won’t write a whole lot here, as this one wasn’t too complicated. They served up a “Deconstructed apple pie”. Nothing wrong with this dish, it was done pretty well and the apples maintained their texture without becoming soggy and too soft. I just wasn’t blown away with it as it wasn’t anything new, and didn’t really challenge me much. But hey - you can’t always be challenged with every single dish. They prepared it adequately, the ingredients were good, and it was a fine ending to the meal. The cream cheese frosting dollops were however a nice touch. I’d eat a boot if it had cream cheese frosting on it. My boot, not yours. No offense.
I really thought this meal was fantastic. It’s one of the nicer, if not the nicest fine dining meals I’ve had in New England (I’ve not tried the Boston scene), so kudos to the team there. Some dishes were really pleasant surprises and we absolutely loved them (caviar, lettuce soup), and others were well presented with good individual components that slightly missed the mark from scoring an “A” (scallops, dessert). But all of them were still really tasty with top notch ingredients. As a chef, I have to think you take some chances on a tasting menu and it’s something that lets you explore the limits of the guests, and yourself. You’re not going to hit on every single one. Credit for trying. All in all, if you’re into fine dining and haute cuisine, make a reservation here next time you’re in Newport, RI. It’s open to non-hotel guests, and coupled with the wonderful service and good house cocktail menu, I think you’ll be really impressed. Thanks for having us, Cara.
117 Memorial Blvd, Newport, RI 02840