The heart of Jamestown has become a dining destination, with restaurants at every price point. Chopmist Charlie’s and the Narragansett Café are among the most affordable. A step up would be the Oyster Bar. Then you have the venerable Trattoria Simpatico and the award-winning Bay Voyage Inn. And now, Jamestown Fish on Narragansett Avenue is at the top of that food pyramid. Owners John and Cathy Recca, who also own the Narragansett Café, are former equity traders on Wall Street. They have been coming to Jamestown for years, buying a home there in 1998. Too young to retire, they launched new careers when they purchased the Narragansett Café four years ago. They have definitely spruced up that beloved watering hole. Across the street, their newest venture replaces Tricia’s Tropi-Grille, a funky Key West-style restaurant that many of us were sad to see close.
And what a transformation. Gone are the wild tropical colors. This neat historic building now sports a clean, serene look with a blue and white beach house color scheme, a handsome fireplace and an intimate bar with just four seats. Upstairs is the more casual bridge bar, with its view of the harbor and Newport in the distance. An outdoor bar and al fresco dining are also offered this summer. It’s quite apparent that a great deal of money has been poured into this project... and the restaurant seems to draw a well-heeled crowd. The foursome next to us talked at length about their sailboats and vacationing on Harbor Island in Michigan and Palm Beach in Florida. (I clearly love to eavesdrop.)
Be prepared to spend some money at Jamestown Fish. Appetizers range from $10 for a spicy fish soup to $16 for the smoked salmon with a poached artichoke heart, sorrel sauce and pickled ramps. Entrees range from $22 for the minimalist linguine and clams, made without wine or butter, to $35 for the well-endowed Jamestown Fish Cookpot that overflows with lobster, mussels, clams, scallops, monkfish, leeks, tomatoes, saffron, garlic, hot pepper, Pernod, fingerling potatoes and chourico.
The creator of all this upscale food is Executive Chef Matthew MacCartney. Early in his career, MacCartney worked at fine dining restaurants in France and Italy. Then he paid his culinary dues at top New York restaurants: Restaurant Daniel (as in Boulud), Gramercy Tavern and Tom Colicchio’s Craft. The Reccas got to know MacCartney while he was the chef at the highly acclaimed Connecticut restaurant Pasta Nostra. When MacCartney moved to Rhode Island for Jamestown Fish, he took along his sous chef Heliovaldo Araujo. Another sous chef, Keith O’Marra, rounds out the formidable team in the semi-open kitchen.
The highlight of my dinner from that kitchen was the Clams and Oyster appetizer ($15). I was served two raw littleneck clams, two umami oysters and two Beavertail oysters on a bed of crushed ice. The umami, which can only be found in the East Passage of Narragansett Bay, were especially savory, sweet, creamy and salty. The array of shellfish was ice cold, as it should be. Each clam and oyster had been expertly opened so that plenty of briny liquor remained in every half shell, which made for ideal slurping. On the side were a zesty house-made cocktail sauce and a most extraordinary blood orange-wasabi dressing, which I ended up drinking in its entirety. There was no way I was going to let any of that incredible concoction leave our table.
My dining companion had the spectacular Salumi Appetizer ($15), which was more than one person should ever eat, so of course I helped out. This was a generous plate of premium Italian cold cuts including speck (boned pork flank), culatello (cured pork rump), cacciatorini (salami from Lombardy, Italy), coppa (cooked and pressed cured boneless pork) and Napolitano salumi (cured meats), all from a salumeria in New York City. Slim slices of an unidentified cheese completed the dish – I would guess it was Atwells Gold from Narragansett Creamery. The menu promised cured olives, but there were none to be seen.
After my superb raw bar experience, I moved on to the entrée, Soft Shell Crabs ($32). Our ever-smiling waitress, Emily, informed me that the crabs had been flown in from Maryland late that very afternoon. The two large pan-fried crabs were coated with Grenobloise sauce and served simply, almost starkly, on an oval white plate with sautéed spinach on the side. Grenobloise (that is, of Grenoble, a city in southeastern France) is a classic French sauce made with browned butter, capers, parsley and bits of lemon. I’m not sure if it was the crabs or the capers, but I found this dish to be salty. The fresh pinach was perfect.
On the other side of our table for two, the impressive King Salmon ($32) arrived. This was a large dish containing a good amount of line-caught wild Alaskan king salmon surrounded by a truly wonderful sorrel sauce. On the side was a bowl of farro, a popular grain in Europe: plump, chewy and nutty. A basket of warm rustic bread quickly disappeared as we dunked chunks of the dense bread into the subtle, creamy sauce that was studded with bits of the leafy green herb.
Desserts are served for $8 each. A petite wedge of Lemon Polenta Cake was very lemony, while the Pastiera Napolitana (a pie made with fresh ricotta, wheat berries and orange zest) was a bit dry.
So there you have it. I think I’ll make another visit to Jamestown Fish someday soon.