Dining Out

Kiss the Chef

Besos Tea House offers tapas and much more

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When I told my very masculine dining companion that we were going to Besos Tea House for dinner, he almost cringed, dreading tiny sandwiches and delicate tea cups.

But fear not, all you manly men. Besos is not your stereotypical tea house. From the wrap-around porch, we could hear laughter from the lively bar inside, a glowing three-sided onyx bar that’s lit from below. That is one part of a stunning interior design. But Besos is not an in-your-face assault on its patrons’ aesthetic senses. It takes a bit of time to notice the unique elements – crystal lighting suspended from an antique wooden door on the ceiling, murals painted by Newport artist Chris Wyllie, an abundance of drum lights in the private dining room behind old barn doors. What we thought were gathered drapes turned out to be slender trees massed together to form dramatic columns. More noticeable are the gleaming wood floors, glossy black chandeliers and a sexy banquette that wraps around the rear wall of the main dining room. Besos, which is Spanish for “kisses,” explains the celebrity photos on one wall; all – including Elvis – are blowing kisses at the camera. A row of large gilded mirrors may grace one wall, but you won’t find any lace curtains hanging in the nine-over-nine glass pane windows. Clearly, this is not what your great grandmother would call a tea house.

The food at Besos is as creative and dramatic as its interior. The menu is a mix of international fusion, starting with tapas and ending on an Asian note.

Foodie friends of mine contend that Besos does not serve true tapas, but rather a wide range of appetizers, from the requisite calamari to a pricey antipasto (Traditional tapas consist of small plates of Spanish food at very low prices.) That portion of the Besos menu labeled “tapas” includes plenty of Spanish dishes, as well as Grilled New York Strip Steak over crostini with a “brandy garlic shallot” cream sauce, Pan-Seared Crab Cakes and gourmet Pizza Bella, with prices that range from $8 to $20 (for the aforementioned antipasto).

That argument aside, I can tell you that much of what we sampled that night was exciting and delightful, beginning with the Stuffed Oysters a la Espanola ($12). Served on a slim, oblong platter were four large oysters on the half shell, each one smothered in a mixture of potatoes, roasted peppers, onions and garlic, accompanied by two petite servings of salsa and aioli. That appetizer will definitely make it to the list I compile each year of the very best things I’ve eaten.

Across our table for two, Brian thoroughly enjoyed a bowl of Vegetable Dumpling Saffron Soup ($10), a vegetable-based broth swimming with scallions, poblano peppers and plump yet light-as-a-feather dumplings.

For the next course, we shared the Latina Mixed Greens ($7), ordered mostly out of curiosity. Fastidiously fresh and tender greens were tossed lightly with bits of avocado, corn, onion and tomato in a balsamic vinaigrette.

Our dinner entrees were from the surf and the turf. I chose the Blackened Salmon ($22), and Brian selected the Caribbean Steak ($24).

My dinner was delicious, but not quite what the menu promised. The salmon was hardly blackened. The accompanying papaya passion fruit chutney sounded so exciting, but failed to deliver much more than some vibrant color to the plate. The jasmine rice was satisfying. Instead of the listed “sautéed mixed vegetables,” I was served another fresh salad. If I had known salad was to be part of my dinner plate, I would not have ordered the mixed greens.

Brian was served an incredibly tender eight-ounce beef tenderloin brushed with just the right amount of a slightly sweet, tangy steak sauce. The accompanying
mashed potatoes were delicious.

All that we’ve come to expect on a dessert menu ($6 to $10) is offered at Besos, from crème brulee and tiramisu to chocolate lava cake and New York cheesecake. The fruit tart tempted us, but in the end the Five-Layer Chocolate Cake won out, and it was a big winner in all its dense, dark chocolate, fudgy glory.

So, you might wonder with nary a cup of tea in sight, why is this called the Besos Tea House? The plan is for Besos to be an upscale restaurant at night and a tea house in the afternoon, according to Kristin Dellagrotta, who co-owns Besos with Tony Morales, the longtime chef at Café Fresco in East Greenwich. Right now it’s just a stylish restaurant, but one definitely worth checking out.

Linda Beaulieu is the author of The Providence and Rhode Island Cookbook, available at stores throughout the state.