My wife and I have been stalking the folks at Thames Street Kitchen in Newport ever since they (temporarily) closed. First, we lingered around their new haunts. When it’s chicken we want, it’s Winner Winner. For plump burgers, I’m a man on a Mission. Like any good stalker, we took to social media. When we found out Winner Winner’s menu got all fancy for restaurant week, we booked immediately. Then we heard the news: Revolving Door, guest-chef concept restaurant, had stopped a-spinning and settled on hosting a Thames Street Kitchen reboot. We got a babysitter pronto.
First impressions revealed that TSK is clearly being hosted by Revolving Door and the place hasn’t changed much for the new roommates. Then again, if you were looking for a furnished pad, you couldn’t do much better than Revolving Door, which is still relatively new. It’s less intimate than the old TSK, but it’s brighter, more practical for service, and boasts a lot of outside seating on a walled patio for Newport’s summer crowds.
One of TSK’s draws – and flaws – was that it was BYOB. Those days are gone. There is a nice corner bar in front, and a tidy drinks menu. I’m not ashamed to admit the professionals did a better job picking wine than I ever did: My Domaine la Remejeanne Cotes Du Rhone was a perfect accompaniment for lamb, and my wife’s Fleurs de Prairie rosé was crisp and refreshing on a warm night. As the wine started to flow, and I noticed the management is still loving reggae, I felt quite at home.
Nowhere is TSK more TSK than on the plate. The menu felt quite familiar in approach, including a rare mainstay: the Raviolo with jamon serrano and yolk. Otherwise, the menu changes frequently. I visited twice, two weeks apart, and almost everything was new. The fantastic Pork Milanesa had disappeared by my second meal, but there were worthy replacements. The menu is precise, a single column with seven starters and five mains. That’s all you need, when everything is good.
We chose a Simple Salad and Cavatelli, followed by Striped Bass and Lamb Saddle. This is a place where, if you are feeling like a full meal, you want to get two courses. The approach at TSK is an interesting blend of the classic and the experimental. With the Simple Salad, less is more; it has the perfect balance of dressing, greens, and radish. The Cavatelli takes an improvisational dish, the puttanesca, and slants it with fermented chilis. Alongside all the other bold notes bouncing around in this dish – capers, anchovies, tomatoes, lardo – this was a delicious tempest in a teacup.
Clearly, the kitchen likes assertive flavors, such as the bracing acidity in the charred onion vinaigrette, which boldly cut against the Striped Bass. Nor are they afraid to step aside and let some ingredients really speak for themselves, like with my sublime Saddle of Lamb. This is my favorite cut of my favorite meat, here detached into two perfect medallions. If the lamb is perfect, as it was here, better to let it sing. Two sauces harmonized, the subtle flavors of zucchini, and a pretty classic Moroccan chermoula, with herbs and spice.
In the past, dessert has been a nice, playful affair at TSK, a suitable ending, but not a reason to visit. I’d describe most of the offerings as well-executed Americana. (The first time we went, we had an ice cream taco). This time, we had perfect donuts with cinnamon and sugar, as well as a lime pudding that was a perfect, curdy palate-cleanser in a jam jar. TSK is back, better than ever, and we’re still in love.
Thames Street Kitchen
509 Thames Street, Newport • 401-846-0400