After what seemed like weeks of rain, we used a rare sunny day to visit Bristol’s newest eatery, Portside Tavern. We got a little carried away with the summer feel. It wasn’t really that warm, but temperature be damned, we were going to eat al fresco.
Portside Tavern replaces the very long-lived Redlefsen’s, but inside, it was hard to imagine. Any memory of that strange, German unicorn was exorcised, surprisingly with little work. It was auf wiedersehen to the old paint job and hello to warmer woods and brighter colors a more modern, slightly nautical look. The skeleton of the restaurant already perfectly suited the tavern concept, with the long bar room pouring beers, the letterbox kitchen sending apps, and the open main dining room roaring busily with customers.
We chose to eat outside. It was warm, and we wouldn’t want to miss the sunset or the brisk wind that followed. Beer was abundant on the drink menu (as it should be at a tavern), with wine and cocktails filling in the gaps. Most of the wine was Californian but the majority of the beers were local, with some diversions, like my tall glass of Weihenstephaner ($6). Between this hefeweissbier and my wife’s refreshing Portside Collins ($9) we had all the classic components of a summer sundowner.
The menu was squarely what you’d expect from New England comfort food, if the menu had done some backpacking around Asia while wearing a Red Sox hat. Amongst the lobster rolls and surf and turf, there was banh mi, Thai veggie wraps, Korean bbq, and a sesame salad with wontons. It’s usually against my better judgment, but I decided to spin the wheel of fusion.
I was pleasantly surprised. There’s no adherence to authenticity here, but there’s definitely a sense of whimsy when it comes to finger food. We did a sesame seared tuna ($15) – very lightly seared and well cut – and I stacked it, wasabi, and pickled carrots on top of a fried wonton. The bite was like eating a mix between an American sushi roll and nachos – the perfect bar food. Similarly, between the very satisfying peanut sauce, crisp cabbage, and the act of rolling up, the Thai lettuce wraps made for an awesome crunch.
The sunset over, our mains arrived. My wife had a lobster roll ($23), and I had a Portside Salad with chicken breast ($19). The chicken breast was moist and supple, perhaps even sous vide, based on the fowl’s juiciness. Bacon, crumbled cornbread, sunflower, and arugula made for a really hearty, filling salad.
We settled up happy and scuffled to our coats and our car, stopping only for an ice cream. What better way to cap off a cool summer night? We’d already had salads, wheat beer, and lobster rolls, so why not top it all off with the quintessential summer dessert? Sharing ice cream with the headlights illuminating the tiny ripples of waves off the sheltered bay, all rolling on the summer with the portside.
Portside Tavern | 444 Thames Street, Bristol • 401-396-5149