That's Amore: Delicious Date Ideas Around the East Bay

Foodie-about-town Chuck Staton dishes on best bets for an East Bay Valentine’s Day

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Valentine’s Day in Rhode Island is a beautiful thing. If you can get through the bleak, gray days of January, suddenly everything becomes a little rosier when February 1 rolls around – helped along by the rows of pink and red greeting cards and candy packaging in every grocery store and pharmacy. While it might still be cold and even snowy, there’s nothing quite as warming as sitting down to a Valentine’s meal with the one(s) you love. And in the East Bay, there’s no shortage of restaurants that will come through in spades (and hearts).

 

Castle Hill Inn, Newport

With the added accolade of recently being named one of the Top 100 Most Romantic Restaurants in America by OpenTable, Castle Hill is a bullseye for Cupid’s arrow.

Newport’s reputation is that of an upscale, historic, seafaring community – awash with boat shoes, bowties, and seersucker suits. If pretending you’re a suave socialite from The Great Gatsby for the day is your Valentine’s style, there’s no better place to embrace the cultured aesthetic than Castle Hill Inn.

Originally built as a “summer home” for Harvard marine biologist Alexander Agassiz in the 1870s, Castle Hill overlooks the Atlantic Ocean and allowed Agassiz to stay close to the sea life he studied, while taking part in Newport’s burgeoning mansion scene. Over the years it morphed from a personal seaport sanctuary to a temporary Naval base during World War II, and finally into the glamorous and bougie coastal hotel that it is today.

But the grandeur doesn’t stop at the hotel rooms. The dining at Castle Hill, led by Executive Chef Louis Rossi, is exquisite. Split between two areas – the Dining Room and The Lawn – the culinary intention is to take the elegance of the establishment and translate it into mouthwatering, upscale dishes. The Lawn is obviously more suited to the summer, providing a view of the East Passage and a Terrace Bar focusing on cocktails and all the shellfish you can eat.

In winter, and especially on Valentine’s Day, you’ll want to settle into the glowing warmth of the dining room. This year, with a three-course menu priced at $92 per person, we’re talking appetizers like rigatoni carbonara with red king crab, egg, and guanciale. Entree choices such as sauteed rose fish accompanied by kabocha squash with root vegetable minestrone and Rohan duck duet (pan-roasted breast and braised leg rillette) are on the table. For dessert? You get to pick between red velvet soufflé, passion fruit vacherin, and (my personal favorite) their chocolate tart.

 

Revival Craft Kitchen & Bar, Warren

If you’re looking for a more rustic, laid-back date, Revival has you covered. Situated along the Warren waterfront, the craft kitchen and bar has made a name for itself over the course of the past three years with its locally sourced ingredients and unique takes on New England standards. Perfectly suited to be a warm refuge, the restaurant represents a welcoming neighborhood tavern – a place where you can cuddle up in a corner with pillows, or with a cocktail
by the bar.

Even the decor at Revival is built on comfort: rich browns, tans, and grays make up the color palette, and the moody lighting beckons you to stay a while. Perfect when you’re looking to lounge and get lost in conversation with your date.

On top of the dreamy atmosphere, the menu at Revival is, simply put, outrageous – and it’s awesome for couples because these dishes are built for splitting. The Burrata Slate is a combination of Maplebrook Farm burrata cheese, shaved prosciutto, fig marmalata, walnut pesto, balsamic reduction, and grilled Tuscan bread. The Revival Fall Mac and Cheese comes with roasted root vegetables and brown butter breadcrumbs. The roasted butternut squash pizza comes with goat cheese, caramelized fennel and onion, baby arugula, and truffle honey. The Marsala Braised Pork Osso Bucco is a monstrous shank, and comes with braised local greens, crispy bacon bits, and is contrasted with Vermont cheddar grits.

Those four dishes together, split between two people, is a flawlessly balanced meal for a Valentine’s Day that breaks through the winter chill to leave you warm and satisfied (in stomach and in heart).

 

The Beehive Cafe, Bristol

The Beehive is consistently at the top of my list for breakfast in the East Bay. Straddling the line between downtown and the waterfront, the best word to describe the Beehive is “delightful.”

For some, Valentine’s is more about the day than the night. When you walk into the cafe, be prepared to be overloaded with warm tones, blonde wood, and natural light. Immediately in front of you sits a bakery case that is brimming with temptation: banana bread, lemon squares, chocolate hazelnut biscotti, and all types of cookies ranging from gluten-free chocolate chip to straight up fudge – the list goes on, and has continually evolved.

But bakery items are only a piece of the pie at the Beehive. The cafe has a coffee selection that ranges from traditional everyday offerings to special seasonal drinks like their Toasted Marshmallow latte. If part of your evening includes cozying up with a warm, tasty, caffeinated beverage, they’re prepared to help you chase those winter chills away.

For the past few years, they’ve been doing their “Hot Date Dessert Night” every February 14, offering up desserts like Black Forest Chocolate Torte or Lemon Blackberry Pavlova while also treating you to cocktails and tapas. This year, with restrictions constantly changing, plans aren’t yet set at the Beehive, but for a V-Day wake-up you’ll definitely be able to grab some of their top-notch hearty breakfast items. Whether it’s the Beehive Biscuits with grilled tomato, fried egg, arugula, and four-cheese sauce on their rosemary biscuit, or my personal favorite, the Butternut Cornbread Hash with tomato, spinach, cheddar, and two eggs on the side – you can’t go wrong with breakfast from the Beehive.

 

Norey's, Newport

Casually sitting on Broadway, Norey’s feels like they brought in a set designer to create a laid-back, artful, hip-and-homey bar where you can laugh with friends over good beer and good food. Norey Cullen originally opened Norey’s Star Restaurant for breakfast and lunch in 2000, and her son Tyler began working in the kitchen. By 2009, Tyler had his own aspirations about turning Norey’s into a hangout that would provide an enormous selection of craft beer to Newport and beyond.

With mood lighting throughout and just the right amount of red neon lighting glow, this is the place for the romantic beer connoisseur, or just about anyone looking for some creative, thoughtful food in a casual environment. With fun picky dishes like Barbecue Pork Belly and East West wings, Norey’s is a catch-all for every type of diner. If you just want to chat over some appetizers, you’re set, but if you want to leave with a (very) full stomach, they’ve got chicken and waffles that come with sauteed pears, onions, and sherry maple syrup. Other standouts are their oysters Rockefeller, truffle parmesan fries, Bolognese, and a beef stroganoff that will bring the house down.

I stopped in for dessert on Valentine’s Day last year after hearing amazing things, and I was so impressed that I literally had to talk myself out of immediately ordering a second crème brûlée. The dessert menu is constantly revolving, but coconut cake, peanut butter and jelly bread pudding, and cream cheese-frosted banana carrot cake have all been known to make the rotation. If you want to experience more than one option on this list, Norey’s needs to be your afterhours sweets spot.

 

Vienna Bakery, Barrington

I wanted this list to cover fun, diverse ideas for Valentine’s Day, with an emphasis on “diverse.”

I love getting dressed up with my girlfriend and going to fancy restaurants. I love prix-fixe meals prepared carefully by a thoughtful chef. I love the idea of attending a private pop-up Filipino dinner with new-to-me dishes like kinilaw ceviche.

But I also absolutely love the idea of just grabbing some extra saucy pizza strips, a few fresh bakery calzones, and heading out on a too-chilly picnic to laugh with someone I love.

Variety is the spice of life. There is no perfect Valentine’s Day. However, there is a perfect “pizza strip” and you can find it at Vienna Bakery in Barrington. Even though it’s more of a square, I am so sure of its perfection, that I’m willing to meet anyone who disagrees behind a Job Lot and settle this with a coffee milk drinking contest.

Vienna Bakery not only makes delicious pizza strips, but also perfectly sized calzones with options like traditional meatball, buffalo chicken, and, of course, their classic spinach pie. They’re about the size of your fist, so you don’t have to feel guilty grabbing two – or three, or four (because calories don’t count on Valentine’s Day, right?).

Along with their savory options (which include their incredible stuffed eggplant pizza) Vienna Bakery pulls out all the stops for their beautiful Valentine’s sweet treats each year. Strawberry and chocolate mousse cake, red velvet whoopie pies, and their super rich chocolate-covered strawberries are all tantalizing, even to go.

After you pick out all your baked goods, pull out of the Vienna parking lot, drive down County Road, bear right at Rumstick, and take a left on Chachapacassett. You will find yourself in the vicinity of Barrington Beach. Pull an old blanket out of your trunk, bundle up because it’s mid-February, have a seat with your favorite person, clutch those calzones, and just watch the waves crash on an empty beach.

Taste the pizza strip.

That’s amore.

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