A new restaurant smack in the center of Newport is bound to make us nosy. Once there was a name to associate with the striking yellow exterior, we just had to go in. Bar ‘Cino is the Italian-American bar you thought it would be, and it’s really fun.
Bar ‘Cino continues the revitalization of Washington Park. For a time in Newport, the only place to grab a drink on this square was at Stoneacre Brasserie and Jane Pickens Theater, where dark ‘n stormys were sipped with a Maggie Smith movie alongside the white-hair brigade. The heart of Newport wasn’t exactly pounding.
Bar ‘Cino keeps the bar front, back, and center, splitting the room lengthwise into equal parts long dining room, long bar, and long open kitchen. The menu is set up for sharing, with enough snacks that you don’t need to be dining. The wine list is Italian-focused, with lots of by-the-glass and half glasses to taste. The cocktail list was summery, with plenty of Italian flair, and the small draught list only has a touch of Italy.
Close to the far end of the bar, I thought we had the best seat in the house. As we split our bottle of Verdicchio ($40) we watched pizza char and pasta get sauced. We began with a fairly modest arugula and cannellini bean salad ($10), as well as a fig, goat cheese, and prosciutto bruschetta ($14). The bruschetta is something you order knowing exactly what it should taste like. It didn’t disappoint. The prosciutto was shaved razor-thin in delicate little mounds.
As we munched and watched the kitchen, our hunger grew. Head Chef Mariana Gonzalez hustled about, with an ever-present smile and no signs of stress. An open bar is a double-edged sword for chefs. Mariana was made for it though, having a chat here and there, gathering feedback with a smile. This is a very personal, open kitchen, for a very personable chef. Her team was well-oiled and clearly enjoying working with her as well, making for a very pleasant, bustling scene.
Mariana’s not just a cheerful face though. We had the roast salmon in a bright red pepper sauce, but without the boot-leather treatment the other customer requested. The only thing that went back was an empty plate ($22). We learned it was her first job as head chef, having moved from The Mooring. “That’s why I’m smiling all the time,” she said.
My paccheri ($17) made me smile. Everything about this dish drove in one unified direction. Roasted chicken, pulled rustically into chunks with big paccheri pasta, nothing dainty. There was a bold bang with the in-season broccoli rabe and a few whole cherry tomatoes. The glue holding everything together was the char. Flecks of smoky fish swam in the sauce, creating a layering of flavors with overwhelmingly earthy, provincial feel. It was at once very warming and also undeniably a bite of summer.
Next, we had a pistachio ricotta cream layer cake ($8) and a scoop of salted caramel gelato ($4). I adore pistachios, and despite the light texture of this cake, the flavor was rich and nutty. The dessert should have been our send-off. But, compliments of the chef, an errant pizza suddenly appeared on the bar, alongside some shears, to split with our neighbors. The anticipated indigestion and inexperience with pizza scissors aside, we enthusiastically dove in. The pizza was the perfect combination of chewy and crispy. We’ll definitely be back for more.
22 Washington Square, Newport • 401-619-8201