The Grill at Forty 1° North
A room with a view: At Forty 1 North guests gear up to see and be seen — and spend big. Welcome to a new brand of luxury dining.
Forty 1° North
The Grill at Forty 1 North 351 Thames St., Newport, 846-8018, 41North.com. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week with brunch on weekends. Reservations recommended. Wheelchair accessible. Valet parking.Cuisine Fine and simple: seafood and steak. Capacity More than 100 indoors (including several private dining rooms) and 200 outdoors. Vibe The Kennedy Compound, fifty years later. Prices Appetizers $8–$20, entrees $25–$50. Karen’s picks Raw everything (oysters, tuna, kobe beef), steak, scallops and short ribs.
Key Fair Good Very Good Excellent Half-star
It’s easy to forget Newport’s reign of gilded exclusivity when you’re traipsing down Thames Street on a Saturday night. The countless bars, the vague scent of sticky beer-coated shoes, the college students meandering off the sidewalk on unsteady feet — all images common in most tourist towns. Until you reach Forty 1° North, that is, which may have a Thames Street address but is unexpectedly refined, bordering on restrictive. It’s as if the stork dropped a hotel delivery meant for South Beach, Miami, directly on top of an unsuspecting dock and thought better than to turn back.
The twenty-eight-room hotel is an astounding piece of real estate, with seating for well over a hundred indoors and twice as many on the seemingly endless dock. On a warm summer night, every outdoor seat is occupied as are the lounge chairs that flank a life-sized chess set. (Word to the wise: No one wants to hear a shrill, drunken checkmate! and if you’re prone to such exclamations, you may want to play elsewhere.) Every corner of The Grill is photo worthy: the dining room awash in iridescent mussel shells, a veritable canopy of sleek, lightly hued wood, and just enough fluid mosaic tiles to remind you that the water is always in arm’s reach. Even the servers are outfitted meticulously in uniforms that recall flight attendants as readily as sailors: pristine white for men, a touch of navy for women and boat shoes on everyone. And in an age of unrelenting familiarity, their level of deference to guests of any age is unexpected. “Thank you,” said a gentleman clearing my plate. “It’s my pleasure,” he added, filling my water. “Don’t be sorry for anything,” in response to my apology for crumbing up the table in a most hedonistic manner.
But if there is an air of indulgence at The Grill (and the $50 rib eye affirms it), it is equally matched by the pervasive restraint. People on either side of the check make it clear that they’ve seen it all and don’t care to be surprised, even when it’s a necessary evil. A table of teens quietly texted their way through a $60 raw bar platter, while a group across the room sang “Happy Birthday” in hushed tones to the guest of honor. Both were met with silent approval from the equally well-mannered waitstaff, who pour tap water from swan-necked bottles and dutifully compliment everyone on their attire.
It’s easy to dismiss the food because the real lure is the promise of good weather and even better people watching. Few twenty-somethings can foot the tab here and, consequently, the cocktails are a generation older: Chivas Regal, Jim Beam, good old-fashioned gin, and a sangria studded with frozen fruit that miraculously resembles wine rather than a wine cooler. Three cheers for maturity. It is a pity to overlook the menu though, given that it, too, upholds tradition in an extravagant manner. If executive chef Kim Lambrechts offers a progressive menu at sister restaurant, Christie’s, The Grill is all about the classics. This is not a crowd who wants to ponder their plate or be pushed past their comfort zone. A pat on the back for a life well lived is enough interaction and, in that vein, red meat and seafood monopolize the menu.
Naturally, some dishes manifest decadence better than others. A $16 crab cake is surprisingly anemic while a kobe beef tartar ($18) is appropriately obscene. The conical mold of fattened beef is so rich that it’s more reminiscent of rillettes than a classic tartar — quite a good thing for adipose aficionados. Tuna sashimi ($18) is lighter, more refined, as are mussels ($15), mellow with saffron and just a whiff of white wine.
More than a few diners skip entrees altogether in favor of chilled shrimp and oysters, understandable given the reluctance to swallow a sixteen-ounce steak in eighty-degree weather. Still, however, a shame. Pan-seared salmon ($33) with a vibrant ragout of corn and mushrooms merits attention, even when juxtaposed with a Newport sunset. Same goes for a decadent dish of scallops ($36) that would be simple to pair with a bright salad or smoked bacon, but neither would be true to The Grill’s understated opulence. The deeply seared, snow-white scallops are served with an equally pristine white truffle risotto, the intensity of which is cut only by a fistful of sharp undressed arugula. The unabashedly rich dish speaks to the restaurant’s goal: to refine the familiar, to elevate the ordinary.
Unpredictably — and amidst a surfeit of women poking unhappily at salads — beef is the tour de force. Is it worth fifty bucks? In some cases, and to a certain crowd, yes. The forty-eight-hour short rib ($41) may be the best braised beef ever put on a table. Its formidable bone, likely separated from its muscle a full day prior, rests haughtily on top of a wedge of beef that barely holds its solid form. It’s a magnificent example of conscientious cooking: unbearably tender without distilling the braising liquid to oblivion. Other cuts are pedigreed. Prime rib-eye ($50), filet ($40), sirloin ($49), even Kurobuta pork chops ($35) are an economic extravagance. If all you care for is a well-cooked steak, there should be no issue. If you expect a side (or even sauce) gratis, you’ll likely bristle at the $2.50 surcharge.
With so much luxury afoot, dessert doesn’t dare compete and, like most of the menu, remains steadfast rather than showy. An accomplished creme brulee is tinged with fragrant lavender ($9), fresh berries are sandwiched between feuilletine ($9) and molten chocolate cake is served with crème anglaise ($9). Even a substantial cupcake is filled, rather than topped, with raspberry buttercream. After all, it’s acceptable to know you’re loaded but not always necessary to show it.
It seems incidental to debate the appropriateness of a $400 family meal. It’s tolerable or it’s not, and further deliberation is unlikely to sway anyone. Diners can certainly see where the money’s going, brigade service being only slightly more critical than the aesthetics. Smoldering fire pits, glassfuls of button-size ice cubes, yard upon yard of dock space and perfectly tufted pillows take a good deal of financing. Fortunately, they found a willing audience.