Great Expectations – With a stunning dining room and an unrivaled view, the bar is set high at Newport’s Spiced Pear. Fortunately, the food more than measures up.
Photography by Madeline Polss
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Spiced Pear117 Memorial Boulevard, Newport, 847-2244, spicedpear.com. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Reservations recommended. Wheelchair accessible. Parking lot. Cuisine Upscale American using seasonal ingredients and French technique. Capacity Twenty-four in the main dining room, a dozen and a half in the “veranda room,” and a private dining room for a ten. Vibe Gatsby’s dream come true. Nobody needs Caspian Osetra cavier at $175 an ounce, but, oh, is it tasty. Prices Appetizers $12–$24, entrees $36–$90, desserts $10–$15. Karen’s picks Country fried foie gras, grilled rib-eye, and nearly everything else on the menu. Vals’s desserts are a must. Key Fair Good Very Good Excellent Half-star
File “resort chef” under jobs not meant for the faint of heart. Or ego. Given that few locales can thrive in all seasons, it’s a career move that comes with an often unavoidable slow season, when a dearth of customers can cause even the greatest of chefs to question their self-worth. And yet, the luxurious Spiced Pear in Newport manages to acquire some formidable talent. The lure for their newest chef, Kyle Ketchum? Try the freedom that a nearly unlimited budget can buy.
When the restaurant first opened its doors four years ago to a panoply of praise, many assumed it would put our small state on the culinary map in much the same way Al Forno did two decades earlier. But, surprisingly, its presence has been far more subdued than many expected. In fact, much of the news lately has swirled around staff shakeups rather than gastronomic acclaim. The original chef, Richard Hamilton, left to vie for a position in the White House kitchen, an interim chef came and went, and, finally, Chef Ketchum left his post at Michigan’s The Lark and settled in at the venerable Chanler Hotel.
Ketchum has done so without altering the blueprint that established Spiced Pear as a gastronomic destination: Decor remains lavish, technique complex and, I am happy to conclude, taste exquisite. Oh, and price? Still astronomical. While many of Newport’s restaurants are scaling back panache in order to squeeze entrees in under $20, Ketchum follows Chanler tradition in offering a chateaubriand of Kobe beef for $80 a person.
Indeed, everything about this twenty-room hotel speaks to lavishness as a way of life or, at the very least, for an isolated evening. Grandeur was built into the walls of the nineteenth-century stone mansion, and its relatively small restaurant does everything in its formidable power to support the structure.
The dining room is designed around one of the state’s most spectacular sights: an Eastern view of the Atlantic that seems to languidly lap the shore from such dizzying heights. Couples are seated next to one another on lush velvet banquettes—so that no one person can eclipse the scenery—and presented with orange-sueded menus, often echoed in the fully bloomed roses. The reaction from guests is one part awe (“I feel like a Vanderbilt!”), two parts entitlement (“You couldn’t convince me to vacation in Aspen again for anything in the world. I’m over that scene.”). Yet even a jaded cynic such as me was moved to appreciate the sheer beauty of the surroundings and the faultless efficiency of the staff.
In fact, I was halfway to nirvana when an aggressive piano player entered the picture. I’m not sure how a full piano found its way into the modestly sized dining room, but it did so with Broadway score a-blazing. It bears mentioning simply because it was my only complaint over the course of three memorable dinners. But I say this: To interrupt the meditative movement of the ocean with a jingly rendition of “These Are a Few of My Favorite Things” is—at best—a questionable decision.