Review: Hang Ten at Chair Five
The Narragansett eatery is all about the view.
1208 Ocean Rd., Narragansett, 363-9820, dinechair5.com.
Open Mon.–Fri. for lunch; dinner nightly. Reservations accepted. Wheelchair accessible. Valet and parking lot.
Cuisine New England seashore meets Asia.
Vibe Surf bunnies whose parents are footing the bill.
Prices Appetizers $5–$12; entrees $10–$28; dessert $7–$15.
Karen’s picks Burgers and fries, dessert and the cocktail of your choosing.
Key Fair Good Very Good Excellent Half-star
Creamy quahog chowder. Blistered shishito peppers with spicy sesame aioli and purple shiso. Funnel clamcake with lemongrass remoulade and bacon powder.
There are two owners of an ocean view: the graying aristocratic elite in an Adirondack chair and the inked up, wetsuit-wearing surfer, whose lifelong job is to remain twenty-five. The former gets off on money; the latter on shooting the curl.
Of course, the old guard has already staked its flag in the ground in Newport and Watch Hill. And, in response, the new one has just put down roots at the Break, an airy shingled sixteen-room hotel on the Narragansett shore.
An endeavor that’s driven by both local and national interests — the Durkin family and Lark Hotels — the Break isn’t interested in overtaking the beach as much as partying on its shores. It’s a hyper-glossy bonfire with plenty of designated spaces for hanging out and looking pretty.
Decor is Tory Burch meets Hans Wegner, a mixture of preppy and midcentury that aspires as much as it alludes. Teal and beige dominate in fluid form that mimic sea and sand because everything at the hotel pays homage to a (highly stylized) surfer’s life. The fourth floor bar looks out over the ocean but, in bad weather, people nestle inside on plush sectionals and club chairs to discuss the day’s waves. If they need to eat while rehashing the adventure, Chair 5, the ground floor restaurant, is staffed with servers who speak the language.
The kitchen is run by an equally young crowd — “younger than I am,” says a waitress who looks as if she’ll be casting a vote in her first election. That decision seems intentional: Character is essential and the scenery demands an easy-going affect that just barely covers ambition. “I’m sorry,” says a pink-haired server to a thirsty visitor. “We just kicked the tap on the IPA. But give me five minutes and we’ll get another going.” Could you really ask for anything more as you stare out over the pool and consider how to leave employment behind in favor of a lifelong tan?
Of course, there may be the occasional drawback as well. The high season comes with a certain degree of chaos and life experience may be the only tool to calm a belligerent guest old enough to be your mother. On the bright side, young chefs want to make their mark and have no trouble deviating from tradition. So while there are standards on the menu (lobster rolls, clam chowder, calamari), chef Basil Yu clearly adds an Asian air to a New England menu and it’s almost always for the better.
There are a handful of entrees but smaller plates are the way to go. Yes, fried Brussels sprouts are becoming old hat but Yu mixes in hominy, pepitas, garlic chips and harissa ($5), creating a textural circus that genuinely surprises. What he’s good at is fun food that embodies its surroundings; it’s all beautiful but it can’t try so hard as to suggest exertion. Even the burger ($15) impresses on a house-made brioche bun, stacked like a Playskool toy. “Seriously terribly good, right?” says the server as she delivers the draft. Yeah, seriously. The burger is topped with pickled onions and buffalo sauce — bright and spicy — and sits on top of a brick of smoked and fried mozzarella cheese. Served with five spice fries and gochujang ketchup, it’s an overt indulgence in the same way that a day in the sun is; painful after the fact but well worth the price you’ll pay.
The more composed dishes are inconsistent. Crab salad with Asian pears and jicama ($13) longs for a shot of acid but is still a worthy plate of cold, sweet shellfish. Short ribs served with papaya are only successful if you appreciate warm meat with cold fruit. Curried lamb chops translate more like quick roasted shanks.
But Yu can play around with the classics proficiently. Lobster rolls ($18) arrive hot with tarragon-pistachio and deeply charred lemons; clam cakes are served funnel style; fish and chips are elevated with a tomatillo tartar sauce and gooseberry chutney. Simple is a good approach to take at Chair 5 as the fundamentals are a welcome surprise without getting confused.
Cherry coconut popsicle with dark chocolate, honeycomb crunch, crystalized flowers and lavender ganache.
Where the kitchen unexpectedly shines, without exception, is dessert. Every dish matches the almost relentlessly cool aesthetic with just as much wit. Peanut butter doughnut holes are served with strawberry rhubarb jam in a classic throwback. But the cherry coconut popsicles ($7) go further. Lying on a bed of lavender ganache and sprinkled with pieces of dark chocolate and honeycomb, it’s your childhood amped up ten decibels and without the awkward stage.
The real reason, however, to stay long after the sun sets and the seawater is only distinguished by sound, is an ice cream sandwich ($8) that rewrites summer in epic form. One might argue that a toasted marshmallow is a particular art all its own. But turn those burnt sugars into ice cream and Yu could probably lay claim to something major in the improvement of Americana. Wedge it between icy slabs of graham flour and chocolate chunk cookie dough — yep, it’s raw — and he should get elected to something. King of Heat. President of Sand. Ruler of All Things Sweet. If possible, bring a small child in for a bite and tell them that life will be all downhill after they finish it.
Hot lobster roll with tarragon-pistachio pesto and salt and vinegar kettle chips.
The obvious truth about any restaurant in a setting as enviable as this one is that every seat will have a taker through September. The better news is that a seat at the Break is well worth taking for the night. Alas, the season is short and the waves are the only real competition for attention — for diners and staff alike. “My bikinis and crop tops are ready when the shift is over,” reassures one waitress balancing five plates. “I’m stoked.”
Chill with a beverage by the hotel pool.