Dining Out

A Spanish Inquisition

A return visit to one of South County's favorite special occasion restaurants

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Spain in Narragansett is one of my “go to” restaurants whenever there’s a special occasion, or when we have out-of-town guests. This is because Spain has never let me down. It is consistently good – make that very good – when it comes to the food and premium service you expect in a fine dining situation.

I’m not alone in this way of thinking. You can drive by Spain almost any night, and the large parking area is overflowing with cars. Step inside this restaurant, which resembles a Spanish villa, and the entire place is often packed with people. This includes the main dining area with its rattan seating and trademark waterfall, the upper level with its cathedral ceiling, the spacious cocktail lounge, and the outdoor patio. Ah, the outdoor patio... Is there a prettier place to dine in Narragansett? I think not, but for that exquisite experience, we’ll have to wait until next year now that fall is here.

Spain generally does not take reservations, but if you call an hour before you plan to arrive, they will put your name on the call-ahead list. This is what we did on a recent Sunday night. Our party of four was told there would be just a brief wait for our table. We headed for the lounge, and we were just getting into our mojitos when our name was called. We were led upstairs and given a lovely table that overlooked the flower-filled patio below. Beyond that, we could see the beach houses of Point Judith and the Atlantic Ocean, dotted with sailboats and fishing trawlers out of Galilee.

On past visits, we’ve always started our dinner with the Artichoke Hearts ($9), stuffed with a savory mixture of smoked ham, spinach and fresh herbs. But on this night, we thought we’d give the Calamari ($9) a try. A fine decision, indeed. The pan-fried squid rings were tender and enlivened with the addition of mild and hot peppers.

The Picasso Salad ($7) caught my eye, mostly because it sounded so different from all the usual salads I see on restaurant menus. Two key ingredients – artichoke hearts and avocado – also appealed to me, served over baby greens, red onion and endive with a vinaigrette made from balsamic vinegar, olive oil and fresh basil. I was not disappointed.

Our entrees came from the beef and sea sections of the menu, and three out of four were spectacular.

From the sea, the Baked Stuffed Lobster ($41) was the star of the evening, winning rave reviews from one of our guests. It had to have been at least a two-pound lobster, splayed open and overflowing with a well-seasoned stuffing consisting of crab, shrimp and scallops. Already cracked open for easy eating, the lobster offered up its sweet meat, made all the better with a dunk in melted butter.

Once again, I chose to dine on a dish seldom seen in other restaurants – Basque Style Filet of Sole ($20). But there was more to this than just a fish filet. The flaky sole was surrounded with shrimp, clams and mussels still in their now-open shells, all in an aromatic broth of white wine and garlic. On the side, there was enough buttery saffron rice to feed a small family, as well as a vegetable medley of carrots and broccoli.

Only Brian’s New York Sirloin ($22) was less than what we expected. The 16-ounce charbroiled steak was quite chewy. The topping of roasted garlic was deliciously sweet, but the lemon sauce just didn’t seem right on this cut of meat. A far better choice was the mushroom-topped Filet Mignon ($25) served to our other guest, generous in size and so tender. This is one of the signature dishes for which Spain is so well known, and rightly so. Both beef entrees were served with small mountains of outrageously good mashed potatoes and that standard vegetable medley. With this kind of food, you can’t go wrong with the house Sangria ($20 for a large pitcher), which thankfully was not overly sweet.

Brian and I couldn’t even think about dessert, but our guests wanted a sweet ending to their memorable dinner. The Crème Brulee was rated “excellent,” and the Frangelico Cheesecake was rich and creamy with the unmistakable flavor of hazelnuts.

Spain is a very successful restaurant even in these dubious economic times. It has remained a year-round destination restaurant for many reasons – the outstanding service, the upscale atmosphere that isn’t too formal for a beach community, and, of course, the generous portions of both unique and traditional dishes that provide something for everyone.  By any measure, Spain is exceptional.

Linda Beaulieu is the author of The Providence and Rhode Island Cookbook, available at stores throughout the state.