Block Island has myriad options for casual dining and bar food, but what about if you want something a little fancier? Hotel Manisses is a boutique hotel with only 17 rooms, so I was surprised to find that it houses the relatively large, upscale Manisses Restaurant on its lower floor. The restaurant impresses both indoor and out. The recently renovated indoor dining area has a polished beach-house feel, mixing turquoise and gray for a sleek, contemporary vibe. If you prefer to sit outside, which we did on a breezy summer evening, you’ll be pleased to see a number of tables wrapping around the periphery of the dining room. The restaurant doesn’t have water views, but the rest of our Block Island visit was filled with beach vistas, so I appreciated the serenity of the garden, with its beautiful flowers and trickling fountain.
As we looked over the cocktail menu, I felt a twinge of embarrassment. My husband wanted to order the Blue Manisses, but neither of us was sure how to pronounce the restaurant’s name. Is the final “es” silent as it would be in French? We had to laugh when our waitress admitted she wasn’t totally sure, either. We forgot our predicament when the drink arrived, a strong martini with lemon vodka, muddled blueberries and basil. I was looking for a refreshing drink without alcohol, so I was thrilled that the bartender could make the Spicy Citrus Mojito without the rum. The flavor of grapefruit, orange and lime juices (and the jalapeño, of course) more than compensated for the absence of spirits.
Craving ocean flavors after the day’s sun and sand, we both started with seafood-based soups. My husband ordered the Scallop Lobster Bisque and I, the Spicy Crab and Corn Chowder. I was expecting to feel jealous of his bisque, but my chowder won the soup competition: it was more flavorful and had just the right hint of spice.
Next, we shared the Pan Fried Smoked Gouda appetizer. A large portion of breaded and pan-fried cheese was attractively plated with arugula, tomatoes, pesto, olive oil and edible flowers. I liked the creative use of smoked gouda in this dish. We eagerly made use of any leftover pesto on the warm house rolls, served in a napkin matching the turquoise color scheme. Taking our time, we shared the Strawberry Salad as well. Frisée made a lively base for bright colors and flavors: fava beans, strawberries, cucumber, pistachio and large Parmesan shavings.
I was drawn to the description of Seared Day Boat Codfish, which was served over lobster risotto, wilted spinach and checca sauce, a fresh,
uncooked tomato sauce. The risotto contained much more lobster than I expected. My husband ordered the Swordfish a la Siciliana. We loved the bold flavors of olives, capers, raisins and pine nuts in this dish, and the red quinoa made for a creative base. With it, he had a glass of the D’Alfonso Del Sordo Catapanus Bombino Bianco from Puglia, Italy, a bright and lively wine with a slight tropical flavor.
We hardly had an appetite left for dessert, but we were enjoying our seats in the garden and wanted to prolong our meal. The desserts at Manisses Restaurant – at least, the two we ordered – are surprisingly large. I chose the Pear Ricotta Mousse, served between layers of pistachio joconde, a thin sponge cake. The two wedges on my plate were almost as large as slices of pie, and I couldn’t finish them myself, though I did enjoy the traditional spiced pear and cinnamon flavor combination in the mousse. My husband ordered the Warm Hazelnut Brownie. It was satisfying and quite large, but I didn’t mind assisting.
After a couple of hours relaxing in Manisses’ garden, we suddenly realized we needed to catch the last ferry back. That’s part of Manisses’ advantage – it’s barely a five-minute walk from the terminal, if you can still walk briskly after those desserts.
251 Spring Street, Block Island