Raising the Bar in East Greenwich

With tropical cocktails and tapas-style dishes, Kai Bar proves there’s more to pub food than sliders and wings

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When it comes to bar food, “gourmet” isn’t usually a word we use to describe it. When I think about bar food, I think about nachos, burgers, pizza and chicken wings. Those are all things I love to eat, but sometimes I crave something a bit more refined when I go out with friends. That’s why I was so excited to see the menu at Kai Bar in East Greenwich. It’s bar food for those with a sophisticated palate.

Kai Bar is the latest addition to East Greenwich’s bustling Main Street, in the spot where Alex and Ani used to be. Looking at the pictures on Kai Bar’s website before my visit, I was expecting a small space, but when I got there, I was pleasantly surprised to see how much more spacious it is in person. The restaurant is long and divided into two separate rooms. Both rooms have bar seating and plenty of lounging room with cushioned stools and benches. The vibe is upscale seaside and very welcoming – comfortable yet sophisticated. Every table had a deck of cards on it, inviting groups of friends to relax and stay for the night.

Tending the bar on the night we were there was none other than one of the owners of Kai Bar, Jason Kindness. Jason is a bartender with street cred, having worked at the Revolving Door in Newport and won a regional Bombay Sapphire Cocktail Competition. The cocktail list leans to the tropical side of the beverage spectrum, though it includes a barrel-aged Manhattan and Jason was also willing to create something off-menu and unique. I ordered the delicious Paloma Cabrito ($11), which included tequila, fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice, Polar dry grapefruit soda and habanero bitters. The spice from the habanero was subtle and overall the drink had great balance. My craft beer–loving friend ordered a Whalers IPA ($6).

The food menu at Kai Bar is eclectic and there’s not a burger to be found on it. Everything is tapas-style and made for sharing. When we sat down, we were pleased to learn that most of the menu was half-priced for Happy Hour. The kitchen is run by head chef Derrick Marquiss, who earned his stripes at the Revolving Door and Stoneacre Pantry, both in Newport. The menu is divided into three sections – snacks, cold plates and hot plates. The snacks section is filled with finger foods – think truffle parmesan popcorn, spiced nuts and marinated olives. We opted for the Sourdough Bread ($3) and Charcuterie ($16.00). The bread, from the Pain D’Avignon Bakery in Hyannis, was warm and delicious and served with honey butter on the side. I can’t resist a charcuterie plate, so even though it wasn’t included in Happy Hour, I splurged and enjoyed the pâté, prosciutto and apple relish. Though not mentioned on the menu, a pile of house-made pickles arrived with the charcuterie plate and were really good.

From the cold plates section of the menu, we tried the Tuna Poke ($12). This was one dish we couldn’t get enough of. The tuna was finely diced and sauced with sesame, ginger and sriracha and then finished with crispy puffed rice. We were fighting for every last bite in the bowl – it was that good.

On the cold night we visited, we sampled the Brussels Sprouts ($8), Parisian Gnocchi ($15) and Flat Iron Steak ($18) from the warm plates section of the menu. The Brussels sprouts were roasted and served with a whole-grain mustard sauce and big hunks of pancetta. These are not your mother’s overcooked Brussels sprouts. I don’t know why Brussels sprouts are suddenly all the rage, but when I see them on a menu, I have to order them. The gnocchi were impossibly light and, combined with a bite of the tender braised short rib and a smear of the ricotta cheese, produced a symphony of flavors. The steak was tender and well seasoned and we loved the crispy shallots (because why wouldn’t you?) and grilled asparagus on the side.

My friend and I both enjoyed our night at Kai Bar and are already planning to go back with more friends. We left pleasantly full (we’d eaten a ton of food) but did not feel as guilty as if we had stuffed ourselves with typical bar food. Jason also told us that, starting this month, Kai Bar will be offering a brunch menu on the weekends. Sign me up and save me a Paloma Cabrito!