Executive Chef Tom Blanchette is the man behind the food at East Greenwich's Finn's Harborside. This is his second year running the kitchen, and he's made big changes to the menu since he started. Finn's is open year round, serving up fresh, creative seafood dishes.
What sets Finn's apart from other seafood restaurants?
Well one of our obvious perks is being located right on the water, and having the option of sitting outside overlooking the ocean, but that's not so unique. I think what really sets us apart is our prices. We have two dining options, downstairs and upstairs. It's nice to be able to sit downstairs and have a check average of about $9 to $13 per person, but we also have the option of sitting upstairs for a more upscale experience at a little bit higher cost. We also have an extensive menu, which includes something for everyone. A lot of seafood restaurants run all the classics, and so do we, but we also try to put some crazy specials on that will pique our customers' interest.
Were you always interested in seafood-based cuisine?
No, not really. My father was a state trooper, but I didn't really like the idea of becoming a cop. I got my first job as a dishwasher at 15, and I had no idea that I would be staying in the restaurant industry, but eventually I started working on the line and I loved it. After I went to Johnson & Wales, I got my first post-grad job here at Finn's where I worked for about three years. It was a totally different place back then, but it's where I got my real introduction to seafood. After a few years I left to run a catering business, which I recently sold to my business partner.
What is your favorite type of seafood?
Well of course I love lobster, but that answer would be taking the easy way out. I love a plate with a lot of color contrast, so I like cooking with white fish like a Chilean sea bass. You can cook that with some wine, butter, sun-dried tomatoes, asparagus and whatever else you'd like and the contrast of red, yellow and green on the white fish looks really nice.
What is a fish that is easy to find locally, and easy to cook with for our readers?
Something that you can find easily at a pretty reasonable price is salmon, and it's a great fish to cook with. You can do a million different things with it, but one way that I love to cook it is to bake it. You can make a nice glaze out of good maple syrup and chopped walnuts, and when the fish is about 90% done, brush it with the glaze and put it back into the oven to caramelize. You don't have to get too eclectic or complex to make a great fish dish.
Many seafood restaurants are only open seasonally. What made you decide to keep Finn's kitchen running all year long?
It's a nice way to get more exposure. A lot of other restaurants are only open for four or five months out of the year.
Where are their customers supposed to eat the rest of the year?
If someone is in the mood for seafood in winter, they're likely to come here because we're still open. It gives us a good chance to get some new customers coming in to try our food that may have gone somewhere else otherwise.
Does the flavor or quality of any seafood change throughout the seasons as the temperature of the water changes?
Quality does for sure. We like to use fish coming from the coldest water possible, because when you buy warm water fish, you run the risk of getting a bad piece of fish that has parasites. We like to use cold water fish that is flash frozen at sea, because it's frozen almost immediately after it's caught, and retains a lot of the quality.
Do you change your menu often?
We're constantly running new and different specials. We try to keep our menu very eclectic and always changing. We've done everything from pulled pork to ribs to baked cod with pesto. We always want a fresh, new option when you come in so that it never gets boring.