One of my favorite things about living in Rhode Island is the ability to feel like you’re away on vacation even for a single meal. When I was recently invited to enjoy lunch at Ocean House’s latest dining concept Dalia, there was no hesitation. I’ve been smitten with the butter-yellow grand Victorian hotel sitting high on a bluff since first sight, and the eatery being named after the national flower of Mexico, an extraordinary bloom, made the prospect even dreamier.
As the full name implies, Dalia by Dantón Valle boasts a menu of contemporary Mexican dishes and drinks curated by Valle, Ocean House Chef de Cuisine, Seasonal Restaurants. Originally from Mexico City, Valle has made a career of specializing in culinary operations at high-end destinations. But don’t let all of this luxe talk intimidate you because Dalia is an affordable place to have a delicious meal with priceless views of the seaside – and of course, Taylor Swift’s RI HQ.
For the uninitiated, pull into Ocean House’s circular driveway and be prepared to be greeted by a valet (for non-hotel guests, there is a valet parking fee of $5 for the first two hours). From there, the restaurant is downstairs and you will be seated outdoors on the Seaside Terrace. Dress is resort casual, shoes and shirts, and you might want to bring a light jacket or sweater for any cool breezes.
The day that my guest and I visited Dalia was one of those cloudy summer afternoons – perfect for dining al fresco. The hostess was affable as was each attentive server. Our culinary adventure began simply with cups of coffee, and we appreciated that it was local brand Dave’s, served piping hot. Noticing we might be chilly, our main server wheeled a heater our way and offered us blankets. She inquired about any food preferences and I mentioned not eating cheese and my guest being a vegetarian. With a bit of caffeine in our systems, it was time to take a break from gazing at our surroundings – both the hotel exterior, blue and white awnings, and of course, the beach – and focus on the menu.
Starting with aperitivos, we ordered a sampling which included guacamole topped with roasted pineapple and pumpkin seeds, an unexpected but very nice addition that added sweetness and texture without detracting from the classic dip. Along with a woven basket of crispy tortilla chips came a wooden tray holding six ramekins making up what can best be described as a salsa flight. We were informed that each contained combos of fresh ingredients ranging from spinach and tomatoes to chipotle, habanero, peppers, salt, and sesame seeds. Our server suggested we try them all – a tasty tour. Additionally, I ordered Croquetas de Atún, balls of creamy tuna each housed in a crispy shell, presented playfully over wide circles of chipotle aioli on a turquoise ceramic platter.
We already felt quite full when it came time to decide on our main course. The tantalizing menu lists ensaladas and ceviches with tropical touches like hibiscus syrup, pepitas, and cactus, and there was also a selection of tortas – a sandwich with street-food origins. However, I couldn’t help myself; I had to try my current go-to: shrimp tacos. My trio of Camarón arrived on a wavy holder. Each tortilla was filled with large whole shrimp cooked to tender perfection and topped with jicama slaw and drizzles of lime aioli; bits of celery added a nice crunch.
Growing up, I thought pound cake was just about the worst dessert ever, but the Panqué de Elote – a corn cake baked a la Valle’s grandmother’s style – put that notion to rest. This was no dry slab, but a round golden cake topped with a few raspberries and orbited by spheres of the creamiest vanilla ice cream, scattered pecans, and a scribble of cajeta (caramel sauce).
Like the flower it’s named for, the restaurant has a brief season and runs weather permitting through September 25, Thursday through Tuesday from 11:30am to 9pm.
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