Exploring the bounty of Newport, Rhode Island

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This guest-post comes to us from Mira Advani Honeycutt, author of California’s Central Coast, The Ultimate Winery Guide: From Santa Barbara to Paso Robles.  She frequently contributes wine and travel pieces to the Good Food Blog.

A couple of days before hurricane Irene ravaged the Eastern Seaboard, we were in the idyllic island of Newport. The winds started just as we departed Rhode Island for New York City.

I was joined by my daughter Tasha and after a four drive from Manhattan to Newport, we were ready for lunch at 41 North, a stylish eco-friendly hotel overlooking the harbor dotted with pricey yachts.

I was in Newport to fulfill my seafood fantasy. And was I in for a treat. The hotel chef  Kim Lambrechts respects local bounty from the sea. And his mantra” “Seafood should be handled as fresh as possible,” is reflected in the menu.

The crab cake was unfussy, mixed simply with leeks, chives, celery and aïoli. Lightly breaded, it had just the right crunch.  The lobster sliders? Like I’ve never tasted before. The poached breast meat of lobster was delicately dressed with a touch of aïoli and fresh basil. I could taste Newport’s sea and air in every bite.

“Food should be simple, but cooked and seasoned properly,” says Lambrechts. The Korean chef who grew up in Belgium arrived in Rhode Island two years ago and loves it here. “This is more like Europe where you have farms and local produce.”

Although visitors to Newport generally request seafood, Lambrechts is not limited to it. He looks forward to cooking venison and pheasant in winter. During my visit, he had created a tasting menu for a wine event, pairing a succulent macadamia -crusted rack of wild boar with a Ramon Bilbao Crianza from Rioja.

Our next seafood adventure was at the local hangout Scales and Shells. Here fresh clams and mussels in garlic butter, scampi and scallops in marinara sauce were served piping hot in pans straight from stove to table.

The piece de resistance was the final 9-course dinner at Muse, a restaurant housed in the Vanderbilt Grace Inn. Helmed by noted chef Jonathan Cartwright, the menu offered everything from day boat scallops and pan seared halibut with lobster ravioli to variations on yellowfin tuna and drop-dead decadent desserts. But it’s the velvety taste of fig and foie gras torchon rolled in pistachio dust that lingered on my palate for days.

We couldn’t say adieu to Newport without a stroll along the scenic Cliffwalk, a good way to burn those calories. We got a glimpse of the stately mansions perched high above the Atlantic, one of which, the Marble House will host the Newport Mansions Wine & Food festival, September 23-25. Events include a jazz brunch with Lidia Bastianich and wine tastings with Alain Junguenet and Justin Baldwin of Justin Winery.