It’s the first weekend in August and we’re headed to Newport, Rhode Island for the jazz festival with four other couples. If you follow my blog regularly, you know the drill: I do endless hours of research to determine where we will dine. On this trip, I’m only planning dinners. We are going to wing it the rest of the time, particularly since the jazz festival is the priority. It’s not the easiest thing for me to be spontaneous when it comes to dining. So I let go somewhat reluctantly, wondering how we ever are going to eat a decent lunch without knowing exactly where to go. But it’s been a busy summer, so I’m actually grateful for the respite.
But then, my crazy seems justified when our first foray into the dining scene is less than satisfying. We wander into town for lunch. Let’s just say that the local person working in the tourist booth is really not the best judge of a good lobster roll. As we’re eating, I realize I can’t remember where I’ve made a reservation for dinner, and I’ve neglected to put the information in my phone. I’m hopeful that it will come to me at some point. Moments later we glance upwards from the restaurant deck where we’re lunching and there it is. It’s a fluke! The restaurant where we have our reservation for dinner looms above us. I won’t go into detail about this meal other than to say that our very enthusiastic server goes overboard in her praise of the cuisine. Way overboard. While the menu presents some interesting options, the execution is simply one note. Like Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney, we are not impressed.
I am beginning to lose faith in Newport. I can’t help but feel let down after two disappointing meals, particularly one that was the result of much research. I guess that all the preparation in the world can’t always guarantee success.
Then comes dinner at Tallulah on Thames and suddenly everything changes. Our Newport dining experience is elevated. Sort of like Gabby Douglas performing a routine on the balance beam or uneven bars.
The creations of Chef Jake Rojas make me feel as if I’ve been transported into one of my favorite television shows on The Food Network or Bravo. The food described on Chopped or Top Chef always sound so incredible that I often wish I could pop into the television for a taste. I feel as if I have done just that.
The atmosphere at Tallulah on Thames is elegant but not stuffy. The servers don’t fawn or fuss, but are competent guides. The restaurant offers a three course prix-fixe menu for $55. Although it should be noted that there are upcharges on so many of the menu items, it is difficult to actually have a meal for $55. The menu is divided into three sections: Farms + Fields, Air + Water + Land, and Sweet + Savory. I am initially not thinking about ordering three courses, but I do want two courses and it’s only a couple of dollars more for dessert. So, why not?
This photo of Tallulah on Thames is courtesy of TripAdvisor
I begin with native heirloom gazpacho with compressed melon, mint, basil, shallot, and cherry tomato. The liquid is poured table side over a wondrous architectural display of ingredients. Unfortunately I am so stunned by the beauty of the dish that we neglect to take a picture before the liquid pour. Therefore, what you see in my photo looks a bit disheveled. After a few seconds it doesn’t matter, as I dip my spoon into the sweet and slightly spicy soup. The flavors are remarkably intricate. Sigh.
My husband has an heirloom tomato salad which blends burrata, mint, basil, olive oil powder, and watermelon. Seriously beautiful and exploding with flavor.
My entree is lobster with coconut basmati rice, piquillo pepper, cherry, kohlrabi, Thai basil, and curry nage. Sweet lobster, sour cherries, Asian accents. I can’t ask for anything more. This is one of my favorite dishes of the year. I feel as if I’ve just won an Olympic medal for ordering well. (If this isn’t an Olympic event, it should be.)
Those who have ordered the swordfish argue that they have won. The meaty fish is accompanied by basil pesto couscous, watermelon, heirloom tomato, and a blend of Moroccan spices. I must admit that this fresh and innovative dish is an equal competitor to the lobster. I declare it a tie.
For dessert I’ve selected rosemary panna cotta with blueberry confit, cardomam granola, and candied fennel. The savory candied fennel and rosemary pairs nicely with the granola to lend texture to the creamy panna cotta. Love it!
One of my friends comments that this meal is a gastronomic experience of epic proportion. I cannot top this sentiment.
The next day six of us are waiting for a boat to take us to the second day of the Newport Jazz Festival. My phone rings. It is a recorded message from United Airlines. They have cancelled our 7:30 pm flight home due to weather. It is noon and this seems somewhat preposterous. The other four members of our group are already at the festival. They happen to be heading home on a Southwest flight to Baltimore. While they enjoy the festival, the rest of us scurry to figure out how to get home. Ultimately we end up missing the festival and driving from Newport to back to Dulles Airport to retrieve our cars. It is a disappointment to say the least. Our vacation doesn’t turn out completely the way we planned.
I am reminded of Jordyn Wieber, the Olympic gymnast who didn’t qualify for the all-around competition, but subsequently helped lead the U.S. women’s team to take the title. Life is full of all kinds of ups and downs. In Newport, we experience a low in not being able to attend the entire jazz festival. But at least our dinner at Tallulah on Thames is a gold medal winner.
Tallulah on Thames, 464 Thames Street, Newport, RI