Best of New England: Rhode Island

Dining

Italian : Upscale
AL FORNO
For 30 years, chef-owners (and spouses) Johanne Killeen and George Germon have crafted homages to the specialties of northern Italy, where food contributes as much a sense of regional identity as the landscape does. Now, Al Forno is inseparable from Providence’s own culinary identity — and is still one of the most coveted tables in town. // 577 S. Main St., Providence, 401-273-9760, alforno.com.  

Ice Cream
GRAY’S ICE CREAM
For generations of Rhode Islanders, a day at the beach isn’t complete without a trip across the bridge to this drive-up stand and general store in picturesque Tiverton Four Corners. Since the 1930s, Gray’s has sourced its milk fresh from local farmers, and churned it into the thick and creamy essence of summer that is the envy of frozen-dessert makers across New England. It now boasts more than 30 handmade flavors, including the ever-popular coffee and more-adventurous options like ginger. Also check out Gray’s second outpost on the Bristol waterfront. // 16 East Rd., Tiverton, 401-624-4500; 259 Thames St., Bristol, graysicecream.com.  

Bar Food
TINI
The fact that it seats just 19 adds an air of exclusivity to this bar/eatery run by Al Forno owners Johanne Killeen and George Germon and partner David Reynoso. But with a creative cocktail menu, a wine list filled with inexpensive European bottles, and an affordable lineup of small plates (everything from a three-bite “Tini-Weenie” hot dog to Angus steak tartare), the offerings are anything but inaccessible. // 200 Washington St., Providence, 401-383-2400, thetini.com.

Bistro
PERSIMMON
Bistro is a term so often thrown around it has virtually lost its meaning — which makes it all the more shocking for gastronomes when they find a perfect example in sleepy Bristol, a Rhode Island town best known for its sea views. Chef-owner Champe Speidel serves a chic, market-driven menu (like warm roasted beet salad and sous-vide chicken with handrolled gnocchi) in an elegant yet understated 38-seat space. // 31 State St., Bristol, 401-254-7474, persimmonbristol.com

Cheese Selection
LA LAITERIE
Cheese always comes first on the menu at La Laiterie — both literally and figuratively. For an appetizer, choose from an array of varieties, described without pretension. (Something from the “sticky, washed, and stinky” category, perhaps?) Cheese also stars in many main courses, such as the heavenly baked mac and cheese and the southern-style pimiento grilled cheese sandwich. If you haven’t had enough by the time you finish dessert, the restaurant runs a cheese shop, Farmstead, next door. // 186 Wayland Ave., Providence, 401-274-7177, farmsteadinc.com

Italian : Casual
TRATTORIA ROMANA
This restaurant competes with the best Italian spots on Providence’s Federal Hill — which is surprising given its location in Blackstone Valley. Chef-owner Luciano Canova, a Rome native and graduate of the Culinary Institute of Italy, serves hearty portions of his country’s favorites, complemented by an extensive wine and martini list. // 3 Wake Robin Rd., Lincoln, 401-333-6700, trattoria-romana.com.   
 
Locavore 
LOCAL 121
Even the mirrors and artwork at this Providence “It” restaurant are crafted by local artists. That’s because the owners, state Senator Josh Miller and his wife, Nancy, have made ecological sustainability a priority since opening up in the rehabbed Dreyfus Hotel. But whatever an eatery’s ethics, it couldn’t succeed without the food — and Local doesn’t disappoint. A bacon-y Matunuck clam chowder and a grilled flatiron from Maine’s Wolfe’s Neck Farm are just two of the standouts. // 121 Washington st., Providence, 401-274-2121, local121.com

Romantic 
THE SPICED PEAR
When it comes to restaurants, “luxury” too often boils down to lush décor and an expensive wine list. The Spiced Pear has all that, but the true luxury of this seaside restaurant at Newport’s Chanler at Cliff Walk is in the way the staff strives to make every couple, on every night, feel special. That attentiveness ratchets up the romance, which is carried through by a rotating menu of such splurgeworthy contemporary New England cuisine as Berkshire pork tenderloin with vegetables and herb gnocchi, and seared diver scallops with madeira-truffle jus. If the weather’s fair, request a table on the terrace to complete the experience. // 117 Memorial Blvd., Newport, 401-847-2244, spicedpear.com

Seafood
THE BLACK PEARL
This 44-year-old Newport institution is really three restaurants in one. On summer days, the waterfront patio is filled with patrons slurping the signature chowder until the sun sets over the harbor; inside, the Commodore’s Room surrounds diners in posh New England style, and the more-relaxed tavern gets rowdy with sailors at night. What’s consistent throughout is the fresh seafood  — entrées like sea scallops with bacon, mushrooms, and cream, and a shellfish medley swimming in lobster sauce inside a buttery puff-pastry shell. // Bannister’s Wharf, Newport, 401-846-5264, blackpearlnewport.com

Tavern
THE WHITE HORSE TAVERN
Newport’s White Horse has everything you might want from an upscale urban tavern — a history going back 338 years (one proprietor was a pirate); gracious service by smartly dressed waiters; and a menu of hearty old-school classics that are anything but staid. Roasted Narragansett clams, mussels and frites, individual beef Wellingtons, and butter-poached lobster come out of the kitchen as warm and comforting as they did the day they were invented. // 26 Marlborough St., Newport, 401-849-3600, whitehorsetavern.us

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