Best of New England: Rhode Island

| |

Lodging

Hotel : Urban
HOTEL PROVIDENCE
Though today’s cookie-cutter “boutique” hotels like to lay it on thick with the neon and the trance music, Hotel Providence emphasizes substance over flash, as it has since it opened in 2005. Not that it isn’t hip — but the hotel’s style is a timeless aesthetic that calls to mind Ralph Lauren as much as Ian Schrager. The 80-room spot has the requisite luxuries — WiFi, pillow-top mattresses, marble bathrooms, high-end toiletries — and an elegant restaurant aptly named Aspire. // 139 mathewson st., Providence, 401-861-8000, hotelprovidence.com

Inn : Victorian
HOTEL MANISSES
Once upon a time, grand Victorian hotels dotted the eastern coastline. Thankfully,
a handful survive on Block Island, none of them more charming than the cupola-topped Manisses, with a speakeasy-style bar downstairs, rooms decorated with antiques, and homey touches — brass chandeliers, decanters of brandy — that transport you back centuries. // Spring Street, Block Island, 401-466-2421, blockislandresorts.com

Inn : Seaside
CASTLE HILL INN
Something about this oceanfront retreat induces a state of utter relaxation. Sure, the bustle of Newport awaits anyone who ventures beyond its gracious rooms, private beach, walking trails, and sweeping views (the one from the Turret Suite’s soaking tub is our favorite). But for us, sipping cocktails in Adirondack chairs before selecting from the locally focused dinner menu provides sufficient excitement to last a weekend. // 590 Ocean Dr., Newport, 401-849-3800, 888-466-1355, castlehillinn.com.  

Romantic Getaway
THE CHANLER AT CLIFF WALK
Whether it’s all those frothy waves or the promise of exotic lands, the ocean inspires romance. Few resorts capture the spirit better than this Gilded Age “cottage” perched over Newport’s Cliff Walk. “Ocean villa” rooms feature grand four-poster beds, fireplaces, and deckside Jacuzzi tubs overlooking the crashing surf. Other accommodations, meanwhile, are decked out in themed décor from Europe of ages past, including English Tudor, Italian Renaissance, and Louis XVI. // 117 Memorial Blvd., Newport, 401-847-1300, thechanler.com.  

B&B
CLIFFSIDE INN
Beds can be great, but everybody knows the best part of “B&B” is breakfast. And this grande dame of Newport pulls out all the stops every morning, with a spread that might include its signature eggs Newport, a delectable mélange of poached eggs, crab cakes, roasted red peppers, and Canadian bacon — plus fruit crêpes, blueberry pancakes, stuffed French toast…need we go on? If that’s not enough, the twice-weekly afternoon high tea is practically a dinner in itself. The other “B” in the equation is no slouch, either: Expect fine Italian linens atop fluffy mattresses, and at least one fireplace in every room. // 2 Seaview Ave., Newport, 800-845-1811, cliffsideinn.com

Resort : Beach
OCEAN HOUSE
Built three years after the Civil War, the Ocean House, with its buttercream-yellow façade, was a welcome sight for generations of beachgoers who came to the scenic peninsula of Watch Hill to play croquet on the lawn and bathe in the ocean. Now, after a $140 million rebuild, the Victorian beauty has updated that elegance for a new era with 49 brand-new luxury rooms, a farm-to-table restaurant, and a spacious spa. The best amenity, however, is one that’s timeless — a private beach beneath the cliffs complete with chairs and drink service. // One Bluff Ave., Watch Hill, westerly, 401-315-5599, oceanhouseri.com.  

Resort : Family
HYATT REGENCY NEWPORT
For being one of the top destinations in New England, Newport can be a frustrating experience for families, with its crowded wharfs, silent B&Bs, and “don’t-touch-that” mansion tours — all of which raise the stress level for vacationing parents. Think of the newly renovated 257-room Hyatt as a family oasis, set across a causeway from the bustle of downtown Newport and featuring outdoor and indoor pools, organized games and activities, and a parklike “Great Lawn” where kids can stretch their legs to their heart’s content. Adults, meanwhile, will appreciate the Five33 lounge, which boasts panoramic views of Narragansett Bay and a killer coconut-rum cocktail. // One Goat Island, Newport, 401-851-1234, newport.hyatt.com.   

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

Shopping

SHOPPING
Women’s Clothing : Casual
GALAPAGOS BOUTIQUE
An old South County farmhouse may seem like an unusual place to find of-the-moment styles, but owners Sandra and David Lanning have filled its two stories with fun fashions and created an energetic vibe. On display is apparel by Tibi, Trina Turk, True Religion, and Diane von Furstenberg. // 5193 Old Post Rd., Charlestown, 401-322-3000, shopgalapagos.com.

Home Accessories
HOMESTYLE
Somewhere between staid classical style and stark minimalism sits a sweet spot of modern, artful design. Interior decorator Lisa Newman-Paratore hits that target with a well-edited collection of home accents and gifts in her Providence shop. Check in for both new and vintage finds, which might range from whimsical wall art to a sleek sofa. // 229 Westminster St., Providence, 401-277-1159, homestyleri.com.

Beauty Shop
MIGNONETTE
Moulin Rouge has nothing on Mignonette, a Little Paris in the heart of Providence created by owner Tara Solon after a stint in Europe. The wine-colored door opens to reveal an irresistibly frilly apothecary/boutique stocked with designer lingerie, more than 300 fragrances from lines like Creed and Bond No. 9, Erickson Beamon necklaces, Diptyque candles, and Lipstick Queen makeup. Ooh la la! // 301 Wickenden St., Providence, 401-272-4422, mignonette.net.

Clothing Accessories
RAGS
It’s part of the laid-back attitude of Block Island that the highest-end clothing shop here passes itself off with such a self-deprecating name. But don’t be fooled: In addition to dresses and swimwear, Rags features accessories like preppy-perfect Eliza B. flip-flops and belts; supersoft Splendid coverups; and satin-flower-adorned handbags by Ella Moss, which look as breezily sophisticated in the city as they do at the beach. // Water Street, Block Island, 401-466-2932. 

Gifts
RISD WORKS
Didn’t know you needed a tearless plastic onion slicer or a stiletto-heel-shaped rubber doorstop? You will after entering this gallery, which proves that sometimes it only takes great design to make the ordinary extraordinary. The delightfully eclectic selection showcases gadgets, accessories, and fine-art prints by Rhode Island School of Design’s most renowned faculty and alumni, including glass master Dale Chihuly, and Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane. // 20 N. Main St., Providence, 401-277-4949, risdworks.com.

Attractions

Animal Experience
ROGER WILLIAMS PARK ZOO
It seems like an understatement to call it a zoo: One of the oldest and best animal parks in the country, this Providence gem has embarked on an ambitious plan to make the exhibits even more user-friendly and ecologically sensitive. After a revamp of its Africa exhibit to provide more space and better views, work has shifted to an interactive children’s zoo and a veterinary hospital. // 1000 Elmwood Ave., Providence, 401-785-3510, rwpzoo.org.

Vineyard
SAKONNET VINEYARDS
Despite earnest attempts by wineries all over New England, the region still lacks luster in producing first-class vino. One happy exception is this seaside winery, founded in 1975 and run by Susan and Earl Samson for the past 24 years. The microclimate here is similar to that of France’s Loire Valley, and has proved perfect for chardonnay and Vidal blanc — a French-American hybrid known for its bright floral notes — as well as some tasty pinot noir and Gewürztraminer. In addition to tastings, the estate offers a café and lots of opportunities for scenic strolling.  // 162 W. Main Rd., Little Compton, 800-919-4637, sakonnetwine.com.

Cultural Event
WATERFIRE 
What started as a one-off lark by a performance artist to install bonfires on Providence’s recently recovered downtown rivers 17 years ago has expanded to a festival that draws crowds every Saturday from April through October. The crackling flames, scent of wood smoke, and fiery glow add a sense of magic to live music performances and street art, filling the city with creative energy. // Providence, 401-273-1155, waterfire.org.

Mansion Tour
THE BREAKERS
This 70-room grand estate, designed for Cornelius Vanderbilt II in 1895, is undeniably the crown jewel of the Newport mansion tour circuit. It was modeled on an Italian palazzo by architect Richard Morris Hunt, and everything here is over the top, from the Baccarat crystal chandeliers to a room paneled in platinum, the rarest metal on earth. What makes visiting the mansion truly special are first-rate audio tours filled with stories not only of the wealthy residents, but also of the backstairs staff who served them. // 44 Ochre Point Ave., Newport, 401-847-1000, newportmansions.org.

Sports Outing
PAWTUCKET RED SOX
While few sporting events beat a summer afternoon at Boston’s Fenway Park, many baseball fans find watching the “PawSox” — that city’s Triple-A minor league team — a more-intimate spectator experience. Jim Rice, Roger Clemens, Kevin Youkilis, and Jonathan Papelbon all perfected their game under the lights of 10,000-seat McCoy Stadium. In addition to bragging rights of saying you-saw-them-when, the $7 ticket price might just be the best deal in town. // One Columbus Ave., Pawtucket, 401-724-7300, pawsox.com.

Source URL: http://www.bostonmagazine.com/2011/05/best-of-new-england-rhode-island/