Saturday, November 3, 2007

TWE Hits the Road: Newport, RI

We've skipped town this weekend and come up to Rhode Island for the Women Chefs and Restaurateurs National Conference in Newport. We're staying at the Beech Tree Inn, located at 34 Rhode Island Ave. So far our only meal has been breakfast at the inn, and so I dutifully report thereupon. The fruit salad had me worried, as it was clearly half-canned, half-fresh. Canned pear, canned mandarin orange sections, fresh apple and banana, grapes of indeterminate provenance...for this I got up? Jim, the innkeeper, took our order, and shortly thereafter our food arrived and the day looked brighter. I ordered blueberry pancakes with a side of bacon, and Jim convinced me to try a tiny serving of homefries. The pancakes were adorable, about the size of large coasters, and bursting with fresh berries. None of those frightening blueberry buds that sometimes speckle the purplish wares of soulless bagelries--these were the real deal. The bacon managed to be crisp, but not overdone, walking the thin line of satisfying both Nick and me with its level of cookedness. And the homefries! Cubes of potato with diced onion and green pepper that left behind a trail of savory, delectable goodness and had me scraping my plate so as not to miss a bit. Nick had the purportedly "famous" French toast, which was made with pumpkin pie-type spices and indeed earned its reknown. I find most French toast pointless, but this was delightful. And now, back to bed.

Thursday, November 1, 2007


675 E. 11th St (Ave C)

I had high hopes for Matilda. Mexican-Italian fusion has possibilities, and newly coined words like “Tusc-Mex” made my ears perk up. The restaurant is in a sweet space on East 11th Street, just west of Avenue C, where a parade of alternating Spanish and Italian words marches its way along the wall to the left as you walk in. A bar serving tasty-looking concoctions is on the right. Our waiter was friendly and quick to note which menu
items were his favorites, citing in particular the homemade pappardelle with oxtail ragù, which we ordered, and the shrimp tostada, which we did not.

We began the meal with Rucola con Ananas e Ricotta Salata, a salad of baby arugula with pineapple, avocado, ricotta salata cheese, and oregano dressing. Late October isn’t exactly pineapple season in these parts (does New York have a pineapple season?), and so the fruit was sweet enough, but stopped short of succulence. The cheese and other vegetables tasted good and fresh, but if there was actually oregano dressing on them, I sure couldn’t detect it. I asked the waiter for some extra dressing, thinking that sounded better than just “some dressing,” and he brought me cruets of oil and vinegar. The Chilaquiles alla Toscana were listed under soups (Zuppe/Sopas) and described as tortilla chips bathed in a fresh tomato, onion, basil, and chile de árbol sauce, topped with ricotta salata. The friend dining with me named this his favorite part of the meal (stay tuned to see how tough the competition was), but I found it somewhat boring, boasting more heat than flavor, and decent only if any given bite included ricotta salata.

The heartily recommended pappardelle came next for me. I’m ordinarily not an oxtail orderer under any circumstances. In this case, however, as the adventurous soul with whom I share most of my dinners out wasn’t there to continue his search for the perfect ragù, I took one for his team. This was a disappointment: the pasta was overcooked, bordering on mushy, and the ragù was woefully underseasoned. I rarely add salt to anything at restaurants, but it was the only way to render the dish interesting enough to eat. You have to be careful taking advice from strangers. My friend had the quesadillas with prosciutto, mozzarella, and basil, and in addition to the prosciutto’s saltiness overwhelming everything in its wake (although, admittedly, such is the nature of prosciutto), the tortillas were burnt. We shared Mexican chocolate gelato for dessert, and it was the expected lovely mix of spicy and chocolatey, but also a little melted on arrival. Still, it may have been the best of what we had.

Matilda is playing with a great concept and could do a lot to make it work. But potential can only go so far when the kinks aren’t ironed out of the execution. It is my hope that continued tasting and testing will lead to a final product as exciting as the ideas behind it.