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Fresh air and fresh food at the Manisses

Fri, 07/31/2020 - 10:15am

Dining on Block Island isn’t just about the food. It’s also about the ambience and, in many places, the view.

Hotel Manisses hits the mark on food and view—their garden setting for dining is one of the prettiest on the island. Sprawling lawn and patio areas lend themselves to natural social distancing, so adapting to Covid safety has been easy to do. Flowers and fountains adorn the property, shaded by lovely old trees and large umbrellas on the back patio area. White wrought iron chairs and tables are scattered on the upper level area, and in the distance a swing beckons those who want privacy amidst the greenery. Guests enjoy craft cocktails by the fire pit and the lounge area indoors offers live entertainment twice a week. Limited indoor seating in the dining room and at the bar is also available. A special Prosecco Sunday Brunch is served a la carte in both dining areas and is popular with hotel guests and others staying on the island.

This year the restaurant is offering a Prix Fixe menu; three courses for $38. Chef Michael Hervieux creates his menu based on whatever is fresh, local and in season. His relationships with local farmers, butchers and fishermen help him create dishes that are “elegant with a rustic influence” — when the ingredients are good, you want to let their taste be the star of each plate. A Native Scallop and Corn Chowder boasted three plump grilled scallops so tender that I could cut them with a fork. The smoky broth gets flavor from bacon, potatoes and leeks and a little cayenne pepper gives a kick to balance the sweet creamy taste of the corn and scallops. My salad looked too good to eat—thin sliced beets of various hues sat atop a bed of deep green watercress, peppered with candied pecans and a bright citrus champagne dressing that complimented the tang of Vermont Creamery goat cheese dollops. Bistro Steak Frites was a meaty delight. A perfectly marinated coulotte steak adorned with chimichurri had a beautiful sear, and the hand-cut frites were nicely seasoned and crisp. A lobster tail—yes, the actual tail— was added to our entree and it too had a great smokey flavor. Our dessert was a childhood treat all grown up—S’mores Panna Cotta turns the campfire s’more outside in by putting dark chocolate in a glass jar, adorning it with mint and graham crackers, and adding the toasted marshmallows on top. We savored every last bite.

The Manisees has an extensive craft cocktail menu and I sampled two of the most unique. A Garden Gimlet perfectly matched my surroundings, limoncello, cucumber vodka, Prosecco and mint was as crisp and flowery as the flora surrounding the patio. Bartender David Bates believes that “we eat with our eyes first, then nose, then tastebuds” and his Island Greyhound brings that philosophy to life. A beautiful pale pink beverage with a sprig of fresh rosemary looked refreshing and cool. The smell of the rosemary comes second, then the sour taste of freshly squeezed grapefruit juice mixed with grapefruit-infused vodka and Cocchi Americano Pamplemousse. As someone who doesn’t love sweet drinks, this cocktail was one of the best I’ve had in recent years. David tells me that their Espresso-Tinis are “the best on the island” and I can imagine sitting in the garden sipping one on a quiet afternoon in this oasis so close to town yet peaceful in this beautiful pastoral setting.