Order this... A feast of sights and flavors at The Atlantic Inn
Perched high on a hill overlooking Old Harbor, the quiet pastoral setting of The Atlantic Inn offers a respite from the business of town, beach, and ferry. While there is no dress code per se, the elegance of the gardens, the inn, and surrounding grounds inspires you to put on a linen dress or a nice shirt, sit on one of the classic white Adirondack chairs on the front lawn, order a glass of wine, take a deep breath and watch the sunset with nothing but birdsong and breeze filling the air. The doors to the inn first opened in 1879, and while the porch and grounds evoke a Victorian feel reminiscent of the inn’s older days, the menus at Restaurant 1879 are bursting with fresh local food presented in an innovative and beguiling way.
The talented team at The Atlantic, headed by Executive Chef Denny Gomes, is showcasing local fruit and vegetables grown on-island or close by on the mainland, including game and meat from Hillandale Farm in Rhode Island. In addition, many of the herbs and vegetables used in each dish come straight from owner Ann Marthens’ garden. Chef Denny is featuring more game on this year’s menu. The bar at the inn, a popular spot with returning guests, also has new items for those who visit year after year. Two martinis are standouts: A cold brew coffee martini and the Carol Jean. Named for the ferry, this martini has whiskey, lemon, and house-smoked ginger syrup for a smooth smokey taste. Head bartender Brad Marthens Jr. speaks highly of a couple wines that pair well with the summer menu — a 2017 Rombauer Sauvignon Blanc from Napa Valley, Calif., and a 2015 Brotte Cote de Rhone Carion, a nice medium body red wine to accompany the meat and game dishes. The Sauvignon Blanc is from a small producer that selected the Atlantic Inn along with only two other Rhode Island restaurants to serve this crisp, refreshing wine to complement many of the appetizers and entrees.
Chef Denny started our tasting with a fantastic Shaved Fennel Salad, tossed with endive, red sorrel, honey-toasted pine nuts and a citrus buttermilk mousse. Dressed with a grilled orange vinaigrette that lent a brightness to the dish, the salad is a creamy, light and crisp starter with a great balance of flavors designed to whet your appetite for the meal to come. We also sampled the Spinach and Artichoke Deviled Eggs, a flavorful twist on the traditional appetizer. Our tasting continued with Denny’s newest creation, the charcuterie board. A work of art on a slate plate, creamy chicken liver mousse sits with crystalized ginger peach compote next to dry aged wild boar sausage. Seared Brawn, laden with aromatics, and perfectly seared, is melt-in-your-mouth good especially when eaten with the pickled blueberries that elevate this plate beyond the ordinary. The tartness of the blueberry added an unexpected delight to every bite of meat on the plate. Our final appetizer, the Rabbit Leg Confit, was a wonderful marriage of game and Rosemary, crisp and creamy, sweet and sour. Kohlrabi and pickled raisin slaw cuts the richness of the polenta and the fat of the rabbit in a refreshing inventive way. Our entrees showcased Chef Denny’s and sous Chef Nils Knutsen’s willingness to play with flavors and add creative touches to each dish. Butter Seared Scallops, tender to the bite, nestled in a creamy bowl of chewy al dente homemade orecchiette, charred cippolini onions, bowfin caviar and roasted heirloom tomatoes bursting with flavors of summer. Jalapeno hollandaise added a nice touch of heat to this well-balanced dish. Our final entree was a playful take on pork fried rice. A Chinese five-spice brined Long Bone Pork Chop is accompanied by sweet and sour bok choy, a crispy vegetable fried rice cake, and a cilantro and carrot salad dressed with a gochujang vinaigrette. We found this dish surprisingly light; all the flavor was incorporated into each element of the meal leaving us satisfied but with room for dessert. Pastry Chef Eric presented us with a Strawberry Mint Frozen Souffle that we renamed “strawberry cloud” after our first bites. Light, flavorful, and incredibly delicious without being overly sweet or cloying, this dessert was the perfect ending to an outstanding sampling of an inventive menu.
What everyone is eating/drinking
Restaurant 1879 is both one of the most family-friendly restaurants on the island, as well as a destination for newlyweds, couples, and special occasion dining. Zoe from Tampa has been “coming here my whole life” — since the age of eight. Her favorite dishes this year are the “lobster sliders and the oysters because they’re salty and really really good.” Her mom Blair and dad Jason dined on scallop crudo, buffalo chicken frites, and a fennel salad which Blair “loved.” Rob from Narragansett was here for the first time and pronounced the view “stunning,” and complemented the attentiveness of the staff as well as the wonderful offerings of the cheese board and spicy snack mix. Nancy and Malcolm of Block Island were here for a birthday, and come to the inn for “anniversaries and birthdays.” They both appreciate that the room is quiet enough for conversation and feel the ambience is “relaxed, quiet, and there’s no pressure — it’s very laid back and away from the hustle and bustle of town.” They enjoyed the Ginger Crusted Tuna Steak with Mediterranean black lentil salad finished with a toasted walnut and basil gremolata and the cod special, as well as “outstanding service from one of my wonderful students” says Nancy, who just retired from teaching at the Block Island School. Their menu choices inspired nearby newlywed diners Ben and Sarah from Cambridge to order the same entries which both shared until their plates were clean. In addition to their entrees, the couple thought the Prosciutto and Roasted Tomato Mac & Cheese Croquets and Braised Lamb Dal from the tapas menu were beautifully presented, great on the palate, and complimented by a “fantastic Manhattan.” In the next room, Nat from London was eating with Courtney from Jamestown and Shannon from Cranston. They had just come from a photo shoot at a client’s house and while Nat had been here before, the women went online to read reviews and food photos that whet their appetite after a long day’s work. They agreed that the cheeseboard and deviled eggs were excellent and the Atlantic Rita, Dirty Martinis, halibut special and tuna entree lived up to their expectations.
A feast for the senses, The Atlantic Inn ticks off all the boxes for a great Block Island experience. Amazing view, delicious food, fine dining with good wine as the sun sets over the hill. Not to be missed.