Thursday, July 4, 2013

Newport, Rhode Island: Rain or Shine

Newport, Rhode Island is certainly one of the premier vacation destinations in all of New England. It’s home to the Newport Jazz Festival, the beautiful cliff walks, the International Tennis Hall of Fame, luxery yachts, and tours of some of the most extravagant summer cottages you’re ever likely to see (although you or I would call these mansions). All that aside, what always attracts me to a vacation spot is the food and accommodations. With some 102 bed & breakfasts on the island, along with scores of local pubs and some great restaurants, Newport is also a destination to be considered for foodies.

In the end, this was an amazing trip; even if the weather did its best to scare us away. Following suit, in what’s been a year of constant rain and humidity, Newport was covered in a dense fog with cold winds blowing off the bay. There were times that you could have convinced me we were in Scotland. However, Newport isn’t just about the wharf and water-themed activities. The island is home to some of the most amazing mansions you will ever see, remnants of another time, where the blue bloods of our country would vacation for only two months out of the year. Many tours are now audio only, but a number of guided tours do still exist and they were excellent.

Rough Point, the home of Doris Duke, is run by the Newport Restoration Foundation and was one of the most interesting destinations on our trip. Unlike many of the other homes that have been empty for many decades, Doris Duke was still living in this home as of 1993, giving it a truly unique feel, as you can still imagine her in our time. What’s more, this wealthy philanthropist was also quite quirky, having not only one of the most beautiful art and antique furniture collections—but also camels on her property. It was a great tour of a truly beautiful home that’s full of history.

Another tour of note was the Servants Life Tour, run by The Preservation Society at The Elms. The Elms was the home of Edward Berwind, who made a fortune in the coal mining industry. This home, completed in 1901, was gigantic and had all of the most advanced technology of the time. The Servants Life tour showcased how the other half lived with a tour of the inner workings of the mansion. False fronts, inlaid buttons and trellises covering service entrances made it to seem as if the house worked by magic—without us ever seeing a servant in the public rooms of the home. It also sported its own coal fired furnaces, large ice making machine, and an 82-stair climb up to the servant’s quarters. It was an amazing tour.

What else was there to fill our time as the mist and rains continued to roll in? For one thing, our Bed and Breakfast was fantastic, and one of the best I’ve ever stayed in. La Farge Perry House is a Victorian-era home located in the heart of historic Newport. An easy walk to all the attractions, fine dining, shops and the wharf. The rooms were beautiful, elegant, comfortable, and even larger than expected from the pictures we had seen. The breakfast was excellent, home-cooked and perfectly prepared. However, what truly set this apart from other Bed and Breakfast experiences was the warmth and hospitality that was not only ingrained in the home itself, but in our innkeeper.

Never before have I felt so welcomed at a Bed and Breakfast, so able to enjoy all of the public rooms and everything the house had to offer. I found myself enjoying coffee with our innkeeper at the early hours of the day. The surrounding gardens and porch made for a beautiful backdrop, as well as a great location to spend the evening (at least when it wasn’t raining). I’d be hard pressed to recommend another Bed and Breakfast over La Farge Perry house; it was one of the highlights of our trip.

Then there was the food and dining, which ended up being one of the more difficult parts of our trip. In the end, what we learned was that our next rip would be planned a little differently. Usually, I’ll seek out one or two formal dining experiences on vacation. However, it became quickly apparent, as I asked around with the locals, that the reservations I had made before arriving were at the wrong places. Newport has a number of formal dinning rooms attached to a pub or bar that really don’t make the cut. Of these, The Black Pearl and Clarke Cooke House were the two that fell short. The food was dated, poorly cooked and covered in thick, rich mother sauces.

Enough of the bad though. On the good side, we left with a list of great restaurants (local approved) to try on our next trip, as well as some fine places we found while we were there. In my last post, I spoke of the Wharf Pub and Restaurant and The Fifth Element. Another to add to that list is the Salvation Café. Salvation Café was a relaxed, colorful and inspired location that reminded me of something you might find in NYC’s East Village. The menu was inventive and not afraid to list staple dishes (glazed short ribs) right next to dishes that tempted the imagination, like the rabbit sausage or vegetable and herb gnocchi.

On our list for next time, The Thames Street Kitchen and Tallulah on Thames. I’ve been assured that these two spots will easily make up for my fine dining let-downs at the Wharf.

As for wine, we brought our own and enjoyed a wonderfully refreshing bottle of Paumanok Chenin Blanc (my note can be found below). However, I also stumbled upon a small wine shop, The Newport Wine Cellar, attached to a specialty foods store, Le Petit Gourmet, with a selection of wines that I might have thought came straight from my cellar. Literally, the shop owner had a great selection of Italian wines that I love from Paolo Bea, Montevertine, Aldo Conterno, and Brovia. The store was staffed by knowledgeable and passionate wine lovers, and even one with his own new blog, The Penniless Wine Snob, worth checking out. These shops are definitely worth a visit, whether it be for a great bottle of wine or to put together your own picnic for the beach.

In this end, this was a great trip, and I would recommend Newport to anyone, rain or shine, looking for a unique vacation spot.

2012 Paumanok Chenin Blanc - Upon first opening, the 2012 Paumanok Chenin Blanc was stubborn on the nose, but with a little time in the glass, blossomed beautifully with ripe pit fruits, a spritz of lemon, stoney, chalky minerals and fresh herbal tones. On the palate, a hint of sweetness was counterbalanced by green apple acidity with ripe green melon and beautifully soft textures. The finish was dry with citrus pith and minerals lingering through the close. (89 points) Find it on: Wine-Searcher!


  1. Incredible! Thank you Eric for sharing your Paumanok Chenin with us on YOUR vacation!! I bow with highest respect and gratefulness. You inspire and reflect passion and honesty. Still working on the blog!! Raise a glass, cheers.

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