call first Thursday - Saturday 5:30 pm -9 pm
First dinner visit Friday, July 6, 2007
Five of the seven tables in the small dining room were already filled when I arrived for my first dinner visit at 7 pm. The waitresses were popping corks and customers were chatting vigorously. I headed for a stool at the tiny bar with a view into the kitchen.“What are you having?” says the chef from the kitchen doorway.
“Sea bass or salmon,” says I.
“It’ll be salmon, I just prepped up the last of the sea bass,” says he.
“With lemon butter, black bean pineapple salsa or would you like me to do my thing?” says he with a grin.
“Be my guest,” says I.
After I’d worked my way through most of the warm, moist baguette, out comes a culinary gem. Pan seared salmon, moist, pink in the center, coated with teriyaki glaze, white and black sesame seeds, sliced red peppers, and snow peas, perched atop roasted Red Bliss potatoes. A tiny morsel of sea bass, the last piece left in the kitchen, was nestled onto the pile.
“My son caught a 35-pounder in Newport today. None of it’s going to waste,” says he. “I’m sitting at the bar next time I come here,” says I to myself.
Business partners Janice Dey and Rita Tartar opened the business in 1992 as a gift shop that morphed into a micro catering business. Over time, they got more adventurous, opened for lunch a few years ago and dinner in April 2006.
The modest 26 seat Westporter is the tip of their culinary empire. The wait staff hauls as many as 600 catered lunches and dinners from the tiny restaurant to local destinations on a summer weekend.
Staff carries catered lunch out the door
But Ms. Dey has more on her plate than producing fine food.
“The new wave in our business is ‘food miles.’" Dey says. "Why buy tomatoes from Tennessee when you can find them within a 50 mile radius? The idea is to support local farmers, fishermen, and ranchers. The true green aspect of finding good food locally is that less energy is used in shipping, refrigeration, and handling.”
There are no shortcuts to preparing great food. Experience, training, intuition, dependable sources for whatever enters your kitchen are givens here. Chef John Harrington scours local markets, farm stands, and docks for what appeals to him then devises a Thursday to Saturday menu. If he sells out of a dish, he finds something else for the next night that rings his bell.
Second Dinner visit, Saturday, July 14
I bring a house-guest to The Westporter for dinner. She reads cookbooks for pleasure and whips up startlingly tasty gourmet dishes as a way to relax. She has kitchen ‘cred.’
One appetizer and two entrees later, The Westporter had bolstered its reputation. Her pan seared salmon and grilled shrimp is served with a tangy, light tomato-based sauce. The salmon is sautéed to a pink center, the shrimp char-smoky and moist with a slightly lemony marinade. ($15.95 Petite)
The ginger garlic glaze with my Harpooned Swordfish is slightly sweet with a seditious little kick, perhaps chili oil we guess, and served with sour cream mashed potatoes, and a medley of sautéed julienned sweet red pepper, zucchini, and yellow squash. The sauce is layered and subtle, the kind that stops you mid-bite to wonder, “How did he do this and not overpower the fish?” (Entrée $17.95)
The appetizer nearly stole the show. A bed of baby spinach with tiny cubes of tomato, cucumber, red onion, julienned carrots, crumbled goat cheese and grilled shrimp in a light lemon vinaigrette dressing was elegantly simple and wowed us from the get-go.
Next time you head for Horseneck State Beach for the day, find your way to The Westporter for dinner before you head home. If the weather is lousy, drive there anyway. There’s always a little bit of sunshine peeking out of the creative little kitchen there.Menu July 5-7, 2007
Gazpacho cup $3.50, bowl $4.50
Littlenecks steamed in beer with chourico, tomato and garlic $7.95
House salad with mixed greens, onion, carrots, cucumber and tomato with balsamic vinaigrette $6.50
Baby spinach sautéed with warm bacon, goat cheese, cucumber, red onion, tomato $8.50
Pan seared salmon and grilled shrimp with black bean pineapple salsa
Petite $15.95 Entrée $18.95
Grilled filet mignon with crumbled blue cheese, cracked pepper, cabernet reduction sauce
Petite $18.95 Entrée $22.95
Local Sea Bass (striper) with ginger lime garlic glaze
Petite $15.95 Entrée $18.95
Shrimp Scampi with garlic, basil, olive oil, and white wine sauce
Petite $14.95 Entrée $17.95
Seared Chicken Breast with Italian plum tomato and basil sauce
Petite $13.95 Entrée $16.95
Note: "Petite" servings, especially if you're having an appetizer, are sufficient for most appetites.
Vegetable: Local summer vegetables
Starch: Garlic roasted potato or Tuscan white beans
Strawberry rhubarb crisp with whipped cream $4.50
Assorted fruit sorbet $4.50