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Rhode Island’s Best Calamari

Thursday, April 12, 2012

 

On a recent trip to Southern California we were amazed to open a menu and find "Rhode Island Style " calamari. We knew people loved our version with garlic and oil and cherry peppers, but to see it flying out of a kitchen 3000 miles from home made us proud. We are actually the squid capital of the East Coast with some 7 million pounds of squid caught in local waters last year. Originally served plain fried, Rhode Islanders tossed it with locally popular ingredients to make it their own. Today, chefs here continue to push the envelope with different flavor profiles and textures. We set out to find five outstanding versions and came back with these...

Mario's Risto Bar, Cranston

It was our first visit to this traditional little Italian restaurant, owned by a husband (and chef) and wife team, the Santillis. It's a charming place in a Old World kind of way, and judging from the large Saturday night crowd, we'd be happy there. And indeed we were. One thing caught our attention immediately: a special calamari dish featuring fried squid tossed in wasabi. Last we checked, wasabi wasn't Italian! But it piqued our curiosity, so we ordered a plate. Alas, the waitress brought the wrong dish; it was their traditional calamari, tossed with balsamic vinegar, olives, and red and banana peppers. It smelled and looked heavenly, so we insisted she leave it. It tasted as good as it looked and smelled: salty olives, sweet peppers, hot peppers, the tang of the balsamic, and calamari so light and crisp it seemed nearly impossible. Absolutely delightful! 20 Haven Ave. 942-1009, www.mariosristobar.com

Parkside Rotisserie and Bar, Providence

We simply adore this chic Providence favorite as much as everybody else does. Thank heavens owner/chef Steve Davenport remodeled after the fire the property suffered last year; we can't imagine the local restaurant scene without Chef Davenports’ delicious rotisserie chicken, pork and beef as well as the other delightful and well-prepared menu items. The calamari here is something to write home about for two reasons. First, it's hard to get those rings of squid to fry up -- and stay -- light and crispy. And if you have had heavy, soggy calamari, you know how tough and unappealing it is. But each and every time we've had it here it has been crispy and tender. Best of all, it is served alongside a puree of banana peppers that makes for a different but delicious dip. We love it with a glass of Prosecco while sitting at the bar.76 South Main St. 331-0003, www.parksideprovidence.com


Los Andes, Providence

We know you don't immediately think of a Bolivian restaurant when you think of calamari, or seafood for that matter, but Los Andes is one of the most popular spots in Providence for fresh fish. The ceviches at Los Andes are legendary. We ventured in to taste what all the buzz was about and came away very impressed. One happy side effect of the visit was discovering Calamare al K'allu. Sweet, spicy, and perfectly crisp, this version has traditional flavors like garlic and tomato. And non-traditional flavors like mint, choclo and queso blanco. All these flavors combine for a delicious version that is finished with a decidedly local drizzle of balsamic vinegar. We were torn as to which dish won between the ceviche and the calamari as both were outstanding, but we are happy to say we will be back very soon! 903 Chalkstone Ave. 649-4911, www.losandesri.com

 

The Canfield House, Newport

There are few restaurants in the state that can boast the history of the Canfield House. Once an invitation only casino for the wealthiest Americans, a brothel and a pub, the Canfield House is cool in a classic Newport way. We love the pub downstairs but really love the ornate dining room upstairs. You are instantly whisked away to the turn of the 20th century with high vaulted ceilings and call buttons on the wall from a bygone era. We love the new and exciting food coming out of the kitchen and especially the calamari. This is not Richard Canfield’s calamari with wasabi aioli crema, sweet soy glaze, green onions and toasted sesame seeds. The squid was crisp and not at all rubbery and the sauces were the perfect escape from the usual versions. There is something about enjoying food like this in a classic setting that makes it seem somehow more adventurous. 5 Memorial Blvd. 847-0416, www.canfieldhousenewport.com

La Cucina, Smithfield

We can’t remember many local Italian restaurants that have ever served breakfast, lunch and dinner, but La Cucina is literally an oasis in Smithfield. From 6 pm through closing at night, there are only two hours of the day that you will find La Cucina closed. Diners in the western side of the state have been flocking here for authentic Italian food for a while now and we were happy to follow. What we found was a huge menu of Italian comfort food. Fresh fish, creative pasta dishes and plenty of chicken and veal are the order of the day here but we were drawn to the Calamari in Padella. Pan fried calamari is tossed with a cherry tomato salsa, hot pepper rings and a tangy lemon aioli. The key here is that the calamari is perfectly fried. It’s a difficult thing to do with pan fried calamari and they do it right at La Cucina and the sweet and tart cherry tomato salsa is a nice touch. 266 Putnam Pike, 349-4130, www.lacucinari.com

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