When we go out, my family indulges in lavish affairs of the dining kind. Although we can’t necessarily relish our culinary outings as frequently or liberally as we have in years past, the opening of safe dining in restaurants has allowed us some nice reprieve from the confines of home, school and work. Some of my extended family prefer more upscale ordeals, which have been fairly hit or miss, in my experience. When you’ve been carted around all day sightseeing or traveling, sometimes you just want some feel-good food in a place where you aren’t confounded by the contents of the menu or insecure about the formality of your clothes. Suffice to say, even a foodie like myself may not appreciate all the merits of fine dining (which I’ll probably discuss in another week). Then again, once in a while, I’m treated to a restaurant fairly out of my price range that I am oh so grateful is being covered by my uncle, so that I may savor its offerings to the fullest. For example, my family and I enjoy our seafood, especially considering the abundance of fish and fresh catches my parents would eat when they lived in the Philippines. We definitely think it’s worth the money, however, you can’t help but notice the price when you’re ordering something.
One dining experience that has continued to stick with me is Matunuck Oyster Bar in Rhode Island, which my family and I first ate at in November 2018, and recently returned to two weeks ago. We first traversed to the restaurant on a blustery November night with my cousin and her father’s direction, as the former attended Brown University at the time and had frequented Matunuck with my uncle several times before. Our party was fairly tuckered out after having toured Brown’s campus, and a 45-minute ride to a place I could barely spell incited little interest at the time.
When we arrived, the restaurant was fairly unassuming, with a white gravel parking lot characteristic of the ocean, with a small gray building and adjoining covered porch. Most places my uncles and aunts bring me to have a more formal dress code, which I was prepared for; however, I was pleasantly surprised by the comfortable atmosphere in the restaurant. The classy interior signaled to a refined experience, with a glass wine cellar and gray matte paneling. However, it wasn’t sophisticated in a way that intimidated, just made you appreciate the detail of the place. We were seated in the heated outdoor area that overlooked the water – albeit it was dark already, so the view was lost on me – and I noticed that most of the other diners were dressed down. Matunuck Oyster Bar prides itself on a comfortable, friendly atmosphere, which is mostly what I got from my two times there.
The coastal establishment is perched on a dock next to the supplying Matunuck Oyster Farm in South Kingstown, is marketed as “pond to plate,” considering the shellfish farm’s location in Potter Pond. The use of fresh produce from their organic vegetable farm on the edge of the pond – which is referred to throughout their menu – only further exemplifies the quality of food that Matunuck Oyster Bar serves up. Like most other seafood places, the restaurant cycles through various specials depending on what’s in season and what could be reeled in. Combine that with elevated eateries’ desire to continue to provide unique dishes to its patrons, and you’ve got the sweet spot that Matunuck Oyster Bar has struck with their solid main menu and rotation of exciting specials.
The first, exquisite taste I got of the restaurant’s offerings is probably why I still rave about the place to this day. It was an unassuming bread basket accompanied by herbed olive oil, customary of many other eateries. Yet, even at first glance, I could tell they weren’t just your typical dinner rolls. Each was pillowy soft and brushed with a savory herb butter that complimented the oil, of which I could taste notes of lavender and sage. I usually devour the bread given by restaurants, but trying those had only made me admire the superiority of these.
As for the food we actually ordered, I can’t remember the complete specifics of what we got two years ago. At the very least, I recall we ordered the pesto pasta with shrimp (which is still on the menu), a salmon and faro dish with a Moroccan flavor profile and what really blew me away, the special of swordfish dressed with a decadent lobster butter: a succulent, sweet, hearty piece of swordfish with generous chunks of lobster – I’m salivating thinking of it now. In our recent visit, my sister and I both ordered the scallop dish, which I’ve now learned they continuously offer on the main menu, just cooked with a different composition of flavors and ingredients every few weeks. This time, the seared scallops were served up with a rich butternut squash risotto, cauliflower cream sauce and a fresh offering of vegetables straight from their farm. My mother ordered the tropical mahi-mahi dish with a pineapple salsa and mashed red bliss potatoes, while my father got the Chinese-inspired swordfish with sticky rice, hoisin sauce and snap peas, both of which were specials. My uncle got the stuffed lobster with even more seafood inside, which is just as extravagant and delicious as it sounds.
What I mostly remember from my first experience at Matunuck Oyster Bar was being impressed by the complementary and complex flavors of each dish, further enhanced by the quality of the ingredients and sizable portions for the price. In short, you can tell the detail and thought of the restaurant in creating the dish, from crafting the components to actually serving it up. Furthermore, the ambiance is classy but comfortable, not seeming exclusive or intimidating to the casual diner. In our second visit, we were seated in the corner of the newly-built expanded outdoor space – now in broad daylight, where we could appreciate the shining waters and bustling space at a safe difference from others. Comparing my experience from 2018 to this year, the restaurant has only built on what I appreciated in the first place, and is more than worth shelling the bucks (or clams) out for.