Food + Wine, Hotel Reviews
Muse by Jonathan Cartwright
Despite the weather turning stormy in Newport last Saturday night, my evening was delightfully warm and cozy –-thanks to the generous staff and tasting menu at Vanderbilt Grace’s Muse restuarant. While the rain beat against the windows, I was happily ensconced in a plush corner banquet surrounded by starched white tablecloths, soft blue walls and flickering glass-shaded candlesticks. Needless to say, I was ideally situated for the weather.
Helmed by chef Jonathan Cartwright, a Grand Chef Relais and Chateaux, Muse is known for seasonal New England fare with an international (read: gourmand) flare. The restaurant has also just been awarded “Best lobster dish in New England” by Rhode Island Magazine for its superb butter-poached smoked Lobster. With such an accolade, I couldn’t resist and made that my first dish of the fairly-priced ($75), prix-fix menu.
I followed up the award-winner, which was quite good – though, I confess, lobster with mayo and a buttered roll is more my speed – with an intermezzo of white tomato soup with basil dumpling. Not only is the idea of an intermezzo fantastically indulgent, but the soup itself, was wonderfully light – the mark of a good intermezzo. With a bottle of Frog’s Leap Merlot, I opted for the Veal Medallions and Herb Crusted Cutlet of Spring Lamb with Pea Puree, Ratatouille Ravioli and Madeira Sauce for my main course. Other offerings such as pan-roasted halibut or pan-seared Guinea Hen Breast with Quebec Foie Gras were tough choices to overlook, but I’m a sucker for the lamb and madeira combo. Plus, my husband had ordered the Foie Gras for his starter and dutifully given me half (a spousal kindness, if ever there was one). The veal was perfectly cooked while the lamb was ideally spiced, as in lightly adorned with a smattering herbs that enhanced rather than overshadowed the meat’s natural jus. I closed the meal with their selection of fine ripened New England cheese, which was well-selected and came with warm olive toasts. Despite my order of cheese, my sweet tooth is forever primed. Fortunately, our lovely server brought over a decadent plate of truffles as we handled the bill, capping off an excellent meal with just the right caliber of sweetness.
Indeed the above review reads overwhelmingly positive, but it was truly a lovely experience (says the critic). I confess, I’m a sucker for a restaurant who has embraced modernity (well-lit, fresh decor, efficient service) yet maintained the traditions (full, hearty courses, polite staff) of olde-world fine dining. Given the Vanderbilt Grace’s 100-year old history and elegant, brick facade and traditional interiors, I find it an ideal place to dine when visiting Newport. It’s mixture of classic moldings and modern light fixtures make for an attractive melding of old and new and secure it as one of Newport’s top date spots – particularly if you can reserve the corner banquet.
ROLLIN’ WITH NOLAN TIP:
Since Muse is located in the front of the mansion, facing the street, the restaurant’s views are unremarkable. However, start the date off with a cocktail up on their roof deck, preferably during sunset, and then the tucked-away atmosphere of the restaurant becomes a welcome compliment to the evening.