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Westerly has long established itself as one of the top dining destinations in the region. But the scene is far from stagnant, and lately there's been a kind of musical chairs going on.
One of the real stars, 84 High Street, has moved to the former location of Senor Flacos. It's difficult to get into Trattoria Longo, which used to be Bruna's Table. Ella's, recognized as one of the best new restaurants in the state in 2012, is wowing diners on Tower Street. The Cooked Goose will soon open a second location after WB Cody's closed its doors.
With all this going on, you might have missed last September's opening of Twisted Vine on Canal Street, where, in the 1930s, there was a Montgomery Ward and later an auto parts store and then an antiques shop.
The space, which is department-store huge, has been beautifully converted, featuring exposed brick walls, hardwood floors and a tin ceiling. Against one wall is a fireplace, on the other a mahogany bar. In between is a long island with stools. Among the tables are comfortable leather chairs.
A lighted tree stands in the back, and the front window is decorated with white lights, too. It's hard not to be in a festive mood here, and it's the perfect setting for a menu that features small plates along with an extensive wine list and creative cocktails.
Tapas are all about sampling and sharing, so we decided to start with a plate of cheese and meats while we checked out the rest of the menu.
We selected one cheese we knew (Havarti) and one we didn't (Manchego), and the contrast in firmness and flavor worked out nicely. To the plate we added soppressata and prosciutto and some fig preserves.
The restaurant's website had said they used locally sourced products, so I asked our waitress where the soupy was from and got the answer I was hoping for: Westerly Meat Packing.
The Twisted Platters portion of the menu contains a list of cheeses ($3-$5), meats ($4-$5) and other items such as the fig preserves, humus and honeycomb ($3).
The plate, along with some wine, put us in the right frame of mind for a fun night. (For a $20 app, however, I would have liked better crackers and more of them.)
We moved on to a plate of oysters ($2.25 apiece) that had been farm raised in nearby Ninigret Pond in Charlestown. As luck would have it, the owner of Ninigret Oyster Farm, Rob Krause, was shucking behind the bar. You don't get more locally sourced than that.
We also tried a bowl of oyster and clam chowder ($8). Those of us who aren't big on slurping oysters were fine with them in the chowder. The oysters on the half shell and the chowder were first rate.
Now on to the Di-Vine Plate portion of the menu, where we selected braised short rib over mashed potatoes ($10), chicken curry empanada ($8), seared tuna ($10) and breaded stuffed eggplant ($8).
The rib was so good we fought over it. The tuna, with its sesame crust, was perfectly presented over a bed of seaweed salad, with a soy ginger dipping sauce. The empanada, which changes daily, was easy to cut up and share and very popular at the table. The stuffing of the eggplant - red pepper, ricotta cheese and pesto - combined with the breading made for an overly rich dish that would've finished fourth if we were voting.
Only because I was reviewing the restaurant, we decided to sample from the grilled cheese menu. We picked The Irving - cheddar, cranberry and apple on multi-grain bread ($8). Let's just say it would have been a sin if we had left the Twisted Vine without having had this sandwich. Other options include the Melville (mild cheddar, lobster and tarragon on country white, $14) and the Steinbeck (Edam, cheddar, chili brown sugar, bacon and egg with avocado on sourdough, $10).
We continued to share with the desserts, ordering a brownie sundae ($6), a plate of chocolate truffles ($5) and apple bread pudding a la mode ($6.50). The bread pudding would have been better served warm, and the truffles, sitting on a plate, could have been presented better.
Coffee is served in either a half or full French press, which was a nice touch.
With its hip look and feel, outstanding food, impressive wine list and fun cocktails, you could drop the Twisted Vine in a much bigger city, like Providence, and it would thrive.
But we're lucky to have it right here, as part of the ever-changing, but always great, Westerly dining scene.
3 Canal St., Westerly
Cuisine: European style, wine and food bar that features small plates. A few entrees are on the specials menu. The wine list includes local offerings from Stonington Vineyard and Jonathan Edwards.
Atmosphere: Large space beautifully redone, with exposed brick and lots of wood. A pianist or guitarist provides background music most nights. Tables are nicely spaced, and even when crowded it's quiet enough to hold a conversation.
Service: Our waitress was efficient and expertly answered all of our questions.
Prices: The small plates are generally $8 or $10.
Hours: Tuesday-Thursday, 4 p.m. to midnight; Friday, 4 p.m. to 1 a.m.; Saturday, noon to 1 a.m.; Sunday, noon to midnight.
Credit cards: All majors.
Handicapped access: Yes