NARRAGANSETT, R.I. -- The North Atlantic is a world away from the Mediterranean, but overlooking the whitecaps off Narragansett Beach is a restaurant that just might transport you to the gentler climes of Cyprus or Monaco.
Amalfi opened just over two years ago, with no fanfare and no advertising, inheriting almost no clientele or bookings from its predecessor. It was a seafood place that had trouble drawing a crowd.
It's taking time, but Amalfi, named for the Mediterranean region that inspires its cuisine, is catching on. The chef and owner, Kenneth Young, wanted to bring the warmth of the Mediterranean to Rhode Island. That's not only the food, with its robust flavors coming from southern France, Italy, Greece, and Morocco, but a rustic, welcoming decor. Young has turned a vast dining room into two more intimate areas by inserting a series of French doors. For cool nights, he installed a fireplace and deep leather easy chairs in the bar.
The view of combers rolling onto the beach across the street is a bonus.
Young, who came home to Rhode Island from a gig as executive chef at Beaver Creek Resort in Vail, Colo., says Amalfi's menu changes six or seven times a year, according to what foods are fresh and available. Olives, legumes, capers, couscous, and seafood paella play a role, alongside traditional pasta dishes.
Seafood suffuses the menu, nodding to the local catch. The shellfish bruschetta is topped off with Rhode Island littleneck clams. One dish features lobster-stuffed ravioli in a saffron cream sauce, topped with a pound and a half of unshelled lobster tail.
The menu had an Italian slant the night we were there. The eggplant rollatini appetizer featured grilled eggplant slices, rolled and stuffed with a heavenly concoction of spinach, roasted peppers, goat cheese, and basil. The Caprese salad is a tomato lover's delight: ripe red and yellow tomatoes bathed in balsamic syrup and olive oil.
A roast chicken entrée was deboned and sliced over a bed of angel hair pasta, succulent in a marinara sauce laced with plump cloves of roasted garlic, Montrachet wine, and sweet basil. The pork shank osso buco, braised in red wine, was so tender it fell off the bone.
Then there were the desserts, which alone would have been worth the trip. The lavender honey crème brûlée was exquisite and came in a low pan large enough to share with a friend or two. The molten chocolate cake was divine. And a Kahlua chocolate mousse in a white chocolate lattice, light-tasting and dreamy, took the prize.
The locals may have been hesitant about Amalfi because of the spot's checkered culinary past.
But Young is doing just what he needs to do to build buzz through word of mouth: serving distinctive, flavorful food in an inviting environment.
Amalfi, One Beach St., Narragansett, R.I. 401-792-3999. www.amalfiri.com. Daily 4-10 p.m. or later. $13.95-$27.95.