New England

berkshire1The road to John Andrews Restaurant twists and turns through woods and farmlands. We arrived at dusk while there was enough light to sit outside on the wooden deck that backed up against a grassy hill.

What looks like the decayed remnant of a hundred year old shed leans perilously to one side. Inside, the restaurant has the cozy feeling of an English road house. The floor to ceiling windows in the dining room open out onto the deck and hill in back.

Visitors come to the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts to escape the heat and congestion of the city. Offering opportunities to relax and catch up on your reading, a string of small towns with B&Bs cuts through the expanses of woods and farmlands.

With music at Tanglewood and dance at Jacob's Pillow, historical sites like Edith Wharton's home, the Mount, the Berkshire Botanical Garden and innovative exhibits at MASS MoCa in North Adams, there's plenty to keep you occupied.

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riflosIf you've come to the area to enjoy great food, there's more to Rhode Island than just Providence. Hop in your car and head south. Everywhere you go, you'll be rewarded with wonderful meals in beautiful settings. During the summer, stopping at a clam shack when you're at the beach is a guilty pleasure not to be denied. In the coastal towns ringing Narragansett Bay and Block Island Sound, you'll find plenty of opportunities to eat yourself silly.

If you're in Newport, try Flo's Clam Shack across the street from First Beach (4 WaveAvenue, Middletown, 401/847-8141) or better yet head up to Bristol a few miles north and stop at Quito's Seafood Restaurant (411 Thames Street, Bristol, 401/253-4500) where chef Frank Formisano and his mom, Joann, serve up clam strips, fish and chips, fried calamari, lobster rolls, fluffy and light clam cakes, sandwiches with fried fish, clams, shrimp, crab, or scallops, fried oysters, raw clams and oysters, baked clams, casseroles with fish, shrimp, lobster or scallops, French fries, hot dogs, hamburgers, Cole slaw, and clam chowder--red, white, and, because this is Rhode Island, clear as well.

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 Latitudes at Wentworth by the Sea

This is a fish story about Latitudes at the Wentworth Hotel. It starts with a beach tour so I get to learn about the real New Hampshire since what I know is negligible. We are driving the coast at a leisurely pace. Most New England coasts are remarkably similar and this reminds me of the Cape with busy beaches and of Maine's isolated coves.

As a guest at a seaside grand hotel, chefs know you're captive since who wants to drive around who knows where looking for who knows what? In my experience, these hotels are good dining. I was in Kennebunkport years ago at a place overlooking the water. We're checking in and someone asks: "Do you have lobster?" And the desk man, who must hear this 100 times a week, says: "Ma'am, you can have lobster three times a day." (Ma'am, even a zillion years ago.) The food was very good.

Latitudes is on a dock, so cruise up to the marina on the Piscataqua River that runs from Maine to the ocean in nearby Portsmouth. It's as scenic as you expect. Some tables have umbrellas but they're taken so we're inside and we don't mind since they're genuinely happy to see us. Roseanna's having California A by Acacia chardonnay, the least oaky she can find. Our server wants to know if we want bread. Yes, if we must and of course it's warm rosemary focaccia. With butter. This is so, so unfair. If bread is verboten, this is the place to inhale at length. We assure each other one bite does not count and can be taken sitting down.

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CapitalCapital Grille is fine dining in Providence. It seems like they've been around forever and it's 25 years, so it is forever. It opened in 1990 and this is the original store tucked behind old Union Station. Historically, I find it intriguing that a place that was of its time then is still good at being contemporary years later. I went looking for an old menu to see what they served in 1990 but there are no clues for what used to be. I really want to know.

I don't have to tell you how hard it is to pick a place to eat. It's not like I didn't have any notice. We knew months in advance that I had to find the right spot for dinner in a place I don't know, that I can't find without a GPS and that's open Monday. There are places you can starve on Mondays and Providence is one. At the visitor's request, it must be: "A place you've never been that will break the bank, and that you can write about." Or what we call a regular working dinner. Years ago, in their Newton, MA store, I sat at the bar with beer and a wedge salad. That was when I was still allowed to have blue cheese, bacon and sour cream all on the same plate. Surely that doesn't count and so, of course, I don't tell. It's not like I'm going to have it again though I could. It's on the menu just as I remember.

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claires.jpgI hail from New Haven, although I've frankly never in my life hailed, even for a taxi cab. It's simply not my style. I visit the Elm City (although I'm not sure why it's nicknamed thus as all the elms died in a blight decades ago and are just coming back) a few times a year because my sister and I have bestowed our adorable mother on a fine new home, shared by three hundred other beloved parents, each compartmentalized in lovely little one and two bedroom lives with shared common rooms.  All human needs are provided. It's like living on a space station.

Whitney Center is located just outside the Yale community and many professors and Ivy League elders retire there.  Hence, the level of conversation, dining and entertainment is four star.  The only complaint Mom's ever had about the place is that she feels she must dress up for dinner, lectures and screenings at, what she so brightly calls "The Finishing School." Sis has outfitted her in Lord and Taylor's finest, which she now even wears to the laundry room.

When I visit as winter thaws, however, she is eager to leave campus plainclothes and give her
perpetually parked car a little workout -- it's generally sat sedentary most of the winter.  Our favorite local lunch place is called Claire's Corner Copia, at the corner of Chapel and College, at the edge of the Yale campus. 

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