Rhode Island’s Ocean House and more

Where better to celebrate the last bit of summer than Rhode Island? As luck would have it I had two different forays into the smallest state in the US within a one week time period, first a girls weekend in Newport, and then a few days later a night at the Ocean House in Watch Hill. For such a tiny state, RI is chock full of things to explore (and eat)!

If you are approaching Rhode Island from the South, it is in your best interest to stop for lunch at Matunuck Oyster Bar in South Kingston. Matunuck is an institution, and each time I have visited it has been packed. Aside from Oysters (grown right on site in Potter’s Pond) there is plenty of other shell fish/fish to choose from along with superb fresh produce grown on site as well. The salads at Matunuck are delicious. The service is very friendly, although a tiny bit slow as there are so many customers needing iced tea refills simultaneously (it’s that kind of crowd). Be sure to try and sit outside (covered by a tent rather than upstairs on the roof deck) as it is really a pleasant spot. Be sure to make reservations in advance!!

I am fortunate to have friends in Newport, so I do not have an accommodation to recommend, though I did dine at the Vanderbilt, an Auberge Resort which was quite appealing, more on that later. We enjoyed gorgeous weather which was a plus- if you are visiting, be sure to take the Cliff Walk for spectacular scenery (both the Ocean and the “cottages”).

My friend arranged a Colonial Newport tour for us through the Newport Historical Society. They do offer public tours as well, but we had one tailored just for our small group, and it was terrific. Aside from learning some of the fascinating history of the area we were able to go inside the Colony House, notable for being both an example of classic Georgian architecture (dating back to 1741) as well as a National Historic Landmark. The Colony House is where George Washington met with the Comte de Rochambeau and the alliance forged between the two led to the victory in Yorktown and thus the end of the Revolutionary War. Inside an upstairs chamber there is a life size portrait of Washington painted by Gilbert Stuart (you may recognize his work as it is his representation of Washington that adorns the face of the $1 bill).

All that history made us hungry so we grabbed lunch at Bar ‘Cino located just on the edge of Washington Square, a stones throw from The Colony House. A taste of Italy in Newport, the pizzas (especially the radicchio and mushroom ) and the arugula salad with canellini beans are worth mentioning.

As I mentioned before, we paid a visit to the Vanderbilt for dinner. If you are desirous of a centrally located spot to stay, I think I would give this newly renovated Auberge resort a try. We had drinks on the roof top bar, which is a terrific place to enjoy a Frozen Negroni and watch the sun set. The interior of the hotel is very cool and broody, I really liked the vibe.

When it was time for dinner we headed downstairs, and although we had a reservation and hoped to eat in the main dining room we were relegated to the “private dining room” aka Siberia. Maybe it was because we were 6 women who they anticipated might be a bit rowdy (remember the Frozen Negronis) but whatever the reason, we were not happy. The main dining room had good energy and was attractive. Siberia was sad and lonely, and like the real Siberia, it was actually freezing. They seemed to sense we were dissatisfied so they assigned us a waiter who was also a comedian (funny in the beginning, but then not so much). Luckily the food was so yummy that we let go of our annoyance and enjoyed the meal. The manager treated us to some after dinner drinks because he knew we were good sports about the isolated dining room (and the bone chilling temps). In any case, the food was delish.

The trip to Newport was packed with fun, though we merely scraped the surface of all the exploring we could have done!

Just a couple of days later I returned to Rhode Island, with a stop in Mystic on the way. I have mentioned Nana’s in the past, it is a delectable place to fuel up. Their gluten free offerings are so good, as is their coffee. In addition, my husband enjoyed the pizza, and I had a very generous falafel platter.

We were heading to The Ocean House for a night, as we were attending an Outstanding in the Field dinner in nearby Stonington CT (just minutes away from the Ocean House). When I booked the hotel room, I found that the property was almost completely sold out, and the room options were limited. Because it was the week before Labor Day it seemed as though there were many multi- generational groups (lots of grandchildren) enjoying the last bit of summer.

The Ocean House is a massive structure perched high above the Coast. It has been an imposing presence since 1868, but fell into disrepair and closed in 2003. Reimagined and reconstructed the present day hotel reopened approximately 10 years later, with much of the historic charm preserved. I visited The Ocean House in 2010 when it reopened following its $140 million overhaul and really liked it, though I never found the occasion to return. Thirteen years later, the hotel is a little worn around the edges though the idyllic views and picturesque beach remain the same.

The staff we encountered at The OC were excellent, highly professional yet friendly and very eager to help in any way possible. We arrived early, before our room was ready so we spent a bit of time people watching in the lobby. The majority of the guests were very “preppy” and seemed to feel right at home.

We received word our room was ready at 2:45, just in time to take a quick look around, drop our bags and head to Stonington. Although we booked a deluxe king, we were upgraded to a room with a balcony. I loved the monogrammed pillow case on the bed, such a nice touch. The room was spacious, and the amenities included a complimentary array of drinks and snacks, and a nice selection of coffee and tea. The rates at the Ocean House are quite high, though we did book through Virtuoso and enjoyed our upgrade, breakfast, and a $100 credit which we used towards lunch the following day.

If you are a regular reader of my blog you know how much I love Outstanding in the Field Events. The event was held at Stone Acres Farm which has been in the same family since 1765 and it is incredibly picturesque. The guest chef was Renee Touponce from the Oyster Club in Mystic, and her expertise along with a supporting cast of other stellar local chefs made for an unforgettable meal. The first hour of the event allowed for some drinks and snacks , as well as welcome messages from the OiTF team and the farmers.

The weather forecast for the evening wavered between overcast and rainy, but we were fortunate to begin the dinner under dry conditions; though that changed midway during the meal. Per usual the table was stunning, and the food that was served was pretty spectacular as well.

I always wondered what would happen if it rained during an event (as they are generally held rain or shine) and this time I found out! When the skies started to open up the OiTF staff magically appeared, marching towards the table with a lengthy tent (actually two tents) which ultimately covered all of us and allowed the party to continue without a hitch.

As usual, the OiTF dinner was incredible. I can not emphasize enough how special these events are. If there is one coming to a farm near you, go!

Breakfast at the Ocean House is served in the Bistro. The food is very good, especially the double chocolate chip muffins which were gluten free and from Nana’s bakery in Mystic. There was also a very generous pastry basket which my husband said was excellent. My goat cheese and spinach omelette was good, but the Johnny Cakes were tastier (and gluten free as well).

There is lots to explore in the area surrounding the hotel including gorgeous homes (it’s no secret Taylor Swift has a home VERY close by), a very adorable lighthouse, and stunning coast line. There is also the adorable Flying Horse Carousel in Watch Hill which dates back to 1876.

Lunch at the Bistro was good, though not as good as breakfast. We had hoped to dine outside at the beach, but the rain started up again so we played it safe and dined inside. I opted for Lobster Salad which was fine, the lobster being a bit slippery. As with the rest of our interactions, the staff was exemplary.

For such a small state, Rhode Island packs a big punch. If you want to imagine you are stepping back to a kinder and gentler era, pack you bags and head for Newport and Watch Hill. The Ocean House in particular is a very special place to spend a night or two.

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