Table for Two
These romantic dining spots are perfect for Valentine’s Day — or any meal with the one you love.
By Andrea E. McHugh
It’s easy to be seduced by the romance of Newport. The breathtaking sunsets, crashing waves, early-morning fog and absence of gridlock give this coastal city a palpable Norman Rockwell vibe. While summer steals the spotlight, Newport’s quieter months are more intimate, with room to spread out and time to savor romantic meals. Whether you’re sharing a first date or a milestone anniversary, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best restaurants for keeping the romance alive.
White Horse Tavern
Table For Two … Once Shared by Hessian
Oh, if the walls of the White Horse Tavern could talk, there’d be many stories to tell. When William Mayes Sr. opened this Newport watering hole at the corner of Farewell and Marlborough streets in 1673, he hardly had “cozy couples” in mind.
Even today, diners at the “oldest operating restaurant in the U.S.” may not be prepared for how alluring and untouched this place really is. Glowing cell phones are dreadfully out of place here, and conversation seems the chief form of entertainment (how novel!). Tables surrounded by classic New England Windsor chairs are lit by candlelight, lanterns are affixed to the walls, and exposed overhead wooden beams can be found throughout the bi-level restaurant where Jacqueline Kennedy used to lunch.
Arguably the most romantic space here is the bar area, adjacent to the ground-level dining room. The pint-sized space hosts just a trio of tables and is particularly welcoming on winter nights when the oversized fireplace crackles as it’s fed more wood. American culinary comforts are right at home on the menu, and the popularity of the lobster bisque, beef Wellington and steak frites assures these dishes aren’t going anywhere. While not formal (at one time, diners were typically dressed to the nines), the dress code here is “smart casual,” so you’ll still want to look sharp in the place where people have been making an impression for 349 years.
Lucia’s Italian Restaurant
While bemoaning Newport’s changes has become a local sport, a walk down Upper Thames Street can make it seem like things have hardly changed at all. As dusk settles and the streetlights start to glow, the protruding front table in the window at Lucia’s Italian Restaurant beckons like a little window on the world.
Ascending the stairs, one has to choose between Lucia’s two dining options: the casual pizzeria to the right, or the more intimate dining room to the left. Choose the door on the left (though your fare is sure to please no matter what). According to owner Lucia Tacchi, whose striking red hair and warm smile have set the restaurant’s tone since 1993, the window table is hands-down the most requested one in her reservation book. “Even people who have never been here say they were told, ‘Reserve the window table!’” she says with a laugh. Tacchi says there’s been more than one proposal in the dimly lit dining room. Sometimes a suitor enlists her help slipping the ring into a flute of champagne or presenting the box with dessert. (Usually her famous homemade tiramisu which, like the perfect proposal, is hard to refuse.)
“So far everybody has said ‘yes,’” she relates with a giggle, “and then all of the dining room cheers. It’s very warming.”
Refined-but-Unstuffy Meets Scandalous-Turned-Sensual
With a reimagined interior inspired by “the insatiable wanderlust and rebellious spirit of Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt,” the downtown hotel bearing his surname has been propelled into a new era — and so has its dining spaces. Commissioned by Vanderbilt in 1909 for Agnes O’Brien Ruíz, the wife of the Cuban attaché with whom he was having an affair, the Georgian-style mansion has been made over with a rich palette of greens and blues, inviting furnishings and elegant-but-eccentric appointments. You’d hardly guess the property spent decades as a YMCA.
The Vanderbilt’s dining room invites you to luxuriate, whether sharing a first date or a 50th. Start in the library with a bespoke aperitif like the Elms Cup, made with Pimm’s (an English gin-based liqueur), fresh lemon, ginger and Cel-Ray garnished with mint, before making your way into the dining room. A handsome space with soaring ceilings, an illuminated triple-tier bar and a tufted banquette with pillows, the restaurant still feels intimate, especially if you score the cosseted corner nook overseen by a taxidermied pheasant. Just steps from the fireplace, this coveted table is rivaled only by the menu overseen by James Beard Award–winning chef and culinary advisor April Bloomfield. Dive into a vermouth-braised rabbit with fennel, bacon and basil, or opt for the decidedly more casual Vandy Burger topped with bacon, garlic aioli and Harvest Moon cheese sauce from 5 Spoke Creamery in New York.
Vino Wine Bar
Swirl, Sniff, Sip … Stick Around a Bit
Still getting to know each other? Forego a formal dinner for a delightful glass of wine at Vino Wine Bar in Newport’s Fifth Ward neighborhood. With dim lighting, reclaimed-wood accents, stone archways and walls displaying more vintages than one can count, this wine cellar–inspired space has an undeniable sensual appeal.
“We were in Rome and saw this beautiful, quaint wine bar where you’re surrounded by wine on all four walls with deep, dark woods throughout, and we fell in love with that little space,” says general manager Will Bard of his trip to Italy with the restaurant’s owner, Tony LaRusso. “We said, ‘We have to bring this piece of Italy back to Newport.’”
Cozy up to the dark mahogany bar lined with sumptuous upholstered chairs, or opt for a double date at the candlelit high tops. Friday nights from 7:30 to 11 p.m. are NewportOUT nights, when the wine bar is dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community and allies to converse, imbibe, and even enjoy dishes from neighboring Viesté Simply Italian. “There really has not been any specific place in Newport for the [LGBTQ+] community … to visit, gather, sip a great wine and enjoy some live music,” says Bard. “It has worked wonderfully.”
Forty 1° North
Sunset Views and Seafood Towers
One of the greatest couplings of all time isn’t even human. The union of oysters and champagne is still consummated at Forty 1° North, where you’ll see plenty of 2-foot titanium seafood towers gracing tables with shiny silver champagne stands alongside. “We have the Veuve Clicquot la Grande Dame 2008, and we definitely see the Veuve Clicquot Brut with the seafood towers — they’re beautiful champagnes,” says Ethan Umrichin, a food and beverage manager there.
“For a date night or double date, the seafood tower is almost always our first item ordered,” says Jacci Grillo, a regular guest at Forty 1° North. “Crisp, cold, raw — and the cooked shellfish is nothing short of amazing. I’m drooling thinking about it.”
Michael Calderoni, another food and beverage manager there, explains, “It’s a really enticing dish. It’s big, it’s elegant, and it’s sometimes overwhelming. When we bring out the seafood tower, the whole dining room is looking at it.” And it’s not just the aphrodisiacal oysters that set the mood: Three fireplaces can be found on the main floor — including one in the library, where a couple might engage in a friendly round of pool.
The Romance of France without the Jet Lag
For a quarter century, Bouchard Restaurant on Thames Street has been the upscale dining respite for couples seeking romantic, contemporary French cuisine. With countless accolades, including making OpenTable’s list of the 100 best restaurants for foodies in America, Bouchard easily eschews menu trends and media grabs by simply staying the course. The restaurant is one of just a handful remaining in Newport that are considered fine dining, offering the elusive “white tablecloth experience” with thoughtful, memorable meals by chef de cuisine Jessica Odunwa.
Dining here emulates dinnertime at a private home in the French countryside and seems insulated from bustling Lower Thames Street outside. Inside, diners are treated to a softly illuminated dining room, plush chairs, hushed tones, and place settings punctuated by origami napkins pointed skyward.
Jim Hedin and Kathy Finn of Newport make an annual pilgrimage to Bouchard to
celebrate the anniversary of their first date Bouchard Restaurant is a romantic retreat nearly three decades ago. “It’s quiet and from bustling Thames Street. intimate; you almost feel like you could be
anywhere,” says Finn, adding, “The dinner and he service are simply the best.”
Hedin and Finn are no strangers to the restaurant’s signature dessert, the Grand Marnier Soufflé. The pillowy soufflé rises above the rim of the white porcelain ramekin and is crowned with a candle. For couples like Hedin and Finn, “bon anniversaire” is inscribed in chocolate on the serving plate below. When the candle is removed, the server (perhaps the ever-popular Dan) dramatically pours a creamy Grand Marnier mixture into the center of the soufflé and drizzles the last drops on top. The presentation is only rivaled by the taste.