We stopped into Simpatico on a miserably damp and chilly Friday in late March just as Restaurant Week was getting underway. The calendar and barometer meant that Simpatico’s alluring outdoor patio and decks were out of the question on this night, although the twinkling lights on the restaurant’s gazebo provided a welcome beacon as we battled the driving rain up Narragansett Avenue.
Inside, the atmosphere was immediately warm and inviting — even off-season, Simpatico had a packed house both in the downstairs dining room and bar and the smaller second floor, where we were seated. A cozy space somewhat reminiscent of an attic with its slanted walls, bench seats, and comfortable pillows and blankets, the upstairs dining room expanded in the warmer months onto an adjoining deck, although the outdoors remained walled off by plastic windows that struggled on this night to contain a blustery wind coming off the Bay. As it turns out, those blankets were functional as well as decorative, and we quickly warmed up.
Simpatico owner Amy Barclay and Ben Brayton don’t just look at Restaurant Week to fill tables during a few weeks during the shoulder season, but rather as a way to show off their menu to customers they hope will be impressed enough to return and pay full price. That philosophy is reflected in a three-course, $35 menu that includes a choice of 10 appetizers as a first course, eight full-sized entrees as a second course, and three desserts.
In fact the Restaurant Week is nearly as extensive as Simpatico’s regular dinner menu, and features some of the restaurant’s most popular items, including their clam chowder, spiced-plum glazed short ribs, and three types of flatbreads for appetizers; excellent rigatoni Bolognese and glazed Atlantic salmon for mains; and a can’t-decide choice between bread pudding and chocolate mousse for dessert.
We started with a Caesar salad — crisp lettuce and croutons topped with shaved parmesan cheese and a house-made dressing with an agreeable hint of anchovy paste — and the white flatbread, where flavors of gorgonzola cheese, prosciutto, and arugula dominated over the mozzarella, parmesan, and caramelized onions baked atop a sweet fig puree. We enjoyed the surprise perk of being “test winies” as Amy asked us to sample a few tastings of Pinot Grigio and compare it to the current house wine as we waited for our entrees to arrive.
Pan-roasted clams, dubbed the Little Rhody Necks, arrived arrayed in concentric circles around a knot of linguine awash in a light but flavorful sweet-corn cream sauce, while the clams themselves were cooked with red pepper, diced onions, and mildly zesty chourico. The smoked chicken penne we chose as our second entree was built on a nice base of champagne parmesan sauce, with each bite of applewood-smoked chicken zinging the palate. A bottle of buttery, 2014 Hess Select chardonnay ($33) matched both the season and the meal well.
Attesting to the generous portions, both of us took to-go boxes for about half of our entrees, but we weren’t leaving without trying the bread pudding for dessert — a warming comfort food on a night that required it. As we ate, Amy filled us in on her plans for expanding the ever-growing Simpatico even further, with a new bluestone patio expected to be ready for outdoor drinking, dancing, and socializing under the canopy of the courtyard’s majestic beech tree by the time the spring weather arrives for real. We’re looking forward to returning soon and soaking up the sunshine along with the good vibes from one of our favorite Newport County restaurants.