Published July 28. 2011 4:00AM Updated February 28. 2012 12:51PM
When you think of Misquamicut, you probably imagine all those great places that come with a true beach community: fried food shacks, ice cream stands and ocean-side bars. But expand that image a bit further, to a place that still takes advantage of its beach location but offers a more upscale dining experience, and you can picture Maria's Seaside Café.
The seasonal restaurant, open from May to September, is in its 18th year, and it appears to still be going strong at the height of the tourist season. It has a prime spot on the main drag and nice outdoor seating out front, with white tablecloths under a striped awning. Unfortunately, you can't see the ocean across the street, but you can feel that delicious salty humidity that makes you crave seafood.
Inside the tile-floored restaurant, the bar is the main feature, with beautiful light-colored wood, track lighting, and a cocktail menu that includes Dark N Stormys and a Swedish Fish Martini.
We were almost disappointed we had to skip the bar when our outdoor table was ready so quickly on a recent weeknight, but our hunger won out. The meal began with plenty of bread and olive oil, and our waitress was helpful in navigating the menu, where several dishes are marked with an "M." The menu explains this means "mmmhmmm," a more fun way of saying "you should try this."
A large display of oysters on ice in front of the kitchen had practically made our first decision for us, so we ordered a bunch ($2.99 each). There was one questionable one in the bunch, but overall, they were fresh and tasted of the ocean, with a good variety of fixings - lemon, horseradish, mignonette sauce, cocktail sauce and hot sauce.
We had to try the classic seafood appetizer - calamari ($9.99) - and found the squid to be tender and the batter to have a nice crunchy texture. It was served with marinara sauce and had some spicy banana peppers in the mix.
The tuna ole appetizer (marked with an M) was one of the less traditional menu options - ahi tuna sashimi topped with avocado, jalapenos, tomatoes, crispy tortilla strips, olive oil and citrus juice ($14.99). It had some good flavors, similar to a salsa, but drowned out the flavor of the tuna a bit, which was good once you separated it from the other elements.
One of our favorite entrees was the pan-seared Stonington Sea Scallops ($26.99), which were large but still managed to be light. They were served over large grains of Italian couscous with lobster meat and asparagus.
The Lobster Fra Diavolo ($28.99), another of the restaurant's specialties, was a huge portion of linguini highlighted by half a lobster and all the seafood you could imagine in one dish: shrimp, clams, mussels, calamari and scallops. All the seafood was delicious, but we were a little disappointed in the tomato sauce, which wasn't really spicy at all.
There are plenty of options for the non-seafood eaters, too. The Pappardelle Barolo ($23.99) featured large, broad noodles, strips of filet mignon, and Portobello mushrooms, all balanced with a little sweetness from sundried tomatoes in a Barolo wine reduction that complemented the meaty mushrooms and filet.
The Pork Chop Diavolo ($21.99) arrived a bit undercooked, but the kitchen accommodated a request to cook it a bit longer, and the resulting meat had a nice smoky flavor. It was also a large portion, served with broccoli rabe, onions and some not-so-crunchy potatoes, but cherry peppers added some nice heat to the dish.
Maria's also had a long list of tempting specials, traditional Italian desserts and a lunch menu. Its wait staff was young, but capable and well-trained.
In the end, the meal was a bit pricey, but if you value everything the restaurant has to offer, you'll make the return trip. And don't forget to cross the street to catch that ocean view and take a stroll on the beach.