Tucker's Bistro is a 1930s Paris-style bistro spontaneously strewn with gilded statues, antique books and treasures. The walls are lined with original paintings, rich fabrics drape intimate nooks, table settings juxtapose whimsical with ornate, and Edith Piaf trills above it all. It is a step back in time—reminiscent of scenes described in Hemingway novels—and it wouldn't seem unusual to see a Pernod-sipping coterie deep in conversation at a corner table.
So it may surprise you to learn Chef Richard Allaire runs a modest and quiet kitchen, with just a fish station, a meat station and a garde manger (cold foods) station.
There are so many facets to his plates, but that isn't evident from just reading the menu. The self-taught chef is fascinated by food science and strives to "constantly learn and constantly get better" with his trade. The complexity of the preparations isn't obvious until you eat the potatoes that have been slow-roasted in duck fat and thyme, try to find the apple in the Braised Beet and Endive Salad, or attempt to figure out how he gets all the punch of gazpacho into a consommé. Every mouthful reveals a different set of components, while adhering to the overall integrity of the dish.
Chef Allaire has designed a menu that is easy to read, but his plates will keep you on a bit of an Easter egg hunt if you want to place all the elements involved. And, while he seems straightforward, and his tidy kitchen almost spare, his foods contend easily with the puissance of the dining room. He commented on the behind-the-scenes restaurant shows on television and joked that if anyone were to film in his kitchen "it would be boring," which seems hard to believe knowing there is so much talent at work there.
When Richard Allaire, a Rhode Island native, was in college majoring in secondary education, he spent a semester in Aix-en-Provence, France, where he discovered a lifestyle that suited his priorities and a philosophy that he adopted to be his own.
There was "something in the air," he said. "It was the first place I'd been where people would go home every day at midday to have lunch together."
Allaire said he admired the reverence that the French people held for food and the fact that foods held more status than just sustenance. Thus, he came back to the states with an interest in food that he hadn't had before. At home, Allaire said he values his time with his wife, a professional gardener, and their two daughters, noting that he likes that they all contribute time to the care of growing foods in their garden together and sharing the yield at their table. When he has time off from Tucker's, Allaire said he enjoys eating at the new local favorite, Tallulah on Thames.
Once he started working in restaurants, Allaire never looked back.
"I have been back and forth, to and from Boston, for several years," he told Patch. "Beginning in 1998, I was sous chef at Chez Pascal for almost three years, then I worked for Chef Michael Schlow for another three years at Radius and Great Bay (rising from garde manger to sous chef)."
From 2004 to 2005, he was the saucier at the Spiced Pear here in Newport. Allaire met Tucker Harris in 2005 and worked for him for about six months. Allaire was Executive Chef at L'Epicurio at the Hotel Providence from 2006 to mid-2007, then Executive Chef at Alba Restaurant in Quincy, MA, from May 2008 to February 2009. He has been back at Tucker's for a year-and-a-half now.
Allaire said he enjoys being on Broadway in Newport because the locals are loyal throughout the year and the nearby inns consistently send their vacationers to dine at Tucker's. He admits this keeps him on his toes, noting that he doesn't want to lose his locals, nor does he want the inn-keepers to ever regret sending their guests.
Allaire describes Tucker as being "gregarious, comfortable with himself; honest and genuine; not fussy at all," which is so evident sitting in this space that is awash with whimsy. The visual substance and texture of the decor is so appropriate for this place. And like the menu, it is elaborate, yet pleasing.
His menu doesn't change very often because Allaire is so meticulous with his details. In fact, he confessed it takes him weeks to perfect each item. His flavors are earthy and the plating style is organic. Allaire himself is not fussy, and while he strives for precision, his food is artful and natural.
Chef Allaire has shared one of his summer recipes with Patch, so now you too can test your culinary skills, at home.
Seared Sea Scallops with Basil-Grapefruit Tabbouleh, Tomato-Avocado Oil Vinaigrette and Roasted Seaweed
8 sea scallops
1 cup bulgar wheat
1 1/4 cups boiling water
1/4 cup basil leaves, blanched and cooled in ice water
1 ruby red grapefruit, segmented and juice reserved
2 ripe tomatoes, diced
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon avocado oil*
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 sheets roasted seaweed (optional)
Heat sliced garlic in 1 tablespoon of olive oil until lightly golden, then add chopped tomatoes and a pinch of salt and cook gently for 5 minutes. Push through a fine-mesh strainer. Adjust seasoning and whisk in avocado oil. Set aside.
Put bulgar wheat on a sheet pan and pour in boiling water. Cover tightly with foil and let sit for 10 minutes.
Purée basil leaves with 3 tablespoons of olive oil until smooth. Add to cooked bulgar wheat with the grapefruit juice and segments. Add salt to taste.
Season scallops with salt on both sides and pat dry with a paper towel. Heat canola oil in sauté pan until almost smoking, then brown scallops on top and bottom. Add 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, baste for 30 seconds, then pat dry again with paper towel.
Assemble four plates with tabbouleh, placing two scallops on each. Spoon vinaigrette around and top each scallop with pieces of roasted seaweed.
*Avocado Oil is available at A Market (Harvest Natural Foods) on Bellevue Avenue.
Tucker's Bistro is located at 150 Broadway in Newport. They do take reservations (401-846-3449) and walk-ins are welcome. They are open daily, starting at 6 p.m. Appetizer prices range from $7.95 to $15.95. Entrée prices range from $20.95 to $29.95.