In need of a relaxing weekend escape from NYC, my wife and I decided to head up to Newport. The night prior, our dog Paco chewed away a lump on his tail, leaving a fresh open wound. Apparently he heard the debate about getting left behind and decided that drastic times called for drastic measures. So it became us plus one moderately injured, very influential dog.
Our base is 41North, a sophisticated, smart and dog-friendly hotel in the heart of Newport. Our room is stocked with three items around which Paco's world revolves: a comfy dog bed, an anchor shaped chew toy and a ceramic dog bowl. He seems pleased. Luckily, the room also comes with items around which our world revolves: an Ipad, a plush king size bed and a well-stocked bar.
We take a drive along the coast and are struck by the raw beauty of the coastline and the raw wealth embodied in the mansions staring down at us. Fortunately, Brenton Point State Park, a small sliver of land with the same view as the mansions, is open to paupers and princes alike. The dog policy is clear: on leash at all times. Paco's policy is also clear: grass is made for uninhibited running. My wife and I take turns standing lookout. Barely two hours in Newport and Paco already has us breaking laws.
Back at the cozy lobby fireplace, we share a bottle of Malbec and dangerously addictive truffle parmesan fries. Meanwhile, Paco is busy conquering hearts and minds. Eventually, Robin, the Housekeeping manager, lands on his radar. As my wife and I discuss dinner plans and the option of using an outside pet sitting service, Robin expresses her preference to stay with him. His circle of influence is expanding but this time to our benefit. We gladly accept her offer.
Tsk (a.k.a. Thames Street Kitchen) is a low key establishment with an open kitchen, a BYOB policy and a tiny menu (four appetizers and four entrees, to be precise). The food is locally sourced and the menu changes daily based on what is available from local farms. From the light and succulent bay scallop appetizer to the perfectly cooked and seasoned organic chicken entrée to the plump and sugary homemade donuts, everything tastes fresh and honest. At the end of each night, the team sketches out the next evening's menu. An impressive effort, especially considering the bustling pace of dinner service, but it reflects their passion for food.
We wander around Newport and discover America's oldest synagogue and it's oldest operating tavern. We also uncover a jailhouse converted to an inn and Vanderbilt's former residence, now a hotel.
Paco enjoys the walk for entirely different reasons. The weather is sunny and brisk, his climate of choice, and occasionally we encounter large patches of grass, his surface of choice. Over the course of the next few hours, we break more laws as he proceeds to have multiple 'zoomies' (insane bouts of unbridled sprinting in no particular direction and for no apparent reason).
Back at the hotel, Paco's no-chew bandage, specifically scented to ward off gnawing, is failing miserably. With upcoming dinner reservations and no options left, now we decide that desperate times call for desperate measures. Out comes the big gun, doggie Xanax. It seems to work and Robin happily agrees to go back on dog duty.
At Tallulah on Thames, fine dining is the focus and presentation takes center stage. As my entree arrives, it looks less like food and more like an artistic masterpiece. Neat stacks of pork loin and mashed potatoes are surrounded by smears of different sauces, similar to a painter's palette. With each bite I have the option to pair the main ingredient with various unique flavors. It makes for an interesting, satisfying meal and distracts us from what lay waiting back at the hotel.
It is midnight and Paco is a very unhappy dog. With no clear path to a good night's sleep, we give him a second doggie Xanax. An hour later, we regret that decision. Paco is officially tweaking and the incessant panting and moaning is eased only when I engage him. For the next five hours, I fill his belly with dog treats and participate in the longest game of fetch ever played in a hotel lobby. Finally at 5 a.m., he crashes and so do I.
We awake groggy. At check out, we thank Robin and the rest of the staff whose help allowed us to steal a few truly relaxing moments.
As I drive, it occurs to me that my obsession with eating locally sourced cuisine pales in comparison to my obsession with Paco's health. It also dawns on me that this is exactly how Paco wants it.
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