Friday, November 30, 2007

Cassarino's on Federal Hill in Providence

Cassarino's is one of those places smack in the middle of Federal Hill that have been around for years and people just enjoy coming to for drinks, laughs and lots of heavy Italian food.

We caught up with jack and Pat F. from Vermont the other night and after they watched their son perform at a concert at Providence College, the three of them met Susie and I at Cassarino's. It's literally a five-minute drive for us to Atwell's Avenue and we had the good sense to park on a side street and walk a couple of blocks to the restaurant. (Parking on weekends in particular can be challenging.)

When we arrived Pat and Mike were just inside waiting for jack to park the car -- he soon arrivbed and we all sat down int he middle of the room, bracketed by two tables of half dozen people each, sharing stories, laughing and just having a grand time generally. If nothing else it was wonderful to see so many happy people in such a small space.

Anyway, the food is tasty: the fried calamari was scrumptious, very tender and with the lightest of batter; on the other hand the Cassarino specials were large, lots of layers adding to the bulk and very filling. The wines were mostly non-Italian (odd we thought), but we did manage to find a Primitivo from Puglia for $25. We skipped desserts (everybody had doggie bags already.) The meal was very reasonably priced ($176 for five of us).

Service was the one weak link. When Jack asked our server, "Angela," about a particular wine, she remarked that it tasted like raspberry, fruit and "stuff like that." Of course her black nail polish gave her away but we tried to give her intelligence the benefit of the doubt.

We were unsuccessful.

Otherwise I suppose we could recommend this place but there are so many others along Atwell's. . .

Cassarino's, on Atwell's, just off the corner of Dean Street.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

La Hacienda in Providence

A new Mexican restaurant, or rather a second shop of one of the favorites in the city (according to two couples sitting next to us), is La Hacienda. Located in the frustratingly convoluted Olneyville Square area this very casual and very authentic (I'm told) Mexican eatery does serve great food at rock-bottom prices as well as delicious Mexican beer. Service was prompt and the place was very clean. They were still celebrating their grand opening so there was plenty of wonderful live music as well.

La Hacienda, 1955 Plainfield Street (401-275-2385)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Gracie's in Providence

One of the more upscale restaurants in downtown ("downcity") Providence, Gracie's is an oasis of calm and quiet with a distinct air of elegant simplicity. The food is superb: we both had fish (Susie the trout and I had tautog) for the plat; we had aperitifs and then two wines by the glass (a very nice selection of wines are available by the glass). For dessert Susie had the creme brulee, which she thought was some of the best she's ever tasted (and she's tasted quite a few!).

The service is keen but not fawning, and our server confidently suggested a nice wine to go with our fish (the pinot gris blend "Evolution" from Oregon).

The food is not inexpensive to be sure, but hey, life is full of tradeoffs.

Reservations strongly recommended. 194 Washington street, 401.272.7811

Monday, November 19, 2007

Don Jose Tequilas in Providence

We orginally wanted to try a new Mexican restaurant that recently opened near our flat but it was closed -- it being the magical Monday. It was our first night living in Providence and we had to eat out so five of us, me, Susie, Rosemary, our friend from Gerrish days in Maine this past summer who stopped by for the evening, Susie's brother Dick and his wife Dorothy who drove down to help us celebrate settling in, all headed off to Atwell's Avenue to see what was open.

We no sooner got out of the car and started strolling looking for someplace to eat than I spied Don Jose. We remarked then -- and several times during later forways to Atwell's -- that there were in fact quite a few different ethnic places to eat on fedeeral Hill than Italian.

Anyway, the interior was relaxed, the service extremely warm and friendly. The opening Margaritas were delicious and indeed so was the food: burritos mole, enchiladas and the snacking chip were homemade and scrumptious. For five of us with drinks the bill came to just a hair over a hundred bucks (before tip), which included drinks.

Don Jose Tequilas
is also online.

(November 2007)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

La Laiterie at the Farmstead, Providence

This is one of the hot, up and coming places on the east side of Providence. Located in the cool, mellow Wayland Square area, La Laiterie ("the creamery") is a funky bistro with tight seating, lots of noise when busy (which it usually is), occasionally frazzled and harried servers but plenty of delicious food to choose from, especially the desserts. Very imaginative menu we thought (click here to download their menus).

Since La Laiterie is also part of the Farmstead cheese shop next door, naturally one is tempted to try one of the two cheese boards for an app. You can choose from either three or five cheeses ($12 and $18 respectively). All four of us thought the choices original and the listing of the cheeses imaginative, and so we opted for the three-cheese board. Sadly we were underwhelmed by the inadequate amount given, relative to the cost: barely two very small nibbles of each cheese.

Still, it's worth the trip and the bucks.

Check their website out for more information, you know, like directions.

(September 2007)

Friday, October 26, 2007

Been gone, but will be back

Thanks for bearing with me here -- but I've been on Paris since the third week of September and therefore out of the food loop in North America.

We will be settling in Providence, RI, the end of November and I hope to spend some quality time focusing on food in that very small big city.

Until then, a bientot!



Saturday, September 1, 2007

Westcott Forge, Blue Hill, Maine

Service weird, food great, location superb -- we could just imagine how wonderful the location would be in the summertime, right on the water!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Bunker's Wharf, in Bunker's Harbor, Maine

This newly reopened restaurant is located in Bunker's Harbor, Maine, just a few short miles from Winter Harbor, which is on the eastern side of Frenchman's Bay from Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park.

Upside: this place has a spectacular view of Bunker's Harbor and the Gulf of Maine beyond. The handful of colorful lobster boats bobbing in the water just a few short meters away is also a bonus to be sure. Service is attentive without being overly so and there is a genuine effort to be a bit upscale, that is to provide a level of service commensurate with what the management assumes are the expectations of their client base.

Downside: Menu very limited. Only three seafood dishes on the entree (plat) side: lobster dinner, haddock and scallops; two beef dishes, no pork and just one chicken/sausage pasta dish and no veggie entree. I had the lobster app, which was really just a lobster chowder, that is pieces of lobster meat in a cream base. It was tasty but one would have expected nothing less since they market it as fresh picked locally. The other two at the table ordered the Caesar salad, which was basically romaine lettuce with what was thought to be a homemade dressing. The bread brought to the table was a generic foccacia, quite doughy and devoid of much flavor, probably baked off premises far, far away and then finished off in the oven at the restaurant (fairly typical today).

The food was in general mediocre. Three of us had the haddock, which was unfortunately overcooked and tasteless. (It shouldn't have been brought to the table.) We had to ask for something, anything to put on it but which frankly didn't help much at that stage. There was little effort made to rectify this situation -- in fact in such a small dining establishment we were surprised that the manager did not come to the table to express her concern about the food. Not good.

The accompanying foccacia stuffing was pretty good but basic while the green beans were a bit on the al dente side. (Just for the record I prefer my vegetables that way but these could have used a couple more minutes of blanching.)

The wine list is pedestrian, although as noted below the pricing we thought quite good. There was no effort made to assist the novice in matching wine with dinner. We noticed only one sparkling wine on the list, a prosecco for $19, a good value and a wise choice for most folks just wanting a little bubbly. However, it would have been nice to offer a champagne as well, or even a high-end sparkler from California. Anyway, we ordered a Sancerre, which was just right for our dinner, and I thought another good value at $34. curiously the glasses for the white wine were brought out chilled like beer mugs, and the wine was way too cold.

The following incident is, I think, indicative of how so many restaurants operate here in the US, even up-market ones: a group of five at a nearby table had ordered a red wine follow-up to their sparkling wine, and soon afterwards we saw the maitre d' walk over with fresh glasses and a decanter. Now correct me if I'm wrong, but unless I missed something there was nothing on the wine list that called for decanting. In any event the fellow proceeded to simply open the bottle and dump, literally, dump the contents into the decanter. It was of course all for "show" and made very little enological sense. It was not only an indicator of the fact that these folks know less about wine apparently than they should, but ultimately it was an insult to the intelligence of the customer.

After the meal we discovered that only the typical brown boiled water was available for coffee; and no digestifs and no dessert wines. Speaking of desserts there was no ice cream apparently, and the few desserts offered were fairly typical ("flourless gateau" for example). We were informed that the desserts were made “in-house,” except for the lemon meringue pie. Our waitress informed us that they got the pie from Sysco! Whoa!

I want to emphasize that the restaurant has only been open for barely ten days so one should bear that in mind when reading my review. Still, there are some serious concerns that need to be addressed, particularly in the area of food/wine integration, food preparation and general customer service.

I'd like to hear what you think.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Gerrish's cafe in Winter Harbor, ME

Well we finally did it. Ate at our own cafe. Sort of.

After we got off of work at the cafe Wednesday the plan was to head out to Schoodic Point for a late afternoon walk and then meet up with Rosemary later that evening and go to a new restaurant that just opened recently near here in Birch Harbor.

Well to cut to the chase Rosemary got hung up late kayaking, the new restaurant was packed -- we made reservations for this Friday so I'll have a review this weekend -- so Susie and I headed back to Gerrish's and bought several salads out of the deli case to take home: Potato, chicken, orzo, and mozzarella-tomato, all delicious and paired nicely with the Spanish tempranillo we had waiting for us back at the apartment.

We now see what all the fuss is about! Take out food from Gerrish's is indeed one way to have a great dinner at home without the muss and fuss and for a reasonably cost.



Friday, July 20, 2007

Tidal Falls in Hancock, ME

If you're in the vicinity of Ellsworth, ME, and looking for a great Downeast Maine dinner in a spectacular location, try the lobster pound at Tidal Falls. Yesterday I struck up a conservation with Cindy and Jeff at Gerrish's cafe. We got to talking about places to get good seafood nearby -- Jeff has been coming to this part of Maine for nearly fifty years -- and at one point they suggested we try a funky little place just this side of Ellsworth, the Tidal Falls restaurant.

Well, in fact it's a typical Maine lobster shack -- one window to place the order and another window for pickup -- serving up lobster dinners with corn on the cob, fried clams, various sandwiches -- they've even added a huge smoker so there's plenty of pulled pork and chicken sandwiches as well. If the cole slaw was so-so the French fries were scrumptious, and the baked beans were baked almost black with molasses. Just like you might find at a huge family reunion held at some local park in mid-July when all the aunts (and some of the uncles) bring their best home-cooked foods, giving rise to the idea in some minds that some people just shouldn't be cooking. . . .

It is indeed just that sort of down home, Downeast experience that I think drives so many folks here in the first place.

You can sit inside the mosquito-proof little outbuilding or there are plenty of picnic tables dotted along the edge of the river. We opted to be indoors -- the fog was in and the mosquitos were out. It was wonderful sitting there eating our sandwiches (two pulled pork and one pulled chicken) watching the falls slip by, watching the harbor seals playing nearby.

Located abouot eight miles east of Ellsworth and about a mile off Route 1 -- just follow the signs for Tidal Falls -- the lobster poind is today owned and operated by the Frenchman Bay Conservancy so all the profits benefit land conservation. Cool, eh?

Prices are good too. Our sandwiches were eight bucks each, thirteen is you spring for the dinner, which includes corn bread, beans, cole slaw.

Oh and BYOB!

Thanks Cindy and Jeff!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Gerrish America

I'm sitting in Gerrish's cafe here in Winter Harbor and there seems to be a lunch rush on right now -- it's almost 2 in the afternoon. The place is packed and I can't help but think how lucky all these folks are to have this small funky cafe with pastries made by a French-trained pastry chef and food to go made by a chef from one of Boston's better restaurants.

Pretty cool I'd say.

Fisherman's Inn in Winter Harbor, ME

There are few options for dining out in Winter Harbor, Maine. Chase's is a down home Downeast restaurant with a reputation for good fried clams and lots of local gossip.

Gerrish's is good, naturalamente, with the best pastries (French no less) around and outstanding food to go. But there's the rub: it's all food to go, at least right now. The new owners plan on turning it into a table service operation either sometime late this season but certainly by next year. Meanwhile it's take out only and fresh sandwiches.

So for sit-down service the only other place in Winter Harbor is Fisherman's Inn. Run by Carl Johnson who also operates the Grindstone Neck smokehouse just up the road on Route 186, the Inn specialises in seafood of course. And his smokehouse is most certainly worth a stop (try the salmon candy): great smoked trout and, I'm told, delicious smoked salmon.

Anyway, we've eaten at the Inn twice now and can recommend it but have qualifications.

First off the service is variable: the first time we went it was appalling but the second visit we had a wonderful server (Melissa) who, like all the other wait staff, was harried and working at a frantic pace.

Second the food. The fresh fish is quite tasty and the mussels very good. The foccacia is not terribly good and definitely steer clear of the casseroles.The second time I was there I ordered the "Native Maine Shrimp with crabmeat" and got a small oval baking dish filled with popcorn shrimp (which is native it is true) and a few bits of shredded stuff which might as well have been breading for all I could tell. Funny but a couple at the next table, the local rector of one of the churches here, had the same dish I did and his wife told me the next day he thought it not very good. And the restaurant is selling it for $18 bucks a pop!

The wine list is good, quite accessible and reasonably priced with some pretty good values , both by the bottle and the glass.

So if you go to Fisherman's Inn go for the fresh fish and have a bottle of the Alsatian white!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Cleonice in Ellsworth, ME

Located on Main street in Ellsworth the food was good -- all three of us had the monkfish which came with roasted potatoes; rice would have worked better I thought. Generally not worth a return visit we felt.

Service was interesting but our waitress had a significant amount of dirt under her fingernails which I thought odd.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Via in Worcester, MA

Big, loud, lots of space and plenty of bodies to fill it. Food was pretty good -- but really, Italian baked beans? I don't think so. And so many dishes using the word Tuscan in such a meaningless fashion.

Another downside was the constant attention. The three of us had not one but two servers and between the two of them popped up at our table every three minutes -- they might as well have been sitting with us. Very annoying.

As I said though the food was good -- pizzas huge and my lasagna bolognese equally gargantuan. But it's the American way, eh?

Free valet parking and located just off of I-295 so access is good if you want to get out of Worcester fast.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Tracey's Lobsters, Somewhere along Route 1 in Maine

About 25 miles east of Ellwsworth, along the right hand side of Route 1 you'll find a small roadside stand selling Lobster rolls (9 bucks a pop) as well as fried clams and fish and chips. Good food and quite the experience. Check it out!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Bangor, ME, Cafe Nouveau

A wine tasting and dining adventure capped off our final night in Bangor. Susan, our brother-in-law Carl and I left their home in Orono, just a few miles north of Bangor, at about a quarter to six in the evening and drove into quiet (very quiet) downtown Bangor where we first stopped at the public library. Although Bangor is a small city it nevertheless has one fantastic library: a beautiful old building that has been lovingly preserved and greatly expanded. The interior is quite new and fully up-to-date with pretty much everything you’d expect form a new library these days: computers galore, in particular.

From the library we walked a couple of blocks up to Hammond Street to the Bangor Wine and Cheese shop for their monthly wine tasting. The shop is jammed pack with wines and cheeses of course, in addition to plenty of microbrews and various other food treats.

The tasting was comprised of six reds and six whites, each color having it’s own table, with one on one side of the shop and one on the other, separated by a table of palate cleansers, delicious breads and several cheeses as well as a tapanade (all available for sale of course). Spit buckets and carafes of rinsing water were available on each table as well. This was well thought out and carefully planned to be sure.
Both tables contained wines representing a broad swath of producers from around the world: a red blend from Lebanon (pricey), a chardonnay from China (somewhat off putting we all thought), in addition to Austria, California, Italy, France, Spain and Chile. We had a grand time and chatted a few folks in the bargain. Maine is a pretty small place indeed. (photos above and below, Bangor Wine and Cheese shop)

Bangor Wine and Cheese, 86 Hammond st., Bangor, ME, ph: 207.942.3338

After the tasting the three of us stepped next door to the Café Nouveau for dinner. Leslie thistle, owner of the wine shop also operates this small but distinctly unique café. Why unique? The menu is different than one normally finds in this part of Maine, and while portions are small, the food very tasty. Susan and Carl had the blackened salmon and I had a delicious duck breast. Salads were fresh and in very typical French style came with a dressing already on them (no litany of: “1000 island, French or blue cheese”). Service was slow probably a consequence of a very small kitchen. My one complaint was my appetizer of lobster brioche had virtually no lobster in it, although the lobster bisque, which covered the very tasty brioche, was nevertheless very tasty.

Café Nouveau, 84 Hammond st., Bangor, ME, ph: 207.942.3336

Friday, May 4, 2007

Kennett Square, PA, Sovana Bistro

This was a great spot for a delicious lunch just outside of Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. Four of us ate here recently and the service was good, and food superb.

Sovana Bistro, 696 Unionville Road, ph: 610.444.5600,

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Washington, DC, the Bread Line

Our friend Ann C. who lives in Arlington took us to this sandwich place one day recently for lunch. They claim the best baguette in the city, but we couldn't confirm that since we had flatbread sandwiches. The sandwiches were OK but the salads looked really amazing. Anyway it's a favorite with the locals -- the place was packed at lunch hour.

The Bread Line, 1751 Pennsylvania ave., NW, 20006; ph: 202.822.8900; Metro: Farragut West.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Roanoke, VA, Billy's Ritz

We first went here in 1983 and then again in 2003 (seeing a pattern here?) and enjoyed this funky place each time. Well six of us returned in 2007 and must say the food is still good and service smack on.

Billy's Ritz, 102 Salem SE, Roanoke, ph: 540.342.3937

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2nd review

Rose's on Reed's Lake in East Grand Rapids. If you are in the city for a few days and looking for a place to have a great burger or delicious salad with a nice view overlooking this tiny lake, then Rose's is the place for you.

Ignore the fact that Grand Rapids actually hosted the younger and dumber President Bush on not one but three separate occasions and just focus on the food. Of course that's not much consolation is it?



Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Grand Rapids, Michigan

This city in western Michigan is generally noted for its number of churches but is also home to a very large number of dining establishments as well. In fact, I've been told that Grand Rapids probably has more churches and restaurants per capita than nearly any other place in the US. It's just the most of the restaurants in the city aren't, well, very good.

One that is very good however is the Tuscan Grill on 28th st. in Cascade Township. Chef-owner Dan Chudik has been around the Michigan food scene for lots of years and has always been known for producing outstanding food.

We dined there recently with our friends Stan and Margaret and were surprised to find that Chef Dan had several dishes on the menu with fresh Porcini mushrooms. That's right fresh, not dried. And yes they were delicious.

One of the specials for the evening was pan-seared Walleye, which was so good my mother-in-law, not generally keen on fish, thought it one of the best things she's tasted in years! The Bolognese sauce was by far one of the richest, meatiest and authentic Bologna sauces I've tasted outside of Emilia-Romagna!

Prices are somewhat high: a 3-course dinner for two without wine or drinks could see 100 bucks slipping out of your wallet pretty fast. Service was very attentive and efficient even though they were quite busy throughout much of the evening (it is popular apparently).

Buon appetito!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Buffalo, New York

Well this was a quick one-night stand just outside of Buffalo, on our way to Michigan:

The Chang Garden: not terribly great Chinese food but filling and tending toward flavor. Skip the spring roll though and pass on the (jug) wine. The fried rice was tasty though. Service perfunctory.

Location: 938 Maple Rd, Williamsville, NY; ph: 716.689.3355. Get off I-290 at Millerpsort rd., exit 5B, turn right onto Millersport, first left at Flint and then first right at Maple rd.; restaurant is about a mile or so on the left.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Woodman's in Orono, Maine

Orono, ME -- Located just outside of Bangor, Maine, and less than three hours from New Brunswick, Canada, the small college town of Orono, Maine boasts few dining establishments.

However if you find yourself approaching the Atlantic time zone and need a bite to eat, one place you might consider is Woodman's Bar and Grill. Located in the old NOAA office building in "downtown" Orono (well downtown, uptown both rolled together here) Woodman's is not terribly large. And while they don't take reservations they do have a fine pool table (a buck a game) to while away your time waiting for a table. Also the burgers are reportedly the best around. The french fries are fresh and you can even substitute sweet potatoe fries! Take my word for it they are deeeeelicious!

Three of our group each had a cup of seafood chowder for starters and it was scrumptious! Packed with potatoes and lots of fish and shrimp pieces it was perfect for a cold winter evening (even though it was April).

I had a steak and baked potato, the later OK but the steak very good; two others had burgers and raved about them, while two had salmon, which they thought was overcooked and dry. The winelist is quite meager and not well put together for beef, but they do offer what wines they have by the glass or bottle.

Service was professional, pleasant and very good (Heather was our server). Although the food was a bit slow coming to the table my feeling is that anything good is worth waiting for, right? Parking is difficult but I'm told that's pretty much true around Orono anyway.

So stick with the beef and you can't go wrong!

Five adults ate there for about $125, which I thought a bit high, and did not include wine but did include before dinner drinks.

Woodman's Bar and Grill, 31 Main street, ph: 207.866.4040.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Vermont dining in April

Rutland, VT -- Food options in the tiny state of Vermont run the gamut from junk (McD's) and garbage (anything with family dining in the title) to very good and occasionally truly great.

Our latest trip was spent in Rutland, located near Killington Mountain, and not generally known for its diverse and tasty food. (Stay away from the croissants at the Coffee Exchange downtown: we thought they were probably old, but additional problems were margarine instead of butter and inadequate folding/kneading.)

Anyway if you find yourself in this part of the Green Mountain State check out the following two places:

Little Harry's -- pretty much a landmark downtown today Little Harry's is the offshoot of Harry's restaurant located near Mount Holly. Great food, adequate winelist, very friendly staff. Ask for Jack the co-owner/bartender/manager -- he's one of the nicest guys you'll meet in Rutland.

Countryman's Pleasure -- located just across from the Best Western motel on the road out of Rutland up the mountain. The specialty here is Austrian cuisine. The food is pretty good as is the service. While the wine list is not bad, with a small selection of Alsatian and German wines, the prices are quite high, particularly by the glass: Seven, eight or ten dollars for a glass of wine is, I think, outrageous.