Thursday, December 18, 2008

New Rivers in Providence

This place has been around for nearly 20 years and is still offering the same incredibly delicious food and outstanding service.

Located along Steeple Street, literally a stone's throw from the hubs of Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design, New Rivers, run by Bruce Tillinghast and his phenomenal chef Beau Vestal, this place feels like a slice of rural France brought to the Ocean State.

If you think Susie and I liked this place you would be absolutely right. And obviously lots of other diners last Wednesday evening.

We had often heard how warm, cozy and inviting New Rivers is and no sooner had we walked inside that we learned just how perceptive those observations are. The restaurant is divided into three components: as you enter through the curtains you step from the hubbub of Downcity Providence into the quiet and warmth of a French country inn. The dining room is right ahead and to your right, to the left is a portal that leads you into a smaller dining space where the ceiling is festooned with grapevines carrying strands of small lights and stars -- a very nice touch -- and a small yet inviting bar. Back into the main dining room you have the kitchen -- small but extremely well laid out and clearly very efficient -- at the back of the restaurant.

OK, so Susie and I both ordered the three-course "bistro" menu ($28/person) -- which I believe is offered from Tues-Thurs. Susie had the spicy peanut soup and I had the pork rillete with baguette and pickled veggies. For the main course we both had the sirloin medium, over a bed of mashed Westport turnips and topped with shiitake mushrooms. Our wine was a 2001 Barbaresco from Carlo Giacosa. For the dessert portion we both had the almond cake and a couple of glasses of the muscat beaume de venise.

Simply put the food was superb: everything was delicious, well-presented and incredibly tasty. Service was friendly and attentive without being intrusive.

New Rivers is one place you must go when dining in Providence. I can't believe we've waited this long.

New Rivers

7 Steeple Street

Monday, December 15, 2008

Loie Fuller and Radius

Earlier this last week a group from Gracie's took the train -- actually the commuter rail -- to Boston for a farewell dinner for Adrien, Gracie's sous chef. He returns to Ireland later this month to begin the next phase of his life and career.

Anyway, it was bitter cold when we got off at South Station in Beantown and walked the block and a half or so to Radius, the restaurant chosen for the occasion.

Very nice layout, quite posh in fact, and as we entered the room one could see the most of the clientèle pretty much matched their surroundings -- frankly not my cup of tea.

The service was quite pleasant, wines were terrific and the food very good. Overall I'd have to say it was a fine trip but for one thing: the cost was easily 30-40% higher than in Providence. And frankly when something comes with fennel puree I shouldn't have to ask the staff where it is only to have them point out several tiny white dots on the plate. Anyway, Providence abounds with great food at good prices.

Saturday night we stopped in at Loie Fuller for an aperitif -- remember it's just across the street from our condo -- and ran into Maria Thomas and Rick Roberts, who apparently had similar ideas. We sat at the bar and chatted about one thing or another. Mostly about food and the good things life has to offer.

The restaurant business is a funny industry -- and I don't mean funny in the Seinfeld sense of the term. We've been going to Loie Fuller now with some regularity of late and yet no one says hello to us when we walk in the door, no "good to see you," no thanks for coming to our place (again!) or thanks for spending your money here rather than somewhere else. Not coming and not going.

Now lest you think we need constant affirmation of our existence or that we suffer from the Norman complex (Norma as in cheers I mean) or that we require some sort of special attention you would be patently and utterly wrong.

Look, one of the reasons to go out for dinner is to get that extra bit of special attention you normally wouldn't get at home. And to return to the same place again and again you just want an acknowledgment of thanks for choosing "us versus them." That's all.

Such things seem difficult for some places to do and Loie Fuller is one of them. Nice folks to be sure, very good food but generally the attitude seems to be fairly cold and aloof. At least it struck me that way recently.

Maybe it's a New England thing but I don't think so. And of course we can't rule out the possibility that they don't like us. But I doubt that's true. Chez Pascal treats you like you were a long-lost brother the moment you walk in the door, like they are genuinely glad to have you drop by for a bite to eat or a drink or two. And Gracie's, well they are known for their smooth service but also for their attention to detail designed to make you feel very special indeed.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Midweek at Gracie's

It was the first Wednesday of December, the last month of 2008. I had arranged to meet with Andrea, a former wine sales person and now working as a rep for a small wine distributor in Rhode Island. Susie and I met her earlier this year at a Providence Palate event and she had recently approached Providence Palate with several ideas about how to make the organization more useful to its members. Presently PP is set up through the social networking system -- lots of fun stuff to be sure but we're exploring ways to make it more informative and more effective in sharing information.

Anyway, we met at Gracie's ostensibly for wine flights -- but I had forgotten that wine flights was done for the year. Anyway, Susie soon joined us as did executive chef Joe Hafner and we all spent some serious quality time bouncing a variety of ideas around, ideas that would help both the customer as well as the food industry in these uncertain times.

After brainstorming for an hour or so over a glass of St. Veran we said arrivederci to Andrea. Susie and I opted to stay put and share a glass of red over a bowl of Rigatoni. Gracie's produces an incredible rigatoni and the sauce has to be tasted to be believed. It is hands down my (our) favorite dish there.

(photo: No Susie's Uncle Frank did not join us at Gracie's. This was taken at D & D's house last week, on Thanksgiving Day. I just think this not only typifies Frank but how we all felt that day. Thanks Dick and Dorothy!)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Chez Pascal

Located in the tony eastern side of Providence, just a stone's throw from Swan Point cemetery where H. P. Lovecraft rests, Chez Pascal is an inviting and a place to rest your weary soul while eating great food in the bargain. If this all sounds a bit too good to be true, well it's not.

We drove the 10 minutes from the west end to the east side and parked on a sidestreet just around the corner from the restaurant. We walked inside and were immediately greeted by a women who seemed genuinely glad to see us. It was like we had come home.

We were shown a table near the bar and asked if we would perhaps rather sit in the next room where it might be a bit quieter. We obviously look like the quiet types. We said yes and were soon lingering and chatting over two glasses of chilled Lillet with lime.

The food is billed as French bistro style and from what little we know of that "style" of food Chez Pascal has it down to a science -- or rather an art.

For starters Susie had the soup special, which was a "rustic" soup of beans, chicken and vegetable sin an incredible rich broth. I had the flamiche - a torte of potatoes, sauerkraut and raclette cheese with their house made pork and fennel sausage accompanied by a sweet and spicy mustard sauce.

Known for their house pates and charcuterie, they also butcher their own whole pig out of which comes their sausage and, as I would soon experience, their pork "specials."

For the main course Susie had the Arctic Char and I had the pork "of the day": braised pork meatballs with a stew of fennel and onion, pork belly and leg of pork with soft polenta with Hannabell cheese. Accompanied by local greens and a Dijon sauce.

The portions are very large so be forewarned. But the prices are reasonable: dinner with aperitifs and a half bottle of red Sancerre came to $140 with tip. Service was good and the ambiance is wonderful.

Speaking of wines their wine selection is primarily French and plenty of good values to be had. Ask your server for suggestions.

Two very big thumbs up for us. We will definitely go back if for no other reason than to try their bistro menu: three courses for $30 per person. Served Tuesday through Thursday, the menu changes every week.

Chez Pascal
960 Hope Street
Providence, 02906
You can find them one at:

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Wine flights at Gracie's

Although there's a noticeable slowdown in restaurant activity during the middle of the work week, Gracie's still manages to draw a few interested parties in search of expanding their knowledge of wine.

Last Wednesday night Susie and I dropped by Gracie's -- well, OK she was just turning around and going back -- and spent a pleasant hour or so chatting with Anter, the resident wine guru, about a couple of wines he's suggesting for Thanksgiving: a chardonnay from the Cambria folks and a Viognier from France thank you very much.

The Viognier was crisp and very nice -- and the chef's tasting that came with the wines were absolutely scrumptious: the seared tuna perfect, the crab salad smooth and the fruit crips and pcked with flavor.

But it was when the conversation shifted to digestivi and aperitivi that things really got interesting.

Anter gave us samples of chilled Lillet rouge straight up with a twist of orange and this was followed by chilled Lillet blanc with a twist of lime. Either one would be a wonderful way to kick off a meal.

In fact, it struck me that when you're at a place like Gracie's, where you want to relax and savor your evening consider the following:

  • First, order an aperitif and be sure to ask for something you've never had before. Then close your eyes and just try and focus on the drink and nothing else.
  • Follow this with a starter course, matched with something white and crisp (probably).
  • Then with your entree (or, oddly enough, a plat in France) have a glass of red or white, either by preference or maybe a suggestion from the server with your particular choice of food.
  • With the final course, dessert of course, have a glass of Muscat Beaumes de Venise or ask for a recommendation.
  • Finish off the evening with a glass of Averna.
Anyway, while we savored the last of our wines, a young couple, easily half our age, came and sat at the other end of the bar and said they want the wine flights. Anter smoothly shifted himself down their way and began by letting them sample some Lillet rouge and Lillet white and he was soon into his element again -- talking about the wonderful ways in which wine and their various derivatives can make a meal a truly wonderful experience.

Friday, November 14, 2008


Tini's is the latest concept from George Germon and Johanne Kileen, owners of Al Forno in Providence, and one of the driving forces behind the city's incredibly successful food revolution.

Quick review: space a bit cramped, the starters were quite good (ask for the french fries' sauces on the side), service friendly but sloppy, and the electronic menu we found discomfiting and tiresome after the first ten minutes.

Long-winded review: Wedged between Gracie's at one corner and Bravo bistro on the other Tini's is tiny to be sure. Arranged like a sushi bar, you sit in a horseshoe around the central aisle which is both the bar and serving area. Nice, short but sweet wine list with several offerings by the glass. Reasonable prices. Reminiscent of Parisian bistros where the only menu is on a chalkboard on a wall or freestanding, Tini's menu is on an electronic chalkboard, a TV mounted high up on one wall.

In fact, this rather awkward menu is just one of several uncomfortable things we experienced there last evening. Certainly it is a cool idea -- but if you are sitting on one side of the bar you have to turn and crane your neck upwards in order to see the menu -- and even from our vantage point on the other side we soon discovered that if you wanted to read something specific on the menu you had to sit and wait for it to scroll around again (and again and again). We thought just having a printed menu to supplement the TV concept would have made our lives a bit simpler.

Anyway, we arrived early -- probably a little before six -- and easily found two stools at the bar. (There are narrow seating pads located beneath the two large front windows.)

We ordered two drinks, "The Vespa," but without the gin, so it was the Nino Franco "Faive" prosecco and campari. The bartender ran out of campari after barely pouring one drink but went ahead and poured the prosecco anyway, saying she would "add the campari in later" -- which she did by splashing in just a bit of the aperitivo when the new bottle arrived. That was sloppy enough and so was the fact they charged us for the gin but when we brought it to their attention there was a flurry of confusion over how to resolve this. We just waived it and said to forget it.

We eventually ordered two apps: Susie got the gruyere fondue and I got the french fries. The food was delicious, although if you are uncertain how you feel about mayo and hot sauce on your french fries then by all means ask for the sauces on the side.

Overall, we give it a thumbs up but with one or two qualifications. The folks behind the bar were nice kids but the service was slipshod, and while the TV concept is cool give us a printed menu too.

200 Washington Street

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Loie Fuller

After a long drive to and from south central Vermont on Saturday we were in no mood to cook at home when we got back to Providence. So we walked across the street to Loie Fuller for dinner.

Now we had eaten there once before a few months back and had been disappointed -- somewhat in the food but mainly in the owner's attitude.

Well it is under new ownership and we give it a big thumbs up.

The place was packed -- as it usually is -- but we were given a table for two straightaway, one of the last open spaces in the cozy dining room.

For starters I ordered the potato raclette (with cornichons as it turned out) and Susie had the Israeli couscous with mushrooms. For our main course Susie ordered the sole filet with pureed potato an brussels sprouts and I had the veggie pot pie with winter root vegetables.

Both courses were delicious and well-priced (mid-teens for the entrees). Wines by the glass and by the bottle were also well-priced and seemed to be good value. We each had a glass of the Macon-Lugny chardonnay for 8 bucks apiece and the bottle went for I believe $26 -- retail is in the low teens. Not bad.

We will not only go back for dinner occasionally but hope to make it a point of refuge and just sit at the bar and have a glass of wine before dinner at home.

I'd suggest calling for reservations, particularly for three or more.

Loie Fuller
1455 Westminster Street

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Gracie's, a replay

I posted some of these images earlier this year -- but this, please note, is an entirely different "twist."

By the way, you can create stuff like this with your images at

Tini's is open

The much-awaited new restaurant by George Germon and Johanne Kileen, is open at last. Located on Westminster street, directly across from Tinity Rep, which is housed in the gorgeous Emery Majestic Theater, Tini's (as in the back half of Martini's) is wedged between Bravo Bustro at one corner and Gracie's at the other. While the space is incredibly small, in fact tiny, the interior is slick, modern and apparently the menu is presented via HiDef TV. Seating is at the bar only, very sush-like.

I hope to have a more reliable report soon.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Nick's on Broadway

Sunday morning -- the place is packed (as usual) and the wait is more than a half hour (as usual). but it's only a three block walk from our home and the food is terrific so we stand in line and enjoy the loudness (sort of), the smells (assuredly) and the people watching.

We eventually get two seats at the counter -- our preference in fact -- give our order to the pleasant young woman standing across the counter from us and apparently oblivious to the chaos behind her, and commence to fuel ourselves up for the rest of the day.

Susie orders a half-order of French toast, one egg and crispy bacon. I get the bacon n' cheese (cheddar) omelet, wheat toast and a half order of pancakes. Look, you go to Nick's ya gotta splurge -- no half way there when it comes to food, no sirreee.

Delicious as always. The wait is nothing compared to the great food at the other end.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Lucky Garden on Smith Street

It's been some weeks since I posted here. In fact, not since early August, I'm sorry to say. Anyway, we have eaten some pretty good in Paris in the interim -- and after we returned we had delicious pizza at Fellini's (again) and another scrumptious Sunday brunch at Nick's on Broadway (again) and a delectable dinner at Broadway Bistro (again). As you can see by my broad array of positive adjectives, it was all good food as usual and well worth your time and trouble not to mention your hard-earned bucks.

So in the spirit of going back to places we've been before, Friday I had the good fortune to join with the folks of the Johnson & Wales University Web Team and visit Lucky Garden on Smith Street for a lunch of epic proportions.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Name this person

This young woman works at a restaurant in downtown Providence. What's the restaurant and who is she?

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Broadway Bistro for a family outing

Friday night, August 1, Susie and I met up with six members of her large and very extended family for an early dinner at the Broadway Bistro. (They were coming up from OCS graduation in Newport on their way back to CT.)

Service was very good -- although the place filled up nicely by the time we left, we were never left feeling unattended. Food, as always, was delicious -- I had the gnocchi, which were quite large, in a scrumptious meat sauce. Most of the group had the Fish fry on risotto that evening -- lightly battered and fried they were a really big hit.

Again, you can go wrong here. 205 Broadway. Go tonight.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Gracie's Rooftop Garden

As more restaurants seek to establish a solid foundation on using local growers, at least one place has added a unique twist: Gracie's has set up its own rooftop herb and vegetable garden on top of the Peerless Building in downtown Pprovidence. How cool is that?

Gracie's wine flight

This past Wednesday Susie and I dropped by Gracie's -- well for her she simply came home, showered, changed clothes and returned to Gracie's. Anyway, we got in the car and drove the 3 or 4 minutes it took us to get to the restaurant.

It was quiet when we arrived but by the time we left the place was abuzz, mostly with folks either enjoying the wine flights or having a quiet drink and a light dinner in the lounge. We had no sooner sat down at the bar than the rest of the seats quickly filled up with small groups, mostly friends it seemed to me, there to enjoy an evening sharing food and wine.

The wines this past Wednesday were all reds, Malbecs from South America: two from Argentina and one from Chile.

For the food pairings Joel in the back of the house prepared steak, duck and added a hard unpasteurized cow's milk cheese from Wisconsin to the chef's tasting portion of the wine flights. Incredibly good match we thought later.

Over the years we've been underwhelmed with the handful of New World wines from south of the equator -- but this evening we learned how wrong we could be. The Chilean Escudo Rojo 2005 was the starter and it was a superb example of what happens when the French start dabbling in wines abroad: in this case the Rothschild family from Bordeaux. This wine had a pleasant nose and while it was a bit jammy on the palate it was very nicely matched with the food; this was followed by the Argentinian Les Perdices, a lesser wine we thought but not unpleasant, and finally the Luca Malbec, another delicious wine which was a superb match with the food, particularly the steak.

After wine flights we couldn't bring ourselves to leave -- it was comfortable and cozy so we decided to stay put and have dinner. A wonderful treat. Susie had the soup and a salad. I had steak and pommes du terre two ways.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Gracie's Chefs in the kitchen

Well, it's not all of them -- just Executive Chef Joe Hafner and Pastry Chef Susan VandenBerg, crafting some tart dough for a small but attentive audience this past February. You really should've been there. . .

Monday, July 28, 2008

Just in case you forgot -- dessert at Gracie's

Like the title says, just in case you forgot what really, I mean really good desserts can look like -- remember this incredible semi-freddo concoction crafted together by my wife, the pastry chef at Gracie's -- like you didn't know that by now, right?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

MuMu's - again

Last Wednesday, after wine flights Susie and I headed out for dinner before going home -- sort of a routine for us I suppose, after the delicious apps at Gracie's to go out and try someplace new. Well, we didn't go anyplace new that night but we did reutrn to one of our favorite Asian restaurants, MuMu's on Atwell's Avenue smack in the middle of Federal Hill.

Surrounded by the traditional psuedo-Italian cuisines ensconced on Atwell's, nothing strictly regional about any of the places up there now, MuMu's serves up delicious Chinese food at a reasonable cost. Good service, nice ambiance, it's a great place to stop for a meal before heading home.

Susie opted for a basic noodle dish but I was hankering for King Pao Chicken:

I couldn't help myself but had to order this dish -- shredded potato with scallions and chili peppers. The potatoes were incredibly light, yet just a hint of al dente, with a nice piccante finish.

Leaving us with a couple of lunches in the bargain!

We did skip the "Chucky Chicken" though. . .

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Gracie's Wine Flights - again

Last night, Wednesday night, was that midweek food-and-wine break so many of us long for: the wine flights at Gracie's in Providence. Sitting at the cozy bar, quiet conversations scattered around the room, with a short line of three large wine glasses just off to one side and a matched trio of Chef Joe Hafner's tasting treats, it's hard to think of a better way to spend the middle of the week.

Susie and I have been pretty regular in hitting the wine flights -- and we must say the last several weeks have proven even better than usual.

Last week the tasting revolved around three incredible wines from Portugal (thinking of you Dan Foley): a bright and crisp Vinho Verde from Twin Vine, a spectacular Douro (2005) from Churchill Estates and a 10-year-old Tawny from Graham's.

The wines last night were equally incredible: a David Bruce Petit Syrah, a merlot from Floral Springs and the "337" Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. These three were neither terribly jammy nor were they too forward or big-bodied, but just right for our tastes. The wines certainly matched just right for the scrumptious threesome that came out of the kitchen: a light truffle mushroom consommé, duck (photo below) and a ham n' cheese croquette (photo above). I find it remarkable that these tastings are put together just for the wines and just for the wine flight for that night -- these are not on menu.

All for ten bucks a person.

If it sounds like I'm a shill for the restaurant -- after all my wife does work there -- you may be right. But that fact does not invalidate my conclusion: these midweek wine flights are not only great value, bang-for-your-buck kind of value, but they are eye-opening, palate-expanding experiences and, if you like wine, should not be missed.

Hey, you don't believe me? Try it for yourself.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Z Bar & Grille on Wickenden Street

The second "Monday Night Raid" by members of was held last evening, Monday (of course), at the Z Bar & Grille on Wickenden street. Located at the corner of Wickenden and Brook street in a funky neighborhood on the east side of Providence, the Z Bar has one very cool thing going for it: outdoor dining in its own little garden out back.

Even though Monday was hot and steamy, by the time the sun went down and we arrived at the Z Bar, the air had turned noticeably cooler and there were pleasant breezes to be had virtually everywhere in the city.

Anyway, there were eight of us from there to talk food, wine, weather, food, Providence, Providence food, New York City food, Rhode island food, various Asian foods, and pretty much food. Rich Lang, who, along with Seth Price was one of the co-creators of, served as the group's gentle moderator. But when you get that many serious food folks together around one table, there's little you can do but sit back and watch the action. Plenty of incredible information and experiences were shared that evening and frankly I'm already looking forward to the next event.

(In case, you're wondering: with so many restaurants in the Providence area closed on Mondays Rich thought it would be a good idea for some of the members of to get together and support those handful that make the effort to stay open. Certainly makes sense to me.)

As I said the Z-Bar has this great garden out back and I would easily suggest you give them a try -- but stick to the salads and lighter fare. Susie had the Caesar which she thought very tasty, followed by the crabcake (appetizer menu). I had the "tenderloin" meatloaf and it was OK -- not, however, anywhere near as good as Pat's at Broadway Bistro though -- and the potatoes seemed quite bland to me. The Garlic mashed potatoes cried out for garlic and in fact tasted like plain old mashed potatoes that need a bit of salt and pepper. The only other potato available were oven roasted wedges that seemed oddly prepared -- they looked almost as if they were uncooked on the top but seemed tender enough -- they also tasted quite bland.

The wine list was unimpressive and generally unexciting, with too few wines by the glass and the few available mostly typical California jug wines (Trinchero and J Lohr for example). Too bad, since Campus Wines is right around the corner and I thought Z-Bar was one of their main locations for occasional tastings.

All the wines were served in the same small balloon glass, typical of lower end restaurants. Oh, and the by-the-glass prices were comparable to Gracie's where the wines are more interesting and the glassware much nicer! Remember, that's why we're going out in the first place -- the experience is a large part of the meal. If I want something more basic I'll go to Stanley's. One other thing: both of my Campari and sodas seemed heavier on the latter -- and at 7 bucks a glass that's expensive club soda.

Our server George was friendly, attentive and tired to make the best of a couple of glitches during the meal.

So go for the garden seating, order a Caesar and stick with a glass of sparkling water. For a different perspective, check out Meredith Ford's review.

Z Bar & Grille
244 Wickenden Street

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Gracie's wine flights

Well it's been a few weeks since I last posted about the wine flights at Gracie's. Even though Brendan, Gracie's present wine guru and bar manager will be moving on to California next week, the wine flights will continue under the watchful eye of Anter, the new bar manager.

Anyway, the new list of the tastings is out -- just click here for the latest schedule.

So Susie's brother Dick -- bachelor for a week while his wife is visiting family in Washington State -- drove down to our place Wednesday late afternoon and the three of us drove to Gracie's for wine flights. Dick had never been to the wine flights before and since he is rather passionate about wine we thought it was high time he experience the Wednesday night event firsthand.

The wines presented last evening were three "summer wines for the porch," all white wines as you might assume: A soave classico from northern Italy, a vouvray from the Loire and a rose from the Languedoc. These were nicely matched with a chef's tasting of three shrimp dishes: poached shrimp, light tempura shrimp and roasted shrimp. The vouvray, for me the most forward of the three wines, smoothed out quite nicely with the tempura shrimp I thought.

Once again the back end of the house at Gracie's did a bang-up job on presenting what are really just three very small dishes -- but the with the kind of attention to detail, meticulous preparation and attractive presentation that has become a hallmark of one of Providence's signature restaurants.

Yes, yes, it's absolutely true that my wife is the pastry chef at Gracie's. But that one fact does not in any way invalidate my conclusions.

If you don't believe me, go and see for yourself. At 10 bucks that's a steal, for an opportunity to sit at a comfortable bar, chatting about wine and food with people of like mind, is not a bad deal at all.

Geppetto's on Federal Hill

Well more specifically, this pizzeria is located smack at one end of DePasquale Square, which is a small slice of common property closed to traffic wedged between Atwell's Avenue and Spruce Street.

Anyway, Geppetto's is next door to Cafe Dolce Vita and just a stones throw from Constanino's and Venda Ravioli -- all perennial favorites with the Federal Hill groupies.

Last night, Wednesday, all the the restaurants on DePasquale Square and beyond had their outdoor tables set up and the places were packed by the time we finished eating. It was a gorgeous evening when we left Gracie's after wine flights (see my other post on that) and Susie, her brother Dick and I drove to Atwell's just so we could fight the traffic and grab some pizza.

We found parking with ease on one of the side streets and walked two blocks to Geppetto's. The place was filled with extras from the Sopranos and the servers were all young women wearing very little black things with thongs popping out, tattoos in wide abundance and naval piercing accessories also on display.

(We all wondered if the hiring process look something like: "OK that's fine you've got four years of experience, but are willing to show lots of flesh and are your pierced anywhere that you wouldn't mind showing to folks as they sit down?")

Anyway, we each ordered a different 10-inch personal grilled pizza: I got the "bolognese" special, Susie the "old world" and Dick the Mediterranean. The crusts were all nicely done but that's pretty all we could say about them -- the slight toppings were all equally bland and pretty much devoid of flavor. Nor could we detect any spice or herb seasoning.

The wine list was paltry and pricey while the few beers offered were generic; the astounding thing was that pitchers of Sangria were $25 bucks! Incredible we thought. Service was pleasant but typical of these sorts of places.

Aside from the location there is absolutely nothing redeeming to justify the trip or spending the money. Or fighting the traffic for that matter.

The hunt goes on.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Minh Hai in Cranston

Let me say right up front that Susan and I both thought this a pleasing, almost calming dining experience. I'll comeback to that in a moment.

It was after the Wednesday night wine flights at Gracie's that we opted to try this little Vietnamese restaurant tucked away in a small strip mall on Park avenue in Cranston. (photo: sliced beets)

The wines that evening were quite nice -- the theme was sparkling and we had a blanc des blanc from France (Francois Montand, very tasty), Sergio Mionetto prosecco from Italy and -- get this -- a blanc des noir from New Mexico, bit thin but not half bad. Chef Joe paired these up very nicely with a scrumptious pulled pork tasty of sweet maple topped with jicama (?), watermelon and a bit of cilantro, a mussel soup and tuna tartare (photo below). You really should have been there.

So we left Gracie's head for Cranston -- all of a 10 minute drive I suppose, from downtown Providence -- where we found Minh Hai quietly awaiting our arrival.

Now this place had been suggested to us by a colleague Peggy -- she's a freelance graphic designer and has a real idea for food in general and Asian food in particular. Anyway, Peggy also provided us with a copy of the menu and some of the items she and her family routinely order when they go.

The folks running this place were not only very pleasant but had a true affinity for putting you right at ease -- and Mr. Minh himself perhaps -- was kind enough to give us language lessons and help us through the menu. He was patient, always smiling and, in two words, simply friendly.

Already we felt good about this place.

We ordered the Goi Bo as a starter. A sicy grilled beef salad with pickled carrots, daikon (a radish I believe) celery, cilantro and mint leaves finished in a delicious smoky dressing. Peggy had suggested this and she was right on the money.

Susan had the Banh hoi Cha Gio, basically thin noodles with grilled beef slices and two imperial rolls (each cut in half).

I ordered the Com Chon Bo, grilled pork slices with lemon grass and sesame seeds with special rice and a salad.

The food was well-prepared and presented nicely but most importantly it tasted even better than it looked. The meats were tender, the starches cooked to perfection and the imperial rolls worth the drive alone. And there was plenty to take home.

The bill came to $40 with tip (we didn't order beer or wine).

This is a quick and easy drive from our house and close to my favorite Chinese markets in the Providence area, another excuse for stopping here!

You can access their menu one -- just click here!

Minh Hai
1096 Park Avenue
Cranston, RI 02910
ph: 401.383.8071

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Waterman Grille in Providence

To finish off our leisurely tour of waterfront dining in eastern Rhode Island, we ate dinner last Sunday evening at the Waterman Grille, on the East Side of Providence.

Situated on the western bank of the Seekonk River, the Waterman Grille has the look and feel of a chic, hip restaurant but yet it still felt comfortable and soothing. It probably was the water. In fact most of the indoor seating has a nice view of the river, in fact many tables were positioned right next to windows that opened up to the outside. Nice touch. And outdoor seating was available: a single line of tables ringing the water side of the restaurant.

We ordered two aperitifs while we studied the menus. For starters we split the cheese appetizer.

Susie ordered crab cake appetizers and the Waterman salad, while I chose the pressed sandwich: a grilled panini: rosemary ham, grilled chicken, sharp provolone, pesto, and peppers on a grilled ciabatta roll, with steak fries. We each had a glass of wine.

Ambiance was pleasant, service slow but friendly although in an oddly uncomfortable sort of way -- our waiter kept hunching over as if he were getting ready to impart some confidential story to us -- while another of the waitstaff near our table was very loud and quite chatty with customers. Oh, and our waiter told us one thing on the menu was no longer available yet 20 minutes later it was served to a table near ours. Strange we thought. Aside from the skimpy cheese plate -- ten bucks for very little cheese and even less "crisps" -- the food delicious and portions substantial.

We thought the drink prices steep. A third of the bill -- with tip mind you -- came from two glasses of white wine and two aperitifs. That's a bit high we thought. And speaking of prices we felt that charging more than five bucks for a side of fries was high as well.

Cost? $90 with tip.

Would we go back? With all the other places to eat in providence, I think not. Certainly not for the views. If I want waterfront I'll drive to Bristol or Tiverton. Nor for the service or food, which was pretty much like the menus you can find all over the state. and the prices we thought high.

I should also point out that reservations at the Waterman Grille are made through the Open Table dining reservation website. Very slick and easy to use they also send you a confirmation via email within minutes of making the reservation.

You can find out more online by clicking here!

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Boathouse in Tiverton

Barely a 20 minute drive from the west side of Providence, the Boathouse is located along the eastern side of Mount Hope Bay with views facing due west toward Bristol. It was a gorgeous Sunday morning and we could only imagine the dramatic sunset views one would get in the evening.

There was plenty of outdoor dining was available at both ends of the restaurant, while all the windows facing the bay opened – through a very slick mechanism – to give the inside diners a sense of being outside. It reminded us of Paris in fact, where many of the city’s bistros do the very same thing in the summer months. We opted to sit inside and chose a table with a grand view of the water. The overall feel of the place was cozy and relaxing.

After we sat down we ordered a pair of Mimosas and savored the views while we examined the menus. Susan ordered a cheese omelet.

I chose the sandwich special: fried egg on a brioche roll with sweet red peppers, caramelized onions and cheese. Both plates came with hash browns.

With tip the meal came to $43.

We both agreed that the service was friendly, attentive without being overly familiar, and that the food was tasty and seemed to be just the right size portions. The views were also very nice. No question we would go back.

I should also point out that reservations at The Boathouse are made through the Open Table dining reservation website. Very slick and easy to use they also send you a confirmation via email within minutes of making the reservation.

You can find out more online by clicking here!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Lucky Garden

I remember years ago spending a night in Rock Springs, Wyoming, on my way from Chicago to San Fransisco. I was amazed at how many Chinese restaurants there were in this very small town in the middle of nowhere. I learned that evening that the reason really was quite simple: these were the descendants of the thousands of Chinese that worked on the railroads in that part of the country in the 19th century.

Chinese food is to be found virtually everywhere in the US, and if you want some of the best Chinese food in Providence, you will want to stop by the Lucky Garden on Smith street in North Providence.

Please note that I mean Chinese, not Japanese or Korean or Pan-Asian or Thai or Vietnamese, but Chinese. Like Italian there is no such thing as Chinese since each region has its own type of cuisine and they differ greatly from one region to another. And at the Lucky Garden you can find both Sichan/Hunan styles as well as "Chinatown" style of cooking. For a sampling of their menus, just click here.

It was quiet evening at the Lucky Garden this past Wednesday when we dropped by after wine flights at Gracie's. Tucked into a tiny strip mall along Smith Street this place is quite unassuming but once you walk inside the family -- and this is very much a family operation -- the family makes you feel right at home.

This place had been suggested to me by two Chinese who said it was hands-down the best, most authentic Chinese cuisine in the city. We certainly were not disappointed.

We started off with their home-made scallion pancakes and a spring roll, then ordered the crispy ("pan-friend") noodles and Chinese broccoli. The noodles were cooked to perfection and the sauce the right degree of viscosity -- and bits of chicken, pork and seafood very tasty indeed. Neither one of us had ever had the broccoli before and found it slightly bitter but the stems were delicious. Prices are reasonable and service friendly and the ambiance enjoyable. Small list of wines and beers.

Oh and this all made a great second meal the next night, if you get my drift.

Oh, and they are also serve a dim sum brunch on Saturday and Sundays. Now that would be worth a return trip for sure!

Closed Mondays,
Tu-Th 11:30-10:00
Fr-Sat 11:00-11:00
Sun 11:00-10:00

1852 Smith Street
North Providence

Friday, May 23, 2008

Loïe Fuller in Providence

The wine flights at Gracie's on Wednesday evening has become, for us at any rate, a great way to break the week up, and occasionally we will grab a bite to eat somewhere afterwards.

So it was this last Wednesday. when we finally walked across the street from our condo and ate . After tasting three wines at Gracie's, along with a chef's pairing to match, we went home, parked the car and then just walked a few meters cross Westminster and . . . Voila! There we were at Loïe Fuller, a small but cozy restaurant with an incredible art nouveau style that would make any Paris bistro green (or brown) with envy. If you must know Loïe Fuller, pronouced Louie or Loh-ahy or whatever makes you feel comfortable, is named after an American dancer who lived, loved and died of breast cancer in 1928 in Paris. (Her ashes were placed in niche no. 5382 in the Columbarium at Pere Lachaise.)

Anyway, there's been plenty of press about this place recently, in the Providence Phoenix and Rhode Island Monthly to name just two, and all of it good. Plus, everybody we've spoken with also gave it high marks as well so what could go wrong?

More than we bargained for, I'm afraid.

The ambiance is incredible to be sure -- and frankly it's worth the trip just to ogle the art nouveau decor and fantastic paintings on the walls. The numerous mirrored murals also give the dining room a greater sense of space and don't forget to look up -- the ceiling and central light is not to be missed either.

The servers, all women dressed in casually elegant black, were friendly, courteous and attentive; and the service prompt.

But two things marred the evening for us.

The food first. I ordered the steak frites and while the meat was a bit overcooked, it was tender, flavorful and the dipping sauce quite tasty. The frites were equally delicious and the portion substantial. Susie ordered a cheese-pistachio ravioli in balsamic vinegar. The dish came out with a large number of ravioli swimming in several tablespoons of oily balsamic vinegar. As if that wasn't off-putting enough, the ravioli filling was overly cheesy with a greasy texture and not terribly enjoyable. (We both agreed on these points.)

I flagged the hostess down -- not our server -- and described our concern with the ravioli. She was pleasant enough but informed us "that's the way it always comes out." I'm not sure if we were supposed to say, "Oh, well in that case I'll go ahead and eat it even though I find it quite unpleasant." Anyway, the server came by and asked if there was something else Susan would like. She thought for a moment and then ordered a simple side of the sauteed green beans. What could go wrong?

Now for anyone who goes to the grocery store around Providence, you know that the green beans are, well let's just say, far from being optimal for eating. Anyway, that's pretty much what we thought about the second dish. The preparation was quite good we observed but the beans were lacking in flavor and seemed rather tough. When our server came by to ask about the beans we of course had to break the news to her.

By this time an interesting dynamic had taken hold of the staff. When we first entered the restaurant we were upbeat and, I thought, had some very friendly banter going with the wait staff. By this time, however, they were still pleasant to be sure, but seemed aloof, distant and perfunctory.

Nevertheless, as we neared the end of the meal we agreed that aside from this evening's food hiccups -- and hey, it can happen to the best of restaurants -- we would come back.

Until we got the bill that is.

The server came by and explained that the "owner only charged you half price for the ravioli and we're sorry it didn't work out." She then hurried off.

Half-price?! In our opinion, we shouldn't have been charged for the ravioli at all. Stranger still, they took the ravioli away and said "do you want something else?" and subsequently charged us for that as well! We should have been informed that we were going to be charged for the original dish.

We concluded that even though it's right across the street from our home, we'd rather walk to Nick's on Broadway or drive to Broadway Bistro or MuMu's on Atwell's Ave. There are simply too many other places "hungry" for our dining dollar.

I don't think we'll be going back to Loïe Fuller anytime soon.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

MuMu's and Pastiche on Federal Hill

Unlike the unpleasant dining experience at Cuban Revolution last Wednesday, we had a completely enjoyable dining adventure last Friday night.

After another long baking day for Susie we had an aperitif at Gracie's and since the evening was getting away from us we thought we'd try MuMu's Chinese restaurant on Federal Hill.

Chef Joe Hafner and Kelly and several others at Gracie's raved about how good the food is at this place -- and they were right.

No doubt about it, this was some of the best Chinese food either one of us have ever tasted. Spring rolls were perfectly crisp with a light wrap and fresh ingredients inside, and the entrees were equally scrumptious: very tasty, lots of flavor and heat as advertised. Priced right as well.

Word is they deliver but cannot confirm that yet. But trust me, we'll be back. . .

From MuMu's we walked over to Pastiche, just around the corner de De Pasquale Square ("piazza de Pasquale" in italiano I suppose), and grabbed a table by the front window. The desserts were nice, although the Lime Merinque seemed quite "airy" to both of us, and my Italian Mascarpone Chocolate Cake was very moist with a wonderful texture but the flavor was quite neutral for my taste; it seemed to lack any real chocolate flavor. The "Italian" coffees were perfect, and even though the "joint was hoppin'" the service prompt, efficient and friendly. Yes, it's true the prices are a bit high -- but hey, life's full of tradeoffs.

We'll go back. so much more to try. Now if they would just make brioche con crema or bombolone. . .

Parking is at a premium for both of these places so you might want to plan accordingly.

220 Atwell's Ave.

92 Spruce Street
Closed Monday.
See their website for hours, etc.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Cuban Revolution in Providence

After the wine flights at Gracie's last Wednesday we thought we'd give their neighbor a try for a quick diner, so we went next door to Cuban Revolution to grab a sandwich before heading home. Needless to say it was quite a radical change from the Gracie's atmosphere of smooth jazz and warm vibes to very loud noise, lots of energy and marginally controlled chaos. (Note that this is the one downcity, not the one at Olneyville Square.)

In a nutshell the restaurant was a big disappointment. Food was so-so, a very skimpy "Cuban" sandwich that seemed to lack all of the ingredients, whereas Susan's wrap seemed to have been stuffed with just about everything imaginable. Sweet potato fries were soft and mushy, and, we thought, quite overpriced ($4 for a small dish).

But it was the service that was by far and away the worst part of the dinner.

Our server was a young woman who had no idea what she was doing or how to do it. She didn't know the menu, failed to bring us water when asked for, failed to put in our complete order (dropped the fries apparently) and this was all capped off when she presented us with two different bills! The check itself was for $27 and change, while the credit card receipt was for more than $44. Hmmm, that was curious I thought. Still, I'm not sure who to blame here: the poor server working her tail off, blissfully unaware of how she is botching so much along the way, or the management that put her there in the first place. Odd.

Anyway, I recall restaurants we've been to in the past, in particular a place called Charley's Crab in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where when a customer had a problem, it was either gone or not paid for. Or management would deal with it directly and do something to say to the customer, "Hey, we're sorry, mistakes do happen but here's a dessert" or whatever to ensure that you'll come back.

Frankly, there's too much damn good food in Providence to waste one's time on this sort of attitude. I don't think we'll be going back to Cuban Revolution anytime soon. Not until they overthrow the present regime anyway. . .

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Nicks for breakfast

And here's a different perspective:

Monday, April 28, 2008

Birthday dinner at Gracie's

OK, so officially I completed my 60th year at 12:01 a.m. on Friday, the 25th of April. But I felt there was plenty of room for maneuver here since, hey it was my birthday, and we wanted to include our friend Valerie from Paris. She arrived Saturday early evening, and we wanted to take here out and show her the Providence culinary scene, so we just decided to arrange the Big Meal a day later, that's all.

Since I was unable to get my swiss steak dinner from my mother-in-law this weekend -- that's right, she makes the absolutely best swiss steak in the known universe -- I was willing to settle for dinner at Gracie's. . . and what a dinner it was!

Chef Joe put together a wonderful tasting menu for us -- after making sure what I liked and didn't like! For example, nothing from the phlegm family of seafood products. I knew I wanted some of his raw tuna and steak frites, beyond that I left it up to him.

The short of it is that we had, surprise! raw tuna to start (yeah!), gnocchi, pork belly, steak frites, a fantastic cheese course (always a favorite with me) and last, but by no means least, Susie made my favorite dessert: choux pastry filled with pastry creme and topped with chocolate ganache.

We had been a bit uncertain about which wines to have with which course. Shortly after sitting down, a little after 8:30 pm.., that particular challenge dissipated. We learned that our friends Stan and Margie from Michigan, working with Brendan, Gracie's wine guy, arranged the wine for dinner! We started out with Laurent Perrier rose champagne and for the early courses switched to Chassagne Montrachet, an incredible white wine from burgundy. For the meat courses we had a Lalande de Pomerol and a Shafer Hillside Select Cabernet.

Since there were only three of us we willingly shared the wines with the kitchen staff. They had certainly earned it believe me! Thanks Bryce, Joel, Adrian, Matt, Cara, all the wait staff -- kids kept coming by the table to wish me happy birthday -- and of course Chef Joe and Ellen for making it a truly memorable evening.

Indeed, what a grand night it was. Susie, Valerie and I ate, drank, and chatted for nearly four hours and ended up being the last ones to leave.

I couldn't have thought of a better way to have spent a wonderful birthday meal -- the only thing missing were good friends and family, scattered across the country. But it was certainly not a time to be maudlin but a time for rejoicing! And with each glass of wine we smiled and toasted Stan and Margie, who there in spirit, Dick and Dorothy -- who were hosting another birthday dinner Sunday -- and all our absent loved ones.

Thanks pop!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Lili Marlene's on Atwell's Avenue

It was getting to be the tail end of my actual birth day date and since we had planned a serious, and I mean serious meal at Gracie's for Saturday night, I thought, hey let's keep it pretty simple on Friday. And what could be more simple in America, at least North America, than a hamburger and fries.

The challenge was to find the right place.

According to some in the city's culinary world, like Derek Wagner of Nick's on Broadway, when it comes to hamburgers there's one place to go in Providence and that's Lili Marlene's on Atwell's avenue. Named after the famous World War One song "Lili Marlene," which became perhaps the most popular song of World War Two for troops on both sides of the conflict, Lili's is down the hill a bit from the "trendy" part of Atwell's Avenue. Its dark atmosphere and cool music is just the right draw for anyone seeking to change one reality for another, if only for a short time.

The crowd was primarily young people, probably looking for love in all the wrong places -- but no matter. We settled at a table in the middle, and watched two guys play 8-ball on an exquisite table. And this was no bar table either. It had the curves any woman would be proud to call her own, and the pockets which quietly held the balls until they were removed by hand.

Anyway, a waitress soon came over to the table and asked us, "So how do you want your burgers?" My kind of place.

We placed our order -- medium burgers with swiss, bacon and onions -- and added a basket of fries -- Susie had a glass of wine and I had a beer.

It was that simple. And, as things turned out, that good.

The burgers were just like I would have made at home: thick, juicy, great bun, and the fries were perfect, seemed extra crispy to both of us, and not as in overcooked but just, well, extra crispy and delicious.

Parking was easy, right on the street, even though it was a Friday night. As I said, all the hubbub was a few blocks east on Atwell's. The fools. If only they knew. . .

Lili Marlene's
422 Atwell's Avenue, click here for a map and directions
Just drop in.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

El Rancho Grande on Plainfield

Friday, 25 April I completed 60 years of life. Hey it's just another number my dad would say -- and of course he would be right. But somehow such benchmarks serve a very real purpose: to keep us on our toes about the importance of enjoying life. After all, someday we will be drooling for a living and we want to have some pretty good memories to look back on as we bounce our wheelchair from one side of the assisted living dining room to another.


Well let's hope it's not that bad.

Anyway, it was a beautiful day, sunny and warm, hinting that maybe, just maybe spring had in fact arrived. Susie was working long and hard to try and get a little ahead of things for the weekend -- our friend Valerie is scheduled to arrive Saturday evening and we wanted to have plenty of quality time to spend with her.

So I spent Friday morning catching up on some chores at home and by midday thought I would stop and have lunch out somewhere. I had heard and read (thanks to the tomato soup blog) some very good things about El Rancho Grande, and since it's on Plainfield avenue, just a five minute drive from our condo, I thought I would check them out.

Right after I sat down the server brought out a small bowl of homemade chips and salsa. As reported in the tomato soup blog the salsa is indeed unique and nothing quite like anything I've had before. (Of course I am no expert on this type of cuisine. or any type come to think of it.) Somewhat piccante, a bit, just a bit sweet, very pleasant texture. And the chips were delicious too.

Anyway, I had a fairly simple lunch: one tamale classic, which I found very pleasant, one chicken taco, soft and a bit awkward to handle and a side of refried beans. The beans were a bit thin in texture but tasty nonetheless. Anyway, I soon discovered to simply put the taco mixture into the beans and then spoon the result back onto the tortilla. Voila!

All of this was washed down by a Negra Modelo, a rather dark Mexican beer that I had become slightly fond of since first having it several months ago at another nearby "Mexican" restaurant.

This is definitely a big thumbs up: low prices, great service, delicious food. What more could you ask for?

El Rancho Grande
313 Plainfield
Providence, 02909

Chris Gasbarro's wine shop in Seekonk

On Thursday, 24 April I returned to Chris Gasbarro's wine store in Seekonk.

When Mr. Gasbarro heard about my recent experience in trying to purchase a case of wine and the problem that ensued, he contacted me straightaway. He wanted to let me know that they had restructured their discount policy to try and rectify the confusion. He asked that I come by to check out the new system.

So I did.

In fact my wife and I decided to kill two birds with one stone, as it were: we went to Gasbarro's in Seekonk to check out the new pricing system and for one of their regular wine tastings, this one happened to be a tasting of Iberian peninsula wines, an area that we know little about but were keen to discover.

First the discounting system. They give 10% off of a case but only of those wines carrying a blank orange sticker (admittedly a very large selection of wines). Prior to using the orange stickers there was really no way of the customer being sure which wines were discounted and which were not. Mr.Gasbarro informed me that the system was still under evaluation and that they planned to upgrade their software to provide more clarity and ease of use for his staff as well.

Second the wine tasting. The shop has two large rooms on the second level, both with commanding views of the store and what seems to be a literal sea of wine bottles..

Anyway, the two surprises for us that evening were, in a nutshell, experiencing some fantastic wines from Spain (the Portugese selections left us unimpressed) and meeting Frank Carpano, Sr.

Not long after we climbed the stairs to the tasting rooms and walked inside, Chris Gasbarro introduced Susie and I to Frank, an octogenarian with a real nose for wine. Frank was a Tuscan by birth but had come to the US as a little boy and while becoming a success in New York city found time to develop his wine palate. And we were the beneficiaries of it that evening.

What inspired us right off was that we could speak with him in Italian -- which we did for much of the evening -- and we came to rely on his nose as we went from table to table, chatting about the particular qualities of this wine or that one. And of course straying off into conversations about Italy -- his family is from Lucca, my God Lucca! -- among other things.

After the tasting, which is free I might add, and very well organized and laid out with food and ample water, we spent a little time choosing a few wines to purchase. We were both impressed with the Albarino varietal of white wines from northwestern Spain (Galicia) and so choose several different producers of that particular grape.

A wonderful way to close out the week and begin a celebration on my completing the 60th year of life. And better things were yet to come.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Close to food, Gracie's again

Here are just four examples of food I came across recently at Gracie's. I had a camera so why not?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Broadway Avenue Restaurant Angst

Or, why the city needs is more imagination and less fiddling.

OK, so I'm new to Providence but one thing I've known for some time: this is a city that has become famous far and wide for its food. One might even make the argument that much of the city's recent growth can be directly attributed to the scores of restaurants that have opened over the past handful of years, places that represent a broad range of diverse culinary adventures.

You can imagine my surprise when I recently learned that the restaurants along Broadway are being punished by the city zoning folks for putting tables out on the sidewalk.

It may seem petty and foolish, but in all fairness to the zoning board, like any other organization their primary objective is to enforce rules and regulations no matter how absurd. Of course it would be nice to think that their main reason for being would be to identify a problem and suggest ways the city might resolve it effectively while at the same time allow for the continuing evolution and growth of neighborhoods, particularly neighborhoods that are in sore need of all the help available.

Like the west side of Providence.

Much of the positive development that attracts people like us to Broadway and Westminster are the restaurants. A place to sit outside on late afternoon sipping a coffee or glass of wine, maybe even eat a meal and watch the world glide by.

Like Paris or Florence or, heck even downtown Providence.

Gee, maybe if we spent more time figuring out why our roads resemble those in the Third world and how we can fix them and less time worrying about the impact of putting a few dining tables outside, we just might push the growth of this grand little big city even further.

Just maybe.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Broadway Bistro and Brillat-Savarin

On Monday Susie I headed north to Boston on the commuter rail to watch brother-in-law Dick run the Marathon. It was a gorgeous day for the race and for just strolling through the city's public garden before heading back to the train station.

We were back in Providence before 5 p.m. and a leisurely stroll towards home brought us by Broadway Bistro on, well, Broadway of course. (I've written about these folks before; check the archives in the sidebar.)

We thought, "hey let's stop in and have a glass of sparkling wine to celebrate the day and Dick's return to running in the Big Time." Well, the atmosphere was so inviting, the conversation with Suzanne behind the bar so engaging and the smells wafting out of the kitchen so tempting that we couldn't resist the obvious: we stayed and ate dinner.

Oh, and lest we forget -- the passion for culinary arts didn't begin in France, but boy did it ever get a big push forward there. And one of the men who did much of that early prodding was Jean Brillat-Savarin. He rests peacefully in division 28 of Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris. If you're ever in the City of Light and Love and Damn Good Food, pay him a visit. He's right off the path and easy to spot. Skip the flowers and leave him a croissant if think about it. Even better something with pastry creme in it. . .

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Chris Gasbarro's Wine and Spirits with an update

Sorry about being so tardy in replying to my own post promising to provide more details about my odd experience at Chris Gasbarro's Wine and Spirits in Seekonk. I wanted to give Chris Gasbarro the opportunity to reply before posting this entry. He was prompt in responding and I've included his note at the end. (photo: no, this has nothing to do with this post but it is a favorite: the statue of Leon Blum in Place Leon-Blum in the 11th arrondissement, Paris.)

The problem I experienced wasn't earthshaking by any means -- but buying wine is often challenging enough without running into other problems along the way. Anyway, I'm please to report that Chris has taken quick remedial action to see it doesn't happen again.

So a couple of weeks ago a neighbor recommended the Seekonk shop -- she thought the service very good and the wine selection outstanding.

I can certainly vouch for the selection, particularly the Italians, but there is also a very nice variety of French as well. Still, there's just no beating the breadth of Italian wines at Gasbarro's in Seekonk (or the one on Atwell's for that matter). Pricing of the Italian wines, a growing point of despair for the US customer in this age of a strong Euro and a weak dollar, still seemed a bit high I thought, particularly for the lower end whites. So I shifted my attention to the more reasonably priced French whites and reds. There's still great value coming out of the Loire, Alsace and southern and southwestern France, and since they had a good selection across the pricing spectrum, I picked out a full case. All the wines but one -- a "special" value wine -- carried the notation of 10% off as a case discount.

(I should note that as for case discounts locally, some other discounts are: Eno also gives 10% off of a case, while Campus wines gives 6, 10 and 12% for 6, 10 and 12 bottles. The best I've found so far is at Friendly Liquors in Whitinsville, MA. Bill Giannopolis gives 20% off of everything in the store during their wine tastings held several times a year.)

Anyway, I carried my case of wines to the check out counter and after the cashier rang everything up I asked if the total included the 10% discount.

No, she said. There was no discount on any of the wines.

I said that was funny because all but one of the wines carried a price notation stating a 10% discount.

She replied that the one "special" value wine apparently kicked out the discount on the eleven others.

I asked "will I have to purchase a 13th bottle to get a discount?"

She seemed uncertain about that so she called someone who I assume was the manager although he didn't introduce himself as such.

Anyway he fiddled with the computer monitor for a few minutes and I asked him what was wrong. He said that the computer was telling him there were no discounts on any of the wines but he admitted that that had to be wrong since he was sure there was.

I said "OK, now what?"

He didn't know. He just kept staring at the computer screen.

I asked if I was going to get a discount or not and he was uncertain as to what to reply.

I said thanks but I was no longer interested and left the store.

As I drove off I thought to myself, this was a prime example of the new set of problems facing business today: the age-old problem of mediocre customer service but now abetted by the new-age problem of goofy software.

Later I tried to recall if there had ever been a time when I walked out of a wine shop in the middle of a transaction and had to say no, it had never happened before. But the longer I stood at the counter and no one saying anything about making the thing right or work or whatever the more I felt this was going nowhere and that it was time to go.

I drove to Eno in downtown Providence and with the help of the staff picked out a case -- for 10% off.

Will I ever go back to Seekonk?

Yes. Why? Read Chris Gasbarro's reply to my comments and you'll understand.

Dear Steve,

Thank you for the timely reply and the opportunity to review your negative experience at my store. Attention to customer satisfaction is always of great concern to me. I am very proud of the large selection that I am able to offer my customers at very good prices and I strive to always offer an enjoyable shopping experience.

The problem you encountered was due to the store personnel not being able to immediately identify the bottle from your case that was not discountable. You were correct in the observation that point of sale software can make the jobs of cashiers more difficult however there was no excuse for making you wait an inordinate amount of time during the process or for not being polite and apologetic.

My immediate solution is to clearly label each bottle not just the shelf price labels of all discountable wines. I hope this will prevent confusion and delays such as you experienced.

It's this kind of attention to their customers that makes for a successful and flourishing business. So yes, I'm going back this Thursday.

I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Wine preferences and the search for Averna

What kind of wines do you look for? Since there are a gazillion wines out there -- and more coming all the time from South America, Australia and New Zealand, Connecticut (more of that later) -- I have pretty much taken a vow to bypass those new wines for the "old world" products. I stick with French and Italian.

Now before you go ballistic let me explain that I'm not stodgy and set in my ways -- probably not -- anyway I simply prefer "old world" wines to "new world" products. We like the acid-fruit balances found in the Loire, Alsatian and Sicilian whites; and the fruit found in the reds of Piemonte and Tuscany shine over and above even the best California cabernets. Those wines are made to go with food -- lots of different food I might add -- and they show it time and time again. For example, I've found that a solid Chianti Classico goes with just about any food -- East or West. But that's my palate and not yours.

Naturally when I go shopping for wines I check out the French and Italian selections. Generally speaking, with the strong Euro and weak dollar I have found Italian prices to have gone up significantly over the past few years. Still I'd much rather spend my hard-earned 30 bucks on a Barbaresco than on some boutique jammy Zinfandel from one of a thousand quaint wineries in California.

And French prices seem to have remained steady and, like Spanish, can often be a good value, not to mention a tasty choice. Steering away from Bordeaux and Burgundy -- although some value can be found in those regions to be sure -- the Alsace, Loire and southwestern and southern France are all good bets.

I also check to see what the store has for digesitivo, digestif, or after-dinner drinks. I have become addicted -- I think that's probably an apt term -- to the Italian amaro, or bitter. I love the refreshing feel of a Campari and soda before a meal to cleanse my palate and get it ready for the onslaught of food to follow.

But I particularly love a soothing bitter after dinner.

But not just any "bitter." I don't care for Fernet Branca or Ramazzotti or Cynar or even Montenegro; and while I do like Nonino I much prefer the Sicilian Averna (sorry Aimone). I steer clear of the somewhat sweet "cordials" such as Amaretto or Sambuca or Frangelico. For me a meal isn't complete without a digestivo, which helps to settle the stomach, preparing it for bedtime.

So, like the values hiding out in the corners of France and Italy, I'm always on the lookout for prices of Averna -- when I can find it of course.

It was one day in search of Averna that I had an example of the challenges facing those of us who love that particular amaro. A couple of months ago I stopped by Town Liquors to check on Averna and they had three bottles, one priced at $15.95 and two at $21.95 (I believe). I asked a salesman if they could get more and when he returned from checking his computer (the bane of all wine lovers I might add) he informed me that yes he could. The cost? $26.95.

Strong Euro indeed! I certainly don't blame Town -- everywhere I go it's pretty much the same story. Averna, like the other digestivi, is expensive, and yet is not what you would call a power selling product. And the odd thing is no one will discount Averna! I have yet to find anyone who will add it to the case discount for example.

So far the least expensive bottle of Averna I have found is at Campus wines in Providence: $23.99.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Savory Grape wine Dinner at Gracie's

Yesterday, Monday, Susie and I spent a wonderful evening enjoying good food and great company -- or great food and even better company -- anyway we had a grand time at Gracie's.

Working with the folks at the Savory Grape wine shop in East Greenwich, RI, who brought in the owner of Easton Wines in California, Gracie's put on a spectacular dinner last evening. I had been asked if I would come and take some photos and naturally Susie came along.

We arrived about 6 p.m. and already the folks were gathering at the bar, steeling themselves for the culinary surprises hovering just around the corner in the kitchen.

Susie and I sat with Gracie regulars Bill and Christine and two other couples who happened to be big fans of the Savory Grape.

The tables were laid out with a casual elegance and the participants were a casually informal, fun loving bunch, clearly eager to learn not only about Easton's wines but also what was in store for them in the kitchen.

We didn't have long to wait. Here's the breakdown:

First Course
Tuna "Nicoise" Terrine with Crisp Leeks, Haricot Verts, White Anchovies, Cured Olives, Re Manfredi First Press Olive Oil, Tomato Water and Eva's Pea Tendrils.
Wine Pairing: 2006 Easton Sierra Sauvignon Blanc

Second Course
Truffled Fava Bean Agnolotti with Buerre Noisette and Morel and Fava Bean Fricassee.
Wine Pairing: 2005 Terre Rouge Enigma (Marsanne, Viognier, Rousanne)

Third Course
Over Roasted Point Judith Black Bass Accompanied by Crisp Pork Rillons, First of the Season Ramps (of the onion family), a Terre Rouge Buerre Noir.
Wine Pairing:1999 Terre Rouge Noir (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre)

Fourth Course
Seared Wolfs Neck Farm's Hangar Steak Glazed with Banyuls Shallot Jus and Served with Triple Cooked Chips, Pan Roasted Spicy Greens, Creamed Garlic.
Wine Pairing:2002 Easton Shenandoah Valley Estate Zinfandel

Baked "Rhode Island," Johnnycake Sponge Cake Topped with Rocky Road Coffee Milk Ice Cream and Crisp Gooey Marshmallow Meringue.
Wine Pairing:Easton Late Harvest Zinfandel

This may sound like a small thing, but I've never, ever had fresh peas that were so perfectly cooked, nice and crisp, as if they were right out of the pod and warmed just enough. And the thin-sliced fava beans! Don't get me started on those. . . Incredible!

You should have been there. . .

Monday, April 14, 2008

Nick's on Sunday -- again

There are some truly wonderful places to eat in Providence, places for just about any budget, and I'm confident in saying that their number is probably disproportionately high compared to the number of people living in the greater Providence area. So why do we keep going back to Nick's on Broadway for Sunday breakfast?

It's got the diner atmosphere, friendly and very competent service, and, its got extraordinarily good food. It always comes down to the food.

Of course it helps that it's only a three-block walk from our home.

So Susie and I strolled over to Nick's yesterday morning -- we arrived a little before nine and the "joint was jumpin'" already. Naturally the wait was already 15-30 minutes. But we didn't mind. With the layout at Nick's it's a great place to watch the food being prepared, the people eating it and to strike up the occasional conversation with a another "chowhound."

They finally called our name and we were soon ensconced at the bar -- our favorite place since you get to watch all the action -- and frankly on a busy Sunday morning that can be riveting.

But what to order? was our dilemma that morning; a dilemma we experience every time we go to Nick's. Derek Wagner's menus is creative, imaginative and full of wonderful ingredients. Of course it may seem rushed as you watch the choreography behind the counter but each dish is carefully and lovingly prepared.

Susie ordered one of the wraps: scrambled eggs and prosciutto with mozzarella I believe. They finish the wrap off on the griddle to give it a toasty and slightly warm edge. Incredible.

I ordered one of the specials, the potato-fennel cakes topped with a pair of perfectly poached eggs, finished off with Hollandaise sauce. For an added treat I also ordered a side of the scrumptious maple pork sausage.

Notice the greens? I asked what they were and even though Derek was moving in six directions at once, he explained that they were called "lamb lettuce," also known as "mache." His idea, he told me across two counters, was to provide both a pleasing color contrast and a refreshing crispness to the other elements on the plate. It certainly worked for me.

Oh, and we're not sure but we think we just happened to be sitting next to "Nick."

You just can't go wrong with a place like this.

Nick's on Broadway
500 Broadway, Providence 02909
ph: 401.421.0286

Wish you had been there,