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,


Friday, April 11, 2008

A week of food in Providence

Ok so it wasn't a whole week packed with new and exciting food stuff. We ate at home all week -- Asian and homemade pizza topped our menus though and we did pretty well I think.

We did head downtown for the Wednesday night wine flight at Gracie's. It's become pretty much a routine for us and even though Susie spends lots of hours at Gracie's most days of the week she enjoys returning as a customer, when she can relax and sip a little wine and snack on some of Chef Joe's amazing creations.

Here's a short bit of video that I shot of Susie piping meringue in the kitchen at Gracie's, yesterday, Tuesday, 8 April. She's piping the Baked Alaska, which went on the menu last week, and consists of banana ice cream on a chocolate cake base topped by delicious meringue of course!

Bon appetit!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Wednesday night wine flight at Gracie's

This past Wednesday Susie and I made our (now regular) trip to Gracie's for the "wine flight of the week." The deal is you get to taste three wines (the theme changes each week) and a tasting of three edible tidbits prepared by Chef Joe's just for those wines. The tasting runs from about 5:30 until about 7:30 -- hey these folks are flexible.

Anyway, by the time we arrived the bar was packed and so we grabbed a small table in the lounge. With a great view of the Trinity Rep theater we could easily keep an eye on the ebb and flow of humanity both outside and in.

We've been pleasantly surprised with the wines at these affairs, and have enjoyed learning about new wines and how they match up with food. (We now have a new appreciation for South African wines, for example.)

The food as always was delicious -- this is the second time we've had Chef Joe's incredible porkbelly. Frankly he is a master at creating a dish that literally melts in your mouth like butter and yet tastes like pork.

There was also hanger steak on a small quarter of brussel sprout, ummmmm good!

And normally I don't care much for foie gras but that evening the preparation was truly mouth-watering; it was almost as if it had been lightly fluffed with a hint of citrus to it, spread over a wonderful homemade cracker. Man oh man!

The wines that evening were OK but generally no match for the outstanding food. The tasting consisted of three vintages of zinfandels from Jonathan Edwards, 2004, 2005 and 2006. Edwards, a producer in Connecticut arranges with growers in Napa valley to have grapes sent to Connecticut where they are bottled and then marketed as Connecticut wines. Don't ask me why. Anyway we thought the wines lacked balance between fruit and acid --a balance that we easily detected in the glass of Latour Pinot Noir that we enjoyed as a follow-on that evening. The zins did bear up a tad better with the food, it is true, but the body was never there.

We did get a chance to try one of Susie's new Baked Rhode Islands: a cornmeal cake base, coffee brownie chunk walnut ice cream and meringue, of course.

Oh, and before we left I sneaked a quick peek in the kitchen and caught this incredible piece of meat heading out front -- which I thought should have gone with me but someone else had apparently had the audacity to have ordered it first.

So next week is Pacific Northwest wines -- Gracie's pours a superb pinot gris from Adelsheim so we've eager to see what they have for us next Wednesday. And we can't wait to see what Chef Joe concocts for the wines. My fingers are crossed for a threesome of fish but we'll just have to wait.

Wish you were here,


Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Wine in Providence

Within the northeastern part of the Ocean State there are plenty of liquor stores where you can find wine. You know the kind of place I'm talking about: narrow storefront smack in the middle of a strip mall with the plate glass windows filled with cases of Bud Lite. And while I have actually found a few decent wines in such places, I tend to concentrate my wine buying on places that cater predominately to the wine consumer.

Anyway there are plenty of liquor stores in greater Providence but few wine shops.

Town Liquors over in East Providence has a small but very quality-driven selection of wines.

Gasbarro's on Atwell's avenue is a landmark of course. You simply cannot beat their selection of Italian wines.

And speaking of Gasbarro's, there's Chris Gasbarro's Wine and
Spirits, just across the state line in Seekonk, MA. They have a very large selection of Italian and French wines. This place is a favorite with one of my neighbors but I was very put off on a recent trip there (more of that in my next post).

I should also mention Yankee Spirits in Attleboro, also just across the state line and also another huge warehouse of wine and spirits and beer and such, with a huge selection of wines. They do run some interesting sales from time to time. Still, it had that sweet sickly smell of spoiled yeast permeating the air.

One of the more user-friendly wine-dedicated shops is Eno, located right in downtown Providence on Westminster Street. It may seem a bit upscale at first, but the staff is helpful with an easygoing manner and eager too share their knowledge and enthusiasm for wine. They also have a large selection of wines for less than ten bucks. Very nice idea and well-executed. Also, their case discounts are simple: ten percent off any mixed case. Period. Anyway, this is where I first discovered Luxardo ($22), the amaretto my wife prefers. While lacking the massive volume of the big box stores, their selections are well-chosen, and with care and appreciation for the wine and the customer. (No gallon bottles of Friday's chocolate booze mixers here.)

I also like the folks at Campus Wines on Brook Street on the East Side. Like the staff at Eno they too are friendly, easygoing and knowledgeable without being pretentious or snooty and always eager to help me find the right wine -- or something as close as possible. They have very nice selection of wines, and their prices on Veuve Clicquot (NV) are positively incredible! They sell the 750ml for $39, which is at least $5-10 cheaper than just about everywhere else. Like most other places they give case discounts.

So where do you go to find the best wine at the lowest price?