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: