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!