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