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!)