Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Gracie's Chefs in the kitchen

Well, it's not all of them -- just Executive Chef Joe Hafner and Pastry Chef Susan VandenBerg, crafting some tart dough for a small but attentive audience this past February. You really should've been there. . .

Monday, July 28, 2008

Just in case you forgot -- dessert at Gracie's

Like the title says, just in case you forgot what really, I mean really good desserts can look like -- remember this incredible semi-freddo concoction crafted together by my wife, the pastry chef at Gracie's -- like you didn't know that by now, right?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

MuMu's - again

Last Wednesday, after wine flights Susie and I headed out for dinner before going home -- sort of a routine for us I suppose, after the delicious apps at Gracie's to go out and try someplace new. Well, we didn't go anyplace new that night but we did reutrn to one of our favorite Asian restaurants, MuMu's on Atwell's Avenue smack in the middle of Federal Hill.

Surrounded by the traditional psuedo-Italian cuisines ensconced on Atwell's, nothing strictly regional about any of the places up there now, MuMu's serves up delicious Chinese food at a reasonable cost. Good service, nice ambiance, it's a great place to stop for a meal before heading home.

Susie opted for a basic noodle dish but I was hankering for King Pao Chicken:

I couldn't help myself but had to order this dish -- shredded potato with scallions and chili peppers. The potatoes were incredibly light, yet just a hint of al dente, with a nice piccante finish.

Leaving us with a couple of lunches in the bargain!

We did skip the "Chucky Chicken" though. . .

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Gracie's Wine Flights - again

Last night, Wednesday night, was that midweek food-and-wine break so many of us long for: the wine flights at Gracie's in Providence. Sitting at the cozy bar, quiet conversations scattered around the room, with a short line of three large wine glasses just off to one side and a matched trio of Chef Joe Hafner's tasting treats, it's hard to think of a better way to spend the middle of the week.

Susie and I have been pretty regular in hitting the wine flights -- and we must say the last several weeks have proven even better than usual.

Last week the tasting revolved around three incredible wines from Portugal (thinking of you Dan Foley): a bright and crisp Vinho Verde from Twin Vine, a spectacular Douro (2005) from Churchill Estates and a 10-year-old Tawny from Graham's.

The wines last night were equally incredible: a David Bruce Petit Syrah, a merlot from Floral Springs and the "337" Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. These three were neither terribly jammy nor were they too forward or big-bodied, but just right for our tastes. The wines certainly matched just right for the scrumptious threesome that came out of the kitchen: a light truffle mushroom consommé, duck (photo below) and a ham n' cheese croquette (photo above). I find it remarkable that these tastings are put together just for the wines and just for the wine flight for that night -- these are not on menu.

All for ten bucks a person.

If it sounds like I'm a shill for the restaurant -- after all my wife does work there -- you may be right. But that fact does not invalidate my conclusion: these midweek wine flights are not only great value, bang-for-your-buck kind of value, but they are eye-opening, palate-expanding experiences and, if you like wine, should not be missed.

Hey, you don't believe me? Try it for yourself.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Z Bar & Grille on Wickenden Street

The second "Monday Night Raid" by members of was held last evening, Monday (of course), at the Z Bar & Grille on Wickenden street. Located at the corner of Wickenden and Brook street in a funky neighborhood on the east side of Providence, the Z Bar has one very cool thing going for it: outdoor dining in its own little garden out back.

Even though Monday was hot and steamy, by the time the sun went down and we arrived at the Z Bar, the air had turned noticeably cooler and there were pleasant breezes to be had virtually everywhere in the city.

Anyway, there were eight of us from there to talk food, wine, weather, food, Providence, Providence food, New York City food, Rhode island food, various Asian foods, and pretty much food. Rich Lang, who, along with Seth Price was one of the co-creators of, served as the group's gentle moderator. But when you get that many serious food folks together around one table, there's little you can do but sit back and watch the action. Plenty of incredible information and experiences were shared that evening and frankly I'm already looking forward to the next event.

(In case, you're wondering: with so many restaurants in the Providence area closed on Mondays Rich thought it would be a good idea for some of the members of to get together and support those handful that make the effort to stay open. Certainly makes sense to me.)

As I said the Z-Bar has this great garden out back and I would easily suggest you give them a try -- but stick to the salads and lighter fare. Susie had the Caesar which she thought very tasty, followed by the crabcake (appetizer menu). I had the "tenderloin" meatloaf and it was OK -- not, however, anywhere near as good as Pat's at Broadway Bistro though -- and the potatoes seemed quite bland to me. The Garlic mashed potatoes cried out for garlic and in fact tasted like plain old mashed potatoes that need a bit of salt and pepper. The only other potato available were oven roasted wedges that seemed oddly prepared -- they looked almost as if they were uncooked on the top but seemed tender enough -- they also tasted quite bland.

The wine list was unimpressive and generally unexciting, with too few wines by the glass and the few available mostly typical California jug wines (Trinchero and J Lohr for example). Too bad, since Campus Wines is right around the corner and I thought Z-Bar was one of their main locations for occasional tastings.

All the wines were served in the same small balloon glass, typical of lower end restaurants. Oh, and the by-the-glass prices were comparable to Gracie's where the wines are more interesting and the glassware much nicer! Remember, that's why we're going out in the first place -- the experience is a large part of the meal. If I want something more basic I'll go to Stanley's. One other thing: both of my Campari and sodas seemed heavier on the latter -- and at 7 bucks a glass that's expensive club soda.

Our server George was friendly, attentive and tired to make the best of a couple of glitches during the meal.

So go for the garden seating, order a Caesar and stick with a glass of sparkling water. For a different perspective, check out Meredith Ford's review.

Z Bar & Grille
244 Wickenden Street