Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Susie's Peanut Butter Graham Gateau at Gracie's

This is just one of Susie's most recent "winter menu" deserts at Gracie's in Providence:

This consists of a peanut butter grahm cracker cake cake with a layer of peanut butter spread and a layer of chocolate glaze, topped with candied peanuts and a peanut graham cocoa nib florentine, sitting on a bed of chocolate sauce, graham cracker crumble and paired with a caramelized banana ice cream.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Bacaro and Chez Pascal

Providence is a food town. If you’re not from here you can, of course, find yourself eating someplace where your food dollar (or euro) buys less than it should. (Think Atwell’s Avenue.) Anyway, we have really never had a bad meal in this city, and in fact the meals generally are way above average. Getting value for your dollar is the true test.

Take Bacaro and Chez Pascal as two shining examples of exceptional value. (photo below, interior of Chez Pascal.)

Bacaro is located smack on the river just before it heads into Narragansett Bay – the views are nice if you get a window seat, but the interior space is equally inviting and open to some spectacular people watching. Susie had eaten there with the rest of Gracie’s staff for their Christmas party last year but this was my first experience and we can give this place two very big thumbs up.

We decided almost at the last minute to go to Bacaro. A colleague at work had raved it about their pizza last Thursday and on Friday I had the good sense to make reservations for Friday evening. The restaurant’s automated reservation system worked well – and although we arrived a few minutes late we were quickly seated upstairs.

Along with the regular dining menu and wine list we were given a little pencil (like you might find at a miniature golf course) and a cheese and cold meats menu – much like a tapas menu. Everything comes from their own “salumi e formaggi” counter on the main level (the bar and casual dining area). I had an olive selection and an incredibly delicious cacciocavallo cheese plate – perfect for a starter. Susie ordered the Caesar Salad.

For the main course Susie ordered the spiced pumpkin pizza and I had the ditali in tomato sauce with veal meatballs. Needless to say (but I’m going to say it anyway) the food was wonderful. The crust on the pizza was perfect (rumor has it the chef had started out at Al Forno’s), the flavors enchanting – and I do not like anything remotely connected with pumpkin. But I liked this pizza. My ditali was cooked just right and the sauce rich without being heavy and the meatballs juicy and full of smooth veal flavor.

Bacaro’s has a very nice wine list, bent largely toward Italy, with prices being generally what you would see and expect in Providence. Which is to say I’d like to see lower wine prices here, particularly by the glass prices, but there’s just too much money to be made in alcohol.

The service was attentive and friendly, the staff overall managed a nice balance of being there when you needed.

Saturday Susan came home from work with news that Chez Pascal would be holding a local artists sale Sunday – along with a raffle to benefit the Rhode Island Food Bank. They would also have their mobile hot dog van (“Hewtin’s Dogs”) right outside to provide hot food since the restaurant would normally be closed Sunday mornings and afternoons. Chef Matt Gennuso makes his own dogs and sausages and has the tastiest condiment’s you’ve ever lathered onto a bun.

If you’ve never eaten at Chez Pascal this place needs to be on the top of your list. Owners Matt Gennuso and his wife Kristin operate the back and front of the house respectively. These two young people are incredibly hard working and exceptionally talented. Their food is Rhode Island fresh with a large twist of France thrown in for good measure. And Matt does his own charcuterie to boot. You won’t find a more pleasant person working the front of any restaurant than Kristin – her kindness just permeates the room.

Susie and I arrived around 1pm, ordered a couple of Mimosas and strolled the artist booths – we also bought a couple of raffle tickets. After checking out the art we sat at the bar (see photo above), I went outside and got us a pair of sausages, which we devoured in short order.

What a way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

262 South Water Street
Providence, RI
Phone: 401-751-3700

Chez Pascal

960 Hope Street
Providence, RI
Phone: 401-421-4422

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sunday Brunch at Loie Fuller

Providence is a food town and good, even great food is easy to stumble across. But there are few restaurants in the city or the state for that matter, with the look and feel of Loie Fuller.

Named after an American dancer who made her name and fortune in Paris, Loie Fuller (she was called "Louie" as a child but dropped the "u" when she moved abroad) is decorated, indeed styled inside and out, in the very traditional art nouveau style favored in Paris in the late 19th century. While some of the interior artwork smacks a bit of New Age, the woodwork is incredibly well-done, and feel of this place is at once homey and artsy at the same time.

Since we live right across the street, we often drop by for an aperitif but haven't eaten here for some months (the food has been inconsistent). The restaurant changed hands within the past year and is now operated by the former chef and his partner so now it's a very hands-on operation.

Anyway, we had heard good things about their new brunch (Sunday 10am-3pm) and wanted to give it a try.

We arrived around 11am and were the first ones seated. Service was friendly, attentive and pleasant.

The brunch menu is very limited but the items available spot on: poached eggs, omelet, beignets, French toast. While we sipped a pair of Mimosas we scanned down the small menu cards.

Susie ordered the omelet and I opted for the poached eggs with a side of hash browns. Both came with a delicious green salad with a mustard dressing reminiscent of meals we've eaten in Paris. The food was quite good although the hash browns were a bit odd: they consisted of two round thick patties of shredded potatoes that had apparently been deep fried and as a result were quite greasy with a heavy flavor of fried oil. I would not order them again.

By the time we left quite a few folks had come in. Four young men came in and were seated at a table next to us -- they sat there with their hats on while they discussed the food options at MacDonald's. Naturally.

To get a feel for the place visit them online; they have a nice 3D tour to give you a good view of the wonderful interior. But be warned you will have a hard time reading the wine list -- the font is a too cute and the size too small for the web.

Loie Fuller's
1455 Westminster Street
Providence, RI

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Red Stripe on the East side of Providence

We returned safely from the notorious East side of Providence. Last evening we made a foray out into the wilds of the Wayland Square Area, a hotbed of urban chic and infamous for its overpriced land and trendy shops with names like "Runcible Spoon" -- "Runcible"?! A land where the Obama stickers on Volvo wagons are as prevalent as the boutique ice creams in the local grocery stores.

This also happens to be a land where you can find some very good food.

After a quick stop at Whole Foods (hey, just for bananas; we skipped the boutique ice creams) Susie and I parked the car on the street -- a risk I know on the East side -- and walked over to La Laiterie to (1) see if we could grab a table for dinner and (2) see if Susie could get her flexi-molds back from Matt Jennings. (He's the Matt part of the incredible Matt and Kate team that have turned the Farmstead Cheese shop and La Laterie cafe into two of the best reasons to head to the East Side for dinner.)

Since the wait was 30-40 minutes and nary a place to hang out in sight -- Susie opted to get her molds back another time -- we strolled over to Red Stripe, almost around the corner (well, two corners at least). We had had a drink her once before (while waiting for a table at La Laiterie no less) and thought we would give the place a chance.

The joint was, as they say, jumpin' -- a wee bit noisy but within reason. Anyway we opted to sit at the bar, which when you first walk in appears to be something like a quarter of a mile long. The bartender was friendly, candid (about the food, we didn't inquire about anything personal) and with a genuine smile at the ready for everyone.

We started with two glasses of Campari avec soda and ordered the calamari app. The drinks were generous and nicely done; the calamari, on the other hand, was tough, chewy, rubber-like, with almost dry casings. It was, to say the least, quite unappealing -- frankly it was "yucky."

We sent it back -- no replacement thank you -- and awaited the main course.

Here we were not disappointed: Susie got the cod loin wrapped in proscuitto on a bed of brown lentils; I went for the "steak frites." Both dishes were generously portioned and very tasty; my hanger steak was quite tender and Susie's cod was scrumptious.

The dessert menu lacked anything to tempt us -- fairly standard creme brulee, hot fudge sundae, that sort of thing.

Overall: very good service, friendly and attentive; reasonable prices, but off-balanced food.

Yeah, I'd say we should've waited for the table at La Laterie.

Red Stripe
465 Angell Street
Providence, RI 02906
401-437-6950 (for reservations)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Persimmon in Bristol

A week ago this last Thursday Susie and I celebrated 26 years of marriage by going south toward the ocean but stopping short in Bristol.

We had an aperitif at the DeWolf Tavern overlooking the Bay and then dinner at Persimmon just up the street from the water.

Owned and operated by Chef Champe Speidel and his wife Lisa (she oversees the front of the house) we enjoyed an incredibly good meal and a glorious evening overall. We started out with a half bottle of Veuve Clicquot bubbly and for apps Susie had the crab salad and I opted for the risotto with fresh wild mushrooms. We both had the swordfish for the main course (plat), washed down with a Sancerre from the Loire Valley. For dessert Susie went for the banana cake and I had the cheese platter (one French and two American varieties). The service was on the same level of quality -- superb attention to detail, pleasant and welcoming all amidst a cozy environment made for a thoroughly enjoyable time.

Good value as well, with prices generally in the same range as one would find at the better Providence eateries.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Chez Pascal's Rooftop BBQ

This past Sunday morning promised rain and certainly delivered humidity -- but by late afternoon the weather had turned overcast, with a hint of breeze. This made it ideal for an outdoor BBQ on the top of the Peerless Building in downtown Providence. (photo below: Susie's brother Dick and Susie)

The Peerless is one of the many old buildings "downcity" lovingly preserved and harboring condos instead of offices and workshops. And its rooftop garden, while not open to the public, is open to providing some pretty imaginative events. Gracie's uses a large plot of the roof for its own herb and vegetable garden, providing its customers with plenty of locally produced, homegrown tomatoes, peppers, edible flowers and the like. Today its a BBQ and wine tasting.

Chef Joe Hafner from Gracie's checking on his garden -- and enjoying the wine:

Matt Gennuso, his wife Kristen who run Chez Pascal on Hope Street teamed up with Leigh Ranucci and the staff at Eno's wine shop on Westminster Street, located right in the Peerless, to turn an ordinarily quiet, lazy Sunday afternoon in July into one fun and tasty affair.

Joe Hafner and Matt Gennuso, part of a small group of Providence chefs who are imaginative, dynamic and as-far-from-stodgy-as-you-can-get:

Chez Pascal provided the food, grilled sausage sandwiches with plenty of sides while Eno provided a tasting of wines from the Beaujolais province of France. Susie and I were joined by Dick and Dorothy and we met up with Andrea and her mom. The food was scrumptious, the wines just right, perfect for the day and for the food -- and clearly a good time was had by all.

You should have been there.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

New Rivers - Restaurant Weeks stop 2

OK, so last week we hit Chez Pascal in the tony East side and this last Wednesday we stopped by another favorite haunt: New Rivers on Steeple Street almost in the river that finds its way into the Narragansett Bay.

Chef/Owner Bruce Tillinghast and Executive Chef Beau Vestal represent the very epitome of what has made the restaurant business in Providence so damn special. They are hard-working and incredibly passionate about food (particularly French food and charcuterie even more so, if that's possible). But more than that these two and their finely picked staff always make you feel right at home -- they make each diner feel cozy and comfortable, as if to say "sit back, have some wine, relax, enjoy the food, and stay awhile."

Susie and I each started off with a La Bicicletta ("bicycle" in Italian), a combination Prosecco and Campari -- right up our aperitif alley. The drinks were ten bucks apiece but generous portions; we found ourselves sipping them well into the first course.

And speaking of courses we always opted for the second-week special RW prixe fixe menu for 30 bucks apiece.

We both had pork belly over cornbread for the first course and cod loin for the second. (Do fish really have "loins"? And if so do little fish spring from them I wonder?)

For dessert Susie had the and I had the marinated peaches with amaretti cookies and Susie had the ice cream with lavender shortbread.

To carefully wash all this down we sprung for a half bottle of Chablis.

The food was, and I'm not exaggerating here, absolutely delicious. Generous but not obscene portions, and we walked back to feeling not only pleased with a night well spent but just happy to have had the opportunity to go and enjoy such hospitality.

I could go on and on about this -- and believe me I've been known to do just that.

The long and short of it is, go to New Rivers, park along the park on Main Street, walk the block or so in the warm summer evening to a special place just down the hill from Beige University. Drop in, sit down and spend the evening.

And take your time.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Chez Pascal and Restaurant Weeks

Well, it's that glorious time of the year in Providence when many of the local area restaurants, or "eateries," take the plunge and turn European for two weeks. That's right, they offer prix fixe menus, also known as formule in France, where the customer pays a flat rate for three courses.

Now, some of our better restaurants have made the switch to offering permanent prix-fixe menus already -- Gracie's, Nick's, New Rivers and Chez Pascal. But during "restaurant weeks" each restaurant (theoretically) puts together a special menu to attract new diners or bring old regulars back.

(In case you were wondering, it used to be called "restaurant week," like the programs in Boston, New York City. But they liked it so much here in Providence they added an extra week a couple of years ago.)

Now, we've had the three-course "bistro" menu at New Rivers and we've also done the three-course menu at Gracie's. We thought it was time to try the formule at Chez Pascal -- home of one of the best French bistro menus this side of the Bay of Biscay.

Let me say right from the start that Matt Gennuso not only knows what he's doing he seems to actually enjoy doing it for you. (Matt and his wife Kristin run this very incredible operation and are typical of the city's best chef-owners: young, imaginative, dynamic and passionate about food.)

If you've not been to this part of Providence you're in for a treat: it's quiet, very green and, like the restaurant itself, downright cozy.

Inside -- there is outdoor seating in season -- inside you'll find an ample bar, and plenty of tables in two different rooms. While the seating style is definitely French it is blessedly devoid of the uncomfortable proximity (you know, where the folks next to you are so close they can swipe their spoons in your soup). At Chez Pascal you feel like you want to just sit back, relax and take your time enjoying your meal.

The service was friendly without being annoying and our server, Regina was professional, and helpful with just the right degree of attentiveness. she seemed to know instinctively when it was time to pop by the table to check on things. nicely done.

Susie and I both had the "golden zucchini potage with rock shrimp" and it was delicious. A large bowl packed with fresh vegetables cooked to perfection in a scrumptious broth and the four shrimps were equally fresh and flavorful.

For the second course Susie had the grilled tri-tips of beef with a shoestring potato gratin and I had the pork loin with a blue cheese potato tart. Both were perfectly prepared and presented well -- but the proof, as they say is in the pudding. And here both dishes were jammed with flavors. My pork was sweet and tender and Susie's beef was tender and mouth-melting. The plates were scattered with nice-dice of vegetables which went a long way to help pick up the various juices.

For the dessert course Susie had the lemon souffle with blueberry compote and I had the mascarpone dome in a strawberry soup. Again that word comes to mind: incredible.

Oh, and the portions are generous and you will walk away from the table feeling not only sated but that you got your money's worth in the bargain.

All this food for $60 bucks or €43!

We did spring for two glasses of Lillet over ice when we sat down and a half bottle of a red Sancerre with dinner, which added a bit of a heft to the bill. But really, we had no choice.

It's France.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Waterman Grille

We returned last evening to the Waterman Grille in Providence. Although we weren't terribly happy with our first outing here we decided to go back anyway.

The reason?

Location, location, location.

We had just left the movies after a late afternoon showing of the Taking of Pelham 123 in Lincoln. The original plan was to grab a pizza somewhere and head home. But the warm, inviting early evening sunset demanded that we stay outside somewhere. So we thought we'd give WG another shot.

Business was brisk but light when we walked in the door. We told the hostess we wanted to sit outside and that we would wait at the bar and have a drink. One Sangria later we were being ushered outside into the quiet of the evening and soon found ourselves sitting overlooking the Seekonk River.

We passed the evening chatting about one thing or another and watching a family of egrets finish their dinner along the riverbank before climbing up into a nearby tree where one assumes they would spend the night.

The service was pleasant, affable and openly but not overly friendly: everyone from the bartender to the hostess to the manager and the servers seemed determined to make our stay enjoyable. And so it was.

The food was tasty and well-prepared: Susie had the cod and I had a steak. Both dishes were nicely presented and we savored every bite. For a wine we splurged on a Meursault.

We skipped desserts -- and in fact we skipped the Restaurant Weeks menu although it was tempting. The dessert choices were, for us, the weak link. We did ask about their desserts and while some were made on -site, they got their frozen desserts from Gaga (sp?)and a number of other desserts from Sweet Creations (in Cranston?).

Thumbs up this time. But sit outside.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Back to Gracie's, again

It's been a few months since I blogged here -- not that we haven't eaten out in Providence, it's just that I've been indolent about blogging our experiences.

But I wanted to share our recent experience back at Gracie's in the city. We joined our friends Richard and Pauline, who had just arrived from London. It was so good to see them again and of course we wanted to share one of the city's preeminent restaurants with them.

(OK, so Susie is the pastry chef there, that's true, I admit it. But it doesn't invalidate my point. Gracie's is great. Go see for yourself.)

The four of us arrived early on an overcast evening and were seated in a back booth. The hostess of Gracie's -- Schuyler -- greets everyone with a warm smile and a steady gaze. Lest you think she is a saccharine type one often finds working the front desk of supposedly upscale eateries, think again. There is nothing but sincerity in the grin you get when you walk in the door and shown to a table.

The evening passed in a flash. We all ordered the prixe fixe menu -- the boys got the crab and the girls the pasta for the main course (plat in Paris don't you know), paired nicely with a bottle of Saintsbury chardonnay. Service is one thing Gracie's prides itself on -- not fussy, not stiff, just there when you want them; not fawning over the table treating customers as if they were longlost relatives.

The food was delicious, competitively priced and with service unmatched in the city it's one of the solid bets in these trying times. (When aren't times trying though, eh?)

Thanks Richard and Pauline; may the gods send you on a safe journey through the deep south.

Ciao for now,


Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year's Eve at Gracie's

This is the simple slideshow version: