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.