Friday, December 23, 2011

Tini's in Providence

After slaving in the kitchen all day Susie, AKA the French Tarte, needed a break from the heat and admittedly pleasant pressures of baking --  naturally, in a city known for its food we went out to eat.

A favorite spot to grab an early evening cocktail or glass of wine is Tini's at 200 Washington Street, right across from Trinity Rep, one of the city's most popular theaters. This night, however, we decided to stay and enjoy Darius' latest menu offerings. And we were not disappointed -- no sirree!

So many people in this corner of the planet are familiar with Atwell's Avenue -- yet for us the "Federal Hill" cachet is more smoke and mirrors than anything else. Overpriced mediocrity is how we tend to describe  much if not most of the food on Atwell's. The real culinary gems, the places where you will find consistently outstanding cuisine are scattered around other corners of the city: Nick's on Broadway, Broadway Bistro, Ama's, Chez Pascal, New Rivers, Bacaro's and Cook and Brown to name our favorites.

Anyway, back at Tini's we settled on a pair of stools near the back wall (Hickock Syndrome) and kicked off with a brace of Rosy Cheeks cocktails - vodka, Campari and grapefruit jouce; and boy were these good!

For starters we ordered the "Spicy Broccoli" with chili peppers. Yes, it was a bit piccante but delicious -- roasted to perfection with just the right bite to it.

We both had pasta; I had Darius' homemade gnocchi -- with sourdough flour instead of potato -- in a rabbit ragu, kalamata olives and chiles.

Susie had the short ribs ravioli with mushrooms and gorgonzola.

Both pastas were washed down with a glass of Nebbiolo.

Like the other restaurants noted above, Tini's defines the new wave Providence food scene: quality, creativity, and value all wrapped up in just the portion.

200 Washington Street

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

New Rivers it is for New Year's Eve

It was a hard choice for New Year's Eve -- Nemo at Cook and Brown, Matt Gennuso at Chez Pascal or Bruce and Beau at New Rivers.

We opted for New Rivers: Five courses for 65 bucks and we requested the cozy room -- hint, hint. OK the new space has lots of glass and a wonderful view (at night) of the church steeple (they are on Steeple Street, after all). But it's just not, you know, cozy, bistro-like.

The idea is to support the handing off of the baton, the transition of administrations, and we want to help make that change as smooth as possible, to do our part. To say good-bye to Bruce and hello (again) to Beau and his crew.

Stay tuned -- we'll have a full report plus photos on January 1 (or 1 January for the Europeans).

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Well, they've done it again. Mike Sears and Allan, his main (and only) man in the kitchen have gone and produced yet another scrumptious, mouth-watering meal at Ama's. That's right, the man who recently moved a diner from the backside of Loie Fuller's parking lot two blocks down Westminster street and plopped it down on a brand-new foundation without so much as batting an eye. That Mike Sears.

In case you still haven't gotten over to Ama's you are missing out not only on some wonderfully delicious and imaginatively creative cuisine, but at a damn good value. And a wine list to match.

Susie and Andie had the bento boxes (15 bucks each) and the three of us split two orders of the green beans for apps -- and a bottle of French sparkling wine.

Thats living West side style.

Monday, December 12, 2011

New Rivers is doing a semi-special for New Year's Eve

I just heard from Bruce Tillinghast at New Rivers on Steeple Street in Providence. They will be offering a special five-course meal from a limited menu for $65 -- NOT including drinks, tips, tax. That's not bad. . . not bad at all!

Where to go for New Year's Eve Dinner in Providence?

Well, we've started the process of looking for a place to have dinner this NYE -- no, not the eat-until-midnight-and-then-break-out-the-party-favors sort of affair. Just a nice sit down dinner, special menu, maybe wine pairings to relax and usher out one part of our life while we make room for the next part.

So far we've ruled out La Laiterie/The Farmstead in Wayland Square. Their special menu appeared to focus on a beer theme, among other things that didn't really appeal to us.

Gracie's is doing the special midnight thing -- as they usually do, with theme and all. Sounds like fun but, again, not our style.

Tini's is going to be closed this year, I'm told.

Chez Pascal and Cook and Brown are two strong possibilities; they both claim to be working on a special menu -- but we're waiting to hear what the details are and cost. I'm also waiting to hear whether New Rivers is doing anything special at all.

Any ideas out there?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Bacaro's in Providence - An A+ meal

Last Saturday Susie and I headed over to Tini's downtown Providence for an aperitif before slipping across the river to Bacaro's for dinner.

A truly unique food bar Tini's is always a pleasant, cozy (emphasize cozy) place to hang out, chat and sip a cool glass of sparkling wine or try one of their latest cocktail creation (for us it was something called Must Lust that included prosecco, gin and fresh squeezed grapefruit joice).

Anyway, we did notice the big menu change: they are now offering larger portions, the traditional "main course" items featured on your typical menu. Since Darius is still the kitchen guru there shouldn't be any concern about loss of quality that's for sure. But American's seemed obsessed with big: big houses, big cars, big rooms, big portions.

From Tini's we scooted back to the car and drove five minutes through downtown and over the Crawford Street Bridge, up and around to Bacaro's on Water Street. We were right on time for our reservation and  seated straightaway. Service was just about right, although we'd both like to see more American restaurants be less attentive. I don't need someone coming by two or three times to ask if I need anything or if everything is OK. Usually they catch me with food in my mouth. Even so, if something isn't OK wouldn't I flag someone down and let them know?

Anyway, the food was superb -- in fact the starter of crispy octopus on a bed of creamy white beans with Swiss chard and all drizzled with honey was eeeeencredible. Following that up, Susie had crispy chicken with pappardelle and I had a scrumptious filet with tiny bliss potatoes and a salad. Large portions, particularly the pasta dish. (See Tini's above.) We each shared a 1/4 liter of white with the app and 1/4 liter of red wine with the main course.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Our A-list of places to eat in Providence

Providence is a food town -- a really big food town and there seems to be an endless places of eat. That's true, up to a point, for us at any rate. We seem to return to the same places again and again, always for the food first and foremost while service or ambiance typically figure prominently in our choices. Our perennial favorite is Pat Lowney's Broadway Bistro on Broadway (of course) in the west side. Whenever we want delicious comfort food: ribs 'n grits, incredible Brussels Sprouts (in season) or fishcakes or . . ., we never have to think twice about where to go. Whenever we want to just sit and relax over a crisp white or supple red wine, we know where to go.

Broadway Bistro. It's the closet thing to eating in someone's home you're likely to find in a city dominated by the food culture. No pretentiousness, no fancy service, you walk in, peek across the pass-through into the kitchen slide up to the bar or grab an intimate table with a window onto Broadway and you're set for the evening.

Next on our A-list is New Rivers steered quietly, carefully and wonderfully by the dynamic duo of food: Bruce Tillinghast and Beau Vestal. Incredible food and a fantastic wine list (ask Bruce for suggestions).

Next in line -- if such a thing as sating one's hunger for great food at a decent price can be somehow quantified and ordered like so many pieces of furniture -- anyway, our next choices would be:

Chez Pascal
Cook and Brown
Derek Wagner's Nick's On Broadway (that street again)
Al Forno
Iron Wok
Fellini's Pizza (Wickendon Street) tied with Bob & Timmy's Pizza (Spruce Street)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

O Dinis in East Providence

It’s no secret that Providence has become something of a Mecca for foodies. From the rather tired, jaded atmosphere of Atwell’s Avenue to the incredible food prepared by the young turks Downcity and on the East Side the food scene here can be quite spectacular.

But there is more to this city than the traffic jams of Atwell’s, the bright lights of Washington Street or the chic casual flair of eateries along Hope Street. There is East Providence where the food caters to families and to Portuguese families in particular. Two places have developed a bit of a reputation, one of which, “O Dinis,” we had the pleasant experience of enjoying last Thursday evening.

Located along the rather tired Warren Avenue and in a nondescript building with no parking (on the street please) the singular giveaway that you are about to enter another world is the large, brightly lit sign hung over the front door. We walked in and found ourselves in a slice of Portugal right here in the New World. The d├ęcor reminded us both of so many faceless cafes, bars, oseterie, ristorante, bistro scattered around the Mediterranean, places that we popped into on a whim or at the suggestion of someone who knew someone who we met, places that offered delicious food at a reasonable price, places that reminded you that restaurants, in some cultures at any rate, are meant to be an acceptable substitute for home.

That’s “O Dinis.”

A young woman who had just started balancing a large table of women preparing for a Halloween fest greeted us and quietly informed us we could sit wherever we liked. We scooted across the room past families, couples, and single men and found a table for two not far from the bar, by the front window.

The warm cacophony surrounded us, putting us in a cocoon of comfort and letting us relax in a restaurant for the first time in I don’t know how long. In one corner a TV tuned to a Portuguese channel,, at several tables around us men my age, older and younger, speaking Portuguese, occasionally slipping into English or something else altogether, it wasn’t always clear. But it was most pleasant.

Our server was Michelle. Lively, friendly but without that feigning intimacy so common in American restaurants, she was there when we needed her but otherwise off on her other appointed rounds.

Susie and I both ordered beef: sirloin grilled with a friend egg on top sandwiched by rice on one side and French fries on the other, pretty standard fare for the local Portuguese to find out later. Our starter was homemade grilled chorizo sausage. Our starter was washed down with a delicious Portuguese white, crisp and to the point, whiel the beef was compliment by a nice half bottle of red – from the same vintner as the white in fact.

I should say that I didn’t recognize any of the Portuguese wines on the list, at least they didn’t look familiar to any of the ones we’ve seen at Bottles on the east side of Providence,, where we now buy our wines.

The food was tasty – I’ll skip the rice next time we go -- and the fries were basic, probably out of a large bag – but the meat! Whoa! It was tender, succulent and perfect. We had a homemade flan caramel for dessert, also very nice. Service was impeccable and the price was right -- $58 for the two of the us, tip not included. We’ll definitely go back. And you should definitely go.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Monday, August 1, 2011

Eating out in Bangor, Maine

Friday night at Woodman's Grill for burgers:

Susie playing pool at Woodman's in Orono
The Stout Berger - beer-braised beef with bacon

Saturday the four of us opted for a return engagement to Green Tea, located in the maze of the Bangor Mall complex:

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Al Forno

We met up with Andrea for an early dinner at Al Forno in Providence. Located just over the Point Street Bridge from where we work at Davol Square, it was certainly an easy drive. The restaurant doesn't participate in Restaurant Weeks, now underway in Providence, but that didn't seem to slow business in the least. By the time we left the place was packed with hungry eyes searching here and there for a spot to land.

We decided to skip going indoors for dinner, choosing instead to sit amidst the warmth of a green arbor that seemed to nearly envelop everyone as they walked inside. Notwithstanding the rush of traffic on nearby I-195 it was a real treat to sit outside and relax over what would be a very tasty meal indeed.

An aperitif followed by a bottle of Gavi helped speed things along and make the warm evening air seem just a tiny bit cooler. First things first, as they say, and kicked the evening off by sharing the corn fritter app. . .

. . . and while Susie and Andrea split a Caesar salad  I had zucchini blossoms:

While several things on the menu looked tempting, we gravitated toward their classic grilled pizzas: Andrea and Susie each had the fresh corn pizza and I had the calamari with arrabiata sauce.

Frankly, the squid was some of the best I've eaten eaten, the breading was just about perfect I thought and the arrabiata sauce deliciously piccante, sparking each mouthful of food.

The service was quite good, the table bread scrumptious although they seemed reluctant to provide more than a drip or two of olive oil in a tiny pitcher. Odd.  And the prices are a bit steep we thought, hovering around Gracie's and Bacaro's, but the food was wonderful, with nothing but glowing reports from all quarters.  There you have it.

Life is full of tradeoffs.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Boat House in Tiverton

The question has often been asked at our dining table: why are there so many restaurants along the water serving so much mediocre food? Here we are, living smack in the middle of a state largely on the water and yet you'd be hard pressed to find decent local fish let alone fish that was well-prepared at most of the waterfront restaurants. (But then this is not a phenomenon unique to RI but we've seen this over and over again: Maine, Vermont, Virginia, Michigan, the list seems endless.)

To New England foodies it's no secret that the Newport Restaurant Group has the lock on picking gorgeous locations to site their eateries tempered by uninspiring menus. Every time we get the urge to sit by the water, sipping an aperitif while spending a relaxing evening dining out we find ourselves at either Waterman Grille (the "e" at the end is a giveaway) in Providence or the Boat House in Tiverton (both NRG properties). And every time we remark afterward that the best thing about the dinner was the water.

Our latest outing to the Boat House was a case in point.

It was a gorgeously warm evening this past Monday when we headed east to Tiverton and the Boat House for waterfront dining. We had been here once before a couple of years back for brunch and were impressed by the location -- and the food as we recall was not bad then either. But this was to be a much more challenging experience.

The wine -- a vinho verde -- was crisp and nicely chilled. The Point Judith calamari app was delicious to be sure but my fish and chips bordered on appalling: a piece of cod trapped inside an enormous rock-hard shell of something that had probably once been bread or some flour-base derivative. The cole slaw was warm, in fact nearly hot, the tartar sauce was so thin it would've made a tartar switch to beef and the fries were heavy, soggy and pretty much devoid of flavor. Susan's salad was thin and the quinoa was sparse although her crab cake was OK, yet still unremarkable.

The wine prices we thought about average here but the selections seemed weighted in favor of those jug wines that would be familiar to people not generally familiar with wines in the first place. In all fairness, we had two glasses of the vinho verde and I almost sprang for the bottle: the price was a very good value at $26. Otherwise be careful about your choices and don't count on the staff to be of any more help than the nearest marketing department.

Service was hit or miss -- again, in all fairness the volume these kids have to handle is quite overwhelming so you should have to take that into consideration. Still, our server never asked us about the food nor did the other server comment when she removed my largely uneaten plate of food.

When going to either the Waterman Grille or the Boat House, the important thing is to focus on salads (generally OK) or, an even smarter move, the burgers.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Dessert at Gracie's for New Year's Eve

December 31, 2009, late -- Gracie's was hoppin' -- better late than not at all, eh?

For the special NYE dinner menu, two dessert setups were prepared, but I only got a chance to snap this one:

Happy New Year! That's the catchphrase of the day. Make it the focus of the whole year and we'll be all set.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Some great dinners out in Providence but beware of the high-priced drinks

This past spring we've returned to Ama's, Cook and Brown, Broadway Bistro and, just last week, Chez Pascal where we both enjoyed the bistro menu. Any of these will serve delectable food just about any day of the week, with fairly consistently good service. But I suppose if we had to rank them would be BB, Ama's, Chez Pascal and C & B, in that order -- the best value in our mind still is BB with Ama's following a close second (although their menus are radically different). Also, the last time we at C & B we felt the aperitifs were a bit steep (comparatively speaking.

And speaking of steep, it would appear that the local "cocktail culture" here in greater Providence is sliding out of control. We recently had an aperitif at Loie Fuller, right across the street from our condo. We like to pop over there from time-to-time, mainly for an early evening drink, saving their menu for Sunday Brunch (incredible food).

Anyway, we ordered what was a custom drink consisting of Campari and dry Vermouth topped off with a splash of prosecco, in a champagne flute for $14 apiece! The better cocktail value is still to be found at The Avery -- also in our neighborhood -- with the added benefit of letting you walk 30m across the street for dinner at Ama's.

Now THAT's value.