Wednesday, December 10, 2008

La Laiterie (44 of 50)

Restaurant: La Laiterie
Cuisine: French seasonal
Price: average to pricy
Score: 44
Will I eat there again: Definitely

La Laiterie is a very well run and executed restaurant with delicious food (and cheese), and a wonderful selection of inebriating offerings. We started off with seasoned fried cracklings and a great belgian high-powered ale on draft (La Laiterie maintains 4-5 beers on tap- and they are all good- as in they are not normally found in 36 pack aluminum cans, unlike the draft beers at many restaurants). Cheese is prevalent on the menu- due to the fact that La Laiterie is an offshoot of Farmstead- THE cheese shop of Providence (you actually enter thru Farmstead- and then turn into a second room where the restaurant is).

The decor is simple and attractive, the service is attentive, and the bartender was very helpful. In addition to the cheeses, Farmstead offers some house-made cured pig options, which are quite tasty. A cured ham, cheese, and arugula grilled cheese and a locally raised beef burger served as our entrees- excellent although fairly rich. My only complaint is that while everything tasted excellent, the judicious use of fats from dairy, oil, and animal was quite noticeable throughout the whole meal. Perhaps that was just our fault due to what we ordered- but toning down the richness a notch could of elevated the meal even further I believe.

Fortunately a freshly crushed cranberry and Saint Germain martini (a popular house creation) cleansed our palettes as dinner was winding down.

Very good food and drinks in an attractive setting make for a memorable meal. There is often a wait- but it is well worth it.

La Laiterie at Farmstead on Urbanspoon

Tokyo (31 of 50)

Restaurant: Tokyo
Cuisine: Sushi/Japanese
Price: Affordable
Score: 31
Will I eat there again: Maybe

Tokyo Restaurant is one of the mainstays of Wickenden Street.  Sitting on some prime real estate (the corner of Hope and Wickenden), Tokyo dishes out dependable sushi at a reasonable price.  The most notable part of my dinner at Tokyo was how un-notable it was.  The food came out in a reasonable time, the service was decent, the food was ok, nothing stellar and nothing terrible.  Tokyo does have one room with floor tables, where you get to sit on a cushion and eat cross-legged (which I always enjoy- except for the near disasters from trying to get my legs out from the table without upending it...).
 There really isn't much more to say about it- other than that I have found the gold standard for my definition of average food in Providence.

A perfectly safe place to eat, Tokyo is not likely to shock, dazzle, or scare you.  They seem to have a formula down that works for them, and I imagine they are in no hurry to change it anytime soon.  
Tokyo on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Al Forno (46 of 50)

Restaurant: Al Forno
Cuisine: Tuscany/Provence
Price: Pricy
Score: 46

After 28 years in business under the same ownership, Al Forno is one of the best restaurants in Providence. It isn't cheap, they don't take reservations (unless you are a party of 6+ tuesday-thursday), they are open 26 hours a week (closed sunday and monday), and it is usually packed.
And it is packed for good reason. Al Forno is all about the food. There are other restaurants with longer wine lists, fancier decor and table settings, or more formal dining, but that doesn't faze the owners of Al Forno. While everyone is professional and polite, there is a decidedly casual feel to the entire dining experience. T-shirts next to suits next to children. They focus on technically exacting food with flavors that are mature, full, and balanced.

I had not eaten at Al Forno for several months, and could not let winter arrive without hitting up some of their classic autumn dishes. Pizza with pumpkin and spicy oil is possibly my favorite pizza, ever. Jo's upside-down cranberry baby cake, and chocolate bread pudding. Caesar salad with grilled to order croutons. Rigatoni with veal bolognese, and the spicy clam roast. I could go on- everything is very good and often memorable.

Expect to pay $40-$50 per person all told. This is a lot, but there are several other restaurants in the area where you pay far more and get far less decadently prepared dishes.

Al Forno now claims the top spot on our growing list of Providence restaurants! I look forward to the meal that will unseat it, but don't expect it any time soon.

Al Forno on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Noodles 102 (37 of 50)

Restaurant: Noodles 102
Cuisine: Asian Noodle
Price: cheap
Score: 37

Noodles 102 is an american take on a classic chinese noodle house. It is a small, nicely decorated place (seats about 20-25) that smells heavenly due to the kitchen being so close to the tables. Located on the increasingly popular strip on Ives Street, Noodles 102 opened in the summer of 2007. The owners are very present- when we visited both the husband (in the kitchen) and wife(out front) were there and hard at work. This direct attention to the service and food is much appreciated- it feels like you are at a friends house having a good meal (right down to the BYOB policy).

Drink options are fairly limited due to the BYOB- but it can be a fun change of pace- plus you get to drink exactly what you want. The menu is focused around two dishes- noodles in broth, and claypot baked with rice- all you have to decide is which meat and sauce you want. We tried the claypot with beef and thai coconut curry, and udon noodles with shrimp. Both were very tasty and fully seasoned. My coconut curry was actually pretty incredibly hot. I am not sure if the spice was intentional, but I would recommend that some warning be put on the dish for while I was comfortable with it, many people would be completely overwhelmed.

Noodles 102 is a very comfortable, welcoming restaurant with some great basic dishes at an excellent price. Bring a bottle of wine and enjoy!

Noodles 102 on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Kartabar (26 of 50)

Restaurant: Kartabar
Cuisine: American/Mediterranean
Price: Somewhat cheap
Score: 26

Kartabar, Andreas, and Paragon all fall into the same category to me- where the food is a means to an end- and that end being alcohol.  Not that the food can't be good at Kartabar, but rather it feels like a side note (i.e. if we give the customer a burger then they can keep on drinking longer!)  To be fair, when you are located on Thayer Street near Brown, RISD, and not far from Johnson and Wales and more, this is a pretty good idea.  Most customers here are not looking for fine dining- but rather to drink with their friends.  

Kartabar does this pretty well- they have an extensive drink menu and 2 well-stocked bars.  In the past I have been pretty happy with their pizzas and burgers and a beer- this time it was not so good.  The Sam Adams Oktoberfest tasted like the keg head was dirty- maybe the beer was just off, but it is unusual to have a Sam Adams that is actually bad.  We were not pleased.  

The food all tasted like it was pre-prepared frozen food from Sam's.  Perhaps it is- the prices seem a bit cheap for food actually made from scratch.  Calamari and fries felt like the frier temperature wasn't quite hot enough, and the littleneck clam pasta was seriously oily.  

Kartbar will always be popular, as it is primarily a place to drink.  Food can be hit or miss and we had the misfortune of a strikeout on our visit.

Kartabar on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Tini (43 of 50)

Restaurant: Tini
Cuisine: small plates
Price: Average
Score: 43

Tini is a restaurant owner's fantasy brought to life. Tired of cooking endless hours in a kitchen? Only stay open from 5-10PM, have twenty seats maximum capacity, and offer a total of ~15 items on the menu, including appetizers, specials, veggies, main bites, and desserts. It feels like George and Johanne (founders and owners of Al Forno) have created a space where they can do exactly what they want without regard to standard rules- knowing full well that their reputation will pull plenty of curious diners in for a meal. The only trick is, if you are going to make an unusual eatery, it better be pretty damn good.

It is.

When you enter Tini (right across from Trinity Rep) it feels like you are in the front bar of a posh restaurant. Except that is the whole restaurant. Somehow they manage to fit 20 seats into an area that feels about the size of a 15 passenger van. Seating is on the outside of a U-shaped bar, with two multi-function bartenders snugly placed in the middle. The only printed menu you get is for drinks- the food menu runs on a powerpoint style loop on a flat-screen TV on one wall. Neat idea, except for the 8 people sitting in front of the screen are a bit out of luck, and the 8 people on the far side never get to put their menu away.

Drinks focus on the pink cocktails (genus cosmopolitanus), the mar(tini), and an offering of very reasonably priced european wines. We had a great bottle of french white for $30, that offered a fruity body with well balanced sweet and acid notes.

Everything on the menu is small, but priced accordingly- the most expensive item was $10 on our visit. We grazed our way through 7 items (half the menu!) over 2 hours, including an endive caesar salad, homemade fries with a garlic mayo and hot sauce, magic beans, poached pear with gorgonzola, pomegranate, and frizze, steak tartare, and a dessert of 3 panna cotta shots, and a chocolate icebox cake. Everything was good. Flavors were mature and well rounded, hitting all your taste buds in a fashion similar to Al Forno. The poached pear salad was outstanding- probably one of the best prepared dishes I have tasted in the last year. Overall the food was very solid, with hints of perfection that I hope soon reach to more of the menu. With a little tweaking I think Tini has the potential to offer the best food around (they have only been open a week).

Service was perfect- fun, friendly and polite, and water glasses were always full.

The final key to Tini, and what makes it stand out for me was the seating arrangement. By sitting everyone around a single bar, and only having the one menu on the wall for the whole restaurant to read, it is unavoidable that you will end up talking with your neighbors at the bar. Being forced into this intimacy with complete strangers is most unusual for us New Englanders, but it was a great experience and it lent to a very cozy, homey feel for the entire night.

Tini is a unique offering in the Providence food scene. Good food combined with a memorable dining experience and impeccable service earns Tini the highest rating yet. Well done.

Tini on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 27, 2008

Union Station Brewery (35 of 50)

Restaurant: Union Station Brewery
Cuisine: American/Brewery
Price: Average

So I definitely have a bit of a bias towards reviewing beer-centric restaurants so far.  What can I say- it's Octoberfest time...   

Located in the midst of downtown, Union Station Brewery is a popular restaurant that also happens to brew their own beer.  Every week they have a beer special on tap- at $3.50 for a pint of in-house beer its pretty hard to pass up!  I had a tasty brown ale this visit that showed a good balance of malt and hops.  I would also recommend their sampler tray- you get a five ounce taste of all six of their current beers.

Service was friendly and attentive and water glasses were kept topped off.  You tend wait a little while for your food at Union Station Brewery, but with good beer and comfortable booths to keep you happy, this is not a problem.  The menu is relatively diverse if not amazingly unique: from a thai salad, to the requisite pizza, salad, and burger options, with a couple down-home cooking type options a la chicken pot pie.  The lobster macaroni and cheese actually is pretty full of lobster and appropriately decadent- the best dish we enjoyed that night.  The rack of ribs was only average, and while the buffalo chicken salad is tasty- the breading was a bit thicker than I would prefer.

A relaxed, comfortable atmosphere with dependable food and homemade beer make Union Station a reliable place to dine.  This is certainly not the pinnacle of food in Providence, but a place well worth visiting every few months.

Union Station Brewery on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Apsara Palace (36 of 50)

Restaurant: Apsara Palace
Cuisine: Mixed asian
Price: Very reasonable/cheap
Mmmm.... Apsara.  Apsara Palace is the offshoot of the original Apsara asian restaurant located on Elmwood Avenue in South Providence.  Now in its fourth year of business at 783 on Hope Street, Apsara is quite the hit.  We arrived at 6:40 on a Tuesday night and managed to grab the only seats left in the house (sitting next to a gentleman already eating at a 4-top).  Despite the full house and more people streaming in service was very quick, efficient, and friendly.  Apsara is a family-run business, and it really did have a feeling like home.  The atmosphere and presentation are pretty standard- a brightly lit, single dining room packed with tables.  

The food was pretty darn good as well.  The crab ragoon was average- but the crispy udon noodles and chicken pad thai were very satisfying.   Free tea and attentive service to our water glasses are also nice touches.  The food service was well timed, and our waiter was very responsive to any requests. 

Apsara is not a fine dining establishment, and it doesn't try to be.  It does what it does very well, and that is tasty, quick asian food, with good service, and a fun atmosphere.  
Apsara Palace on Urbanspoon

Siena (34 of 50)

Restaurant: Siena
Cuisine: Italian
Price:Above average
Score: 34

Siena is a very popular restaurant on Federal Hill in Providence (with a second location in East Greenwich).  It serves up Tuscan cuisine in a well decorated, dimly lit atmosphere.  Siena has won major awards from RI monthly- including Best Italian, and Best Restaurant in Rhode Island.  I had never eaten at Siena, so I was quite excited to try out a fresh menu, especially in a city renowned for its Italian cuisine.  

Perhaps I had raised my expectations artificially high, or perhaps I am just not a fan of the traditional and predictable restaurants that Rhode Islanders seem to love, where they seem to spend more attention on how they look, then on how the food tastes.   Call me crazy, but when I go out to a restaurant, I go for the food.  A comfortable, friendly mood is much appreciated, but the food is the crux.  

Siena looks good, and was packed (we had a 15 minute wait after 8PM on a Sunday night, when many adjacent shops were deserted) with well dressed, overly lubricated and perfumed diners.
(A side note: no hats are allowed in Siena, but no similar regulation seems to be enforced for the volume of their intoxicated patrons...)  Not the best start to a meal, but at least the service was consistent.  Consistently mediocre.

The food started off well with fried calamari under a balsamic reduction.  Definitely the best part of the meal.  Crisp, sweet, salty, and spicy.  The manhattan was well made and did the job, and the wine list is extensively italian. 

For a middle course we shared a grilled fig and prosciutto pizza. Grilled pizzas are popular in RI- with Al Forno continuing to set the bar in my opinion.  This pizza was awful.  To be fair, it was probably just cooked poorly- we should have returned it for another.  But I want to be fair to all eateries, so I take what I get for better or worse.  The crust was significantly harder to chew than your average corrugated cardboard- my jaw HURT after the first slice.  The toppings were nice- but irrelevant given what they were laying on.  Very sad.

To wrap things up we shared tagliatelle bolognese.  This pasta was completely average.  It tasted like what it was, and what you might get at an italian house of pasta (IHOP right?)  The flavors were present but sharply distinct- none of the aging and blending that allows a few ingredients to reach complex heights.  Also- wouldn't it make sense to allow diners to taste their food before offering to pepper it?  Not a great sign for expected quality.

Siena is and will continue to be a place many Rhode Islanders love.  It looks nice, has "class" and packs 'em in.  Visit for an anthropologic experience, but from my experience, Siena is not one of the best eateries in this city/state.
Siena on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Trinity Brewhouse (32 of 50)

Restaurant: Trinity Brewhouse
Cuisine: American/Bar
Price: Average
Score: 32

Trinity Brewhouse is first and foremost.... a brewhouse.  Trinity brews their own beer on location in a room visible from the dining areas which adds a unique touch to the establishment.  With beers such as an imperial stout, IPA, amber, seasonal brews and more, there is plenty of in-house beer to drink.  You can also buy growlers of their beer to take home (1/2 gallon) for about $11-12 dollars, and will get a $2 refund if you return your bottle.  They have a decent bar and quite 
a lot of tables, which is a good thing- since Trinity has a key location in downtown Providence, and is generally pretty busy.  

Why am I lingering on the beer so long?  Because that is really the main reason to pay a visit to Trinity.  The food- while offering a fairly good selection of bar food, and having some nice touches (sweet potato fries, burgers in a size besides gigantic) is pretty standard bar food.  There really isn't much else to say about the food we had- the service was pretty quick and friendly, presentation was decent, portions generous enough.  Get something to eat because all that beer is going to your head, or you really want some wings after a couple rounds, but don't go there just for the food.

Great place to have a drink with a friend.  Beer good- food ok.  Very average overall.
Union Station Brewery on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 3, 2008

Julian's (39 of 50)

Restaurant: Julian's
Cuisine: American/local/vegan friendly
Price: Slightly above average
Score: 39* (Average of 42 and 36)
Would I eat there again? Yes

UPDATED 2/24/09:
Upon a second visit Julian's was still good, but not as exceptional as the first time I dined there.
They still have the fantastic beer selection, and very interesting menu items, but this time they did not manage to execute the dishes quite as well.
When I revisit a restaurant I will average the score of the two visits to get a more accurate representation of the quality of the food over time.

Julian's has one of the best beer selections in the city. 8-10 quality beers on tap, (i.e. not the standard american pee water most restaurants feel obligated to offer) and a further 40-60 bottled beers, including a nice selection of 750ml high-end beers (Chimay grand reserve, Dogfish Head options, etc..) A smattering of wines and interesting cocktails (and a good attempt at offering non-alcoholic tasty drinks) round out the beverage choices.

The food is always innovative. Many restaurants have very standard menus: Pizza option, chicken option, random steak cut, etc... Julians combines a plethora of ingredients so that it takes a while to read the menu- to understand what they are actually offering you. And the result is generally very good. Presentation is attractive, taste is full, balanced, and fairly complex.

What some people dislike about Julian's:
Julian's has attitude. They are very popular, and hip, and they know it. You seat yourself, which they sometimes don't tell you right away, and are not in a hurry to attend your every whim. The food takes a long time- a result of the care they put into making it. When you go to Julians, go for an experience- while you are waiting for your food you can easily satisfy yourself checking out the walls, the drinks list, the other diners, and the staff. It almost feels like the staff just happens to be hanging out there that evening, and ohh yeah, they can bring your food I suppose.

If you want a restaurant that has innovative food pared with a fantastic beer selection (and a pretty decent mixed drinks list) Julian's could be the best in the state.

(At the end of every review, I will include the following breakdown of the meal. As reviews accumulate I will include a list of the top restaurants on the blog. An average score is 30, a perfect meal would be 50. Let's see how long Julian's lasts at number 1!)
Julian's on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Coming Soon....

The Goal?

An intelligent guide to eating in Providence, RI.

How will it happen?

Critical analysis of as many eateries as I can afford/stomach, about as often as I can!

When will it start?

About as soon as I figure out a semi-fair, relatively easy way to judge restaurants and their ilk.