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