Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Red Fez (38 of 50)

Restaurant: The Red Fez
Cuisine: American/Eclectic
Price: Average (~$12 entrees)
Score: 38
Would I eat there again? Yes

The Red Fez sits in a location perfectly suited to its ambiance. Smack dab in the heart of the historic downtown parking district and near the soon to be defunct 195 highway, it is not the first spot you might think of for a restaurant. But hey, at least there normally is parking! Its location fits the mood of the restuarant very well- a little off the beaten path, quirky, yet still clean and comfortable.

Dining is offered on two floors- the downstairs is the fancy dining room (i.e. only one stuffed animal head, almost sufficient lighting, and no pinball machine). The upstairs is where it gets really interesting- PETA activists may want to take a pass on the upstairs, as the red hues and profusion of formerly happy woodland creatures on the walls make quite an impression.

Attitude is everything though, and while they have some of the same ironic hipster feel of Julians, the staff is far more friendly, and the whole dining experience is lower key. The drinks list is not huge, but well balanced, with a good variety of bottled and draft beers ranging from $2-$15, and an acceptable basic wine list. A couple inventive-sounding house cocktails round out their offerings. We enjoyed a Paulaner Hefeweizen on draft, nice and refreshing with a subtle spicy citrus aroma.

The food menu is small, with normally a handful of appetizers, a few permanent menu items, and 3-5 seasonal offerings. Everything I have eaten at The Red Fez has been well done, and I often will dine on a variety of their small plates so we can try more dishes. This evening we started off with corn and ancho fritters and avocado, shrimp and corn tacos. The fritters had just the right consistency- soft and cushy with plump corn kernels liberally scattered throughout. Sweet chili sauce provided a good balance to the fritters. The tacos were tasty, simple and fresh. Not greasy at all, everything tasted like you wanted it to.

We finished off our meal with the pulled pork BBQ sandwich (which comes with local slaw and pickles!) This is a serious dish, two of us were not able to finish it off, despite having only eaten the two appetizers before this. The pork is super moist and tangy- a slight heat rides through the sauce that has a nice touch of sweetness. The bun was pretty hefty, but still collapsed under the power of the pork and slaw. Service was prompt and friendly, and waters never got empty.

The Red Fez is a unique restaurant in Providence that deserves more attention than it gets, although it seems like they might be happy with the way things are. Funky decor, creative dishes featuring local items, and a good drink list put the Red Fez solidly on the ten top list. Well done!

Red Fez on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Shark (32 of 50)

Restaurant: Shark Sushi and Hibachi
Cuisine: Japanese Sushi and Hibachi
Price: A bit above average
Score: 32
Would I eat there again? On occasion

*NOTE- Shark opened just two weeks ago, and as such is still very much in the formative stage. This review (and any other review of a newly opened restaurant) should be considered as a first impression, not a final judgement. It is written with the intention of giving an introduction to a new restaurant- so enjoy!

Dunkin Donut closed down on Thayer Street nearly two years ago. Their space (and more recently Spike's on Thayer) had sat empty until Shark started moving in. Work started in earnest a long 6-9 months ago, and in the intervening months they have done a complete makeover and update of the space.

The interior is dark and attractive, fitting in well with Kartabar, Andreas, and the rest of it's relatives on Thayer. Several flat screen TV's adorn the walls, and the staff looks like the standard Thayer wait staff (read into that what you want). The main attraction is the fish tank. Sitting squarely in the middle of restaurant (and filling the entire back bar area) the tank is pretty darn huge, and yes there is a shark, along with a lionfish, and a fun assortment of other tropical species that are hopefully shark-proof. It is refreshing to look at the fish instead of the same 100 quasi-high end liquor bottles.

There is an extensive cocktail list that seems a little stuck in the sugared up fruity martinis of the past 10 years, but has some fun options including a house made pineapple infused vodka. A fairly standard wine and beer list, and a few interesting looking sakes round out the drinks list.

The menu seems to have 3 main segments- sushi, more standard american entrees, and hibachi (also known as Teppanyaki). We did not try the hibachi which could be fun, but at $15-$30 per person I think I will wait for a special occasion. Their other entrees (pasta, fish, chicken and meat all looked fairly average, and seemed priced high ($16-$24 for the pasta options), but without trying them out I will reserve further judgement.

The sushi menu is fairy extensive with higher end maki rolls seeming to be the most interesting (if pricey with most specialty maki rolls over $10). We dined on a variety of standard sushi rolls (california, tuna, yellowtail, salmon skin, etc..) after starting out with their fried calamari and miso soup. The calamari was enjoyable with a good dose of pickled hot peppers and scallions tossed in. The menu also claimed a miso aioli in the dish, which seemed to be MIA from our plate, but sounded nice. The soup had a good flavor and heartiness, simple and just want you want from a warmup course. The sushi was all fine, nothing stood out particularly and it seemed to taste rather similar (this could have been due to poor ordering choices as well). It was fresh and clean, and I imagine some of the more fancy rolls and variations might be where the excitement is.

Service was very friendly and polite and waters were kept topped off. They certainly had plenty of staff on hand, which is a good thing as they were pretty busy (and with their restaurant seating ~ 120, they had better be ready for some serious rushes).

The grand opening is still a ways off- so hopefully they will get the chance to turn their good start into a great restaurant.

Shark is the newest addition to Thayer Street, challenging Paragon, Andreas, and Kartabar for the drinking & dining crowd. At this point it doesn't really stand out from the pack (in fact it feels like it could have been there for years), which hopefully will change as it gets some more experience under its belt. We could use a really good Japanese restaurant on Thayer, I hope they can rise to the challenge!

Shark Sushi and Hibachi on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Rhumbline (35 of 50)

Restaurant: Rhumbline
Cuisine: Seafood/American
Price: Fairly expensive
Score: 35
Would I eat there again? Yes, when I can afford it.

Rhumbline is my first reviewed restaurant on Aquidneck Island (Middletown, Portsmouth, and Newport, RI). Newport is only 45 minutes away from Providence, but this is Rhode Island we are talking about, where a 45 minute drive seems like a voyage to Europe. Service was not speedy, but for a relaxed evening with good food, drinks, and live music (Friday and Saturday), Rhumbline delivers the goods.

Parking can be rough in Newport, especially in the season (anytime you dare go outside with a bare head) and parking enforcement is renowed. Invest in a spot at the parking garage, it is well worth the peace of mind and not getting a $35 ticket!

Rhumbline has a decent wine list and makes a mean manhattan. As the name suggests, it is devoted to the sea, with nautical adornments on the walls, and a goodly selection of seafood on the menu. We started off with the steamed mussels- plump and juicy with a refreshingly simple and traditional preparation. Refills of bread were well appreciated for the tasty broth. For our entrees we shared the scallops and blue-cheese stuffed burger. The burger was right on- well seasoned, a little pink in the middle with chunks of fragrant, gooey cheese dripping out, and a sturdy, well proportioned bun. The scallops were again fairly straightforward in their presentation (and you pay $27 for 4), but cooked just right. Flavors were full and balanced, letting the named ingredient of the dish shine through the framing of the seasonings.

Rhumbline is not cheap, expect to pay $30-$50 a person. But it is very comfortable, popular with locals, and clearly has a dedicated hand in the kitchen maintaining a high level of quality in the dishes. For a good night out on the town when you aren't feeling too broke, the Rhumbline offers a nice alternative to the standard Providence options.

Rhumbline on Urbanspoon