Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Brick Alley Pub (35 of 50)

Cuisine: American Seafood
Price: Moderate-expensive (~$20 entrees)
Score: 35
Would I eat there again: Yes

The Brick Alley Pub is one of the most popular spots in Newport, if not all of RI. Located on the upper stretch of Thames Street, it sprawls out through a series of 5-6 rooms (plus an upstairs), and a summer patio. Despite the copious number of seats, we still encountered a 45 minute wait midweek after 8PM. The Brick Alley has been around for over 20 years and won countless local awards and accolades, and still manages to put out decent food to a huge number of people. They don't quite break into my top ten list, but they are a perfect location for a party or group where you can get dependable, friendly service and soak in the chaos of a local landmark. I think the volume they are doing probably precludes them from reaching into the top tier of eateries, but given the challenges of operating a huge staff, and taking care of hundreds of people per seating, the Brick Alley does it quite well.

We thanksfully ended up being seated after only 20 minutes of our supposed 45 minute wait and got to enjoy their outdoor patio. To get there you wind your way through at least 3 rooms, with hallways, kitchens, and more seating areas off to the sides. That and the intense decoration style of the place can be a bit overwhelming. It looks like they started decorating their walls 26 years ago, and have never taken anything down, while continually adding more stuff. One Corona sign is ok, but do you need 4 in a row?

The staff was well trained and took good care of us, obviously used to being slammed just about all the time. The menu is actually three- a drinks menu, a specials and wine menu, and the normal dinner menu. Dishes covered the spectrum of American seafood, and showed little interest in reaching to more exotic fare. Most entrees are pretty expensive, but come with your choice of side and soup/salad bar. It is an interesting business model- it is hard to get a dish for much under $20 (unless you stick to the sandwich section), but it comes with enough food to satiate the most voracious appetite. I would have preferred a de-bundling option, but I suppose that is how they make their money.

The Portuguese clam pasta was bountiful and satisfying. No standout flavors, but well balanced and the Chourico was a nice touch. Their newport cioppino offered up an impressive assortment of squid, fish, scallops, littlenecks and mussels with a less memorable preparation. The sides we sampled (garlic mash and a baked sweet potato) and the salad bar fit the pattern, not offending while not really impressing us much either.

We did enjoy a Newport storm on draft (brewed just a few miles from the restaurant), served in a cheap plastic cup. The sound volume was fairly acceptable considering the masses around us, they thankfully don't pack you in too tight, and the leftovers and check were handled efficiently.

The Brick Alley Pub seems very comfortable and confident doing what they do, which is serving a vast sea of people decently good, satisfying food night after night. Not stellar, but perfect for a fun night with friends and for the experience of a Rhode Island institution.

Brick Alley Pub & Restaurant on Urbanspoon


Frequently Asked Questions:

Where are the new reviews?  Are you still alive?
After eating at over 50 locations in 2009 I realized a couple things.
1) My hobby was expensive. 2009 was not a great year to be spending extra dough.
2) While I had some great meals, too often we went home a little disappointed.  The food might have been ok, but it often was no better than what we would have cooked at home, in a similar amount of time, for 20% of the price, and far healthier.  We decided to save dining out for special occasions- eat out less, at nicer places.  
I look forward to revisiting many of the top 10, (and some of the others) where I had some truly inspiring dishes.

As such, I am retiring my reviewing for now.  I doubt many tears will be shed. 

What is happening to the Fishy Foodie next?
Do not fear, I will still be around, in a new broader, and hopefully somewhat more regular role.  I plan to start writing more about my real food passions, including fermentation, fungi (did you know yeast is a fungus?), and molecular gastronomy.  

I may throw in occasional noteworthy restaurant experiences from around the country.
I hope you have enjoyed the reviews so far (I will keep them up for a while- as long as they are still relevant), and that the new content is interesting!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Nero's Restaurant Oak (31 of 50)

Restaurant: Restaurant Oak
Cuisine: American
Price: Not cheap (~$20 entrees)
Score: 31
Would I eat there again: Eventually

Salt. What a powerful ingredient. Sodium, chloride, and that's about it. Wars have been fought over it, and it's the first half of the ubiquitous American spice combo- S and P. When used in moderation, it can enliven, heighten, and bring out the latent power of a dish. But add just a tiny bit too much, and the whole dish can come crashing down on your plate. At Restaurant Oak, we were victim to the latter.

In ten years of life in and around Providence I have driven down Hope St. and past Oak countless times and always been curious, yet had never dined there. Their neighbor probably doesn't help- when Chez Pascal is across the street from you the bar is set pretty high (in fact we watched as folks pulled up directly in front of Oak to park, then walked across the street to Chez Pascal...).

The decor is attractive and inviting (if rather reddish), and has nice big glass windows fronting on Hope Street. The waiter was very friendly and attentive, keeping our waters tended to (which was vital as it turned out) and taking good care of us. It was fairly slow the night we dined there (in the middle of our meal we were the only customers in the whole place) yet he managed to stay on top of his game and not get sucked into the comatose stupor that can befall wait staffs on slow nights.

Instead of the standard bread you often get, an excellent focaccia with a homemade hummus was provided as a house treat, and seconds were offered (and accepted!) when we finished the first round. For our dinners we shared the Oak meatloaf, and the smoked salmon club with the addition of sweet potato fries (a real weakness of mine). They both came out very quickly, which was hopefully a sign of a kitchen looking for work, and not overly pre-prepared dishes. The sweet potato fries were tasty and very salty, which can probably be forgiven/expected. The smoked salmon was decent, and had the lowest sodium content of the meal (although the bacon slices in it didn't help). The meatloaf dish was the epicenter of salted danger. Two very generous slices of meatloaf, topped in a gravy, with mashed potatoes, and green beans. Seems pretty innocuous. I started off with a couple green beans- very nice and crispy, but salty. The mashed potatoes started off good, but then you guessed it, the salt came through. At this point we were making a pretty serious demand on the water glasses, and our wonderful waiter kept the water coming. The meatloaf could have had great flavors in it, but all I could taste at this point was salt. My taste buds were overwhelmed, and I had to give up in defeat.

Now it is completely possible that a salt shaker had lost its top in the kitchen all over my plate. Perhaps this happened and nobody noticed. Or perhaps I was just the unlucky victim of an off night. Regardless, it was salt overload. Let me know how Oak has treated you- I am quite curious, but I am afraid for my blood pressure should I try again.

Nero's Restaurant Oak looks great, has a friendly staff, and a decent, if fairly standard menu. We ran into serious salt overload, but minus that one factor I think Oak has a lot of potential to be a good neighborhood eatery.

Restaurant Oak on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 10, 2009

Recently closed

Below is our list of recently closed Rhode Island restaurants.
If you have a restaurant to add, or one of the places below is NOT closed, please let me know at thefishyfoodie AT gmail.com.

R.I.P. to the following:
  1. Taqueria Pacifica- Downtown (September 30th, 2009)
  2. Chelo's - Wakefield (September, 2009)
  3. Chinese Laundry (September, 2009)
  4. The Blue Elephant (Mid-August, 2009)
  5. India - Warren Location (Early August, 2009)

New Restaurants

Below is an ongoing list of newly opened Rhode Island restaurants.
If you have a restaurant to add, please let me know at thefishyfoodie AT gmail.com!
Good luck to:
  1. Wings over Providence (Hope St- September 2009)
  2. Snookers (Ashburton St- September 2009)
  3. Ardeo (Waterplace Park- September 4th 2009)
  4. Baja Tex Mex (Thayer St, Providence- September 2009)
  5. Dakar (Roosevelt Ave, Central Falls- August 2009)
  6. Shark Sushi and Hibachi (Thayer St, Providence- July 2009)