The WaterPlace Restaurant: Enjoy a water's edge seat for WaterFire
WaterPlace has evolved over many years and many incarnations. Currently it is part of the Marra group (which includes Twist on Angell), which means it is well-run and consistent in terms of its menu offerings. The major draw, of course, is its location. On three levels, built into the hill which rises above the basin at WaterPlace Park, the restaurant offers many opportunities to enjoy drinks while watching WaterFire or a production by Trinity Rep's conservatory actors on the adjacent stage. Dining is indoors, but event planners often arrange buffets so that one can grab a plate and then head for the outdoor action.
One major benefit: free valet parking. Given how difficult it is to park in the vicinity, this almost makes it worthwhile to spend the evening. (Actually, the restaurant staff is very accommodating if you choose to go to Vet's Auditorium for a concert or performance and leave the car safely stashed.)
Update in December 2010: The Marra Group has filed for Chapter 7, so likely WaterPlace will ultimately be liquidated or perhaps the lease purchased by another restauranteur. I'll update the tip as required.
- Business Travel
Gourmet Heaven: Best buffet in town
When the Downcity area began its gentrification (sometime around 1998, although it took until at least 2003 before results became widespread), wise policy makers pointed out that it wouldn't help to build a lot of condos or loft apartments unless there were service businesses in the immediate vicinity. People who can walk to the train station might not want to have a car in the city, and that meant...how would they shop for groceries? (Since then, we've found an answer to that question, but I digress.) So two or three fleeting attempts were made to provide a suitable market for the yupsters, but they all fell flat.
Then came Gourmet Heaven. Not only does it manage to pack in an astonishing array of absolutely essential stuff (from cleaning supplies and pet food to dried seafood snacks and vegan frozen foods and the best selection of cookies around) in a relatively small footprint, but it also offers a great selection of hot and cold prepared foods in the best buffet around. There are always seven or eight great salads, a variety of fresh fruits, pasta dishes, eight or ten meat entrees, and lots and lots of beautifully prepared vegetables in an ever-changing array -- though GH tries to keep the crowd favorites on the menu every day, so if you've discovered an affinity for their marinated sauteed mushrooms or that cold day stand-by, mac and cheese, you're likely to find them. There's also a deli station for freshly-made sandwiches and a dessert counter that necessitates a lenthy trip to the gym if you decide to nibble.
It's fast, it's very good, and it won't break the bank. FINALLY.
Favorite Dish: I particularly like a chick pea-olive-onion-feta salad, and I'm so glad to have a place where I can get slices of fresh pineapple for dessert without having to buy a whole container.
- Family Travel
- School Holidays
Local 121: Into fresh?
There is a lot to like about Local 121. For starters, it inhabits a completely rehabilitated space in the historic Dreyfuss Building (the rest of which is gradually being transformed into affordable live-work space for artists). Then there are the three completely different venues on-site: the cozy bar with stained glass, the elegant dining room, and the rathskellar (down cella, as they say in Little Rhody) where one can enjoy a private party in great comfort. But naturally the main draw is the food, which is conscientously LOCAL, from organic, sustainable growers who probably walked in with their produce, meat, poultry, dairy products, seafood, and other necessaries. This means that the menu changes not just seasonally but often weekly so that flavors are captured at their peaks.
Even so, I have to admit that I have tried Local 121 several times with a kind of prejudice about it that I haven't entirely shaken. It isn't that the service is bad, the food boring, or the prices exorbitant. Maybe it just isn't "my" place, even though it is only a block or so from my office and thus convenient for business luncheons. But don't let my unspecified disquiet affect your choice of eatery. I think you'd likely enjoy Local 121.
- Business Travel
- Beer Tasting
LUXE: Build that burger!
Although LUXE bills itself (even on the marquee) as a Burger Bar, it is owned by John Elkhay -- think 10 Steak and Sushi -- and thus at least nods in the direction of Thai and Japanese offerings. You can get an Ahi tuna burger, for instance. There are even salads for ladies having business lunches. But face it, a place that invites you to "pimp your fries" (49 cents each to add bacon, chili, or brown gravy) is really looking for the customer who wants to come in and have a large plate of cholesterol. The shtick here is that one is given a golf pencil and a nine-step "menu" on which you build your own burger, selecting one of six basics (including chicken and veggie) and then choosing temperature of the meat, type of cheese, variety of toppings, premiums (guacamole, sauteed mushrooms, etc.), sauces, bun type, and side. That's kind of fun and actually allows you to personalize your sandwich for a cost that is equal to or less than the standard menu offerings.
I'm told there's a live DJ on Friday and Saturday nights. No cover charge!
Open Sunday-Wednesday noon-11:00 PM, Thursday-Saturday noon-midnight.
Service is both inside and, weather permitting, outdoors on a segregated terrace. Our server was prompt and knowledgeable.
- Business Travel
- School Holidays
The Sunnyside: Always a sunny day
To be honest, I'm a little ambivalent about telling you about the Sunnyside, because it is already immensely popular and that means it's almost always a wait to get a table, so why spread the word? Only because it's fabulous, and it would be a shame for a visitor (at least, a visitor with access to a car) to miss it.
Three seasons of the year, you can sit looking out the huge windows on three sides of the restaurant, looking at the water or perhaps the lovely little garden, which is pretty even in the snow. When summer arrives, the place to be is on the outdoor patio. The accommodations are cozy inside -- beadboard walls, open beamed ceilings, chairs with comfortable cushions -- and the kitchen is open to view. Everything prepared is fresh and local -- and beautifully presented. The problem is always what to choose, becaue I've never been disappointed. the staff is friendly and knowledgeable. As soon as you sit down, a little tray with a couple of mini-muffins (craisin and pecan) arrives with homemade jam and butter. Welcome!
Breakfast and lunch are served 8:00 AM - 2:00 PM Wednesdays-Fridays; brunch from 7:00 AM - 2:00 PM Saturdays and Sunday.
(Cooking classes are also available here, if you're around for a longer visit. Check the website for details.)
Updated October 2013: Sadly, the Sunnyside has closed. The word is that the chefs are developing a new Warren location. I'll keep you posted.
Favorite Dish: Start with wood-grilled grapefruit. Then it's a toss-up: codfish cakes with red and green peppers with poached eggs, Hollandaise and chives, or the baked raisin French toast with sauteed apples and real maple syrup.
- Women's Travel
- Family Travel
Seven Stars: My favorite Providence bakery
People have bakery preferences in Providence, depending upon where in the city they happen to live. And I'm not saying a word against any of those other places; I've never met a bakery I didn't like. But once Seven Stars opened, a lot of folks began making the pilgrimage to Hope Street to sample its many artisan breads and incomparable ginger biscuits (scones). They started coming on Saturday mornings to enjoy coffee and visit with neighbors. They started flocking after church on Sunday to have freshly made, innovative sandwiches. Pretty soon, Seven Stars opened a couple of other enclaves, which makes it easier for the folks on Federal Hill and in Rumford to enjoy the bounty East Siders have come to take for granted.
Hours: Monday — Friday, 6:30 am — 6:00 pm
Saturday & Sunday, 7:00 am — 6:00 pm
Favorite Dish: Russian tea cakes that melt in your mouth. Old fashioned macaroons (coconut and almond). Crusty Kalamata olive bread. Succulent pumpkin muffins.
- Family Travel
The Duck & Bunny: What's a snuggery?
A whimsical combination of a creperie, a bar and a cupcake outlet, The Duck & Bunny is the latest incarnation of the space on Wickenden Street which was once the Blue Elephant Cafe and previously a rather nice BYO Italian restaurant. In my opinion, the third time is the charm, as I liked everything about D&B which bills itself as a snuggery -- and lives up to the billing. There is a lovely bar-cum-dining area on one side of the entry, and a less hectic dining area on the other, but the best spot of all (in season) is the garden in back, with those marvelous rocking lawn chairs and shady tables surrounded by flowers and foliage.
Although there are salad choices (all of which looked yummy) and other items on the menu, the major draw is crepes, both sweet and savory, and a "tea bar". I'm definitely going to come back to sample their traditional English afternoon tea -- at $18.00 pp a little expensive, but it comes with a selection of crustless tea sandwiches, freshly baked scones, clotted cream and fruit preserves. I can just imagine a winter afternoon, sitting at one of the marble tables in the snuggery...
Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10:00 AM - late
Favorite Dish: I'm planning to come back frequently, because both entrees I sampled -- specialty crepes featuring smoked salmon, capers, and creme fraiche on an herb crepe formed into "purses" and tied with a scallion, and roast beef with caramelized onions and tomatoes with a horseradish sauce drizzled over the top of a crepe -- were excellent. My friend and I couldn't resist trying the cupcakes with a pot of Earl Gray. Her red velvet looked and tasted delicious. My chocolate peanut butter truffle was a trifle too much of a good thing; next time I think I'll be less adventurous. But no complaints. Pleasant service, too.
- Food and Dining
- Romantic Travel and Honeymoons
Farmstead: Cheese, glorious cheese!
My favorite eating/shopping guide to the Ocean State prefaces its description of Farmstead with this: "To brie or not to brie is not a question worth puzzling over. The answer is YES..." So true! When Farmstead first opened in Wayland Square in 2003, it was a huge success that eventually spawned an outlet on Westminster Street to cater to the business lunchers and wine-and-cheese purchasers (since closed, unfortunately). The original Farmstead is fairly robust in size, with a major cheese and cheese accessories side coupled with an eat-in (and in the summer, eat-out) restaurant, La Laiterie. It is frequently crowded and tends to be more expensive than is strictly comfortable for every-day fare. But you'd wow 'em if you brought a selection of Farmstead cheeses to your next party...
Open Tuesday-Saturday, 10 AM - 7 PM.
Favorite Dish: I love the charchuterie, an ever-changing mix of cheese, sausage and pate, pickles or olives, and dried fruit. Especially sitting outside on a balmy spring night, with a good bottle of red wine. They also have excellent desserts!
Update, January 2015: Alas, alas, Farmstead's two locations have now been closed. Word has it that the chefs are developing a new concept, so stay tuned!
- Wine Tasting
- Luxury Travel
Julian's: Best Benedicts in town!
I always take Providence visitors to Julian's, because there isn't anything else like it. It is generally full of artists and other interesting people, and has a constantly changing menu with lots of attention to organic and vegetarian preferences. They serve brunch, lunch and dinner, but are perhaps best known for their incredible Benedicts (which range from the usual varieties to one with lobster...mmmm!), served all day, as well as the fascinating collection of Star Wars memorabilia in the cans. Brunch is always crammed with people, so be sure to go early. During nice weather, dining spills out onto sidewalk tables; on a cold day, it's fun to sit at the bar and watch all the food prep going on in plain view. Portions are generous. Don't hesitate to ask for a half-order. The wait staff is quite accommodating.
Special note: Julian's participates in the gift certificate program run through www.restaurant.com. On that site, without an enrollment fee, you can buy a gift certificate for $12.50 that entitles you to deduct $25.00 from the cost of your meal. It's definitely worth checking out if you're the plan-ahead type.
Favorite Dish: Okay, I know I raved about the Benedicts, but my personal favorite is the mushroom and boursin "hash" -- basically hashed potatos with the aforementioned stuff rolled in. It is hot, delicious, and slightly tangy from the cheese. Not a dish for the dieter, I'm afraid. The hashes also come in a great variety and I've tried most of them.
Please note that my price range is for breakfast/brunch. Dinners run quite a bit more.
Temple: Masonic delights
I didn't want to like Temple. After all, who puts a great restaurant in the cellar? Who lines the entire place with marble, so that in theory sound will bounce around insufferably, making it impossible to talk? And yet, I found that I was really taken with the place, which turned out NOT to be noisy, and not really even in the cellar -- the site's grade means that you walk down a lovely staircase to get there, but if you happen to sit in one of the banquette seats (watch out, though, those steel-topped tables are icy cold) you'll have a fine view of the State House just across the street. Once seated, service was very fast, friendly and efficient. My guest and I sampled a number of different luncheon items and I'll definitely be back for the Sunday buffet brunch. A couple of notable things: the Masonic Temple, which has now been transformed by Sage Hospitality to the Renaissance Hotel Providence, was left unfinished for about eighty years and, unsurprisingly, it became a favorite spot for taggers. Sage made a virtue of necessity and hired some of the most creative graffiti artists to decorate their new hotel. Check out the door to your right as you enter the Temple precincts -- just a sample. There's more in the charming bar/music area which is tucked under that staircase.
Update for 2013: Temple closed on 12/27/12, in part because Sage sold the hotel. It is apparently going to reopen this spring under new management. Stay tuned!
Favorite Dish: The pulled pork sandwich was succulent and a pleasant surprise at such an upscale eatery, but it could have used a bit of cornbread for authenticity. My guest's salad was innovative and beautifully presented. We each had a berry-encrusted miniature cheesecake for dessert. I took a peek at the dinner and brunch menus and think most people would find an assortment of palate-pleasers here.
- Business Travel
- Romantic Travel and Honeymoons
10 Prime Steak & Sushi: Can't decide?
For several years, I refused to patronize this restaurant. It wasn't that I thought it was likely to be bad (which, when I finally entered, it definitely wasn't), but that it had supplanted an excellent deli which had been a mainstay during my early years practicing law in Providence. RIP Christopher's...this is indeed a worthy successor, even though the menu couldn't be more different. "10" is one of several restaurants owned by a creative group, and my major problem with it now is that it is kept almost glacially chilly. Surely there are easier ways to preserve the freshness of the fish for sushi than turning the clientele into icicles?
At any rate: trendy, pretty restaurant with very crowded seating. Bar on one side, banquette tables on the other. The best tables (only ones where you aren't pretty close to your neighbors) are in the window overlooking prosaic Pine Street. The big draw here is that both sides of the equation -- the steak, and the sushi -- are done to perfection. And try to pomegranate martini!
Favorite Dish: I fell in love with the organic steak salad, which comes with a very generous portion of filet cooked as you like it. The bento box, though, is well worth ordering -- a nice selection of sushi, sashimi, sticky rice, seafood salad, and tempura vegetables. I found the chowder and miso soup both a trifle salty but the lobster bisque is superb. Note that my price guidance is for luncheon.
- Business Travel
Aspire: Aspire to something better
Aspire has a couple of things going for it -- a great location, immediately adjacent to the Freeman pocket park on Westminster Street (meaning that summer diners can enjoy tables under the trees, next to the fountain), and an interesting decorating scheme which put a few cozy booths amidst the dangling crystals and multi-colored glass panels separating the bar area from the main dining rooms. But, but, but...when I tried it for lunch early in Restaurant Week, with a virtually empty dining room, the service was glacially slow and the food, when it ultimately arrived, was nothing to rave about. All three of my guests selected a particular dessert which was on the special Restaurant Week menu, but which proved to be unavailable. The substitute, a ginger gelato with berries, tasted "like mold" to one of my guests -- who hadn't been too thrilled with her miso-basted salmon with baby bok choy, either. I wouldn't go again and I don't encourage you to try it, either.
Favorite Dish: I had a very adequate chopped salad but it could have arrived via taxi from North Providence considering the wait! The guest who ordered fish and chips reported that it was okay. The guest who ordered a chicken panini didn't eat any of it. So I'm wondering whether you ought to just have a frosty drink outside and then find yourself some decent nosh elsewhere amongst the bounteous supply of great Providence restaurants.
Update (July 2010): I've tried Aspire a couple of times since my original review, and the service problems have been largely resolved. The restaurant is clearly trying, and has built a loyal after work-for-drinks crowd, especially during Monday "Yappy Hour" when dogs are welcome to the outdoor tables and special biscuits are served.
Bravo Brasserie: Euro-style, great ambiance, theater-friendly
Bravo has been open for a couple of years in a location which has been death to a number of other restaurants -- and for my money, this is the best of the bunch. Directly across the street from Providence's Trinity Repertory Theater, Bravo manages to make you feel like you're part of a trendy private club, with lots of leather, bottles of wine, comfortable seating, fresh linens, and a dedicated waitstaff. I don't believe there's a better place in town for lunch, although things do get crowded and it is hard to have a private conversation because the noise level can rise. Sidewalk tables in good weather add to the dining capacity and the sense that you might be somewhere in Europe. But no place gets by on tricks, and Bravo has an excellent menu.
Summer 2008 update: Bravo is in receivership, a casualty of the economy. At the moment it remains open and functional, so please patronize it while you can!
Favorite Dish: Mmmm...the hanger steak with frites. I could eat it twice a week without growing tired of it. Perfectly marinated and cooked meat, crispy fries. My idea of heaven.
- Business Travel
- Theater Travel
Horton's Seafood: Up for a drive to get GREAT clams?
Horton's will never win a prize for ambiance, but it definitely has the best fried clams in Rhode Island -- not to mention excellent chowders, lobster rolls, fish & chips. The line is out the door on Fridays. It is literally ten minutes from downtown Providence, but across a bridge, which means many of the "locals" won't bother (there being both a bridge phobia and a sense that anything not in walking distance isn't a good bet). But if you're from somewhere else, what's ten minutes? Unless it is summer and you're enjoying the clams on Aquidneck Island or at at Quito's in Bristol, this is the place. Give yourself a treat.
Favorite Dish: Make mine a clam chowder and clam roll. Oh, yeah.
- Budget Travel
Red Stripe: Fine food, huge portions, uneven service
Red Stripe is the hot, (relatively) new venture for a restauranteur who also operates Mills Tavern, one of the priciest places in town -- and it is definitely worth a visit. Somehow, space which used to be a Newport Creamery (think ice cream shop with booths) has been transformed into an up-scale, even elegant, place that is always bustling with an eager young waitstaff and a lot of happy eaters. I call it "American" but the food is all over the map -- an omelette aux fines herbes, mussels in ten different varieties, semi-Italian goodies, Cod cakes, the most astonishing hamburger with guacamole, Havarti and caramelized onions, etc. Parking can be a bit of a challenge, even on Sundays, and waits are not unknown. But our book group liked the place so much that we met there every month for lunch and chat. Until recently, when in two successive months we had absolutely disastrous service experiences. Month #1 it took them close to 90 minutes to serve us breakfast, and we took home a gift card to defray the costs of the next visit. Month #2, somehow one of our entree orders wasn't given to the chef. I knew others had experienced these glitches, but this was my first encounter. So I'm downgrading Red Stripe, even though the food generally is exceptional.
Be warned: portions are immense, and sometimes the "frites" kind of overwhelm the entree. Also, they make their Bellinis with peach schnapps, which packs more of a punch than nectar.
Favorite Dish: Don't laugh: it's the grilled cheese sandwich. You can order it "bare" but the Red Stripe version comes with prosciutto, tomato and pear and is simply out of this world. The slices of bread are about an inch thick, so you can easily make two meals out of a single sandwich.
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