I meet Greg Lloyd, President of Traction Software at the Enterprise 2.0 conference. I have written about Traction many times (see most recent - Traction Software Announces Team Page 4.0 with Multiple Upgrades). I told Greg about my restaurant picks and mentioned that I did not have Providence covered. That is the location of Traction and many excellent restaurants that I have experienced over the years. So Greg kindly offer to fill in this gap and produced the following. He went the extra mile and provided, not only the places, but the commentary that follows. Thanks to Greg. I am going to have to head down Rt. 95 soon.
Al Forno - One of Providence's most famous restaurants for casual elegant dinning. The focus is on northern Italy and southern France. Founded in 1980 Al Forno has a long established reputation to live up to. In my experience they do. Last week I had excellent spaghetti al cartoccio; wood-grilled octopus salad with shaved fennel, fava beans and citrus dressing; peach tart tatin. Pleasant and attentive service. The pasta, wood grills - including grilled veggie entree and dirty steak (cooked on the coals) - are always great choices. Special rule: Raise the ordering rank of any entree with Al Forno mashed potatoes by 25% (my favorite is scallops and Little Compton fresh sweet corn served embedded in AFMP), or just get a side order with anything. Wood grilled pizza is classic and a great appetizer for the table - although I prefer the tiny calamari, wood grilled octopus, or gratin of oysters. Your made to order dessert order must be placed with your entree - and is always a treat. The tarts and sorbets are my favorites. Reservations for parties of 6 or more Tue-Thur - otherwise be prepared to wait (or eat at the bar for a small party). Look to spend $50 to $100 per person - without wine - to have a very enjoyable meal.
Local 121 - In downtown Providence (centered a few blocks between Trinity Rep's theater and Kennedy Plaza) Local 121 opened in 2006 as part of landmark preservation project lead by Providence's AS220 art organization. It's in the restored Dreyfus hotel with a dining room and long bar and enjoyable drink menu. Local 121's menu is follows the "seasonal, regional" them - with creative and tasty variations that successfully brings out the best of what's fresh and local. For starters I like their soups - including the best upscale version of RI clear clam chowder, with a few cherrystones in the shell, onion, potato, Local 121 candied bacon, clear clam broth and seasonings. I like their pork chop with celery root (or grain mustard) spatzle - and recently enjoyed a small, perfectly cooked portion of swordfish with fiddlehead ferns. All simple and enjoyable. House made desserts are outstanding. Among many I like the ice creams (cardamon is great) and sorbets (a scoop each of blueberry and cucumber/lemon were a particularly happy combination). Small but nicely selected and reasonably priced wine list.
La Laiterie at Farmstead - A very small restaurant and wine/beer bar in Wayland Square (Providence East Side about a mile from Brown University) owned and co-located with the best artisan cheese and charcuterie store I know in New England. La Laiterie serves bistro style "treats, small plates, large plates," salads, cheese plates and desserts - all with a local food and seasonal focus. The menu changes all the time, but try for treats and small dishes try scallops, grilled sardine, chicken livers. For large plates I like the pan seared fish, quail - but the burger and cheesemonger's mac'n cheese get raves, although I never get that far down the menu and daily specials. In the summer you can eat outside - but be prepared to wait. Reservations can be made for parties of 6 or more - though I don't see how they would seat more than 6. Great desserts (e.g. rhubarb-ginger upside down cake).
Joe Marzilli's Old Canteen on Providence's Federal Hill (like Boston's North End) is an old-fashioned Italian restaurant in the best sense - it's been in the same family and location for over 50 years. Elegant but not fussy, with wonderful pasta, veal, seafood and traditional Italian American dishes prepared and served with care and taste. I particularly like the veal - including osso buco, eggplant dishes - and dandelion salad when it's in season. A Projo review said: "If you have not dined on the Hill recently, you may have forgotten that once there are waiters who were not actors between shows or stranded yacht crewmen. The Old Canteen's waiters are professionals who move smoothly, quietly, efficiently. They lack the unrestrained 'Hi, I'm Chuck' chumminess of some egalitarian eateries, yet each table recieves personal attention." You feel welcome when you enter - and leave happy and full.
Chez Pascal - A long time Providence East Side favorite follows in the French tradition with an emphasis on local, seasonal ingredients under the ownership of Matthew and Kristin Gennuso, who bought the restaurant in 2004. Small, classy comfortable with Bistro menu of three courses that changes every Tuesday. For example - the duck confit, escagot, lamb, roasted fish, pear upside down cake (with blue cheese, walnuts, caramel & creme fraiche) are all great.
Evelyn's Drive In - My nomination for best clam shack food including clam cakes, fried clams, scallops, pan roasted scallops - and above all Rhode Island style clear clam chowder. One of my personal favorites reviewed in: Searching for the Perfect Fried Clam | Rhode Island with a suggestion to finish you meal with home made ice cream at Gray's Ice Cream just a few miles away.
Chinese Iron Wok in Seekonk Massachusetts, just across the RI / MA line on Rt 6 has a wonderful selection of Chinese dishes, particularly Szechuan specialties. Crispy beef and chicken, sauteed chinese eggplant with garlic tops, green beens with garlic and bean sprouts (wow!), steamed fish, and noodle dishes (spicy) are all outstanding. Forget the menu and talk with the house staff about your likes and dislikes (e.g. no tripe) and you'll be very happy with the result. A favorite of Brown CS students and Prof Andy van Dam.
Lucky Garden Chinese Restaurant in North Providence (actually west of the State House, not far from Providence College), this is the other really good Chinese restaurant in town, with more focus on Cantonese dishes, dim sum on weekends, ginger and scallion crab, pea pod greens, traditional hot pot, pepper and salt soft shell crab, gold and silver eggs ... Try the Chinatown (Hong Kong style) menu. Also a Brown CS department favorite with the AvD seal of approval.