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Jul 6, 2007 08:10 AM

Loie Fuller, Providence--Not Ready for Prime Time

I finally made it over to Loie Fuller last night. While there are some things to like, I had one of the least satisfying dininig experiences I've had in Providence in quite some time.

First, the good news: The place, as mentioned previously, is beautiful, with incredible Art Nouveau woodwork, murals, and mosaics on the floor. It could easily pass for a Belle Epoque place in Vienna or Paris. I also had the Framboise Lambic on tap ($7), which was surprisingly sweet, very much like a kir royale made with a light lager instead of champagne, but it was a nice aperatif for a warm night. And the wine list, while limited, is well chosen and very reasonably priced. We had an excellent 2000 Guyon Aloxe Corton (Burgundy), which at $44 is a steal, as I'd expect it to be $35 in a shop, if you could find it.

The bad news: Perhaps it was because of the Projo review on Wednesday, but when we arrived at 6:30, the place was packed, with a surprisingly older crowd. They don't take reservations (which is a pain), and we were told the wait would be 40 minutes. The bar area is small and loud, but we decided to stay. One hour and 50 minutes later, we were seated. A couple of very small apologies, no offer of a drink or anything else, nothing other than an exasperated "what can we do, the diners are taking their time." We were starving when we finally sat down.

Once we were seated, the service was mediocre, almost indifferent. We had our excellent wine, and had 3 appetizers: a seared scallop salad,($9) 3 large scallops with a citrus vinagrette over rocket, which was very good; an "asparagus waffle" ($9), with foie gras butter and blackcurrants, which turned out to be four small wedges of cold, waffle shaped something, tasted vaguely cardboardy, served cool, with smeared smudges of butter which did have a distinctive foie gras flavor. There was no obvious asparagas flavor at all; and, "fried courgettes, with raclette cheese",($8) which we expected to be zucchini cut into circles, but in fact was cut into 4 quarters, like a pickle, deep fried in a thick batter and covered with tasteless melted cheese. I can't imagine why anyone over 10 years old would ever order this again, and we didn't finish ours.

For mains, two of us had the ravioli with pistachios in brown butter and balsamic reduction sauce (very reasonably priced at $8). It was quite good, though laden with butter, not for the faint of heart. I had their version of steak frites ($15), as we had seen the large plates with frites going by during our interminable wait, and I couldn't resist the urge. The steak, surprisingly, was a small fist-sized piece (idenitified as a "club sirloin" on the menu. I ordered mine medium (I know, I know), but when it arrived it was woefully overcooked, well past medium well. At this point, after 9:15 (remember, we started here at 6:30), I didn't have the energy to send it back. It came with a too-sweet sauce, in a little metal cup, and fries were a big disappointment, especially for someone who loves the proper frites at Red Stripe. These were hot and crisp, but were clearly made from frozen shoe-string potatoes, We ate less than half.

For dessert, we tried the Pear tart with ginger ice cream ($7), which was OK, a bit too "rustic" for my tastes, though the ginger ice cream was good, and the milk chocolate pot de creme ($3.50), served in an espresso cup. It was very good, though I don't know why they went for milk chocolate, as a dark chocolate version would be much more satisfying to end the meal, IMHO.

All in all, I doubt I'll be back until they take reservations. If they did, I might give them another chance.

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  1. I agree that this place has both positives and negatives. First off, it's right in my neighborhood, which makes an extra cocktail or two at the end of dinner much safer. Also, it's quite lovely inside. Further, the prices are great and, for the most part, I've enjoyed the food.
    My one beef is the fact that everything is so damned slow. My husband and I both like the ravioli and usually order that. Last time we were there, it took an hour and forty five minutes for our entrees (although we did start with salads). I guess I just don't understand the whole "wait til they're done with their appetizers to begin the entrees" method. You'd think they'd want a quicker turnover, as logically they'd be able to feed more people that way. Call me crazy, but more people equals more money.

    1 Reply
    1. re: invinotheresverde

      I went on Saturday night. My friend and I were surprised by the limited menu. We started with the shrimp. The shrimp and sauce was good but I didn't like the bread so I didn't dip. Our entrees were the steak and vegtables. We enjoyed them both. I would go back but the wait for our food was alittle long. The place was beautiful. I'll try again.

    2. The original comment has been removed
      1. The wait issue has been resolved to a large extent. They have a small kitchen with one chef who makes everything to order so the wait is a bit longer. It is a neighborhood bistro that is quite the gem.

        I look at chowhound as a guideline. If I listened to every bad review (even multiple ones) I would have missed out on some wonderful food. One bad experience is another's excellent experience. I guess the concept of not trying something because someone on the internet told me it was bad is a pretty frightening concept to me.

        1. re: basachs

          How has the wait issue been resolved if there's only one chef?

          1. re: invinotheresverde

            Well he has gotten better at the execution. They may have added another person, I am not totally sure.

            1. re: basachs

              If one chef is cooking for thirty to forty people, it's no wonder the food takes forever. Obviously they need a second cook.

              1. re: invinotheresverde

                The words "chef" and "cook" are not synonymous. There's usually only one "Chef"... or if there are a 2 or 3 they each have a specific purpose, specialty or rank. True, the Chef at Loie Fuller is the sole captain of the ship, as far as the kitchen goes; he's been in charge of all things food since day number one… wrote the menu, dictates cooking technique & plating and he decides who's allowed to work with him in his kitchen and who can go take a walk instead. Yea, he runs the show, but obviously the restaurant has a reasonable staff of line cooks in it's little kitchen. There may be 3 or so on the roster and there might even be a sous chef or consultant chef working along side of Eric… to an extent. So no... there isn't just one guy in the kitchen all by himself... there's just only one guy giving orders.

                The slow service is completely due to the nature of the menu selections and the fact that everything is made to order. Would you really want them to par cook your hen before you even get to the restaurant? Just drink some fantastic wine, enjoy the owner's impeccable taste in music, and bask in the most gracefully designed art nouveau interior in the city.

                1. re: aspirinkid

                  An hour and forty five minutes to cook ravioli. Nice try.

      2. I've been to Loie Fuller's twice now (once before the projo review) and once after. My first experience was great. Prompt seating (we went for early dinner) great service, food etc. After the second time....which included a 90 minute wait and 3 hours of dinner was enjoyable in every aspect mentioned above - except for the timing. Needless to say, they have an execution problem on their hands.. although knowing how the owner is and being familiar with his other establishment - I don't think he really cares either. I know to some of you bloggers that might seem rediculous - but, there is a mentality with some in Providence that encompasses the "fuck you" attitude about certain things...I think this is one of them. Wait, don't wait. We don't care. We can do without you.
        All in all, the food, atmosphere, service, wine selection, the fact that I live down the street...are all reasons for me to return --- but, on a Monday night at 5:30 - not Saturday at 7...I suggest the same, until (if ever) they begin to take reservations....Also know that they plan on expanding the bar and adding another downstairs dining room....See this link for it:

        1. I think the issue here is primarily one of expectations. Because their space is so beautiful and the buzz so loud, everyone expected a phenomenal culinary experience. In fact, it was really designed to serve a much more modest goal--decent neighborhood grub at a very reasonable price with a nice drink or two. I mean, i think they charge $4 for a salad, right? And $6 or $8 for appetizers big enough for 2 or 3 to share. Entree's starting below $10. It's never going to be "ready for prime time" if you expect it to compete with the res tof the cities fine dining establishments. They have to cut costs somewhere, is it in their staff size? I don't know Ingredient quality? It seemed so to me.

          Just adjust your expectations and you'll see it's pretty good for what it is, just don't ask for it to be something else.

          6 Replies
          1. re: celeriac

            Celeriac & HH you both make excellent points....I certainly have regular spots that aren't chowish, at least not at the time. They fit other criteria.....a great view and nice outdoor seating, or proximity to home and their own parking lot.

            1. re: celeriac

              Ingredient quality? Why do you feel that was lacking?

              As far as being chowish, I believe LF fits the bill.Simply having good food at a decent price point makes it that way. They also have some dishes and a few liquors that I cant get anywhere else in Providence with regularity.

              But yes, ultimately it is a neighborhood bistro. A lot of people come from all over, but the core patronage is from the neighborhood.

              1. re: basachs

                I don't feel the ingredient quality was lacking, necessarily. I don't expect pristine, carefully sourced ingredients at a neighborhood place like LF. But if I got the same pile of prewashed, tired, from-a-sealed-plastic-bag lettuce that I got the other day at LF from, say, Chez Pascal or New Rivers, I would be definitely have an issue with it. It's not that their ingredients are BAD (at least not relatively speaking) but they're far from phenomenal.

                1. re: celeriac

                  FACT. One way a restaurant keeps costs down is by cutting back on high quality ingredients. Their bread is from Seven Stars (the durum stick) so there not cutting costs there (although, the bread is relatively inexpensive considering they buy wholesale) - but, I'm sure that lettuce comes from Sysco not Sid Wainer. They pick and choose whats necessary and whats not - and thats why its an affordable neighborhood bistro and subsequently "not ready for prime time"

                  1. re: HungryHipster

                    let's celeberate.
                    mike's a class act - he's trying to bring something special in with a neighborhood bistro, and charging very little.
                    matt (chez pascal) and bruce (new rivers) are making a point to source and make an extra special evening - as the price would suggest.
                    it's apples to oranges, and they're all great for us.

                    1. re: sk3

                      "it's apples to oranges"

            2. I've eaten at LF three times in the last two weeks: once at the bar at about 5:30 PM after work, once on a Thursday night at about 8:00, and another time on a Saturday night at about 9:00. I had a table of five for Saturday night, which is how I learned that thay do not take reservations. Think about it, looking for a reservation for five on Saturday night at 9:00 PM at a westend restaurant and not even humored with an OK for a reservation. The place was 1/2 full when we arrived. Truly a "Fuck You" attitude.
              As to the food, I've eaten the sausage appetizer, the scallop appetizer, the asparagus waffle, the pork, and the boneless lamb shank. I found the food quality to be high with especially nice touches (and cheap) like the kale under the pork, which was cooked to perfection. The scallop appetizer was slamming especially with a crisp white wine. The lamb shank was served warmish, not hot, but was delicious. The sausages were typical German sausages, a disappointment but I should have read the description better. The loser was the asparagus waffle. Someone mentioned "cardboard", a fit description.
              Generally speaking the sauces were very good, especially the sauce on the pork.
              Service at the restaurant Sucked! While I am not a "chew and screw" kind of guy, I dont want to invest significant portions of my life into a dinner.
              To get a second drink at the bar took over 15 minutes of an empty glass, the same time frame in the dining room. I asked for my second appetizer at the bar to go because it was taking so long, and it miraculously appeared within the next 5 minutes. In the dining room, the time between the appetizer order being taken and the appetizers to arrive was at least a 1/2 hour. The entrees' arrival was at least another 1/2 hour after the appetizers were eaten. The experience I am describing began at 9:00 PM. This is not Latin America after all where I traditionally don't arrive at a restaurant before 10:00PM!!
              Lastly, the guy with the unkempt hair and scruffy beard that seems to run the place, is in his appearance a turn off for a return dining experience.
              The decor is dreamy and beautiful. Truly a love/hate experience.
              I read here that they are expanding to a downstair's dining room. If that happens I recommend taking sleeping bags with you for evening dining.

              15 Replies
              1. re: providencediner

                Well, they dont take reservations. I am not sure how that equals a fuck you attitude. Its a policy. I also dont see the need to mention "westend". Not only is it wrong (its federal hill), but are you insinuating that since it is a westend restaurant that they should be grateful for your 5 top on a saturday night?

                The guy you describe is Mike, the owner. I guess as owner he can dress however he wants. Appearances are just that.

                The service and timing are legitimate issues, clouding them with disparagements about the nieghbhorhood and owner are not.

                1. re: basachs

                  The neighborhood is westend not federal hill. Look at map and the neighborhood association.
                  I was not disparaging the neighborhood just drawing the distinction between it and downcity.
                  Yes, as owner of a small bistro, out of the restaurant loop, he should be happy to have a guaranteed table for 5 at 9:00 on a Saturday night. The fuck you attitude about reservations and the slow service, which is very well known and not admitted and corrected, is just what it is a "bad" policy about which the owner is unphased.
                  As far as Mike's appearance is concerned he looks sloppy and dirty. If he wants to represent his eating establishment as such he is welcome to do so and also welcome to accept the inevitable consequences of doing so!
                  Generally, i loved the food. But, my patience is limited.

                  1. re: providencediner

                    I beg to differ sir. The west end begins across the street. Here is a map for you.


                    Again, the establishment does not accept reservations. There are places all across the country both in and out of the "loop" as you call it that have this policy.

                    Its important to remember that this is a nieghborhood joint, serving the nieghborhood it is in. The place is in all the "loop" that it needs.

                    I agree the service is slow and admit it is a flaw.

                    1. re: providencediner

                      May I point out that a reservation is not a guaranteed table? Not to cast aspersions on your reservation habits, but it is amazing how many people will make reservations and not bother to show. I've seen only very high end locations that charge for reservations if you don't show.

                      Since you have been to LF's, you know that the location is tiny, and a 5-top would take up 3 of their intimate little tables, at 9:00 on a Saturday night, when many people are getting up from their tables at 9:30 - 10. I could only see that as a logistical nightmare when the place only seats about 40 and has apparently been hopping on weekends.

                      1. re: thinks too much

                        I've waited for my reserved table at Ten, Nuovo, Capital Grille, etc. as well as waited for a non reserved table at Angelos, the old Plaza Grille, etc. and never have complained.
                        My point was that this refusal to take reservations as told to me by, apparently, Mike, and the tone of the phone message about not taking resevations, and the actual 1/2 fullness of the restaurant when we arrived, spoke more about food snobbery and "fuck you" dont come if you dont like it than about welcome.
                        As the terrible service without apology or explanation also speaks. We all love a new good restaurant and will put up with a lot to see it succeed. I will still go to LF but unlike a lot of other places, it limits its appeal to me to those times when I have an awfully lot of time to eat and am with people who are similarly disposed.

                        1. re: providencediner

                          You used to frequent The Plaza Grill? I don't think a restaurant EVER existed w/a bigger f*ck you attitude than that place! I'm shocked they stayed in business so long.

                          1. re: JaneRI

                            REALLY??? I loved the place and they loved me. I dined intimately there. I rented the whole restaurant for a Christmas Party. I had business dinners there. I celebrated birthdays and anniversaries there. Friends had rehersal dinners there. The food was always delicious and innovative for its time. Fran always came over as overworked and harried as she was to say hello and enquire about the family.
                            Yes mother's day breakfast was a disaster with a usual wait for a table at prime time of at least an hour, but it gave us all such an opportunity to catch up and relate.
                            "Fuck you attutude", no, never for me and mine.

                            1. re: providencediner

                              By the way, since my first post about LF on August 22, I've eaten out at Cuban Revolution, Bravo, Papparazzi, Temple, Side Bar, & Ted's. That's a lot of $$$ not going to LF's register.

                              1. re: providencediner

                                Thats okay. I went last night with my wife and a friend.

                                We had entrees, apps and multiple cocktails. Service was excellent and the food came out at the right time, no excessive waiting. Place was packed and everyone seems to be having a good time.

                                We had the steak frites. Steaks were cooked perfectly ( rare and med rare) with crisp fresh fries. We asked for the tarragon aioli, they were out, but a little while later the server brought over some. They had whipped up a fresh batch, which I thought was nice seeing as how they were very busy.

                                All in all, a great dinner.

                                1. re: basachs

                                  Yeah, despite the absence of providencediner, LF seems to be chugging along just fine. I live very close by and I am consistently amazed by the crowds that show up at that place. Often by 6:30 there's not a parking spot to be found and a full bar of people waiting for tables.

                                  As I said, I don't even particularly like the place, but they're pretty far from hurting.

                              2. re: providencediner

                                I once went for brunch and waited a while for a table outside, nothing out of the ordinary for a popular spot. When we were seated I'd say we waited 15 minutes for coffee? A few minutes later 2 older women came in, very sweet & polite....50ish daughter, 80ish mom w/a walker. They were told they couldn't sit until the table was cleared (it was 80% cleared at that point)....daughter asked nicely if they could make an exception, as her mom had limited mobility - waitress said absolutely not, they could go wait at that bench and pointed. Mom shuffles over in her walker. No sooner has she sat down then they bark "your tables ready". Friend and I are watching this in shock. After they were seated for 10-15 mins w/no acknowledgement, someone came by to refill our coffee cups - I said that we were fine, but that they MIGHT want to ask those 2 ladies if they'd like something to drink. My omelet was fantastic....but that place was not worth the 90 min ordeal. It wasn't a relaxed 90 minutes, it was painful.

                                The omelet was good so however I gave it a 2nd shot, the following winter. During a sleet storm. The two of us had the audacity to try to come in out of the sleet and sit at - you guessed it - the one uncleared table (every other table occupied and as you're well aware, there is NO place to wait at the front). A crazy man - dark curly hair, big guy? - came rushing up from the back of the restaurant to loudly chastise us. I remarked to my friend that I was all done, wouldn't be spoken to like that, and that he was nuts - so he followed us out to scream at us some more. W/a restaurant full of customers.

                                My friend gave it another shot (believe it or not) because 2 other sets of couples wanted to try it, so she and her husband gave in. And regretted it. She said that as the first time, the food was excellent....but the 3 hour ordeal (there's that word again) wasn't worth it.

                                1. re: JaneRI

                                  Jane i understand. Call me crazy, you wont be the first, i think I'm going to go there tonight. More to follow.

                                  1. re: providencediner

                                    Huh? I don't understand your post providencediner. Also, I'm not sure you got that my lengthy post above was all about Plaza Grille. I considered the service there breathtakingly rude and inefficient.

                                    1. re: JaneRI

                                      sorry Jane, did not get it at all, although the reference to sleet seemed strange but not impossible in a Rhode Island May!
                                      I did however have a different opinion of and experience at Fran's PG.

                                      As to LF last night, there was too long a wait so i did not stay.

                                      1. re: providencediner

                                        by the way, even though i did not stay at LF on Thursday, i just learned that my kids and guests were there on Thusday night and again on Friday. Universal kudos for the food, esp the asparagus and cuke appetizer sandwich, but also slow, slow, slow.