Providence surprise: Dorrance
We've been meaning to try Al Forno's for years and finally decided to combine it with a trip to Water Fire. Since AF doesn't take reservations we figured we'd be OK if we arrived before 5:30, but it was parents' weekend at the colleges and they couldn't give us a table until 9. After checking Open Table we walked over to Dorrance just because we could get an early reservation. All I can say is I'm grateful to Al Forno for turning us away. Beautiful room (high ceilings, quiet); kind, attentive service; incredible food and cocktails. They start you off with homemade pretzel bread (chewy, tender, salty on top) then there's a choice of eight or so small plates and eight or so large plates. Don't know whether they change the menu daily, but everything we tried was fantastic. We had, among other things, an amazing Thai crab appetizer (they pour on the crab broth after serving--I wanted to lick the bowl); langoustines with sweet corn and uni in a velvety cream sauce; striped bass in a rich, garlic-y broth with roasted vegetables and a fantastic roast duck with some kind of fruit puree. The duck came with beets--who likes beets?--but even those were delicious.
Despite the fact that this place has apparently received a number of awards and national press the room was only about half full. Here's hoping it survives and thrives.