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great food in Providence (last thread was in 2008)

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Don't mind paying if it's worth it, but would LOVE to know some places to go that are no fuss, just GOOD!

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  1. What type of food do you enjoy, rubypi? What are some of the places you've previously enjoyed in Providence (even if it was a few years ago)? When you say "no fuss" do you mean very casual, or are you also interested in more formal/traditional dining? Just trying narrow down what you're looking for...If you're completely open, there are a number of recent discussions of Providence restaurants on the board, but I'm sure there are some of us around who would be happy to provide some more targeted tips.

    1. Ok, We love Al Forno and that kind of dining is fine, can go dressy, but don't have to. Love Portuguese, but haven't' been thrilled with the couple of places that are close by. (haven't been, just read menus) Really liked New Rivers, also. We tried Gracie's and felt very ripped off, price fix menu, but added charges to everything, was very weir

      1. Ok, these would be my top picks, and many of them are new since 2008. I don't consider any of them fussy and, IMO, all are good.

        1) Birch
        Probably the most exciting recent open in PVD. It is a prix fixe menu, but unlike Gracie's, there are no mark-ups on particular items. Just consistently excellent execution, interesting flavors, unique dining environment, great service, impeccable cocktails. I wrote several very long reviews on the board, and other's have discussed it here as well.

        2) Nick's on Broadway
        Everyone always thinks of Nick's for brunch, but we adore it for dinner too. We usually go for the chef's tasting menu with wine tasting, and it's always a treat. If you don't give the chef any restrictions, you'll end up eating things you probably wouldn't have ordered on your own. A la carte menu is delicious, service is great.

        3) Chez Pascal
        Just reliably delicious. I always feel like CP is a great value--not cheap but generous portions and you get exactly what you pay for. It's my favorite place for escargot, and it seems like every time I'm there I eat the equivalent of a whole hog. I regret nothing.

        4) Bacaro
        If you like Al Forno, this might be a good place to check out. Italian food, impeccably prepared, but I often feel like the a la carte menu is still a bit pricey. Perhaps the best pizza in town (Al Forno style). They have a huge menu of small plates, including many seasonal offerings, which is a great value and just really fun to eat. I wrote a long review of a recent experience at Bacaro on this board.

        5) North
        This is a bit of a wildcard. Take a look at their menu and see if it appeals. Tiny place, no reservations, predominantly Asian flavors, but probably the most ingenious food in PVD right now. Ate there on Friday and would happily go back again tonight. There's been a fair amount of discussion about this place on the board. Great drinks and whisky, if you're into that sort of thing.

        6) The Grange
        Vegetarian, but you'll never miss the meat. Even stalwart carnivores enjoy this food, the value is great IMO, fun casual environment, neighborhood vibe, awesome bar.

        7) Broadway Bistro
        Real neighborhood feel, bone-sticking satisfying food, great value. Now that they've added a full bar, this is finally the full restaurant experience. This is where we like to bring picky eaters, because the menu has options for both more and less adventurous eaters.

        8) Local 121
        I wrote a long review of this place recently. It's always been a lovely bar, but the food was often hit or miss. They have a new chef, and things seem to have taken a turn for the better. It's pretty casual, but the dining room still feels classy and elegant, fresh local cuisine, a nice option downtown.

        9) Flan y Ajo
        Good luck getting one of the ten seats, but this authentic tapas bar is pretty special. It's almost magical how they put out such delicious food using not much more than a hot plate and a toaster oven. Standing room only gives it an authentic Spanish bar vibe, classic tapas, byob.

        These are my top-tier spots in town at the moment. There's a whole secondary level of places that are well-worth a visit (and may fairly be other folks' favorite picks): Farmstead, Cook & Brown, The Dorrance, Mill's Tavern, Loie Fuller, Figidini, not to mention the places you've already been like New Rivers and Al Forno. Good luck and let us know what you think if you check any of these places out!

        6 Replies
        1. re: RhodyRedHen

          We were at Local 121 yesterday (side note: had to go by all the Newstrucks for the Circus accident to get there) for an early dinner before a show at the PPAC. Place was full at 5:30 (show was 6:30) and they asked everyone on their way in if they were going to the show, so they would make sure they were done in time (it's 2 blocks from the theater). Service was excellent, I had a very good burger, my wife had the best turkey burger we've ever had. Menu trends more upscale than that, but we had eaten fancy on Friday and Saturday, and were looking for something simpler.

          Would definitely go back.

          1. re: RhodyRedHen

            Hi, thanks for (hopefully) sending me to good eats ---

            I'll be in town this weekend for university commencement / reunion, which is typically a madhouse. I haven't been in providence in, er, at least 15 years. I'll be there with my dad, and we like to eat together. Our last meal was in SF at a place called atellier crenn, which is a michelin 2 star long on MG techniques. On the east coast, we recently ate at Marigold Kitchen in PHL, great low key tasting menu, relaxed atmosphere. I'm a little more adventerous then him, which means I'll get mantou from a no-name street stall in shanghai not even knowing what a mantou is, and he'll eat just about any food from a clean, reputable place.

            So - I'm looking for best combination of last-minute-reservation and good food. We'll have a car. Price no object. ( grabbed a reservation at Local 121, they seem to be one of the few on OpenTable )

            Thanks for your list as a starting point - hello OpenTable - but anything else you'd like to throw in would be welcome.

            1. re: bbulkow

              An increasing number of good restaurants in town do not take reservations (on my list, flan y ajo, north, the grange.) You could always take a shot going to one of those (north is most adventurous and seems more up your alley; the grange and flan don't sound like they would be good fits.) I'll be honest, we don't even go into PVD on graduation weekend. The town is a zoo and every restaurant is packed out. You're probably lucky you scored a table at Local 121. You could also try the Dorrance or New Rivers in town.

              The best option is to get out of the city altogether. If you have a car, I would highly recommend Persimmon in Bristol. It can be tough to score reservations there in general, but they do save a few spots for walk-ins. I'd suggest arriving early. Also in Bristol, Hourglass Brasserie--no GM here, rather refined painstaking French, fresh local ingredients, well-executed and nicely plated. It doesn't get much love from locals, though I have no idea why not. I think you could get a table even now. Plus, the scene will be much more zen outside of Providence.

              http://www.hourglassbrasserie.com/IND...
              http://www.persimmonbristol.com/

              p.s. I adore Marigold Kitchen. Used to live down in Philly and that was one of our spots. There was a change in ownership shortly before we moved back to RI. It actually used to be sort of refined Southern, and now skews more GM, but it was good in both incarnations.

              1. re: RhodyRedHen

                I would never consider going neat campus on a graduation weekend, but here I am. my local 121 May not work out, since I am plus one on my reservation and they won't extend. I am thinking of hopping over to north, and hopeing, but am now at somewhat of a loss.

                can anyone say what happened to big alice's ice cream?

                1. re: bbulkow

                  That's a bummer that Local 121 wouldn't/couldn't accommodate. I'm sorry I am seeing this too late to help, especially since I have used your posts many times for trips to SF. Can I ask where you and dad ended up?

                  Big Alice's closed some years ago but I don't know the back story.

                  1. re: digga

                    I ended up at Local 121 anyway. I tried, quickly, north, but they were closed for a private party. Headed over to Local 121 and when I showed up in person they turned out to have room for us. I did note they had plenty of room in the bar area, not sure they serve full menu there (what's the law in RI?), but we would have accepted that.

                    Overall, pretty happy with Local 121 but not super enthusiastic. In terms of atmosphere it was exactly what the doctor ordered. Cocktails were very good (for "mixologist" cocktails) but not great. We stayed to the "small plate" menu and found them HUGE compared to what I expect from a small plate. We were glad we started with three small plates because that's all we could eat (after a round of pre-appetizers in the clam chowder and cheese plate). That was the calamari, scallops, something else. Overall, tastes were good, ingredients were good, but everything could have been a LOT more bolder and "more taste". Hard to comment besides that. When I think of asian inspired, yuzu is so trendy because it's so bold. Or treatments like crisp-fried basil leaves (or shiso leaves). Price was certainly nice - got out for $50/pp tax and tip and alcohol.

                    Here's a vignette - got the cheese plate. Interesting idea, each cheese had a pairing, like the double glouster had home fries with creme fresh. I asked where the cheese were from, as I've been making my own cheese and sampling new england's cheeses a bit, the serving guy went back to check and said "CT, VT". Well, heck, I knew they were local, I wanted to know _the creamery in question_. But I didn't press it. And take that bite - if you're doing to use so little creme fresh it has to be very pungent, and hash browns should have extra caramelized onions or salt or something to give them bang, there was only a little bitty bit. Instead it really just seemed like browned potatoes.

                    In their defense, it had been a long flight from the east coast and my entire being was tired. It would have taken exceptional food to crack that crust. Still, I've eaten with these people in a lot of places, and no one raved about any of the dishes.

                    Happy with the recommendation though, it was certainly the right place for that evening. Without that coming through, I'm not sure where we would have ended up.

          2. Thanks, so much for the suggestions! A few I've heard of, and wanted to try, and a few are new to me!!!

            2 Replies
            1. re: rubypi

              Farmstead! Farmstead! Farmstead! Go before they close 6/1!!!

              1. re: dfolan

                We had lunch there today. So glad we did before they close.

            2. I agree with RhodyREdHen but will add El Rancho Grande and Los Andes to the list!
              I personally love Gracies, I love the attention to detail and personalized service I feel they offer better than anyone in the area!
              (The Grange and North have very specific menus, so check them out first on line to make sure you enjoy those types of meals)

              4 Replies
              1. re: Jennifer Luxmoore

                Went to Los Andes last night and was blown away. Usually the first bite is great and gets tiresome as you finish. I was moaning and omfg'ing all the way through. The service is great, a little effusive, the specials were written on paper but our waiter insisted in going through each one in detail. I know, I can be overly critical, since I'm in the business, but let me ask questions if I have them! So super good for me!!

                1. re: rubypi

                  Yeah, I know Los Andes is basically universally acclaimed, but I just don't love it. For one thing, the experience is just frustrating for me. We've gone twice, with reservations, and both times we had to wait more than twenty or thirty minutes for our table. There's no place to wait except in the back of the crowded bar in a long queue of people--just not pleasant. The service is intrusive and obsequious for my taste. I know some people like super-attentive care, but this is overkill. Our waiters have also gone through multiple items on the menu each time, just unnecessary. Granted, the ceviche is very good, certainly not the best I've ever had, but definitely solid. The other dishes we've tried are tasty for sure, but there is no way Los Andes is my pick for best restaurant in PVD, as I believe it's currently rated on yelp. I get it though-- flavorful food, massive portions, good prices. Everyone likes a value. It's just not at the top of my list.

                  I'd eat at El Rancho Grande over Los Andes any day. But I'd eat at Sun & Moon over Los Andes too, or Red Fez, or Rasoi....

                  Just different strokes, I guess. Lots of people love it!

                  1. re: RhodyRedHen

                    Haven't tried any of those! But they are on my list, now.
                    Rasoi??

                    1. re: rubypi

                      Rasoi is an Indian restaurant in the shopping center on the Pawtucket-Providence border near the junction of Hope Street and Blackstone Blvd. We like it a lot and eat there very frequently. It's owned by the same guy who owns Kabob & Curry on Thayer Street and Rasa in East Greenwich (haven't made it to Rasa yet, but it looks nice too.) The menu includes dishes from several different Indian regions, plus a few items I'm pretty sure are tailored for an American audience. Personally, I find the food delicious, the service staff is very polite and efficient, and ambiance is usually pleasant even when busy. Rasoi is also really good about vegetarian/vegan/gluten-free dining, which is appreciated by many of my friends.

              2. How is North?

                1 Reply
                1. re: phelana

                  North has been one of my favorite places to eat for months. I've literally never eaten anything there that I didn't enjoy. That being said, I agree with Jennifer 100% that it isn't for everyone. You don't necessarily have to be the most adventurous eater on earth (my folks absolutely love this place, and while they have good taste in food, they usually favor places like Figidini and Bacaro.)

                  The menu is smallish and very "particular." Much of the menu is vegetarian. There are "small" plates to share and one or two large "feasts" (family-style platters that can feed 3-5 people.) A vegetarian can eat here quite happily, but so can a meat-eater. Almost every dish has a south-east Asian angle, but this isn't your run-of-the-mill Thai restaurant by any stretch of the imagination. The flavors are very strong and pretty aggressive (heavy on chilies, fermentation/vinegar, and aromatic herbs). They're heavily influenced by David Chang's cuisine, so that should give you some idea if you've ever been to one of his restaurants or seen him on tv (Mind of a Chef, etc.)

                  The menu is small and changes daily, but they do post the day's menu to their tumblr account. http://foodbynorth.tumblr.com/

                  The dining room is extremely tight (maybe 20 seats), and it can get busy and loud. They don't take reservations, however they do call when your table is ready, and there's an awesome bar, The Avery, right across the street. The service can be...indifferent. There's often loud, hipster music blasting. Honestly, I consider all of this part of North's quirky charm.

                2. We went to North. I don't remember what I had. We needed a slice after "dinner"

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: rubypi

                    Interesting. I find the food at north quite memorable, whether it was to your liking or not. The menu is not that big so I am curious about which dishes you ordered/did not like.

                    Your real-time reports, while appreciated, could use a bit more color commentary.

                    1. re: digga

                      My humor is very dry. I meant it to mean that I wasn't moved by the food, and I was hungry after spending mucho dinero. I love small plates, (lot's of variety), but I think it should be described that way.

                      1. re: rubypi

                        How is that possible? I've never rung up more than an $85 bill for two people at North, and always leave stuffed and thrilled with the food. There is no way their restaurant could possibly be described as expensive. Have you been to a city, ever? I find myself suddenly thinking about those hot flavor sesame noodles during the work day. And the bok choy. And the Cabbages. And the asparagus. And the Dan Dan noodles. Can't stop going there. Cmon, "I don't remember what we had."? Were you hammered when you got there?

                        1. re: phipsi102

                          Such hostility is not necessary. If you disagree with me, so be it, that's what all this is for. But have a little candor, please.

                    2. re: rubypi

                      This is an important point too. Both North and the Grange get dinged by some folks for not being sufficiently filling, but I think it's just a matter of managing expectations and knowing how to order. Neither of these places really lend themselves naturally to the appetizer/entrée meal. For example, the last time we were at North about a week ago, we ordered tiny ham biscuits, cabbage, bok choy, mussels, skate, and sweet potatoes--six dishes for the two of us to share. If we'd each ordered two dishes, we definitely would've gone home hungry. Five or six always does the trick, and the prices are such that six dishes actually cost less at North than a standard app/entrée meal at any number of more traditional restaurants in town.

                      Another useful tip--don't put in all of your order at once! Start with two or three plates, they usually come out REALLY fast. Then, see how you're feeling. If you're still hungry order one or two more, then see if you have room for dessert. They will not look at you funny for doing this, they really don't care (possibly about anything).

                      Same deal with the Grange or Flan y Ajo--we always order at least two or three plates to start, and then go on from there. No one will look at you askance. That's just how a small-plates joint works.

                      Now, I do start to get mad when a more traditional apps/entrée place sends you home feeling ravenous (I'm looking at you, The Dorrance.) They once served me half a duck breast and two fingerling potatoes as an entrée--not half a duck, half a breast--and that entrée cost about $30. Not cool.

                      1. re: RhodyRedHen

                        out of all of these, which is the most intimate, quiet and chill with amazing food..thanks PVD Chowhounds

                        1. re: phelana

                          Out of all the places mentioned probably Broadway Bistro...but all are great in different ways

                          1. re: dfolan

                            Let me know where you ended up up and how it was ...based on your input I can tell you where you else you should go in the future ...m

                            1. re: dfolan

                              Ok, thanks

                    3. Great brunch at Local 121 on Sunday - smoked trout eggs benedict and a nice sangria-sauced fruit salad.