Somehow, my brand new husband got us reservations to eat at Providence's Michael Cimarusti's new (more casual) restaurant, Connie & Ted's, last night.
I'll start by saying it is probably not fair to review a restaurant on its opening night. But I kept that in mind and am not even going to mention a few missteps.
We got to the restaurant on time (early - 6:00) and it was already a-buzz. The building stands out from far, far away. If you've seen the photos, they don't do it justice. You CANNOT miss it -- and it's a very playful, fun look.
We were seated on the patio, which I liked. It was about 72 degrees out and beautiful. The service was EXTREMELY efficient (perhaps a little too much so! But more on that later.) I didn't get the waiter's name, but he was very friendly and helpful.
I decided to try one of their "signature" cocktails that they feature in the menu. I couldn't tell from the write-ups which one would appeal, so I told the server I didn't like sweet drinks. He knew just the off-the-menu drink to offer -- a whiskey-based fruit punch. It turned out to be a very small glass with too-many ice cubes (for $12). I liked it fine -- it was indeed refreshing -- but frankly, it was sweet!
On to the food! My better half ordered a half a dozen oysters and enjoyed them very much. If you know your oysters, you'll like this a lot: they have a huge selection of fresh oysters (which appears to change depending on what is fresh). I ordered a fresh broiled scallop cooked in its own shell. I love scallops and this was absolutely delicious. (One would expect a perfect scallop from this chef and this did not disappoint!)
Then we both ordered the trio of chowders. There is a Manhattan style, a New England style and finally what they call a Rhode Island Clear clam chowder. We both had fun with the three small chowders. My husband felt all three chowders were "thin." He expected the clear one to be thin, but not the New England, for example. To his surprise, he liked the Rhode Island clear soup the best. Me, I liked them all! Funny thing is I probably liked the oyster crackers the best! They were homemade and shaped in very small cubes -- like a child's tooth.
Our soups were rushed away -- I had to tell them no, I was not finished -- because the entrees were ready. My husband saw our waiter motion to the server to bring them back to the kitchen because we were still enjoying our soup. That was... not good.
Meanwhile, the tables were filling and the noise was heightening. It felt like a scene in Annie Hall. There were CAA agents to the left of me, music producers to the right... (True sound bite: "You know, if you just do one night at the Bowl, it's the same as 18 shows in the mid-bleepin'-west!")
When we first arrived at Connie & Ted's, we could hear the music -- it was from my era (CCR, Dylan, Neil Young, Allman Brothers...) An hour later, it didn't matter anymore, it was getting so loud. When I went to use the restroom, it was a zoo. Wait staff was all cloistered around the front counter, pushing, grabbing, bumping into each other. The restroom, as an aside, is not well designed. Some unlucky employee had better be assigned just to cleaning it every two minutes. There was a trash can in the lavatory the size of a miniature -- like it was made for one of those hobbyists' doll houses. The sink-trough collected water and looked perpetually dirty. Good luck with that.
Now the entrees. My husband ordered the striped bass which was on the list of fresh-that-day. The server recommended that it be prepared with an herb crust. I didn't know what to order. The server extolled the virtues of the scampi-like grilled shrimp, so I agreed. It must be noted that we kept asking the server what he thought; he did not impose his opinions on us.
The entrees came out quickly (again, too quickly). My husband's fish was not great, I am very sad to report. For being so rushed, it was actually a tad overcooked and seriously under seasoned. My shrimp was not scampi-like at all as it too cried out for salt and pepper (much less garlic). When we tried to add salt and pepper, our shakers had been completely overfilled and nothing came out... till we unscrewed the top and a mountain of salt poured out (luckily onto the table).
Unwilling to be hurried out, we ordered dessert. It was a homemade vanilla ice cream that tasted much like a McConnell's ice cream with a sort of candied walnut topping. It tasted good though (hey, I love McConnells!) and was not overpriced at all!
The plusses of our dinner include the excitement of being there when it opened (which obviously was also sort of a minus!). I must also rave about the stand-out architecture and design as well as the ambiance/vibe before it became a cacophony of people and noise. The New England clam bake/fresh fish theme is a great addition to L.A. The starters that we ate were delicious overall and I enjoyed the whimsy that permeated the menu. Finally on the plus list has to be the very attentive service. Even the busboy was sweet.
The downside to the experience was the rushing (that, without a doubt, tops the minus list) and feeling like we'd better leave so they could turn over the table. Maybe we chose the wrong entrees because, as mentioned, they needed seasoning! Next time I think going with the boiled New England dinner or clam bake or perhaps a Portuguese stew -- all might be a smarter choice. I've never had a lobster roll, so maybe I should have tried that!
One last gripe-ette is just my own personal pet peeve: I really hate the L.A. scene. Since it was so crowded and noisy, you got to hear every pretentious comment ("I don't like oysters, but I own that feeling..." or, "So I told Miley to change her hair...") Then again, that's entertainment!
And we will be back! (Early, before it becomes a zoo..!)