While we have been extraordinarily lucky in our marriage, our anniversary dinners the past two years have been less successful. We both love Providence but last year, the wine pairing was a bit ill advised. I am a light weight and poured most of mine of into my husband’s glass which resulted for him becoming quite inebriated (only the second time I have seen him so in nearly 20 years) and he was returned home curled in the fetal position in the back seat of my car. So, this year we decided on Grace, which we haven’t frequented a while but both liked very much in the past.
I have often experienced a decline in a restaurant when the owner branches out and opens a second shop, as has Grace owner Neal Fraser with BLD. The only local chef I can think who seems immune from this is Wolfgang Puck but I think Susan and Mary Sue and Joachim despite their dynasties, have ever really done anything as good as the original City or Patina. I had high hopes though for Neal Fraser and Grace, as it is such a cozy spot and I loved the take out pastry, which continued the magic to the next morning.
It is still a handsome space and filled on a Saturday night. I browsed the large selection of starters and designed a tasting menu myself of five appetizers I thought we would both enjoy and told the waiter to have the kitchen serve them in the order the chef saw fit. Instead of rewarding my enthusiasm for diving into their menu with such bravado, the waiter seemed flummoxed and had to come back to the table again, just to make sure he got it all straight.
We were first presented with a trio of fish: tuna tartare with ponzu, snapper with yuzu gelee and North Sea Eel with hijiki and hot mustard. It was quite dainty at $23.00 but well contrasted and flavorful.
Next, we were served tempura fried squash blossoms. The version I had at Mozza was one of the single best restaurant dishes I have eaten this year and the version of I had at Grace, was the absolute single worst. It tasted like the gloppy tempura from a mix and was limp and oil sodden, not fried at a high enough temperature and no one asked why most of the $17 item was virtually uneaten on the plate.
The house cured wild king salmon and smoked brook trout showed off high quality ingredients but the presentation was a tad sloppy and while I wouldn’t call it an unsuccessful dish, we were still waiting to be wowed.
Fresh sardines are one of my favorite foods and I was thrilled to see sauteed Monterey Bay Sardines with artichokes on the menu. This, simple and satisfying was one of the better realized dishes, although heavy on olive oil, given the fatiness of sardines, and again, the plating consistently seemed hurried and less spot on than previous visits.
Our final dish was organic carrot risotto which tasted delicious and deep but was garnished by one another of those utterly embarrassing fried squash blossoms.
Dinner was a plate of yawn inducing cookies which made me realize what a brilliant baker Hayden Ramsey is at humble Square One, so far to the east and so much more wallet friendly. Oh, and the breakfast pastry I was so looking forward to? Only available now from BLD.
My mediocre NON AWARD WINNING Food Blog is http://manifeasto.blogspot.com