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Providence -- ANOTHER OVERHYPED WONDER

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Restaurants & Bars 9

Providence -- ANOTHER OVERHYPED WONDER

jcwla | Sep 1, 2005 01:50 AM

I have no doubt that SIV will come along and bestow three or more stars on this place, but it is just another overhyped wonder that had us scratching our heads and wondering why all the fuss.

First of all, it's set out very prettily, the bathroom is nice (a good test), and they have a huge wait staff -- like Sona at the beginning. The pedigree is beyond reproach. But if the atmosphere does not fill one with warm fuzzies, the food does so even less.

Out first came a tiny little glass of "sweet pea soup" -- only fizzy, and with foam. We both had the same first thought: Noe at the Omni, with Gadsby's ridiculous little juice concoctions. Actually, this was even worse: tangy, if you can believe that. We watched people's reactions when they were served this: one sip and then something to cleanse the palate.

With it was an oddly shaped little schmear of tuna tartare -- this too was tangy...not the dominant taste I am looking for at a seafood house. A couple of bites of this and we, like everyone else, were looking around in earnest for bread.

The menu is almost all fish, with one duck entree and one ribeye with bone marrow sandwich. It's a strange menu in that, as my friend noted, almost every dish has some kind of Asian influence, and there's little here for those with middle-of-the-road, non-experimental tastes.

More importantly, every dish seemed to have one or two ingredients too many. It's the common desire of many a chef to imprint his signature everywhere rather than to let simple quality speak for itself. So, in the black sea bass my friend ended up going with, there is fish, and cippolini, and roasted tomatoes, and pearl onions, and figs -- all dressed up with some kind of (you guessed it) tangy sauce. Enough! The bass, while at least cooked (unlike that notorious piece of salmon at Michael's) was still not firm enough.

I decided to make an entree of the sea urchin risotto, remembering the mouth-watering one Masa Takayama made the first time I went to Ginza Sushi-Ko. Needless to say, Masa's does not suffer by comparison. This one had way too much going on -- greens and tomatoes and god knows what else, all served -- if not cold, at best tepid. This one they took off the bill.

My friend contented herself with a mixed green salad to start, and I had the "chowda," which was very yummy but almost comically creamy -- you won't need your calcium pill for a month. The best thing of all was the little chocolate truffle and house-made marshmallow they served as petit fours, though my friend tasted the almond one and pronounced it "disgusting."

A perfunctory cheese cart with maybe ten or twelve choices made its way around the room but lacked the impressiveness of Melisse, let alone Picholine in New York. The desserts, like everything else, each had one or two too many things going on to interest us in spending our calories. And no rose' by the glass? Not cool.

Basically, as lovely as the setting is, I think the one word for Providence is fussy, and I think that word is antithetical to where the dining experience is going. You can be classy without being fussy. I was reminded of Marilu Henner's line in "L.A. Story" about accessories: As you're about to go out, look in the mirror, and the first thing you see, take it off. To Cimarusti I'd say, before you send out a dish, look at it and the first ingredient you see, take it out.

If you try to impose your will on people and you're not one of the true seminal figures of American cooking like Puck, you're not going to last long. Maybe that's why my friend predicted they'll be gone within a year...

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