Restaurants & Bars 4

Weekend in Providence: Gracie's, Roma, East Side Pockets, La Laiterie, Nick's on Broadway, Palmieri's, Venda Ravioli

finlero | Jun 9, 200809:44 AM

It's always such a pleasure to return to my old hometown of Providence, with its seemingly endless and evolving supply of great music, art, academia, and of course, food. After a great weekend around town, I wanted to report back on our chow-dense visit to the city.

* Gracie's - after hearing so many rave reviews on CH and elsewhere, we finally made it here for a lovely dinner. Opting for the seven course tasting menu, some dishes worked a little better than others, but the entire experience conveyed a prodigious culinary technique, as well as an enthusiastic joy for fine cuisine that came across as both playful and cerebral at the same time. Highlights: their signature gnocchi (supernaturally light gnocchi in a bold, but balanced parmiggiano-heavy sauce), foie gras (perfectly seared, accompanied by a notably distinctive blueberry lemon verbena reduction), trout (pan-fried over perky pickled ramps, thinly sliced baby potatoes, and an excellent buerre blanc), baked "Rhode Island" (the RI whimsy made me smile with the coffee milk ice cream and Jonnycake, and a nicely bruleed marshmallow meringue on top). A bit of a low point was the wine pairings, which were on the dull side; if I could do it over again, I'd likely go by the bottle, as there were some great-looking items on the wine list at fairly reasonable prices. Every member of the staff seemed to be brimming with excitement about making food great, as well as pride for working where they did.

* Roma - I have long maintained that Roma serves the best cappuccino in Providence; this weekend's didn't disappoint, with a not-too-dark espresso and perfectly smooth steamed milk. The sfogliatella, still warm, was the best pastry I've had in while. Interesting to see that Roma has drastically reduced its imports inventory, opting instead for a much larger seating area, presumably for a larger lunch crowd. I wish them well.

* East Side Pockets - an old favorite that's as good as ever, I'm glad their heroin-laced falafel is safely a state away or my waistline would be in a lot of trouble. Very good hummus and cucumber sauce as well/as usual.

* La Laiterie - I'd been interested in this place for a while, and was delighted finally to get here. This is the kind of common sense concept that makes me wish for something similar in my own neighborhood in the Boston area, as well as wonder why it hasn't happened yet. Everything was good at the least, and frequently stellar. Highlights: the charcuterie plate (absolutely phenomenal, from the rabbit pate to the pork sausage to the assortment of pickles), mac and cheese (too hot for the warm night but too delicious not to finish), mint chipwiches (wonderfully subtle a mint ice cream, with superbly chewy chocolate cookies to go with). Odd low points: our flights of cheese and wine, while by no means bad, were surprisingly uninteresting. We had been aiming to try some names we didn't recognize, and the result was an almost uniform "meh", definitely nothing I'd make a point of ordering again. Considering how outstanding nearly everything else was, I'm willing to chalk this up to bad luck. One way or another, it was an excellent meal, and I look forward to getting back soon.

* Nick's on Broadway - a downright awesome brunch, once again based on such a common-sense concept that I can't believe it doesn't exist in Boston: standard brunch fare gussied up with high-quality, slightly unexpected ingredients. I'm routinely amazed how many places fail my simple "could I have easily cooked a better brunch at home" test, but I'm thrilled to say that Nick's isn't one of them. Both the French toast (a little drier than I choose to make at home, but this made perfect sense with the combination of strawberry-rhubarb topping, whipped cream, and real maple syrup) and the potato-fennel cakes were damn near perfect. This was the kind of brunch to go out of your way for, and I will likely be doing so soon and often.

* Palmieri's - I'd never heard of this place before, but when we stumbled across it as we walked around after brunch, it immediately set off my chow-dar as a place to check out. Being pretty full from brunch already, we didn't get to sample as many of the tasty-looking old school Italian treats as we would have liked, but both the frittata sandwich and the doughy chocolate twist were every bit good as they looked. I need to get back here soon for breakfast; those cappuccinos looked formidable.

* Venda Ravioli - what an embarrassment of riches! We grabbed food for lunch and dinner here. A simple lunch of imported burrata and fresh bread couldn't have been better. And a dinner of several prepared pastas, spicy capicollo, and a delicious St. Agur cheese (smooth, blue, and notably better than any cheese we had at La Laiterie/Farmstead) made for a wonderful low-key finish to the weekend.

Thanks to all you Providence chowhounds for all your great commentary on this board, and thank you Providence for all your great chow!

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