Category Archives: rhode island

Lunch at the Genesis Center

Sometimes being a food blogger is a tough job – like when you have to leave work for a 6-course lunch paired with wine.

Which is just what I did earlier this month, when I was lucky enough to be one of the judges for the final presentation of the Genesis Center‘s culinary program. The students in the program were divided into two teams and each chose their own theme for the meal. The lunch I attended was themed “French Infused Pan Asian” and consisted of six courses and a mid-meal sherbert. For a glimpse into the first of the two lunches, take a look at this Providence Journal article.

Some of the Savory Selections
Some of the savory dishes: onion & garlic soup, crab-stuffed scallops, stone grilled duckling

The Genesis Center provides job training and adult education alongside a child care facility which enables parents to take advantage of the classes. They have classes such as English as a Second Language and Citizenship for immigrants and refugees. Their culinary arts program is an intense 13-week training geared to place students in the culinary field. It’s led by Chef Branden Lewis, who has a contagious enthusiasm that seems to be very effective in inspiring his students to create unique and artful food.

The other judges and I were impressed with both the presentation and the flavor of the dishes. All were memorable enough that I find it hard to pick a favorite! But if I absolutely had to single one out, my favorite flavors were found in the stone grilled duckling, served on top of spinach ravioli and sweet potato fritters, with a refreshing cucumber salad on top. The meal was paired with wines from Newport Vineyards, which were well-chosen and eagerly consumed.

Some of the Sweet Selections
And some sweet: pina colada sherbert, half of an apple duo, jalapeno lollipop

Here’s what the team presented:

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Southern Breakfasts

One of the highlights of my trip to New Orleans was breakfast. We discovered a restaurant called Mother’s up the street from our hotel – it was a cute place with counter service and maybe 25 seats. They had a great early bird breakfast special of eggs, grits, sausage, a biscuit and coffee or OJ. In general, the breakfasts we ate were very different than those up north – hearty and not afraid of meaty components like gravy and ‘debris‘.

When I got back and showed Jeremy all the delicious meals we’d eaten, we were both starving and in the mood for a hearty breakfast. So we headed to the Classic Cafe, where we found the biscuits and gravy even better than before – they’re now making the gravy in house and it’s delicious.

Southern Breakfasts
(Part of) the early bird special at Mother’s, Biscuits and Gravy at the Classic Cafe

A few weeks later and I’m back to my usual breakfasts of homemade yogurt or muffins. But I still get hungry when I see these photos.

Mother’s Restaurant
Map Marker 401 Poydras St., New Orleans LA

Classic Cafe
Map Marker 865 Westminster St., Providence RI

Cheap Groceries

Just a quick note about two new cheap grocery options in Rhode Island.

First, a Price Rite moved to Eagle Square on the west side of Providence, filling the gap left by Shaws’ closing. It’s brighter and airier than the old location, and even has a little Cafe Bustelo serving up coffee and baked goods. The seafood counter was also quite impressive. If you haven’t been to Price Rite, the produce is really cheap and there’s a wealth of interesting international foods.

Second, I dragged my boyfriend all the way down to Warwick to go to the new Aldi last weekend. Aldi is a German discount grocery store which has opened a number of locations in the US. Having spent a lot of time in Germany, I think it’s an amusing import (much like if they put an Ocean State Job Lot in Berlin). It’s not absolutely remarkable, but we made a few good finds – a giant rack of ribs, cheap sauerkraut and bratwurst, and a frozen apple strudel which is the perfect coffee accompaniment. Luckily, they’re planning more convenient locations on Smith Hill, in Cranston and in East Providence.

Along the same lines, I have a post in the works about one of my favorite places to stock up on discount food in RI…stay tuned!

5 Questions: Susan VandenBerg

Susan VandenBerg is the new pastry chef at Gracie’s in Providence. I came across her husband Steve’s blog Eating Out in America, which chronicles their restaurant experiences and occasionally their lives (like in this great video of Susan’s New Year’s Eve preparations at the restaurant). I was curious about Susan and the magic she works in Gracie’s kitchen so I decided to ask her a few questions.

Susan VanderBerg at Gracie’s, from Eating Out in America
Susan at Gracie’s, from a video on Eating Out in America

Is there a certain country or region whose pastries and desserts especially inspire you?
I have to say that France, and particularly Paris, are the areas that inspire me as far as desserts and pastries go. I love the various doughs i.e. croissant, puff pastry, brioche, and my favorite thing is the tart – so many variations and wonderful flavors! Of course I’m swayed by the fact that I went to school and did an internship in Paris. What can I say?

Where, besides Gracie’s or home, is your favorite place to eat dessert in Providence?
I have to admit that I haven’t been out and about much in Providence, since work takes up most of my time, but, so far, Pastiche has my vote for desserts. The place reminds me a lot of a European shop, and their product is delicious to boot.

What’s the most unusual ingredient you’ve ever used in one of your creations?
Unusual ingredient you ask – hmmmmmm, that’s a tough one. I think using various spices in chocolates would be the most unusual – paprika, five spice powder and pepper to name a few.

When did your interest in cooking start?
My interest in baking started many years ago, probably with the standard Tollhouse chocolate chip cookie. I’ve loved baking for a long time and find it very relaxing and comforting.

If you weren’t a pastry chef, what would you be doing?
I would be making handcrafted folk santas, teddy bears, Nantucket baskets and anything else I can do with my hands.

Thanks to Susan for answering my questions and being the first interviewee on this blog. I haven’t been to Gracie’s in a couple of months and definitely have to return to try her desserts!

Watermark Café

My latest café crush is the newly redesigned Watermark Café in the RISD Store (Rhode Island School of Design, for you out-of-towners). The store is always a great place to fawn over art supplies and glossy books, and now the cafe has been revisioned as a source for healthy, creative food and drinks.

RISD’s Watermark Cafe
Watermark Cafe

Watermark offers coffee, pastries, salads and sandwiches. The comfy, dark wood room has a few tables, some great magazines (I flipped through Saveur), and a nice view of downtown and the river. It reminds me of a museum cafe, except you don’t have to pay an entrance fee!

This would be a delightful stop if you’re visiting Providence and want to rest after a tour of the RISD museum, which is just up the hill.  I just poked in for a quick cup of coffee after a meeting, but I plan on returning for a snack soon.

It’s open 9-6 Monday through Thursday, 9-3 on Friday. The RISD Store is located at 30 North Main Street, but the public entrance is on the pedestrian-only Canal Street by the river.

Watermark Cafe
30 North Main St., Providence (entrance on Map Marker Canal Street)

Vivo at the Italo American Club

Among the amazing mansions of Broadway is #477, built at the end of the 1800s. With each floor measuring around 3,000 square feet, it almost makes the neighboring houses look like cottages.

The Italo American Club, Providence

You’re probably wondering what this has to do with food.

477 Broadway is the home of the Italo American Club. Their restaurant, Vivo, is open to the public for lunch and dinner. After a few months of curiosity, we finally went to check it out.

It’s even more impressive inside than out. The downstairs has dark wood paneling, an ornate bar, unusual ceiling details and little corners that make you want to bring a book and stay all day.

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Valentine’s Dinner

Going out for Valentine’s Day isn’t top priority for me, but El Rancho Grande‘s Valentine’s Dinner was impossible to resist. I’m happy I reserved early because the 22 spaces (2 seatings of 11 each) sold out quite quickly.

The restaurant was dressed up for the night – curtains, tablecloths, candles, fresh flowers, low lighting. The mood was enhanced by the attendees – everyone was smiling and a few couples were even holding hands over the table. Aww!

Tres Leches cake for El Rancho Grande’s Valentine’s Day dinner
Photo of the Tres Leches cake by Elaine Collins

Now, onto what we ate:

The first course was Ensalada de Picante de Espinacas con Adereso de Chocolate. I was going to say that I’d never experienced chocolate in a salad, but then I remembered La Laiterie’s chocolate dinner. However, this salad was totally different – the chocolate was incorporated into a thin but dark vinaigrette-like dressing for baby spinach. Fresh strawberries and sliced almonds paired well with the almost coffee-like deepness of the dressing.

As an appetizer, we had a treat for the eyes as well as the palate – Chiles en Nogadas. This recipe is so creative and unusual, it’s hard to believe it’s almost 200 years old (it was conceptualized for Agustín Iturbide, the first ruler of independent Mexico, proudly using the colors of the Mexican flag). The dish consists of a poblano chile stuffed with meat, nuts and fruits, covered in a creamy walnut-based sauce. For decoration and to tickle the tongue, pomegranate seeds are sprinkled over the top. An interesting twist is that the chile is served at room temperature, which I feel was a complement to its flavor. If you’ve seen or read Como Agua Para Chocolate (Like Water for Chocolate), you will recognize Chiles en Nogadas from the wedding near the end.

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Hobbit Meals

A year ago yesterday, a crazy event took place: a Lord of the Rings day. My boyfriend and I, along with another couple, watched all three Lord of the Rings movies. This wouldn’t be much of a challenge, except these were the extended versions – a total playing time of about 11 hours.

To pass the day in style, we prepared and ate food for all 7 Hobbit meals, including “coney stew” (rabbit), which we cooked over a wood fire. Of course, this was accompanied by a decent amount of ale and mead.

Lord of the Rings: Hobbit Meals

Here was our menu:

First Breakfast – omelette, mushrooms, bacon (cooked in the fireplace), coffee – which, fortunately for us, they did actually drink in the books

Second Breakfast – whipped cream and berries, seedcakes

Elevensies – bread, cheese, fruits. This is when the ale started.

Luncheon – leek and mushroom-stuffed puff pastry boxes, cold chicken

Afternoon Tea – seedcakes, banana bread and Keemun tea

Dinner – coney (rabbit) stew with red wine, onions, garlic, carrots and herbs, cooked in the fireplace for about 6 hours

Supper – we were going to have a selection green salads, but could only muster up enough hunger for a few sprigs of watercress

By the time next February comes around, we might actually be ready to do it again.

Sources:

  • Rabbit: Antonelli’s Poultry, 62 De Pasquale Ave., Providence RI
  • Keemun Tea: Basically British, 16 Cutler St., Warren RI
  • Cheese: Farmstead, 186 Wayland Ave., Providence RI

Valentine’s Day

I wonder if I’m making a mistake by letting you all in on my Valentine’s Day plans. But this is too good not to share: El Rancho Grande is dressing up for a special 4-course chocolate dinner…

Providence has a few good Valentine’s options, but this is one of the more affordable at $65 per couple including a bottle of wine. I’ve heard rumors that Julian’s is great as well.   What are your plans and recommendations?

Here’s the full menu for the El Rancho Grande dinner:

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Mike’s Kitchen

Common wisdom proclaims that good things can be found in unexpected places. That’s why I had to check out Mike’s Kitchen, the restaurant hidden behind the facade of a Cranston veteran’s hall.

One fact was immediately obvious – Mike’s might be hidden, but it’s no secret. Even though restaurant’s existence is hardly advertised, the dining room was bustling, even at 6pm on a Monday night. As I peered through the door into the brightly-lit large room, I had this sudden fear that everyone would look up from their food and spot me as a stranger. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised when I walked into a restaurant full with happy diners of all ages immersed in the buzz of excited conversation.

The decor is just as much veteran’s hall as it is restaurant, but don’t let it fool you – at Mike’s, they are serious about their food. This was immediately evident from the giant specials board full of enticing dishes: an artichoke appetizer, roasted peppers stuffed with goat cheese, and a few unusual chicken and veal dishes. Once we sat down, the waitress also brought over a standard menu.

We ordered a bottle of Chianti and started with fried mozzarella and antipasto. The mozzarella was three palm-sized triangular pieces with marinara sauce, still sizzling from the fryer. I especially liked one of the meats on the antipasto platter which seemed to be spiced with star anise.

For an entree my boyfriend chose the combination plate, a sampler of eggplant parmesan, meatballs, sausage and roasted peppers. This is a great dish to order if you’re having trouble making up your mind and want to experience several dishes on one plate. I was especially impressed by the eggplant parmesan; I’ve had a lot of bland versions around Rhode Island lately, but this one was perfectly flavored with herbs and spices.

Seafood Diablo at Mike’s Kitchen in Cranston
Seafood Diablo at Mike’s Kitchen – doesn’t it look amazing?

I decided on one of their more elaborate dishes, seafood diablo. Out came an impressively large plate of spaghetti topped with scallops, shrimp and lobster (2 claws and half a tail). The lobster was perfectly cooked and the scallops were gigantic and fresh. I enjoyed it immensely, but would have loved a bit more spiciness. Also, I do recommend the dish, but beware that it’s a bit messy to shell lobster claws in red sauce. In other words, this might be a good occasion to leave your white shirt at home.

One aspect of my experience at Mike’s that really stood out was the service. The restaurant’s tables were mostly filled, but our waitress was very attentive and the food arrived so speedily, I had to wonder whether the kitchen was staffed with magicians. It was evident that other diners were having the same positive experience, and their interaction with the wait staff suggested that many were regulars.

If you’re going to Mike’s, there are a few things you should know. First, they don’t accept credit cards, so bring cash. Second, drinks are not ordered with food, but separately from the bar. When we were there, a bartender conveniently made the rounds to take drink orders, and customers paid for the drinks on delivery. Third, the portions are large, so come with an appetite or room for a to-go box in your fridge. Last, they do have limited hours, so call ahead.

Mike’s Kitchen
Map Marker 170 Randall Street, Cranston
(401) 946-5320

P.S. Thanks to Mike O. (no association with “the kitchen”) for recommending this one!