Category Archives: eats

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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Staying Warm in Maine

We spent the weekend in and around Portland, Maine – the perfect last-minute getaway at less than a three hour drive. The weather wasn’t prime for tourists (except skiers), but we drove up to LL Bean in Freeport, bought down jackets, and spent the rest of the time alternately walking around in the cold and warming up with some delicious food.

First, we took a short trip from LL Bean to Brunswick, where we ate at Richard’s German American Restaurant. Located in an old brick building in the center of town, the restaurant has a great atmosphere – brick and dark wood paneling, beer steins and antlers decorating the walls. We drank Ayinger Celebrator on tap and enjoyed buttery rolls with sweet peppery mustard. I had Wiener Gulasch and Jeremy had the Schlactplatte, with sausages and smoked pork. We couldn’t help trying the desserts either (Sachertorte and an apple dumpling swimming in vanilla sauce). It was all delicious and piping hot from the kitchen!

Food at Richard’s in Brunswick, Maine
Celebrator, Wiener Gulasch and Sacher Torte at Richard’s, photos by Jeremy and I

Later that night we had a light dinner at Gilbert’s Chowder House on Portland’s waterfront Commercial Street – clam / seafood chowder and a shared lobster roll. The chowder was thick and slightly sweet, and the roll was filled with big pieces of lobster.

Poutine and beignets at Duck Fat
Poutine and Beignets at Duck Fat, photos by Jeremy May

Sunday morning we went to Duck Fat on Middle St. for an early lunch. As their name hints, Duck Fat specializes in Belgian fries fried in duck fat. We had a bowl of poutine (their fries topped with duck gravy and cheese curds), beignets with chocolate sauce and a giant french press pot of coffee.

We also browsed some great shops, including Le Roux Kitchen, a two-story cooking and gourmet food store. I couldn’t resist a bottle of their 18-year balsamic vinegar. We also passed Rabelais, a book store dedicated to food writing, but unfortunately (or fortunately, for my very full bookshelves) it was closed.

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!

In Search of the Holey Grail

Millions of ex-New Yorkers are scattered across the globe. It seems that there is one thing they miss most about the city. It’s not the constant activity or multiculturalism, it’s not the skyscrapers or the theater. It’s the perfect bagel.

Growing up a short drive from “the city” in northern New Jersey, I mistakenly thought bagels were a luxury that everyone enjoyed. My trips elsewhere in the country were short enough that I didn’t notice their absence; during my college years in the central part of the state they were readily available. But when I moved up the coast to Rhode Island, I started missing my weekend ritual of driving home from the bagel store with a fresh bag, still hot from the oven, in my lap. I eventually found some stores that claimed to have bagels, but they were actually day-old, chalky and the consistency of sandwich bread.

A Bagel from Bagels4u in Short Hills, NJ
A delicious bagel from Bagels4u in Short Hills, NJ

Rhode Island’s lack of good bagels led me to wonder why they were so easy to find in the New York area.

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The First Meal of 2008

On New Year’s Eve, I don’t like to travel. I don’t like to party hard or go to bed late into the new year’s first morning. What I like is to wake up in my own bed the next morning, sans hangover, and go for the first walk of the year in the crisp morning air.

The first morning of 2008 was an especially exciting one because we were walking out the door of our new home. It was kind of early and a bit cold; we were hungry. Lucky for us, Julian’s was open.

A Mimosa at Julians in Providence
A mimosa at Julians in Providence. A bargain at $3!

I’ve always loved Julian’s, but now that it’s down the street from me, I love it even more. It’s one of those rare places that can be everything to everyone without compromising its individuality. For some, it’s a weekend refuge to brunch so late it’s probably no longer called brunch, nursing a hangover with eggs benedict and a mimosa. For hip college students, it’s where to get wined and dined on parents’ weekend. And for for Providence’s west siders, it’s a damn good neighborhood bar and restaurant.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, it was around 10 am on New Year’s day, and we got to sit in our favorite booth (the one by the window, you know, with tabletop made of antique matchbooks) and enjoy a leisurely breakfast. I had pancakes with apples, cranberries and white chocolate (a special so special it was wiped off the board a second after I ordered it) and Jeremy ordered cheddar chipotle grits, which came with two eggs and toast.

It’s going to be a good year.

Julian’s
Map Marker 318 Broadway, Providence
www.juliansprovidence.com

Food Resolutions

Too often, new year’s resolutions seem like a dismal reminder of personal failures. This year, I propose that they should be fun. Fun resolutions are easier to keep, and the satisfaction we get from accomplishing them can improve our lives as much as the draconian un-fun ones.

Here are some food-related new year’s resolutions which should be a pleasure to keep up with. If you have any more, please share. Happy new year!

1. Have people over for dinner at least once a month. I cook a lot. But maybe I’m selfish, or antisocial, because I don’t have people over for dinner nearly enough. I’m hoping this will change, especially since my boyfriend and I are moving into a condo with a big kitchen and room for a table.

2. Plan better lunches. When I lived alone, lunches were usually leftovers from last night’s dinner. Now that I’ve been living with my boyfriend, it makes more sense for us to plan ahead for some healthy and tasty lunch options. This includes making larger amounts of food, especially food that freezes well. I’ll be sure to share recipes and ideas.

3. Try new restaurants. I have something to admit, and you’ll probably think I’m a total dork – I keep a Google spreadsheet of restaurants I’d like to try. Unfortunately, it’s easy to lazily end up at a favorite place than venture into the unknown. I’d like to update and consult my list more often. Ideally, I’d like to limit my restaurant visits to once a week, but even if just half of these are new, I’ll have tried 26 new restaurants by the end of the year.

4. Be aware of what’s in the fridge. I’m usually good about using older food in creative ways (like banana bread and bread pudding), but especially when life is busy, I need to peek in the veggie bin to see what needs to be used. Wasting food never makes sense.

5. Take more food photos. A few years ago I entered, and won, a food photography competition! It was so much fun, but I got a bit burnt out taking photos every night for a couple of months. Also, with a 9-5 job and winter at hand, the lack of daylight is somewhat uninspiring. But I just got a Canon XTi and plan to put it to good use, even if it means setting up a little photography corner in the kitchen.