For my money, a perfect burger is available at a bar and grill in Westchester County, New York, entirely inconvenient to a Providence resident. The search is on in Rhode Island. LUXE BURGER BAR (5 Memorial Blvd, Providence 401-621-5893) is part of a small local chain, Chow Fun Food Group, which includes 10 Steak & Sushi, Cafe Noir and Rick's Roadhouse. Luxe is downtown, located in the garage wing of the Marriott Courtyard, across from Capital Grille at Union Station. A bar/grill style place, its business is burgers and you are given a checklist to fill out to build your own. There is also a menu of pre-designed burger options and items for that person in your party who doesn't want a burger (better to leave said person at home - his nose may be offended). Our build-a-burger results were pretty good though mine could have been just a little bigger and the cheese thick enough to actually see without glasses. Stick to the basic add-ons like cheese, raw onion and ketchup and your purist instincts won't be offended. The thought of a burger with most of the items on the list is not pleasant but then somebody out there must feel a need for spiced ketchup. Onion rings and french fries were big disappointments - onions, potatoes and batter all totally tasteless. The sweet potato fries were better. www.luxeburgerbar.com
There's something kind of nostalgia-inducing about RUE DE L'ESPOIR (99 Hope St, Providence 401-751-8890). I want to like it and it does remind me, in a funny way, of an unglamorous Paris bistro in the 15th that always lures me back. But I also want to give it a good kick - add a little to the walls and edit the recipes. I'm grateful the Rue offers a range so you can sit among tables of students ordering burgers and more affluent forty-somethings spending lots. And it's nice to walk in on a cold crisp night and get cozy with a quiche and salad and duck risotto, as we did on a recent evening. But, the quiche didn't elicit any satisfying grunts and why have the old staple on the menu if it doesn't do that, if it doesn't give you soul-satisfying richness and warmth? The risotto contained too much duck, too little arborio and not enough seasoning. We'll try again (the burger?). The Rue has an actual barroom by the way. www.therue.com
And if you don't already enjoy the olive bread (both baguette and full size) and an occasional sticky bun at SEVEN STARS BAKERY (820 Hope St and 342 Broadway in Providence; Rumford Center, 20 Newman Avenue in East Providence - 401-521-2200 for all) head there now. Personally, I have sworn off the sticky buns during a post-holiday lenten body-repair period but I'm still indulging in olive baguettes. The firm crust, salt and olives are just too good to miss. www.sevenstarsbakery.com Go also to OLGA'S (103 Point St, Providence 401-831-6666) where the breads are excellent and the french-style macaroons a treat. Olga's sells it cornmeal and whole wheat pizza crusts, and some breads, in many local markets and I recommend the crusts as hosts to your left-over olives, shallots, etc. For me, the best part of Olga's is the cafe, especially in summer when you can sit outside for a leisurely lunch. The menu includes their little pizzas, a range of sandwiches from a Cuban paninini to a cheddar vegetable melt, and salads. Bring an appetite - hearty describes the fare. www.olgascupandsaucer.com NOTE: both Seven Stars and Olga's are at the Pawtucket Wintertime Market (1005 Main St, Pawtucket, 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.)
A PLATTER OF FIGS
I was never going to purchase another cookbook, ever, and I've bought two since Christmas. A PLATTER OF FIGS (Artisan, 2008) is by David Tanis, co-chef at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA. He's co-chef because he splits the job, enabling him to spend half the year in Paris where he hosts a private dining club (something to dream about). I've decided to make everything in the book, not like Julie what's-her-name in her quest to find her inner Julia, but like an ordinary cook who has decided this is her kind of bible. I made my pledge a month ago and so far I've knocked off five from the index and success (mostly) greeted me so I'm game to continue. Here are my first three, made for one evening: 1) watercress, beet and egg salad - utterly terrific, what else can I say? (Think he's bossy because he tells you how to wash the watercress, cook the beets, even how to "soft" hard boil the eggs? Maybe, but he's right.); 2) braised beef - simply delicious. Here's where I confess - I used boxed chicken broth. Sorry Mr. Tanis; 3) roasted apples - like grown up applesauce with cognac. I did have a problem here in that my apples had an appearance issue - a couple burst open. And doing it again, I'd add a really good vanilla ice cream.
But are apples really dessert?