Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Pawtucket Wintertime Market


My first visit to this market was just a look-see. I never expected to buy everything we needed for dinner, and more. Now, out-of-town friends come along. I have bought produce at nearly every table and it has been consistently good. Here are a few favorite stops along the passage:

HOPKINS FARM (North Scituate, RI 401-647-7281). The Hopkins bring relishes, pork pies, a wide variety of root vegetables and a cooler of lamb from their Southdowns. My raised-on-a-farm friend wanted to try the Southdown lamb so we purchased rib chops. They are a little thicker than the usual supermarket ribs and they are not trimmed of all fat, which is in their favor when you cook them (not so fatty you set off the smoke detector) but means you do some trimming as you eat. They are delicious. We are return buyers of the ribs and the green tomato

Pork in most forms is popular at our house. From the HILL FARM (Foster, RI 401-464-5996) we have purchased a rack of ribs (fall-off-the-bone tender), hocks, and best of all, PORK hot dogs. The frankfurters have no nitrates, no phony flavors and probably lots of extra calories. If you are a true fan, these dogs are for you.

Buy oysters on Saturday and they will sleep in your refrigerator for a couple of days so get them even if you already have weekend plans.  MATUNUCK OYSTERS (Matunuck, RI 401-932-4946) is a regular stop on our food trail.  I don't know oyster lingo but these are so good and fresh you feel like you're at the beach. Matunuck sells clams and sometimes fish at the market but the mainstay is the oyster.

And stop at the Harmony Hill Farms (Glocester, RI 401-949-3902) table for bread and butter pickles to serve with those hot dogs.

             what's with applewood smoked bacon appearing on every menu?

Friday, March 26, 2010

When You Need Sweets


A long time has elapsed since the holidays and it's okay to be bad again. Try a packet of chocolate-covered grey salt caramels from SIMPLE PLEASURES (6 Richmond Square, Providence, RI 401-331-4120). The salt caramels are famous, made by Fran's Chocolates in Seattle. The eclectic Simple Pleasures  has a small selection of candy (and I suspect the owner likes caramels because in one form or another they are always there) so take a look. Right now, there are not-run-of-the-mill Easter chocolates and fantastic sugar picture eggs made in Massachusetts. These are the sugar eggs that some adult steered you away from when you were a kid, saying, it's only sugar, you don't want that. And you did want it, so badly. So buy one for a child. Tuesday - Saturday, 10:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.

RHODE ISLAND ROCKS is a local business, a brother-sister operation drawing on their mother's talents (of course). Their product is a little bag of "rocks" made simply of chocolate-covered peanuts, pretzels and raisins. Addictive.They are sold at Eastside Market, both Whole Foods and many other Providence and R.I. locations.

The CUPCAKERIE (1860 Broad St, Cranston, RI 401-4672601)  doesn't confine itself to chocolate so that's why you should buy the container of nine assorted mini-cupcakes, divide them in half, share them with a maximum of three persons and evaluate all flavors. It's a good method (we've used it for french macaroons) and it saves you from acts of unspeakable gluttony, just barely. The Cupcakerie makes great icing whatever the flavor. See them/eat them at the Pawtucket Wintertime market on Saturdays.

ciao bella now makes malted milk ball gelato. too much of a good thing?

Saturday, March 20, 2010



Where to eat? If you want to walk from dinner to event there are a dozen-plus local options (plus bars, and "nationals" which are in or near the hotels). Everybody wants to eat at the same time and it's hard for a restaurant to be at its best when the rush is on.

TINI (200 Washington St, Providence 401-383-2400) is a rush-hour star but it can't be too hard keeping up when there are only 19 seats at the narrow, horse-shoe shaped bar. Owned by restaurant superstars Johanne Killeen and George Germond (Al Forno), Tini is super-sleek and friendly at the same time. The tapas-type menu is treat heaven - confit pork tacos (I've had these twice), tini baked oysters, lobster fritters, endive caesar salad, etc. The "tini weenie" and "the fries" are popular. The fries, served with hot sauce and garlic mayo, may be the best around (polar opposite of the Luxe fries). Portions are small so order two or three items. And there are teeny desserts: itsy-bitsy cookies, a flight of tiny panna cottas, a wee chocolate ice box cake. Wine selection is limited and be happy, because it's limited to good. There are excellent cocktails. It's a really fun bar and you can slide off your stool and cross the street to Trinity Rep in a minute or less. And go back afterwards if you can get in.

BRAVO BRASSERIE (123 Empire St, Providence 401-490-5112) is the opposite of Tini. It's big, noisy and probably wishes it didn't get so much of its business in post-work, pre-theater and arena jams. But it does and on a recent visit it was handling chaos pretty well. Bravo is more like a happy bustling brasserie when it's jammed but our waiter said that, unfortunately, the buzz heads out the door by 7:30-8:00 when events begin. Too bad. This corner site across from Trinity and a block from the Dunk arena has had some trying times but it deserves to do better. A recent dinner started with drinks at a tall table by the bar (where we also ate). Sorry to report that Bravo's designer drinks suffer from the same overuse of sweet ingredients that seems to be the rule these days (notable exceptions: Chez Pascal, La Laiterie, New Rivers and Tini). Onion soup was passable and moules et frites was a split decision: the mussel broth/sauce was short on saffron but the fries were excellent. Also excellent was the frisee salad. Served here with asparagus, non-smoked (yes!) bacon, the requisite egg and a really good dressing. Worth another try based on the salad alone.

When you think DOWNCITY (50 Weybosset St, Providence 401-331-9217) you probably say, oh yeah, place with the Drag Brunch (billed as the only Drag Brunch in Rhode Island in case you were wondering), but at 7:00 p.m. on a Wednesday it's more relaxed than it is spectacular. It's a bright, modern downtown venue. From meat loaf to spare ribs, sword fish to chicken, the menu is relatively simple. Too bad there's not much to laud about the actual dining. First off, about the so-called "award-winning meatloaf" - I want to know who issued this award and when, because it certainly wasn't for the meatloaf they were selling earlier this week. What was delivered was an over-large serving of tasteless brown slabs with a gravy I'll describe as bad but which the menu describes as "carmelized onion demiglace." The fact that DownCity serves obscenely large quantities of food somehow makes the meatloaf's poor show all the worse. Chicken paillard was a better bet but it was presented over a giant pile of not-too-young arugula with so-so dressing. The restaurant was short-staffed and service was slow. Eh bien, tant pis!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Thai Talk


There are lots of choices for Thai in Providence. To start, try either (both) of these. SAWADDEE (93 Hope St, Providence 401-831-1122), a few blocks up from Wickendon, is practically an east side institution. "Sue" has been in the business since 1984 and her tiny restaurant is usually filled. And it is a tiny space so if you're thinking you will drop in at prime time understand that you will likely be doing sidewalk time. Easy enough to get around if you're willing to eat early or late. Sawaddee is very casual and what you don't get in decor you get on your plate. When we walked in last week Sue (I'm guessing it was Sue) assessed us as non-regulars and offered suggestions. On her advice we ordered the popular #13 (a/k/a Chicken 93 with String Beans), made with Sawaddee's special shrimp-paste based spicy (not too) sauce. My friend and I enjoyed this but liked the red curry with lamb even better; Sawaddee's red curry is warm and rich. A second order of rice was needed to do due diligence to the sauces. And then, suddenly, we were filled to the gills and had to leave sauce on the plate, a shame. Maybe I shouldn't have filled up on fresh spring rolls as a starter! Their version is a lighter-than-air combination of rice noodles, sprouts, lettuce, shrimp and mint served with a plum sauce with crushed peanuts. The menu is available for takeout/delivery. 

PAKARANG (303 South Main St, Providence 401-453-3660) is a bigger, more dressed-up restaurant, well known to Cable Car ( movie-goers. Dining with a different friend, I still had the urge for fresh spring rolls. They weren't  on the menu but our waiter, a prince, said, no problem, and served up Pakarang's version. He told us the rolls are really more Vietnamese than Thai. Pakarang's rolls have a heavy basil scent (no mint in these) which is the basic allure for me. My friend was in serious need of Pad Thai and what can you say about Pad Thai? It is, I think, one of the best comfort foods on the planet. At this point we were happy, close to sated, with just enough room for the Scallops and Eggplant, which are served in a black bean sauce with basil and red peppers - not spicy, just a simple combination of good things. Fine dining.

P.S. I think the very best fresh spring rolls are at APSARA PALACE (783 Hope St, Providence 401-831-4722)


I'm still at it, slowly cooking my way through this David Tanis cookbook. Zuppa di Fagioli with Garlic Toast was a recent effort. It's basically a white bean soup made with smoked ham hocks. And crushed fennel seeds, and infused rosemary oil, and, and, and - a certain amount of preparation, yes. And my white beans took substantially longer to cook than Mr Tanis suggested, but that's a quibble. The soup is hearty and it's really good, made even better with the garlic toast which you should prepare, as you may have guessed, exactly as Mr. Tanis suggests. Just buying a smoked ham hock is fun. This one is from the Wintertime Farmers Market (1005 Main St, Pawtucket, Saturdays 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.) 

Monday, March 1, 2010

Sunday Morning


Once, when we were in a doughnut-indulgence phase and in mourning because our favorites were no longer available, we followed a blog lead to ALLIE'S DONUTS (3661 Quaker Lane, a/k/a Rte 2, North Kingstown  401-295-8036) and were rewarded for the detour. The doughnuts were good, not a replacement for our loss but very good. Early on Sunday a few weeks ago I walked the length of Ives Street and came upon EASTSIDE CREAMERY (170 Ives St, Providence 401-865-6088) and its multiple painted announcements: Allie's donuts are on location. I had no ready cash so I filed the info away for another day. Yesterday at 7:30 a.m. I headed back, bucks and backpack with me, only to find it wasn't open yet! Not in the mood for bagels. What to do?
Down the block is a Portugese bakery I've been observing. SILVER STAR BAKERY (150 Ives St,  401-421-8013) is open early and there are lines at the counter. Customers, mostly men, arrive in cars and pickups and exit the bakery with multiple bags. So plan B for me resulted in multiple raised glazes (with chocolate icing and without) a big long curlicued pastry which was basically a big long curlicued raised glaze, and the Portugese version of Italian fried dough. Our tasters complained that the fried dough was just chewy bread with sugar - they ate it all while noting this. The doughnuts, however, were light, satisfying and appropriately sinful.

by the way, the regulars all ordered bread, nothing sugary at all