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!

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