Thursday, September 30, 2010

October in Rhode Island

COOK & BROWN PUBLIC HOUSE (959 Hope Street, Providence  401-626-1266) is holding a cocktail workshop Sunday, October 10 from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. Basics will be taught by Chris Amirault. The fee is $40 for the class, $70 if you stay for Sunday supper. Bring your own cocktail shaker and strainer. Reservations required.

AL FORNO (577 South Main Street, Providence  401-273-9760) is doing a  dinner featuring Duval-Leroy champagnes, Wednesday, October 13 at 6:00 p.m. The menu features braised wild boar preceded by hors d'oeuvres, Jonah crab salad and truffled mac & cheese. Dessert too, of course. It's 95.00 per person (before tax and tip).

Monday, September 27, 2010

Only in Rhode Island: Hot Dogs

The 9/25/10 New York Times  has an amusing/alarming story featuring  Olneyville New York System, a curiously-named locally famous hot dog chain (three restaurants) which hit a Rhode Island roadblock (a/k/a corruption) when it attempted to add two operating hours at its North Providence location. Named New York System when it opened in 1946 because the owner's Greek family got its restaurant start in Brooklyn, these are neon-signed homey hot dog joints where coffee milk rules. The dogs are part of Rhode Island lore. That my hot dog savvy friend says he has reservations about boiled hot dogs with meat sauce and celery salt is another matter - these hot dogs are very popular.

The newest restaurant opened in North Providence in 2007 and in 2009 applied for a two-hour extension which would put closing time at 3:00  a.m. You're probably wondering why a hot dog restaurant would want to stay open until the trouble-making hour of 3:00 a.m. in a semi-suburban town of 32,000 people, but this is Rhode Island and guys leaving the Satin Doll need somewhere to eat. Anyway, the owner ran into a stall and soon learned the cause: certain town council members expected to be paid before ruling on the application. The owner wasn't buying and his two hours were denied. The story would never have made the papers except the owner became "John Doe No. 4" when the councilmen were indicted by the U.S. Attorney, and the New York Times tracked the story down. It's kind of funny and pathetic at the same time. The indicted trio were part of a seven-member council (one of whom wore a wire) and weren't part of any organized mob. When one of the guys tried to shake a guy down via text message (text message!) the permit applicant responded, in part, "... this is real life, this isn't a movie like the Sopranos ..."
New York Times article:

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Vacation Notes: Part 1

Not really notes - just pictures from a Saturday market in France (Lyon, September 18). The vegetables and fruit displays were beautiful, as usual, but the standouts were mushrooms, which, when we were walking in the Alps a day earlier, we could actually smell.

The bad news, we couldn't buy mushrooms because we were in a hotel. The good news, we were forced to eat out in Lyon ...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Vacation over! Back to RI

THIS WEEKEND: A Chefs Collaborative team, led by Matt Jennings of La Laiterie/Farmstead ( is presenting a "down-on-the-farm" cookout this Sunday, September 26 from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. at Schartner Farms (, Route 2, Exeter. It's a fund-raiser for RAFT Heirloom Grow-Out, an organization which works on building community through chef-farmer collaboration. The dinner features barbecue dishes;  locally-grown produce and locally-raised meats will be served with, of course, local wine and beer. All to be prepared by local Rhode Island and Massachusetts chefs. Tickets are $50 for adults, $10 for kids over four and $25 for students and farmers. For tickets call the Chefs Collaborative (616-236-5258) or email And check out the website

NEXT WEEKEND The German American Cultural Society (78 Carter Avenue, Pawtucket  401-726-9873) is holding an Oktoberfest - Saturday, October 2 (3:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m. for the Ratskeller and music) and Sunday, October 3 (noon to 6:00 p.m.) The food and beer are Oktoberfest fare. Alpenblumen Musikanten performs. Entry fee is $5.00.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Bristol, RI: Persimmon

Champe Speidel, chef-owner with Lisa Speidel of the very small PERSIMMON (31 State St, Bristol  410-254-7474) is one of a handful of truly well know chefs in Rhode Island. Speidel opened Persimmon in 2005 after working as chef at Gracie's in Providence as well as at the old Empire and Neath's. In 2009 Rhode Island Monthly named Persimmon best restaurant in Rhode Island. My first visit was in 2005, three months after it opened and my most recent visit was in August, with four friends. I liked it the first night and like it just as much, maybe more, now. Five of us ate luscious appetizers and perfect entrees. The menu, short, focuses (like just about every other high-end menu these days) on local and seasonal fare. The offerings are innovative but without the silliness of too many ingredients (which so often are painstakingly, annoyingly detailed). 

To explain what I'm getting at I'll describe a recent dinner at a regionally very well known restaurant (let's call it L for local) in a city far far from Rhode Island. The venue is beautiful, a modern high-ceilinged room with big windows and statehouse views. The menu is simple and changes frequently. In reality, it's not far off from the Persimmon menu. L is "committed" to seasons and "passionately supports ... farmers." You get the picture. But it turns out that restaurant L is a foody altar - you get to order and eat but it's really not about you, or you and your friends; it's about worshipping at the altar. Our very tall and extremely soft-spoken waiter (when he leaned over to whisper details he was at a near 90 degree angle and in my mind's eye I saw him in formal dress with one hand, palm up, balanced on his back) gave us every detail of the composition of both the amuse-bouche presented.  I would point out here that Wikipedia defines amuse-bouche as bite-sized hors d'oeuvre and our second one was actually a third of a bite at best. It was a tiny cornmeal shortbread topped with a teeny salsa spread (far-sighted without your reading glasses, no way you would see it) made of ground cherries tended by middle-schoolers, etc. etc. No kidding. I never got past this speech. My entree of corn pancakes with summer succotash and braised kale was excellent but at this point we were in open revolt, laughing about 6th grade gardeners and worrying about the sanity of said server, who was not impressed by our irreverence.

Persimmon, happily, gave us no additional speeches about the ingredients or the farmers who toiled. Instead, we ate oysters in seaweed, Hudson foie gras with duck neck confit and corn chowder. We moved on to local bass on mixed vegetables, bronzino, chicken cooked in the sous vide method, duck breast with squash and rosemary, and a skillet-cooked beef dish. Five happy diners. So good, couldn't possibly eat more. We did, sharing three desserts: panna cotta with berries, chocolate mousse (yes, but it's good here) with caramel ice cream, and peanut cake with banana ice cream. Great dinner.

September in Rhode Island

COOKING AT AL FORNO - Here's your chance to work in the Al Forno kitchen (577 South Main St, Providence  401-273-9760). David Reynoso, chef, Phil Niosi, executive sous chef, and Debbie Barrett of Allen Farms in Westport, MA will run a hands-on class at the restaurant on Saturday, September 25 from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00. $65 to participate - to cook and to eat. Call to reserve a place. P.S. Al Forno also arranges cooking classes for groups (minimum, eight persons).

LOCAL HARVEST - If you're not already signed up, go to and take a look.

And if, like me, you associate September with at least one super-high-caloric gyro consumed while listening to loud Greek music and watching nostalgic fair-goers dance, you have another weekend of opportunity, September 10-12 in Cranston. Attend the Church of the Annunciation GREEK FESTIVAL, 175 Oaklawn Avenue (Rte 5)  401-942-4188 and do it all. Park at Cranston High School West for shuttle busses.