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.