Wednesday, January 12, 2011


It's tricky to assess La Laiterie (186 Wayland Avenue, Providence  401-274-7177) because the restaurant can be sooooo good but some nights it falls off, and when that happens the noise level always seems higher, the waiter weirder and the general over-description of menu offerings more cloying. It's easy to love what owners Matt and Kate Jennings are doing: getting people to eat the best cheeses, local- (and house-) cured meats, overlooked fishes, farm-raised meats and simple home-made desserts. Via small plates or standard entrees in just about any combination you can try it all. And most everything is delicious. Cocktails are well-done and the wine selection works.

If you're focusing on small plates it's probably best done with four persons max. A charcuterie selection is a good place to start. And since La Laiterie is the offshoot of the attached Farmstead, a cheese shop, you can try the daily cheese choices too, early on or later in the meal. We've also had "small plates" featuring wild mushrooms, the cheesemonger's mac n' cheese, and Rhode Island squid.  With a party of five we had coordination issues when we ordered both entrees and small dishes but what might have been chaotic worked reasonably well (though we barely survived the noise - our table was inches from a boisterous high table by the bar). Visitors were seduced by the charcuterie.

Some nights a fixed menu is available and that's fun. We had an excellent dinner, start to finish, which featured a juicy Berkshire pork entree. Few, if any, choices, no substitutions. Relax and go with it. Here's a sample fixed menu from a restaurant week:

Course One: Crispy Heritage Pork Torchon
Sweet Potato Crisps, Shaved Ham, Walnuts, Spiced Plum Puree

Course Two: Roasted Duck
Buckwheat Spaetzle, Smoked Mushrooms, Heirloom Apple, Carrot Puree

Course Three, choose one:
Citrus Upside-Down Cheesecake
Meyer Lemon Ice Cream, Whipped Cream
Cheesemonger Selected Cheese of the Day
Seasonal Accompaniments

On two different occasions, visiting friends and I stuck to small plates, sampled pork belly, chicken livers, local tomatoes, buffalo cheese, etc. Left happy. Note: Mr. Jennings clearly reveres pork.

The atmosphere most nights has a sort of party fervor as the evening goes on. It's not a big room and it's packed pretty tight with tables, hence the escalating sounds. If everybody in your group is in good spirits and enjoys food, it works. If you're thinking you'd like some serious, hushed conversation, you may be disappointed unless the rest of the place happens to be populated by the non-drinking and the super well-behaved. Go late enough and it's quiet again. You need a party of six for a reservation.

For me, a discordant note comes from the overly detailed recitation of each ingredient in every single dish. This seems cloying and also smug, as in, "Aren't we smart/clever to think of this combination of ingredients?" Anyway, most of the info is on the menu. One recent night after hearing the litany of soup ingredients I was mentally adding "and water from a pristine stream high in the Adirondacks, ladled by devoted artisans breathing pure mountain air." STOP, please. Some waitstaff can carry these recitations off without making you wince but on this night our waiter was looking like a jerk. (He also devoted himself to flirting like crazy with two women at the next table; he had issues.) Just noting here: Persimmon (Bristol, RI; see manages to get across the local thing and tell you about ingredients in a relaxed, professional manner.

On balance: high points.

P. S. Kate Jennings' cupcakes, cookies and bars are worth the calories.

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