Monday, May 2, 2011


Nemo Bolin, chef-owner with his wife, Jenny Bolin, of Cook & Brown (959 Hope Street, Providence 401-273-7275) has made a big splash in the cooking world since opening the new restaurant last year. In addition to having Cook & Brown nominated in the Best New Restaurant category of the James Beard awards, Bolin was voted to the top ten of Food & Wine's The People's Best New Chefs list for New England. Bolin is young but his credentials are solid. Dedicated to food since he was old enough to think about it, he worked part-time through high school and college at L'Etoile on Nantucket (where he is from) and after college attended the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. Following culinary school Bolin worked several jobs, most notably at No. 9 Park in Boston and Craige Street Bistrot in Cambridge.

Moving to Providence and opening Cook & Brown Public House was a bold venture.
Cook & Brown, which is in the refurbished space of the late Oak restaurant, has been growing a following since it opened in March, 2011. Across from Chez Pascal on upper Hope, just feet from the Pawtucket line, it's in a known restaurant neighborhood if you live on Providence's East Side. Because it isn't near businesses, hotels or schools it is not an area known to most out-of-town visitors. Too bad.

The menu is as slim as the lines of the restaurant. Bolin obviously cares about fresh and local foods but he isn't preachy; you aren't bombarded with details of provenance. Origins may be cited on the menu but that's it, no speeches. Nor is there much food fashion at Cook & Brown  - pâté is still pâté, not foam served beside a reconstructed gherkin. Bolin's goal seems to be: present a short, interesting menu and make sure everything on it is better than good.

For main courses a recent menu included fish (poached hake), shellfish (seared scallops), roasted chicken, grilled lamb, and the truly special C & B burger with housemade potato chips. Checking the website the next day I saw that much of the menu had already changed. Refreshing.  Appetizers include a green salad, a soup (nettle with croutons one night last week), and five or six others. Friday's list was: herb flatbread with roasted beets, arugula and blue cheese; grilled beef tongue skewers; Maine mussels with house-made garlic sausage; chicken liver pâté; baby carrot salad with asparagus flan; and, fried Essex clams.

For the most part, over many visits, the food gets good ratings from me. It's doubtful there is a better burger in the city of Providence and when you add the chips it's close to a religious experience, should you have those. The fish (poached hake or monkfish) usually beckons me and Nemo doesn't shy away from what you might call the "fishy fish". One night he served bluefish on ratatouille - a pretty strong food statement, bluefish on Provençal vegetables, but it was terrific in all it's (healthy) fishiness.

As far as appetizers go, whatever the soup is it will be good. The green salad is fresh and simple. A friend ate the fried clams the other night and wasn't thrilled. The clams appeared to be flattened then coated and fried crisp with all obvious grease blotted away. The result is fake fried clams - clams are supposed to be a little disgusting.

Desserts change all the time. Usually worth the calories.

There are some quibbles - a waiter who talks too much, less than great chairs - and a weird lack of atmosphere. The space could use a little more life but it's hard to put a finger on just what it is that needs adjusting. It is certainly not the C & B Burger with cheddar, caramelized onions and chips because that, as is, is perfect.

Sunday suppers 8:30 p.m., one seating. You eat whatever is offered - my idea of a good adventure. (Regular dinner menu from 5:30 - 7:00 p.m. on Sundays.)

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