Monday, April 5, 2010

culinary road trip: Providence, Rhode Island

After almost two years of living in Albany, my Midwestern self is finally realizing how many things are nearby. Yes, Boston and New York City are less than three hours away, but so are many other places. Faced with three days off in a row, I pulled out an old issue of Bon Appetit (my favorite food magazine) with a list of the ten best farm to table restaurants. I was hoping for one in New England to help me decide where to spend a few days. Thankfully, Bon Appetit told me about Gracie's in Providence, Rhode Island.

I love a good road trip, and I love to explore the Northeast, so I set off with The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris on audio and avoided interstates. The drive took four hours instead of three, but I saw small towns along the way and had fun. I got a great deal on a hotel, and the view from my room was pretty spectacular.
The food.
Gracie's offers an a la carte menu, but the better deal is the three-course meal, which starts at $30. Unlike most prix fixe menus, everything on the menu is fair game, but some dishes have a surcharge (the foie gras appetizer is an immensely reasonable $13 more). There are also tasting menus: five courses for $75 and seven courses for $90. Dining alone, I opted for the three course prix fixe.

Before I got to the food, however, I started with a cotton gin, a delicious cocktail with gin, fresh pink grapefruit juice and vanilla simple syrup. It was divine, and when you sit at the bar, signature cocktails are $5 instead of $9.

After you order, you get your choice of bread (baguette, from a bakery down the street, or the house made focaccia or honey beer bread). The honey beer bread was predictably tasty, but the focaccia was the best I've ever had. You also get an amuse bouche, which I adore. The plate is gorgeous, and the bite is perfect in the spoon. It was a pear with dates and blue cheese.
I was enjoying my bread and bouche while sipping my cotton gin and reading The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, and enjoying general relaxation, but the manager came out to apologize that my first course was taking too long, and he brought the gnocchi for me to eat in the meantime.
The ricotta gnocchi is made in house, and aside from a delightful restaurant in Venice, it's the best gnocchi I've had. It was cooked with English peas, bacon, local carrots and parmesan. 

Next, my intended first course arrived, and it was worth the wait. I opted for the veal sweetbreads, which are served with a sunny side up quail's egg, foraged mushrooms, ramps, an English pea puree, a truffle veal reduction and shaved white truffles. It was $7 to add the sweetbreads to the $30 prix fixe, and it was worth it. While the quail's egg was over medium rather than my preference of over easy, it was tasty, and the yolk was delicious with the sweetbreads. I love sweetbreads, but the best part of this dish were the mushrooms. I'm not sure if it was the mushrooms or how they were cooked, but these mushroom were the best I've ever had. The English pea puree was delightful, and I had some of it with each bite.
In between my appetizer and entree, I was treated to an intermezzo. It was a mango passion fruit sorbet, and it was the perfect palate cleanser. I could have eaten a bowl of it because it was so delicious, but the scoop was perfect.

For my entree, I chose the duck. The menu price is $27, so getting the $30 three-course meal should be a no brainer. The portion was huge, and it was delicious. The duck comes with roasted root vegetables (parsnips and sweet potatoes), charred brussel sprouts and a foie gras and confit ravioli on top. Despite being slightly overcooked for my preference, it was delicious. The foie gras ravioli was unsurprisingly amazing. The root vegetables were diced quite small, so it was easy to taste each part of the dish together.
After such an amazing meal and an extra course, I asked for my dessert (a pear tart) to go, but I also got this delightful amuse of a dessert featuring a raspberry macaroon, a raspberry gummy and a shortbread cookie.

All in all, it was a wonderful meal, and with one cocktail and one glass of wine, it was $50. For the price, it was the best meal I've eaten at a restaurant. Of course, I came back the next night too.

After enjoying everything the night before, I asked the bartender for his favorites when I ordered. I was pleased to see a different amuse bouche. It was grilled grapefruit, pistachios and honey yogurt. It was divine.

I started with the foie gras. I'm generally predisposed to foie gras, but this preparation didn't sound amazing to me. It was.The foie comes with a house made brioche, rhubarb, candied fennel and Marcona almonds. You can see how beautiful the foie is, and it was perfectly cooked. The accompaniments were absolute perfection. Despite not being a big fan of fennel, candied fennel provided both a lovely taste and texture. It was the second best foie gras I've ever had. The best? When my now husband was working a private party at the restaurant we met at and snagged a piece of foie gras, put it in my mouth and made me eat it before he told me what it was. It was my first foie gras, and it was the most delicious bite I've ever had.
I was pleased to have a different intermezzo my second night as well. It wasn't quite as good as the passion fruit, but it was also delicious and perfect after the foie gras. For my entree, I splurged and got the ribeye.
It's served with crisp potato puffs, sherry braised shallots and roasted bone marrow. It was $19 to add it to the $30 prix fixe menu. The crisp potato puffs were soft and delicious. My steak was cooked pretty well, but slightly closer to medium rare than rare. I always enjoy bone marrow, and I savored a small spoonful on each bite of steak. While the steak was great quality, it wasn't terribly flavorful. It was a ribeye, but there was no fat on it. I'm from Kansas, and I love steak, but I most enjoy a good ribeye (not a cheap ribeye) because the fat gives it so much flavor. Cheap ribeye, with more fat than meat is not desirable, but this steak tasted more like a sirloin to me. Overall? It was good, but it certainly wasn't $19 better than the duck.
For dessert, I had the lemon pudding cake with a poppy seed tuile. I don't like poppy seeds, but the tuile was the best part of this dessert. The tuile was an amazingly delicate sugar cookie. The lemon pudding cake was good, but it wasn't great.

Overall, I really enjoyed Gracie's. Not all of the dishes worked as dishes for me, but the freshness and quality of ingredients was amazing. The pieces were all lovely, even if the dishes weren't always as good as the ingredients. For the price, it's amazing. You can view the entire menu on Gracie's Web site.

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