Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Full of Grace in Downtown Providence

I have had the pleasure of dining at some very critically acclaimed restaurants in my time, several of which were distinguished with Michelin Stars. I make it my personal mission to try the best of the best whenever possible. When it comes to Providence, Gracie's is it. It's the only AAA Four-Diamond Awarded restaurant in town, and it's the kind of place where every diner's plate is placed upon the table at exactly the same moment by a well-trained group of servers.

Featuring a modest-sized dining room with a gorgeous wooden bar, the space is filled with warmth through shades of brown, yellow, and copper. Stars are a common theme in the decor and can be found covering walls, in window treatments, and glittering atop tables.

There's more to Gracie's than meets the eye. Completely invisible to diners is Gracie's rooftop garden, which provides the absolute freshest produce possible, often picked immediately before service. Gracie's also has their own bakery down the street, Ellie's, which provides the spectacular bread selection which makes its rounds through the restaurant in a large carb-filled basket. A variety of 4 breads is quite standard, and in this case featured onion and rosemary focaccia, sesame-crusted sourdough, French baguette, and honey-glazed wheat beer bread. A dish of soft sea salt-sprinkled butter is the only embellishment this outstanding bread requires.

I guiltily indulged in not one, but two slices of the sticky beer bread slathered with a thin veil of butter. It was soft and sweet and satisfying. Bread never tasted so good. I might make it my mission in life to recreate this bread for my own closeted bread-eating needs.

The menu at Gracie's offers several options. Dishes are offered a la carte or as part of a prix fixe meal. Additionally, guests can choose to partake in a blind five course tasting. Blindfolds are not required, but rather guests have no idea what they will be enjoying for their meal (contrary to many other restaurant tastings which offer a list of dishes up front). Although many of the regular menu items sounded appealing, we decided to go for the gold and opt for the mysterious tasting.

First things first, a restaurant of this caliber most certainly includes delicious accents throughout the meal such as an amuse bouche, intermezzo, etc. Our first bite would feature a fragrant Truffled Egg Salad with Chive and a Focaccia Crisp served in soup spoon. It was a creamy puree with the perfect truffle accent.

If all egg salad tasted this good, I would eat it daily (in a cholesterol-induced haze, of course). In fact, I do have a bottle of white truffle oil in my pantry and some eggs in my fridge. This could be the start of a beautiful egg salady friendship.

The appetizer course was incredibly light and refreshing, and featured Crudo of Wild Striped Bass, Grapefruit, Radish, Shaved Onion, Avocado, Cucumber, and Cilantro. Delicate pieces of fish mixed with bites of incredibly fresh vegetables, tart grapefruit, and of course a deliciously acidic sauce swirled on the plate to balance it all out. While the flavors here were quite mild, they allowed the freshness of the ingredients to fully speak.

Following the appetizer was the pasta course, which in this case was composed of a Raviolo of Pâté de Campagne (Country Pâté), Black Trumpet Mushrooms, Fiddlehead Ferns, Fava Beans, and Aged Provolone (along with fresh pansies from the rooftop garden).

I'm a pâté-lover through and through, never having met one I didn't like (it's true!), but I had never tried pâté in ravioli before! It was definitely decadent and very meaty. The crunch of the fiddlehead ferns was one of my favorite textures on the plate, and the additional umami element from the trumpet mushrooms made this a very adult version of ravioli. It was pretty substantial for a dish containing one solitary raviolo.

So, the next course, the fish course, instilled some pretty serious fear in our hearts. Here's the back story. During our first two courses, we watched as plates containing what was quite obviously soft shell crab were transported from the kitchen to tables around us. Everyone at my table was quite apprehensive about being served soft shell crab, especially my sister who had literally gotten sick from the texture of it the only other time she tried it. Soft shell crab was certainly an odd selection for the fish course, we thought, but figured since it's such an incredible restaurant we would give it a shot.

Lo and behold, three plates of Pan-fried Soft Shell Crab with Asparagus, Butter-Poached Potatoes, Pickled Ramps, Hollandaise Sauce, and Spring Onion Pesto were gingerly placed upon the white tablecloth. We momentarily regretted our choice to try the five course tasting. One bite in, we changed our minds. Wow. If this is soft shell crab, then consider us die hard fans now. There was no strange texture, just deliciously tender crabmeat with a crisp, yet soft, crust. Dragging each buttery piece of crab through both Hollandaise and garlicky pesto sauces was unreal. Together with incredibly tender cylinders of potato, and both green and white asparagus spears, this dish quickly became our overwhelming favorite and the one I couldn't stop thinking about later that evening. Seriously, wow.

The sorbet for the evening, acting as a palate-cleanser between fish and meat courses, was comprised of strawberry and passion fruit and was served in chilled spoons. It was certainly refreshing and an excellent intermezzo.

The meat course was next and featured Colorado Rack of Lamb, Carrot Puree, Confit Baby Carrots, Crispy Artichoke, English Peas, and Veal Reduction. The double rack chop was cooked bloody rare and was bloody delicious. Although the carrot puree probably contained equal parts carrot and heavy cream, it was served in moderation (my arteries are relieved!). The additional embellishments of baby carrots, crispy artichokes, and sweet English peas carried the "spring lamb" theme through the entire dish. Another showstopper, this was a very close second in terms of favorite dishes of the night.

Dessert came finally: Tres Leches Cake with Coconut Creme Fraiche, Lemon Balm Sherbet, and Champagne Mango. The cake itself was fairly moist, but not wet like some other tres leches cakes I have enjoyed. The "frosting" of coconut creme fraiche was very mild with tiny pearls of mango on top offering sweet and citrusy elements. The lemon balm sherbet was incredibly refreshing and smooth. This dessert was the perfect end to an extraordinary meal which not only left us comfortably satisfied, but with a totally new perspective on the almighty soft shell crab.

I opted for a latte with my dessert and it was good. Although it was served with rustic-looking raw sugar cubes, I didn't sweeten it at all, and found it to be the perfect warm finish to our evening.

Along with the check, a small dish of French Macarons was also presented. The day's flavor was hazelnut. I thought the filling was a bit soft and oozed out a bit when I took a bite, but otherwise the macarons were well made.

Believe it or not, the macarons are not the final treat from Gracie's. If you valet your car, when it returns to you it will contain a surprise package containing two small chocolate chip cookies. That way you can continue to enjoy your meal at Gracie's even after you've returned home (or even on the way). Much like the jar of homemade granola that Eleven Madison Park in New York City offers its guests as a parting gift, this is a sweet thought that will surely keep Gracie's on people's minds.

The week after our visit, I received a hand-written thank you note from Gracie's in the mail in response to my "comment card" I had filled out after dinner. The envelope was filled with tiny silver confetti stars and the note was warm and heartfelt. The service at Gracie's is that genuine that even after you've walked out the door (with cookies in hand) they still want you to know how welcome you are there. It's impossible not to return somewhere so gracious.

194 Washington St
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 272-7811


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...