Just in case you don’t read this very detailed review, let me sum it up by saying that Gracie’s
is [was] the best restaurant in Providence. I don’t want to hear about Atwells Ave. or Federal Hill. Gracie’s is [was] the reigning champ as far as I’m concerned. I know thems are fightin’ words, but I’m not saying there aren’t a lot of great restaurants in Providence. I’m just saying that many restaurants could learn a lot by taking a page from Gracie’s [old] menu.
194 Washington Street
Providence, RI 02903
As of the time of this post, I’ve unfortunately only eaten at Gracie’s three times and it is unfortunate simply because that is not enough. The first time I went was when I made a reservation for my girlfriend’s Birthday. At that time, I let them know the occasion and the hostess as well as all of our servers tastefully wished her a Happy Birthday throughout the night (not in that horrifying group Birthday singing sort of way that should be banned from all restaurants).
On this last occasion, I took my girlfriend there to celebrate our one year dating anniversary (yes, I’m as shocked as you are that someone stuck it out with me for that long, but let’s focus shall we?). I have no idea how Gracie’s knew that this last visit was also for a special occasion because I forgot to mention it, but miraculously they did. The hostess seated us in a private booth and there were glittery stars all over our table (that may have just been a restaurant-wide thing though). There was a little, cheesy, but totally appropriate card on the table that had a nice quote about love (also possibly a restaurant-wide touch for that evening, but it felt like it was just for us). The server that brought us our silverware saw me taking a photo of the card and, with a smile, urged me to take the card home with me. Our main server even brought us over some complimentary Cava (Champagne from Spain) and let us toast to “a special occasion.”
This is the kind of service that puts Gracie’s far above many restaurants. Not only is the food immaculately prepared (I’ll get to that later), but they know how to treat you right. Every patron feels like Gracie’s is making his/her visit a special occasion.
Free and easy valet parking! Enough said about the outside of the restaurant. Inside, the restaurant is warm and cozy with dim mood-lighting that uses the light from the city outside to complement the light inside. The decor is simple, but with a lot of little flourishes like candles on the table, the little cards I mentioned before, or glittery stars, and even small throw pillows in the booths. The restaurant itself isn’t very large, but it is still spacious enough so that it doesn’t feel overcrowded. There is also a bar area to the right of the entrance for people who just want to eat quickly or wait for a table (I highly urge reservations ahead of time on a weekend evening).Another character trait of Gracie’s is that much of the menu changes so often that the menu has a date on it to let you know when it changed. Some might view this as a negative point since it means that you might not be getting your favorite dish there the next time you visit, but I can confirm that there is always something worth getting on the menu. Truth be told, everything on the menu is usually worth getting and the changing menu allows the chefs to come up with something new for you to try. Another reason much of the menu changes is that Gracie’s often supports local businesses and seasonal produce. Some of the menu items have names on them like, “Pat’s Pastured Chicken Ballotine.” This indicates that the dish is made with chicken from Pat’s Pastured in Greenwich, RI, which is the only local place to get pastured chicken. Gracie’s also gets its cheese from Farmstead, a high quality cheese shop in RI (I learned that little nugget from a well-placed article on the bathroom wall!). The menu theme this evening seemed to focus on figs and ricotta cheese as you’ll see below.
The best part of the menu though is that in addition to one-off items, Gracie’s offers a five and seven course tasting menu ($70 and $95 respectively) as well as an amazing 3-course prix-fixe menu for only $40 (it used to be $35, but it’s worth the extra $5)! Every time I’ve gone, I’ve had the 3-course prix-fixe because not only is it a great deal, but it is never disappointing.
Cocktails or drinks will run you about $12-$15 a whack and while the drinks are extremely well made, this is where Gracie’s will get you. That seemingly amazingly affordable deal for the Prix-fixe menu will seem like a surprise when you get the heaftier bill after a couple of drinks have made their way onto it, so be careful! Nonetheless, they make a great extra dry martini with olives and gin/cava cocktail.
Even the bread at Gracie’s is fantastic. They have a few different kinds, but the standards are a rosemary focaccia (my personal favorite), a french baguette, and their famous beer bread. This time around they also had a seasonal pumpkin seed bread. When a server came over with the bread to ask what we would like, he did not mention the beer bread. When I asked, he regretfully informed me that they were out, but immediately suggested that he would go and see if he could find any. After taking a piece of the focaccia and a piece of pumpkin bread, the server returned shortly with two end pieces of beer bread loaves and announced that these were literally the last pieces in the restaurant that night. Again, that was just a great example of the incredible service you receive at Gracie’s.
Amuse Bouche #1:
Some of my favorite details that Gracie’s includes with their meals are the Amuse Bouche courses. These are little, almost bite-sized portions served between courses that consist of whatever the chef feels like making that day. They often seem like little delicious culinary experiments designed to prepare you for the upcoming course. This time around, our server brought us a small portion of smoked bluefish with a homemade crouton served on an Asian soup spoon. Imagine a pureed smoked salmon, but without the heavy fishiness that accompanies smoked salmon and that will give you a small idea of what this tasted like. The smokiness was perfect and the crouton cut through the powerful flavors to balance out the tiny taster. As another example of great service, the servers almost always ask if you have any food allergies because they will even try and accommodate you in the Amuse Bouche course if they can by letting the chef know ahead of time.
Appetizers – First Course:
The first part of the prix-fixe menu is an appetizer course with choices usually ranging from salads to savory protein dishes. My girlfriend ordered the Roasted Beet Salad with Mission Figs, which I’ve had before, and I ordered the Slow Poached Pat’s Pastured Egg. The roasted beet salad has two kinds of beets (one light and one dark), mission figs, cremont cheese, rye crackers, and whipped honey. All of these ingredients presented beautifully on the plate to give you a light and refreshing dish that combines the earthy flavors of the beats with the sweetness of the figs. The Slow Poached Pat’s Pastured Egg was just that. It was a poached egg from Pat’s Pastured on a bed of ox tail ragout and covered in crispy leeks. In contrast to the salad, this dish was much more savory and rich in flavors. The perfectly poached egg wasn’t overcooked, but also wasn’t too runny. It held together while simultaneously mixing with the shredded ox tail. The oxtail itself was tender and flavored very simply so that it’s own fatty flavors could shine. The leeks added a mild onion taste with a crispy texture that complemented rather than overpowered any of the other ingredients as opposed to what usually happens when a restaurant adds fried onion to a dish. I would recommend both of these dishes depending on your preference at the time. Light and refreshing or rich and savory.
Amuse Bouche #2:
After our appetizers, another Amuse Bouche (or intermezzo) came in the form of a palette cleansing sorbet. This homemade sorbet had some wonderful citrus (possibly grapefruit) flavors. The texture was a little grainy, but light, cool and refreshing . It definitely cleansed the palette and made us ready for dinner.
Entrees – Second Course:
While waiting briefly for our table to be ready, I walked through the dining room towards the restroom and saw a man eating a large pasta dish that looked delicious. I vowed to investigate and very much considered ordering the same pasta dish because I couldn’t believe the portion size. Nonetheless, when I finally sat down and looked at the menu, another dish caught my eye because it had the words, “pork,” and “belly,” in it. Luckily for me, my girlfriend made the decision easier when she decided to order the Rigatoni Campanaro (the dish I saw earlier), so that left me free to order the Bomster Sea Scallops (and pork belly!), but still try both dishes.
I don’t often get pasta dishes when I go out to eat simply because I like to try dishes that I wouldn’t necessarily make at home. I can tell you right now though that Gracie’s Rigatoni is not something I can make at home. This pasta is what I always imagined pasta should taste like. The pasta itself was cooked perfectly and the sauce coated the noodles, but didn’t get absorbed by the pasta to the point where the noodles are bloated. The sausage tasted wonderful, but one of the biggest stars for me was the ricotta salata, which is a firm ricotta cheese. I’d never had it before and it is just wonderful. It’s a great way to add ricotta flavor (which is so amazing in pasta and sauces), but without having it turn into a delicious sludge all over the dish. The firm ricotta pieces almost had the texture of a firm tofu, but still retained all of that rictotta flavor. If you love pasta then this dish is for you.
Despite the fact that I did not get the Rigatoni myself, I had no regrets. The Bomster Sea Scallops with a long maple braised pork belly strip, butternut sqaush puree, and charred, crispy brussels sprouts chips more than made up for the substitution. The scallops were charred on both sides, which gave them a wonderful contrasting crispy and then soft (but not rubbery) texture as I bit into each piece. The sweetness of the butternut squash puree and the crispy, salty brussels sprout leaves went really well with the mild, but hearty flavor of the scallops. The seared pork belly acted as the secondary star of the dish. I alternated between eating small solitary pieces of the fatty, salty, pork belly and eating it along with the scallops. The two flavor combinations really complement one another. Both the scallops and the pork belly had that crispy outside with a soft meaty inside. The saltiness of the pork belly went extremely well with the freshness of the scallops. I know that the dish looks paltry in comparison to the Rigatoni, but it was surprisingly filling due to all the decadent flavors. If you’ve ever stalked that waiter carrying the bacon wrapped scallops around a wedding reception, then this dish is what you’ve been dreaming of.
Dessert – Third Course
By the time we reached our third course, we were actually pretty full, but everything was so delicious that we just tried to keep going. My girlfriend decided on the Ricotta Cheesecake (Buckwheat shortbread, quince jam, cider doughnuts, rosemary anglaise), but I think it was the cider doughnuts that really made the call here. I, on the other hand, am chronically averse to cheesecake. It is currently on my list of about 5 foods on this entire planet that I prefer not to eat. Despite this aversion, I always try new cheesecakes to see if this is the day that I will like it (what’s that saying about an insane person repeating the same action, but expecting a different result?). I tried this cheesecake and I have to say that I think I finally found a cheesecake that I could eat and not hate life at the same time. The choice of ricotta for the cheesecake made for a much more subtle creamy flavor that really showed the refined skill in creating the dessert. The crust underneath was crunchy, but not a crumbly mess, so it contrasted with the velvety texture of the cheesecake. The sneaky players on the dish were the cider donuts, which were small, but full of fall spice flavor. My only complaint was that possibly due to their small size, they were heading towards the dry side. The donuts did add an entirely new set of sweet flavors to the plate though as did the quince jam and rosemary anglaise which allowed the diner to change the flavors with each bite.
I had a harder time deciding between the Milk Chocolate Cremeux (Ginger buttercream, pistachio cake, cherry tuile, cardamom ice cream) and the odd Sherry & Olive Oil Cake (Black Mission Figs, walnut butter, honey & blue cheese ice cream). When I asked the waiter, he looked me square in the face and this is the conversation that ensued:
“Did you see the ice cream that comes with the Olive Oil cake?”
“Yeah. Bleu cheese ice cream,” I replied.
“Are you ok with that?” he asked with a concerned look on his face.
“Um. Should I not be ok with that?”
“Well, people either love it or hate it. We’ve had customers with both extremes,” he commented frankly.
“Hmmmm,” I pondered for a couple of seconds. “Let’s do it.”
“Excellent,” approved the server with a mischievous smile.
So I tried the Sherry and Olive Oil Cake with bleu cheese ice cream. The cake itself was wonderful. Just a really simple blend of flavors to make a light, but substantive cake that could complement any dessert dish. The ice cream was extremely weird. Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t bad, but it also isn’t something I would get again unless I wanted to show it to someone else. Separating taste from skill, I have to say that while the taste was a little jarring (but totally fun to try), I have to appreciate the skill in making the bleu cheese ice cream. It really did taste like ice cream and bleu cheese at the same time, which I thought was extremely impressive.
Post Dessert Treats!
If the meal wasn’t enough, Gracie’s had two more tricks up its sleeve. First, after dessert, we received two browned butter (and possibly caramel) macaroons that were unbelievably good. They were light and airy, but the outside had a thin crunch right before you bite into the softer sweet center. These were easily the best macaroons I’ve ever had. Lastly, the final touch to an amazing evening at Gracie’s culminated when the valet brought me my car as we were leaving. Inside the car in the cup holders were two little bags of Gracie’s delicious chocolate chip cookies! Yes! Cookies in the car! Amazing!
Overall Impression: Unlike many classy places, I always feel comfortable at Gracie’s and I always leave full. The service and food are of the highest caliber and the prices are a great bargain for the experience. Definitely recommended to everyone as somewhere you must eat in Providence.
Rating: One Liz Lemon from 30 Rock, “I want to go to there.”