I must admit, I was disappointed at L'Epicureo. Its fame certainly preceded itself, what with the AAA Four-Diamond award. Entering the lobby, the bar area seems well appointed and very classy. I liked the textures and wood used. The whole of the restaurant is well lit but romantic enough. Still, if you want someplace to noozle your loved one, this is not it. The table dress was superb, and service was spot-on.
The classy ambiance was ruined, though, upon entering the dining area. Flowing away in a small enclave is a fountain that I suspect was purchased at Sam's Club for $149.99 and would look more at home in a suburban garden. On the walls are gigantic(!) prints from Italian masters such as Da Vinci and Botticelli. Some may find this interesting or charming. I found it tacky. Those two pimples damage an otherwise well-appointed dining area. The large windows overlooking Westminster Street are especially nice. They give you a wonderful view of the surprisingly eccentric people who roam around Providence.
I got a white bean soup which was luke-warm and serviceable in its taste. My three dinner partners got salads which were... green. For our entrees we received two pork tenderloins on a bed of mashed sweet potatoes, a serving of Carbonara, and slow-roasted Atlantic salmon. The pork was tough and poorly cooked, but was well combined and very tasty with the bed of potatoes. Still, it would have been easy enough to brine the pork instead of merely throwing them on the fire. If it wasn't for the well balanced taste, they would have been unacceptable.
The Carbonara also technically good, but without flair. Still, I guess we should have counted our blessings after the technically abysmal pork. The salmon was also well done, but was nothing more than good salmon. My salmon-loving compatriot didn't even finish it.
For dessert, we ordered the cheesecake for two, two orders of creme brulee, and the chocolate mousse L'Epicureo. Color me impressed by the desserts. The creme brulee had a deep, rich vanilla flavor that was perfectly paired with a crisp biscotti. The sugar on top was paper-thin, though, not delivering the satisfying crunch of breaking through. The mousse was excellent, and the cheesecake was like none other I've had. A deep, powerful cheese flavor.
At first, my mouth rebelled, expecting sweet, but soon I was licking the plate. The only problem was the fried cheesecake, which tasted more like a mozzarella stick. It needed a sweet sauce on top, perhaps caramel or chocolate. I was also the only one at the table to enjoy the cheesecake, so it's obviously not a dessert for everyone. One of my dinner partners expressed a desire to have cheesecake taste of cheesecake and not cream cheese. It's hard to argue with that.
Overall, the portions were decently generous, service was great, and the desserts were fantastic, but the high prices for fair-to-decent food do not a Four Diamond restaurant make. The only aspects of the dinner which were worthy of such a review were the service and the desserts. Everything else was totally, completely, 100% blah.
UPDATE 3/19/2009: This will be old news to most people, but L'Epicureo is no longer. The original chefs/owners have left and started a new eatery, The Troup House, while the old location has morphed into Aspire.
Price range for two: $50-$100
No stars - Utterly Abysmal
* - Bad
** - Edible
*** - Average
**** - Very Good
***** - Excellent
311 Westminster Street
Providence, RI 02903
401-521-3333 (Reservations recommended)
Tuesday through Thursday 5:00 to 10:00
Friday and Saturday 5:00 to 11:00
Sunday 4:00 to 9:00
Piano Bar/Lounge Hours
Tuesday through Thursday 4:00 to 11:00 PM
Friday through Sunday 4:00 to 12:00