Wednesday, October 31, 2007

REVIEW: Gracie's- **** / $$$$$

I was first attracted to Gracie's by a card for a complimentary dessert tasting for two. Far be it for me to pass up free food, and Gracie's certainly seemed like a nice place. I went during the summer, when the weekend sees pretty much all of Providence, save for the poor people who have yet to panhandle their way into a Lexus, beat feet to the beach. This leaves the city near-deserted. Since very nice restaurants rarely have promotions such as this, I was expecting a decent restaurant, with prices in line with a downtown location. I was not expecting to be as impressed as I was.

Gracie's was a perfect companion to our cool summer night on the town. The food was excellent, the service was excellent, and the ambiance was so romantic I almost made out with the people sitting next to us. Being a summer night, the valet wasn't sure if we were somehow lost on our way to the beach, or if we were actually there to eat. So it took him awhile to come over. Once inside, we were seated immediately in a romantic corner giving us a fantastic view of Washington and Aborn street. Just down the road is The Cuban Revolution, so a steady parade of capitalist-hating, privileged yuppies walked by. There's a not-so-subtle star theme throughout the dining area which really rather works. I thought it was classy. The entire restaurant has a subdued, golden color scheme, accentuated by various wood grains. Very, very warm and inviting. It's tone is not at all fake and cobbled together like the abysmal ambiance of nearby L'Epicureo. It's also more cozy than the airy decoration of Al Forno. Very much its own, I loved the dining area.

The menu was semi-American with heavy French influence (read: small servings, lots of weird words). It displayed a suitable amount of pomp in choices of ingredients and foods. The menu is also inventive. The food has real character and shows the hand of a chef who's willing to try totally new things, as opposed to taking an already established recipe and throwing in something and calling it new. This praise belongs more heavily to the 2nd courses, for the 1st courses are good, but pricey and lack the flair of the main courses. The 1st course menu also doesn't seem to undergo the same frequent changes to the lineup that the main courses do.

It was now that Gracie's truly surprised me. The waitress brought out the first of two amuses bouche. This helped to at least partially explain the prices to follow. For our 1st course/appetizer we ordered the artisanal cheese platter (pricey at $18) which came with a selection of five cheeses. One of these was recently rated "the best cheese in the world", according to our waitress. I'm not sure I agree, but it was excellent nonetheless. It came with a small dollop of honeycomb which was truly delicious with the cheese. The other four cheeses were all well-picked and tasty. Perhaps it was the love of the chef, for the cheeses seemed to skew to the earthy side of flavor, with robust bodies. The scallops are also drool-worthy, but, again, are pricey.

For entrees my partner got the house-made gnocchi from the 1st course menu, which was perfectly made but nothing exceptional. I got the Berkshire pork two ways. This pork was a revelation. It was probably the best I've ever had. Two pieces of tenderloin cooked differently. Both were just mouth-watering. I'm drooling now thinking about it. The menu has recently seen this option replaced with Veal Two Ways. Fabulous veal, but not the heaven-sent thing the pork was. If pork isn't your thing, go for whatever filet is available, since the chef produces some fantastic recipes.

For dessert, we got the tasting platter which came with four, near full-size servings. One strawberry shortcake which was decent, one flourless chocolate cake which was excellent, a banana milk chocolate mousse torte, also excellent, and a blueberry lemon cake with gelato which was just delicious. I don't know where they got their gelato, but it was creamy as all get-out. A perfect companion to the rich, dense texture of the cake. The flourless chocolate cake was my partner's favorite, but my mind was fixated on the lemon cake and gelato.

Across the board, presentations were beautiful. Artful and attractive. They advertised well the quality of the food as it was set down. Obviously not as ostentatious as Cafe Nuovo, but subdued in a suitably cosmopolitan way. Still, I was struck by the prices for what we got. I'm certainly not one to complain about quality over quantity, but I felt the serving sizes were just a bit too cosmopolitan. Restaurants like Al Forno, CAV, and Mill's Tavern produce larger servings for either less or equal money with equal quality. I still think chef Joseph Hafner's personal spin is worth the money, but if they really want to compete, they need to come up with something to better explain the cost. Aside from that quibble, Gracie's is a world-class restaurant that's more than worthy of your dime and time.

Gracie's: ****
Price range for two: $70-$150

194 Washington Street
Providence, RI. 02903
401-272-7811 (Reservations accepted)

Tuesday through Saturday 5:00pm till Close
Sunday 4:00pm till Close
(Call if after 9:00pm to find out how late they plan on staying open)

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