Monday, July 28, 2008

Poll Closed

Well the poll for Rhode Island's favorite Providence-area cafe has ended.

Coffee Exchange pulled into the lead near the end of the poll and netted 24% of the votes. Pastiche, long in the running for #1, came in second with 21%. A surprise third was White Electric with 18%, and Caffe Bon Ami got 15%.

The others only landed a few votes apiece, Seven Stars got 6%, which tied with Meeting Street and Starbucks(?). 729 Hope brought up the rear with one vote. Poor Roba Dolce!, Three Sisters, Cafe Choklad, and Javaspeed got no love, with zero votes each.

For the new poll, I'm wondering which of Rhode Island's famous restaurants do you like the most.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


You want frozen lemonade? Forget Del's. Remember, Del's donated to the Bush campaign, and we all know where that got us.

No, Del's is old hat, now. Now, that I have found the frozen lemonade nirvana that is Mr. Lemon. Make sure to bring a tazer... or a cattleprod. Mr. Lemon is situated in a pretty sketchy neighborhood. In fact, before going, just break your windows now to get it out of the way. It makes it easier for the 14-year-old to steal your GPS. In all honesty, though, parking can be problematic since it's street-side, and traffic on Hawkins can get bad. But trust me, it's worth it.

Mr. Lemon sports some of the best, most flavorful, best textured frozen lemonade I've ever had. I like the texture more than Del's. It's denser, with fewer large ice crystals. It's more snow-like as opposed to the blended ice of Del's. The flavor is also leaps and bounds ahead of the watery-in-comparison competition. And what a selection! Lemon, Blueberry (a favorite), Bubblegum, Cherry, Creamsicle, Lime Ricky, Passion Fruit, Peaches and Cream, Pina Colada, Pina Colada Watermelon, Raspberry, Root Beer, Root Beer Float, Strawberry, Tutti Fruitti, Vanilla, Watermelon, and a number of blends.

If you find yourself in the western side of Providence, this summer, you should definitely try Mr. Lemon.

View Larger Map

32 Hawkins St
Providence, RI 02908

Saturday, July 12, 2008

QUICKVIEW: Pot Au Feu Bistro- +++ / $$$

One of Providence's old guards, Pot Au Feu is famous for being one of the only two places at which Julia Child would eat, the other being Al Forno.

She always said she liked Pot Au Feu because she couldn't find a traditional French bistro up in Boston. Obviously, there was tons of French cuisine, but the bistro is a unique experience. It's not intended to be fancy, nor is it intended to be terribly expensive. The bistro is like a nice, French version of TGI Fridays.

Pot Au Feu's bistro fits the bill, even though it's on the pricey side. The atmosphere is cozy, warm, romantically lit, and pretty loud when it gets packed. Part of the kitchen is on full display so you can stare at the chef and make him feel uncomfortable. An entire wall is lined with opened bottles of wines dating back to the 1970's. White Christmas lights are scattered throughout, and the complex mix of textures, colors, and lights creates a very dynamic and pleasing dining area.

For appetizers, we got the onion soup which was, I guess expectedly, some of the better soups I've had. Loads of cheese, a large crouton, and ultra-soft and sweet onions that were cooked long enough. A mild beef flavor, the soup was primarily onion. Even though I like my soup with more body and heartiness in flavor, the lighter broth was excellent. The lobster bisque was creamy, with a deep lobster flavor, but I like it when restaurants serve their bisque with a smattering of something in the center, be it crackers or bread, to mix up the textures. The salads were salads.

For dinner, we had the stuffed chicken, with cranberries, croissant, and peaches, which was delectable. It was tender, sweet, and perfectly prepared. The Coquilles St. Jacques was, again, perfectly prepared. Scallops weren't the biggest, but they were very tender and flavorful. The Tournedos Bearnaise were perfectly cooked, leaning towards the rare side of medium rare, AS THEY SHOULD, with a mild, too mild in my opinion, Bearnaise sauce. The Crepes Du Jour had chicken, tomato, and bordelaise sauce. Very well prepared, but the filling was missing something. It needed a binder of some sort, like a mild cheese.

For desserts, the vanilla mousse with caramelized pecans was too mild. It was exceptionally light and airy, very well made, but the vanilla flavor was light bordering on non-existent. Also, the pecans were too gummy to really offset the creamy texture of the mousse. If they had included granola, or replaced the pecans with almonds, I think it would have worked better. The creme brulee was excellent. It was easily some of the best in Rhode Island. It differentiated itself by being served warm. Most creme... cremes brulee?... are served with the custard chilled except for the freshly brulled sugar on top. This was less solidified, creamier, and warm. It went well with the rich vanilla flavor. The pot of chocolate was utterly decadent. The chocolate flavor was so strong and so dark it was a little overpowering. It bordered on a savory dessert. I liked it a lot. Super-dark chocolate goes well with sour-sweet fruit, and I think a raspberry reduction or coulis would have gone well. Still, it was rich, dark, and oh so good.

After much procrastination, I'm glad I finally made it to one of Rhode Island's gems. I wish I had gone sooner and will definitely go back.

Sorry for the lack of photos. The dining area was dark and my poor little camera just couldn't handle the low light.

Also, this review applies ONLY to the bistro, not the Salon.

Pot Au Feu: +++
Price range for two: $35-$75

View Larger Map

Bistro Lunch:
Monday through Friday 11:30am to 2:00pm
Bistro Dinner:
Monday through Thursday 5:30pm to 9:00pm
Friday & Saturday 5:30 to 10:00pm

Friday, July 4, 2008

REVIEW: The Panini Grill- ***1/2 / $

Small and inauspicious, the Panini Grill is a place that you try with low expectations and leave amazed at what you just got. The sandwich menu is large, with diverse ingredients and tastes, the prices are very competitive, and the smoothies are excellent.

Nothing is particularly impressive with the place's looks. The outside is simple, the inside is simple and diner-like, the website is simple, and the menu is simple. Not simplistic, just simple. The only thing that really stands out in the dining area is a large, Dr. Who pinball machine next to the entrance. Seems a bit odd outside of a bar or arcade, but it adds some welcome, and needed, pizazz to the interior.

The menu is large and varied. A wide selection of vegetarian sandwiches guarantees that you'll find something for your ethically inclined friends. The quality of the ingredients is very good. My Steak & American sandwich had tender, flavorful shaved steak with very crisp lettuce and firm tomatoes. The Monster had good, fresh-tasting turkey with honey mustard that was, um, honey mustard, and mild muenster. The bread was, again, fresh and tasty. I would have preferred a bit more heft to the bread, but it still held up well to mountain of meat. All of the meat was moist, but not wet. There were no oils dripping down my hand, and no slimy leftovers. Low on fat, high on fuckin' good.

You have your choice of five breads. It's nice to see a sandwich shop providing more than just long rolls or round rolls. I got the herb foccacia and it was very good. As I said, I would have preferred a denser or thicker roll, but it held up well enough and stayed together. It was well-herbed and toasted to perfection.

A real bright spot for me was the smoothie. Something lots of places do is add ice to the smoothie to drop its temperature almost artificially. This RUINS the texture. It makes the drink watery and sour, and totally defies the name by being anything but smooth. Not here! These are the best smoothies I've had outside of Fresh City. The recipe was great, the price was good, and its texture was smooth embodied. I had the Berry Booster and I immediately wanted another. Fresh, frozen fruit, good, strong yogurt, and good juice all made it one of the best smoothies I've ever had. I only wish they offered different sizes because the one they have is woefully small.

They have a good selection of sides, mostly pasta salads. Only four soups to sample, but they are good. I liked the cream of broccoli soup the best, even though I wanted more texture to the soup. The chunks of broccoli were really small. Still, it was thick and flavorful, and it went wonderfully with the salty bits of panini toast that were so perfectly toasted as to be crispy yet soft. Salads are large and give you a good chance to sample how crisp and fresh their produce is.

I also liked that the Panini Grill knows exactly what it is. It's a sandwich shop and it's doing everything it can do to be that sandwich shop. It's BYOB, it has free wi-fi, and they deliver. An office-worker's dream. They do so many small things to add value to your meal. The fresh toast with the soup. The utter heft of the sandwiches. The free wi-fi. It all combines to to form a value/quality combo that really captured my heart.

And that's where Panini Grill shines. For the money, they give you some really big sandwiches with high quality produce and a number of extras. This place blows the chain sandwich shops clear out of the water and rests comfortably next to another of my favorite sandwich shops, Jim's Deli. Jim's Deli still has the selection to end all selections, but five breads at PG, the different taste inherent to panini, and the excellent smoothies makes Panini Grill a must-try for lunchtime zombies in the area and worth a short trip.

NOTE: I've only ever been to the Middletown location, so my comments on the interior obviously don't apply to the Newport location.

The Panini Grill: ***1/2
Price range for two: $12-$25

View Larger Map

687 W Main Rd
Middletown, RI 02842

View Larger Map

186 Thames Street
Newport, RI. 02840

7 Days 10:30am to 9:00pm
Middletown Location
Sunday 10:30am to 6:00pm