Sunday, December 21, 2008

Mmm, Fetus Latte.

I was whipping up lattes at home and on the one with a cinnamon/cocoa mix on top, the design that appeared looked disturbingly like a sonogram of a human baby at some early stage of development.

Tasted good, though.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Mmm, carbon.

I've been noticing recently, I do not go to Starbucks as frequently as I once did. No, it doesn't have anything to do with my financial situation. I sell myself on the street, and being the rippling specimen that I am, business is very good.

No, I've just found that my taste for Starbucks coffee is waning. The introduction of the noxiously bad Piadini -which replaced two totally acceptable breakfast sandwiches- didn't help. Starbucks uses a very dark roast. Perhaps this is an attempt to cover up low quality beans, but that's a dangerous game. A very dark roast tastes like charcoal, so it takes a well-calibrated machine, a good analysis of the pull, and very fresh beans to make it taste good. Yes, it can cover up bad beans, but the margin for error during preparation is minuscule.

Generally, the prep is good and the espresso is fine, but man, it just gets dull. There is no complexity to their espresso whatsoever. No richness, or acidic bite. Nothing. I just find myself saying more often than I used to, "if I'm going to drink the calories, I'd rather have something that's really good." And if I'm nowhere near a place to make it, I just wait till I get home. Starbucks' move towards making better coffee with the Clover is a good first step. Still, I think they should move towards providing multiple beans for espresso, as well. This would make them more competitive with smaller cafes that provide superior beans and drinks.

And it just has to be an untenable situation when the only thing bringing me in is the selection of pre-made foods, especially the fruit platter. But those Piadini are amazingly bad. They taste like soap. The worst thing I've ever eaten at a Starbucks. And for a mobile warrior such as myself, the convoluted WiFi arrangement is a nightmare. So, actually, I'd say the thing bringing me in is only the fruit platter.

Now there's a dynamite business model.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

QUICKVIEW: Caffe Dolce Vita- ++ / $$

I was on the hunt for some take-out and came across Caffe Dolce Vita while perusing a virtual Providence in Google Earth. They had a pretty web-site and a simple, yet tasty-sounding menu. Also, I was hungry and my long-term mate, the ever-flexible person that she is, wanted tortellini... and only tortellini. Federal Hill seemed like a good place to go for pasta. I had heard that a few Italians live there. Who knew?

In my short sojourn at the restaurant, the interior struck me as nice and well-lit. Not exactly oozing character, but even if it was austere, it was nice. A little romance injected compliments of some red lighting, a nicely presented bar, and large mirrors made the room seem larger and a bit more dynamic than it really is. One thing about which I was really disappointed was the total lack of a fountain. Even a small, ornamental one they bought at Sam's Club. The fountain scene is the single most famous scene in the movie that is their namesake. What were they thinking? I want a half-naked woman in a fountain, damnit!

The menu is simple, with lots of sandwiches, pastas, and some standard, but still attractive, desserts. For an appetizer, the crab cakes were inhaled. I liked the them a lot. They were pretty light on the crab, and the deep frying they went through was a bit dense, but they made up for it by being wedged full of more ingredients than is commonly seen. Corn, chopped peppers, and herbs saved them from being heavy and uninspired. They included lots of tartar sauce, and $8.95 for two of them is a fair price.

For entrees, we ordered the Eggplant Parmigiana, Tortellini Al Alfredo, and Fusilli Alla Vodka. All three were very good. The tortellini was firm with an excellent filling, not surprising since it was most likely Venda Ravioli. The alfredo sauce was cheesy and flavorful, if not a bit on the watery side. The eggplant parmigiana was exactly that. The fusilli was good and thoroughly covered in a well-made vodka sauce. It was light on the pancetta, which is something I really wasn't expecting with a $14 price. The desserts were what I expected, good. The peanut butter pie was disturbingly rich, and the cannelloni was good, but short on the chocolate chips.

In fact, everything was good. The interior, the menu, the quality, it was all good. Everything was as I would expect from a place that seems to aiming towards being a good, everyday Italian restaurant. Everything except the price. For example, the fusilli. It was good pasta, but just that, pasta. It was a pile of fusilli, covered in a pile of sauce, for $14.

That's my only complaint. The price seemed disconnected from the experience. If this was a family restaurant, operating in some hole in the wall, where all the locals go, the prices would be downright absurd. In that same Italian hole in the wall, the plate of pasta I got would cost me less than $10. The (small) slice of peanut butter pie was $8.95. Round that puppy up to a full $9 and you can buy two whole desserts and a coffee at many other places. Combined with dynamite neighbors, such as Pastiche, Scialo Bros. Bakery, and Pane e Vino, Dolce Vita simply can't compete.

Otherwise, like I said, everything was good, which is pretty good. And if I have the hankering for pasta at 12:30am, there aren't many places that I know for a fact are open. All things considered then, there's a decent chance that I may, again, find myself living the sweet life... I'll just have to pay for it.

Caffe Dolce Vita: ++
Appetizers: $3.50-$12.95
Entrees: $7.95-$19.95
All the prices are for their dinner menu. A lunch menu is available at reduced prices.

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59 De Pasquale Ave
Providence, RI 02903

Sunday through Thursday 8:00am to 1:00am
Friday & Saturday 8:00am to 2:00am

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Now That's Some Armor I Would Buy

Now, I know what they're supposed to be, but c'mon. Get that mind in the gutter. We found this on the wall of Carrabba's in Warwick. We called it the breastplate. Hi-oh! Buddum-bum-CHING.

QUICKVIEW: Siena- +++ / $$$

Well it took me forever and a day, but I finally got a chance to try Siena. One of the higher-rated restaurants on, my interest has been piqued for over a year, and with the new location in East Greenwich, I couldn't make excuses any longer. By new location, I mean the building that used to proudly house India's third, and apparently least-popular, location. I was terribly crushed when India went under about two years ago. The Indian Club down the street also said namastay not too long after, only to be replaced by a very un-ethnic steakhouse.

Siena isn't the disappointment I felt with the Indian Club's loss. I liked it. Not as much as I liked India, but I liked it. The interior is very nice. A bit slapdash in its design direction, but interesting, dynamic, and warm with many of the same fundamental aspects of the old Indian interior. I was a big fan of the lighting for the first five minutes of our meal, until they turned them down to "romantic" levels. And as with so many restaurants, romantic means I had a hard time seeing things. Luckily for us, we were situated by this giant, illuminated thingie in the wall. It, thankfully, made seeing and taking photographs a more-than-fruitless endeavor.

The bread was a good selection. All three types were dense and chewy and bursting with flavor. And unlike every other Italian restaurant on the seven seas, they gave us real, honest-to-God, butter. No fancy oils, or rubs, or spices. Just butter. The gods be praised. For an appetizer, we ordered up a margherita pizza. I was whelmed with the pizza. The dough was very good. Crispy, chewy, and very satisfying. It was thicker and held up to the toppings better than Al Forno's grilled pizza. The sauce was good. I like my margherita pizzas with a light, sweet sauce and this was right in line. The rest of the pizza was bland, though. No real variety to the cheese, with no herbs or spices on top. Just cheese, sauce, with a smattering of what appeared to be basil. Simple, austere? Maybe. I want more complexity to even my simple pizzas. I prefer Al Forno or Feast or Famine.

Entrees out, first taste from the Gnocchi di Patate. The handmade gnocchi were excellent. Huge(!), soft, and well cooked. The sauce was rather bland. Considering it was a pesto base, I expected more punch to it. Instead all I got was a good dish. All of the cheeses come together well, and give the dish a heavy, creamy body. The yellow tomatoes add some much-needed flavor. Still, it was a dish that was the exact sum of its parts. No standout flavors to drive the dish, and the ingredients used do not add up to a standout flavor. Overall, good but not great.

Our second entree was the Garganelli con Tartufo. This was very good. It was, as with the gnocchi, creamy and cheesy. Mascarpone cheese and cream sauce has a subtle sweetness to it and the pasta was cooked perfectly. The healthy helping of prosciutto di parma chunks really makes the dish and gives a savory, salty flavor and dense texture to counter the soft creaminess of the pasta and cheese. Topped with parmigiano, this was very good pasta. Nothing amazing, but very good pasta, with good ingredients, prepared well. I'd say it was a solid deal for $17 and would likely get it again. For a side, we ordered the Risotto Bianco. It was risotto, so there's not much to say. Rich, creamy, and well-prepared with the slightest bit of firmness to the rice.

Desserts were, as I'm finding so frequently these days, disappointing. We ordered the Scripelle con Gelato. It was like fair food. Two small doughboys with a scoop of overly-icy vanilla gelato on top and a small cup of Nutella. While it's more inventive than many restaurants, what about fruit gelato, or sherbet to add a snappy tartness to the chocolate and cinnamon sugar? Maybe apples? Well, aside from subjective critques of their choice of ingredients, the gelato wasn't very good. The vanilla flavor was too subdued for my tastes and it was icy. A pint of Roba!Dolce vanilla from the supermarket freezer is vastly superior to the gelato I got.

In the end, I think Siena is quite good. I liked the menu (except for the heavy emphasis on veal), the wine list was decent, the atmosphere is very good, and the food is all well-prepared. I have some reservations about the things I got, but aside from the gelato, nothing got anywhere near being bad. I will undoubtedly be going back.

Siena: +++
Appetizers: $4-$13
Entrees: $12-$29

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5600 Post Road
East Greenwich, RI 02818

Tuesday through Thursday 5:00pm to 10:00pm
Friday 5:00pm to 11:00pm
Saturday 4:30pm to 11:00pm
Sunday 3:00pm to 9:00pm

Poll Closed

The numbers, scant numbers, for my informal survey of Rhode Island diners is over. After gathering an immense nine votes, it seems that people, at least those predisposed to reading a blog about food, are still going out about once a week.

Only one vote came in for not eating out, two for once or twice per month, and the majority of six for once or twice per week. Very scientific.

So onto a new poll!

Rhode Island is loaded with Italian restaurants. So many it's kind of weird. When it comes to other kinds of food, we come up a bit short. So in celebration of the opening of El Tapatio's second restaurant, of what other kinds of ethnic foods would you like to see more?

Taco Taco, Burrito Burrito

Today is a sad day. It is the day that I discovered that my beloved Fresh City in Warwick has closed. I'm not entirely surprised. I had some inside info about two years indicating that their sales were spotty. If sales were bad during the good times, now that we're standing on the blood-soaked precipice of total oblivion, we're bound to see some of the weaker players shut down.

Still, this poses a serious problem for me. Fresh City was the ONLY place I was easily able to get good smoothies. There are no other places, that I know of, where smoothies are made with real, whole fruit, yogurt, juice, and whatever vitamin-protein-oil mix you want. Yeah, I can make my own, but if I'm on the road in between home and Providence, I'm hosed. I'm going to have to install a blender and freezer in my car.

But today is also a joyous day! Caloo calay! My home town, North Kingstown, saw one of its newer restaurants, Bay Leaves, say bye-bye about a year ago. Now, from what has taken its place, I could NOT be happier! It's EL TAPATIO! What is El Tapatio you ask? Oh, not much. Only the best fucking Tex-Mex in Rhode Island! YES YES YES! Oh happy day, HAPPY DAY, oh happy day, HAPPY DAY. No other Tex-Mex even comes close. Tito's Cantina? Bland! Jose Tequila's? You're kidding, right?

I am going to be very fat, very quickly. I have yet to enter the new North Kingstown building, but I'm hoping it maintains the incredibly colorful decor of the Cranston flagship.

UPDATE: Umm, like three hours later
I have entered, ordered, and eaten at the new El Tapatio. They've changed very little of the interior from what it looked like as Bay Leaves. This helps to explain how they bought the location, got the licenses, and opened in only slightly over a month. No colorful chairs as of yet, but I hope that's rectified in short order. The food is just as good as it always is. None of those first-week jitters.