Friday, May 29, 2009

Latte Art Watch

Well what do you know...

I just got latte art at CofEx. I also discovered that a medium latte is really freaking huge. It's about 10:30pm and I'm wired beyond belief.

It wasn't the best latte I've had at CofEx. It was somewhat bitter with a brightness I don't usually find in their espresso roast. I like CofEx's roast because it's a very deep, mellow flavor, and this was under-par. I don't blame the barista, though. Her form was good. I suspect the beans were roasted more than usual in the batch they were using. The barista didn't free-pour and there were some noticeably large bubbles in the foam, as you can tell from the photo.

Still, it's touches like this that confirm why I go to CofEx whenever I can. This was a bad drink for them and it's still better than the bar, Starbucks, and better than or as good as other, well-respected cafes. Bravo.

Friday, May 22, 2009

QUICKVIEW: Red Stripe- +++ / $$

Everytime I hear the word "Red Stripe" all I can think of is those bizarre ads where some Jamaican guy appears after some strange scene and yells "Hooray beer!" Red Stripe seems to have no problem with this association because a large poster with said Jamaican guy graces the entrances of the dining area.

Conceived as a cheaper alternative to Mill's Tavern (with both places owned by, of all things, Job Lot), Red Stripe manages to maintain some of the upmarket air of its more expensive brother. I thought the interior struck a good balance between a casual TGI-Friday's sort of ambiance, with nicely arranged dinner settings with tablecloths. The warm sourdough bread had a very strong flavor to it and was served with super-soft whipped butter. Very nice. They also left a large carafe of water on a small tray at the table so you could pour your own. That was a nice touch I wish more restaurants would employ.

I got the crab cakes for an appetizer and was impressed. They were crispy on both sides, and filled with very large chunks of good crab meat. As far as herbs and spices go, they were pretty middle of the road. Not spicy, but not mild. I enjoyed the healthy serving of aioli, but the sprouts weren't the best companion. I would have preferred something with more substance and crunch to it to counterbalance the softness of the cake.

For entrees my partner and I got the Red Stripe burger and Croque Madame. The CroMad is a Croque Monsieur with an egg over easy on top, bathed in a strong bernaise sauce and mustard. Kind of like a very large egg benedict. The ham was fresh and tender, no complaints. The bernaise and mustard went very well together. A rich, savory, not-too-strong flavor went very well with the sweetness of the ham, and the smokey Swiss-ness of the gruyere. The burger was a bit more whelming. It was HUGE, but nothing special. It was just a standard burger. They didn't add any special herbs or spices, but they also didn't mess up. And when they say fries, they means FRIES. I have never seen a pile of french fries so big. If you watched Super Size Me and agreed with Morgan Spurlock's assessment that the super-sized fries are overdoing it, you'll puke just looking at this mountain. At least the fries are very good. They are very thin and crispy, and flavorful. I've always preferred thinner, crispier fries to large steak-style. Considering the 1/8th scale Mount Fuji of fries, the burger is well-priced. Frankly, I'd prefer fewer fries and a lower price.

For dessert we ordered a slice of chocolate espresso cheesecake and the melting heart molten chocolate cake. We were pleased with both. The cheesecake had a subtle espresso flavor that didn't overpower the rest of the cake. It was mildly sweet with a deliciously thick crust that required a satisfying amount of pressure to break through. The chocolate layer on top was good, and the whole, chocolate-dipped raspberry on top was a nice touch. It wasn't anything amazing, but most places nowadays phone in dessert, with such default options as "chocolate cake," and "brownie sundae." This wasn't groundbreaking, but it was a least a nice spin. The Lily's Melting Heart was disappointing insofar as it wasn't molten chocolate cake. The key word is molten, and that kinda' leads you to believe there will be something, I dunno', molten? But no. It was basically two pieces of heart-shaped chocolate torte. Again, it was good, and I'm glad there was some inventive spin. The raspberry sorbet was a bit on the icy side, but had overall good texture, excellent flavor, and went very well with the warm torte.

Taken as a whole, I think Red Stripe succeeds. I enjoyed my meal, my dessert, and the ambiance of the dining area. The menu has a number of items I would enjoy, and as such, it's a pretty good bet that I'll be back.

Red Stripe: +++
Price Range: $$

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465 Angell Street
Providence, RI 02906

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91 Point Judith Road
Narragansett, RI 02882

Monday through Saturday
Lunch 11:30AM to 3:00PM
Late Lunch 3:00PM to 5:00PM
Dinner 5:00PM to 10:00PM

Brunch 10:00AM to 3:00PM
Late Lunch 3:00PM to 4:00PM
Dinner 4:00PM to 10:00PM

Bar open late nightly

Monday, May 4, 2009

WiFi Locations

I recently received a comment on my Mainstreet Coffee review about free WiFi and it prompted me to do something I've been meaning to do for some time, namely, start listing WiFi locations for cafes.

This is a pretty big concern since all of the big players, like Starbucks or Barnes & Noble, are still trying to charge for WiFi. And the only big players offering free WiFi, like Panera Bread, suck. They're slow, with connection errors, and only get worse when the place gets crowded with laptops.

And the last one has fallen. Everyone can welcome Starbucks into 2005, since they've finally started offering free WiFi. As near as I can tell, ALL major companies are now offering free WiFi.

Barnes & Noble is now offering completely free WiFi. It's still quite inferior to the local cafes, though. It's slow as shit, just like Panera, and it has a "portal" page, through which you must sign in, just like Panera. This sucks if you have a cell phone, or want to connect to the internet through something other than a browser (Like Yahoo! Go). Cell phone browsers, at least the ones based on WebKit that I use, usually won't even connect. Contrast this with Coffee Exchange, which has an open connection to which you simply connect.

Barnes & Noble even does one better by using the free connection as an opportunity to advertise AT&T "premium" access, whatever the hell that is. So while it initially seemed that B&N had figured out that WiFi as a business plan was as stupid as a pet rock, they actually haven't. It might explain why, during a recent visit, even with a massive FREE WI-FI sign and a filled-to-capacity cafe, not a single person was on a laptop or cellphone.

Borders Books has just followed in the footsteps of Barnes & Noble and started offering free wifi. If you think the sign-in pages at the others is bad, they take it a step further by actually having a small application run in the background that keeps your connection open. It hijacks your computers network connection ability. That's some bad mojo, in my book. UPDATE I just ran Borders on a laptop. The application is apparently only opened on cell phones. It DOES NOT open on my laptop. Not like it matters. The connection is just as bad as Panera, which means just barely usable. The connection is far too slow to do anything but check e-mail. No YouTube, no music, no nothing. Hell, it took 30+ seconds for my Yahoo! page to load. Pathetic.

Panera Bread has done Borders one better by filtering their WiFi to include totally legitimate services, such as This means that you will not be able to click links received via Twitter. Combined with a connection that borders on dead, Panera's WiFi is pretty much useless. I'd recommend buying food there and going to Starbucks or Barnes & Noble. Or better yet, go to a local shop that has gen-yoo-ine decent WiFi.

I'll concentrate on cafes and restaurants, since it seems kinda' weird to list places like clinics that offer waiting room internet.

I would appreciate additions from readers.

I'm adding star reviews to the cafe's and places I've been to. Some of the reviews are to places I haven't formally written about, so I'm just throwing in the stars I would have given had I written a full entry.

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