Archive for August, 2010

Al Forno

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

Al Forno
577 South Main Street
Providence, RI 02903

Good Food : 5/5 | Good Service : 5/5

So with the wealth of Italian restaurants in Providence, why did I choose a place not in Federal Hill? Well, I had already sampled 2 Italian places in that region of Providence and unless you get there right after work, finding non-valet parking can be an exercise in frustration. Al Forno was recommended as a ‘very good, but a little pricey’ place. In my past experience, pricey usually means a high level of execution & service so I decided to try them out.

Due to the road construction happening in Providence and the surrounding area, the construction signs were a little confusing on how to get to South Main Street. But after doing several right turns, I was able to finally get onto the right road and dropped my car off in the complimentary valet parking lot.

The restaurant has several distinct dining areas – the outside patio/bar area, the traditional dining areas on the first and second floors & a small/intimate bar area on the second floor. Being by myself and not wanting to take up a full table, I decided to dine at the bar.

Zucchini Blossoms

Blossoms-fillingI started with their special seasonal appetizer : stuffed zuchini blossons in a subtle spicey tomato-basil sauce. These were perfectly fried blossoms, generously stuffed with a blend of ricotta cheese, grated carrots & spinach.

bread

A small steamer basket of rustic Italian bread & pitcher of olive oil were also brought to my space on the bar.

Since Al Forno has a woodfire oven, I decided to try one of their woodfired dishes – the hanger steak. Preparation of the steak sufficiently tenderized the meat and almost eliminated the slightly liver-like taste that this cut of meat can have. My steak was cooked medium-rare as requested, and came with 2 sides : fingerling potatoes and green beans sauteed with their homemade thick-sliced bacon. Unfortunately, I passed up dessert as I was quite full by the end of my meal, but I was impressed by the fact that their desserts are made to order per table.

Wood-grilled hanger steak

Wood-grilled hanger steak

Even though the bartender (Kyle) was busy taking care of us bar customers & the incoming drink orders, I was very impressed by his ability to juggle both sides of the house & also take the time to make sure that his customers were having a good dining experience. Kyle was even sensitive enough to offer me a different seat at the other end of the bar when it became evident that the party next to me was getting louder and larger.

Al Forno has been around since the mid-80′s and my experience showed why they’re still around despite being located in an odd location – the ability to provide a well-executed meal with the equivalent superior wait service made this dining experience the highlight of my week in Providence. Even though I was seated in the bar area, I still received the same level of high quality service as the people in the main dining area. Chef-owners Johanne Killeen and George Germon have ensured that diners have both a wonderful visual and culinary experience & I can see why people are willing to wait 1/2 hour or more for the opportunity to go here. My only issue with the restaurant is that they do not take reservations for parties under 6 people, so you may be waiting longer on the weekends.

Sawaddee Thai Restaurant

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

Sawaddee Thai Restaurant
93 Hope St
Providence, RI 02906

Good Food : 3.5/5 | Good Service 4/5

A search for a Thai restaurant near Brown University in Providence, RI yielded a handful of Thai places, Sawaddee among them. This place had several positive reviews on Yelp, so this was my choice on takeout night.

Sawaddee is a VERY cozy restaurant. Other diners have mentioned the tiny dining space and they’re not kidding when they say it is small – the dining room only had 7-8 small tables and 2 wall booths. You definitely feel like you’ve walked into a restaurant being run as an extension of a Thai wife’s home kitchen. But the food itself helps make up for the ‘hole in the wall’ experience.

The Tom Kha soup was a good balance of coconut milk, lemongrass, mushroom, galangal root, and cilantro, but was a little light on the mushrooms (white button slices, not straw). For my main dish, I ordered one of their chef suggestions #14 Pad Eggplant. Large chunks of eggplant, bell pepper & onions sauteed with ginger, thai basil, thin chicken breast slices & shrimp in a very tasty sauce. My only complaint was that the sauce was a little oil heavy and a bit heavy on the fish sauce, and it had separated from the non-oily ingredients. But it went well with my sticky rice.

Service was what you would expect from a home-run restaurant. The 2 women were very prompt and efficient – no fancy uniforms.
Orders were quickly passed through a back door to the kitchen and dishes came out just as quickly from the same back door. A side alcove was used to keep track of the orders (both dine-in and takeout) and housed the cash register & telephone. I’m not sure if I would want to try dining in but for a takeout night this hit the spot.

Pine State Biscuits

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

Pine State Biscuits
3640 SE Belmont St
Portland, OR 97214

Good Food : 4.5/5 | Good Service : 4.5/5

Portland definitely has a slighty ‘funky’ air to it. The residents are proud to point out that they specifically moved out to this city because of its receptiveness to non-mainstream personalities. And following this vein, Pine State Biscuits lives up to this reputation.

A craving for a comfort-food breakfast of biscuits & gravy pointed me to this place. Getting there from downtown Portland was an easy hop onto the # 15 bus. Since I decided to get there early, I didn’t have to deal with the dreaded lines that some other diners have complained about. And it was a warm sunny morning, so no Portland rain either.

I didn’t want to stuff myself silly with the Reggie so I decided on one of their staples : The Moneyball. 2 biscuit halves smothered in their sausage gravy topped with a sunny-side up egg was packaged into an eco-friendly takeout container. I’m sure that my fellow bus passengers were debating how to relieve me of my scrumptious smelling container.