Family Weekend is great for a lot of reasons—we get to have chauffeurs while we run errands, play tour guide, rant to someone new about the eyesore that is the SciLi (and, oh yeah, hug our darlingest parents). But perhaps what’s most exciting is the fact that we get a whole weekend of subsidized non-Ratty meals and adventures off the Hill. That can also be scary: When you’re eating Ratty brunch and spicy withs, it can be hard to know where to begin when it’s time to play host. (Shameless self-promotion: The Family Weekend issue of Post-, our sister publication under BDH, has a full spread of restaurant coverage.) Here, though, we’ll focus on some of the fancy-schmancy restaurants that this reviewer likes to frequent for dinner with her own magnanimous parents. Treat yo’self… Or, let your parents treat you. We love ya, Mom and Dad!
The Dorrance: Full disclosure: I’m sad that my parents aren’t coming to Family Weekend, not because I miss them (pish-posh) but because I wish I could drag them here. Bon Appétit is also a fan: It named The Dorrance one of the 50 best new restaurants in America. Chef Ben Sukle previously worked under Chef Jennings at La Laiterie and then did a casual stage at the #1 restaurant in the world. Now he’s set up shop in the first floor of the downtown Union Trust Building, whose 20-foot (rough estimate… it might be 50) floor-to-ceiling windows, ornate ceiling detail, and mezzanine (THEY HAVE A MEZZANINE, just like the SciLi!!!!!!) set the tone for the food. The food! It’s avant-garde and sometimes downright strange (see also, roasted tri-tip with chanterelle mushrooms and strawberries), but it works. So while the restaurant is prohibitively expensive and swanky for us denizens of the Hill, I have a hunch it’d be perfect for an outing with our doting parents.
New Rivers: This self-proclaimed American bistro takes its ingredients seriously: farmers regularly drop by the kitchen with their wares, and Chef Beau Vestal moonlights as a forager to scout out mushrooms. As a result, the food is constantly changing—like, from week to week, perhaps even day to day—to reflect whatever winds up in the kitchen. Still, there’s a reliable sensibility in the menu that means the food can be counted on to strike a balance between comforting/un-frilly and inspired/novel/very-very-special. Lately the menu is featuring a lot of marvelously autumnal hen of the woods mushrooms, so much squash (pumpkin! acorn! delicata! butternut!), and the last of summer’s tomatoes and corn. Go when you’re hungry; you’ll want to order everything. And they also serve lunch!
More restaurants after the jump…
Cook & Brown Public House: This jewelbox of a restaurant up Hope Street describes itself as a gastropub, which seems not only inaccurate but also like it’s selling itself short. It’s true that C&B is wonderfully unpretentious and has a bartender who was named among the country’s “10 Mixologists to Watch,” and sure, items like confit chicken wings with blue cheese or salt cod fritters with Tabasco mayo sound like Top Chef spins on bar snacks, but the food is thoughtful and nuanced, with unexpected elements that brilliantly work and a strong emphasis on seasonality: you’ll see a grilled local swordfish with Israeli couscous, wax beans, pickled watermelon rind, and the Japanese mustard green mizuna. You’ll be taken care of far better than at your average pub.
Chez Pascal: Right across the street from Cook & Brown, Chez Pascal has a decidedly more French feel. French onion soup gratinée, escargots à la bourguignonne (translation: snails with garlic and pernod butter, NOM), and roasted half chicken with braised potatoes and leeks in a sauce of roasted onions and sherry will make you feel like you’re holed away in a bistro somewhere in the French countryside, though you may need a dictionary for menu items like flamiche (a pie stuffed with cooked leek). The chefs are also fantastically talented butchers, which makes their charcuterie plates a can’t miss. But a love for New England’s own food comes through in littleneck clams, scallops, and lots of local cheese—they keep this place interesting and make it a beloved Providence mainstay.
La Laiterie: First off, let’s all pause and appreciate Chef Matt Jennings’ Instagram (@matthewjennings) – Rattygram has competition – where his artsily filtered shots of dishes like “coffee & tobacco rubbed pork belly, cinnamon toast cracklin’, cream of wheat, boudin noir-apple beignets, and an egg” sell themselves. (Endearingly, he also posts pictures of his cooks, beloved wife, and 3-year-old son.) This restaurant, attached to Jennings’ fantastic cheese shop Farmstead, is most loved by the adventurous eater; Chef Matt likes to play around with weird vegetables, new flavor combinations, and (gasp!) offal, and what fun is a curated cheese board if you don’t like the stinky stuff? Still, even picky eaters are right at home with baked cheesemonger’s mac and cheese or a half-pound house-ground burger with polenta fries. And for dessert are the creations of aforementioned beloved wife Kate: pumpkin spice sundae with cinnamon ice cream, perhaps, or Nutella brownie with roasted banana nutmeg ice cream and hazelnut brittle. Stock up on cheese when you’re there so you have tasty treats for after the ‘rents leave town!
Zooma: The token Federal Hill stop. When it comes time to show your folks some good old-fashioned Italian food, this is the place to go. Their renditions of classic Italian appetizers are swell and their pizzas are cooked in an 800-degree brick oven, but the real catch is the pasta, which is hand-shaped in house and served in about a dozen variations. As a rule, the best ones are the uncomplicated ones: gnocchi with roasted eggplant and marinara, orecchiette with peas and pancetta, nice and simple spinach and buffalo mozz ravioli. The red wine ravioli, stuffed with goat cheese and served in citrus brown butter, are a bit more complex, but they steal the show.
Local 121: In case you haven’t noticed the trend yet, chefs in Providence really like local food, but none take it so literally as this place. On the fall menu, the commitment to locally produced ingredients is manifested in the likes of local chicken pot pie with root vegetables, Vermont rabbit ragu, and more of those Bomster scallops for which Rhode Island is known. The restaurant itself is very posh, with dark wood paneling in its Art Deco dining room, velvet booths, and white leather upholstered chairs—it just feels expensive, which is great to some and stuffy to others. But with a location right in the middle of everything, it’s a fun stop, even if only for pre-dinner drinks at the bar.
Al Forno: Well, duh. This is the old standby for anytime anyone wants to pay for your food. Established in 1980, it’s widely credited for putting Providence on the map as a legit food city. It’s adored for its lovely takes on traditional Northern Italian food: The grilled pizza is the best you’ll eat in Providence, and every single pasta I’ve tried there is insanely delicious. Yes, it’s a must-try for every Brown student, but who are we kidding? Vying for a table during Family Weekend (Al Forno does not accept reservations) will no doubt be a bitch. You will be waiting for hours. Just don’t do it. If you have your heart set on a grilled pizza, you will have to stay the course.