Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Waterman Grille Does East Side of Providence Proud

For innovative, reasonably priced cuisine in an intimate, historic setting, check out the East Side of Providence. No, not East Providence, but the east side of the city, which proudly boasts what just might be one of its least heralded fine dining establishments. Waterman Grille rightfully deserves your attention and recognition. Located in an old gatehouse overlooking the Seekonk River, Executive Chef Tim McGrath serves up seasonal, locally produced comfort food – much of which is wood-grilled – that delivers robust flavors at moderate price points. While waterfront dining is not an option this snowy winter evening, we feel right at home in the restaurant’s inviting, bustling, wood-scented dining room.

They say that a good bread basket is a harbinger of good things to come in a meal (or is it the way to one‘s stomach? I cannot remember which), and Waterman’s warm, airy slices rate highly, prepared earlier in the day at Providence’s Palmieri’s Bakery (as our server happily educates us), and laced with EVOO and a touch of sea salt. Our table begrudgingly refuses a second serving for fear of ruining our appetites. For starters, four crispy shrimp tacos ($11, also available in pork belly) are beautifully plated, soft flour tortillas in lieu of crispier tacos, while the shrimp themselves are well seasoned and seared just enough to pack that promised crunchy texture. Accompanying vegetable slaw and miso vinaigrette are refreshing, while sriracha aioli – which arrived in far too small a dipping dish – provided a welcomed, spicy counterpoint to the dish’s acidity. Point Judith calamari ($12) came in a heaping portion of nicely tempuraed, not too breaded, meaty octopus and banana peppers (the latter of which resembled fried pickle chips). My only complaint: a rather unique peppadew (a sweet, tangy pepper) aioli was faintly smeared on the plate, which like the sriracha before it, begged to be applied more liberally. Other appealing shareable plates I look forward to trying include tender harissa meatballs ($11), cornmeal-crusted oysters ($13), and an Irish-themed beef ‘n‘ biscuits ($11, featuring beef pastrami and hand-made caraway biscuits).

When a restaurant promotes its signature plates, my skepticism radar almost immediately goes off. Here, however, a chili-brined hanger steak ($25) is melt-in-your-mouth tender, perfectly cooked medium rear, and topped with roasted fennel chimichurri. While I’d hoped the meat would pack a bit more heat given the brine that encompassed it, it was flavorful nonetheless, elevated by its pairing with heavenly whipped Narragansett Creamery queso potatoes and sauteed spinach. Even better was the Duck Duo ($28), consisting of impeccably cooked pan-roasted duck and duck confit, some of the finest execution of the bird I’ve ever consumed. The meat was also wisely plated over addictive lemongrass rice. More impressively, in lieu of the kitchen’s attempt to transform the dish into a Thai offering by utilizing a red curry cream sauce, given my wife’s dairy restriction, they substituted it with an Asian-style sweet sauce that seemed like it was born to be paired with the duck – it was divine. Other promising entrees include the Maine Family Farms grass-fed burger ($15) topped with poblano-onion jam, butternut squash pickles and served on a buttery brioche bun, along with the Berkshire pork osso bucco ($25) served with an oddly captivating-sounding pretzel bread pudding.

Desserts (all $8) are also worth splurging for, and like much of Chef McGrath’s menu, are adventurous in nature. While the traditional fried apple pie was mildly disappointing (it reminded me too much of McDonald’s version, only spiked with tastier enhancements such as salted caramel and house-made vanilla ice cream), my Almond Joy was a perfectly de-constructed take on the revered candy bar – a decadent, warm gooey chocolate brownie laced with crushed almonds and topped not only with house-made coconut ice cream, but a hardened chocolate magic shell.

The lone disappointment of the evening was the middling quality of Waterman’s cocktail program. Concoctions that sounded promising (blood orange jalapeno margarita, $11 and a pomegranate mojito, $9) yielded unfavorable results (the former excessively sweet with no bite, the latter having barely any discernable pomegranate flavor). Where its cocktails faltered, however, the restaurant’s wine program excelled given both its extensive selection and tolerable markups. A Hahn Pinot Noir, for instance, comes in at $9.50/glass and a very manageable $33/bottle. For a more high-end, adventurous sip, try the Oberon Cabernet from Napa ($14/glass, $56/bottle). There are also roughly three dozen beers ($5-6/glass) available, including interesting local selections such as Narragansett Autocrat Coffee Milk Stout (out of Providence) and Foolproof Backyahd IPA (Pawtucket).

Our server was highly knowledgeable of the menu, polished, yet friendly, and prompt throughout the entire course. The restaurant‘s setting was casual, yet intimate. The cuisine was well executed, thoughtful, and contained innovative, bold flavors that left me wanting to try more. Haven’t heard of the Waterman Grille? My advice: take a stroll out to the East Side. This restaurant puts the fine in fine dining.