Tuesday, March 31, 2015

There’s Nothing Fishy about Hemenway’s

            Hemenway’s, located in downtown Providence on S. Main Street, not only features a captivating view of the Providence River and the city itself, but also extremely fresh, well-executed seafood and impeccable service. The restaurant is a popular, longtime dining staple that never seems to garner the headlines that the city’s Italian restaurants do. But make no mistake – this is one of Providence’s most enjoyable and reasonably priced dining experiences.

            The glass-enclosed, multi-level restaurant is enormous, with a massive bar sitting on the elevated top floor, while general seating is on the main lower floor. Blue and pink fluorescent lights shine across the room while murals of fishing vessels adorn the walls. The ambience is warm and inviting, and has old school appeal with a slightly modern feel. Given the space’s vaulted ceilings, one would expect awful acoustics, but conversation is easy. Large, visually appealing trays of stuffed lobster float by in droves, the wonderful aromas lingering as our stomachs growl.

            While the selection of fish is surprisingly slim and veers towards the traditional (salmon, schrod, swordfish), the quality of the fish is undeniably extraordinary. And it should be based on Hemenway’s partnership with local purveyor Foley Fish, out of New Bedford, which purchases one and two day fish in lieu of their competitors’ customary purchase of four day fish. Crab and lobster cakes ($15) are tender and packed with generous chunks of meat, nicely paired with a spicy chipotle aioli, small chunks of bacon and corn succotash. Even better are eight addictive, massive bacon and scallion wrapped scallops ($17) served with a spicy Asian slaw and soy ginger dipping sauce. A cup of Hemenway’s award-winning clam chowder ($6) is what New England chowda ought to be: rich, creamy, hearty, and packed to the gills with fish. Perfectly comforting on a chilly spring evening.

            Entrees also deliver, including (yet another) heaping portion of high grade, rare, sesame seared tuna ($31), accompanied by sriracha aioli, soy ginger sauce, sticky white rice, and seaweed salad. It may not be innovative given its simplicity, but it’s simply delicious. Also memorable is a seafood paella brimming with those incredibly plump scallops, swordfish, chorizo, clams, mussels, pimentos, and of course, saffron rice. It’s as solid a rendering of the classic Spanish dish that I’ve had in some time. A house special of spicy BBQ salmon accompanied by wonderfully caramelized Brussel sprouts with bacon showcases the kitchen’s willingness to extend itself creatively all the while perfectly executing on seasoning and technique.

            Desserts ($9) were solid, if not as strong as the preceding seafood. Hemenway’s Brulee Our Way featured a trio of cherry, chocolate, and coconut flavors (although our friends swore the last one was vanilla). A chocolate peanut butter trifle, while dense and rich, lacked distinct peanut butter flavor aside from a faint crunch at the bottom of the bowl. French press coffee was a welcomed gesture.

            Expect exceptional service at Hemenway’s, including a friendly, attentive waitstaff that always appears to be in synch with one another. They seamlessly tended to every unfilled water glass, finished plate, and dairy allergy. When my wife’s inquiry on the crab and lobster cakes was responded to, our server proactively proceeded to explain that their house balsamic also contained cheese and therefore should be substituted. He was engaging yet highly polished, knowledgeable of the entire menu, and confident and insightful with his recommendations, including a wildly inventive cocktail called the Smokey Mule ($11), a subtly sweet, smoky, spicy concoction consisting of lime and ginger infused Hammer & Sickle vodka, simply syrup, jalapeno, and scotch wash. My wife’s hibiscus bellini ($10) featuring Mionetto prosecco and jasmine liquer was also refreshing.

            Hemenway’s has also been recognized by Wine Spectator for its extensive, yet reasonably priced wine program, which featured almost two dozen glasses alone by the glass including a Louis Martini Cabernet ($10). Other values by the bottle include and Argentinian Don Rabolifo Malbec ($32), a Hayman & Hill Meritage (Monterey, CA, $30), and Napa’s Avalon Cabernet ($40). Wine connoisseurs willing to dole out a pretty penny can splurge for the renowned Caymus Special Edition Cab at $275.

            Given its prime location (and three hour complimentary garage valet parking!), well-executed fare, and exceptional service, Hemenway’s proved to be a surprise hit. A quick piece of advice for those who swear to dine exclusively on Federal Hill: don’t underestimate one of Providence’s premiere seafood establishments. There’s nothing fishy going on at Hemenway’s, and that is the highest compliment one can pay to a seafood restaurant of this caliber.