Sunday, May 17, 2015

Gracie’s Delivers Royal Treatment

Gracie’s, located in the heart of downtown Providence on Washington Street (situated next to another venerable eatery, Birch), and almost universally recognized as the city’s go-to special occasion restaurant, indeed makes good on its sterling reputation. From the very moment you enter this fine dining establishment, to the moment you depart, Gracie’s kitchen and staff go above and beyond to ensure that its customers leave satisfied after experiencing inspired, well executed cuisine and first-rate hospitality.

 Take my suggestion, arrive a few minutes prior to your reservation, and head straight to the bar. There you will find an award-winning mixologist whose seriousness in her craft is evident from the moment we lay eyes on spray bottles, flasks and droppers used to create her cocktails. She’s like a mad scientist conducting a lab experiment, and I’m gladly offering myself as the guinea pig by way of an immensely enjoyable concoction both sweet and spicy, a blend of lychee and habanero bitters over a large ice cube that is set ablaze for extra smokiness.

 The ambience here is romantic, yet relaxed. We’re seated with another couple at a large, comfortable, horseshoe-shaped table with cushy maroon seats, and a white tablecloth covered in star-shaped confetti. Stars also artfully adorn the walls. Our genial server arrives, and upon announcing that someone at our table is celebrating a special occasion, brings out a complimentary bottle of Spanish cava. Three complimentary, unique and tasty amuse bouche peppered throughout our meal - including scallops with kimchee, basil and lemon sorbet, and miniature pomegranate macaroons – are thoughtful gestures that do not go unnoticed. A fresh bread basket featuring eye-opening varieties such as sourdough sesame and red pepper focaccia is quickly devoured and readily made available for re-devouring. With its gracious service, it’s as if Gracie’s is openly welcoming us as new stars to join the restaurant‘s own star-themed constellation.

 Customers can select from 3-course ($45), 5 course ($80), and for ravenous diners, 7 ($95) and 9 ($110) course prix fixe menus (3 generously portioned courses will more than suffice). For appetizers, a Middle-Eastern inspired roasted beet salad is actually exciting, spruced up with labneh, dukkah and harissa for spice with a touch of honey for sweet contrast. A more hearty, less traditional version Russet potato gnocchi includes tender braised rabbit, English peas, mushrooms, and provolone, the pasta cooked perfectly.

 Entrees do not disappoint, starting with Gracie’s Rigatoni Campanaro, which consists of large chunks of sweet and spicy sausage blended with fresh plum tomato. Crescent Farms duck breast was nicely prepared medium rare, and included tasty sides of bok choy, maitake mushrooms, and soy beans. While I found the meat’s seasoning a tad oversalted, sweetness for kumquats nicely cut into the saltiness.

 Desserts are also highly innovative, including a chocolate blondie, a decadent chocolate concoction topped with confit apricot, sesame and puffed rice bark providing a crunchy textual contrast, whipped white chocolate, and a small dollop of unique, heavenly, refreshing ginger pistachio ice cream. It’s a dish that manages to be complex yet simple all at once, and I had to scrape every last morsel off of my plate.

 After we stepped into our car, we noticed that a complimentary pack of homemade chocolate chip cookies had been left by Gracie’s valet driver (which is also gratis). It was yet another in a long list of thoughtful gestures that while unnecessary, left us with a lasting impression. From it’s fun, masterful approach to food to its personable, polished staff, Gracie’s is a name that I won’t soon be forgetting, and one that should be synonymous with dining excellence.