Address: 200 Washington St, Providence, RI 02903
Telephone: (401) 272-3105
The Michelin Guide is my go-to whenever I’m in an unfamiliar city, but North America is a very big place and their inspectors only cover a small area, geographically speaking. So one of the other North American guides I consult is Opinionated About Dining (OAD)’s top 100 restaurants, voted upon by food reviewers. (2013 edition here). On the 2013 edition are two restaurants run by chefs responsible for the October Visiting Chef dinner – Ben Sukle of The Dorrance (now at his own restaurant birch) and Erik Anderson of Nashville’s The Catbird Seat. My opinions on birch’s food are documented here:  .
The Catbird Seat is an open-kitchen style restaurant [NYTimes report here], which can be traced in fine-dining to Robuchon’s chain of Ateliers worldwide, which was itself inspired by Japanese sushi counters. These open-concept kitchens getting increasingly popular in New York: I had a recent meal in atera; Blanca, and Chef’s Table are also popular tables.
I was very excited for this dinner, and I was not disappointed by what was to follow.
Beef Tartar [wrapped in turnip slices, 2 o’clock]
Hot Chicken [Dill pickle sauce, 5 o’clock]
Sea Urchin Sandwich [10 o’clock]
Chicken Liver Bonbons [centre]
My favorite of the amuses was the hot chicken. A Nashville specialty, it was served with mayo and dill pickle sauce.
The clams were “open braised” with steam, if I’m not wrong, which sounds like braising without contact with water. The radish gave a parsley note to the dish, and the soup was a pungent red savory brew with tripe. A hearty concoction.
Pigeon [Erik Anderson] (5/5)
Salsify, Pear, Pecan, Birch and Sorghum Sauce
This dish was an absolute showstopper. Pigeon from nashville was first dried for 7 days, roasted and then paired with crispy salsify, pear and butter sorbet, a sour hibiscus leaf and brown butter sauce. The pigeon was strongly flavoured, but to pair it with the sour hibiscus leaf was inspired, and all elements of the dish (caramel dabs and crispy salsify) came together harmoniously. The centre-piece of the evening, evoking memories of fall.
Ribeye of 3-Month Aged Ancient White Park Beef [Erik Anderson] (4/5)
Onions and Preserved Matsutakes
The various onions were expertly cooked (I especially liked the small white one in the bottom-right). White Park beef is a very old heritage breed from the UK, and our beef was of Virginia, grass-fed – the aging of 3 months would have served to concentrate its flavours. The exterior tasted like candied beef jerky. While I enjoyed the cheesy, funky taste of the interior, the beef seemed to be dry and a little stringy from the aging process. Perhaps a 2-month aging process might serve it better, or some other way preventing moisture loss.
Hooligan [Erik Anderson] (5/5)
Roasted Shallot, Oats, Huckleberry, and Mustard See Salt
Voila un cheese course! A roasted hull of shallot would serve to impact sharp onion flavours to a pungent stinky raw cowsmilk cheese from Cato Corner Farm in Connecticut. An oat crisp served as the serving “lid”, but what made it delightful was finding a reserve of huckleberry jam at the very bottom of the shallot. As a serving conceit, I loved the idea of using a halved roast shallot as a bowl.
Maple and Pine Custard [Erik Anderson] (4.25/5)
Fresh Thyme and Benton’s Bacon
A custard with maple syrup, bacon, and thyme. Satisfying intermezzo.
Gregg’s Apples [Ben Sukle] (4.5/5)
Maraschino Cranberries, Malt, Caramel and Bourbon
Gregg’s Apples refers to a farm in Middletown RI, as a RI food writer next to me remarked. This dessert has gone on to birch’s regular menu. Dominant notes of caramel and apple. Delicious.
Pairing of Santiago Oloroso Sherry, Spain
I also had the alcohol pairing throughout the night. This sherry was my favorite, a satisfyingly savory drink, those savory notes reminiscent of Old Pulteney whisky.
White Chocolate with Crispy Quinoa
Quince dissolving in your mouth, Hershey’s cookies and cream chocolate made upscale. A right hook of saltiness.
An enjoyable evening, the standout dish of the night would have to be the Pigeon. It served with its foot just sticking outside the dish, recognisably pigeon and not anonymously delicious meat. The dish invited diners to pick the leg up by its claw and gnaw on it after the civilised motions of forking and knifing had yielded all the easy meat. It was also incredibly harmonious, with brown butter and the sour fleeting taste of hibiscus.
This meal has only made me more eager to head down South one more time, and see what Southern chefs are doing with their food. Bring on the spring!
Memory: Pigeon, Hooligan