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Birch in Providence, RI (Dec ’15): “revisit”

2 Feb

During my final year at Brown (mid-2013 to mid-2014), I dined at the newly opened Birch 18 times, a rate of about once every 2-3 weeks. The reasons I dined there so often were because it was head-and-shoulders the best restaurant in Providence, RI, and also it was relatively affordable at ~US$60-$70 after tax and tip for an excellent 4 course menu. Chef Ben Sukle would generally change the menu every 3-4 weeks and never repeat a dish, giving it a novelty that other restaurants in the Providence area lacked.

Some local talk: New Rivers was a very good bistro with excellent $1 oysters nights, but chef Beau Vestal’s ambitions were limited to more casual food. Matt Jenning’s Farmstead (before he moved to open Townhouse in Boston) I never really rated, having had my fair share of being his guinea pig for weird experiments (snail whole wheat pasta that had the consistency of sawdust, steak with burnt rice, kimchi something or other). Champe Speidel’s Persimmon in Bristol, RI was an excellent restaurant influenced intelligently by modern trends (a faux-mussel shell a la Noma sticks in my mind) and created an excellent rendition of Michel Bras’s famous gargouillou salad, which I discovered late in April 2015. But it was a 45 minute drive away from Providence, and an eternity away by bus, which was why I only made it down there twice.
I came back to the US for a two-week period in December, and decided to make my way up to Providence to see old friends and sample Ben’s cooking again (for a 19th and 20th time). The US flight ticket was originally planned for May in time for Brown’s 2015 graduation ceremony, but work had other ideas and I ended up in Vietnam during that time.

The cooking at Birch is quite unique, and doesn’t fall in any particular style. In the first half of 2014, I had Japanese influenced dishes (black bass sashimi, sweet potato tempura, raw scallops), French-influenced dishes (opera cake, a roasted quail salmis from a collaboration dinner with Justin Yu of Oxheart), as well as Asian-fusion touches (fermented vegetables served with baked rutabaga, and in this couple of meals, my 19th and 20th, I had crisped rice [soccarat]). In fact, that’s what makes dining at Birch exciting – the sense that anything is possible.

But I think Ben’s good taste allows the cooking to avoid a couple of pit-falls, like excessive Asian saucing with kimchi. Asian-fusion cuisine is rarely good, and as far as I know has never comes together to form a cohesive and enjoyable series of dishes. (Examples: Benu, Bo Innovation, etc etc.) The accompanying sauces at Birch are usually French, or some distilled broth that brings to mind consomme. This is intelligent. Also, at ~$65, the one never feels too down for dishes that are merely good, rather than thought-provoking and excellent. (I don’t recall having a dish that was anything less than good).

Birch, as Ben told me, is the opposite of a Saison, where being funded by unending spouts of successful VC money allows them to cook the best ingredients in the best way at any price. Of necessity. Rhode Island’s economy is respectable but not as frothy as San Francisco’s (but then again, where is?). In such an environment, prices have to be reasonable. While I feel the price at Birch is a bit low, the chef’s relationships with local fishermen and farmers, allow Birch to offer these dishes at highly competitive prices. And so it preserves a bit of the neighborhood vibe, which makes Birch a bit of a Rhode Island Chez Panisse.

The two types of dishes I previously enjoyed the most at Birch were the vegetable-dishes (e.g. roasted carrot with clams in autumn, beetroot with shaved walnut in summer, spaghetti squash with marjoram in winter, rolled beef carpaccio with turnip in winter) and the desserts (the sweet grain cereal was insanely delicious, a riff off peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich very enjoyable). The comparative weakness of the 4-course menu would be the Course 3 mains, which tended not to be as creative as Courses 1 & 2. Scup, squid, and other Rhode Island fish; pork, would be cooked simply with a simple vegetable accompaniment and a broth-based sauce. I tend to enjoy Ben’s more offbeat takes, and so preferred the first and second courses.

On this visit though, I found myself really enjoying the main of Rhode Island monkfish, which was really fresh, 6 hours off the boat, and roasted on the bone. Judging by the bone-line, it looked like a small monkfish, but had supreme texture, possessing the gelatinous chew of good turbot. The ingredient itself was good enough to make the simple arrangement highlymemorable.

Starting in January 2016, downtown Providence will have the Sukles’ second restaurant, a casual restaurant called Oberlin, which will be headed up by ex-Birch-chef Ed Davis. I wasn’t able to catch it this time around, but will definitely do next time. (especially since they have the dearly-departed Sweet Grain Cereal).

Birch – worth a special trip to Providence? Definitely.

Rating: 17/20


PICTURES OF THE ENTIRE MENU (OVER TWO DINNERS)
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  1. Black garlic and mushroom chips, with apple butter and sorrel (4.25/5)
    1. The combination of black garlic and mushrooms had a rounded mushroomy savoriness. An excellent bite

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  1. Sunchoke: marinated with cherry blossoms and seaweeds with autumun olive and almond (4/5)
    1. Cold slices of sunchoke, with savory almond milk and floral sakura. Very

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  1. Warm broth of pork and sourdough: grilled onions, coriander and kombu (4.25/5)
    1. Charred onions, with day old sourdough bread and pork bone broth. A hearty and delicious broth made from day-old sourdough bread and pork bone broth. A micro-soup

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  1. Raw Rhode Island Fluke: parsley, pickled broccoli stem and preserved tomato (4/5)
    1. Usually tasteless fluke was cured, to give it a savory taste. As far as a white fish could be, it was a facsimile of ham, with parsley creme and pickled stems. It reminded me of the traditional Japanese progression in Tokyo, where the first raw fish is often a whitefish.

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  1. Grilled radishes: Barbecued chicken hearts, hazelnuts and nasturtium (3.75/5)
    1. Grilled radishes in chicken fat. Not bad.

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  1. Kabocha squash: clams, whelk and preserved peppers (4.75/5)
    1. Kabocha squash was roasted, along with clams and whelks. The sauce was excellent (made from red peppers?) It was buttery and tasted like a Grand French sauce, which brought it together. The char on the sweet squash added the necessary complexity. This riffs off the successful carrot and clams dish Ben had in 2013.

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  1. Baby beet: Wild mustard, husk cherries, rice and goat’s milk (4/5)
    1. Rice crispies, sweet beet, mustard flowers, and sugar kelp. A similar butter sauce was with the kabocha squash. Towards the end the beet made the sauce purple with a strong sweetness. The texture of crisped rice (soccarat) was interesting, but didn’t really harmonize with the dish. This brought to my mind mind the beet with shaved walnut in late 2013, but I felt that dish was stronger because the texture of shaved walnut was more delicate than the very crisp soccarat, which had a clashing texture.

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  1. Rhode Island Monkfish: Roasted on the bone with celeriac, broccoli and potato (5/5)
    1. This monkfish was served barely 6 hours after it had been landed. The texture was gelatinous, probably the best I’ve had, and similar to the white meat at the core of the best turbot. Monkfish flesh is densely packed, and can be unpleasantly chewy if overcooked..
    2. Of my meals in 2014 (about 10-12 in total), I used to find Ben’s seafood dishes (e.g. Pt. Judith Scup or Squid) some of the less convincing dishes compared to his vegetable conceptions. This tends to because they were based around a simple conception of protein, vegetable, and a sauce. It was completely different with this dish – the monkfish excellent enough on its own to distinguish the dish; the celeriac topped with roasted broccoli and potato bits was pleasing. A potato/brown butter broth brought together the dish.

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  1. Lightly grilled cabbage: winter squash, caramelized sauerkraut, toasted seeds and a broth of dried apples (4/5)
    1. Cabbage, with apple core oil, toasted seeds (cumin, anise, poppy, sunflower, fennel). I could see the thought process at work. For a vegan dish, the core was layers of cabbage and squash, sour and sweet. Complexity came from the mix of grains (one of Ben’s strengths is creating an optimal mix of grains), and the char on the cabbage. This dish was purely vegan – it was good for a vegan dish.

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  1. Rhode Island pork: Field peas, spinach, green tomato and mitsuba (4/5)
    1. Suckling pig, fatty and tasting heavily of bacon. This was a showcase of good ingredients, but little beyond that, perhaps the least accomplished main – though still very good.

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  1. Cato’s Corner Balck Ledge Bleu cheese: walnut, dried corn and sorrel (4/5)
    1. Celery oil, sweet corn crisp, shaved cheese, walnut milks. Very sharp cheese, and probably the most intense dish of the meal, a dessert that wasn’t sweet in the slightest except for some sugar crisps. I found this dish a bit dry for my tastes, but appreciated the attempt at a savory dessert.

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  1. Apple: Apple blossoms, oats and raspberry (4.25/5)
    1. Really good cooked apples, with raw apple, apple blossom and raspberries. A good fruit dessert end, highlighting the stewed apple texture from apple pie.

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  1. Quince Sherbet: Caramelized whey, toasted grains and rose. (4.5/5)
    1. Caramelized whey ice cream with quince sugar and rose cream. Delicious, the rose cream perfuming the dessert with floral flavor.

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  1. Whoopie pie

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birch | Providence | Winter Season ’13-’14

11 Mar
  • Address: 200 Washington St, Providence, RI 02903
  • Telephone: (401) 272-3105
  • Price (after tax + tip, excl. drinks): $65
  • Courses: (4 main/6 total) 1 amuse / 3 savory / 1 dessert / 1 mignardise
  • Price/Main Course: $16
  • Rating: 17/20
  • Value: 5/5
  • Average Dining Time: 90-120 minutes
  • Time/Course (total): 15-20 minutes
  • Chef: Benjamin Sukle (ex: La Laiterie, The Dorrance)
  • In Own Words: “We don’t do massive plates. We don’t do massive starches. We don’t do anything like that. It’s very vegetable-forward, it’s very clean, it’s very healthy in some aspects.” [1]
  • Style: New Naturalist (*)
  • Notable: High quality cocktail list (The Dorrance alumni); focus on Rhode Island ingredients; subtle use of microherbs

Previous write-ups from me:

  1. Summer dishes @ birch
  2. Fall dishes @ birch
  3. Guest chef Erik Anderson (ex. The Catbird Seat) @ birch

birch has really made senior year at Brown a treat. Located about 20 minutes by foot from campus, it’s my default go-to for fresh and inventive New Naturalist cooking. The following is a compilation of my last 3 visits in winter season at birch , now we’re finally at the end of it! (It has been a long and bitter winter in the Northeast.) Here are some thoughts on their winter menu offerings:

____________

Winter #1 (early December 2013)

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Spaghetti Squash: Enoki Mushroom, Marjoram, Pumpkin Seeds, Sour Cream (4.75/5)

Spaghetti squash here made to live up to the heartiness of its namesake spaghetti, richly coated with cream, with crisp enoki mushrooms on top. Counterpoint a herby marjoram. Hearty.

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Warm Red Beets

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Crispy Heirloom Potatoes: Preserved Green Tomato, Egg, Potato-Miso Cream (5/5)

(Vegetable ash on top) Another great dish, the egg binding together the roasted potatoes underneath a head of miso cream. Green tomato provides the tart notes.

2013-12-13 20.10.08

Rhode Island Chicken: Brussel Sprouts, Pumpkin, Chervil and Quince (3.5/5)

A chicken confit with brussel sprouts and quince. Was not a big fan of this, wasn’t sure what the brussel sprouts added. This has been a mainstay of the menu since December though, so I’m may be in the minority.

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Chocolate with Rhubarb

Refreshing.

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Warm Apples: Caramel Custard, Malt Cookie, Bourbon (5/5)

Brilliant. The malt cookie shields the warm apples, doused in caramel custard, underneath the apple ice from the sog. Originally a descendant of a dish from the Catbird Seat dinner. Unfortunately not on the menu right now.

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Sweet Grain Cereal

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White chocolate and quinoa

____________

Winter #2 (late January 2014)

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Cornmeal Hush Puppy

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Rhode Island Beef Tartare: Wrapped in Cape White Turnip with Crispy Rye, Chives and Ramp Capers (4.75/5)

A descendant of one of the dishes from the Catbird Seat guest dinner, I think. Flat beef slices rolled in a turnip shell, and finished off with a sauce of jus and sherry vinegar.

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Rhode Island Suckling Pork

As great as ever, with a sweet sunchoke mash this time around.

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Lemon: Maraschino Cranberries, White Chocolate, Poundcake and Picotta (5/5)

Great lemon flavor throughout this dessert. Burnt-lemon-flavored meringues, lemon poundcake, shaved white chocolate and sour cranberries. The scent of lemon, and the sweetness of the white chocolate + lemon poundcake cut by tart cranberries.

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Whoopie Pie

____________

Winter #3 (early March 2014)

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Warm Butternut Squash: Melted Leeks, Pumpkin Seeds, Marjoram and a Brown-Butter Shellfish Bouillon (4/5)

Squash is now mashed and for textural contrast, artichoke slices and pumpkin seeds are added. Marjoram seems to be a favored pairing with squash, and a rich third leg – earlier in winter it was cream sauce, but now a brown-butter bouillon. A hearty broth.

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Roasted Carrots

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Rhode Island Lamb: Roasted Celeriac, Creamed Chicories and Nasturtium (4.5/5)

Descendant of the pork dish, which went out of season, the roasting brought out the sweetness of the celery root (tasting something like wolfsberry crossed with the earthiness of danggui (angelica sinensis)), and the roasting of nasturtium gave it a crunch not unlike kale chips. Flavorfully roasted slices of lamb shoulder.

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Lemon

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Whoopie Pie

____________

(*) – A note on style: I think I’ve been hopelessly confused about what I mean by New Naturalism in the past. I’ve used the term to denote restaurants like Borago and atera, in the style of noma and In De Wulf, which feature minimalist plates with tweezered details and foraged ingredients. Those I would now call Foraged Restaurants. There is a distinct style of cuisine by Contra or this restaurant, which I call New Naturalist. Pete Wells calls it “mumblecore cuisine“. This is a unhelpful name. I think a better name for it is “we-mix-it-all-up + soft-pliable-food”. For now I’ll call it New Naturalist. The four criteria are:

  1. 3-4 principal ingredients all mixed up on the plate
  2. vegetable-and-(heirloom)-grain forward
  3. meat as best supporting actor (at best)
  4. a “let-it-fall-where-it-may” plating aesthetic

The Catbird Seat @ birch | Providence | Oct ’13 | “Tastes of Fall”

14 Nov

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: [1] [2].

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.

____________

2013-10-20 17.16.12

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.

2013-10-20 17.18.15

Uni Sandwich

2013-10-20 17.25.462013-10-20 17.25.53Clams and Tripe [Erik Anderson] (4/5)

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.

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2013-10-20 17.37.35Sunchokes Roasted in Chicken Drippings [Ben Sukle] (4/5)

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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.

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Another angle.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

2013-10-20 18.40.53

2013-10-20 18.34.24

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.

 

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Quince Jellies
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

birch | Providence | Oct ’13 | “more innovative combinations from birch”

13 Oct

Address: 200 Washington St, Providence, RI 02903

Telephone: (401) 272-3105

This is an update post (September’s main review here).

____________

birch is currently at the top of my list of restaurants in Providence, there is no other restaurant in Providence I would rather eat my weekend meals at. I’ve eaten there a couple more times and tried a few more dishes. By way of a short write-up, here’s an update on what the kitchen has created in recent weeks.

____________

4

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____________

5

2013-10-12 17.38.38

Birch beer, from Pennsylvania.

What the restaurant is named after! It tastes like a zestier root beer, somewhat like the Southeast Asian drink Sarsi.

2013-10-12 17.41.19

“Gravenstein” (4.5/5)

Pierre Ferrand Ambre Cognac, Heirloom Apples, Cointreau and Peychaud’s Bitters

2013-10-12 17.57.032013-10-12 17.57.20

Roasted Carrots (5/5)

Grilled Quahog Clam, Toasted Seeds, Yarrow and Almond

Better than I remembered it. The carrot had a deep rich smell, akin to caramelised baked sweet potato. Grilled clam was salted perfectly, with an interesting bed of seeds in the space between the two roast carrots. The clam sauce added to a little taste of the sea – I asked for a spoon to scoop up the remainder.

2013-10-12 18.14.20

2013-10-12 18.14.28

Roasted Cauliflower (4.75/5)

Heirloom Apple, Crispy Rye, Tarragon, and Rose Hips

Charred cauliflower (AKA Romanesco broccoli) with a bed of something like mashed potato, and a sauce made from rose hips, the fruit of the rose plant. Delicious and a bright idea to highlight the interesting spiral/fractal geometric nature of the cauliflower by crisping it – just as making kale chips highlights the frills of kale leaves.

2013-10-12 18.15.10

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Rhode Island Suckling Pork (5/5)

Roasted Sunchokes, Bosc Pear and Lemon Verbena

This fantastic new dish was finalised only earlier today, and consists of the chopped parts of a young pig (excluding the loin) braised and pressed together into 3 strips. The sauce from braising is saved and combined with a lemon-verbena oil, which gives the interesting green oil visual effect on the “ripple” plate. Small roasted jerusalem artichokes had the look and texture of slightly mashed fingerling potatoes (which was what I mistook them for initially). A savory soil made this dish a hearty one.

2013-10-12 19.01.47

Sweet Grain Cereal (5/5)

Apple Butter, Johnny Cake, and Toasted Grain Milk

birch’s tribute to breakfast consists of whipped grain milk, on top of apple sauce and a cornmeal johnnycake, mixed with the kitchen sink: honeycomb, puffed rice, oat snaps, and a few other things that are delicious. Eating this is like eating the best bowl of breakfast cereal ever. The mix of textures is complex, with at least four different kinds of crunchiness: thin, oaty crunchiness from the oat snaps, hollow crunchiness from the rice, and sweet dense crunchiness from the honeycomb, and what I think are airy cylinders of dried apple. One of the best desserts I have ever tried anywhere.

____________

I think the cooking at birch, already being some of the best in Providence when I first ate there in early September, has only gotten stronger since. What is impressive is the sheer number of ideas coming out of this small kitchen team (not more than 4(?), including Ben and Alec). If you’re in Providence, make an appointment to eat at birch: you will not regret it.

birch | Providence | Sep ’13 | “loca-vore movement”

24 Sep

Address: 200 Washington St, Providence, RI 02903

Telephone: (401) 272-3105

The area: Providence food has been getting better and better over the last 3 years I’ve been here. This goes hand–in-hand with the economic renaissance of Rhode Island’s capital, epitomised by Providence’s shopping arcade, the oldest indoor mall in America. Shuttered when I first arrived in 2010 due to the financial crisis, it is now slated to re-open later this year, with a slew of new restaurant offerings. I don’t know why the recovery has been quite strong in Providence, but I hypothesise it is due to a (A) vibrant college scene (Brown, RISD, Johnson & Wales, Roger Williams, Bryant, Providence College) and (B) spillover effects of increasing biomedical research from the greater Boston region: Brown, for instance, announced an increased investment last year in the Jewelry District to create engineering jobs. Certainly the restaurants opening in the past 2 years (e.g. flan y ajo) have been hipster-ish restaurants, appealing to a younger crowd.

The restaurant: birch opened stealthily over the summer, when Chef Ben Sukle decided to strike it out on his own. The Dorrance, which was chef Ben Sukle’s previous stage, made the list of Opinionated About Dining (OAD)’s top 100 restaurants in the United States. It was thus with high expectations that I entered birch.

The chef: 

Ben Sukle is a cooking savant. We say that because if you looked at his resume – which, aside from a four-week stage at Noma in Copenhagen, lists only places located in Providence, Rhode Island – you would never suspect he can turn out food that is on par with a top European kitchen. But if you close your eyes and taste his rendition of local asparagus with Burgundy snails and buttered white rice, you might think it was prepared at Alain Passard’s L’Arpège. – OAD

High praise.

Ben Sukle previously worked with Matt Jennings at La Laiterie, another of Providence’s interesting New American restaurants.

The following is a compendium of 3 meals I had at birch over 2 weeks. I shamelessly took photos of all my friends’ dishes, but I will only rate those I ate.

___________

First Meal (Friday)

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“Scarborough” (5/5)

Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon, Yellow Chartreuse, Lemon and Angostura Bitters

A cocktail that starts off fruity and citrusy, and then ends up deep in bourbon land. Highly recommended, the famously skilled Dorrance cocktails have followed chef Sukle to birch.

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Snacks: Crisp Malavar Spinach with Cornmeal Hush Puppy & Zucchini Ranch | Tabasco Honey

A good snack of fried cornmeal.

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Shaved Scallop (4.5/5)

Dressed in Toasted Sesame with Avocado, Radish and Bronze Fennel

A heavy-light dish of scallops in aioli sauce. Hearty.

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Heirloom Lettuce (3.75/5)

Shaved Vegetables and their Juices, Cured Egg Yolk and Creme Fraiche

What was interesting about this dish was the promise of an interesting lettuce taste. To this diner however, the lettuce tasted largely as iceberg lettuce might taste. I found instead the shaved cured egg yolk interesting, being very bottarga-like in texture (a type of shaved fish). Apparently, it is cured in salt and sugar for 2 days, before being shaved over the lettuce.

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Warm Red Beets (5/5)

Walnuts, Sunflower, Husk Cherries and Caramelized Onion

Vegetable cooking of the highest order. This dish could have slid straight into service at l’Arpege [my post]. Beets are first dehydrated, and then rehydrated in lavender vinegar. The subtle sweetness of sunflower petals accompany the sunflower seeds, covered with a hearty helping of warm shaved walnut. Somewhere in that pile, there is also caramelised onion puree and the best, sweetest gooseberries I have yet tasted. Spectacular. A riot of colour.

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Warm Jonah Crab

New Potatoes, Green Tomatoes, Egg and Spicy Grains

This was my friend’s dish. From what I tried, I concurred with him that it was decent but unspectacular.

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Young Eggplant

Braised in Chinese Spices with Grains, Kohlrabi and Roasted Garlic

A flavorful eggplant with mushroom jus, that my friend had. Required a little bit of self assembly with slices of eggplant being topped with shaved kohlrabi and a garlic sauce. I quite enjoyed it.

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Crispy Vermont Quail (4.5/5)

Green Beans, Shiitake and Corianders

A delicious quail schnitzel, marinated in dill pickle juice (!). The sourness gives it a kick, which begs the question – why don’t more people fry their poultry with pickle juice? A thought-provoking combination. Went very well with the mushrooms. Green beans didn’t add much to the dish, but the intriguing herbaceous tastes of at least 2 different types of coriander did.

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Figs

Warm Corn Cake, Honeycomb Brittle and Rosehips

I quite enjoyed what I sampled of my friend G’s dessert.

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Summer Berries (5/5)

Toasted Almond Custard, Elderflower and Shiso

A delicious spoonful of summer in every sweet bite, with scattered elderflower meringue bits in the bowl, shiso granita, and at the bottom, a delicious almond custard. The berries and the custard do the heavy lifting here, but this dish is perfect.

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Second Meal (Sunday)

To avoid repetition, I will just highlight the novel dishes.

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Hush puppy

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Sungold Tomatoes (4/5)

Garlic, Basil, Croutons and a Whey and Parmigiano Dressing

Garlic bread is blended (!) and made into a paste. Several types of basil. A sour whey dressing is poured into the bowl. I felt this dish was inventive in the technique, but the Sungold tomatoes did not have the complexity of flavour to anchor this dish. The whey dressing was also very sour to my taste.

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Roasted Carrots (4.25/5)

Grilled Surf Clam, Toasted Seeds, Yarrow and Almond

A spare plating, with carrots served two ways, first fermented and sliced, sandwiching grilled surf clams to the second way, a whole carrot roasted; with almond toasted milk. The charred outside of the carrot tasted great, the inside less intense in flavour, but was rescued with salt from the surf clam. A great presentation, taste-wise could have used less fermented carrot.

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Potato Pierogies (5/5)

Hooligan Cheese, Barbecued Onions and Mustard

Fantastically delicious. Pink potatoes are slivered and fried, served with seared pierogies, and a mustard-onion sauce. Charred pickled spring onion garnishes the plate, the sourness cutting through the richness.

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Block Island Swordfish (4.5/5)

Mussels, Summer Onions, Zephyr Squash and Preserved Lemon

Well-executed swordfish (i.e. perfectly cooked) in a lemon sauce.

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Pt. Judith By-catch of the Day (Weakfish)

Lightly Charred Summer Cabbage, Sweet Corn, Tomatillo and Miso

From what I tried, a skillful handling of whitefish. The charring was perfect (again).

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Triple Chocolate Pudding (4.5/5)

Peanuts, Rhubarb Sorbet and Oat Snaps

Three types of chocolate mousse. What made it interesting was the pairing of rhubarb with chocolate. Refreshing.

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Third Meal (another Friday)

Besides reprising another round of the delicious beets and the summer berries (before the last of summer and we enter fall), I also had a new dish this time:

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Hen of the Woods Mushroom (5/5)

Tokyo Turnips, Crispy Potato and Wheatberry Porridge

Wheatberries, the entire kernel of wheat excluding the husk, had the inviting temperature of a warm risotto, and the pairing with earthy Hen of the Woods mushrooms was delicious.

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At this moment, birch is on the top of my list of Providence restaurants. With cooking this inventive and whimsical (pureed garlic bread!), it is inevitable that there are going to be dishes that delight the diner, and others that leave the diner cold. For the inventiveness that birch has brought to the Providence dining scene (and it is a breath of fresh air), I expect a bright future for the restaurant. I predict that their experimental attitude, and refined standards of vegetable cooking, will soon bring birch nation-wide renown.

Memory: Warm Beets, Summer Berries, Hen of the Woods Mushrooms, Quail Schnitzel, Scarborough cocktail.

Rating: 17/20

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