Tag Archives: Ben Sukle

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:

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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.

2013-12-13 19.43.52

Warm Red Beets

2013-12-13 19.44.00 2013-12-13 19.44.20 2013-12-13 19.45.01

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.

2013-12-13 20.23.49

Chocolate with Rhubarb

Refreshing.

2013-12-13 20.23.56

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.

2013-12-13 20.34.04

Sweet Grain Cereal

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White chocolate and quinoa

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Winter #2 (late January 2014)

2014-01-30 21.20.06

Cornmeal Hush Puppy

2014-01-30 21.27.18

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.

2014-01-30 22.00.30 2014-01-30 22.01.15

Rhode Island Suckling Pork

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

2014-01-30 22.20.45 2014-01-30 22.21.08

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.

2014-01-30 22.42.28

Whoopie Pie

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Winter #3 (early March 2014)

2014-03-03 19.54.06 2014-03-03 19.54.27

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.

2014-03-03 20.03.46

Roasted Carrots

2014-03-03 20.21.23 2014-03-03 20.23.53

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.

2014-03-03 20.34.41 2014-03-03 20.34.50 2014-03-03 20.34.59 2014-03-03 20.40.02

Lemon

2014-03-03 20.51.55

Whoopie Pie

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(*) – 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
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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).

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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.

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4

2013-09-27 17.22.142013-09-27 17.33.482013-09-27 18.02.49 2013-09-27 18.20.35

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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

2013-10-12 18.39.34

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.

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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.

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First Meal (Friday)

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2013-09-06 17.42.14 2013-09-06 17.49.22 2013-09-06 17.53.48

“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.

2013-09-06 17.54.12

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

A good snack of fried cornmeal.

2013-09-06 18.07.09

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.

2013-09-06 18.07.14

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.

2013-09-06 18.21.59

2013-09-06 18.22.06

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.

2013-09-06 18.25.552013-09-06 18.22.10

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.

2013-09-06 18.44.03

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.

2013-09-06 18.44.15

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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.

2013-09-06 19.07.11

Figs

Warm Corn Cake, Honeycomb Brittle and Rosehips

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

2013-09-06 19.06.55

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.

2013-09-06 19.21.11

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Second Meal (Sunday)

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

2013-09-08 17.23.33

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.

2013-09-08 17.56.16

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.

2013-09-08 17.59.34

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.

2013-09-08 18.18.19

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.

2013-09-08 18.18.34

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).

2013-09-08 18.43.16

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:

2013-09-13 18.04.17

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

Other Notable Write-ups: