The more things change, the more they stay the same
by Johnette Rodriguez
151 Weybosset St., Providence, 331-9217
Open Mon-Fri, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.
Sun-Thurs, 5:30-9 p.m. (Fri and Sat until 10 p.m.)
Sat and Sun brunch, 9 a.m.-2 p.m.
Major credit cards
Over the last decade, Downcity restaurant, in its early diner phase and its
current chic mode, has been a mainstay in the city. It has survived in the
midst of incredible changes by being willing to change. In fact, much of the
decor in the expanded Downcity -- the Art Deco mirror behind the bar, the
swing-era floor tiles (in black, white and coral), the '40s-style kitchen
chairs -- was on the cutting edge of the swing trend that swept into popularity
in the '90s.
Despite its transition from funky diner to trendy dining spot, Downcity has
retained its unpretentious feel, from the friendly, helpful waitstaff to modest
menu items such as meatloaf with mashed potatoes ($12) and Maine crab cakes
with sweet potato fries ($15). But chef/owners Anthony Salemme and Paul Shire
are also fond of tweaking old favorites and trying new things, such as Rhode
Island jonnycakes with rock shrimp and lobster salad ($11), or a tamarind BBQ
sauce on the pork chops ($15).
A friend who joined us praised his martini, and Bill enjoyed his traditional
Manhattan, while I was thrilled to have a zingy ginger beer. Cocktails at
Downcity ($6), always creative, have acquired a South-of-the-Border leaning
over the past couple years, with mojitos and tequila-spiked pink lemonade
leading the way. There's also a broad selection of beer, wine and cordials,
both domestic and imported.
For dinner, our friend gravitated toward the pan-roasted littlenecks and
shrimp with fried calamari over tomato risotto ($17), and we could scarcely get
any samples away from him. The littlenecks and shrimp were expertly cooked, as
was the fried calamari, which was placed atop the seafood-risotto mound. I
loved the combination of flavors in the risotto, and the rice was done just to
my liking, still firm but cooked through.
Bill had been eyeing the meatloaf ever since an order drifted past to another
table: two large slices, looking not unlike some kind of chop, piled on
shallot-roasted potatoes with mixed vegetables that included a round of
corn-on-the-cob. His expectations were amply rewarded. The potatoes were creamy
and not overpowered by the delicate shallots. The veggies were carefully
sautéed and assembled. The meatloaf had a nice crust and a moist middle,
although Bill did long for a bit more spiciness in the gravy.
I chose a pasta dish called Wild About Mushrooms ($14) that featured porcinis
inside the ravioli, portobellos and baby spinach in a hefty sauce and a bit of
melted fontina on top. The latter was one touch too many in what seemed a rich
dish already. But the mushrooms and their friends were quite delicious.
Downcity makes wonderful desserts ($6 each), and it took us a while to make a
decision. I tend to look for something other than chocolate after a substantial
meal, but there are two chocolate tempters on the menu: flourless chocolate
torte and devilish chocolate cake. Fruits lured me, especially the "lusty
passion fruit torte," but so did the homemade ice creams, such as peach and
dulce de leche, made from sweetened condensed milk.
Predictable predilections prevailed: I went for the mango-ginger bread pudding
(made from Portuguese sweet bread, yum!), and Bill chose the peach cake with
blueberry compote, on the urging of our friend, with whom he shared the quite
generous portion. Both were scrumptious, though I'd stick with the mangos --
the peaches were somewhat hidden by the blueberries.
Salemme and Shire change the menu four times a year, both to accommodate local
produce and to keep their cooking fresh and exciting. But the more things
change, the more they stay the same. Their interest in new dishes will not take
them very far away from offering the best of Rhode Island's best: seafood,
pasta and great veggies. Downcity has made itself a Providence classic.