[Sidebar] November 16 - 23, 2000
[Food Reviews]
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A European showcase

by Johnette Rodriguez

444 Thames St., Bristol, 254-1188
Open daily, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 5-10 p.m.
Sat-Sun brunch, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Major credit cards
Sidewalk access

Italian food is so dominant in Rhode Island you'd almost expect to come across pesto-stuffed won tons or calamari burritos. Thus, it's particularly nice to encounter other European cuisines, especially when they are as carefully prepared as they are at Redlefsen's (emphasis on the second syllable, with a nod to the Swedish heritage of the restaurant's founder).

Owners Walter and Sally Guertler have wandered the small towns of Europe, enjoying meals in modest bistros and pubs, and they've designed a menu (with chef David Reniere) that showcases some of their favorite finds. It also pays homage to local seafood - clam chowder, baked scrod and baked scallops - and, of course, to some of the state's official foods - calamari, ravioli and penne puttanesca. Because Redlefsen's does an annual Oktoberfest (Wednesday and Thursday evenings, beginning just after the fall equinox and extending for six weeks), they have become known for their German dishes and German draft beers.

But Redlefsen's menu, as well as its décor, hint at a broader scope. The blue and white tiles around the open kitchen are reminiscent of Delft china; the porcelain sign proclaims "smoking forbidden" in Swedish; a map of the Bourgogne region (Burgundy) hangs on one wall; the lace half-curtains on the front windows suggest Belgium; and the grape vines painted on the large skylight trigger thoughts of Tuscany.

The 1932 building into which Redlefsen's moved in January '99 is a former truck garage, once used by the Narragansett Brewery, renovated in '98 by the Guertlers. The dining room is one-third larger than their former High Street location, but with the same 48 seats. The new space also contains and a comfortable lounge and bar.

And what a bar. Though more than 80 percent of what Redlefsen's serves comes from their extensive and eclectic wine list, they also offer nine beers on tap -- no bottled beer -- including three Germans, one Czech Pilsener, two English ales, one Dutch, one Belgian, and one American, Otter Creek. The wine list is equally impressive, with the Guertlers choosing from California, Chile, France, Germany, or wherever else they discover a quality wine. The dozen regular menu entrees each have two recommendations for wine (or, in the case of the wursts, beer).

The friend who accompanied us for dinner grabbed the rare chance to have sauerbraten, and she and I chose the pickled vegetable salad to go with our meals. But as tasty as both items were, they've unfortunately retreated until next year's Oktoberfest menu. The Germanic dishes that do hang around all year are the wiener schnitzel and the grilled bauernwurst and bratwurst, with sauerkraut. Other distinctly northern European ways with preparation and presentation are the grilled rainbow trout with a mustard-dill sauce (enjoyed on previous visits) and the pecan-encrusted pork tenderloins ($15.95), which Bill picked for his entree. I decided on the roasted half-chicken ($12.95).

The tenderloin medallions were medium-thin and fork-tender, bringing exclamations of joy from that side of the table. The maple cream sauce was a perfect complement to the pecans, and how could anything with pecans not be a hit? The mashed red bliss potatoes with garlic came in for their own share of attention. The chicken was rotisserie-roasted, quite juicy and flavorful. It had been basted with Redlefsen's house "steak sauce," a sweet and spicy blend with a lot of pizzaz. Once again, the potatoes and peas were a great accompaniment.

Our appetizers were also primo. The butternut-and-apple soup ($3.95) was mild and creamy, with a touch of scallions. The house-cured, grilled gravlax ($7.50) was the star of the evening. Gravlax is a Swedish specialty in which fish is cured by being soaked for several days in a salt-sugar-dill marinade. Often sliced thin for open-faced sandwiches, this was left as a fillet, very lightly grilled on the edges and served with a sweet mustard sauce. Bill proclaimed it "definitive."

The desserts at Redlefsen's are locally made, including the occasional torte and the regular tiramisu. But the real crowd-pleaser is the daisy crepe ($5.25), which is filled with three scoops of French vanilla ice cream before being drenched in house-made fudge sauce. Save room for it!

And make room in your life for Redlefsen's. You'll be glad you did.

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