The Red Fez
A welcome addition
BY IAN DONNIS
|dining out |
(401) 272-1212 |
49 Peck St., Providence
Open for lunch, Tues-Fri, 11:30-3:30 p.m.; dinner, Tues-Thurs, 5:30 p.m.-10 p.m.; Fri-Sat, 5:30-11 p.m.
Major credit cards (food only)
Even if they introduced just the second-floor bar portion of their business,
the proprietors of The Red Fez would have done us a favor by expanding the
number of victual joints with a slightly hip touch in the much fussed-about
Renaissance City. That the Fez serves up some very appealing food at good
prices, however, makes it twice as nice.
Located on a downtown side street within throwing distance of the Garrahy
Court building, the restaurant/nightspot is identified by an iconic crimson
fez, with a real tassel, set on a sign against a dusky background. The
auspicious attention to detail suggested by this casual flourish is matched by
Ed Reposa's handiwork in dishing up a compact, wide-ranging menu, with nods to
Latin, Asian, and comfort food influences, and the way in which bottles of
fiery Vietnamese chili-garlic sauce are set tableside with the ever-present
On weekend nights, the Fez's colorful upstairs bar swells with artists and
scenesters, and the tall cans of Schlitz ($2) don't go unappreciated. The main
level dining room, meanwhile, welcomes a variety of comers. It's done up with
avocado-colored walls, a small bar, a half-dozen simple black booths, a couple
of additional tables, fresh flowers on each, and a mix on the walls of art and
classic advertisements for cognac, the circus and Harley-Davidson -- hey,
sounds like a good combo to me.
Open since March, the Fez is the work of the boyfriend-girlfriend team of
Reposa, who learned his trade while cooking in a string of restaurants, and
Sara Kilguss, who makes for a genial hostess and bartender. The pair,
respective natives of Rehoboth and Dighton, Massachusetts, spent some time in
Providence before moving to Boston for a few years and then coming back. Along
the way, Reposa gained some useful cues while working at Boston's Delux
Café, best known for offering forth damn good food from a kitchen the
size of a utility closet.
Sampling the Fez's dinner fare (a less costly menu is offered at lunch) with
some comrades, I hit the jackpot with the golden crab cakes ($8) and balsamic
glazed grilled salmon ($12). Two fat crab cakes -- well seasoned, fried to a
golden brown, and topped with a roasted corn relish and cilantro cream -- were
the definitive inverse image of this local staple; rather than being forced to
search for the rare morsel of crab, I couldn't find nary a speck of breadcrumb
or other filler. The salmon, just as delicious, was the highlight of a
beautiful plate of food: Moist and perfectly cooked, it came topped with a
tomato-caper relish, along with a nice orzo-pesto salad, and flavorful grilled
tomatoes stuffed with corn, basil, and feta cheese. This dish might not
represent a new apex in culinary creativity, but it was awfully good. What's
more, a lot of restaurants would needlessly complicate something like this, and
tack another $10 onto the cost of the entrée.
The Fez isn't flawless. When I returned and ordered the same salmon dish
during the quiet phase of an early Saturday evening, the fish was charred -- on
the brink of needing to be sent back -- and the sides seemed thrown together.
And although a friend and I were the only people in the upstairs bar, the
bartender on duty refused to walk the scant distance to the table to take our
But you can typically eat very well at the Fez for short money. The menu,
which changes about every six weeks, tops out for dinner at $12, for the salmon
or an orange-chipotle marinated pork tenderloin. Good bets include the highly
satisfying Thai-style yellow chicken curry, a very generous portion served over
rice, with string beans, peas, cilantro and sweet peppers, or grilled
portobello mushroom caps, with baked polenta, warm goat cheese, and
tomato-rosemary sauce ($9).
Other current lunch and dinner staples include quesedillas ($4.50 for just
cheese, $6.50 for chicken), the popular grilled cheese ($5), the Fez bowl, a
steaming bowl of Asian noodles and vegetables ($6, $8 with grilled chicken, $9
with shrimp), and a jerk chicken sandwich ($6 for lunch, $8 for dinner). The
Fez also offers a changing selection of specials and desserts (a thin slice of
Boston crème pie was tasty, if a bit dear at $4), a solid wine list, and
an array of beer (pints of Bass Ale at $3.25). All in all, as I said at the
outset, The Red Fez makes for a most welcome addition.
Ian Donnis can be reached at idonnis[a]phx.com.
Issue Date: September 7 - 13, 2001