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The Red Fez
A welcome addition

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)
Sidewalk access

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 Heinz.

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 order.

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]

Issue Date: September 7 - 13, 2001