[Sidebar] April 10 - 17, 1997
[Food Reviews]
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Eclectic Grille

A Big Apple feel with undeniably Italian influences

by Dawn Keable

245 Atwells Avenue, Providence
Open Tues.-Thurs., 5-10 p.m., Fri. & Sat., 5 -11 p.m.
Lunch served Friday 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Major credit cards
Sidewalk-level access

My childhood friend Andrea, now a schoolteacher living in sunny Atlanta, chose the wrong place to spend her spring break this year -- under two feet of snow in Rhode Island. To cheer her up, my boyfriend Andre and I decided to take her to dinner at the Eclectic Grille for her last meal in town.

We were accompanied by another favorite person of mine, a man we'll call "Seth." This isn't his real name, but we need to protect his identity because he actually called into work with fictitious car problems so he could join us.

It's never a quiet evening when we all get together. Something quirky is bound to happen. This night, we walked through the restaurant entrance and smack into George, Burrillville High School class of '86. The fellow Burrillvillian was our waiter for the evening, and with our hometown connection, service was top-notch.

After the hostess took our coats, we were seated at a corner table in front, the best in the house. Andrea and I pushed Seth and Andre out of the way and claimed the window seat, with its toss pillows, as our own. It was a fair exchange because the guys had an excellent view of the front door and were the first to spot Karen Adams from Channel 12 when she walked in. Seth, a broadcasting student, was awe-struck.

Once we regained Seth's attention, we ordered a bottle of Mondavi Coastal Chardonnay ($21) and two appetizers to start our meal. Andrea was not shy about voicing her preference for fried squid ($7.75). Remember, she'd been away from Ocean State seafood for quite some time.

We also chose a grilled portabella mushroom cap ($7.75), and George swiftly delivered both dishes to our table, expertly portioning out four equal servings. Both selections were delicious. The squid, served on a bed of red-leaf lettuce with a crème fraiche, was lightly fried and delicately seasoned. Seth's expert palate broke down the spices to basil, chive, and onion.

The grilled portabella mushroom cap was equally delectable. Stuffed with a mix of wild and domestic mushrooms, chopped plum tomato, parsley and sage in a sherry wine sauce, the recipe was a perfect blend of wood-grilled smoky flavor and meaty texture. We all had seconds. Andre had fourths.

While waiting for our main course and perusing Seth's 1997 scrapbook, we checked out our surroundings. According to Andrea, a prior resident of the Big Apple, the Eclectic Grille has a distinct NYC feel. The restaurant is airy, with a bar and open grill area in the back. Even on this Wednesday, the restaurant definitely attracted a cosmopolitan crowd.

Of course, we lost all interest in people watching once our meals arrived. Andrea continued to satisfy her seafood craving with a grilled salmon filet served with a blood-orange sauce ($16.95). The rest of us chose pasta dishes. It seemed like the natural thing to do. After all, we were eating on Federal Hill in a restaurant with undeniably Italian influences.

Seth decided on bowtie pasta tossed in a tomato-cream basil parmesan sauce ($10.95). Andre picked the sweet red pepper linguine ($13.95), with thick chunks of grilled sweet Italian sausage, chicken tenderloins, mushrooms, and roasted peppers in a Madeira sauce. Andre, who I assure you is not at all sexist, called this satisfyingly hearty blend of pasta and meat a "man's meal." Indeed, the dish was so filling, Andre had to request a manly doggy bag.

I ordered spinach linguine with mushrooms, spinach, black olives, zucchini, summer squash, roasted peppers, plum and sun-dried tomatoes ($12.95). With all the beautiful vegetables, Seth wondered if I'd ordered a garden.

Amazingly, we all had room for dessert. Well, everyone except Andre, whose manly appetite had taken quite a hit from his meal. I was kind and split a piece of carrot cake ($5.25) with him. Topped with carrot shavings and coated with chopped nuts, the cake was moist and big on flavor. Sadly, Andre had no problem finishing his half.

Because I'd had only part of a dessert, I felt justified in sampling everyone else's. Andrea had ordered a pecan tart ($5.25) that, topped with sweetened cream decorated with swirls of raspberry sauce, looked gorgeous. Served warm, the treat gained points for its crusty bottom. But overall, Seth won the dessert lottery for his slice of cheesecake ($5.25). Sprinkled with sliced strawberries and a strawberry liqueur sauce, it was incredibly smooth and creamy.

Two cups of tea later ($1.75), we basically closed the restaurant down. Throughout dinner, Andrea had stressed her intentions of visiting a tropical locale next spring, but now I'm confident that a promised trip to the Eclectic Grille would bring her back to Rhode Island. I am going to call George right now and make a reservation.

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