[Sidebar] September 18 - 25, 1997
[Food Reviews]
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Providence Bookstore Cafe

The fine arts of dining

by Dawn Keable

500 Angell Street
Open Mon. through Thurs., 1:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Fri. and Sat., 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Sun. 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Late-night menu Fri. through Sun.
Major credit cards
No handicapped access

Don't embarrass yourself by looking for the bookstore. Despite the name, there isn't one here. Oh, there used to be, but it moved (one street over on South Angell Street) to make room for more dining. Or maybe it was to make room for more books. Anyway, the restaurant space has doubled, the bookstore is gone, but the name is the same. Got it?

Venturing here on a recent Friday evening, Andre and I arrived on foot, because we live right around the corner. The Providence Bookstore Cafe, a flight of stairs below street level, attracts an artsy crowd -- and it is also a great supporter of the arts, displaying local artwork on its walls, most of it for sale. If it had been any other night of the weekend, my boyfriend Andre and I also would have heard live music here. As it was, we had to settle for jazz from CDs, which we could barely hear above the other diners' animated conversations.

The interior of the PBC is simple and timeless. Cream-colored walls and dark wood accents, combined with low-key lighting (Andre's favorite part), make for a cozy and romantic atmosphere. On the tables, under a piece of glass, are vintage maps of Rhode Island towns. (We were sitting at West Greenwich.)

After ordering drinks, we chose the sauteed gulf shrimp ($7.95) for an appetizer, and the dish was a meal in itself. Still, I think Andre planned to keep it all to himself -- he hesitated, after all, when the waitress asked if we wanted an extra plate.

Sauteed with garlic, basil, white wine, and juicy plum tomatoes, the meaty shrimp was served over angel-hair pasta. Every ingredient was perfectly prepared. We had only one problem -- there were only three shrimp. How would we ever split everything fairly? Well, Andre solved the dilemma by sucking every bit of meat from two of the shrimp when my head was turned. And if I really hadn't been paying attention, I would have lost my second triangle of complimentary focaccia bread topped with olive oil, garlic, and onion. Andre had moved it to his side of the table to "make more room." Don't worry, I got it back.

For his main course, Andre ordered "Pollo Bela" ($14.95), two good-sized chicken breasts sauteed with olive oil, garlic, basil, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, pepperoncini, and white wine. A word of warning -- don't order this unless you enjoy smoke coming out of your ears, because the dish is a delicious blend of hot and spicy flavors. Andre's mouth was on fire for most of the night -- and he loved every second of it.

My selection, pan-seared chicken ($15.95), was one of the nightly specials. There was soooo much food on my plate, our waitress flexed her biceps after delivering it to the table. The visual presentation was vibrant and beautiful -- pieces of chicken lined the edge of the plate above a bed of spinach mixed with broccoli, red peppers, onions, and zucchini. The chicken was complimented by a sweet-curry cream sauce. Please, please, make this one of your regular menu items!

For dessert, Andre chose "Bananas Mondale" ($4.95), probably because it was the closest thing he could find to a banana split. This luscious treat of vanilla ice cream and sliced bananas was served in an edible bowl, a crispy fried tortilla shell sprinkled with cinnamon. The entire concoction was drizzled with a rich banana sauce. Mmmm. It reminded Andre of his childhood -- and Mom's banana pudding (only here, the seconds weren't free).

I picked the mud pie ($3.95) because it mixed two of my favorites -- coffee ice cream and chocolate fudge. The ice cream pie, in a chocolate wafer crust, was strong on coffee flavor, thanks to a spiking of Kaluha, and topped with whipped cream and fudge sauce for a most delectable mocha experience. I actually dreamed about the pie later that night.

When it was time to go, our take-home bag was so packed with leftovers, it looked like we'd just finished our grocery shopping for the week. I felt like a pack mule the entire walk home (a happy and full one, of course). Next time, we'll either order less, or I'll send Andre to get the car.

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