[Sidebar] November 13 - 20, 1997
[Food Reviews]
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The "new kid" makes its mark on Broadway

by Johnette Rodriguez

318 Broadway, Providence, 861-1770
Open Mon - Fri from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Thurs - Sat from 6 to 9 p.m.
Sat and Sun brunch from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
No credit cards
Sidewalk-level access

Although Providence is bursting at the seams with good restaurants, there's always room for one more. That's especially true of a place like Julian's, where the decor and the menu remain flexible enough to accommodate owner Julian Forge's eclectic tastes and head chef Landon Smith's creative impulses.

Julian's has a bistro feel, with its small dining room, natural brick wall, copper- tubing light track, and view into the kitchen. There's also a bit of '70s California about it: wooden tables inlaid with humpback whales, counter stools with fancifully painted seats, well-worn cookbooks stacked here and there, an urban jungle mural by Brent Alan Bachelder in the bathroom.

Still, the menu has a very '90s slant: pasta with wild mushrooms, steak with portobello, the ubiquitous calamari, aru-gula salad, grilled pork loin or veal chop (the latter two for the bargain-basement prices of $11 and $13.50, respectively). Plus, a craving for "comfort foods" has brought back shepherd's pie, acorn squash (as an appetizer), and, for those of us still stuck in the '70s, a stir-fry with tofu over rice.

On the night we went, a nippy northeaster outside drove us to seek solace in tomato soup ($3) and roasted sweet potato and spinach salad ($6) for starters. They were excellent harbingers of good things to come.

The soup was a simple puree of fresh tomatoes and herbs, and the harshness of such a concentration of tomatoes had been gentled down with a touch of cream. The salad was a wonderful study in tastes and textures -- the soft sweetness of the potatoes against the crisp green of the spinach, topped with a pumpkin-seed dressing.

Aromas wafting from the grill led us both to try grilled seafood. Mine was shrimp over linguine with a tomato-and-pesto cream sauce ($12); my partner's, swordfish with portobello ($12). The bonuses on Bill's plate were threefold: yummy Yukon gold mashed potatoes, the best grilled zucchini and summer squash rounds I've ever had (they'd been cooked long enough to bring out their flavor), and a small garnish of mesclun greens.

These accompaniments did not drown out the soloist, however. The swordfish was indeed a steak -- a generous portion of fish, expertly grilled and topped with a grilled portobello. Its natural moisture had been retained in the cooking, leaving no reason to top it with a rich, buttery sauce, as is so often done. Kudos to Smith!

The three jumbo shrimp on my pasta had been similarly respected on the grill -- just enough time had been allowed to cook them without drying them out. The linguine had a few tricolor rotinis on top ("we like to throw in little surprises," said Julian), and the sauce was lively, with garlic and bits of tomato, and docile, with alfredo creaminess.

The limited (and daily changing) menu had only "Anita's almond cheesecake" for dessert ($3), but that was just fine with our decaf and herb tea. It was pleasantly light for cheesecake and still requisitely creamy. There was just a hint of almond in the cake and sliced almonds on top.

Although Julian's opened two years ago, they have built their reputation slowly, with a breakfast and lunch clientele (bagels in a glass case on the counter, bags of chips hanging on one wall, etc.). Today, they are still open for dinner just three nights a week.

But the addition of Smith about a year ago and a planned expansion into a next-door space mark the true arrival of this new kid on the block. With the spread along the street of bakeries and eateries in the last couple of years, Providence may soon give new meaning to "Broadway-bound."

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