[Sidebar] April 16 - 23, 1998
[Food Reviews]
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The Bluefin Grille

A fine addition to the top ranks of Providence restaurants

by Bill Rodriguez

1 Orms St., Providence, 272-5852
Open Sun-Thurs, 5-10 p.m.,
Fri & Sat, 5-11 p.m.
Major credit cards
Sidewalk access

Talk about being modest about your accomplishments -- the Bluefin Grille, in the Marriott Hotel in downtown Providence, doesn't even have a sign outside, at least not one that I noticed. So when you arrive at its address at the bottom of Orms Street, you might find yourself muttering about how a hotel has gone up on the spot.

There is a tranquil feeling to the Bluefin. Subdued lighting, wood-paneled walls, tasteful decor with many art deco touches. Smoking only at the bar, although this area does have a few tables for dining.

The menu is wide-ranging. Appetizers tantalize: smoked salmon wrapping yellowfin tuna tartar with avocado ($8), shrimp and dill ravioli with a ragout of wild mushrooms ($8). As the name of the place suggests, seafood is the specialty, although other entrées include roasted marinated vegetables on pasta ($13) and a 20-ounce Porterhouse ($26).

Out of all of these, though, the signature attraction here is the "Taste of the Bluefin" prix fixe. Indeed, by the time we reluctantly pushed away from the table on a recent visit to Bluefin, we were convinced that this package was the greatest bargain in Providence fine dining since pizza at Alforno.

For $29 a person (the entire table must partake), you share three appetizers and three desserts, and each person selects from a choice of four entrées. For $44, you can have the definitive experience, with a recommended wine served with each of the three appetizers, as well as with your main course.

When dining with several people who have light appetites, I love to order a few shared appetizers. After all, bounty equals banquet in my book. And the Bluefin preamble was, similarly, quite a spread. Stacked in a tier of platters and served onto our plates by our waiter, the baked Cockenoe Island Oysters alone were quite an array -- four of them stuffed with andouille sausage and spinach under a fennel cream sauce.

More delicate were the two Jonah crab cakes served on mesclun and mixed greens with a roasted corn relish rather than a sauce, so as to not overpower the taste. And in hearty contrast were two thick slices of a round Daily Bread loaf piled high with an olive oil concoction of garden tomatoes, garlic, kalamata olives, feta, and fresh basil, for a bruschetta that your mother should only make.

As you can imagine, after an appetizer like that, we were in rapt expectation for our entrées. And we were not disappointed. Mark, our attentive waiter (he came unbidden with the crumb scraper), recommended the salmon, even after my dining mate said that she might choose the yellowfin tuna.

Well, bless his self-confident little heart. He said the salmon was very fresh, and, indeed, it practically flapped on my companion's plate. Poached in champagne sauce and topped with mussels, it retained all of its quiet flavor.

My choice, over the rack of New Zealand lamb, was the beef filet. Delicious. My knife practically fell through the inch-thick tenderloin, while the accompanying béarnaise sauce was served in a scooped-out plum tomato and, to my delight, seasoned with tarragon. The mashed potatoes not only contained garlic (just a hint) and Gruyère, but a touch of sour cream, I assume, for a savory tang.

A Cabernet Sauvignon was the suggested wine for the steak, but let me recommend the Firesteed pinot noir from Oregon -- so spicy, velvety.

But the restaurant wasn't done with us yet. Three desserts, remember? The chocolate truffles were hot, their bitter-sweet filling flowing like benign lava from cocoa-powdered shells. These went nicely with the raspberries placed on our plates, alongside small pastry shells filled with Mascarpone cream. But the real magic moment came with our two crème brulées: under that caramelized sugar crust was a custard flavored with lavender!

Between executive chef Franco Paterno's menu design and chef Phillippe Audax's execution, Bluefin Grille certainly deserves wide appreciation. It is a fine addition to the top ranks of Providence restaurants.

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