[Sidebar] April 8 - 15, 1999
[Food Reviews]
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A world of subtle sophistication

by Dawn Keable

39 Pike Street, Providence, 751-3000
Open Sun and Tues-Thurs, 5-11 p.m., Fri and Sat until midnight
Major credit cards
No handicapped access

If you were working in the kitchen of L'imaj on a recent Tuesday and saw a football player-type dressed in a black leather jacket peering in the window, no need to feel alarmed. That was just my fiancé Andre, who was thrilled to find out he could get a sneak peak into the innards of the restaurant on the walk from the parking lot.

Of course, if you have your car valet parked you'll miss the show. Regardless, don't linger outside too long -- the main attraction, the food, is definitely inside.

The interior of L'imaj has been modeled into a world of subtle sophistication. The dining area is a small, narrow room with dark mahogany wood accents, mocha colored walls, rich paintings and beautiful hand-blown glass plates. The atmosphere is great for intimate conversations. But be forewarned: because of the size, as we learned with Andre's accidental belching incident, the acoustics carry (and carry and carry).

To go with our glasses of wine, chardonnay ($5.75) for me and white zin ($4.75) for Andre, we ordered "Spring Roll Americaine" ($7.95) from the extensive list of tapas. The roll was perfectly crispy on the outside, but that was only the start. Cut in equal halves for optimum sharing and easy dipping into the accompanying fruit salsa and piquant sesame sauce, the inside was stuffed with tasty marinated chicken, bok choy, bean sprouts and bell peppers.

And that was only the start of our perfect beginning. Our new friend, Todd the Excellent Waiter, talked us into sharing a spinach salad ($7.95). It was a delicious blend of simple yet non-standard ingredients: walnuts, pine nuts, creamy goat cheese and perfect baby spinach greens tossed in a sweet honey-dijon sauce. I could have eaten two more as my entree.

The magic didn't end when the main course came. After we cleansed our palates with complimentary lemon sorbet, our meals arrived. Andre selected the shrimp and scallop special ($22.95). His festival of huge jumbo shrimp and extra-large scallops was served with handmade gnocci, bits of roasted garlic, spinach and sun-dried tomatoes in a rich, buttery cream sauce. Andre was pretty excited that there was enough seafood to match a bite with each and every mouthful of pasta. He was equally impressed by the presentation -- the dish was draped with long strands of scallions for a hint of color.

My pick, filet mignon ($21.95), was a creative interpretation of a standard favorite. The beef, served atop a slice of polenta and with wild mushroom duxelle and madeira oyster sauce, was garnished with a fresh, poached oyster along with thinly sliced fried onion rings. Accompanying the tender meat were slices of wood-grilled zucchini with a rich woodsy flavor, and a pillow of potatoes au gratin with alternating layers of goat cheese. While the dish was a testament to the non-traditional spirit of the chef, my taste buds didn't fall in love with the oyster sauce, and there was no escaping it.

Until, that is, dessert. Andre went with the "L'imaj tower" ($8.95). Tied together with a yellow bow, the delicate ladyfingers surrounded a subtly flavored white-chocolate mousse topped with gigantic blackberries, raspberries and tangerine slices. It was a perfect pick to end the meal on a light note.

I was sold on the "Mudslide Cheesecake" ($7.95) on the name alone. Luckily, it lived up to my hyper-inflated expectations. The cake, on an Oreo cookie crust, had a lusciously creamy texture with a coffee flavor that was of the perfect intensity. And as an added bonus, a coffee-bean on top.

So start counting your pennies. Dining at L'imaj is on the pricey side, but well worth the dining experience if you want to treat yourself to something fabulous. The small lounge is also an option to soak in the atmosphere without breaking the bank account. And if you're really short on cash, there's always a spot right beside Andre in the parking lot next to the window.

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