[Sidebar] April 15 - 22, 1999
[Food Reviews]
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Gracie's Bar and Grille

An imaginative and adventurous experience

by Johnette Rodriguez

409 Atwells Ave., Providence, 272-7811
Open Sun and Tues-Thurs, 5 p.m.-1 a.m.,
Fri and Sat till 2 a.m.
Major credit cards
Sidewalk access

Federal Hill's reputation for great food continues to grow with the addition of Gracie's Bar and Grille. Johnson & Wales grad Ellen Gracyalny (hence Gracie's) had always loved the space formerly inhabited by the Eclectic Grille, and when Eclectic moved further east on Atwells, Ellen and husband Michael Shine decided to take the plunge.

Lucky for us they did -- with a whimsical confidence exemplified by the star motif throughout the tiny, twelve-table restaurant and bar; a chic uptown style reflected in the mix of exposed brick, light pine wainscotting and black-painted woodwork; and a sense of imagination and adventure in the kitchen.

We settled into these snug but elegant surroundings to make some hard decisions about the enticing menu items. To start, Bill chose the five-onion soup ($4.95), one friend opted for the baby greens salad ($5.95), and another friend and I split the Cajun calamari ($7.95). Each of these dishes put a new twist on an old favorite. The onion soup substituted veal stock for the typical beef, replaced the conventional Swiss cheese topping with Gruyere, and featured leeks, scallions and purple and white onions along with the requisite Spanish ones. The result was terrific.

The salad had dollops of chive goat cheese, rounds of scored daikon, an edible flower and it was dressed with a delicious vinaigrette. Our calamari were dipped in Cajun-spiced breadcrumbs, lightly panfried in lemon butter and served tossed with sliced pepperoncini. Yum!

I forgot to mention the memorably delicious whole-grained, mustard-seed, sourdough bread (made at Gracie's), served in a six-pointed star basket. The aforementioned star motif could be seen in cut-out figures on the metal oil lamp on our table, decorations on the banquette, and more of the celestial beacons hung near the entrance, bar and divider to the kitchen.

Gracie's star effect returned with my order of polenta and pesto lasagna ($10.95). The polenta was cut into six-pointed stars, and five of the pieces were stacked in a star shape. The whimsy of the presentation was matched by the zest of the delivery: each bite of the lasagna delivered a different taste, skipping from fresh pesto and ricotta, and grilled portobello and polenta to broccoli rabe greens with the thick garlic broth upon which this stellar combo rested.

A friend's choice, red snapper Archestratus ($16.95) offered a similar combination of varied tastes. Wrapped in grape leaves, sauteed with olives, grapes and artichokes and given a quick bake with a dash of white wine and artichoke paste, this dish had lots going on -- the slight bitterness of the grape leaves against the sweetness of the grapes, the puckery green olive against the dusky artichokes. It was unbelievably good.

The guys both tracked to the smoked pork tenderloin ($16.95), with a dried cherry, pecan and brandy sauce gilding the cherrywood-smoked meat. Since there were few words (or even grunts) coming from their corners of the table, I assumed that the pork firmly grabbed their attention. Emerging from deep concentration to spoon out some risotto, broccoli rabe and aspiration (a new asparagus/broccoli cross) from the family-style serving, they agreed the tenderloin was quite fine.

The entrees at Gracie's are matched by the quality of the desserts ($5.95 each). Our party chose the peanut butter and jelly cheesecake, creme brulee and the mousse. Each was delightful. In particular, the peanut butter flavor made a good foil for the creamy cheesecake.

One suggestion for Gracie's. The service, though very friendly and helpful, was a bit slow, with long gaps between drinks and ordering, and again between dessert and check. We were very appreciative of the restaurant's late hours for those times when we've hunted for a post-theater or post-movie place. But on this particular night, we waited a bit too long to say, "Goodnight, Gracie."

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