[Sidebar] December 9 - 16, 1999
[Food Reviews]
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Plaza Grille

A sunny-weekend hangout

by Johnette Rodriguez

DePasquale Square, Providence, 274-8684
Open for lunch, Wed-Fri, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m; dinner,
Wed-Thurs, 5:30-9 p.m., Fri-Sat till 10 p.m.
Sat & Sun brunch, 8 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
BYOB, cork fee $2.50
No credit cards
Sidewalk access

Sunny Sunday brunch occasions need not be confined to summer weekends. When winter sunbeams brighten a small cafe, they bring welcome warmth and light to the gray days of late fall. And in a place where you can count on the food being as good as it is at Plaza Grille, that will warm you as well.

Johnson & Wales grad Fran Whiting has run the Plaza Grille for 12 years, coming in on the cutting edge of grilling, keeping up with nouvelle ingredients, such as mesclun and portobellos, and paying homage to the grille's Federal Hill neighborhood by offering excellent pasta dishes. Each of these facets come into play on the brunch menu, with at least three grilled items, one or more pasta dishes, and many nods to trendy ingredients, such as the goat cheese souffle ($8.95) or the zucchini flowers accompanying a zucchini omelette ($10.95).

We just missed the grilled tuna steak with mango salsa ($9.95), but were comforted with a seared salmon fillet with caper Hollandaise and scrambled eggs ($10.95). A previous brunch menu shows that the salmon was served with a peach and shallot sauce, so you'll always find surprises at the Plaza.

Bill was thrilled with the expertly cooked salmon, the tart, dusky capers in the sauce, the fluffy mound of scrambleds and the crispy potato crescents. I don't think he even used the requested catsup, a true testament to the potato chef. The dressing on the small mesclun and roasted red pepper salad that topped the plate was so tasty, he almost gravitated to the greens more often than the salmon.

I chose a standard, eggs Florentine ($8.95), to check out the sauce and egg poaching. The latter was expertly done. The spinach was just barely wilted before it was placed under the egg, and the sauce was rich and dreamy. The potatoes were also a hit on my plate.

The muffin of the day was pistachio ($1.25), and the taste of the whole roasted nuts in the batter really came through. Other muffin offerings include lemon poppyseed and orange pecan.

The brunch menu also encompasses a special-of-the-day pancake ($8.95). The weekend after Thanksgiving, it was pumpkin and pecan with sausage and cranberry compote. Another time it was dried fruit and granola pancakes with honey yogurt and fresh fruit. French toast variations ($8.95 to $9.95) use French bread, Portuguese sweet bread or a brie-stuffed croissant and are topped with a generous helping of fresh fruit and nuts.

Lunch offerings at the Plaza range from $8.95 to $12.95; dinners from $14.95 to $19.95. Some lunch items are smaller versions of the dinners, such as lobster ravioli with grilled shrimp, penne with diced tomatoes and fresh basil, or mesclun salad with grilled chicken (for dinner, you can choose veal paillarde or grilled shrimp). The signature mixed grille ($17.95) features sirloin, pork tenderloin, smoked beef sausage and chicken.

Five or six months of the year, Plaza Grille looks like a very European sidewalk cafe: four-foot-high trellissed planters create a border to the space, tables are set on the brick courtyard, and an awning offers shade in the noonday sun. In the last year, the inside of the restaurant, which could squeeze in just under 30 diners, has been redone, with wallpaper that looks like sponged layers of burnished gold paint, perfect for the gilt-edged mirror and framed prints of classic and religious Italian images. It's tasteful and cozy without becoming your grandmother's dining room.

Plaza Grille, despite its upscale, uptown menu, has held on to its friendly, unpretentious, family-style atmosphere. You feel it from the staff. You notice a table of friends lingering over coffee and chatting with the cooks, you hear them greet an elderly man from the neighborhood with laughter and huzzahs. It makes you want to stick around as well, sipping tea, reading the Times and basking in the glow of the sun streaming through the front window.

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