[Sidebar] December 23 - 30, 1999
[Food Reviews]
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Haven Hill Cafe

A contemporary American standout

by Dawn Keable

20 Haven Avenue, Cranston, 942-1009
Lunch, Tues-Fri, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Dinner, Tues-Sat, 5 p.m.-9 p.m.
Sun brunch, 8 a.m.-2 p.m.
Major credit cards
No access (one step to entrance)

The first time I saw it, the Haven Hill Cafe was a blur in the passenger side window of the car. The restaurant is the type of place that blends seamlessly into a mostly residential neighborhood near the intersection of Haven and Cranston streets. Our need to make a U-turn to backtrack to our destination is evidence of that.

From the outside, the long building that houses the cafe almost has the look of a diner. But that's where any similarity ends. With interior walls sponge-painted a soothing yellow, vanilla-scented candles on every table, and jazz playing on the stereo, the Haven Hill has an intimate and very cozy atmosphere.

And you certainly won't find the offerings of a greasy spoon here. Although the Haven Hill does serve brunch on Sundays, these selections, which include eggs with tasso and sweet pepper hash ($4.25), an omelet with spinach, caramelized onion, tomato, mushrooms, feta cheese and a pinch of cayenne ($5.25), and a Belgian waffle, smothered with fresh fruit and topped with chantilly cream ($5.25), are more sophisticated than those found at any traditional roadside stop.

On a recent Saturday night, we were still hours away from that menu, although I did imagine sticking around for a taste the next morning. Happily, the dinner offerings sounded equally delectable. The relatively small menu of contemporary American cuisine is supplemented by a generous listing of nightly blackboard specials. Just about the only things you won't find are alcoholic beverages. Instead, you can bring your own, for a charge of $1 per-person.

The options for appetizers include New England clam chowder ($3.25 cup, $4.50 bowl), calamari with pepperocini relish ($6.50), and our choice, a starter of sea scallops ($9). Topped with a crispy potato galette, the four tender scallops were served over sauteed spinach that had been tossed in a cream sauce. With the first course offering such an amazing blend of textures and flavors, we could only imagine what would follow.

It was only a few minutes before our main courses arrived on large plates of Fiestware. It wasn't easy getting to this point, considering that the choices included linguine with shrimp and littlenecks ($12), wild mushroom and butternut squash risotto ($9), and apple wood-grilled salmon ($14). My husband, Andre, and I decided to expand our horizons beyond seafood for our entrees.

Andre chose the black pepper-crusted beef sirloin ($14). The juicy steak, prepared medium well, was accompanied with a hearty side of gorgonzola smashed potatoes. Mashed with the skins on, the red bliss potatoes were extra creamy and had a generous amount of cheese. This entree came with crunchy steamed green beans and, as an added treat, the pyramid of food was topped with several light and crunchy onion rings. What else could a man want?

I went with the peach-ginger grilled chicken ($10). Served on a bed of mixed field greens and white rice, the deliciously tender breast meat was drizzled with a sweet ginger sauce and topped with chilled chunks of savory peaches. The Asian influence continued with crunchy pea pods, stir-fried and tossed in soy sauce. Swirls of sparkly rice cake were added as a garnish, making this meal a masterpiece for the eyes as well as the appetite.

The desserts at Haven Hill are equally tempting. Andre picked one of the specials, key lime pie ($5). Served with a dollop of whipped cream, the confection boasted a cheesecake-like consistency and full, fresh lime flavor with just the right amount of tartness. As an added bonus, the slice of pie was served with a chocolate chocolate chip cookie.

I ordered the chocolate mousse ($5). Garnished with a strawberry and whipped cream, the rich, dense, dark chocolate mousse was layered between wafer-thin chocolate pizelle cookies and topped with a chocolate hazelnut truffle. If this doesn't satisfy your chocolate craving, you need professional help.

A meal like this inspires thoughts of making the Haven Hill Cafe one's own neighborhood restaurant. So, if the house across the street goes on the market, you'll know where to find me.

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