BIG FORK And a big welcome at Mill’s Tavern.
When a restaurant has survived eight-plus years on the Providence scene, you know it must be doing something (or several things) right. And when you realize that they have a dynamite three-course prix fixe menu at Mill's Tavern, it's time to check it out. That was our thinking, and perhaps that of many other diners who filled the 160-seat restaurant on a recent Sunday evening.
The elegance of the décor (by Kim Nathanson D'Oliveira) is matched by the careful service of the waitstaff and the delicate balance of ingredients in the culinary creations. The space itself is high-ceilinged, with tall windows along the front and lots of dark wood, globed chandeliers, and wide plank floors. There's a view into the kitchen, fully equipped with a wood-burning oven, wood rotisserie, and a wood grill — those three, plus pantry and stove, define the menu categories for starters and entreés.
Mill’s Tavern offers dishes that celebrate local and seasonal ingredients. Among the starters are a three-squash soup (butternut, acorn, and spaghetti); a grilled pizza with broccoli rabe; grilled littlenecks with a Narragansett lager broth; and Point Judith calamari.
On the night we were there, with another couple, the $29.95 prix fixe menu offered us the calamari, wood-roasted shrimp Kataifi, and "fresh seasonal lettuce" with a Meyer lemon-chestnut honey vinaigrette. Two of us had the latter, which was Bibb and Romaine leaves, quite satisfying with that dressing. One friend had the calamari, which was good, with a bit of fried leeks and olives in an ouzo-blood-orange vinaigrette, though I wouldn't pronounce it as a definitive calamari preparation.
Bill had the shrimp, coated with crushed phyllo leaves (thus, the Kataifi), with a bit of mache greens and a cherry pepper "duckonnaise" for dipping (homemade mayo with a bit of duck fat). He loves anything shrimp; that plus the crunchy coating plus the sauce made him a very happy camper.
Moving into the entreés, we again had our choice of three: a cassoulet of Tarbais beans; a grilled flat iron steak; or pan-seared day boat scallops. These have all appeared on the restaurant's regular menu, when available. Our two friends both chose the meatless bean dish; Bill had the steak, and I the scallops.
Tarbais beans are a larger cannelini-type bean, developed in a French village and used, traditionally, in the French casserole called cassoulet. There were several problems with this dish, however. The beans were not cooked long enough to soften them and, to me, they're not palatable when you almost need a knife to cut them. Vegetarians aren't looking for that kind of meat substitute.
The bigger problem was that, though the beans were served with roasted veggies, olives, and winter greens, those friends were in sparse attendance, and they forgot to bring their buddies, the herbs, along. The beans were not very flavorful.
Bill fared much better with his steak, once again hitting high points for him, with fried plantains and a corn and smoked tomato salsa to accompany the meat, which was in a chipotle marinade. The lack of commentary from that side of the table said it all. My seared scallops were also delicious, sparked by saffron parsnip puree and sautéed greens.