Review: Walter's

 Chef Walter Potenza: A one-man food industry
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  February 11, 2009

Walter's | 401.273.6879 | 286 Atwells Ave, Providence | Tues-Sat, 4:30-10 pm; Sun, 4-9 pm | Major credit cards | full bar | sidewalk-level accessible

It's easy to imagine Chef Walter Potenza as a boy in Abruzzo, playing with kitchen utensils and recipes like other boys play with toy trucks and chemistry sets. He's become a one-man food industry around here, with not only a cookbook but also a cooking school, cooking tours, and TV demonstrations, as well as restaurants, most notably his flagship, Walter's.

Opened in East Greenwich in 1985, four years ago it reopened in its proper place, on Providence's Federal Hill, in a building constructed in 1917 as a Little Italy version of a palazzo.

The compact dining area has a room-wide mirror at the end, doubling the apparent space. (The trick works — it took a while for us to notice that there were really only half the number of tables.) Decorative touches bridge old world and new, with burgundy fabric and mirrors on the side wall, and the pinecone symbol of New England hospitality atop partition posts. In a two-table section next to the bar are several paintings by Potenza's brother Lauro.

The menu is an assortment of offerings that are either familiar variations or interesting specialties. The soup is l'acquacotta Toscana ($7), a fresh tomato country soup like those available at Spiga Trattoria, Potenza's Cranston restaurant that specializes in Italian farm cooking.

Our waiter mentioned that risi e bisi, a Venetian chicken soup, was available from the extensive gluten-free celiac menu. That consists mostly of regular choices that have been stripped of wheat, with rice pasta replacing couscous, for example, or matzoh missing from the traditional Jewish "spinachi del ghetto." The menu specifies that the restaurant uses organic meats, free of antibiotics, hormones, and GMOs.

As well as antipasto nostrano ($9), with the usual assortment of meats, cheeses, and marinated vegetables, there is antipasto fritto de pesce ($13), a wine and garlic-butter mix of scallops, calamari, and shrimp, with cherry peppers tossed in for those missing standard-style fried calamari.

Johnnie started out with la composta semidolce ($9), one of only two salads listed (the other centers around spinach). Tossed with a raspberry dressing was radicchio, endive, and romaine, with walnuts and "sweet Gorgonzola." Besides the pleasant mix of flavors, she appreciated it all being fork-friendly, bite-sized.

My starter was not so much chosen as inevitable, although the foie gras roasted with pears was a temptation. The triade di oca tre sapori ($12), is not goose, as titled, but duck in three flavors, three slices of each. Not to pass up. The salami, being spiced up, tasted like, well, salami. But the duck breast meat was nearly as creamy as its layer of fat (which elevates foie gras from being just chopped liver). The prosciutto, equally generous with the cholesterol, was almost as exquisite. A few assorted olives were also on the plate, as were strips of spinach, doused with lemon juice to clear off taste buds between bites.

The accompanying bread was light and white, drizzled with olive oil, and at first I would've preferred something denser, like the focaccia it resembled. But the lemon juice made me realize that it was there to be as neutral as possible, another cleanser.

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