CLASSY The dining room at Plum Pt.
Plum Pt., the new eatery in Saunderstown, is definitely designed as a bistro, as was emphasized by our server, who noted that such places are intended to be noisy to provide the kind of bustling "energy" that attracts hip, young diners. He had noticed the five of us (arguably hip but only one of us young) having a hard time hearing conversation at our table, which made us raise our voices under the tin ceiling. That, of course, added to the din.
Alternate assessment: if you step in after a long and tiring day, you won't have to order a cup of coffee before your meal.
Plum Pt. Bistro has classy decor for an informal place, with quality reproductions of European classics, nicely framed, instead of posters on the walls; a row of Moët & Chandon champagne magnums top a partition. The bare wooden tables have placemat-sized napkins pocketing cutlery. A chalkboard displays the evening's specials. The room is sizable, with seating for 60, plus more than a dozen at the bar. The tables outside, some of which are under a canopy, are appealing in clement weather, but bear in mind that if you make a reservation for inside you will not be permitted to take available seats outside.
Credit for the good looks goes to RISD-trained Elisa Conte who, with chef husband Ralph Conte, made Raphael Bar Risto a Providence hotspot before closing it four years ago. Between his Neapolitan grandmother's kitchen, his training in Italy, and Johnson & Wales, Ralph knows his stuff — flavor-oriented dishes mindful of contrast and textures, here and there Provençal country simplicity, and always finesse. At Plum Pt., their daughter Zoe is manager, and son Raffi takes care of the bar.
You can start with New England clam chowder, but why bother when you'd be passing up pork chop soup ($11), a chicken broth containing greens, angel hair pasta, and a six-ounce bone-in chop?
Despite the clever temptation, I ordered the oh-so familiar Point Judith calamari ($10) for the table, as something no one would object to. It was extra crispy, with plenty of tentacles (which I like), as well as rings, and made more interesting with cherry-pepper sauce and a bed of watercress.
One of us ordered a roasted beet salad ($9), a towering beet-surrounded pile of vinegared frisee with radish slices, toasted pumpkin seeds, and plenty of goat cheese. He was quite satisfied. Another worthwhile salad soon on the table was a baby arugula special ($12), which featured grilled figs and Gorgonzola wrapped in prosciutto. Atop the pile of greens were crispy curls that we thought might be sweet potato but learned were carrot shavings.(I eventually told our attentive server, John — omnipresent but gracefully so — that he was the most helpful waiter I'd had in years. A lost art, service.)
Three of us had their kitchen-made pasta. One was pappardelle ($17) — with mushrooms, roasted tomato, prosciutto, peas, and a light mascarpone sauce brisked-up with a splash of vermouth; its consumer complained that the hen-of-the-woods mushrooms were flavorless, and my sampling agreed. The radiatori ($16), wagon wheels in a light red sauce, were redolent of fennel from the sweet sausage among the ingredients. The fettucine's ($16) chicken was nicely lemony, complemented by artichoke, and the pasta was al dente, too much so for its consumer.