New Rivers

Fully back in swing
By JOHNETTE RODRIGUEZ  |  October 31, 2007

New Rivers | 7 Steeple St, Providence | Mon-Sat, 5:30-10 pm | Major credit cards | Full bar | Sidewalk-level access | 401.751.0350

For those of us who’ve known New Rivers over the years, it’s always been a haven — and not just for its excellent food. The warmth of the décor and of the staff has remained consistent and reliable through 17 years of operation. The deep green walls enfold you and the motif of pears — dominated by the still-life in the main dining room — holds a promise of lushness for the meal ahead.
On a recent rainy Friday evening, friends asked us to join them at New Rivers to celebrate the restaurant’s re-opening after a kitchen fire last April. We weren’t the only ones eager to see what changes might have been wrought in this intimate space (with seating for approximately 24 in one dining room, and 10 more in the bar/lounge area). Rhode Island’s reputation for being home to only two degrees of separation proved true, as we watched friends, acquaintances, and friends of friends walk in.
Chef/owner Bruce Tillinghast was thriving on the bustle, greeting guests at the door, showing them to tables and even bringing entrée plates to diners from the competent and creative kitchen directed by chef de cuisine Beau Vestal. One look at the menu, which is designed around the availability of local foods and wines, and you feel certain that deliciousness awaits you.
We passed up the signature grilled pear and blue cheese crostada, the braised littlenecks with grilled squid, and the early autumn salad with a Concord grape vinaigrette. We did, however, take full advantage of the season with the grilled oysters ($15) and a cup of butternut squash and apple soup ($4).
The Martha’s Vineyard oysters were served on the half shell with a smoky shrimp aioli. Tiny hits of sweet, briny, smoky, and sharp slid down my throat with successive explosions of flavor. The soup was just as good, though more subtle. We all tried, unsuccessfully, to guess the spice. Tillinghast explained that the soup was primarily apple cider, apples, and squash, with the barest hint of rosemary.
The guys pronounced their martinis “terrific.” The award-winning wine list at New Rivers is extensive, primarily from Europe and North America, with more than 20 offered in half-bottles.  
For entrées, we were all quite decisive: the rabbit agnolotti ($24) for Rob; Connec¬ticut scallops ($26) for Jan; the four-ounce cod loin ($18) for Bill; and the sweet potato and maple cobbler ($15) for me. The pasta was made in-house, filled with rabbit ragu and smoked mozzarella, and served in a brown butter and sage sauce. Rob thought the agnolotti were quite good, though a bit too salty for his taste.

Jan was pleased with her grilled scallops, accompanied by small sticks of caramelized salsify and crisp shallots in an olive and lemon thyme puree. Bill enjoyed his roasted cod perched atop a hash made from candy roaster squash and guanciale (pork jowl bacon). He even exclaimed over the roasted brussel sprouts (which, usually, he thinks he doesn’t like), and the smokiness of the mussel pan sauce, which really fit the bill.
My dish was similarly complex. In a small casserole dish was a sweet potato/maple cobbler, with candied turnips and salsify. It was topped with a smoked cheddar crumble. To one side was a ragout of collard greens and giant runner beans (similar to large butter beans, in keeping with the Southern theme). The whole was garnished with a buttermilk-dipped fried onion ring and a few spicy pecans. It made for a wonderful array of distinctive tastes.
Just one quibble: in the South (and in my kitchen), the collards would be cooked long enough to bring out their deep earthy, almost gingery flavor. Many other greens can be quickly steamed or moderately braised. Collards must simply be simmered for a while.
Our quartet was as diverse in our dessert choices as in our entrées. Rob chose fresh fruit with cookies ($7), Jan the apple tart ($9), Bill the sorbet with cookies ($8) and I went for the chocolate special ($10). Both Rob’s and Bill’s desserts were served in martini glasses, the former eye-catching pink grapefruit and orange wedges, the latter a two-plum treat, with red plums and eau de vie de Mirabelle (a small golden plum).
My chocolate “special” was chocolate crepes with a warm chocolate filling, one chocolate cookie on top and a dollop of mint ice cream. For someone who grew up eating biscuits with chocolate “gravy,” a fudge-y pudding-like sauce, this dessert was made-to-order. I loved it (as did everyone else to whom I proffered a sample).
New Rivers is definitely back in the swing, with all the flair and panache we’ve come to expect.

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