Four years ago, it was no surprise when a new restaurant opened in the space where Jason's had closed. The culinary world doesn't lack restaurateurs whose self-confidence exceeds their survival abilities. However, when a year later Eleven Forty Nine opened a second restaurant by the same name in Seekonk, it was clear that the original decision had been a sound and successful one.
SEA FARE The grilled salmon at 1149.
But no such confirmation was necessary for anyone who knew that the executive chef was Jules Ramos. Some of the restaurants whose standards he set over the years — InProv, Angels, Mills Tavern, Moda — are on the short list of places that have given Providence its national rep for great dining.
At Eleven Forty Nine, named for its address, the concern about presentation is clear before any artfully filled plates are placed before you. Tasteful decor. Masonry walls that match the sandy stone exterior. Plush banquettes, some with frosted glass partitions. Elegant chandeliers. The rooms sprawl over such a wide area that dropping breadcrumbs on the way to the restroom would not be out of order.
Our first eyebrows-raised impression had been when we'd tried to find a space in the large, packed parking lot. That wouldn't have been unusual except that it was lunchtime on a weekday. This place certainly has been discovered. Fortunately there was an army of black-clad waitstaff stirring about, so we knew service wouldn't be a problem.
We saw towering 10-ounce burgers pass by with generous piles of french fries, but our appetites were heartier. Although we knew we would be having main dishes, we also chose several starters. Since they list their clam and corn chowder ($4/$7) as a "signature" item, we thought we'd sign on too. The corn was more of a complement than a main ingredient, but the clams were plentiful and the pieces of pancetta almost as much so (this should be noted on the menu for those who don't want meat). A golf ball-sized clam cake was considerately on the side of my cup, not getting soggy in it.
We wanted to sample one of the half-dozen salads that sounded especially interesting, the Asian one. They are priced $6 for bistro size and $8 for "grand." Since we said both of us wanted to taste it, it was separately plated unasked. Each portion was certainly big enough for a full side salad. Boston Bibb lettuce, julienned apple, peanuts, wonton crisps on top, ginger dressing. Delicious.
Of the half-dozen appetizers, all of which are available in the evening, one popped out as unusual: BBQ pork tacos ($9). The four mini-tacos were filled with the best pulled pork of the many I've had in recent years. It wasn't too sweet, with a slight heat that grew at the back of the throat, offset by the pineapple salsa on the side (and a little scoop of chevre, which I couldn't appreciate as a coolant; it was too bland).
The four entrées, also on the dinner menu, were filet mignon ($15), grilled Atlantic salmon ($14), panko-breaded lemon sole ($16), and chicken Marsala ($14). They were a few dollars more in the evening, but our server said they were "not much smaller than at dinner." My lunch mate ordered that last item. It was cooked properly, thick enough to remain moist, with a vegetable medley that included grilled asparagus, but the thickened Marsala sauce was scanty, just enough to top the chicken and mashed potatoes.