It’s the little things that count in a restaurant experience, n’est pas? For you it might be an elegant — or droll — detail of decor. Maybe an unusual ingredient in a traditional dish you always order. Or your dishes plucked away when you’re done, so that you don’t have to stare at them — how hard is that?
Cattails City Grill | 315 Waterman Ave, East | Providence | Mon-Thurs, 3-10 pm; Fri-Sat, 3-10:30 pm; Sun, 1-9 pm | Major credit cards | Full bar | Sidewalk-level access | 401.434.2288
Belatedly, we wanted to try Cattails City Grill, because word’s gotten around about who established the place 14 months ago: not only Felix and Teresa Rodriguez, former proprietors of Spain in Cranston, but also Armando Dias, who was an owner of Mediterraneo on Federal Hill. One can only imagine them gathered around a bottle of grappa or a pitcher of sangria, trying to outdo one another with ideas for the perfect restaurant.
Step in from the bustle of East Providence, look around, and your first impression might be of studied serenity — this place wants to calm you down. (Maybe too studied, judging from the number of photographs of stylized cattails.) There’s indirect lighting, but this place is not too dim. Black-slat blinds allow in only slivers of street light. There’s minimal wall
decoration: beside the photos, it’s mostly what looks to be slender dried husks of some exotic plant, visually echoing the namesake.
The waitstaff is outfitted in white shirts and blue jeans, an explicit promise of friendliness as well as formality. They start you off with a basket of Italian bread and focaccia, and not only a heavily herbed butter but also a salty tapenade.
Wines are given equal billing with the food by comprising the back half of the menu card. There are 15 by the glass, and a third of those are $19 by the bottle, with none more than $28. Half-bottles are also offered, a welcome but oddly infrequent sight.
The appetizers set the eclectic tone of the menu. There are both garlic shrimp and coconut shrimp; littlenecks, and stuffed oysters instead of stuffies — and stuffed not only with crab meat and shrimp, but also the unlikely combination of mascarpone and chourico, a courageous offering.
We instead started with the signature version of their three grilled pizzas. The Cattails pizza ($10.50) is worth the trip here, as a snack. For one thing, the brie is warm and full-flavored, unlike my usual version, because I’m too impatient to leave it out of the fridge long enough. That’s complemented with mushrooms, rosemary, and onions that were sautéed — though not caramelized, per description. The waiter plating a couple of slices for each of us at the table was a nice touch.
Other grilled items include steaks, burgers, and rack of lamb, all served with mashed potatoes, vegetables, and a choice of brandy-cream sauce or rosemary-cabernet demi-glaze. Sides, such as sweet potato fries and grilled asparagus, are also available.
Johnnie placed her faith in a grilled chicken-pasta dish that made me apprehensive. A Gorgonzola cream sauce on the Tuscan chicken ($16) was an assertive flavor component, but it didn’t overwhelm the other tastes, which included sautéed onions, baby ’bella mushrooms and rosemary. The chicken breast was marvelously moist atop the al dente penne.
The “Pasta & Sauté” main dishes range widely, from Nanna’s gnocchi ($13) and (Venda’s) lobster ravioli ($18.50) to Asian-marinated tuna, over Thai noodles in a seafood sauce ($19), and crab-encrusted tilapia ($16).
I decided to have another signature dish: veal Cattails ($18.50). The sautéed, fork-tender cutlets came over chunky mashed potatoes and under spinach, prosciutto, and a generous amount of smoked mozzarella, all in a pool of sherry-cream sauce. This and the signature pizza are dishes that make cholesterol-reading increases oh-so-worthwhile.
A dessert tray was brought to us — so much more vivid than even the most loquacious waiter’s description: tiramisu in a squat glass; tortes; chocolate overkills; the requisite New York cheesecake.
We chose a special of the evening, a mango and chocolate parfait ($8). It was a pretty little concoction, served in a martini glass: a frothy, fruity orange layer above the dense mousse, pertly presented beneath drizzles of mango and chocolate syrups.
Nice. Enough of that sort of touch adds up. We’re certainly looking forward to another visit to Cattails.
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