La Laiterie

Swell food, wine, and service
By JOHNETTE RODRIGUEZ  |  August 20, 2008

We first heard about La Laiterie right after it opened in May 2006, from friends who live on the East Side. Unfortunately, we don’t live nearby, and knowing they don’t take reservations for parties of fewer than six, we once tried to meet two friends at around 5:30 on a Wednesday evening. The place was already so packed (there are just nine tables, with additional seating at the bar and a countertop), and we had time constraints, so we reluctantly went elsewhere to eat.

La Laiterie at Farmstead | 401.274.7177 | 188 Wayland Ave, Providence | Tues-Thurs, 5-9 pm; Fri-Sat, 5-10 pm | Major credit cards | Full bar | Sidewalk-level accessible
We’ve yearned to go back, so we made a better plan and arrived just at the stroke of 5, when they open for dinner. Owners Matt and Kate Jennings have kept the décor as straightforward as the food: reclaimed barn board and windows, hand-made paper lights, a few framed black-and-white photo still lifes of cheeses. Above the bar are old-fashioned milk bottles, which are the logo for the bistro; there are many other cow artifacts in the restroom.

La Laiterie is next door to the Jennings’s incredibly successful cheese shop, Farmstead, and we’ve been longtime fans of their cheese boards at other restaurants. But to truly sample the bistro’s offerings, we turned to heartier fare. Bill was attracted to the “chef’s whim” tasting menu ($50, with wine); our friend Norbert chose the Mediterranean branzino ($26); and I the chicken leg fricassee ($22).

We perused the possibilities of appetizers, with “treats” such as char-grilled corn, a grilled sardine, or crispy chicken cracklin’, but both Norbert and I decided on salads to begin. Mine was “a walk through the garden” Rhode Island salad ($11), while his was Bibb lettuce with local blueberries ($10).

We were very impressed with these salads, both in the variety of ingredients and in the wonderful way the flavors came together. Chef Ben Sukle later mentioned that the restaurant tries to use as many local seasonal ingredients as it can find, and how almost all of them come from within 100 miles.

Norbert’s salad had bits of smoked ham, hard-boiled egg, shaved piave cheese, the aforementioned blueberries, and it was dressed with a poppy and banyuls (port wine) vinaigrette. Mine had greens, some of them pea tendrils, with baby carrots, two kinds of radishes, two kinds of cherry tomatoes, plus blueberries, and my favorite thing: small yellow ground cherries, cousins to tomatillos, but much sweeter.

Bill’s first course, meanwhile, was described as “crisp slow-roasted Vermont lamb shoulder” and it was as flavorful as it sounds. It was served over slices of cantaloupe and topped with a mild tzatziki, a yogurt-cucumber sauce. He couldn’t stop humming contentedly to himself, mellowed even more by the prosecco he’d sipped before the lamb.

Norbert very much enjoyed the complex flavors surrounding the simple flavor of his whole fish, which was stuffed and then grilled. Inside were braised local greens and toasted pecans; underneath was a bed of roasted garlic farro, a spelt-like grain. The fish, sometimes called sea bass or loup de mer, was farmed in the Mediterranean and flown to New England. It was surrounded by a mirepoix broth and a tomato-caper vinaigrette.

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