Earth and Ocean
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  January 29, 2009

An upscale restaurant in an upscale hotel is disadvantaged in ways that give the advantage to us. It's pressed to make a first-class impression, what with potentially furrowed brows on hotel management, and guests not reluctant to express disappointment. So Aspire, in the Hotel Providence, is on the spot — three times a day, since it serves breakfast and lunch as well as dinner. Judging from our recent visit, that's not a problem.

ASPIRE | 401.521.333 | 31 Westminster St., Providence | | Sun -Thurs 7 am-10 pm; Fri-Sat, 7 am-10 pm | Major credit cards | Full bar | Sidewalk-level accessible

It opened last May, replacing L'Epicureo, which didn't do well after its ambitious move from Federal Hill three years before. The decor is more relaxed nowadays. The beautiful, massive, cloth-enclosed crystal chandeliers remain, but everything else is more subdued. Thoughtful design greets the eye wherever it lands. Even the salt and pepper shakers and cream pitchers are graceful objects. The chairs at tables are well-padded, high-backed and all have armrests — at most restaurants, you're lucky to get two out of three.

But enough of background matters. A restaurant with impressive ambience and unimpressive food is an empty box. The menu here isn't large, but it is well chosen. Three soups and three salads, for example, bracket most appetites and taste preferences. New England clam chowder is for the traditionalists, Gruyere-topped three-onion soup for the especially hungry, and roasted pumpkin and butternut squash soup, laced with brandy and crème fraîche, for the imaginative. Seven appetizers are listed as small plates, distinguished from twice that many main dish large plates, including the evening's special.

Nearly two-dozen wines are offered by the glass, and several by the half-bottle. A split of Lunetta prosecco, only $8, provided each of us a glass of bubbly taste bud awakening. We continued with what were listed as traditional Johnny Blue mussels ($10), choosing that among the four shellfish choices, over the New Bedford-style mussels, with chorizo. They were small but plentiful, the white wine and broth doused with a splash of cream in addition to the added garlic and shallots. Sprigs of thyme on top and three slices of grilled bread protruding from beneath completed the display. Needless to say, we enjoyed more than looking at it.

The bread basket came with a small bowl that contained what looked like balsamic vinegar under the oil. But it was a cranberry and port wine reduction — sweetly ingenious.

The array of appetizers, most $10-$12, contained numerous interesting temptations to consider, such as ahi tuna tartare accented with caviar, and spring rolls containing Fuji apple and Napa cabbage with Long Island duck. Our helpfully informative waitress, April, suggested the house-made chicken ravioli, which had such ingredients as Gorgonzola and sage-walnut cream going for it. But our appetites were modest, so we just split a Caesar salad ($8), which had a white anchovy draped on each portion, and which was just the right quantity for two.

The large plate choices are listed under "Earth" and "Ocean." Being an earthy sort myself, my attention gravitated to the Berkshire pork chop ($27), which involved pear and pancetta, as well as candied walnuts and sage cream, a combination worth ordering just to satisfy my curiosity. There was also pork osso bucco ($27) and veal Bolognese ($22), the cutlet served over orecchiette pasta with red sauce.

1  |  2  |   next >
  Topics: Restaurant Reviews , Culture and Lifestyle, Food and Cooking, Cheese,  More more >
| More

Most Popular
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   MEN AT WORK  |  April 16, 2014
    The Pulitzer Prize Board, which likes to honor theatrical gems of Americana, may have been remiss in not nominating David Rabe’s 1984 ' Hurlyburly .'
  •   SEARCHING FOR CLUES  |  April 09, 2014
    A "girl detective" makes her  world premiere.
  •   ROSE-COLORED MEMORIES  |  April 09, 2014
    Incessant media accounts of horrific events can prompt compassion fatigue.
  •   MENTAL SHRAPNEL  |  April 02, 2014
    Brave or foolhardy? The Wilbury Theatre Group is presenting Sarah Kane’s controversial Blasted , a 1995 play that at the time was decried as juvenile, taken to the woodshed by critics, and flayed to shreds.
  •   A ROWDY ROMP  |  March 26, 2014
    In his time, Georges Feydeau was to theater what McDonald’s is to cuisine — cheap, easy to consume, and wildly popular.

 See all articles by: BILL RODRIGUEZ