Five Things: XO Cafe, Providence

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

 

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Who needs the beach when you've got al fresco and XO's late summer fare? Photo: XO Cafe.

One of the great pleasures of Providence in the summertime is the relative quiet, while everyone's playing and feasting out toward the beaches. This gave Sean DeBobes the perfect opportunity to sample some late summer treats at XO Café... here are five things he wants you to know.

One. I’ll Have Another.

The cocktails at XO are always a sure thing. A rotating menu that is half interested in trends and half in being a rebel ensures that there is always something new to try (and that something new is usually quite interesting). I couldn’t resist the Fennel Sour. The bar infused vodka with aromatic fennel before mixing with fresh citrus, bitters and egg whites. The heavily anise-flavored drink was a perfect pre-dinner cocktail. A strong punch of bitters was nicely balanced by the creamy egg whites.

Two. Avocado Ice Cream.

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A scoop of avocado ice cream provides a chilled counterpoint to a just-sweet-enough lobster risotto. Photo: XO Cafe.

I just can’t complain if ice cream is the first thing I am eating.  Even more points since this super creamy and only subtly sweet scoop was served on top of Maine lobster risotto. The risotto was great by itself—surprisingly savory and teeming with sweet chunks of lobster. The real win however came in the combination. The hot-cold contrast was something new for me in a risotto and I think it is a great fit. Creaminess from the avocado really helped to make this dish sing.

Three. Bento.

For the diner who just can’t decide… XO has you covered. Chef Keating prepares a (Japanese inspired) Bento Box that will give you a fix of all things fried. Some favorites included an impossibly tender beef teriyaki, tempura fried portabella with a soy-sake glaze and a crispy calamari with a smoky chipotle mayonnaise. This bento has made the rounds through Chow Fun menus since its inception in 1986, and I am glad to report that the old-timer has not yet gotten old.

Four. Peas & Tenderloins.

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Perfectly prepared pork belly shares the spotlight with summery pea greens. Photo: XO Cafe.

Chef certainly likes the combo, and suggested we try two entrees featuring the pair.  A roasted pork tenderloin with Allen Farms pea greens started things off. The perfectly seasoned loin was served alongside a piece of pork belly with roasted beets. The blending of the sweet beets and the fatty pork belly was certainly memorable. The lemon-thyme dressing on the pea greens… I’d write home about.  Next up, a sliced beef tenderloin that could not have been cooked more perfectly. While the overall flavor was quite plain, the simple preparation allowed for focus on the cut, the cookery, and the accompaniments. An English pea puree was fresh and flavorful and added a necessary green flavor to the plate while a serving of Dauphinoise potatoes, laced with criminal amounts of cheese and cream, elevated taste (and blood pressure) all around.

Five. Oh, a Crisp!

A crisp to me is a perfect summer dessert. An excuse to simply toss together whatever is in season and enjoy the sweet bounty. So when I saw a rhubarb (read: my favorite) polenta crisp on the menu I needed to try it. I knew I would enjoy this one, but I was very excited to try this classic dessert with polenta doing the job of crisping. Amazing! I can’t believe I’ve never tried this before. The polenta masterfully took on the flavors of the tart and sweet rhubarb while simultaneously being a crispy element of substance, flavorful in its own right and worthy of widespread use.

Would I go back? Yes. XO is always a crowd pleaser and a personal standby.

Hit “Save”: XO Café,125 North Main Street, Providence, 401-273-9090.

Want to know more? Follow Sean DeBobes on the Five Things Facebook page, or on Twitter @SeanDeBobes.

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