Five Things: The Best of the Best

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


It was the best of times, it was the tastiest of times. After sampling the best spring and summer fare from the highest flying restaurants in Rhode Island, Sean DeBobes takes stock. What chefs created the most interesting, delicious, and creative fare this season? What restaurants offered the best service? Here are the five things he wants you to know.

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One. Best Chef: Derek Wagner, Nick's on Broadway.

Among a field of standouts, this season Nick's on Broadway chef/owner Derek Wagner takes top honors for the sheer brilliance of his sense of flavor. And we're talking dinner here. Every recipe at his unpretentious restaurant is well-developed, every plate skillfully executed. The first and last bite of each dish at Nick's tastes completely different, and it's brilliant. Wagner doesn't just go for quick-hit... you must taste the entire plate together to get the vision, so grab a fork-full, let the flavors develop, and enjoy. 500 Broadway, Providence, 421-0286,

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Two. Best Small Plates: New Rivers.

I can talk on and on about the overall delight of Chef Beau Vestal's deft hand with summer fare, but his greatest achievement may be his small plates. I can leave New Rivers happily after indulging in a series of smalls. Vestal anoints a Crostini of peasant bread with a healthy dose of delicious goat cheese, and tops that off with local asparagus and morels. His Fiddlehead with Garlic & Lemon and his Fingerling potatoes, more sides than starters, lead off perfectly. Every single bite is as good as the first, and I, for one, could eat them this way every day. Fresh and earthy, assured, perfect. 7 Steeple St, Providence, 751-0350,


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Three. Favorite Dish of the Season: Blackbird Farms Poached Egg, Tallulah on Thames.

Bravo to newcomer Chef Jake Rojas, who takes bold steps on Thames Street, and backs it up with great execution up and down his menu, but best example is this heavenly poached egg. On the side, a petite pile of pea greens clad in black truffle vinaigrette is so good I need to put my fork down and take a few deep breaths. The egg, served at 145° and nested on a piece of slightly sweet brioche, then dotted with little chunks of crispy bacon, should be on everyone’s check when they come to Tallulah. Let's pray they keep it into the fall. 464 Thames St, Newport, 849-2433,

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Four. Best Service: Gracie's.

There's a lot to love about Chef Matthew Varga's menus this summer (particularly how he works with the vegetables grown on top of the Peerless Lofts), but for me, what sets Gracie's ultimately apart is this restaurant's impeccable attention to service. I come away from every night at this restaurant feeling like every employee wanted me to have an unforgettable dining experience. This “All-Star” starts with the valets and is reflected by every member of the staff. It's a lost art, even at some of our finest restaurants. Bravo. 194 Washington St., 272-7811,

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Five. Best Night Out: Pietra, Little Compton.

What a victory for the revamped Stone House Inn's restaurant, and what a superb blending of gorgeous dining room design, incorporation of natural setting, charming service, and innovative menu. My hat's off to Chef Paul Jonathan Wade's flight of oysters, a fantastic homage to a regional specialty. Where else can I indulge in a tempura fried oyster with Bearnaise sauce sharing a plate with fellow shellfish topped by Tabasco sorbet (cold but with heat), another by lobster roe, and the final one naked and delicous? In Little Compton. 122 Sakonnet Point Rd, Little Compton, 635-2222,

Photos: New Rivers/Gracie's David Dadekian

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