7 Steeple Street, Providence
Open Mon-Sat, 5:30-10 pm
Major Credit Cards
Not Wheelchair Accessible
The vibrant bittersweet vines twined around the ceiling lamp in the foyer are the first clue. The warm, rich avocado and pomegranate colors of the walls are another. New Rivers is not your ordinary eating place. It never has been. In a space that accommodates just more than two-dozen diners (with some overflow in the bar area), chef/owner Bruce Tillinghast has always intended to make his guests feel welcome but also intrigued by the visual details of the restaurant and the culinary details of the food.
Banquette seats pick up the green theme; tables are covered with white linens and white butcher paper. Small vases of fresh flowers and globe lamps with candles augment the intimacy. A note on the menu asks diners to turn off cell phones, and though the volume on nearby conversations cannot be lowered, it only adds to the gemŸtlichkeit — as if everyone there were sharing the evening.
New Rivers’ upscale prices are well justified, but they do offer alternatives: "small meals and pasta" on the menu, and a Monday-to-Thursday $23 prix fixe menu, which changes weekly. The latter has two entrée choices, and during our visit two of our party of four chose them. First, though Bill enjoyed a tasty five-onion soup with a large cheesy crouton, and our friend Gary had the salad, which was nicely tucked inside a radicchio leaf.
We women also ordered salads. Marie had the baby greens ($9, from North Kingstown’s Baby Greens), and I the Four Town Farms lettuce ($13). Both of these highlighted Tillinghast’s longtime commitment to acquiring produce (organic when possible) from local growers. Marie’s salad was accented by pomegranate arils and two large croutons spread with goat cheese. Mine had pickled red onions, slices of Anjou pear, walnuts, pomegranate arils, a nice blue cheese dressing (Massachusetts’s Great Hill Blue), and tiny ground cherries whose tartness popped like grapes on my tongue.
For his entrée, Gary got the grilled (and then sliced) chicken breast with maple barbecue sauce, served atop a turnip purée with roasted and quartered Brussels sprouts and a grilled wedge of cornbread. A lover of both those veggies and of anything barbecue, he was quite pleased with his meal.
Bill’s entrée, meanwhile, dazzled his eye as much as his palate. A crepe with black sesame seeds throughout its batter was stuffed with fresh Maine crabmeat, seasoned with a hoisin vinaigrette and topped with a multi-colored radish slaw. One of the shoestring pieces in the slaw was even watermelon red, tipped with green.
Marie and I studied the menu, torn between udon in a ginger broth with grilled shrimp, grain-stuffed acorn squash, halibut on a tasso ham and lima bean ragout, or pork tenderloin with white beans and grilled radicchio. Marie settled on house-made sweet potato gnocchi, with the option of chicken sausage ($18), and I got the roasted cod loin ($28). Marie’s dish was as colorful as Bill’s: the orange gnocchi were set off by sweet red pepper bits, spinach, goat cheese, pomegranate seeds, and even the occasional lima bean. It made for a medley in the mouth as well as on the plate.
My dish was unanimously proclaimed the winner at the table, because of the thick cod cooked to perfection: melting and flaky inside with just a hint of crust on both top and bottom. Once again, unusual autumn vegetables made their appearance: roasted Jerusalem artichokes, still in their jackets; and steamed broccoli rabe. The entrée was surrounded by a green olive and caper sauce whose piquancy was the perfect foil for the sweetness of the cod.
The guys had two dessert choices, so Gary had the fresh pears with dried cranberries, and Bill the chocolate chip cake with chocolate mousse on top. Each fit their appetites perfectly. Marie and I perused the regular dessert menu and landed on our waitress’s two favorites: lemon tartlet garnished with fruit ($10) and praline/rum ice cream with hot fudge sauce and New Rivers’ cookies ($9). The tart is a generous portion of exquisite lemon-ness, and the ice cream is dreamily rummy.
New Rivers proved once again that as long as it pays such homage to fresh ingredients (kudos to chef de cuisine Beau Vestal) and maintains its crisp and friendly service, it will remain at the top of the heap of Rhode Island’s restaurants, a tall heap indeed.
Johnette Rodriguez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.