776 Hope Street, Providence
Open Tues-Thurs, 11 am-9 pm; Fri, 11 am-10 pm; Sat, 5-10 Pm; Sun, 5-9 pm
Major Credit Cards
The people who opened Blaze Eastside in September are quite clever. Theyíre clever and confident enough to give the place a name thatís also a memory aid when people start talking about that "hot new restaurant" up Hope Street. Enough people have been doing so within our hearing for us to give it a try.
Yes, itís admirable that you donít follow the crowd, but you might consider making an exception in this case. Blaze was already busy at 5:30 on the Friday night when we stepped in. The bar was busy on the left, and past the partition on the right, a dozen-plus small tables were mostly occupied. We took in the muted décor, the sand-colored textured walls complemented by dark-stained mahogany. Colorful abstract paintings were a hip accent. The atmosphere is informal, with brown butcher paper on the tables ó cloth napkins, though ó and sandwiches for the lunch crowd are listed on chalkboards above cold cases at the back.
This place used to be Millerís Deli, and more recently, DeFuscoís Bakery. In the competitive Rhode Island dining scene, Iím amazed whenever a new restaurant opens in a place that didnít used to be one. In a business with a 50 percent failure rate, in a state where eating out is a hobby, opening a restaurant takes moxie as well as a first-rate kitchen.
The sign outside declared "American Fusion Cuisine," so we knew the offerings were going to be all over the map. A quick menu perusal showed some interesting sources and combinations: dried blueberries with a blue cheese dressing on one of the salads; an Argentinian chimichurri sauce on one of the steaks; and Asian and Creole touches here and there.
Blaze is run by Christine Edmunds, out front, and chef Phyllis Arffa, both of whom used to operate the excellent Haven Hill Café in Cranston. Arffaís prior credits include such top local restaurants as Café Nuovo, XO, and Newportís Canfield House.
For appetizers, we started out with "mini sweet potato samosas" ($7.95) and "portobello pops" ($7.95). The first taste treats, five of them, were deep-fried in a thin wrapper and served with tangy tamarind sauce. The mushroom snacks, four topping skewers, were similarly wrapped along with goat cheese, accompanied by small puddles of balsamic reduction and a quantity of smoky tomato dipping sauce. (That delicious kitchen-smoked tomato "fondue" is also on a "mushroom mania" pizza at $6.95, for a better bang for the buck.)
One of our companions had a meager appetite, so he chose another appetizer for his main course, "garlicky over-stuffed roasted clams" ($8.95). Good move. A chef in his own port town restaurant, he declared the dish to the "the best clams Iíve ever had." The moist stuffing of the four amped-up stuffed clams contained cured pork as well as extra chunks of clam, quite a symphony in the mouth, indeed.
The rest of us didnít do badly either with our more conventional main dishes. The teriyaki-glazed salmon ($15.75) was nicely done, served between a slab of well-caramelized sticky rice cake and a slaw of snow peas and jicama. Johnnieís baked "Cajun dusted catfish" ($15.95) met her Louisiana standards for the fish and the cornmeal dressing, and, again, that smoky tomato sauce. She especially appreciated the textural reminder of conventional fried catfish, provided by the tangle of what looked like fried rubber bands but were actually thin onion ó shallot? ó rings. My grilled pork chop ($17.95) was a 12-ounce center cut piece, pink as requested. A spicy adobo sauce of ancho chilis spilled over one end, and a plentiful and clever chutney of apples and cheddar cheese grits was on top.
Blaze offers more than a dozen desserts, a large number considering that they are kitchen-made. A half-dozen are chocolate concoctions, including a triple-chocolate mousse cheesecake ($5.75) and a "Chocodisiac" trio of truffles ($6.95). We werenít about to not try one of them, so we went for the chocolate mousse-banana split cake ($6.25). The presentation alone was worth the price: an intricate lacework of crème anglaise, caramel, and chocolate syrup next to rich chocolate cake filled with a lighter mousse, all accented with a few slices of banana. It was delicious. Our companions had the crème brûlée of the day ($6.95). Topped by a magical dome of spun sugar, it was a deeply flavorful "tropical orange."
Donít worry about Blaze being replaced by a health spa before you get around to checking it out. The positive word of mouth is accurate. For our sake, letís just hope they donít burn themselves out.
Bill Rodriguez can be reached at email@example.com.