Chef Walter Potenza has been delighting Rhode Island diners since the mid-1980s when he opened his original location, Walter’s, in East Greenwich. This April, after many years in the heart of Federal Hill, he moved his restaurant, Potenza Ristorante, to a quieter location in Cranston. We’d had several memorable dinners at the Atwells Avenue location, from restaurant week to a five-course Tuscan Christmas dinner, so I was looking forward to another visit.
You might drive by the new location and not even realize it; from the outside, it could pass as a modest house in a residential neighborhood. But once inside, we were surprised by the size and good use of space. The restaurant seats over 30 guests and has additional seating on the upper floor for events. The layout is intimate but comfortable, with well-spaced tables that don’t leave you feeling like you’re on a date with your neighbors. We arrived early enough to enjoy our dinner in warm, natural light amplified by the cheery sunny walls. It’s a marked contrast to the Atwells space, which was dark with extremely high ceilings.
Though smaller in size, the new location helped the restaurant shine. The size and layout compliment the boutique menu and made us feel like Chef Walter and his wife Carmela were welcoming us into their home. In fact, Carmela was so friendly, I worried that she knew why I was there. We were welcomed with eggplant and mushroom bruschetta, wine recommendations and a genuine smile. My suspicions eased when I saw other diners receive the same welcome.
Chef Walter’s approach makes for an intriguing menu. First, his focus is on regional cuisine and specialties, such as those from his native Abruzzo. While many of Providence’s restaurants serve classic Italian fare replete with red sauce and meatballs, Chef Walter offers flavors, sauces and presentations you don’t see on most menus, even offering several out-of-the-ordinary culinary experiences. Second, his food seems to be healthy without sacrificing flavor, using top-quality ingredients and not relying on loads of fat or giant portions to impress. He is sensitive to dietary needs and offers celiac and diabetic friendly options.
To start, we each ordered a flight of wine to pair with our appetizers, a great way to audition your ideal glass. Our first appetizer, the Triade d’anatra ($12), was a combination of three duck preparations served with arugula - duck salame, duck proscuitto and smoked duck breast; the prosciutto was especially tasty. The Caprino nel Coccio ($11) featured a fresh Vermont goat cheese baked in a terracotta dish, topped with a red sauce and a dollop of pesto. I was glad I saved some of the house-grilled focaccia for the last bit of sauce.
For my entrée, I chose the Canestrelli Tartufati ($26), described as “pan-seared sea scallops with fava beans over braised citrus fennel risotto infused with marjoram, saffron and vermouth.” This dish was fresh and light, a good choice for warmer weather. I didn’t distinctly taste the saffron or marjoram, but the overall flavor was well-balanced and enjoyable. My companion opted for the Medaglioni di Vitello ($21), thin slices of veal with a lemony cream sauce, capers, sautéed spinach and mushrooms. I’d like to come back for my own dish – the veal was cooked perfectly and the velvety sauce had a well-balanced acidity. In addition to these entrées, Chef Walter sent out a complimentary dish of escarole, simply prepared and full of flavor.
Because the dishes were so mindfully portioned, we had just enough room for dessert. We ordered two: a chocolate ganache torte and the torta pan di spagna, a vanilla cake cut into cubes, topped with vanilla gelato and the most luscious preserved Amarena cherries we had ever tasted. We were told these are increasingly difficult to import, but even if you miss them, I’m sure Chef Walter will have something equally memorable on the menu.