If you dropped a pin in the middle of a downtown Providence map, you’d find Hotel Providence. It’s also in the middle of so many of the places that make Providence special – AS220, Cellar Stories, Trinity Rep, Craftland. I can see why it’s a beloved homebase for visitors discovering our city.
While the hotel is relatively small – an 80-room luxury boutique – its restaurant has always presented a large personality: a spacious lobby leading to the bar and enormous sparkling chandeliers in the dining room. It has changed hands a few times, landing most recently with owners Alethia and Massimiliano Mariotta, as Rosmarin. You might recognize Massimiliano’s name from Vinya, the tapas bar up the street (see our review from January). Its companion bar, Tarragon, continues the herbal name theme.
It was an unexpectedly cool night, but we settled into the comfortable classic cafe chairs in the courtyard. Because Providence’s universities draw so much of the city’s population, downtown was quiet save for the faint soundtrack of a Movies on the Block screening nearby and the hourly bell tolls of the church across the street. It was a relaxing, low-key night on Westminster Street.
At first look, Rosmarin’s rotating menu might seem simple – a soup of the day, flatbreads, a burger and a few larger entrees like ravioli and chicken. But on a previous visit, we discovered that these dishes were at times more elaborate than they appeared in print, or in other cases were simple but incredibly well executed.
The wine list was enticing, with creative selections that don’t usually make local appearances. Rosé is a great aperitif. My husband ordered the Prosa Frizzante, a biodynamic Austrian sparkling rosé made from pinot noir grapes. I had this on a previous visit and it was fantastic – tart but fruity, with a gentle sparkle. I chose the Isa Organic Rosé which embodied the stone fruits of summer.
We ordered the soup of the day, Gazpacho, and were surprised when a work of art arrived. The soup was ladled into a black ceramic bowl, then a long, thin slice of toast spanned above the soup like a little bread bridge. The toast was topped with dabs of what tasted like garlic aioli and a rainbow of edible flowers. We alternated cautious samples of the garnish with spoonfuls of soup, not wanting to break the toast. Even the gazpacho was beyond ordinary: the tomatoes had been smoked, lending a deep flavor to the cold soup.
Between courses, we enjoyed our basket of warm rolls, some seeded. The Smoked Salmon platter came next. Three rosettes of smoked salmon were accompanied by horseradish aioli, hot pepper slices, capers and red onions that were sweetly pickled with an intriguing flavor – was it allspice?
Have you heard that Rosmarin and Tarragon are non-tipping establishments? As far as I’m aware, they are the first in Providence, though it’s been a trend for the last couple of years in larger cities. Instead of relying on tips, the staff is paid a fair wage as opposed to the tipped minimum wage, which is currently $3.39 an hour in Rhode Island. For a closer look at this idea, I recommend the Freakonomics Radio episode titled “The No-Tipping Point.” Still, Rosmarin’s entreés are competitively priced for a restaurant of its caliber. When we visited, our servers but very gracious and attentive.
For my main, I had the Ramp and Mushroom Ravioli. I usually don’t order ravioli – I confess that it sometimes seems like a fallback for picky eaters – but I had a good feeling about this seasonal-sounding dish. I was right. The lightly creamy truffle sauce gave it an edge. I drank a French red, the Chinon from La Cuisine de ma Mere. Chinon is a designation from the Loire Valley mostly composed of Cabernet Franc, a grape with peppery notes.
My husband had the Tarragon Burger, a luxurious burger with cheddar, bacon and pickled jalapeños on a brioche bun. The burger was decadent and perfectly cooked to order (he requested medium rare). It came with the best fries I’ve had in ages.
They were crispy – probably double-fried – and the seasoning was spot on. I probably stole more than my fair share from his plate. He had a hoppy double IPA with this, the Boomsauce from Massachusetts’s Lord Hobo Brewing Co.
A Brownie Sundae was a nice ending for this evening. The brownie was fudgy with a hint of sugary crust, and the carmelized banana gelato and candied nuts elevated this dessert from the scoop shop standard. Sometimes, even a sundae is more than it seems.
311 Westminster Street