Because I write restaurant reviews, friends often ask for recommendations, especially on Providence’s celebrated Atwells Avenue. When new restaurants open on Federal Hill’s main drag, I consider it my duty to try them. Such was the case when Smithfield’s Tavolo opened a second location in Providence.
Wine features heavily in the decor of Tavolo’s brown-and-mustard interior, and it’s clear that the owners want diners to know the restaurant’s priorities: Tavolo not only has a good number of bottles, but also a long by-the-glass list. Their secret weapon is Coravin, a system that taps into a bottle of wine without popping the cork, keeping the wine fresh for longer. Tavolo’s sommelier regularly features a few bottles, including best value and special occasion selections.
Our waiter, Victor, was a highlight of our experience. He was friendly, attentive, and conversant about the menu. We chose the featured “sleeper pick,” Allegrini Palazzo Della Torre, a full-bodied red with blackberry notes from Veneto, Italy. If I hadn’t been drawn to this particular bottle, I would have explored the list with a three-sample flight.
Every meal at Tavolo starts with a few slices of the house bread – an old-school fluffy loaf – with a signature mix of spicy oil and parmesan for dipping.
We had enjoyed the Grilled Tuscan Provolone Sausage at the Smithfield location. Here, the sausage was just as enjoyable. It’s also a relatively healthy starter, since it’s accompanied by sautéed broccoli rabe. The Tavolo Meatballs were two large globes of meat served over creamy polenta. Lacking an Italian upbringing, I’ve never had the credentials to judge a meatball, but I found these specimens delicate and well seasoned.
I was drawn to the Pan Seared Salmon, although it certainly wasn’t classic Italian fare, with its black bean edamame salad, whipped avocado, and charred poblano butter. This entree was fine but outshined by the more traditional dishes: my husband’s Braised Pulled Beef Shank grew on us with every bite. It was served over a generous portion of fresh gnocchi, with asparagus tips, mushrooms, and the hearty flavor of truffle butter. We remembered a favorite side from our last visit and ordered the Porcini Stuffed Purses & Truffle Butter. The loosely formed pasta shapes were fun to eat, and the creamy sauce was suitably acidic. We agreed that the purses were even better on second taste.
At Tavolo, the house-made desserts are a must. On a previous visit, we shared the decadent Dessert Sampler, showcasing miniature versions of the restaurant’s most popular desserts. This time we each ordered full-sized versions of our favorite samples. I recommend the S’Mores Chocolate Brownie, topped with house-made marshmallows and a scoop of decadent graham cracker ice cream. Whichever dessert you choose, I’m sure you’ll be able to find a wine to pair with it.
289 Atwells Avenue • 274-6000