There’s something about a corner restaurant and the way the angled main entrance welcomes customers in from the busy street. Such is the case at the relatively new Kitchen Bar on the corner of Hope and Burlington in Providence. The big news there is that Jaime D’Oliveira is now in the kitchen as a consulting chef.
D’Oliveira is the entrepreneurial chef who brought Mill’s Tavern and Red Stripe to life in the capital city. Prior to that, he cooked at the legendary Angels (now XO Café) and Al Forno. He was also a key player in opening the first Capital Grille, learning all he could from founder Ned Grace, the quintessential restaurateur. D’Oliveira’s stellar resume makes him eminently qualified these days to work here and there as a consultant. Quick… before he moves on to the next project, get yourself over to Kitchen Bar for some of Jaime’s famous food.
Kitchen Bar opened last November with owner Sammy Katsaras making a transition from running a pizza joint to an upscale East Side eatery. It was a bit of a struggle, and a mutual friend suggested that D’Oliveira help Katsaras turn his restaurant into a more successful enterprise. In six weeks, D’Oliveira did just that.
The restaurant itself has a clean, modern look that appealed to D’Oliveira. The dining areas are to the left and right of an L-shaped bar, with pub-height tables and chairs on the left and regular tables and plum-colored booths on the right. There’s seating for 70 with another 36 seats out on the sidewalk. Since the interior met with his approval, D’Oliveira was able to focus on the menu, which he has radically changed. Some of Katsaras’ favorite dishes remain on the menu (especially his excellent pizzas), but D’Oliveira’s choices dominate at brunch, lunch and dinner.
The brunch menu is D’Oliveira’s favorite, he says, and it’s easy to see why. People are raving about the Crème Brulee Challah French Toast with crushed pecans and warm maple syrup ($9) and the Carrot Cake Pancake with vanilla whipped cream cheese and orange blossom honey ($8.50). I can’t wait to try the Chorizo Hash ($10), served with soft poached eggs.
I ate lunch at Kitchen Bar with a foodie friend who is one of D’Oliveira’s biggest fans. We were not disappointed. Her Watermelon Frisee Salad ($9) was unlike any salad on any local restaurant menu. The salad started with a base of sliced watermelon topped with frisee lettuce, jicama, goat cheese, toasted almonds and white balsamic basil vinaigrette. The watermelon and goat cheese are wonderful taste counterpoints. I was in the mood for a great sandwich, and that’s just what I got with the Deli Reuben ($11). I needed two hands to handle the thick layers of pastrami and corned beef on rye with just the right amount of Dijon mustard. Out of curiosity, we shared the Chicken Tips ($9), shamelessly consuming a full pound of lightly fried chunks of boneless meat, served with Asian and buffalo sauces: totally addictive.
On my next visit, I had to have the retro Green Goddess Chicken Salad ($13). One of life’s mysteries, for me at least, is why green goddess dressing isn’t offered in every American restaurant. Named for its light green color, this dressing is said to have originated in 1923 in San Francisco. Its key flavor components are garlic, anchovy, garlic, tarragon, and yes, garlic. At Kitchen Bar, the house-made dressing coats mixed greens, tart apple slices and celery. A marinated then grilled boneless chicken breast is shingled across the salad mixture and garnished with pecans and feta. I will be tempted to order this entrée salad every time I have lunch at Kitchen Bar in the future.
Other first course possibilities are the Mediterranean Antipasti, Stuffies, Dakos Greek Salad, and Lamb Meatballs (all in the $7 to $11 price range). The usual suspects are present in the antipasti, which is brightened by an apricot and charred onion relish. The stuffies are dotted with bits of chourico and dusted with smoked paprika. The secret to this ocean-fresh dish, D’Oliveira reveals, is the use of chopped clams instead of quahogs. The mountainous Greek salad starts with a base of grilled pita and is then layered with all the expected ingredients. The meatballs are decidedly Greek in flavor with the addition of tzatziki sauce.
The kitchen wisely cross utilizes ingredients. Pork has a leading role in three winning dishes: Jerk Pork Tenderloin, Pulled Pork Sandwich and Louisiana Pulled Pork Wontons (all in the $8.50 to $18.50 price range). Two of the most popular menu items are the New England Seafood Boil ($21), which comes with grilled bread for sopping up the zesty broth, and the Baked All-American Chop Suey ($12), pure comfort food with its layers of elbow macaroni, meaty marinara sauce, cheddar and mozzarella cheeses and buttered panko bread crumbs. The totally satisfying Eggplant Rollatini ($14) is a big bowl of penne pasta and marinara sauce topped with rolled up eggplant slices that have been stuffed with spinach, roasted red peppers, ricotta and Parmesan cheese, and then fried.
If after all that you somehow have room for dessert (and I do hope that you do), you must have Auntie Lisa’s Carrot Cake ($8). The recipe comes from D’Oliveira’s sister, so being a great cook definitely runs in that family. I would go back to Kitchen Bar in a heartbeat just for that moist carrot cake studded with shredded coconut and plump raisins. A close second is the Old School Chocolate Bundt Cake ($7), three thick slices of deep dark chocolate cake drizzled with a sugar glaze.
While you enjoy your dessert, put in an order to go for one of Sammy’s famous pizzas or calzones ($6.95 to $15.75). The Mediterranean is my favorite pizza, topped with tender chicken, feta, tomatoes, black olives and hot pepper rings. It’s one way to extend your delightful dining experience at Kitchen Bar.
Linda Beaulieu is the author of The Providence and Rhode Island Cookbook, available at stores throughout the state. Follow Linda on Twitter at LindaBeaulieu3.
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