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The Good and the Bad

This is the tale of two restaurants, both of which we visited for dinner this past Saturday night.  The fact that we went to two different restaurants for the same meal may sound a bit odd, but it’s only because the first one was a debacle, and I was still hungry, so we went to one of our favorite restaurants to salvage the evening.  If you’re a Dickens fan this could be the Tale of Two Cities.  If you like Chinese philosophy it could be the Yin and the Yang.  If you know about Italian restaurant enclaves in Rhode Island it definitely is Federal Hill versus Knightsville.  Let’s begin with the bad.

ROMA

310 Atwells Avenue, Providence,   Phone: (401) 331-5000

Website: http://romaprov.com/index.php/trattoria-roma/

This was our second trip to ROMA.  The first was last winter, with a Groupon, and we had a nice dinner.  It was a quiet evening with only a few tables going, and the food was very good.  Based on that experience, and armed with a Living Social voucher, we ventured to Federal Hill again last Saturday to spend a little of what was a beautiful spring evening.  This Federal Hill trip did not go well.

We started at the new Venda Bar, right across from Venda Ravioli.  It looked fun, was quite busy, and Cheri decided we should have a drink there before dinner.  Right away things were not great as the bar surface was quite filthy.  We persevered and ordered drinks, and Cheri’s was made by someone helping out behind the bar momentarily, and he had a tendency to drop things.  Once she asked for, and received, the lime for her Bombay Sapphire and tonic she was relatively happy.  I ordered a Cosmo with Kettle One vodka.  I missed the mixing, but Cheri was fairly certain they used well vodka.  It tasted a bit funky, so she was probably right.  They certainly charged me for a top shelf drink, at $12, so I was not exactly thrilled.  We left and strolled to ROMA for dinner to make up for it.

Well, not exactly.  The tablecloth at our table was stained and full of bread crumbs.  We almost left right there, but again persevered.  When the girl came up to fill our water glasses we noted the stained and dirty tablecloth and asked if they changed them between settings.  She said they did if they were dirty, and walked away.  That’s it. No offer to change it.  No offer to switch tables.  Nothing.  Again we persevered, and brushed the crumbs off the table, also moving the tacky paper place mats around a bit to cover the more obvious stains.

Our waiter, Nick, was very friendly, tried very hard, and we felt sorry for him.  While he certainly had the right attitude, he obviously had no training.  We ordered a bottle of wine.  He brought it, proceeded to jam the corkscrew into the top of the cork a few times, and pronounced that there was something wrong with the cork and he would go get another bottle.  Clearly he had never opened a bottle of wine.  I said that the bottle he had would be fine, but he insisted.  When he returned he brought Talia with him.  She opened the wine and poured a taste for me to try.  Unfortunately when I raised the glass it was filthy, so I had to ask for a new glass.  Talia, to her credit, was worried that I has just wasted some of my bottle, so she asked Nick to go get a small sample from the bar for me to taste.  At this point I had to insist that I needed to taste the actual bottle in question.  So I ended up with a new glass, a bottle with one sip less than should have been, and a small tasting glass with the other sip in it.  This was not going well.

Around us we heard wait staff apologizing to almost every table for something.  We ordered a pizza for an appetizer, as well as veal parm for me and the sole dish from the menu for Cheri.  Then we waited, looked out the windows and listened to the apologizing continue.  I have to say every person on the wait staff was very nice, but something was also very wrong with how this restaurant functions.  To really bring that point home, our entrees arrived.  The only problem is, our appetizer never did.  The waitress immediately turned with our entrees to go straighten out the pizza, but we stopped her.  I could only imagine our food sitting under heat lamps for twenty minutes while they cranked out the pizza, then another ten while we ate the pizza.  So, we cancelled the pizza, had our entrees, and got the hell out of Dodge.

The veal was good.  Cheri’s sole was OK, but the fish was somewhat mushy and the potatoes were slightly undercooked.  I can only imagine what the pizza was like.

This was an absolute nightmare from a restaurant perspective.  Dirty tablecloth, untrained staff, mixed up food orders etc.  Judging by the comments flying around the room we were not alone.  We felt bad for the staff, because they were trying.  Whoever is responsible for training, front of house operations and expediting is really not doing their job.  We left feeling like this was a place resting on the reputation of Federal Hill, but really not worth going to.  Surprisingly it gets some good reviews on Urban Spoon, so go figure.  We will not go back to the Venda Bar and certainly not to ROMA for a good long time.  Come to think of it we probably won’t be going back to Federal Hill for a long time.  I think it’s overrated.

Now the good.

L’Osteria

1703 Cranston St, Cranston · (401) 943-3140

Website: N/A

We went to L’Osteria to get our pizza.  L’Osteria is one of our favorite restaurants.  It’s a small, quiet on weekdays and hectic on weekends, always great food, feel like family kind of place.  It’s on Cranston Street, in the Knightsville section of Cranston, in the middle of a group of Italian restaurants.  It’s kind of like a smaller version of Federal Hill without all the hoopla.  Mario, the owner, is generally there and stops by to say hi.  The waiters are great.  It’s like the old Cheers theme song, “you want to go where everybody knows your name”.  It’s comfortable.  We never have a bad experience here.  Did I mention the food is always excellent?

L'Osteria SignGo on a weeknight and you can have a nice quiet dinner, and we go every year for Valentine’s day as well.  We also go once or twice a month all year long.  You generally won’t need a reservation on a weeknight, but you will need one on Friday or Saturday.  On weekends the place is pretty jammed between 6:00 and 9:00 PM, including the small but cozy bar.  It’s also more of a boisterous, bistro like atmosphere on those days.  The space is small, so put thirty or so diners in there and it gets a bit loud.  It’s fun though, and we enjoy it either way.

The chef is fabulous.  They offer a ridiculously long list of specials for such a small restaurant, and they are always fresh and delicious.  If they have veal chops, and you like veal, get one.  These are usually two inches thick and delicious.  If you don’t like the sauce, ask for a tweak.  They will generally accommodate.  I always substitute linguini for the tagliatelle on the seafood dish.  I frequently will ask them to do a red wine demi on the steak rather than the mushroom sauce.  Once I was really in the mood for some simple shellfish in a garlic and butter sauce over capellini, and it magically appeared.  That said we’ve tried most things on the very long menu and they are all great.

Desserts are all delicious as well.  Their Tiramisu is one of the best we’ve ever had.  Their Torta Della Nona is our son’s favorite dessert in the world.  They’ll whip up an espresso, the coffee is excellent, and they’ll never, never rush you out.

The wine list is not super long, but it has everything you’d need.  Italian wines are well represented, but there is generally a cab, merlot, malbec and other staples available.  The whites are there too, even if we don’t tend to order them.  The bar is small, but well stocked, and they’ll mix anything you want.

They’re not perfect.  We’ve had a glass or two that had to be sent back because it was dirty.  We’ve had appetizer orders not get fired at the right time.  Yet they always fix it and go out of their way to accommodate you, and the mistakes are few and far between.  We were there this past winter with four friends, and they forgot one appetizer until we reminded them.  They also mixed up one entrée.  These things were sorted out and in the end we all had a great time.  It was a very, very busy night and the staff was running around, so a mixup here and there was understandable.  You can’t expect perfection all the time, and it is how the staff reacts that means everything.

There’s a reason we go here twenty or so times a year.  Once we get through paying off college we’ll be going once a week.

Summary

We’re starting to think Federal Hill is overrated.  We’re positive L’Osteria is a far better value and an excellent little restaurant.  If you’re in the mood for the atmosphere of DePasquale Square on a nice summer evening you’ll have to brave the traffic and parking of Federal Hill.  If you want a great Italian dinner in a cozy setting, go to L’Osteria.  We’ll do a more thorough write up of L’Osteria with some pictures after our next visit.  Be sure to say hi to Mario, Jack, Janice and Terry behind the bar when you visit.

This Saturday we got our pizza at L’Osteria.  We had more wine, a cesar salad, and some coffee as well.  It was a strange meal, occurring over the course of some three hours at two different restaurants, but at least it ended well.

A votre sante!

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