Although I will try any food and like many different cuisines, there is another part of my family that does not. As it turns out my daughter got their genes. We’re holding out hope for our son.
I arrived in Providence, Rhode Island anticipating that my meals were to be of the family friendly and definitely, sub-standard epicurean sort. Not because there was a dearth of fine establishments to choose from but because I was traveling with my mother, who suffers from a limited palate and only tolerates bland food. She is the quintessential meat and potatoes kind of gal. Much to mine and my husband’s dismay our five-year-old daughter suffers from the same affliction. A recent article in the New York Times assuaged my guilt as a parent who may have done something wrong by not giving her the right variety at the right time in her taste development. As it turns out, research finds that much of children’s likes and dislikes are already hard-wired, programmed into their genes. It didn’t matter that I fed her a wide variety of foods, textures and tastes when she was a baby. My daughter’s own unique taste soon emerged as a force to be reckoned with. It was one of chicken, corn ON the cob, cheese pizza, Fuji apples, green grapes, and yogurt smoothies with pomegranate juice.
Our first night in Rhode Island was spent eating at the local Cheesecake Factory. It was nothing to write home about and was what we expected. Our dinner the following evening at the Hotel Providence restaurant, L’Epicureo was of the finer sort.
It started off well enough. The restaurant was child-friendly and they greeted us warmly and happily sent over a high-chair for my seven-month old son and assured me that there was a children’s menu for my daughter. I thought, great, this is going to work out — then the amuse-bouche arrived. I have not been to a restaurant with my children that served an amuse-bouche, with my husband, sure, but not with kidlets in tow. I know where to take children to eat. I took them to the Cheesecake Factory the night before. I did not take them with us to The French Laundry in Napa Valley and I did not take them when we went to Joel Robuchon’s L’Atelier. Why waste culinary perfection on those who would rather enjoy their food in nugget form?
They wished to be seated in the “no children” section of the restaurant. Apparently my son’s joyous singing was too loud for them.
I eyed my amuse-bouche, looked at my mother, daughter and son and began to explain to them what an amuse-bouche is. The literal French translation of amuse-bouche is “happy mouth”. An amuse-bouche is a complimentary offering by the chef in finer restaurants meant to tempt your palate with a small sampling, just a couple of bites as a hint of what’s to come. It is a guiding reference that tells you what to expect from both the kitchen and the menu. I was intrigued by the chef’s amuse-bouche. (It was at this time during our dinner that an older couple seated two tables over asked to be relocated to the other side of the restaurant. They wished to be seated in the “no children” section of the restaurant. Apparently my son’s joyous singing was too loud for them; little did they know that he was only using his lower range.) My mother then turned to me and asked if she had to eat this strange-looking vegetable placed in front of her. My daughter looked at me and then her Nana and flatly refused to even try it. I looked at them both, picked up my fiddlehead fern and enjoyed it thoroughly. I knew from that first bite that this may not be a dinner that my children and mother would enjoy, but I would enjoy it thoroughly.
I ordered the special appetizer of stuffed mushroom caps. The appetizer was nothing special. The mushrooms were a little dried-out from the broiler. It was about this time that my son began to express his distress for being kept up past his bedtime. He was clearly tired and ready for bed and we had only just finished our appetizers. The staff was very accommodating and happily sent my mother’s food up to the room so she could finish her dinner there while my son slept.
My entrée arrived after the bustle of getting my son off to the room. I had ordered the special osso-bucco of monkfish. The monkfish still on the bone, rested atop a bed of fingerling potatoes and was accompanied by a delicate paprika sauce and a selection of perfectly sliced, summer vegetables. There is a reason that monkfish is called the poor-man’s lobster but tonight this was definitely a dish for the moneyed crowd. It was perfectly cooked and seasoned and left me wanting more.
My daughter enjoyed her chicken tenderloins and French fries and we both enjoyed the crème brulee and ice cream for dessert. We entertained each other by studying the chandeliers and pointing out the reproductions of famous art around the dining room. We sat close to the Birth of Venus and I couldn’t help but feel that she had stepped out of the canvas and handed my freshly caught fish to the chef for preparation. My meal that night was otherworldly. It was a great work of art given to me personally by the chef in the kitchen and I enjoyed every bite.
I couldn’t help but look around at this mostly empty restaurant and wonder where all the people were. L’Epicureo at the Hotel Providence is simply wonderful. Granted it was a weeknight but I couldn’t help but ask myself, “does the town of Providence know about this gem of a restaurant right here in their own town?” They should and it should be packed every night of the week.
Patty McCormick is a food & travel writer and mother of two who always packs her own knives for vacation.