New England

ri1.jpgIn the mid-1970s, when I lived in Providence the food wasn't very good. Sure there was great local seafood, especially clams and lobsters, but if you wanted to eat out, your choices were pretty much limited to diner food and and Mafia Italian.

To get decent food I would travel to New York to buy ethnic ingredients, read cook books and taught myself how to cook.

Recently I had the chance to return to Rhode Island to write a series of food and travel articles. I spent two weeks traveling around the state, eating in a great variety of settings, from diners and beach-side clam shacks to upscale bistros and fine dining restaurants.

I discovered a lot has changed in Rhode Island. The state is now home to dozens of passionate chefs with incredibly smart palates.

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img 2580On our recent summer "vacation" to the East Coast, we had one day to ourselves. Blissfully alone, with only each other to have to worry about and please. Instead of the unending stream of family that we were happy to see, but the all-at-once, all-or-nothing nature of the company had left us a bit weary. There was only time for one dinner out. One dinner that didn't revolve around a porch and a grill and the constraints of many others picky palates. Don't get me wrong, I love grilling, but I was looking for something crafted with genius and care that required a fork.

Unfortunately it was a Monday night. All my top Boston choices were shuttered for the evening. And don't even get me started on how expensive the hotel prices are. For one night. Like New York pricey. So we choose to stay in Portsmouth, NH, a destination new to both of us and on the road between Bangor and Boston. Our hotel choice was a total cinch. The Ale House Inn. Sounded like it has something to do with beer. And it does. It's located in the historic Portsmouth Brewing Co. building, which dates back to 1880. That may be considered old in most cities in the country, but not in Portsmouth which the English "founded" in 1653. The 10 rooms are masterfully appointed (Keurig/iPad/flat screen/fridge), if a bit small, but since we were just sleeping there we didn't care. The free micro brew they give you at check-in was a lovely surprise and a nice touch on a hot summer day.

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bloodrootladiesRestaurants aren’t supposed to be real. Real you can get at home. Restaurants are for fantasy of one kind or another. A shot-and-beer bar with sawdust on the floor can fulfill a fantasy or bolster an ego as well as an elegant French dinner with all the trimmings. It just depends on who you want to pretend to be at the moment.

All this comes to mind because Jill and I went to a restaurant that belies everything I just said. There’s not a drop of fantasy in the package.  It’s simply what it is and it does what it does and it’s been doing it at the same location for thirty-six years.

Bloodroot is a self described vegan/vegetarian/feminist restaurant that was created all those years ago by Selma Miriam and Noel Furie. Selma runs the kitchen and Noel holds down the front of the house. They’ve perfected their act and they do it exactly the way they want to do it. Your fantasies are not the issue.

When you walk in, Noel instructs you to look at the menu listed on the wall. You tell her your choices and pay up front.

“They’ll call out your name when your food is ready and then you get yourself a tray and carry it to your table.”

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claires.jpgI hail from New Haven, although I've frankly never in my life hailed, even for a taxi cab. It's simply not my style. I visit the Elm City (although I'm not sure why it's nicknamed thus as all the elms died in a blight decades ago and are just coming back) a few times a year because my sister and I have bestowed our adorable mother on a fine new home, shared by three hundred other beloved parents, each compartmentalized in lovely little one and two bedroom lives with shared common rooms.  All human needs are provided. It's like living on a space station.

Whitney Center is located just outside the Yale community and many professors and Ivy League elders retire there.  Hence, the level of conversation, dining and entertainment is four star.  The only complaint Mom's ever had about the place is that she feels she must dress up for dinner, lectures and screenings at, what she so brightly calls "The Finishing School." Sis has outfitted her in Lord and Taylor's finest, which she now even wears to the laundry room.

When I visit as winter thaws, however, she is eager to leave campus plainclothes and give her
perpetually parked car a little workout -- it's generally sat sedentary most of the winter.  Our favorite local lunch place is called Claire's Corner Copia, at the corner of Chapel and College, at the edge of the Yale campus. 

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AmberRoadCafeAmber Road Café's breakfast is worth getting up for. Lunch warrants standing on line. Dinner? Amber's not open for dinner. Bummer. We find ourselves here for lunch and the only reason there's no line and we're seated is because we're late. Not far too late and not a moment too soon.

What to have? For openers, omelets, pancakes, waffles, crepes, oatmeal, French toast, eggs Benedict, yogurt, fruit, lox and bagel and blintzes! I'm not sure this is kosher but it is unexpected. Around noon, ease into salads with grilled vegetables; eggplant and feta; lobster and bacon; beets and goat cheese. Sandwiches: tuna melt, New England with turkey and stuffing; grilled cheese, avocado and bacon. Wraps take in vegetables, shrimp ceviche, chicken Caesar, chicken and cranberry. Best kitchen thrill since my Mexicans gave me the Ninja® last year, panini: chicken, eggplant, Cuban, Brie with chutney; and California with chicken, bacon, avocado, cheddar and chili sauce. Take note.

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