Napa on Providence is a beautifully designed restaurant, with the sort of details that require thought: lighting that doesn’t only light but also emphasizes, with effective shadowing and uplighting; a variety of seating options; a rustic theme that’s carried through from slumped-cork bread baskets to hammered-metal water cups to frosted-glass doors on a private room.
And its aim at simple and clean, as applied to its Napa-inspired food, has improved over its first year. Still primarily an Italian and French blend, with the better dishes in the former category, the menu ranges from raw oysters to pizzas, pan-seared steaks to grilled salmon and swordfish, plus an array of pastas.
Hits were linguine with littlenecks and housemade sausage, broken into bits and tossed with roasted fennel for a wholly rich, wholly integrated dish, and grilled hanger steak, perfectly juicy, with braised kale that kept its body, and pickled red onions. Both were beautiful, and with the marvelously edited wine-by-the-glass lineup, made for strong dinners.
But serious flaws marred several other dishes, from a “baby beet salad” whose quartered beets hadn’t been babies for quite some time, to a thin and overcooked swordfish, to calamari recommended strongly by a server, and delayed when the first batch, a server informed us, “didn’t turn out to the chef’s satisfaction.” The plateful that did arrive (for $13), I’d dub “General Tso’s rubber bands” – half overcooked to only crunch, half undercooked so that the breading had turned mushy with the tame honey Thai sauce covering it.
Shrimp with lemon gnocchi produced three medium shrimp and too-soft gnocchi with little of the menu-promised lemon flavor, for $11.
Prices on most first plates and entrees tend to be pitched too high: A key attribute of hanger steak is that it’s a more affordable cut, and here it’s $26. Pizzas and entree salads, in the $11-$16 range, align better.
We had careful, attentive, well-educated care one night, and little but fly-bys another. When service is good, it’s very good: Wine suggestions come easily, bread arrives hot, specials are detailed at once. And even when service overall is lacking (cold bread, no notice of specials, no table clearing between courses), the attention to wine stays strong; we were asked three times if we’d like more or to split a glass between us one night.
Napa on Providence comes from Paula and Jeff Conway, franchisees of Ruth’s Chris in town (and elsewhere), and the steakhouse experience shows in some details. But the place needs focused attention to excel.
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