Rue de L’Espoir is a longstanding neighborhood restaurant with a faithful following, some of whom have been dining with them since they opened in 1976. I’d heard they recently updated the menu and thought it was time for another visit.
We stopped by on a Monday in hopes of enjoying the once legendary appetizer special, but it’s not being offered this year. Regardless, we settled in at the bar for some snacks and drinks before moving to the dining room. I had a glass of Cristalino Cava ($8) while my husband drank the Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA ($8) on draught, especially appreciated after Dogfish Head’s long absence from Rhode Island.
I could have simply made a meal of the delicious, warm Seven Stars bread and the butter ramekin, but then I wouldn’t have much to tell you. We thought the Brussels Sprouts ($8) and Potato Bacon Croquettes ($9) would be nice with our drinks. The Brussels were halved, perfectly roasted and accompanied by a smoked paprika aioli. This wholesome vegetable does a great job masquerading as a decadent bar snack when prepared well. The Croquettes were not as wholesome but certainly tasty. Three, freshly fried, were served on a bed of cooked kale along with spinach artichoke cream sauce and a bright dash of Sriracha.
The bar area has a cheerful and cozy feel, with nice touches like a long row of coat hooks for bar patrons and charming small-paned windows separating the rooms. Several tables allow for dining in the bar area, but we decided to move to the larger dining room instead.
After we were seated in the dining room, we shared another appetizer – the Poutine ($10). If you’re a poutine fan, you probably find it difficult to pass up an opportunity to try yet another version of the cheese curd and gravyladen fries and reminisce about every other time you’ve eaten them. I’ve had many great poutine experiences in Montreal, so there’s some stiff competition in my poutine memories, but I still enjoyed this riff on the classic. The medium-sized fries were studded with cheddar curds from Vermont’s Maplebrook Farm, topped with a light creamy gravy and sprinkled with Brussels sprout chips. I thought the addition of Brussels sprouts to a “fast food” dish would be odd, but the crisp flakes were more of a crunchy condiment than a vegetable. The gravy was not as ample as in some versions but to my surprise, I didn’t really miss it; the overall balance was good. For another dollar, you can top this dish with a fried egg.
For a main, I ordered the Seafood Crepes ($16) and my husband had the Faux Fois Ravioli and Duck ($25). We asked for wine pairing recommendations and our waitress brought the Dashwood Sauvignon Blanc ($8) for me and Perrin Cote du Rhone ($9) for him; they fit well. My dish featured two plump crepes with a bright, flavorful sauce made with tomatoes and fennel. The delicate crepes were stuffed with chopped shrimp, scallops and crab. I liked the filling but would have preferred a little more sauce. My husband’s ravioli were filled with a chicken liver mousse to mimic pricier foie, then tossed in a mushroom sauce and topped with seared, rare duck breast. I thought this was an unusual and creative menu item that you’d probably enjoy if, like us, you appreciate the flavor of liver.
A peek at the dessert tray had us in over our heads. I got a slice of Concorde Cake ($8.50) - light chocolate mousse with chocolate meringue. My husband had the Turtle Cheesecake ($8.50). We couldn’t finish the enormous slices, a rare occurrence for two dessert lovers.
While The Rue’s menu options are classic and upscale, the atmosphere in the main dining room is surprisingly informal. While it seems appropriate for their well attended weekend brunch, the plastic menus and uncovered tables contradict the quality of the dinner dishes. Although these incongruities don’t deter loyal fans, they can be surprising to newcomers. But don’t let this observation prevent you from trying a neighborhood favorite. Start at the bar with a drink and appetizer, and you’ll probably be charmed into dinner. Rue de L’Espoir, 99 Hope Street, Providence 751-8890.