Dining Out

Opening the Vault

The Dorrance offers haute cuisine you can bank on

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I was torn – should I go to The Dorrance for its interesting prix fixe lunch, or should I go to the exciting new venue for their adventuresome evening menu? Dinner eventually won out, with lunch at The Dorrance high on my gustatory “to do” list.

Posh, elegant, perhaps even regal. These are words that well describe the luxe interior of this century-old former bank building with its ornate, soaring ceilings and massive windows bearing the stained glass coats of arms for banking aristocracy. We were seated beneath the colorful crest for the Bank of England, at a perfectly set table with crisp white linens, sparkling glassware and shining flatware. All around us were varying shades of cream and then gold – on the drapes and sheers, on the banquette and on the seats of the black lacquer chairs.

While that may sound quite formal, both the atmosphere and service were warm and friendly. The wait staff checked in on us every now and then to see if we liked our food. Even one of the owners, Regina Lester, stopped by to see if we were pleased with our dinner. And we most certainly were.

The evening menu at The Dorrance consists of six smaller plates and another six Larger Plates. Both menus offer items not found in many other local restaurants. Whenever possible, local ingredients are utilized in harmony with the seasons.

The smaller plates, priced from $6 to $12, include dishes such as Charred Baby Octopus, Boudin Blanc and Smoked Beef Tongue, each with out-of-the-ordinary accompaniments: tomatillo fundido, roasted celery root, pear and verbena puree, and pickled green tomatoes, for example. This is the sort of gourmet food that sends me scrambling for my food dictionary.

We chose the Young Lettuces ($9), piled high on the plate and topped with shaved country ham, thinly sliced radishes, fresh herbs and buttermilk dressing. The lettuce was tender to the bite, almost buttery in taste, with the ham providing just the right amount of salt and the buttermilk giving it a slight tang. We also shared the Grilled Bread ($7), which consisted of three thin but large slices of rustic bread that had been on the grill for precisely the right amount of time. Each slice was spread with a different topping: a smooth, smoked duck liver pate, chopped heirloom tomatoes, and fresh ricotta at room temperature for optimum flavor. With a glass of Louis Latour Chardonnay, I could not have been more satisfied.

The larger plates, priced from $12 to $22, went from a basic roasted chicken leg to the exotic Korean-style lamb. Again, the accompaniments were extraordinary: crispy sunchokes and sorrel with the chicken, eggplant and kimchi with the lamb. For the vegetarian, there is the Soft-Poached Duck Egg served with braised collard greens, local grains and chevre, in a root vegetable broth.

We selected the Roasted Duck ($18) and the Free-Range Sirloin Steak ($22). Tasting each other’s entrees, we argued over which dish was more tender. The duck was so soft to the bite, it reminded me of foie gras. Playing against the unique flavor of duck in supporting roles were deep red baby beets, husk cherries and an artist’s brushstroke of roasted apple puree. The nicely charred steak, served with its decadent marrow, was teamed up with the sweet and savory accompaniments of roasted carrots and onion jus.

The food here is as precious as the surroundings. Don’t expect mounds of food, or that “stuffed” feeling so many restaurants strive to achieve with their guests. You will experience tastes and textures that will surprise and satisfy you, and you will definitely find yourself thinking about dessert. Desserts ($8 each) at The Dorrance are limited, but they are exquisite. The warm Chocolate Cake is devilishly dark and moist, while the Apple Panna Cotta is light, almost ethereal.

So, checking over my “to-do” list, what can I look forward to for lunch at The Dorrance? Monday through Friday from 11:30am to 2:30pm, a prix fixe lunch is available, offering a choice of soup or salad, entrée and beverage. Depending on the entrée, the prices range from $12 for just the soup and salad to $22 for a lobster roll on buttered brioche with hand-cut fries and house-made pickles. Other options are a hearty Cobb Salad, Portabella Steak, Fresh Fish, Steak Frites and Duck Con- fit. Now, for lunch, isn’t that special?

All this magical food comes out of a kitchen headed by Chef Ben Sukle, a rising young star if there ever was one in Providence. He graduated magna cum laude from culinary school and developed a passion for cooking as he traversed the United States, working at the Biltmore in North Carolina and Westland’s Ranch in Colorado. He spent the past three years as the chef de cuisine at La Laiterie here in Providence, one of the very few restaurants in the city to earn a James Beard Award nomination. Most recently, he spent time in the kitchen at Noma in Copenhagen, twice selected by Restaurant magazine as the best in the world. That explains why the modern cuisine at The Dorrance is so extraordinary.

Linda Beaulieu is the author of The Providence and Rhode Island Cookbook, available at stores throughout the state.