I’ve long been a fan of Providence, Rhode Island, the small city on Narragansett Bay that is rich with New England charm, culture and innovative culinary talent. I recently waxed lyrical about the opening of a hip hotel, The Dean, but my latest discovery is world-class restaurant Birch.
Located in a tiny space in Providence’s burgeoning Downcity area, Birch has just 18 seats around one U-shaped bar, and is helmed by chef Ben Sukle – who apprenticed at Copenhagen’s famed Noma – and his wife Heidi. I was charmed by both the chic interiors – lots of exposed brick, architectural lighting and sleek surfaces – and the head barman, whose menu focuses on craft beers such as Brasserie des Rocs Blond Ale from Belgium ($11), cool cocktails such as the Goosefoot: vodka, sorrel and lemon balm ($8) and international wines.
Sukle takes a “roots up” approach to his menu, which means that the produce, meat and seafood are sourced locally and New England farmers are supported whenever possible. Loosened up by our cocktails, we mixed and matched dishes from the four-course menu ($49), beginning with a curiously sounding raw Rhode Island beef ($12), which was deliciously encased in kohlrabi with garlic-chive capers, and a sweetcorn purée with delicately sliced native squid ($14) that was a riot of colours, flavours and textures.
For mains, the catch of the day from Point Judith was by far my favourite, with the white, steak-like king fish complemented by coastal greens, caramelised crab and brown butter ($18), while eggplant with New Zealand spinach, sweet onions and mixed grains was perfection. Everything was beautifully presented on chic stoneware plates or in shallow ceramic bowls or sculptural glasses – many crafted in conjunction with students from the nearby Rhode Island School of Design. The pudding course was a light combination of blueberries and fancified marshmallow ($10) – a wonderful finish to this gourmet extravaganza. I only wish I’d had room for the whoopie pie… Next time.
I will no doubt be back to sample the newest additions to the seasonally changing menu – topping it off with the housemade whoopie pies (Birch has a refined take on this regional classic) that I longingly watched pass by, just as I paid my bill.