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This is the week where I can truly take my slacking to a new level.  I have done the absolute bare minimum of homework up to this point, and have also started freaking out about my sloth while re-watching old episisodes of Friends and planning home improvement projects.  My apartment hasn’t been this clean in a long time, and I’m doing laundry regularly— All in an effort to avoid homework.

So now that it’s officially Spring Break and I can officially slack (or, as some think, get ahead on homework), I’m taking this full on.  I have a stack of books and DVDs that I’m going to read/watch for pure pleasure rather than to learn anything; I’m going to run for as long as I want every single day and not feel guilty because I can’t read or research while I’m doing it; and I’m going to paint my front room a lovely shade of light blue.

All of this, coupled with the extra light in the evening, will jump-start my ambition clock, and make me actually do homework for once, not just agonize about that fact that I’m not to the point of giving myself blinding headaches.

Yesterday, I read, ran, did some laundry, and then made home-made macaroni and cheese while listening to This American Life“Stuff White People Like” living at it’s best, I’d say.  Then Gentleman Caller and I had a lovely meal of the aforementioned mac and cheese, salad, vinho verde, and went to pub quiz where we failed miserably due to our atheism and lack of knowledge about Catholic Saints.  I say whatever.

Point is, I need this.  Regardless of my dim job prospects, for this week only, I’m going to pretend that I’m a grownup.

I think it will be lovely.

The Quest

Yes, Garden Grill is technically in Pawtucket, but only by a block.  I got a text message from Jewish Friend informing me that Garden Grill serves gluten-free vegan macaroni and cheese, and responded with “that sounds like paste.” To be perfectly honest, I’m not entirely sure what gluten is, but I know it’s in bread and beer, which are two things I need to live, and it seems like an element necessary in macaroni & cheese.  We had to find out.

The plan was to go, be unimpressed with what would surely be orange gloop, and fill up on a second entree– possibly have dessert as well.  What actually happened, is that gluten-free vegan macaroni & cheese is delicious, and we now have a lot of leftovers of the other stuff ordered.

misc-127This picture actually makes it look quite disgusting, but also, quite a bit like normal mac & cheese.  When we flagged the server over and demanded to know “How? How can this be good?”

He told us “Nutritional yeast.”

That sounds like something you’d find in your scary grandma’s cupboard one night after sneaking out of bed in search of forbidden cookies, and though Jewish Friend purports to love nutritional yeast, she cannot tell me what kind of nutrition it provides.

Despite the deliciousness of this meal, I’m still unsure of whether something like this can actually be called mac & cheese.  Mac, certainly, despite the lack of gluten, but there is nothing resembling cheese here, merely a slightly cheesy flavor provided by something that sounds horrifying.  All in all, I feel like I really learned something from this experience. Despite the fact that I haven’t eaten meat (except accidentally and in the name of victory) for 10 years, I’ve never experimented with these vegetarian ingredients– probably because I hate vegetarians so much.  I dare say, I feel a bit pure, and slightly smug.

Decor/Atmosphere:  8 Garden Grill is cute and small and looks like a hippie vegetarian restaurant, and our booth was very cold since it was right by the door.

Service: 9.5 It took a while to get our bill, but the two servers who were working that night tag-teamed our table, which was pretty fun, they were easy to flag down, and perfectly willing to tell us what the hell the deal was with the mac & cheese.  One even said as she was serving it to us, “I swear it tastes better than it looks,” I appreciate that kind of honesty.

Food: 9 Macaroni & Cheese was fantastic, I will eat it again any time, and I feel less full and gross than I usually do after a night questing for pasta.  We also had a pizza and sweet potato appetizer, which were delightful; Jewish Friend got an apple cider martini that smelled like an expensive candle, and tasted like America.

Total: 26.5

The Quest

This macaroni & cheese adventure snuck up on me as I was puttering around my apartment putting plastic on the windows to keep out old man winter (that’s seriously the most old man sounding sentence I’ve ever constructed).  I got a cryptic text from Jewish Friend that simply read “Downtown?”  What this meant, I found out when I called her back and said, “I don’t get it,” is that Jewish Friend was downtown and wanted someone to eat with.

Jewish Friend wanted to try Downcity, and I had no idea where that was, which is what makes this an adventure, rather than just two hot bitches having lunch.  When we got there, it was just at the end of the lunch rush, so it was packed and very, very warm, but in the three minutes or so it took for our table to be cleared, I had time to appreciate a beautiful martini that some woman at the bar was drinking, and also the decor which I will describe and being classy with a hint of whimsy.  The walls are bright orange, but not so bright that you feel like they’re screaming at you, dark wood, adequate but low lighting (not enough to make you sleepy, but this was lunch, so…), modern but without feeling cold.  I dig it quite a bit.  Apparently, they host a monthly “drag brunch” as well, as featured in the New York Times 36 hours in Providence.

Our server wasn’t in drag, but since it was Halloween he was dressed up like– Gary Glitter? I’m not sure what he was supposed to be, and felt it was rude to ask.

The lunch special of the day was the macaroni and cheese meal, which comes with salad or soup and a delightful raspberry sorbet all for $12.50.  Jewish Friend and I eagerly agreed to split that along with the deviled egg appetizer.  Unfortunately, the deviled eggs were merely “ok” and Jewish Friend–who has perfected her own recipe for deviled eggs, and is a bit smug about it– remarked “Mine are better than these.”

The macaroni & cheese was decent, but not great.  It was certainly the oiliest mac and cheese I’ve had to date, and I think I’ve isolated the problem.  The menu describes it as: Baked Penne with 5-cheese Sauce and Panko Crust 9–Asiago, cheddar, mozzarella, parmesan, and fontina, which is correct; the major problem is that all of the cheese seems to be on top, and there’s very little in the sauce.  When you eat through the crusty, baked top layer, your noodles are nearly naked.  It’s a very tricky dish to eat well because you stab the top layer and get a lot of just cheese no noodles, and then you have a lot of noodles with no cheese.  Cutting methods need to be employed to achieve balance.

Decor/Atmosphere:  9.5 I love the decor.  When we first got there, and it was really crowded, it was a little overwhelming, but I think that was because it was so hot.  I do not blame the restaurant for that because it was October 31 and the temperature inexplicably climbed to 62 degrees.  Once the crowds cleared out, it was lovely. Mostly I kept thinking about how uncomfortable our server must have been in his silver vinyl pants.

Service:  8  Very good, attentive, costumed.  Our server was quick with the refills, and gave us lots of plates for sharing. For some reason, it took forever to get our sorbet, and he kept touching Jewish Friend on the shoulder, which was upsetting to her.

Food: 7  The eggs were mediocre, the salad and sorbet were good, and the mac and cheese was simply ok. I’d go there again though because there are a lot of other things on the menu that I’d love to try, but I would not get the mac and cheese.

Total: 24.5

The Quest

Summer is not a good time of year to evaluate carby, cheese-landen food.  People seem to want salads and lighter fare when it’s hot out, and that’s the reason that I haven’t managed to write a mac & cheese review in quite a while.  I’m hoping that this delightful dish will crop up on a few other menus this winter, otherwise this may be a very short-lived experiment.

What has happened now, is that I’ve had the macaroni & cheese that everyone has been saying is the best in Providence– and I agree.  Still, I will not stop seeking!  There are still at least two restaurants that I haven’t tried, and there may be more out there that I’m not even aware of.  That said, La Laterie really is the best.

I actually tried the mac & cheese once before actually visitng the restaurant because their smaller, downtown location is where I’ve been going to get my overpriced gourmet sandwiches at lunchtime (I’ve since had to cut back on that).  One day I was in there, and while the friendly man was grilling my Cheesemonger sandwich, I glanced into the cold case and saw that there was the famous Cheesemonger’s macaroni & cheese. I rather foolishly got both, and ate both for lunch– I knew it was wrong– even before the guy who sold them to me said “here’s your cheese and cheese.”

This macaroni & cheese is apparently made with magic, because even when re-heated, it tastes amazing; it’s so delightfully cheesy that it slides off the fork sometimes, and there’s some kind of creamy goodness that makes it decadent and delightful.  I guess Jewish Friend was right about the whole “molten center” thing.  It’s interesting because it’s made with penne pasta rather than macaroni or corkscrew, which I found a bit different at first, but I ended up liking a lot.  The penne tubes get filled with cheesy goodness and it’s easier to get a full-sized bite rather than stabbing a bunch of smaller noodles at once trying to get a mouthful– maybe I’m just greedy.

The restaurant experience was very good as well. My Russian stout was the perfect compliment, Jewish Friend got her macaroni and cheese burned just like she wanted, and the server noticed that our table was wobbly and fixed it without our even needing to ask.  The only complaints I have are that it took a long time to get our bill, and the lighting was so low that we both got a bit sleepy.

My god that mac & cheese was good, there really are no words.

Decor/atmosphere: 9.5 Cute, cozy, classy. We were given our choice of seating bar/high top/window.  We took the high top, which felt private even though it really wasn’t. The only drawback was the fact that it did get very noisy at times.

Service: 9.5 Our waiter was attentive without being annoying, he fixed the table, and he seemed genuinely concerned about whether or not I was happy with my beer. The food came out in a timely manner, and the food runner knew who got what without our having to tell him.  It doesn’t get a perfect 10 because it took a while for the bill, though I hadn’t finished my beer yet, so the server may have been waiting.

Food: 10 The biscuits we had before the mac & cheese were excellent, the mac & cheese was amazing in a way I can’t have previously imagined.  I can’t quit thinking about it.

Total: 29

The Quest

This is going to be the most boring review ever, because I have nothing bad to say. Gone are my snarky comments, and shrewd, cutthroat observations; and in their place is only the Hallmarky sentiment: I love Thee Red Fez. sigh.

Here is what I love about Thee Red Fez (with additional comments by Jewish Friend):

1. The upstairs room is painted all red so sitting in it is like sitting inside a red fez— genius.

Jewish Friend: I especially like that some, not all of the string lights adorning the room are red. Certain swank bars (cough: Avery) are simply too dark and loud for conversation. Not so at Thee Fez. You can see your dining companions, and also your friendly nearby hat-wearing animals.

2. The walls in the upstairs room are decorated with animal heads– which normally skeeves me out a bit, especially while eating, and because of some incidents in my past, but these animal heads get to wear little red fezzes, which I find charming in an anthropomorphic kind of way. It takes away the gruesomeness and the hunterly bragging of showing off “the kill” and allows me instead to believe that these animals feel good about their accessories and are watching down on me with all good wishes.

Jewish Friend: Certain vegan friends of mine have trouble eating at fez because of what they [snobbily] describe as ‘the death that surrounds them’ there, but, like Andria, I find the decor to be whimsical.

3. The downstairs room is cozy without feeling cramped, mostly booths, and there’s a jackalope skull on the wall.

Jewish Friend: Downstairs feels a bit less fancy and more dinerish to me, but sometimes that atmosphere is what I am looking for. Both levels have a bar, and the downstairs also has fun old movie posters. The bathroom downstairs is spacious, and you can read on the walls about a movie where an older man adopted a Karate master. It is wonderful.

4. My Jewish Friend knows that the best Riesling is not on the menu, and even though the menus are just printed sheets of paper, and they could easily afford to update them (in fact, they change the menu frequently)– the best Riesling remains “not on the menu.” This is clearly my snobbery shining through, and did I not have a friend who knows this little backdoor trick, I would most likely be outraged. As it is, I feel special and cool.

Jewish Friend: Andria is not special and cool, I am special and cool. Andria lives vicariously through me. But really the reisling is delicious.

5. The service is always prompt without being imposing and you can easily flag someone down if you need something else.

Jewish Friend: I was beginning to think that no one found my adorable witty comments cute anymore. Luckily, the waitress at Fez found me just as adorable as I had hoped to be. She was attentive, and gave us great insight on the menu and the specials. She also gave me a good tip about how long the delicious looking peanut noodle tempeh dish would be there for future trips when I don’t want mac and cheese.

6. The Mac & Cheese is exquisite, plentiful, and affordable. It has a slightly smoky flavor from the Gouda, and really, all I need to be happy in life is smoked Gouda. There’s always enough in a serving to take some home, it only costs $11, and it’s good the next day. Seriously, I took Friend from Cowboy/Ski-pole country there, and we both got the mac & cheese; she had to go back home without eating her leftovers, and I feasted on that stuff for three days– never got tired of it.

Jewish Friend: I especially like the crunchy crumblies on top. Too often mac and cheese crumblies aren’t crunchy enough for my liking.

Most recent visit:

Jewish Friend and I sat downstairs and the air conditioner was blowing right on us. Jewish Friend tends to get cold easily, and the cardigan that she brought with her was not warding off the chill. We asked our server if she could adjust it a little and instead of grumbling, or saying “no, I can’t” she immediately replied “It is a little cold, isn’t it? I’ll take care of that right away.” And Jewish Friend was warm and comfortable the rest of the meal.

Jewish Friend: This was to everyone’s benefit really. I get whiny when I am cold.

The dirty martini was perfect– best either of us have had to date. The olives they use are stuffed with pimientos like usual, but taste like they’ve been soaked in something spicy, which is very fun–$8.

Considering the rather lousy, okay, just plain bad service that Jewish Friend and I have had in our dining experiences of late i.e. Bravo, Medditerraneo (in that case the other diners sitting next to us were asking why we hadn’t gotten our food yet, and getting banned (yes, banned, told to never come back) from Louis simply because we waited 40 minutes for soggy eggs and had the audacity to say that we were unhappy about it– it was simply wonderful to have a server who acted like we were there to be served, and not like we were ruining her life just by walking through the doors.

She made recommendations: “Oh the Bay Fries really are the best– would you like those out first because the mac & cheese can take quite a while.”

Said cute things like: “careful, the mac & cheese just came out of the oven, so it’s, like, lawsuit hot.”

And drew a picture of a little fez on the bill.

The negatives:

1. They are not open Sundays. Why the hell are not restaurants in Providence open Sundays?!? That’s how I ended up at both Temple and Cheesecake Factory.

2. My favorite booth is right next to a pinball machine– but that’s not even that bad.

Decor/atmosphere: 9, it’s a little cold in the winter, upstairs anyway

Service: 9.5, really no complaints, but I feel like I can’t quite give it a 10– so obvious

Food: 9, I’ve only tried the mac & cheese, salad, and fries, but all were excellent. They get a 9 because there’s celery salt on the fries, and I really hate celery, and because Jewish Friend does not care for the aioli dipping sauce.

Total: 27.5

The Quest.

This is a restaurant that I’ve wanted to visit ever since moving to Providence, but never managed to until recently. Situated on the corner of Washington and Empire Streets, it looks out onto both the main branch of the Providence Public Library, Trinity Repertory, and an intersection busy with both foot traffic and car traffic– it seems to be in the perfect spot for dining. Yet, I always either forget to suggest it, or my dining companion of the night doesn’t want to go. It’s like something was keeping me away, until the 4th of July rained havoc on rather typical plans and forced Jewish Friend and I to make some real choices.

Julian’s was closed.

The place where we usually have dinner when we’re hungry and need a meal guaranteed to be good, had inexplicably closed for the 1st and 2nd of July promising to open back up for the 3rd and 4th. So we racked our brains for places within walking distance that sounded good. We unconciously started walking toward Trinity Brewhouse as we brainstormed and finally settled on Broadway Bistro.

It was closed as well.

We continued to walk toward Trinity all the while discussing how we didn’t really feel like Trinity at all, but somehow trying to convince ourselves that a plate of nachos and glass of Rhody Coyote would be enjoyable. Finally, we were standing in front of Trinity and had to admit to ourselves that that was really not what we wanted.

“Let’s see,” I said, “The Local is never good.”

“Never good.” Jewish Friend agreed.

Capital Grille is too expensive, RiRa is just gross.”

“Gross,” Jewish Friend agreed. “I don’t feel like Cuban Revolution, Union Station is just trying to be Trinity so we could just as soon stay here as go there….”

This went on for a while and we eliminated most downcity Providence restaurants before I finally said, “How about that Bravo place right there?”

“Bravo?” Jewish Friend wrinkled her nose, “we could, I guess. It’s ok.”

“Let’s try it,” I pushed, “could be good, and I think they have mac & cheese.”

So we went and upon opening the door, I was really pleased with the vibe there. It’s small, but not cramped with dark wood, low lights, and a wrap-around bar. The outdoor seating is such that you don’t feel like you’re sitting in the middle of the sidewalk with pedestrians tripping over you. The whole place has a laid-back, European feel that I really dig.

“Would you like to sit inside or outside?” the hostess asked.

“Inside.” I said.

“Outside.” Jewish Friend said.

Then we proceeded to have an adorable tiff over where we should sit. These kinds of tiffs are usually thought to be charming or endearing by the male population, but this hostess seemed unamused. Finally, I wore down Jewish Friend and we were seated inside.

Drinks orders were taken after we had had more than enough time with the menu, and then we waited…

and waited…

and waited.

Jewish Friend gets very cranky when she is hungry, and started squirming and acting petulant.

“Where is our server/ what is going on here/ why is that bitch ignoring us?”

Finally, after 5 minutes of waiting for the drinks we had already ordered (that we could see sitting on the bar), and an additional 5-7 minutes of waiting for the drinks order to be taken, I went up to the bar where the hostess was dodging our pointed looks by studying some kind of map.

“Excuse me,” I said, “but we’ve been ready to place our orders for some time if you don’t mind.”

“Actually, I’m not your server.” she informed me.

Since she was the only person in the place who had shown the slightest interest in our table, I was a bit surprised by this, but also not surprised because her ignoring of us had been so brazen, she couldn’t have been counting on a tip.

“Do we have a server?” I asked.

“You sure do!” she replied in a faux chipper tone.

I returned to my seat and assured Jewish Friend that she would be fed soon, and that we would order some pommes frites to keep her concious until her entree came out.

Finally, after another five minutes, a young man came out with our drinks orders and a hunk of warm bread with no butter or dipping oil of any kind. He took our orders, and went away.

Jewish Friend went up to the bar and asked another man for butter in what was intended to be a cute and charming manner, but got the impression that he was making fun of her.

“I said that I’d been served bread with no butter and found it strange. I was trying to be lighthearted and cute, but I really don’t think he took it that way.”

We spent the rest of our meal trying to make it up to our server that we had been the slightest bit rude to the bitchy hostess. We gushed about the dipping sauces served with the pommes frites, “Bechemel, eh? It’s delicious”, we praised him excessively when he brought out refills, we complimented his brute strength at being able to carry my gigantic serving of mac & cheese, “You can carry that with one hand, goodness!” etc.

The reason I haven’t mentioned the mac & cheese really at all up until this point, is that is was completely unremarkable except for its size. $11 gets you about a pound and a half of what the menu called “three cheeses topped with breadcrumbs and tomatoes” but what I call “something that is only slightly better than PastaRoni”. It was bland. It was simply so unremarkable that I cannot come up with anything else to say about it.

Once we got our server, the service was adequate, but I only tipped 10%, which I still feel guilty about.

Decor/atmosphere: 9. I really like the look of the place

Service: 2. I’m really being generous here, they get a 2 because no one swore at me, but I’ll take a little swearing if it gets me prompt service.

Food: 4. The pommes frites really were good, but the mac & cheese was bullshit.

Total: 15

Temple has the vibe of a place that men take women they want to have affairs with.

Prior to beginning the Mac & Cheese quest, I had only ever visited the bar at Temple, but I’ve always felt like that description completely sums it up. The bar area is dimly lit with dark wood, and some kind of red room at the end that looks like a rapist paradise (I’ve never ventured into that space though, so it may be lovely). I went there for cocktails with Culture Friend after a night at the ballet, and got a comment from a middle-aged golf buddy about the murkiness of my martini.

“It’s a filthy martini,” I told him.

He said something along the lines of “you bad girl.”

On one of our cocktail outings Jewish Friend and I had seen on the menu that they serve truffle macaroni and cheese for a very reasonable price. We decided to try it one Sunday evening when all of the restaurants we really wanted to go to were inexplicably closed.

When we arrived, there was one other table occupied, and the hostess asked us if we wanted a table or a booth. I immediately replied “booth” and we were taken to a booth so vast that I could have comfortably lived there. Since the booth was so large, and there were only two of us, placement of our bodies and silverware became more cerebral than it should have been.

“It looks like a harem in here.” Jewish Friend said.

And it did.

I’ve never been in a harem, but aside from a lack of heaps of pillows and belly dancers– this place had a total harem vibe, and I think there are actually heaps of pillows in the red rapist room– can’t be sure. Our giant booth was covered in some kind of orange velour and it had a curtain tied back that just seemed to say to me “you can pull me shut and have sex right here.”

We did not do that, and when I asked Jewish Friend to pull it closed just to see if we had the slightly sleazy option of total privacy– she said “no, I will not be doing that.”

The truffle macaroni & cheese is listed on the appetizer menu, so it only costs $12. It’s served in a little hot-pot with a nice crust of cheese on the top and a giant spoon to heap it onto your appetizer plate. I’ve never had truffles before, or truffle oil– so I can’t speak to that aspect of the mac & cheese (which is clearly its selling point), but I can say that it was delightful. It was cheesy without being overly cheesy, messy but not in a way that leaves you with oil and flecks of dairy all over your chin, and filling without being heavy.

Perfect wintertime comfort food.

Decor/atmosphere: 5. Harem vibe, sex booth.

Service: 7. Seating and food delivery was very prompt, but we had to wait extraordinarily long for our bill.

Food: 8. Mac & cheese was excellent, fries were merely ok.

Total: 20

A while ago, Jewish Friend and I were at a diner and I noticed macaroni & cheese on the menu. Since we were having breakfast, I didn’t order that, but I remarked how much I love macaroni & cheese and wondered out loud where the best macaroni & cheese in Providence is.

“La Laterie,” Jewish friend informed me, “they have the best, someone sampled all of them a while back and said La Laterie is the best.”

“Don’t you think it would be fun to try them all and compare them?” I asked.

“La Laterie is the best.”

In spite of having been raised kosher (or maybe because of it), Jewish Friend likes to eat as much bacon as she can– clearly sampling all the mac & cheese Providence has to offer is not as exciting for her as it is for me. Nevertheless, she loves to eat out as long as she can sample the mac & cheese that I order, and get her meat fix.

The plan is to write a mini-review of the restaurant as a whole paying particular attention mac & cheese. I’ll note decor/atmosphere, service, and food and assign each a rating between 1 and 10, 10 being the best. After I’ve sampled all of the mac & cheese I can find, I’ll list them in order of best to worst as I see it.