Remember that old, ugly shell of a building next to the Vets Auditorium in Providence?
It is worth the trip to the elegant Temple Downtown restaurant, located inside, but operating separate from, the equally elegant Renaissance Hotel, to see what they have done to the old Masonic Temple.
Fine dining, a classy bar, an outside patio and intimate little nooks make dining a pleasure, whether you are going out for a big dinner or enjoying their “little plates.”
The Little Plate concept is fairly new to the area, and it has taken off at Temple. New manager Vincent Lo Buono and Chef David Cardell have developed a menu like none we have ever seen in Rhode Island.
Cardell is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and has served as chef in many fine restaurants in Boston, including the famous Parker House and in New York City. He is an expert in Mediterranean cooking (“That covers 22 countries”) but enjoys creating both American and Mediterranean dishes.
Lo Buono was born and raised in Cranston and spent a good portion of his career opening restaurants for Todd English in Las Vegas, New York City, Boston and English’s Tuscany in Mohegan Sun. Vincent is happy to be back home in Cranston and managing Temple Downtown, where he is putting the final touches on what he calls a “complete concept change with an approachable menu.
“We have approached the Small Plate menu on two occasions and love the concept, which is becoming a hit with hotel residents, concert goers and Rhode Islanders looking for something different.
Topping the menu list are the Maine Lobster Sliders ($16), served on a toasted brioche bun with romaine and tarragon aioli. My favorites are the Lamb Sliders, gently seasoned with gaeta olive tapenade, tzatziki, plus tomato and romaine.
We love the Mamma’s Meatballs, a blend of beef, pork and veal in a spicy tomato sauce with gorgonzola crema ($9) and the Arancini, with a roasted tomato saffron sauce ($6). Their gazpacho is made with local tomatoes in season, with an avacodo crema ($6).
Vincent says that they buy local whenever possible, citing the crisp Point Judith Calamari ($12) as an example.
“We buy the squid fresh and whole and slice it ourselves,” he said. “We list the dish under the ‘For the Table’ section, along with the Temple Mezze Platter [$15] and other items from the sea. And the squid dish comes the way it was meant to be served: with tentacles included. People love the combination of ‘For the Table’ and ‘Small Platters’ because they can share the wonderful tastes. It’s a very social experience.”
Large Plates are also available for diners who wish to order their own entrée, although you can even share that, as Joyce and I did with the Block Island Swordfish one evening. Cooked to perfection by chef Cardell, the generous portion included fresh garlicky spinach and a tasty polenta cake ($26).
Oh yes, the pizzas!
Cardell claims one that “you won’t find anywhere else.”
I figured he meant the Fried Topneck Clam or the Black Mission Fig & Serrano Ham. But he was talking about the Charred Pistachio Mortadella, which we had to try. By his admission, some people do not care for the Italian cold cut, but fried to a blackness and topped with taleggio, Narragansett creamery ricotta and arugula salad, it has a uniquely delicious taste.
The pizzas, including the traditional margherita and homemade sausage, range from $10 to $16 for the lobster.
From chicken wings, pork chops and Greek salad to ceviche, beef carpaccio and tuna tartare, the eclectic menu has something for everyone, and the best way to enjoy the dining experience is to share.
We have yet to make it to the dessert list, but friends rave about their chocolate lava cake with caramel ice cream and sea salt ($6).
Temple Downtown is open for breakfast and lunch, serving both the hotel and outside guests with a full breakfast menu and many of the interesting lunch items, including a three-course lunch for $14.95, pizzas and those unforgettable sliders. They have a huge wine and mixed drink list, including some “interesting” martinis and over a dozen beers on draft.
The challenge to the manager and the chef is to be able to provide quality food and service to a full house (Saturday when the Philharmonic is next door, or the recent Miss Wheelchair USA pageant), while still catering to the couple celebrating an anniversary or the small group that drove in from Warwick…a challenge they had met on the nights we were there.
Chef Cardell has prepared a special buffet for Philharmonic nights at VMA, which includes a talk by Assistant Conductor Francisco Noya.
Open for breakfast Monday through Friday from 6:30-10:30 a.m. and a Saturday and Sunday buffet served from 7:30-11:30 a.m. Lunch is served seven days a week from 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Dinner is served from 5-10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 5-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 5-9 p.m. Sunday. For reservations call 919-5050 or go online at www.templedowntown.com. Their address is 120 Francis St., Providence.