I recently made a short weekend trip with my wife Jun and another couple to Rhode Island, a part of the country I had never been before. With its beautiful sea and charming New England vibe, Rhode Island is certainly a place worth visiting for a weekend getaway if you live in New York City. I was also excited to try a couple of restaurants on my radar in Providence, which is where we all ended up staying for the night. Among them is birch, a restaurant from chef Ben Sukle that features seasonal tasting menus at bargain prices (originally at $49 for four course menu, now up at $55 when I visited but still very reasonable compared to New York standard). The moment we stepped into the intimate tasting counter with dim lights on the ceiling, I knew there would be something special going on at the kitchen. And yes, birch delivered in terms of offering sophisticated but not over-the-top dishes that were overall very well-balanced.
Jun and I shared our dishes so we got to sample eight dishes (there was also an amuse bouche and a complementary dessert at the end). I liked the way the kitchen was delivering elevated dishes in a seemingly effortless way; I didn’t see the kitchen over-doing things by mixing in some fancy ingredients or employing over-the-top techniques. Rather, the freshness of ingredients and the careful attention to the way they interact with one another define birch’s direction. I liked the raw lobster with nasturtium and unripe blueberry that was quite fitting for a dish to kick off the meal, and the cucumber with pistachio and fennel that Jun ordered also had a complexity of flavor that gave a lot of pleasant sensation to my palate. For the second dishes, I was a huge fan of lightly warmed tomato with shellfish broth underneath; it was quite astounding in its texture and temperature that I think I could’ve enjoyed another slice. On the other hand, Jun’s rock crab with almond and green peppercorn was probably the weakest dish of the night; not that it was bad, but it was difficult to remember anything special about it.
Jun and I have had plenty of delicious duck dishes, but the smoky feel of the grilled Rhode Island duck with chicories, bread, cherry and black garlic was something else. The texture of the meat was more or less perfect, and worked quite harmoniously with lightly grilled cabbage with sweet potato, caramelized sauerkraut, toasted seeds and a broth of dried apples, offering a variety of flavors and textures that would stand on its own compared to the other fine-dining establishments in New York City. For desserts, I slightly preferred the fresh blueberry, which Jun had ordered, over the strawberry one that I had decided to get. Strawberry dessert with beach rose and locust flower fermented honey was certainly delicious but somewhat predictable, while I didn’t expect the fresh blueberry to work so well with the caramelized cream that added another layer of flavor to the fruit.
The counter at the restaurant seats only around 18 people, so booking in advance is always recommended, although the turnover was fairly quick for a tasting-menu only establishment. There is full bar with wine selections more oriented toward the organic / natural side (one thing I wasn’t happy about, as anyone who reads my reviews knows by now about my aversion to these varieties). The intimate experience at birch means it will be a perfect venue for a casual date night or impressing an out-of-town friend or family member. Birch is definitely a restaurant not to be missed while you are in Rhode Island. Its understated sophistication and dedication to seasonality reflected through the daily changing dishes will make it worthwhile stopping by in Providence even though Newport and other seaside towns in the state may offer more fun.
- Creativity: 8.5/10
- Execution: 8.5/10
- Ingredients: 9.0/10
- Flavor: 8.5/10
- Texture: 8.5/10
- Value: 9.0/10
Address: 200 Washington Street, Providence, RI 02903
Telephone: (401) 272-3105