It's not hard for a restaurant to aspire to an upscale experience at downscale prices. What's hard is actually accomplishing it. Andrew's Bistro lays claim to that ambition and, on the basis of our one visit, seems to do a reasonable job of it. The claimant is proprietor Andrew Aytac, who over 26 years has picked up culinary and managerial skills in French and Italian restaurants, beginning in Paris and continuing in such food-oriented cities as San Francisco and, most recently, Boston.
The place is off the beaten restaurant track, in a small shopping center in the wilds of Cumberland. Step inside, though, and you are back in civilization. Dim lighting enhances a warm atmosphere full of dark wood and tasteful wall hangings, dominated by a long bar at the back. Pale yellow tablecloths are covered with glass, bistro style. There are no flowers at tables, as there would be at a pricier restaurant — and the savings are somewhat reflected in the menu. The wine list is wide-ranging, with more than two dozen available by the glass and an equal number of bottled beers.
Hospitality and good service are even less expensive than a non-Providence address, so Aytac makes a point of that, full of the charm of his native Turkey, greeting guests at their table. Black-clad servers busy about, and ours was certainly attentive, removing finished dishes when she passed and not waiting until we were half-done with our meals before checking on our satisfaction.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Starting with the starters, we faced several temptations. I considered their kitchen-prepared lump crab cakes ($10.95), which are served on a roasted corn salsa and topped with rémoulade sauce. But Johnnie brought my attention to the portobello Napoleon ($7.95), a stack that included eggplant, roasted peppers, and feta on mesclun greens. But they were out of this dish. The disappointment soon turned serendipitous when our next choice, "calamari modo mio" ($8.95) arrived, with Frank Sinatra appropriately serenading on the speakers. Its description starts same-old, with fried calamari tossed with banana peppers and calamata olives but then quickly gets more interesting: diced tomatoes and scallions in a white wine soy reduction. The sprinkling of Parmesan didn't hurt, either. It was delicious, with an unannounced and pleasant acidic tang and moderate red pepper heat.
We weren't finished starting. For a salad, Johnnie had the Ariana's delight ($9.95), an attractive presentation of five endive leaves, interspersed with cherry tomato halves, surrounding a pile of shredded radicchio. The little lettuce boats were filled with Gorgonzola and toasted walnuts in a champagne vinaigrette, but the announced heart of palm component was absent. I had a soup that I love but hadn't had in years because I hate being disappointed by a mediocre preparation of it. This five-onion soup gratinée ($5.95), redolent of thyme, was wonderful. Veal stock bolstered it heartily, and the Gruyere was well-browned for a texture and sweetness bonus.
As we expected by now, our entrées were satisfying as well. For a splurge for two, the Châteaubriand Bouquetiere ($46.95) is available Friday and Saturday. But my hefty protein appetite was well met with their signature mixed grill ($26.95). A rib tower of two thick lamb chops, medium-rare as requested, stood next to a sausage, all fire-grilled, with oven-roasted potatoes and mixed vegetables that were steamed but nicely herbed. The chops were succulent, and I've had no better lamb sausage; it was as fine-textured as a wurst and spicy hot.