There are two kinds of chain restaurants. Some are stamped out with cookie cutters and rely on customers being attracted to something familiar. And others go for quality as the common denominator, standardizing what has been fine-tuned but allowing for creative differences.
|ARDEO AT WATERPLACE | 401.351.1400 | dineardeo.com | 1 Union Station, Providence | Sun-Thurs, 11:30 am-10 pm; Fri-Sat, 11:30 am-11 pm | Major Credit Cards | Full Bar | Sidewalk-Level Access|
The original Ardeo on Cape Cod, in Yarmouth, called itself a Mediterranean Taverna, while the recently opened one nearby in Brewster is a Tuscan Tavern. In Hyannis they downplay the theme and subtitle themselves simply “On Main.” Since the fall there has been a Providence location just outside of Waterplace Park, where Raphael’s used to be, and it has its own distinctive flavor.
Ardeo at Waterplace welcomes you expansively with flowers in planters, in season, and a cheerful blue awning inviting you in. Immediately you get permission to indulge yourself, since an array of desserts is displayed near the entrance. A tasteful but busy design scheme does its best to overwhelm your senses. Bottles of wine are prominent.
When you sit down at your table and shake open your napkin, the generous amount of red pepper flakes in the bottle of olive oil at your elbow might signal Italian, but the menu says differently. Many offerings skew farther east in the Mediterranean. Listed under salads, for example, the antipasto ($16.95) contains “lollipop” lamb loin chops, marinated and grilled, instead of cold cuts. As well as a Caesar salad there is a Greek salad, which isn’t unusual, except the latter has a little flame next to it as do other items, indicating a particularly popular possibility.
Sprinkled throughout are Lebanese-inflected offerings, such as the fatouch salad we shared: iceberg lettuce, not the wedge that has become common, but separate squares among the ingredients, tossed with a garlic and lemon vinaigrette, and sprinkled with powdered red sumac. Mint leaves brought in the taste of spring; bits of pita chips provided crunch. As well as all of the five salads being available in half or full portions ($7.95/$10.95), they all may be ordered as a side salad for $4.95. Excellent idea. Salads can be amplified with salmon, Black Angus tips, a kabob, or two preparations of chicken.
I also had soup, because the soup of the day especially appealed to me: shrimp and corn chowder. It was lightly creamy and slightly spicy hot, good. Their signature chicken and orzo soup is always available. While the soups are listed only by the bowl, at $3.95, you can get a cup portion for a dollar less if you ask.
We weren’t done starting, though, until we sampled the roasted chicken and portobella pizza ($13.95), which sported a flame and also was our waitress’s favorite. It was done as they all should be: with generous amounts of ingredients, such as diced tomatoes and caramelized onions; the mozzarella grilled to brown here and there; and a tasty crust. Way to go.
Paninis, wraps, and burgers are available on the evening menu, as well as pastas, but we chose a couple of entrées. Johnnie had what was described as sea salt and sugar cane cured halibut ($25.95). The adjective-heavy description amounted to a thin but flavorful dusting on the outside of a filet that was cooked with restraint. It was atop a marvelous risotto that was packed with pieces of asparagus and diced tomatoes.