The Temple restaurant in Downtown Providence’s Renaissance Hotel developed a new menu for Spring. Ditching its former menu, Chefs David Cardell (executive chef) and Joyce Goldstein (culinary consultant) shaped the new menu towards Mediterranean flavors, advertising tastes from all 22 countries bordering the ancient sea. The restaurant extended this menu first to the media, of which I was present. The luncheon presented matched the restaurant’s mystical interior (Masonic themes inspire a feeling of secret societies) alongside a new interior inspiring of Roman and Venetian trade routes.
Our opening experience involved a nice descent down a Masonic staircase. The bar featured copper platting and candle-light illumination and a nice selection of cocktails.
Temple’s cocktails occupied a large part of their new menu. Right from the onset, bartenders served up a trio of delicious cocktails. Me and my wife least enjoyed Temple’s ‘Turkish Coffee’ cocktail. This is not to say it was not delicious, but compared to the other two the drink was a bit underdeveloped. My wife enjoyed the Fleur de Marseille. It possessed St Germain elderberry flower liqueur and a lavender simple syrup mixed with sparkling wine and a rose-flavored lollipop. The Mediterranean Spritzer became my favorite (which paired well with the flat-breads). The sun-dried tomato and basil left in the glass complimented the similarly flavored simple syrup and citron vodka to make a savory accent.
A nice pair of flatbread appetizers complimented the drinks. A Margherita flatbread reminded me of the classic brick-oven pizza, though then similarly textured tomatoes and mozzarella really worked. The tastier Roasted Cremini Mushroom flatbread also boasted tasty arugula, spicy Gorgonzola and delicate mozzarella cheese. Both were nice bar appetizers and inspired greater appetite.
After being seated in the main dinning room, the staff served up thee Temple Mezze Platter. The appetizer served a trio of sauces; tzatziki, baba ghanoush, and hummus. All three had strong middle-eastern flavors and had nice flavor profiles to place upon a rather plain pita bread (especially after the nicely toasted flatbread served at the bar). A small pile of Moroccan-spiced carrots felt plopped on and did not add much, but were delicious. The Spanakopita accompanying the dish (spinach and cheese in puff-pastry) delivered a mild flavor easily accepted by all palates. Unfortunately, the Dolmas became the disappointment of the platter. Red Currants left a sweet taste alongside undercooked jasmine rice. Very bad when proper dolmades are one of my favorite dishes. The platter felt somewhat connected but needed perhaps some more thought to tie everything together. The appetizer felt more like a sampler rather than a thoughtful selection.
The waiters served our second course; the Gratin of Shrimp and aged Feta. A nice tomato and herb sauce smothering the lemon-sized shrimp filled a hot crock. Olive Oil grilled crostini accompanied the dish. The grilled shrimp complimented the grilled bread, though my shrimp were a tad undercooked. The tomato sauce itself was also a bit over seasoned. These fundamental mistakes marred a potentially delicious appetizer.
A very Rhode Island dish followed the shrimp. Port Judith Calamari accompanied fried zucchini and lemon wheels and lemon aioli. Another dinner commented on the greasiness of the calamari, indicating improper oil and/or cook time. The lemon and zucchini produced wonderful accents for the local dish.
Chefs Cardell and Goldstein then fielded questions after the early courses while the kitchen prepared our main dishes. Chef Cardell spoke of his eagerness to expose Providence to Mediterranean cuisine while exploiting New England’s seafood connection. Both promised that the restaurant would take steps to include local producers in their pantry selections.
Our wine selection throughout the meal included a nice Churchill Duoro (2007 vintage) and some Pascal Jolivet Attitude Sauvignon Blanc (2008 vintage). Neither paired well with a specific plate but presented some pleasant notes with the entire tasting. Despite the large wine list, a sommelier would help patrons decide which wines to enjoy with each meal.
Our main courses began with a misnamed Penne al Forno Alla Bolognese. Bolognese harkens to a thick meat-sauce flavored with tomatoes, yet this dish felt more like baked ziti or American Chop Suey (a local dish). The meat, while nicely caramelized and seasoned, felt dwarfed by too much cheese. A nice dish with a bad name, perhaps ‘Mediterranean Macaroni and Cheese’ would be a better name.
The servers presented the next course; a delicious plate of Spaghetti alla Puttanesca. The spaghetti was perfectly al dente, and the sauce was wonderfully flavored. A tad boring if served by itself, the dish needed some protein to balance it out as an entree.
A pair of Tagines served as our final course. A nice vegetable Tagine (and both me and my wife’s favorite) featured perfectly cooked carrots, squash, and chick peas along side a fluffy and savory couscous. Some minor hints of lemon could have been pushed out more for an otherwise delicious vegetarian meal. The line-caught Cod Tagine included similar vegetables and flavors. The fish, while somewhat mushy, had a nice mellow flavor that accompanied the vegetables and couscous. A big problem with their Tagines were the fact that they felt false. While served in the traditional conical dish, the entire entree felt like it had been cooked separately and placed within the pot for only aesthetic purposes.
Finally, their desert course finished a nice meal. They first offered a cup of coffee (the Seattle’s best felt a tad disappointing after being served a ‘Turkish Coffee’ cocktail) alongside their Buttermilk Panna Cotta. They topped the desert with delicate honey and fresh strawberries, though I look forward to Spring and Summer when the dish could feature native berries and honey. The Limonstillo stole the desert with a delicate lemon and saffron flavor served above crushed ice. Del’s Lemonade remains a Rhode Island Summer Favorite, the digestif was the adult’s version and had that Mediterranean bias Temple’s creators sought. The drink was flawless in flavor. A Meyer lemon version would be a nice summer version for me to enjoy (hint hint).
Temple’s tasting offered a fraction of their menu. The idea of a Mediterranean menu is ambitious since many of the cultures do not share many common elements. Chef Cardell put together a nice menu of flavors that fit together better than expected. Many of the missteps can be explained as opening jitters common in new menus. The above-mentioned errors are hopefully just because of the new cuisine, because the new menu gives Temple and unique menu in a classic local. Anything one eats in a former Masonic temple the food enjoyed better elicit memories of crusades, pilgrimages, and decadence. Temple has a full website. The restaurant opens on March 15, a bad day if you're Julius Caesar but a good a day if you want to try something new.