Birthday weekend in Providence [Providence, RI]

Our Spring Onion just exited her teenage years, and per birthday tradition, she picks a locale within an easy drive of Boston for a celebratory weekend. I’m on the hook to plan meals, and she doesn’t want to know in advance. This year she chose Providence. We started off with dinner Friday at Al Forno, an old favorite that continues to deliver. Starting with the grilled margarita (their spelling) pizza, which never disappoints, followed by two salads , one with shaved fennel, citrus, pomegranate, olives, and feta, and the other with poached pear, buffala ricotta, prosciutto, and pistachio. Both fabulous, and my SO determined to try to recreate them at home. A shared pasta was next, the classic five-cheese baked shells that have been a staple of the Al Forno menu. For mains, my SO and I shared a cassoulet, Spring Onion had sausage with a red wine reduction and mashed potatoes. Generous portions meant we have enough for several lunches. Deserts included a pomegranate granita, limoncello “baby cake”, and a chestnut and olive oil cake, all excellent. Service was superb. Al Forno continues to fire on all cylinders.

Next up - Saturday dinner at New Rivers and Sunday brunch at Oberlin. Reports forthcoming.


Kid’s got great taste. Looking forward to reviews of New Rivers (which I haven’t been to in years but I absolutely adore that cozy space) and oberlin. HBD mini-Entropy!

ETA: a welcome reminder to go back to Al Forno one of these days.


Happy birthday to your Spring Onion! Enjoy your weekend together.

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Thx, @tomatotomato and @digga ! She was amused by the BD greetings, a bit less so being dubbed “mini entropy” :wink: .

This morning she provided useful inside information. A young man she met in Florence, IT last spring, now a pastry chef at Oleana of all places, recommened the Farm Fresh Providence Farmer’s Market, and Navad Bakers in particular. We picked up an assortment of burekas and babka for breakfast. My Israeli SO pronounced the babka the best she’s had outside of Israel. We had the chocolate this AM and are saving the cinnamon for later. The barekas (3 varieties, potato, spinach, and feta) were excellent, but not quite up to the standard of the hole-in-the-wall place in the Rehovot train station.

We didn’t fully explore the farmer’s market, but there is a lot to explore. And it is indoors and year-round. Deserves another trip.


B and I were just talking about them last night (we’re at our Barrington house this weekend). The actual “factory” is close to our place and I know at least 1 place near us which carries Navad. Can’t wait to try them!

I thought “mini-Entropy” was hilarious! Like a bad mom joke (I’m full of them).


I thought mini-entropy was pretty funny too!
Navad also had tempting-looking rugelach that we didn’t try.


Ok, New Rivers. We arrived about ten minutes early for a 5:30 rez (Spring Onion likes to dine early, as do we) and the restaurant was already packed. The only table available was in the front room near the bar and adjacent to the door. We requested something less drafty and within about ten minutes they produced a table in the back dining room. Both rooms are intimate, roughly 8 tables in each, plus around 8 or so seats at the bar, so New Rivers is substantially smaller than Al Forno. Our table was a single large slab of quartersawn oak, and had the look of an antique. I learned later the tables had been built by a staff member about six years ago. On one wall there is a large, striking painted still life of pears on a table, photorealistic and executed by an artist named Robert Dodge, apparently a local. Need to find out more about Dodge.

It turns out we arrived during restaurant week, and the $45 three-course menu included something like 8 options for appetizers, 7 for mains, and 4 for desert. Any could also be ordered a la cart, and in the end our mix corresponded to one prix fixe menu and a gaggle of a la cart dishes. We started off with a charcuterie assortment, bone marrow, the house rolls, and a shaved fennel salad. SO pronounced the bone marrow the best she can recall. Pastrami-style ham, chicken liver mousse, and a local soft, ripe cows milk cheese - Little Mermaid- were highlights among the charcuterie. Winter pickles were a nice accompaniment.

For mains we had butter-poached New Bedford scallops, steak, and house-made Durham wheat pasta with blue crab in a tomato ragu. The scallops and steak were both outstanding. The pasta was flavorful, but cooked past al dente, unforgivable in my SO’s eyes.

For desert we had donuts (asymmetric balls I would have called beignets), chocolate pot de creme with salted caramel, and orange ice cream with chocolate sauce. Spring Onion and I declared the ice cream the winner, but my SO deemed it a tad sweet for her taste. The other deserts were very good.

They don’t serve espresso, but individual French press coffee served admirably. Service was efficient and friendly, our waiter offering his candid assessments and proffering tastes of wine by the glass before committing. Blessedly the portion sizes were human scale, and we left sated but not stuffed nor with leftovers.

I’m slightly embarrassed to admit this was our first visit to New Rivers, as it has been a Providence institution for decades. Our waiter mentioned that the historic building was the original home of Al Forno, which I didn’t know. Interesting that the founders of New Rivers and Al Forno were all RISD graduates.

Won’t be our last visit.


Really enjoying these reports!

It’s been forever since our last trip to Providence. If you’re still in need of any culinary adventuring before you head home, we customarily used to stop at Constantino’s for various Italian foods to take home. Also Pastiche Fine Desserts for espresso and a pastry. Looks like Pastiche may now be takeaway only. Both places within a short walk on Federal Hill. Though it’s cold enough today that even I might save a revisit for another time.

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And lastly, Oberlin for Sunday brunch. The room is a sharp contrast to Al Forno or New Rivers, large windows brightly lighting white tile and marble. The brunch menu was a refreshing change from brunch staples, and we enjoined our mains. Spring Onion and I both had a smoked fish plate, a smoked whitefish pate with capers and dabbed with olive oil, served with assorted pickled radishes (watermelon and breakfast were recognizable), baby romaine and a toasted sourdough everything bagel. SO had hash browns, American cheese, tofu, siracha crema and pickled beets, topped with an optional poached egg. Brunch beverages were all available sans alcohol. For desert I had a tapioca/pear/husk cherry toasted oat crumble. Spring Onion had unusually poofie (her term) rye sourdough pancakes, and SO had a pistachio “Bostock” with plum jam. The Bostock was a bit dry but the other deserts hit the spot.

A nice departure from the ordinary, and a great way to wrap up the weekend.

I should mention we stayed in the Graduate Providence, the former Biltmore. A spacious suite with kitchenette was greatly appreciated Sunday evening as we tucked into leftovers from Al Forno and Navad. The hotel exudes charm, has an in-house spa that SO and Spring Onion enjoyed on Saturday. While they were at the spa I used the Top Golf suite in the restaurant off the lobby, enjoying a virtual round at Links at Spanish Bay. A bit goofy because it didn’t seem to matter too much how you struck the ball, but it was a bit of exercise. The hotel got a bit of a makeover from the Biltmore days, but there is only so much they could do with the infrastructure. So interpret “charming” to include marginal heating (in our suite, but not Spring Onion’s) and lengthy wait (>10 minutes) for hot water in the morning (granted, it was a bitterly cold weekend). Extra blankets and a space heater that both helped were provided on request. That said it was a fun place to stay and we would come again.

Also on Sunday we spent an hour in the RISD museum, an eclectic and surprisingly large collection. Not nearly enough time to see everything. Sunday admission is free (vs. $20 for adults on other days), and you can book the free tickets on their web site. Spring Onion picked up a poster for her dorm room in the RISD store across the street.


Thanks @tomatotomato . We had such a blast in Providence I’m confident we’ll be back soon.


Thanks for these reports which make me want to spend a weekend in Providence, a place I have not been back to in more than 20 years, after living there for 10+ years.


You must made me so hungry @MaxEntropy - AF was already on my list but it has now been upgraded to my shortlist :slight_smile:

My SO asked why we don’t go to Al Forno on a regular basis…it’s only an hour drive!

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My family is going to use commuter rail to Providence soon. Won’t work for everybody, I know.

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Good point…how long does it take to get to Providence from South Station?

Depends on which train you take. The schedules are available at It’s usually about an hour; however, I have no idea how often the commuter rail from Boston to Providence is on time.

Amtrak, like the commuter rail, leaves from Back Bay and South Station going to the same Amtrak Station in Providence. It’s faster in general (fewer stops) and more expensive.

My family has the advantage of living a 10 minute walk from Sullivan Station on the Orange line, which goes right to Back Bay station to connect to commuter rail to Providence. So we don’t have to consider parking at all.

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Good lawd…an epic bday weekend of eating in our proverbial backyard. I’m dealing with some parental unit issues at the moment (dad’s in the “slammer” in Greenwich CT hospital), but trying to chime in here-and-there when I can (it’s good therapy).

Brava to MiniEntropy and to her adults. My 20 year-old palate was absolutely not as sophisticated as hers. :clap: :birthday: :clinking_glasses:


She spent a full month of her gap year in Florence, much of the rest of it in Tel Aviv. We hold on for dear life :crazy_face:


Pemberton’s in Cambridge MA is now carrying a range of Navad Baker’s products including babka, rugelach, and many variations of challah.


News that I can absolutely use. Thank you @Stiv!

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