Review: Temple Downtown

From graffiti to Gorgonzola
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  June 2, 2010

Temple Downtown certainly has gone through changes.

Temple Downtown | 120 Francis St, Providence | 401.919.5050 | Open Monday-Thursday,6:30 am-10 pm; Friday, 6:30 am-11 pm; Saturday, 7:30 am-11 pm; Sunday, 7:30 am-9 pm | Major Credit Cards | Full Bar | Sidewalk-level access
As a place to grab a bite before catching a performance at the VMA Arts and Cultural Center next door, its previous incarnation boldly acknowledged its earlier condition as, well, a derelict building. Three years ago, local graffiti artists were invited to tag the walls here and there, just as many had done over its nearly eight decades of abandonment. When it was constructed in 1926 as a Masonic temple, only the elegant Greek revival façade was completed before money ran out. Reborn as a restaurant, vestiges remained only in some silly drink names, such as Scottish Rite and Mason's Jar.

Nowadays the self-consciousness is gone along with the graffiti. As befits entering the restaurant through the posh lobby of the Renaissance Providence Hotel, the decor is pleasant to the eye, informal but attractive, with orange curtains at the windows, and fat faux candles on hanging trays that serve as chandeliers.

There is now a decidedly Mediterranean flavor to the menu. The executive chef is David Cardell, and he has consulted with celebrity chef Joyce Goldstein, who has written more than 20 cookbooks on Mediterranean cuisines. Cardell says he's big on not masking flavors.

Even the specialty cocktails ($9-$12) invite you to close your eyes and let your taste buds travel. There is the Fleur de Marseille, with sparkling wine and lavender, and "Turkish Coffee," with espresso and vanilla vodka. The Greek salad martini is a triple dirty version with cucumber vodka, garnished with a cuke slice and cherry tomato. One sip and I considered becoming a vegetarian.

Half of the one-page menu is devoted to cocktails and wines. In two visits, we sampled widely from the other side, half of which consists of "Mezze/Small Plates" and soups and salads. Starting with the Temple mezze platter ($15 for two and $25 for four) will not disappoint. The spinach pie wedges are its high point, with the flaky phyllo brushed with clarified butter as well as olive oil. Topped with toasted pine nuts, the baba ghanoush is flavorful, as is the yogurt tzatziki dip for the pita, despite being light on the garlic. Hummus, stuffed grape leaves, and Moroccan spiced carrots fill out the platter.

If you're into interesting variations on calamari, try theirs ($9), which cleverly contains fried slices of lemon. Also enjoyable is the gratin of shrimp ($13), done Greek style with feta, and baked with a rich red sauce.

Portuguese caldo verde is one of the two soups, the other being a more imaginative celery root and fennel soup (both $7). The salads include one with serrano ham and figs tossed with baby spinach ($11), and one with farro, the coarse wheat grains mixed with vegetables and topped with grilled shrimp ($12). We had the hearts of romaine salad ($10), and the presentation was more impressive than the combination. Lettuce leaves were stacked and dolloped with sweetened Gorgonzola, accompanied by a few pieces of yellow beets. The slices of pear were too thin to have much taste, and walnut oil in a vinaigrette is too delicate to provide much flavor, though it seems appetizing in a menu description.

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