STILL SUNNY Chef Joe.
In the Rhode Island tradition of giving directions like “it’s where the coffee milk factory used to be,” Simone’s is located where Not Your Average Bar & Grille and the ice cream shop Supreme Dairy used to be. Doubling down on the nostalgic references, the new restaurant is also operated by Joe Simone, the chef who used to run the Sunnyside on nearby Water Street, along with his brother John.
With seating for a bit over 100, including the outside tables, the capacity is nearly twice that of the previous restaurant. Once things are fully up and running, some breakfast and lunch favorites that Sunnyside regulars used to appreciate will be available — with those fluffy buttermilk soufflé pancakes or the spicy chouriço hash.
Simone has always taken his favorite activity seriously, from the moment he fell in love with cooking when he discovered Paula Wolfert’s book on southwestern French cooking. Rhode Island-raised and Brown-educated, he has also studied cooking with the best — Wolfert as well as Johanne Killeen and George Germon of Al Forno. His fascination with culinary traditions led him to tour Mediterranean kitchens, which in turn led to a collaboration with three other chefs on the PBS show The Chefs of Cucina Amore in 1999.
The new restaurant’s décor is subdued, with lots of gray and silver predominating even on the seat back cushions along with yellow stripes, the monochrome making the flowers on each table stand out. The wide-open kitchen is as prominent as the dining and bar areas. We were each presented with a taste-tantalizing amuse bouche, a black olive tapenade beneath curls of fried leeks and above a fried focaccia cracker. With such care taken with a casual lagniappe, what would be arriving once we started paying? A delicious fresh focaccia with olive oil came out to further indulge us while we perused the menu.
The appetizers are listed as “Snacks,” perhaps to get them noticed as late-night bar food. They include deep-fried olives filled with Roquefort ($7) and oven-roasted marrow bones with pickled chanterelles, parsley salad, and toast ($12). Next is a list of “Smaller Plates/First Courses,” which ran the gamut from jumbo shrimp wrapped in pancetta ($16) to roasted eggplant salad ($12). Half of the items are pastas, including house made lobster ravioli ($18). Menus have the day’s date, so your choices may differ.
We discussed the good sense of their offering smaller servings of pasta that a couple can share as a first course. Glad to more than talk about it, we ordered the house pasta ($17) of the day: fettuccine in a cream sauce with fresh corn kernels, plus chanterelle and shiitake mushrooms. What an agreeable combination, and with almost as many mushrooms as pasta.
The “Larger Plates/Entrées” were even more enjoyable to choose among, with such temptations as wood-grilled local lobster ($27), its olive oil “spiked” with lemon zest, herbs, and chili flakes.
I went for the Long Island duck breast ($26), which was an appetizing and flavorful spread of juicy slices, the fat on top broiled crisp. Peaches were a good touch, and the leeks had the tart hint of tamarind.