TRAVEL

Providence | The Dean Hotel and Birch Restaurant

July 22, 2014

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Uncharacteristically, I did very little research prior to visiting Providence. Once I nailed down our hotel I just sort of gave up on planning until we were maybe an hour outside of Providence when I finally figured it would be a good time to consult a downloaded guide book. Even then I skipped over any useful information and went straight to the food section.

We had planned just enough – we knew that we were staying at the Dean Hotel, and we knew we had a wedding to go to literally a block away from the hotel. Everything in between was up for grabs.

The Dean Hotel is a newer (as in opened within the past year) modern-y boutique-y hipster-y nyc-style hotel located in what I *think* may be the “up-and-coming” DownCity neighborhood, the term ‘up-and-coming’ being relative to, say, urban Detroit. To us the neighborhood seemed bustling and full of energy, young people, bars, and restaurants so maybe I was not totally wrong about this.

What I do know from what little research I did was that The Dean Hotel went through various incarnations – from an Episcopal church funded refuge “for the downtrodden” to an adult entertainment venue – before finally becoming a beautifully renovated lodging for artsy folks. The mix of colors, textures, materials (some original), locally commissioned artwork, old and new really created such a visually stimulating place. We touched everything, explored all the nooks and crannies, and took tons of pictures.

Around dinner time we figured we should pick a place to eat. Sly called up the one restaurant I remembered from reading my guidebook a couple hours prior and made reservations.

Then we took some more photos.

Finally we left the hotel, walked through the side alley and across the street and arrived at our restaurant. I didn’t know this before – because I didn’t do any research – but Providence is home to two well-known culinary schools. That, given the town’s close proximity to NYC, has resulted in something of a foodie’s dream – lots of ‘up-and-coming’ chefs with extensive resumes that have opened up their own hip little eateries that are fresh, innovative and totally affordable.

We approached Birch with very little expectation and left blown away. Everything we ate was delicate and interesting, yet warm and comforting at the same time. The dish we most oohed and ahhed over was the chef’s version of a smoked carrot stuffed with clams and served atop a warm pool of almond milk. Eaten all together, the taste reminded us of smoked brisket. My other favorite dish was the dessert, Sweet Grain Cereal, composed of apple butter, johnny cake, honey crisps, and all kinds of toasted grains topped with milk foam. It reminded me of every single cereal I have ever eaten in my lifetime and snapped me right back to my childhood – 8 yrs old, sitting in front of our old tv watching cartoons. I love when food does that.

PS – the wine was good too.

After dinner we roamed around DownCity for a bit before heading back to our little hotel where we spent the rest of the evening watching River Monsters.

DETAILS

SLEEP
The Dean Hotel // $99-$200+ a night / I stumbled across this hotel looking for an affordable lodging option in Providence. We got The Patron (aka third cheapest) room which featured a full size bed in a small, yet very comfortable, room. Something to note about this hotel: weekend rates are significantly higher and parking (a whopping $23/day extra) is not included. The prices on their website also do not include any hotel taxes, so after all was said and done we ended up paying a bit more than we usually like to spend. That being said we loved this hotel and would go back in a heartbeat, maybe just during the off season or mid-week when it’s a tad more budget-friendly. The staff was extremely warm and friendly, probably more than any hotel I’ve stayed. You can borrow bikes for free – first come, first serve. There is a cool restaurant next door, coffee bar in the lobby, a bar downstairs, and a karaoke bar in the basement. And the location is great – it’s right between Federal Hill and the University area so everything is walkable or, if you borrow their bikes, ride-able. It really is a gem of a place.

EAT
Birch// New American // $49 prix fixe 4-course menu, beverage pairings $35 / Very intimate yet casual place reminiscent of Momofuku Ko – guests are seated around a large U-shaped bar and are served drinks and food by the friendly wait staff in the middle. The menu is always changing and features local, seasonal food served in a very creative, modern and yet familiar way. Portion sizes were relatively small – maybe about 5 (delicious) bites each. Even so, after dessert I felt satisfied, not stuffed. Additional courses can be ordered if the prix fixe doesn’t fill you up entirely, and trust me, I was very very tempted, especially with the desserts. Without knowing too much about the food scene in Providence, I was pleasantly surprised to find a restaurant of this caliber, and even more surprised that it lacked any sort of pretension. I would definitely eat here again.

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