Let’s get right down to it… Providence Social is setting a great example in Buffalo for trendy dining spots that provide you with an unparalleled dining experience in a casual atmosphere. It’s as simple as that. Tucked away on Rhode Island Street, away from wandering tourists and your in-laws from the Northtowns, Providence Social is churning out innovation and excitement on a nightly basis. We owe it to ourselves to surrender an evening to the dinner service and enjoy the ride. The beer and cocktail menus are outstanding, as well; these people know their libations.
Normally, I expend column inches contextualizing the dining experience and what the restaurant has set out to achieve. In this case, it’s unnecessary, and frankly there is too much happening with the food to do that here. The venue itself is very comfortable and inviting with a small/medium-sized bar just inside the entrance and the main dining room beyond. In the summer months, there is a semi-private side patio. The service is relaxed, yet attentive and always top notch.
I had dinner at Providence Social with two friend in from Rochester, and we each opted to order a different three-course dinner and share to get the best cross section of the menu and the kitchen’s skill set. In general, if you have two or three friends with whom you’re comfortable sharing family style, this is a great way to sample the entire menu and get a broad appreciation for the restaurant in a single visit.
For the first course we ordered the Ox Tail Dumplings, the Seared Foie Gras, and the Chili. The ox tail dumplings are served on an herb demi-glaze, with crostini and a drizzle of mornay sauce. When I first saw mornay sauce in the item description, I was skeptical, as a heavy cream-based sauce like mornay might easily overpower a dish. I often associate mornay sauce with the famous Louisville Hot Brown dish, which is known for drowning the dish with cheesy mornay. Thankfully, the mornay was used expertly and sparingly enough to complement the ox tail meat and counter balance the crunch of the fried dumpling shell. The Seared Foie Gras was served over sweet potato pie, with maple and chili and a cinnamon brioche. In this dish, the sweetness of the maple and sweet potato contrasted with the smokey richness of the foie, while the cinnamon brioche contributed a much-needed crunchiness. As with many things on the menus of outstanding restaurants, while each element is delicious and fascinating unto itself, the revelation comes when the fork picks up a little bit of each component in one perfect bite. The chili was served with corn bread, and while it was the most traditional item we tried, it hit all the right notes on a cold winter night in Buffalo exactly as one would hope.
On to the main event. For our entrée we ordered the Providence Burger & fries, the Steak, and the Black Pasta Carbonara (on special that night). The burger arrived topped with a portion of crispy pork belly, bourbon-glazed onions, house-made aioli and a fried egg. Between the salty fattiness of the pork belly and egg yolk, this burger had a lot of great things going on. The black pasta carbonara proved to be a unique take on an Italian tradition. The squid ink that colored the pasta seemed to also tint the taste of the pasta in a way that grounded the dish. The traditional carbonara flavors of bacon and cream sauce were there, but in a way that allowed each ingredient to be part of the story in every bite. The steak entrée came with baby tri-colored potatoes, broccolini, and oyster mushrooms in truffle butter. It’s a pretty safe bet that if you pair steak with potatoes and sautéed mushrooms, you’ll probably have a hit on your hands (at least in my humble estimation). The steak also had a demi-glaze on the plate that was phenomenal, so much so that I used some of the fries from the burger dish to sop up the remnants when I was done.
For dessert we again opted for a multi-faceted approach ordering the Eggnog Cheesecake, the Chocolate Soufflé, and the Pumpkin Spice Crème Brulee. I think the surprise standout of the three desserts was the one we least expected to win the day… the eggnog cheesecake. Served with a drizzle of caramel and topped with caramel sugar shards, the eggnog cheesecake incorporated the eggnog flavor beautifully without losing what makes traditional cheesecake so delicious. That’s probably the best takeaway from the food at Providence Social: whether the listed ingredients in a dish seem to make sense or not, the kitchen staff knows how to cultivate the taste components they are looking for while still maintaining a masterful balance so that the overall dish does not come off as gimmicky. The chocolate soufflé was (as soufflé by definition is) an exercise in perfect technique; a show piece of the pastry chef’s expertise. It was the most understated flavor of the three, but as with almost all French cuisine, the beauty is in the subtlety. Lastly, the pumpkin spice crème brulee was yet another in a long line of technically perfect dishes that express balance of flavor, texture and innovation.
While this review focused on the dinner service, it should be noted that Providence Social has one of the stronger brunch offerings in the city, as well. One day, when we are able to circle back to repeats/revisits of some reviewed restaurants, the brunch service will be the focus.
Who: Providence Social
What: Small Plates/Dressed-Up American Cuisine
Where: 490 Rhode Island Street Buffalo, NY 14213