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|Your Table Is Ready
by Bob Mariani
As a life-long jazz fan who grew up in New York City and who went regularly to all the great music clubs like Birdland (the original "Jazz Corner of the World"), The Half Note, and The Village Vanguard, the notion of ordering food at a jazz club seems like— well, like buying a wedding gown at Sam’s Club. (I seem to recall the "kitchen" at New York’s hallowed Birdland doubled as a dressing room and consisted of one small sink and a hotplate.) So when Providence’s sleek and glamorous new music room, The Hi-Hat, puts forth a serious menu, it’s only natural that somebody like me is a bit skeptical.
Well, I’m here to tell you that the food at the Hi-Hat is every bit as good as the music and it’s the kind of restaurant that warrants a visit for the food alone— never mind the fact that they’ve been bringing in some of the best musical and cabaret artists around.
The exceptional quality of the menu at The Hi-Hat is a bit less surprising when you learn that their current chef is none other than Todd Lesakowski, formerly of CAV and of the world-famous Blue Ginger in Massachusetts.
On every night except Saturday when there are full course meals, The Hi-Hat’s menu consists of "Small Plates and Tangoes." We went on a Thursday night early, before the band arrived from Boston, and the very sophisticated, music-friendly room with its two bars and stunning décor had not yet begun to fill up.
From a list of menu items like crispy calamari; mussels in curry leaf broth with chorizo dumplings; bubbling cheese fondue; and a seafood or a pupu platter, I chose their Mandarin Barbecued New Zealand Lamb Rack.
Each of my three chops was about two-and-a-half mouthfuls, tender as could be and exquisitely complemented by a subtle raisin-caper emulsion and a light, spring-y fennel radish salad. It’s a perfect size meal if you’re feeling only slightly peck-ish and it would pair well with a straight ahead jazz quintet or perhaps even a jazz-funk group like The East Side Horns. Prices on this nightly menu range from $10 to $33 (for a seafood platter for four people).
My wife had the "Satay Night Fever," another modest but very satisfying entrée with shrimp, quail, and pork satays. The meats were all perfectly done and the satay sauce really raised their flavor to another level. They came with a smartly-thought-out Thai noodle salad, crisp papaya slaw, and tangy dipping sauces. You can’t go wrong with this one, and it’s probably enough for two people.
We also shared a thin-crust pizza topped with creamy mozzarella, tomatoes and a pesto sauce with a beautifully focused flavor like a tenor solo by Dexter Gordon. There’s also a list of salads and sandwiches that includes the best tuna melt I’ve ever eaten; The Hi-Hat burger; a grilled steak sandwich with spinach, mushrooms and Swiss cheese— and nothing over $10.
For dessert, Chef Lesakowski treated us to a sampling that just blew us away with its sweep of intense flavors. Kind of like a couple of choruses by Miles Davis, if I may make another musical analogy. There was a coconut crème brulee loaded with levels of rich flavor; a bittersweet chocolate cake that could only have been improved by its hot white chocolate and Grand Marnier sauce; the house-made New Orleans beignets, small dumplings of incredibly flavorful donut dough with light, creamy fillings; and the house-made ginger ice cream which is one of those tastes that’s so intense it haunts you for days afterwards like a phrase by Ella Fitzgerald.
On Saturdays, The Hi-Hat has a slightly more substantial menu that changes every week. It will contain beautifully harmonized compositions such as grilled miso salmon with shrimp fried rice and a pea tendril salad ($22); chorizo stuffed chicken with braised cabbage, mashed potato and Madeira sauce ($21); or perhaps shrimp sautéed with garlic and rosemary, with roasted baby tomatoes, penne past and artisan feta cheese.
Truth be told, the menu never hits a wrong note at The Hi-Hat. This place is a priceless addition to the dinning/music scene in our area and deserves to be frequented often. They’re open every day and there’s free parking in the lot that surrounds the old Davol Square brick building. For reservations and a list of who is playing there for the next several weeks call 453-6500 or go towww.thehihat.com.
Bob Mariani is a Southeastern New England freelance author. Besides his "Your Table is Ready" restaurant reviews found here, he also writes jazz articles on allaboutjazz.com.