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776 Hope Street
by Bob Mariani
Looks like upper Hope St. is about to start giving Federal Hill a run for its money in the restaurant department. Now along with Pizzico, Chez Pascal, Oakes Grille, the Ivy Tavern, the Gourmet Palace, and India, there’s Blaze.
Blaze is a smart, new, friendly neighborhood place offering what it terms "American fusion cuisine." I was skeptical at first, having seen too many restaurants, for the sake of novelty, turn "fusion" into "confusion" by mixing flavors that just don’t belong together.
Blaze’s is definitely NOT that kind of menu. The fusion that happens here all makes very tasty sense. Take their grilled Pork Chop Adobo ($17.95) dinner entrée, for instance. We did, and were just delighted with this tender 12 oz. center cut chop that was served with a wonderfully original dipping sauce— a sauce that mingled sweet, hot, and southwestern flavors to perfection. The chop came with an equally delicious chili-apple chutney spooned on top of a warm chunk of cheddar cheese-enhanced grits.
Going back a step, as one of our appetizers, we chose the Portabella Pops ($7.95), which again was a very successful fusion of goat cheese and smoky tomato fondue encapsulated in a dainty crust with Portabella mushrooms. Each tidbit came on a dipping stick for the mild but very flavorful dipping sauce.
Our other appetizer was the Mini Sweet Potato Samosas ($7.95). The half-dozen delicate, little, thin pastry shells held a perfect mouthful of creamy sweet potato just slightly jazzed up with a tamarind chutney. Another successful fusion.
At the recommendation of several of our fellow diners who had already discovered Blaze, I ordered the Braised Short Ribs ($16.95), and was served two large flat bone ribs whose meat had been slowly simmered to the color of dark chocolate. They gave me a steak knife, but all I needed was a fork to gently pull it off the bone. The specially seasoned sauce was the perfect blend of grandma’s-pot-roast-wholesomeness with a hint of spice. The sauce also gave very special character to the baby carrots and sliced potatoes, which had simmered in it, too.
Other items I can’t wait to try at Blaze are the Steak Argentine with chimichurri sauce; the St. Louis Style Spare Ribs; the Jamaican Jerk Chicken with black beans and rice; the All Spice Scented Turkey Cutlet; the Cajun Dusted Catfish with cornbread dressing; and the Baked Penne Creole with andouille sausage and Cajun shrimp.
All the desserts are made at Blaze and proudly displayed in the big glass counter that fronts the open kitchen. We asked for a sampling and were served a classic Carrot Cake with a cream cheese filling; a light-as-a-cloud and buttery Coconut Layer Cake; and the evening’s special, a chocolate bread pudding with a dab of orange ice cream. This was clearly designed to make chocoholics faint from ecstasy.
The atmosphere at Blaze could not be friendlier. The colors are warm, fireside shades of earth and sun, there’s a handsome full bar, and the conversation/background noise level is energizing and convivial without being deafening.
So, welcome to Hope St., Blaze. We’re delighted to have such a lovely, flavorful note added to the neighborhood. Blaze is closed Mondays and open for lunch and dinner all week, and for dinner only starting at 5pm on Saturdays and Sundays. For more information call 401-277-BLAZE.
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.