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McCormick & Schmick’s
Providence Biltmore Hotel
11 Dorrance Street
by Bob Mariani
With a menu as large and sprawling as McCormick & Schmick’s, keeping the flavors of each dish focused and precise isn’t easy. Surprisingly, on my third visit to this bustling downtown restaurant, the quality and tastes were as sharp and well-tuned as ever.
It’s also great to see this historic downtown Providence landmark so thoughtfully restored. McCormick & Schmick’s décor has re-captured the 1920’s speak-easy atmosphere that fits beautifully with the Hotel Biltmore’s heritage. Dark woods, mission-style lamps and glass works, lush carpets and even cozy little curtained ‘snugs’ for four bring you back to a romantic and elegant era.
The menu fare, however, is as fresh as the daily catch. In fact, McCormick & Schmick’s prints its menu new every day based on what seafood comes in freshest.
On the night we went, the "Fresh List" contained no less than 29 items. There was a bevy of oysters from as far away as Prince Edward Island, Canada, and from as close by as Narragansett.
My friend Courtney and I began with a large oyster sampler platter ($19.80)—two oysters each from the six different locales listed. I was delighted with the range of tastes, from the rather briny Milford Haven, Virginians to the milder Raspberry Points from W. Vancouver.
I followed the crustaceans with a cup of sumptuous New England clam chowder, creamy but light and with what I’m pretty sure was just a hint of sherry.
My wife had McCormick & Schmick’s Wedge, a quarter head of fresh Iceberg lettuce and tomatoes with a rich blue cheese dressing. (I often refer to this dish as "the steak of salads."). She also sampled the classic jumbo Shrimp Cocktail ($12.95) with a horseradish dipping sauce. The shrimp were big but very tender.
For her entrée, Courtney chose the Ahi Tuna ($20.90), which, although it had traveled all the way from the Penguin Banks of Hawaii, was day-boat fresh. It comes to the table "seared rare," which makes it pretty much like sushi. It was melt-on-your-tongue tender and simply garnished with soy sauce, tangy Wasabi mustard, and pickled ginger.
My entrée was the Tilapia ($19.90) from Guayaquil, Ecuador. A mild tasting fish to begin with, it was greatly enhanced by a finely chopped cashew crust and a slightly sweet rum butter sauce. Even the little helpings of veggies that came with this dish had a garden freshness.
Jan’s main dish was the Maryland Lump Crab Cakes ($21.70). The cakes were flash fried and not a bit greasy. They had a great, ocean-fresh flavor and were surprisingly light. All they needed was a touch of tarter sauce for accent, which is precisely what they came with.
As I said earlier, McCormick & Schmick’s menu is huge and not only does it cover the waterfront, it also has plenty of options for the meat or pasta lover. So while the Specialties menu offers everything from Grey Sole and Cajun spiced Catfish to Shrimp Scampi and Rainbow Trout or Bluefish, there is also a meat and poultry menu. There you’ll find Grilled Chicken Breast, Linguini with blackened Chicken, an 8-oz. Filet Mignon, home style Meatloaf and even a grilled BBQ Chicken sandwich.
Looking for the best lunch deal in town? Wait’ll you see McCormick & Schmick’s $1.95 bar menu available seven days a week. It offers a half-pound cheeseburger with fries (how’ bout that, Mickey D?); or Sautéed Mussels Creole with rice cakes; Southwestern Fish Cakes with sherry mayo; Cashew Catfish Nuggets; a Spinach Dip with chips; Buffalo chicken Tenders with celery and blue cheese; a Quesadilla with pepper jack and cheddar cheese; or Cajun Fish Nachos with pico, cheese, and sour cream.
I have not been for lunch yet, but my guess is that if word’s gotten around downtown about this menu, McCormick & Schmick’s is a pretty busy place around noontime.
McCormick & Schmick’s also has breakfast seven days a week too, from 6:30 to 11, which I’m sure makes a lot of the Biltmore Hotel guests happy.
McCormick & Schmick’s has brought a very valuable dimension to the Rhode Island dining scene and is certainly a great addition to the Biltmore, which after so many years of ups and downs, deserves a little limelight right about now.
Valet parking is two dollars. For specific information, call 401-351-4500 or visit theirwebsite.