A Massively Talented Chef Makes Providence’s Pint-Sized Birch Restaurant a Chic Surprise
Ben Sukle, a James Beard Award nominee, serves frameable dishes to a fashionable counter.
My advice: Arrive to Birch, Ben Sukle’s teensy chef-tasting stunner in downtown Providence, as soon as doors open for dinner. Of course, you can’t be too picky with reservations, given that there are only 18 high-top seats arranged around a three-sided counter. But know that the late-day sun does something magical to the narrow, high-ceilinged space, bathing the exposed brick and framed watercolors in an Insta-friendly light that makes everything sparkle like the shimmering surface of a Klimt canvas. Plus, you’ll get to watch Providencians scurry by the picture window with tiny briefcases and miniature bowler hats like their urban diorama is actually a real, live bustling metropolis. No offense, but it’s freakin’ adorable.
The people-watching is great (jokes aside, they’re full-size), but the real draw here is Sukle’s spectacular food: a highly original take on modern-American locavore cuisine that is as refined and artful as anything you’ll find in L.A. or New York—or even (ahem) Boston. A raw-lobster course explodes onto the plate in a panoply of flower petals, herb leaves, and jewel-toned berries. Beneath the decorative flourishes, though, lies a highly precise rigor: the strategic placing of sweet ripe strawberries next to sour-tart unripe ones; and the pairing of the curiously similar textures—but wildly different flavors—of deflated peas, grated horseradish, and coriander-seed “capers.” It’s like the color-wheel-obsessed pointillism of Seurat but, you know, edible.
When the grilled duck arrives, I dutifully chronicle every twist, turn, and plot detail that go into the umpteen-move stock reduction: the grilling, then puréeing, of apples; the salted, pickled, deep-fried pulp of juiced rutabagas. But once I drag the mahogany-skin-crisped swaths of fat-speckled, rosy-pink flesh through the sweet-savory sauce and revel in its pure hedonistic glory, it dawns on me: A true masterpiece needs no placard.
At $60, the four-course meal is a steal, and takes about two hours from amuse to dessert. As the evening rolls on, the small room dims and the counter’s translucent panels blink on, bathing the room in a dramatic, Caravaggio-esque light that channels the sleek theatricality of a fashion-show catwalk. Take a nip of bracing amaro, follow it with a shot of expertly pulled espresso, then bounce out into the sweet miniaturist urbanscape. You may just see it in a whole new light.
Providence, Rhode island
Miles from Boston: 50
The Dean hotel (starting at $149 per night) offers 52 rooms of hipster-chic boutique-ness. Even if the neon-meets-velvet provost’s-lounge theme isn’t your particular jam, much of the art, furniture, and knickknacks—even the wrought-steel bed frames—are proactively curated from local artisans.
Visit downtown galleries—they’re open extra-late on third Thursdays—or chase dessert with a stroll to see Rob Lorenson’s “Angry Donut” sculpture, officially titled Textured Gear, a half-mile away along the river. On the way, stop in at the University of Rhode Island’s Campus Gallery, which specializes in professional and student art with a socially conscious bent.