We Eat Rhode Island

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I don’t want to call myself a muse–that’d be overstating my case–but for a year I lived with my friend Diana, a fellow graduate of dramatic writing school who spent her time there studying screenwriting even though, from day one, I thought she was a world class playwright. “You should write plays!” I would constantly tell her as she showered or tried to sleep. “Why aren’t you writing plays? I love your playwriting. Write a play!”

Again, I don’t want to take all the credit. But, finally, Diana heeded my advice and wrote a killer play called “Girls on the Clock” that was selected by Brown Uniersity’s Playwrights Rep this summer for a production. The production got great reviews (The Providence Pheonix says: “‘Girls On The Clock’ is a tight little play that’s bound to go places”) and it was with tremendous excitement and great pride that Craig and I joined Diana’s boyfriend, Mark, for a trip to Providence to see our girl’s play. The trip turned into a grand eating adventure, with a Sunday in Newport, and now–after a week to process it all–I’m here to share. So pack your bags and come along….

We left last Friday, after Craig and Mark returned home from their respective jobs, renting a car from Speedy Car in Park Slope which has a surprisingly good deal: $200 for a car from Thursday to Monday. Good deal! Our car? A P.T. Cruiser. Shiny blue. You couldn’t miss it for a mile.

We arrived in Providence very late Friday night and ate dinner at a Greek restaurant near Brown University’s campus with pretty decent food. Exhausted from our drive, we crashed early–sharing a Brown University dorm suite with Mark and Diana. It was like a Noel Coward play without the martinis.

The next morning, rested and raring to go, Mark toured us around Brown University’s campus (where he and Diana both went to college) while Diana had a meeting with the theater department. Here’s Mark and Craig with a Brown University bear:

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And here’s an impressive sculpture made out of sticks:

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Hungry, we flashed the Diana symbol on to the side of a building, forcing Diana to flee her meeting and join us on a journey to the Modern Diner; one of the nation’s oldest diners, nestled inside of a train car.

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While we waited for a table (a very fast 10 minute wait) I studied the specials on the wall:

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I settled on the lobster Eggs Benedict thinking that it’s the sort of thing one should order in New England (a) because it’s regional and (b) it’s cheaper than the same dish would be in New York (probably a whole $10 cheaper; the dish cost $12, if I remember correctly).

Here she is:

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It was very tasty, well prepared (the yolk oozed on to the plate) but the lobster taste was a little too fishy; like the lobster had been left sitting out for a while and gotten a little funky. And the pieces of lobster were more reminiscent of crawfish than lobster; little bitty bites that made me wonder what the original lobster looked like. Still, I liked it and gave Craig a bite and he liked it too.

Mark, on the other hand, ordered a much more subtle dish; a very straight-forward version of French Toast:

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It’s almost like a “Make-Your-Own-Sundae” Bar toppled on to his plate.

After breakfast, we toured around Providence. Mark took us to an area that used to be a park but is now a big construction site.

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Craig entered into a classic debate that’s erupted between Craig, Mark and Diana in the past: which crabs are better–east coast blue crabs or west coast Dungeness crabs? I took a video which I will post later.

Finally, the time came to fulfill the very purpose of our trip: Diana’s play!

We headed back to Brown’s campus and I grew giddy as we walked into the theater. There were real professionally printed tickets and a real theater space with chairs and sets and all those things you expect at a show, and yet it was still super exciting. Here’s Diana with the ticket to her own show:

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I know I’m biased, but it was a truly awesome play. Funny, fast-moving, smart, edgy, and thought-provoking, the play’s about female executives at a reality show called “Mommy Makeover” who are both up for the same promotion. It’s about office politics, gender politics, and what it takes to be a successful business woman in this modern age. Let’s cross our fingers and hope it comes to New York sometime soon.

Delirious with happiness for Diana, we let Mark steer the car to dinner and he steered us to one of his favorite restaurants near Brown: Aspara Asian Restaurant, which Mark adores for its Cambodian/Thai/Vietnamese food but not for its Chinese food. “Everything’s great,” he said, “except the Chinese stuff. Don’t order the Chinese stuff.”

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At the table, Mark pointed out his favorite dishes so we just followed his lead. We started with Natang, crispy rice patties served with a ground pork coconut sauce:

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This was a fantastic study in textures and flavor; the crisp rice patties were perfect foils for the saucy meat ragu, soaking up the liquid while providing an excellent vessel for the meat; the sauce had many dimensions–spiciness, sweetness, earthiness–and we gobbled it down quick.

For our entrees, three of the four of us had this noodle dish that Mark recommended:

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Trying to find the menu online, I’m stumped as to what this is we ate; it was, essentially, boiled noodles (you can see them at the bottom of the bowl) topped with coconut milk, some kind of cooked vegetables, and ground up peanuts. It was served with a spring roll, which you can also see.

Diana had some kind of deconstructed dish with rice wrappers that she had to soak in water before topping them with various vegetables and sauces; here she is with her Asian taco:

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On the way to dinner, Mark and Diana “ooohed” and “ahhhed” as we drove past downtown Providence because we were there for Waterfire, a semi-regular event in which the city lights various pieces of wood on fire in the middle of a large lake. Mark and Diana had plans to see another theater event that night, so they dropped Craig and I off to Waterfire where we delighted in this town ritual; the people, the sounds, the scenery. New agey music plays as families gather at the rails to watch strange men in boats with large torches light clusters of wood on fire:

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After Waterfire, we met up with Mark and Diana for a party celebrating Diana’s play and all the other plays at the Playwrights Rep. There was cake, which you can see Mark and Craig modeling here:

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We then joined Diana’s actors for drinks on the water at this fun place where I got to try out the Shazam feature on my iPhone; it’s an application that tells you what song is playing wherever you are. When a song came on and Mark asked what it was, I Shazamed it and we got the answer! I forget what the song was now. It was probably something by Rhianna.

The night ended, we returned back to the dorms, and the next morning we had a very Brown college student breakfast at Rue de L’Espoir:

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It’s one of those charming college breakfasty places that you fall in love with when you’re in school and then revisit years later, even if the food isn’t particularly notable, to conjure up memories of yesteryear. At least I think that was the case for Mark and Diana; I know I have similar places in Atlanta (like The Flying Biscuit) that play a similar role.

Craig and I shared this very enjoyable French toast:

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And a breakfast burrito which was billed as a breakfast enchilada:

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It was a little bland but, still, the place was charming and I’m glad we went there.

And now for the best part of our trip (besides Diana’s play): a trip to Newport, where we spent the day before returning back to New York.

Welcome to Newport!

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It’s a very rich place with big mansions and fancy stores and wealthy people. We began with a walk on the pier, where I saw this man pulling a tub of lobsters:

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Here’s Craig in an alleyway:

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I wanted some Ice Cream so we got some at Sprinkles:

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I had my choice of sprinkles and I chose blue sprinkles. The blue sprinkles were sophisticated and elegant and yet lacked a certain nuance that one might find in, say, a red sprinkle or an orange sprinkle. (I kid.) Still, I enjoyed and Craig enjoyed his rainbow sherbet:

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We continued along the pier and wandered into this place with tanks of lobsters and fish:

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After that, we began an adventure none of us were quite prepared for; it’s called the Cliff Walk–a long, pristine path that takes you past all of Newport’s mansions along the water. Here’s the sign we saw before starting our journey; perhaps we should’ve paid attention to the Banksy like image on the lower left!

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Here are some images from our very pretty walk:

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After a few miles (yes we walked a few miles!) it was starting to get dark and we were wondering when this path would end. Then we made a startling discovery: the path didn’t end. We had to turn around and go back the way we came. Here’s Diana looking for her cellphone while Mark and Craig call from up ahead where they, like Lewis and Clark, went to scout out our situation:

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How many of you have looked death in the face? Really looked it hard in the face? There I was on the rocks, standing between a barbed wire fence (most of the mansions had barbed wire fences) and rocky death and I saw my whole life flash before my eyes. There was lots of olive oil and butter and very little exercise. I liked it that way.

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But I’m being dramatic. We made it back fine. We found a little pathway back to the main street and hopped on a trolley that took us back to the center of town.

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There, back on the pier, we searched out our last meal in Rhode Island. And we settled upon a most touristy spot, but touristy for a reason: it was outside, it was pretty, and the food looked decent and honest.

The place was called The Black Pearl and here’s what it looks like:

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It was lovely sitting out there. We shared a plate of oysters:

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We all had beer and then Craig ordered this clam chowder which was creamy and decadent:

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Craig and I decided to really seize the moment and we each ordered a lobster which is just something you have to do sitting out there under the sun in Newport, about to head back to city life:

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This might’ve been my favorite meal of the summer. It’s so simple and yet so good. You crack those claws and pull out the sweet meat; it’s like a construction project and a dinner all at once. You’re dissecting, you’re tearing, you’re ripping and pulling and shredding and then it’s all gone. It’s fleeting, like summer itself, and yet it’s beautiful. If you haven’t had a lobster this summer while sitting outside and drinking a beer with friends, please do before it’s too late.

The final note of the symphony was this key lime pie, which was shockingly good–better than normal–and a great last taste before heading in the car home:

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We played “Would you rather?” Craig fell asleep. Diana discussed her future. And then, there we were, back in New York; we dropped Mark and Diana in the East Village and Craig and I returned the car to Brooklyn.

Trips with friends in the summer are one of life’s greatest pleasures; and it was such a treat to have a very real reason to go somewhere unfamiliar. I’m so proud of Diana but also really grateful to her; this was a fantastic weekend and one I won’t soon forget.

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