In this downturned economy, restaurants are particularly hard hit, as consumers carefully assess their disposable income and cut back on eating out. This has inspired many dinner specials, some re-branding, and a few shuffles of chefs.
|Two Four Two | 401.453.0242 | 242 Atwells Ave, Providence | Mon-Thurs, 4 pm-1 am; Fri + Sat, 4 pm-2 am; Sun, 10 am-2 pm, 3 pm-12:30 am | Major Credit Cards | Full Bar | Sidewalk-Level Ac-cessible|
At the 18-month-old Two Forty Two, which moved into the spot formerly occupied by Renaissance, chef William Johnson has recently taken over the kitchen. Johnson, who worked at Flamma in NYC and at Toppers at the Wauwinet on Nantucket, is emphasizing more Italian dishes and revising the menu as often as the creative impulse strikes.
That approach has already won the restaurant loyal regulars, who drop by on a week night to share a pasta (usually the lobster mac 'n' cheese) and an entrûe (often one of the steak options). Other customers pop in for a drink at the inviting bar, with its contemporary chandelier of vertical slivers of prism-like glass. The back dining room, designed for larger gatherings, offers a view of the brick hearth oven used for wood-grilled pizzas and baked pastas.
In the slim front dining room, owner David Mardirosian has offset the brick walls and black ceilings with sand-toned pillars, linens, and two wrap-around sofa-like booths in the middle of the area. A long mirror near the ceiling is tilted down, so that it makes the space seem larger.
We chose a banquette at the back, with a great view of twinkling Christmas lights and another one of those chandeliers. Bill ordered a Malbec wine from Argentina, and I settled in with a cup of hot peppermint tea. Sips of his wine reminded me that it's like a fruitier, fuller Merlot.
At first glance, the menu is standard Providence-Italian fare: beef or tuna carpaccio; seared scallops; or steamed mussels as starters. But the pastas (unless otherwise indicated) are house-made, and some new ones from Johnson include the tagliolini with radicchio and prosciutto in a cream sauce; the butternut ravioli in a sage, brown butter, and pumpkin seed sauce; and an oxtail ravioli served with veal sauce.
The pasta touted as a signature, however, is the 242 lobster mac 'n' cheese ($19), and our cheery waitress praised its smokiness and its generous portion of lobster. We succumbed and were not disappointed by either of her descriptions. The penne had been nicely oven-browned and crisped, just as Bill likes it. Unfortunately, some of the lobster met the same fate. May I recommend tucking it under the pasta in the future?
Bill looked over the seafood entrûes — striped bass, tuna, monkfish — and the steaks — fillet with foie gras butter, rib eye, or the 242 warm steak salad. He decided on the tuna ($22), primarily for the description of its accompanying garnishes of "caponata, fennel, coriander." The five tuna tournedos were nicely presented atop a bed of caponata, that sweet/salty Sicilian eggplant relish. They had been carefully seared on the outside and left sushi-style raw in the middle. Bill loved it. I didn't see any fennel or coriander, and I found the caponata to be mostly raisins and eggplant.
We had started our meal with a mixed salad and the house pizza, the 242 margerita ($11). Legend has it that this pizza was named after Queen Margarita, wife of Italy's 19th Century King Umberto I. Traditionally it has fresh tomatoes and fresh basil with mozzarella on top.
Taking a page from the grilled pizza at Al Forno, the 242 version had dollops of cheese here and there, along with the sliced tomatoes, and in this case, basil oil, plus drizzled balsamic. Both the crust and the "dressing" were very tasty, though I didn't discern any fresh basil.
The mixed salad ($7) also had a pleasing vinaigrette and some welcome fennel slices. But alas, among the mesclun greens, were a few pieces of decaying red leaf lettuce, something that must always be watched for among mixed greens.
Our waitress told us about the four desserts: two ice cream truffles, not house-made, one covered in milk chocolate, the other in white chocolate, plus two in-house desserts — a Nutella pizza with bananas (Bill lobbied hard for that one), and a lemon sorbet float ($8). I had not been paying close attention to the last word of the sorbet description, so I didn't realize the lemon sorbet would be floating in champagne with fresh berries, not my cup o' tea, so to speak. But Bill liked it.
Overall, the staff at Two Forty Two was very accommodating, and our surroundings were restful and elegant, beginning with the engraved-glass foyer. But the food had slight disappointments for me, and perhaps chef Johnson just needs to keep a better eye out in the kitchen.
Johnette Rodriguez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.