Electric Avenue

Electric Avenue

Chef Nick Rabar's new restaurant is an instant hit

I went to Avenue N with very high expectations, having watched chef-owner Nick Rabar for the past decade paying his dues at Providence restaurants, most notably those of the Chow Fun Food Group. Rabar is out on his own now, and I was not disappointed. Every step in our dining experience at his brand new restaurant was interesting and exciting.

Rabar did make one big mistake: his restaurant is way too small. Culinary talent this big needs more than 45 seats (including about 10 spots at the bar). Thankfully, there are an additional 30 seats on the patio, which is fine for right now, but what will we do come winter? Since opening in May, Avenue N has been jammed with Rabar fans as well as Rumford residents hungry for a really good local restaurant.

Avenue N is on the street level of Rumford Center, an old baking powder factory that’s been converted into apartments, condos, office space and retail shops. The restaurant’s concept originated with Rabar and his wife Tracy, who in her own right has more than 20 years experience in the restaurant business. Their concept of “an American kitchen” was brought to fruition by the Judd Brown design group. The end result is a contemporary bistro that pays homage to the building’s industrial roots. Exposed beams and ductwork, warehouse lighting and reclaimed wood add up to a charming mix of old and new.

At six-food-four, Rabar is a towering figure in his semi-open kitchen. It’s easy for him to see who walks into Avenue N, and he’s quick to pop out and greet his guests whenever possible.

Attired in blue jeans, white shirts and long bistro aprons, the wait staff is attentive and friendly. Paul welcomed us with the oversized menus and promptly brought us our drinks. He smiled broadly when I warned that we were going to order a lot of food because it was all so intriguing.

The Corned Beef Reuben Sliders ($8) are precious little sandwiches of buttery rye bread, bulging with tender corned beef, melted Gruyere cheese, braised sour cabbage and Thousand Island dressing. You might end up with a little heartburn, but trust me, the Hand-Battered Corn Dogs ($7) are so worth it, especially when dipped into the chipotle ketchup. The Stuffed Chicken Wings ($9), a labor-intensive dish if there ever was one, consists of four wings, deboned and stuffed with a finely chopped mixture of shrimp, pork, black mushrooms and peanuts. This is tasty enough to stand on its own, and even better with a quick dip into the accompanying sweet and sour sauce.

When it comes to salad, it’s hard for us to resist anything with beets. At Avenue N, Roasted Schartner Farm Beets and Roquefort cheese ($9) are combined for a slight change up (most chefs pair beets with goat cheese) with pleasing results. A beautiful dish, the ultra-this slices of red and golden beets are crowned with a generous medallion of tangy blue cheese, then topped with lolla rossa, a frilly Italian lettuce with a mild green taste. Thinly sliced dried figs are strewn about the plate. Sherry vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and sea salt make the flavors pop.

Like many modern restaurants, Avenue N has a limited number of entrees, eight on the menu plus specials. Rabar offers - with dazzling accompaniments - a free-range organic chicken, hanger steak, beef short ribs, three seafood options, a spring pea and ricotta ravioli, and the signature Avenue N Burger ($11), crafted from Meyer Farm beef. This is the kind of burger you need to hold on to with both hands, and be prepared for meaty juices to run down through your fingers. It’s piled high with applewood bacon, Vermont cheddar cheese, grilled Vidalia onions and a smoky chipotle aioli.

A real tongue twister, the Block Island Black Bass (the most expensive item on the menu at $24) has five different flavors going for it. First, the fish: a delicious saltwater fish, the black striped sea bass of the Atlantic move into Block Island waters every May. Despite its name, the flesh is creamy white with a mild, sweet flavor. At Avenue N, the fresh fish is a thick filet pan seared until golden and served over a heartier-than-usual new potato puree. On the same plate, you’ll find a finely chopped sweet and sour red cabbage and squiggles of horseradish aioli. No ordinary garnish here - Rabar finishes the dish with a trio of exquisitely crisp fried oysters. The fish, the potato, the cabbage, the horseradish, the oysters: fiver divergent flavors that meld beautifully for a most satisfying taste experience.

Another gorgeous presentation, the Pan-Seared Filet of Salmon ($21) starts with a vibrant green base of fava bean succotash and North Country bacon. A thick slab of pan-seared salmon is draped over the succotash, an old Narragansett Indian dish in a modern setting. Sitting on top of the vibrantly colored salmon are two plump Red ruby shrimp, intertwined almost suggestively. The salmon, the shrimp, the fava beans: everhting is cooked to perfection.

Desserts are very limited, with only two available the night we were there. One was a chocolate chip cookies warm from the oven served with ice-cold milk from Munroe Dairy. The other, more to our liking, was the Cupcake Sampler ($7). One cupcake was lavender, the other was a wonderful combination of dark chocolate and orange flavors. Both were topped with thick, not overly sweet buttercream.

It’s easy to see why this little neighborhood restaurant is always packed. Avenue N is a lot like an exciting new recipe. All the key ingredients are in place, and so are the Rabars, with Nick in the kitchen and Tracy at the front of the house. Every night that recipe turns into a remarkably delicious dining experience.

- By Linda Beaulieu at Providence Monthly -

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