March 7, 2012 11:04 am
By Gail Ciampa
There are restaurants and there are restaurants.
The latter are high-profile, located in unique settings and have established culinary talent. They also seem to have unlimited budgets. (Everyone has a budget, of course. Some are just much bigger than others.)
Chapel Grille is such a restaurant. Perched high above Cranston’s Garden City shopping area, it’s part of Carpionato Properties’ Chapel View development with stores, housing, offices and other eateries. Chapel Grille is the jewel in the crown.
The restaurant opened in early December but had been in the works for years. General manager and executive chef Timothy J. Kelly, formerly of Providence’s Café Nuovo, started 2 1/2 years ago working on the culinary side, including outfitting the kitchens, hiring chefs and developing a menu. He had just returned from a sabbatical to his native California and Napa Valley, where he drew some inspiration for Chapel Grille’s menu.
Seating options include a formal dining room, the Main Salon.
But Kelly was hardly there at the beginning. It was 1998 when Alfred Carpionato began his plans to develop the long vacant area to “its potential as a lifestyle center,” said Krystal L. Carcieri, project coordinator of the Johnston-based Carpionato Properties.
So here’s a bit of the background of the land and a lot about what makes this new dining destination something outside the ordinary.
Though casual observers will recall the property at Sockanosset Cross Road and New London Avenue as home to a training school for boys, it was much more. Two adjacent Cranston farms were acquired in the mid-19th century to create a state almshouse for the poor, an asylum for the mentally ill, and a house of correction for the incarcerated. It was a social service project to raise the standards for the indigent and relieve local cities and towns of the burden of care, according to a history compiled by Carcieri.
Its dormitory cottages were built from 1881 to 1895 with rubble stone walls, granite stonework and arched windows. There were carpenter and mason shops for training, as well as machine and blacksmith shops. A stone chapel for religious worship was built in 1891, and a dormitory wing for an infirmary was added decades later. The wing burned down in the 1970s but what remained of the chapel forms Chapel Grille’s bar and walls, said Carcieri. An enormous wooden chandelier, inspired by a William Blake watercolor, is a focal point.
Enter the Chapel Grille and to the left is the Cathedral Bar within the impressive walls of the original chapel. Stained glass windows glow warmly and the light changes as sunset approaches. Hanging from a cathedral ceiling is an enormous wooden chandelier, inspired by William Blake’s watercolor “Ancient of Days.”
There are a few tables here, too, but it is the long, white onyx bar, lit from below in a choice of shades (2,000 of them), that is the focal point. It is kept set with silverware and napkins at each well-padded stool. It’s become a popular place to dine as it allows vision into the open kitchen, which includes a Wood Stone hearth oven and a plancha, a cooking stone that heats to a thousand degrees to sear foods such as scallops.
The Choir Loft is one story up from the bar and many tables look down on it. There are 60 seats, including a well-appointed table for eight.
Turn right when you enter Chapel Grille and you are in the Main Salon, the dining room with a fireplace as focal point and glass doors that exit to a second story terrace from which you can see Providence. Called the Skyline Terrace, al fresco dining will be offered during the summer but plans call for four-season dining once heaters and canopy awnings are added.
More intimate is the Conservatory, a smaller, formal dining room at the end of the building.
Below ground are two function rooms and a bar. A wall can be taken down between the rooms to create one large space for 100 guests and a dance floor. An outdoor terrace is also part of the makeup here and can be appointed with tents.
Kelly’s first hire when he joined the project was Manuel Ojeda, his former colleague and a native of Ecuador, as chef de cuisine. They were together at Café Nuovo and then Ojeda went to sister restaurant Capriccio, where he worked with chef/co-owner Nino D’Urso before taking over as executive chef.
Kelly also brought in Alberto E. Lopez as sous chef. He was most recently executive chef at Costantino’s Ristorante on Federal Hill in Providence. Like Kelly, he too had just returned from a sabbatical and was ready to get back to the kitchen.
Teddy Espino was cooking at Spain, one of the state’s most beloved restaurants, when he was tapped by Kelly for a second sous chef position.
Kelly brought in Erin Farrar as pastry chef. She was at Eleven Forty Nine in Warwick and this is her first lead role. It’s one she was ready for, said Kelly. She has developed an extensive menu including what Kelly calls fruit perfumes.
How can one restaurant have so many cooks in the kitchen?
“Mr. Carpionato wants everything perfect and he’s not going to settle for anything less,” said Kelly. “He doesn’t want this to be the last Chapel Grille.”
The focus of the menu is the Wood Stone hearth oven, Kelly said. From that come pizzas and some roasted dishes, including a Wood Grilled Chicken Paillard.
The restaurant makes focaccia daily but brings in Bristol Bakery bread to pair with a quartet of extra virgin olive oils, from Italy, Greece, Spain and California, for dipping.
Kelly never strays far from his California roots and a menu inspired by the Mediterranean. “The menu is inspired by the olive growing regions,” he said.
But it’s also a way to eat lighter, which prompted Chapel Grille’s Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes. They are made without milk or butter; just Yukon Gold potatoes and olive oil combine for the light spuds. They come in varieties including black truffle oil; lobster; spicy crab; corn, peas and pancetta; roasted garlic and Parmesan; or most popular to this point, bacon and caramelized onion. These sides are big enough for two.
The menu has some 70 items on it but that will be scaled down, perhaps by customer preferences. But Kelly is most pleased that it is devised to deliver an economical meal if that is the desire. A couple can dine for $50-$60 even with a couple of glasses of wine, or they can have a multi-course Saturday night dinner with a bottle of wine for $150.
Grill items all come with two sides. Pasta dishes start at $14. A baby clam pizza is $16 and an appetizer of Deviled Bantam Farm Eggs is $8.
Ojeda said he likes to showcase what’s fresh and local and will always feature what’s seasonal. Everything is individually sourced, meaning not all beef comes from the same farm. But all the meat is hormone-free, said Kelly.
The little things
A wine cellar keeps some of the 1,200 bottles climate controlled but many others are displayed dramatically in racks around the restaurant.
Details: Chapel Grille, 3000 Chapel View Blvd., Cranston. (401) 944-4900, Chapelgrilleri.com . Opens for dinner nightly at 4 p.m.; 2 p.m. on Sunday.
Published by The Providence Journal