Sitting at the bar at Persimmon, marveling at the petite chanterelle on my fork, I realized why I was having such a good dinner. Persimmon cultivates an aura of calm, which cannot be said for all restaurants of its caliber. Some high-end restaurants deliver on the food but have a nervous temperament. An unfussy and measured dining experience helps me be mindful about what I am eating. At Persimmon, every bite is sure to be something worth my attention.
You may recognize 99 Hope Street as the former home of Rue de L’Espoir. Designer Libby Slader’s renovation created a brighter, more formal feel. Persimmon owners Champe and Lisa Speidel moved their iconic Rhode Island restaurant to Providence this spring after a successful decade in Bristol that included several James Beard nominations and plenty of local admirers. The move allowed them to reach more visitors with a central location, expand their seating capacity and broaden their menu.
Persimmon’s menu, as you would expect, changes seasonally, and our visit caught the beginning of the fall selections. The recent seasonal change was evident as soon as we saw the cocktail list. Though I was not eager to say goodbye to summer, let alone fall, I tried the Winter is Coming, a tall drink with the bitterness of St. George Bruto Americano tempered by cassis and soda, boldened by smooth silver rum. It was a refreshing, not-too-sweet aperitif. My husband had the headier Miss American Pie, a whiskey-based cocktail with applejack and yellow chartreuse.
All dishes on Persimmon’s menu can be described as small plates. Unlike tapas-inspired restaurants, however, not all are appropriate for sharing. Plan to order around three dishes per person, if not four, depending on your appetite.
We chose several dishes to share in whatever order they happened to arrive. Our first was the Oysters Three Ways. Per the staff’s recommendation, we ordered two – oysters are awkward, if not impossible, to split. The trio was adorable: one raw oyster floating in a little porcelain shell, the second fried and the third, turned into a crispy chip similar to a Chinese shrimp chip, dressed up with caviar.
The Braised Green Beignets were simple but delicious, with a steamy pocket of greens inside and a bright scallion aioli dipping sauce on the side. I enjoyed a glass of the Draught Rose Cabernet Franc from Bridge Lane in Long Island and my husband ordered a favorite local beer, Proclamation Derivative with Citra hops.
Next was one of my favorite dishes of the night, Crispy Tempura Squash Blossoms. The small blossoms fully enclosed a spoonful of ratatouille, a light batter sealing the balloon-like shape. They sat in a thick, creamy Parmesan broth and we found ourselves reaching for one last scrape before the plate disappeared. Squash blossoms are a bittersweet, fleeting snapshot of late summer. We recently enjoyed a lobster-stuffed version at Oberlin – both treatments were astonishingly delicate and creative.
The Venison Tartare was subtle, enhanced with the occasional punctuation of a roasted hazelnut and a light shaving of cured egg yolk. It would have been even better with some thin, toasted bread.
Our dish of Slow Cooked Octopus had white beans, chorizo and herbs in a deeply flavored broth. The Penne may have looked ordinary, but its confit cherry tomatoes were bursting with end-of-summer sweetness.
Another favorite dish was the Pan Seared Duck Breast. The Canadian chanterelles and wild huckleberries were like an autumn walk in the forest.
Apparently, Persimmon brought most of their staff along for the move. The well-trained, attentive staff made a great impression, paying as much attention to every diner as the kitchen pays to each dish.
The dessert list sent us into a tizzy, so we ordered four dishes. First, Caramelized Popcorn with sweet corn ice cream. My husband teases me about my affinity for all things corn, so he kindly let me have more than my half. How could we pass up the Peanut Butter and Concord Grape S’more’? I wondered whether it would be a bit much to combine the two childhood flavor combinations – peanut butter and jelly and s’mores – but it worked. The Dark Chocolate Semi freddo were a little hard to spear, but we managed to avoid flinging any across the room. Last, the Colston-Basset Stilton was served with an exemplary toasted raisin and walnut bread.
Providence may be full of great restaurants, but there’s plenty of room for this celebrated Rhode Island star in the capital city.
99 Hope Street