Washington Street’s Red Fin Crudo and Kitchen is a flavorful newcomer. Since our first visit shortly after their late April opening, the menu has evolved considerably, shifting more focus to tapas and showcasing the warmer season’s ingredients.
Red Fin Crudo and Kitchen’s decor has a steampunk edge, with glossy red drafting chairs, a stack of vintage metal crates for a hostess stand and a mustached pig-octopus mascot. It’s whimsical but not flippant. The menu has a similarly playful quality. As you’d expect from the name, it is seafood focused, with a daily ceviche and a raw oyster selection. But there’s plenty on the menu for other palates as well, including classic tapas and creative originals.
Reality TV fans should note that the restaurant’s chef-owner couple has had considerable airtime: Julio Lazzarini was a finalist on Chopped and Jenny Behm-Lazzarini won MasterChef Season 2. Julio’s Puerto Rican, Spanish and Italian roots are the inspiration for many of the fresh, bold flavors on the menu.
This weeknight date called for cocktails. I chose the Red Fin 71, a play on a French 75 ($10) with gin, cava, lemon juice and a sprig of thyme. My husband had the Strawberry Letter ($12), an intriguing concoction with muddled strawberries, vodka, root liqueur and lime juice. It had an unconventional herbal, sour flavor that worked well for a summer evening.
We had arrived early to take advantage of Archie Time, a happy hour special featuring $1 chef’s choice oysters. Ordering a half-dozen, we sampled two each of Cape Neddick (Maine), Wellfleet and Cotuit (both Massachusetts). I am fond of briny oysters, so I especially liked the Cotuit.
Though we did not order the ceviche of the day, it looked tempting on its way to a neighboring table: quahog ceviche served in one half of its shell with a sesame seaweed salad nestled in the other. We enjoyed a coaster-sized portion of Tuna Tartare ($9.50), enhanced by bursting tangerine segments and tiny slices of serrano pepper.
Our next dish consisted of three halves of deviled eggs in Huevos Diablo ($5), which had a rich filling incorporating smoked ingredients including shallots, with a drizzle of smoked oil taking the flavor even further.
For our heartier dishes, we deliberated on a bottle of wine. The wine list is approachable, with most available by the glass. We decided on a bottle of the 2011 OPP ($45), a Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley. This nod to the Naughty By Nature song in this case refers to “Other People’s Pinot” – appropriate, because Mouton Noir buys grapes from various growers to make this wine.
Fans of Jamon Iberico, a delicate origin-controlled cured ham, will be delighted to know that this restaurant carries the specialty. I wasn’t sure whether a cooked dish would do justice to the flavor, but the Croquetas de Jamon ($11) were great. This is one of the classic tapas dishes on the menu. They were perfectly fried, not at all dry and accompanied by a smoky aioli. If you want a pure jamon experience, you can order it thinly sliced with toasted bread; on the current menu, it’s also featured in a pasta dish.
Next, Picadillo Empanadas ($9) were made with local beef from Pat’s Pastured and flavored with a classic empanada flavor combination of olives and raisins. The empanadas were halved and perched like little sailboats in garlic aioli, sprinkled with flakes of Manchego cheese.
We thought it wise to add some vegetables to our meal, and one dish stood out. The Cauliflower and Mushrooms ($9) had well-roasted florets of orange and white cauliflower, a few oyster mushrooms and a sesame sauce. Its salty, toasty boldness was a rebuff to cauliflower’s bland reputation. Though on the salad list, it was more hearty than dainty.
Our last savory selection was the Fish and Clams ($15) entree, a rich tomatobased seafood stew with in-shell clams, fingerling potatoes and bits of sizzled pork belly, topped with a piece of battered fish. Triangles of grilled ciabatta were indispensable to soak up the amazing broth. Our waiter was kind enough to bring more bread at our request.
For dessert, we had whiskey cake with berries and cream. The cake was moist and thoroughly infused with a pleasant, sweet whiskey flavor.
Though it’s no secret that Providence is already a culinary destination, it’s a compliment when creative out-of-state chefs like Jenny and Julio set their sights on our city as a showcase for their flavors.
Red Fin Crudo and Kitchen
71 Washington Street