Thursday, May 26, 2022

Rhode Island’s Pot Au Feu: A Once In A Lifetime Experience

I was in New Jersey when I was browsing for a new French restaurant to try. It was then that I saw it: my first real example of “French fishing.” French fishing is a term I use when restaurants claim to be French because it’s fancy, despite having no French cuisine whatsoever. 

“Since when does French cuisine involve BBQ chicken and fries?!” I bellowed. 

“Ossiana, what are you talking about?” my husband asked. 

I showed him the travesty of the menu. I get irrationally angry at bad advertising. He sighed and could tell I was already in a bad mood. Thankfully, he had a show in Rhode Island so we ended up traveling there. 

To sweeten the deal, he agreed to let me pick a French restaurant near our hotel. 

Something told me to book reservations at Pot Au Feu in Providence. It might have been Google, it might have been my gut feeling. From those simple beginnings started one of the best dining experiences that I have ever had the pleasure of having. 

Entering The Restaurant

Pot Au Feu is located in a basement of a beautiful brick building. On the outside above the restaurant, we saw tons of posters of Julia Child—the godmother of French cooking in America and the original celebrity chef.

Before we even sat down, we saw a couple of very well-dressed men come in front asking for a walk-in seat. They agreed to wait half an hour for one, then turned to us to ask if it was our first time. We nodded. 

They both grinned and told us that we were in for a serious treat. A man in a grey coat pointed to an older guy at the bar with glasses, then said, “This place is the best. And that guy over there? The greatest!”

As we sat down by the bar, I started to realize something. 

The surroundings were straight out of a page of vintage France. You could see maps to the metro on the wall, bottles of wine from Normandy from 1944, as well as posters of classic films that acted as cornerstones of vintage French culture. As a francophile, I already was thrilled. 

Food For All French Lovers!

So, when we looked at the menu, both my husband and I noticed something. There was no scuttling about with this fare. It was 10000 percent pure, unadulterated, traditional French cuisine. They had my favorite (Beouf Bourguignon) and my husband’s favorite (Steak Frites/Steak Au Poivre). 

We immediately ordered our go-to’s, plus some chilled foie gras. Where do I start? How do I start? Well, first off, all the food that we had was fresh as could be and prepared from scratch. The flavor, the texture, everything was done to perfection. 

I looked at my plate with awe. It wasn’t just French. It was art that you could taste the love put into it. The foie gras was fluffy, almost buttery and melted into the toasted bread. The beef was so tender, you didn’t even need a knife. The mustard sauce on my husband’s steak was perfect. 

Oh, and the portions? Also perfect. Satisfying yet not too much to handle. I’m thoroughly convinced that this restaurant cannot possibly make a bad dessert. 

A Surprise Cameo

Eventually, the quality of the food overwhelmed me and my spouse. We pulled the older gentleman at the bar aside and said this had to be the most amazing French fare we’ve ever eaten. As it turns out, the old man at the bar was Bob Burke, the owner of the restaurant. 

It’s there that we find out a wealth of awesome stories from the man who might be the most passionate human in the world when it comes to traditional French fare. Bob was a man who could wow anyone with his tales of amazing culinary adventures. 

We were able to hear all of the following fascinating stories and more:

  • He was a friend of Julia Child and gave her the first shot of sambuca. Apparently she ate the coffee beans. (Oh no!)
  • How he was able to learn how to saber champagne. He’s one of only a handful of people in the world to be trained by Moet to do it. It’s actually a tradition that came from Napoleon!
  • The little secrets that Julia Child offered him as a younger chef. I learned so much about creme brulee. (By the way, try the creme brulee and try anything that involves pastry here!)
  • Why he insists that he would never hire someone like Gordon Ramsay in his kitchen. It deals with the way he treats chefs, and it’s an amazing philosophy that people would be wise to follow. 

A Symphony Of Flavor

Where do I begin with this experience, and how much of a life-changer it can be? As a major francophile, I’m a huge fan of anything traditionally French. For me, eating at Pot Au Feu was an insanely beautiful, uplifting, and thrilling experience.

Even if you’re not crazy about French culture like I am, you are going to adore the wondrous works of having an entire meal made by hand, by some of the most passionate people in the industry. The only downside? It’ll make every other French restaurant look sad in comparison.

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Ossiana Tepfenhart
Ossiana Tepfenhart is a food critic, writer, and at home culinary enthusiast!

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