April 8, 2010

Haruki East

Bento Box
Haruki East
172 Wayland Ave.
Providence, RI 02906
(401) 831-1150

Wayland Maki Sushi Roll

The first day of spring break should be savored. For me that meant a lazy morning of catching up-with chores, correspondence, and on sleep. It also meant a chance to try out the lunch special at Haruki East (which thankfully lasts until 3pm for the ultra lazy), a Japanese restaurant only two blocks from my apartment.

I'd never been to Haruki before, though Rhode Island is home to three Haruki Restaurants. The manager on duty told me that the Cranston restaurant is known for offering "authentic" Japanese dishes, while my neighborhood Haruki offers Japanese fare "with an American kick." I appreciated this insight, though I don't think someone like myself- whose Japanese culinary experience has mostly come in the form of supermarket sushi, droopy rice rolls found smashed between plastic- would be able to tell the difference.

Haruki's lunchtime special offered a variety of meals, perfect for the cash-strapped and indecisive graduate student looking for a lunch out. Most meals come with a small bowl of salty miso soup (mostly broth with tofu, scallion, and seaweed bits). Looking for maximum food variety, I opted for the bento box, a popular Japanese lunch meal that comes in a segemented box with room for several different food items. Unlike the family style of eating at my favorite Southeast and South Asian restaurants, I received my own box of food-no need to share. The largest portion consisted of tempura (battered and fried) seasonal vegetables with a dipping sauce. The box also included gyoza (fried crimped dumplings), a hearty rice roll, fruit, and sesame green beans. My dining partner opted for the Wayland Maki sushi roll with shrimp tempura and seaweed (sans caviar). The manager on duty told us that Haruki East's sushi chefs have been working their magic for over a decade-but wouldn't go into more detail, stating that their techniques and ingredients are top secret.

Unlike other lunch specials, the meal left me pleasantly full, but not over stuffed. Haruki's bamboo painted walls offered a welcome and relaxing change to my normal Saturday routine, and a chance to taste many different Japanese foods in one sitting. The perfect way to start my break.

Miso Soup

April 5, 2010

Elea's Restaurant

Elea's sign

711 Broad Street
Providence, RI 02907-1481

Elea’s is named after founder and owner Eleanor Gaye, a Liberian who settled in Rhode Island in the 1980s to escape the civil war in her homeland. Gaye’s first business venture here was a grocery store that specialized in Liberian food stuffs. Many of her customers weren’t Liberian but wanted to use the store’s products to prepare Liberian cuisine. In response, Gaye began offering prepared dishes and eventually opened Elea’s as a full-fledged restaurant in 1996. Citing the difficulty for immigrants to get small-business loans, Gaye funded the restaurant from her personal savings and initially ran the restaurant all by herself. Unsurprisingly, many of Elea’s diners are Liberian expatriates in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. They come not just to eat but also to catch up on news from Liberia.

Elea's decor

When Gaye started the restaurant, she also sought to attract people from other Rhode Island communities. For a month, she gave out free samples, which helped to draw people unfamiliar with West African dishes.

Menu board

Although Elea’s has a standard menu, there are also many daily specials. During my visit, a customer asked hopefully if fried gizzards were on the day’s menu. Vegetarians have options as well but, for strict herbivores, it’s best to check if a meat stock was used in preparing a dish. It’s easy to create a full meal with jollof rice and a combination of various side dishes. Sides of eggplant and fried peppers are on frequent rotation while spinach, kidney beans, fried okra, okra sauce, and cassava leaf are regular menu items. While we waited in line together, a regular customer enthusiastically recommended that I try the fried peppers on my next visit. This time, I ordered jollof rice, a mildly flavored dish of seasoned rice with vegetables, which paired nicely with a side of spicy collard greens.

Jollof rice
{Jollof Rice}

Collard Greens
{Collard Greens}

Gaye’s hard work has paid off. Elea’s is a thriving restaurant, and Gaye now has several employees to assist her in feeding the steady flow of customers.