PROVIDENCE, RI – Start your meal with some fresh shucked New England seafood. Move on to Spanish style tapas. Indulge in Southern Fried Chicken, and finish with a gourmet Brownie Sundae. It may sound like a restaurant having a bit of an identity crisis, but as soon as you take a taste, it’s obvious that the team behind Red Fin Crudo and Kitchen knows exactly what they’re doing.
Brand new to Downtown Providence, Red Fin is fun and cool, with a long cocktail and raw bar in the front, a funky dining room and open kitchen in the back, and a menu that’s both local and international.
“Our food is inspired by the New England region,” said co-owner Jennifer Behm Lazzarini. “We try to use as many local farms as possible, then we pull influences from Italy, Spanish influence, the Mediterranean influence, the Caribbean influence. We really try to pull all those Old World flavors and bring new life to them here.”
In fact, the food is as diverse as Jennifer’s background. She grew up in Pennsylvania Dutch country. She has been a beauty pageant winner, and a reality television star, winning the second season of the cooking competition Master Chef.
Her husband Julio was born in Puerto Rico, where he started washing dishes in his father’s restaurant, then moved to America and worked his way up in some the country’s best kitchens. It was Julio’s magical recipe for mignonette that brought this culinary couple together a decade ago.
“He was a chef at a restaurant and I used to be a regular there all the time. And I would sit at the bar and order oyster after oyster. And I was like, ‘who made this sauce? It’s so awesome!’ And they’re like, ‘that guy,’” Jennifer recalled. “So I walked up, being the brazen woman I am, and I said, ‘did you make this sauce?’ And he’s like, ‘yeah.’ And I’m like, ‘I’m Jenny, nice to meet you.’”
Fast forward a decade, and Jenny and Julio are married, and running Red Fin, where that special sauce is served on the shellfish platter.
Much of the Red Fin menu is made up of shareable tapas like Tamales and Prawns in a smoked tomato broth; homemade Empanadas stuffed with beef, olives, raisins, and manchego; and an outrageously good Lobster Mac and Cheese made with five different cheeses.
“My friends will say the Lobster Mac and Cheese has kind of become my signature dish with them. Whenever I go to a tailgate, I’m not allowed to show up without the lobster mac and cheese,” Jennifer said.
There’s plenty of pork on the menu. It’s tossed with crispy fried Brussel sprouts; and plated alongside grilled cabbage; but for pork simplicity in its finest form, order the four-year-cured
“If it’s sliced properly, it’s probably one of the most beautiful things you can have in your life,” Julio declared.
A few American favorites can be found here too, like Red Fin’s unexpected, yet addictive Chicken Wings that are double breaded and tossed in garlic chili sauce.
“You’re biting into this beautiful, juicy, crunchy, hot, crispy chicken wing that is just like exploding in your mouth” Julio described. “Then it has this outside layer of this Chinese garlic chili sauce around it that is not too hot, and it’s not too sweet, and it’s not too sour, and it just combines in your mouth. I think the sensation of that and the textures at that moment, they’re phenomenal.”
Since the wings are so great, Julio decided to serve a big plate of Southern Fried Chicken too, and this dish is obscenely delicious.
“Although we are not a fried chicken place, I want them to come in here and say, ‘this is the best [expletive] fried chicken I’ve ever had in my life,'” said Julio.
At dessert, another American classic is on the menu, a fudgy homemade Brownie topped with caramelized bananas, and served with vanilla gelato. The upscale sundae tastes as good as it looks.
“You eat with your eyes first. So your eyes are going to eat that dish, then your nose is gonna envelope it, and the olfactory nerves are gonna kind of kick in,” explained Jennifer. “When your mouth finally gets to take a bite of it, it’s like this overwhelming experience in your mouth. People are like ‘Wow, I never thought food could be like this.’”
Thanks to Red Fin’s open kitchen, not only do the customers get to watch the all action, the chefs are able to see how much joy their food can bring.
“During service, it’s awesome to look out and watch people enjoying themselves,” said Jennifer. “They’re having a great glass of wine and we can watch, and watch their faces light up. And that, to us, speaks volumes about who we are and what type of product we’re putting out.”
While the dedication it takes to run a great restaurant can be all consuming, Jenny and Julio wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We work together 18 hours a day, so you know, it’s grueling and it’s long but there’s nobody else I’d want to do it with,” she said.
You can find Red Fin at 71 Washington Street in Providence, and online at redfincrudo.com.
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