The Loft

With a high-concept design and a high-octane cocktail menu, the Loft is looking to give Providence partygoers good reason to visit Warwick.

Photography by Angel Tucker

The Loft

400 Knight Street, Warwick, 734-4460, Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week. Reservations accepted. Wheelchair accessible. Hotel parking lot across the street. Cuisine The ubiquitous “regional comfort food.” Capacity 160 indoors, plus an expansive outdoor terrace for warmer months. Vibe Austin Powers in Atlantis. Price Appetizers $3–$18, entrees $8–$27.  Karen’s picks Flatbread pizzas, mac & cheese, cocktails. Key Fair Good Very Good Excellent half starHalf-star

In the refracted neon flush of a massive mall food court lies a crumbling Rhode Island landmark and, alongside, its post-chrysalis transformation. To the left, one pitted portion of the Pontiac Mills; a limo’s length away, its impressive replacement, NYLO Hotel, resplendent in polished brick and trimmed by a fence of tikki torches, aglow in all seasons. No Man’s Land meets “Gossip Girl.” And if you think it’s too far off the beaten track, think again: It’s jammed three deep on Saturday nights. A regular brigade of tight, short and plunging meanders in by the half dozen, most of them waiting dutifully as the hostess checks their IDs and the rest of the crowd checks out their, uh, you know.

NYLO Providence/Warwick—the second in a growing chain—is a business hotel known for sleek interiors, low prices (weekend nights for less than $100), and a surprising surfeit of indigenous diners. The lobby, made of concrete slabs, is decorated with pendulum pod chairs and photos of Darth Vader visiting the hot spots of a nameless metropolis. But they’re not just selling lodging; they’re selling lifestyle. Nearly everything is for sale, from the beds to background music. If you’re a closet fan of mod-goes-modern, you can take the whole package home with you.

The Loft, NYLO’s aquatic-themed, terrace-flanked restaurant, takes up much of the ground floor and relishes its water views. Most action centers around a bar covered in textile fish scales, with a perimeter of navy captains’ chairs and seashell tables playing out the theme. Visiting families bound into the dining room occasionally, but most corners are reserved for the young, the single and the scantily clad. Female servers, outfitted in what look like flight attendant attire from a Britney Spears video, keep the drinks moving at a steady, nearly dizzying, pace.

The proverbial white noise is a steady mix of Patriots games and reverberating house music, not distinct enough to dance to but not subdued enough to ignore. Menu options are an amalgam of perennial Rhode Island favorites (chorizo, clam chowder and calamari), but the presentation, like the decor, is a bit more exhibitionistminded. (Note the Loft Burger: an Angus patty and crab cake packed into a single bun.)

Drinks at the NYLO HotelObligatory cocktails complement the restaurant’s best option, a variety of flatbread pizzas ($10 to $13) that crackle beneath their modest toppings. Bits of lobster meat and seasoned ricotta play out nicely on a spread of vodka sauce just thick enough to soften the dough. A familiar combination of prosciutto, fig and gorgonzola is even better; small bits of sweet fruit and smoked, salty ham on a trumped up cheese-and-cracker hors d’oeuvre.

Entrees could be the least popular dishes on the menu, if only because things move fast here and many people barely stay still long enough to commit to a large dish. In fact, the majority may not see the sense in sitting down when the bar offers so much vertical com-panionship. Two-bean hummus ($6) and ahi tuna club sandwiches ($12) go hand in hand with a “Pontiac Mills Panty Dropper” (you read it right), but the Surf and Turf? Perhaps not. Twenty-seven dollars doesn’t suggest filet and lobster, but the flat-iron cut (with its strangely marinated flavor) and fried shrimp are still too blase to garner excitement.

The larger plates reach technical proficiency, but don’t expect perfection. Cider-soaked pork loin is paired with ham greens, black pepper polenta and espresso gravy ($21)—a standard variation on Southern cooking. Each component has its own distinct flavor—the pork tangy, greens somewhat sweet, polenta sharp—but there’s a brightness missing that, consequently, leaves the sum less than its parts.

Hand-cut pappardelle and roasted vegetables ($16), one of the most straight-forward entrees, has a stock Italian influence that never loses appeal. The pasta sheets are toothsome, with just enough bite to warrant commitment and, though the selection of peppers and onions isn’t novel, they maintain both flavor and integrity. It’s one of the few dishes that would go better with a glass of wine (there are nineteen varieties at $10 or less) than the signature cocktails. Simple isn’t necessarily superior though, as the aforementioned Loft Burger ($17) can attest. There is a place in this world for even bread-heavy crab cakes, but on the back of a charred Angus patty would not be my first choice.

The Loft Burger at the NYLO HotelSides ($5 to $8) are less ambitious, which, in this case, works just fine. Roasted potatoes, asparagus and half-portions of risotto don’t call attention to themselves but back up other dishes in respectable fashion. The “mom’s secret” macaroni and cheese does them one better and merits praise. It’s sharp in all the right places and, though the interior is sufficiently oozy, the outside is a bonafide crunchy feat. The portion isn’t large enough to make a meal out of, but it’s still capable of dominating the table.

Last courses are always imperative in bar-driven restaurants, if only as a method of stretching out the revelry. And yet the best laid plans, as they say, don’t always come to fruition. In anticipatory response to the end of our meal, a sheepish server announced that “we sold out of all of our cakes.” The only available option, a native doughboy ($8), looked a tad forlorn on the table with its reserved fruit garnish. Granted, it’s not much more than a WaterFire dessert with a roof over it, but it does create an opportunity for more cocktails. “Over the Falls,” with vodka and peppadew syrup? Yes, I think I will.

Ironically, the most compelling component of this restaurant is its singular host, the hotel itself. True, steel-gray corridors on the upper floors evoke a sentiment that falls somewhere between a college dorm and an industrial plant. The nearly 170 rooms, however, juxtapose European fixtures against a backdrop of tempting white beds and raw New England brick and offer up purifier systems, hi-def plasma TVs and WiFi for progressive travelers. So what does this have to do with the anchoring restaurant? Something in the air suggests that most guests are simply biding time at the bar until they can find their way upstairs.

Karen Deutsch is a graduate of the French Culinary Institute in New York.

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 - January, 2009

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