I asked Vargo what made him think.
“I think I’m hungry,” he said.
Indeed. But luckily for foodies, you won’t have to gnaw on the 7-foot imitation at the airport to get your filling fix in Los Angeles. Because there’s a restaurant in LA that serves them. And I’m here to tell you: they’re pretty good.
As part of my recent trip from Rhode Island to California on the first nonstop flight to the West Coast, I visited three restaurants in the City of Angels that have ties to Rhode Island.
I started my trip with the venerable stuffed clam.
Connie and Ted’s, West Hollywood
Go to Connie and Ted’s and you will find a coaster that says “Est’d 1940”. That is not true regarding the restaurant. It is true as for his namesake partner. Connie and Ted Poynton were English immigrants who met at a Volunteer Fire Department dance and married in 1940, settling in Pawtucket. In 1947, Ted built a summer cabin in Matunuck. They enjoyed fishing, a love they passed on to one of their grandsons, a man named . . . Michael Cimarusti.
If you’re a foodie, you’re probably spitting out your food right now. People talk about Cimarusti other restaurant (more on that in a second) with the kind of bow reserved for ancient religious sites. Connie and Ted’s is its more casual but still highly respected younger brother, with much the same ownership and management as that other location.
The bread for the fillings is baked in-house, as are the biscuits for the soup (New England, Manhattan, Rhode Island, or all three for the adventurous). Everything here is homemade except the ketchup, the waiter told me. You’ll also find more West Coast fare, like asparagus in a creamy sauce. The calamari was from Point Judith – I was grilled, not fried, on the (correct) recommendation of Executive Chef Sam Baxter. To top it off, a huge bowl of steamers. Soul food, Baxter calls it.
“That strong connection that people have to home — food is the lynchpin of that,” said Baxter, an Angeleno.
And can a New England-style seafood restaurant survive in Los Angeles? Yes. In June it celebrates its tenth anniversary.
A taste of providence
Okay, all you’re thinking about the more casual Connie and Ted’s? The “naked cowboy” oysters and the “good evil chowda”? Imagine something so opposite that it comes full circle and becomes, in essence, the same thing: the same dedication to sustainable, artisanal seafood, but in an astonishingly elegant setting, complete with a $295 Chef’s Tasting Menu. It now has the Providence Seafood Restaurant, awarded two Michelin stars.
It recently underwent an interior design transformation, conceptualized by Cimarusti and co-owners Donato Poto and Crisi Echiverri. After a hectic and stressful five-week shutdown, it’s now a fully realized vision of Providence: tidal blue-green hues, hand-blown glass fixtures, modern wood tables with no tablecloths. They thought of everything, including how celebrities would need privacy (I’m told Prince was a regular at the chef’s table) and how the lighting would have to make everyone feel beautiful. Jason St. John of creative design agency Bells + Whistles emphasized that the atmosphere in Providence is not stifling.
Right, and it’s not filler either. The two-hour tour featured small pieces of edible art. You’d see these things after a long night of demolishing chowder and hosting steamers at sister restaurant Connie and Ted’s and think, “This A5 Japanese wagyu beef tartare dressed with a smoked wagyu fat and anchovy vinaigrette can’t be all that satisfying.” . .” And yet it was!
Rhode Island remains a touchstone for Cimarusti, even in aptly named Providence, which he had originally intended to call “Galilee.” He remembers going to Scarborough Beach as a boy with his grandfather Ted, who would give him $5 for a soda and clam cakes.
“I love the relationship people have with the ocean in Rhode Island,” said Cimarusti, who is from New Jersey. “I don’t think there’s any other place I’ve been that has the same kind of relationship with the ocean.”
While I was there, Rhode Island kept Rhode Island going in small but strange ways. The ways everyone knows everyone and there’s nowhere to hide. Cimarusti’s publicist, Meghan Patke, at one point asked me which airline I had flown on. I told her Breeze, and she said, oh, I have a friend that works there. Ángela Vargo, vice president of marketing.
The people who run Providence and Connie and Ted also happen to be friends with Suzanne Goin, the chef at my next stop.
Los Angeles has a lot of things, but proportionally it doesn’t have many Portuguese. He has Caldo Verde, a restaurant that Goin, a Brown University graduate, opened with fellow James Beard Award winner Caroline Styne in October 2021. The restaurant describes itself as having “Portuguese flavor and California sensibility.” .
And also, deep down, some ties to Rhode Island. Goin is from Los Angeles, but when he worked in Rhode Island at Al Forno and Angels in the 1980s, he would go to VFW stands with other cooks for Italian and Portuguese food: his first exposure to spicy pork and clams, linguica , piri piri peppers and other Portuguese staples. He worked with chef Jaime D’Oliveira, born to a French mother and a Portuguese father.
“I was the lone ‘orphan’ California restaurant and the D’Oliveiras often included me in family events and meals; this was such an eye opening experience for me as i had never met a portuguese until this moment never mind tasted the delicious food,” Goin said in an email.
Caldo verde is a traditional Portuguese soup made from potatoes, kale, and sausage. And the restaurant that borrows its name has caldo verde on the menu, an inspiration rather than an imitation. At $69, it’s stuffed with mussels and rock crab, with kale and fingerling potatoes.
He is decidedly not humble. You don’t have to be humble. It was delicious. Some Portugal, some Los Angeles, but at its base, a lot of Rhode Island.
Brian Amaral can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @bamaral44.