By Gail Ciampa
Journal Food Editor (www.projo.com)
PROVIDENCE JOURNAL / SANDOR BODO
XO Café opened in 1997 with an eclectic menu and a risqué ad compaign, and it was a favorite of many people. It became the proud home for the most expensive burger in the state with foie gras and truffles.
Then in 2004 it became XO Steakhouse, with a small wine room for intimate dining. Five years later it was re-created as Café Noir, a French brasserie.
Now XO Café has been brought back in all its glory by restaurateur John Elkhay, who co-owns XO and other restaurants in the Chow Fun Food Group with Rick and Cheryl Bready,
Elkhay doesn’t like to get too comfortable, ever, and changes his restaurant concepts when he feels the public might get bored. But this rebirth of XO is a little something else.
XO Café was a much admired spot there at 125 North Main St. in Providence and bringing it back might well generate that nostalgia that creates a strong pull, especially with food.
“We have connected the history of XO Café’s dynamic past with the future and evolution of food,” Elkhay said dramatically, announcing the reopening last week with a personal e-mail to a few media members.
In a subsequent phone interview he said the physical transformation was achieved in stages done over a 10-week time frame. The restaurant never closed for business as the changes were made during off hours. He said some of the renovations are modest, such as changing the carpet. Others are dramatic, including a new kitchen, elimination of the wine room which is now a small lounge, new colors and sections.
On the wall hangs art and photos from the first incarnation.
“You can see what has happened here for the past 17 years,” he said.
Gone are the vestiges of the brasserie and steakhouse and looking toward the future is the concept of “farm-to-table” using some 15-18 purveyors. The new hamburger is made with local meat from Blackbird Farm in Smithfield. Aquidneck Farm is another local beef purveyor for short-rib sandwiches with housemade bread.
Chicken and waffles take on a local flare with organic chicken from Buffoni Farms and Rhode Island maple syrup.
There will be a separate bar menu including lobster wontons, a favorite from the old XO, and a vegetarian Mushroom Bolognese with hand-cut fettuccini, Parmesan cream and truffle oil.
The dinner menu includes the classic XO Bento Box with the lobster wontons with Thai dipping sauce, beef teriyaki with soy sake, Portobello mushroom fries, and crispy calamari with chipotle mayonnaise.
The kitchen is also under new management led by executive chef Simon Keating. He is a native of Devon, England, with a five-year tenure as executive chef at the Woolacombe Bay Hotel in Devon, where he operated the fine dining restaurant and casual Bay Brasserie. In Providence, Keating was the chef and manager at L’Elizabeth. In fact, Elkhay has moved all the staff around to his other restaurants for a fresh face at XO.
Elkhay wrote the first menu with his ideas and Keating brought his sensibilities to the process and the two compromised, said Elkhay. English Bread Pudding is on the dessert menu as is the returning Molten Cake.
Beef tartare will come with quail eggs.
Duck Three Ways is back as Ménage à Trois: ravioli, breast and spring roll.
Salmon lasagna with a bacon and leek sauce is free-form style, Elkhay said.
The restaurant is open for dinner seven days a week and also for brunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday.
Details: XO Café, 125 North Main St., Providence, (401) 273-9090, XOcafe.com.