Flat Waves, having only been open for just a few days, seems like something of an anomaly, slightly out of place in the Emporium at the top of campus. The green and blue striped walls, shining chrome countertops and spot-on branding are at first jarring compared to the modest appearances of Flat Waves’ new neighbors.
What it really comes down to, though, is substance. No new restaurant will last long at the top of campus unless its food is excellent enough to convince people to not order their usual favorites, and cheap enough to appeal to college student budgets.
At the very least, Flat Waves’ concept is intriguing and prices are reasonable enough to get a second look. The menu offers tacos, quesadillas, sliders, “plates” meals, sandwiches, wraps and salads. Having expanded from its original location in Middletown, Rhode Island, Flat Waves seems to focus on incorporating Hawaiian flavors into the quick-service idea and familiar options.
When I walked in the door I received fine service, and the staff seemed to want to help me figure out the menu and how the restaurant worked. However, they all seemed moderately confused as if they were shaky on their training. Also, it wasn’t quite clear whether food was being made-to-order, being kept hot in the line up front at the counter or some combination of both — and that might be different during busy hours.
I finally decided on the shoyu chicken plate, with brown rice and sweet chili sauce, and a side choice of stir-fried veggies. In result of a text message promotion, I ended up with a free Mahi Mahi taco as well.
As for price, as low as $7.49 for a “plate”, which seems to be the main entrée option, is cheap, but if you’re looking for a lot of value for your money, I’m not entirely impressed. The rice and vegetables took up 80 per cent of the space, and the chicken was quite good, but there were just three small pieces. In the end, my order, with a small drink, was right around $11.
I was optimistic upon seeing the food in front of me, but sadly expectations only resulted in disappointment when I encountered the shockingly bland vegetables that seemed to have all flavor cooked out of them, presumably from sitting in an aluminum quick-serve container on a counter for so long. It must take serious effort to cook the flavor out of red and green peppers, carrots, zucchini and onions. Any faint flavor left to be found in the mush got no help from the lack of seasoning.
I’m not sure what happened after the vegetables, though, because the chili sauce on the chicken and rice was a whole different ballgame. Honestly, the sweet chili sauce was addictive, and I contemplated asking the cashier to buy it and calling it a day right there.
I couldn’t find out where the chili sauce flavor ended and whatever was marinated into the chicken began — but the result worked, whatever it was, because the chicken was cooked well and the rice was neither too hard nor too mushy.
The Mahi Mahi taco consisted of the grilled fish with a cabbage coleslaw and tropical salsa with grilled pineapple.
I think the sweet pineapple was supposed to contrast the fish, but I was mostly hit in the face with an excessive amount of diced pineapple and cabbage, soaked in said pineapple, and I had to go looking for the flavor of the fish. I can’t say it was bad by any means, but I’d say it’s best to have a prior, very close, personal, relationship with pineapple before trying this one if you expect any positive results. The fish, incidentally, was acceptable and cooked just fine once I got over the initial fruit-shock.
What I’m trying to say, despite my nonexistent knowledge of Hawaiian-style food, is that the food was just fine, and the rest of the menu seems interesting and unique enough to want to try it again to see if they get the “island” flavors right. The jury is still out on whether or not Flat Waves will succeed in its new location, and it’s worth a try, if only for the novelty and change of pace for now, but please don’t order the veggies on the side — take my word for it.