108 Brasserie redefines British comfort food

dining room of 108 Brasserie at the Marylebone
The simple but delicious starter of Dorset crab on toast with watercress and apple perfectly encapsulates the style of the kitchen at the 108 Brasserie (47 Welbeck Street, 020 7486 6600, 108brasserie.com) at The Marylebone hotel in London.

108 Brasserie chef Russell Ford “It’s a very simple recipe and it’s all about the ingredients,” executive chef Russell Ford (right) told me. When Ford took over the kitchen more than five years ago, the food was very dated. “We pared it back,” he recalled, “and focused on keeping it simple, with great seasonal ingredients.” Ford works directly with several butchers and fish and produce suppliers. He also has a good relationship with some of the specialty shops in the Marylebone neighborhood, including the marvelous cheese shop, La Fromagerie (2-6 Moxon Street, 020 7935 0341, www.lafromagerie.co.uk).

108 Brasserie fish and chips In a city with a buzzing fine dining scene, 108 has staked out its position as a “British brasserie.” In practice, that means a relaxing modern space where diners can enjoy fresh interpretations of classic British dishes. Ford changes the menu about four times a year. But you will likely always find the fish and chips with pea purée and tartare sauce (the best seller, shown above) and the whole Dover sole, served on or off the bone, grilled, or meunière. “The quality of the fish is so good,” says Ford, “and it’s our owner’s favorite dish.”

Ford shared generously shared his recipe for Dorset crab on toast, which works equally well with Jonah or rock crab meat from the cold waters of New England. Alas, he was not able to share the recipe for the dark, malty Guinness brown bread that he used for the toast. That closely guarded recipe was developed by chefs of the Doyle Collection (www.doylecollection.com) and is served throughout the group.

DORSET CRAB ON TOAST


108 Brasserie Dorset crab on toast

Serves 4

For the crab mix


300g (10 oz.) handpicked fresh white crab meat
30g (2 tablespoons) mayonnaise
20g (1 tablespoon) tarragon, fresh (chopped)
20g (1 tablespoon) flat leaf parsley (chopped)
juice of 1 lime
salt, pepper to taste

Check crab meat for shell, and mix with all other ingredients, season to taste.

Assembly


juice of 1 lemon
100 ml (1/3 cup) extra virgin rape seed oil (canola oil)
5g (1 teaspoon) Dijon mustard
4 slices Guinness brown bread (or similar), toasted
40g (1/2 cup) fresh watercress
1 Granny Smith apple, cut in thin strips

Mix the lemon juice with the oil and mustard, whisk and season.
Top toasted bread slice with the crab meat mix.
Dress watercress with lemon dressing and top with thin strips of apple.

28

04 2017

Doyle shows Irish hospitality, sip by sip in London

The Bloomsbury Club Bar in a Doyle hotel in London
Nothing says “welcome” like a good hotel bar. I certainly found that to be the case at the three Doyle hotels (www.doylecollection.com) in London. (That’s the Bloomsbury Club Bar above.) The family-owned collection launched in Dublin in 1964 and made its first foray into the British capital twenty years later.

The Marylebone


The Marylebone (47 Welbeck Street, +44 20 7486 6600) was the first Doyle property in London, but a recent renovation has given it the most contemporary design of the three hotels. The clean lines and bright, warm colors strike a perfect balance between modern style and good old-fashioned comfort. The Marylebone’s 108 Bar has an entrance right off the sidewalk. It’s just a short walk from Marylebone High Street, the main shopping drag of this stylish urban village. With a long, curving bar, lots of comfortable seating, big windows, 108 Bar feels like a rather fancy version of a proper Irish local.

Mixologist Engji Shana at the 108 Bar in The Marylebone, a Doyle hotel in London

This being London, however, the mixologists are immersed in the city’s cocktail culture. Engji Shana (above) mixed me The Marylebone, the hotel’s signature champagne cocktail. It’s a very modern twist in the Chambord Kir Royale.

THE MARYLEBONE


20ml vodka infused with elderflower
90ml champagne
10ml Chambord
raspberries
flower

Pour vodka into champagne flute. Float champagne on top by drizzling down the twists of a bar spoon. Add Chambord. Garnish with raspberries and a flower.

The Bloomsbury


By contrast, the lower level Bloomsbury Club Bar at the Bloomsbury Hotel (16-22 Great Russell Street, +44 20 7347 1000) is dark and seductive. It’s a far cry from the building’s early beginnings as the YWCA Central Club, with 86 bedrooms for young ladies, a concert hall, library, two restaurants, and a gymnasium.

The Central Club was formally opened in 1932 by the Duchess of York, the late Queen Elizabeth (the current queen’s mother). Described as the Club’s Patron, she returned to celebrate the Golden Jubilee in 1982. The naming of the bar recalls the building’s early years. Mixologist Brian Calleja (below) has a soft spot for the old fashioned Gin and Milk Punch, which he told me was the favorite of the Queen Mother. It is a traditional restorative dating back to the 18th century. The double straining is important because it removes the curds from the milk. Some mixologists also add lemon juice.

Mixologist Brian Calleja of the Bloomsbury Club Bar at the Bloomsbury, a Doyle property in London

GIN AND MILK PUNCH


50ml Haymans Old Tom Gin
10 ml sugar syrup
50 ml full fat milk

Put ice in a cocktail shaker. Add ingredients and shake well. Double strain. Pour into a saucer cocktail glass. Garnish with grated nutmeg.

The Kensington


Classic Victorian townhouse architecture gives The Kensington hotel (109-113 Queen’s Gate, +44 20 7589 6300) a traditional, clubby feel. It’s just right after a day sampling the royal trappings of the neighborhood—from Kensington Gardens and Kensington Palace (home of Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge) to the Victoria & Albert Museum and Royal Albert Hall.

The K Bar nestles between the drawing rooms where breakfast and afternoon tea are served and the Town House restaurant. The space sets itself apart with wood-paneled walls, low lighting, and a smoky blue glass ceiling. It’s a place to settle in a for a drink and good conversation. Like The Marylebone, The Kensington has its own signature champagne cocktail. Mixologist Mantas Ignatavicius (below) served it to me.

Mixologist Mantas Ignatavicius of the K Bra in The Kensington, a Doyle hotel in London

THE KENSINGTON CHAMPAGNE COCKTAIL

sugar cube
rhubarb bitters
10 ml Calvados
Perrier Jouët Grand Brut

Place napkin over a champagne flute. Set sugar cube on napkin and drip bitters onto it until saturated. Drop cube onto bottom of glass and add Calvados. Top off with Perrier Jouët Grand Brut.

Getting ready for summer with ‘Le Picnic’ recipes

Le Picnic cover
Talk about timing! Le Picnic: Chic Food for On-The-Go crossed our desk just as the azaleas burst into bloom and the purple finches laid their first clutch of eggs in the blue spruce outside our desk window. This Australian book by food writer Suzy Ashford is published by Smith Street Books in Melbourne, but it’s distributed in North America by Rizzoli. Suzy had us with the cover shot of a roast chicken and Camembert baguette (see above). By the way, the two photos in this post are courtesy of Smith Street Books.

The book breaks down roughly into gorgeous sandwiches, baked tarts or flatbreads, salads you want to eat with your eyes, and drop-dead gorgeous desserts that seem a little delicate to transport to a distant picnic site. We usually fall back on a few sure-fire pasta or rice salads for picnics because they’re easy to tote. But Francophile Ashford’s recipes are more aspirational. They aim for gorgeous summer meals to wow your guests. They seem best suited for serving on the back patio or deck. Because they are so well-conceived, it’s worth the time to shop for all the ingredients and prepare the food. The beautiful sandwich on the cover, for example, serves four and calls for a whole French cheese, half a roasted chicken, and a beautiful crusty baguette.

The strikingly simple recipe for tarragon lemonade cordial is one of our favorites. It’s very spring-centric, since the first tender leaves of tarragon are always the best of the season. The publisher was kind enough to let us pass it on to you, provided that we kept the multiple measurements. The concentrated cordial can be diluted to make lemonade, but Ashford also suggests using it to spike iced tea. We’re waiting for the thermometer to hit 90°F for her best suggestion of all: Mix two parts gin to one part lemonade cordial. Pour over ice and add a cucumber stick as a stirrer.

Le Picnic: Chic Food for On-The-Go by Suzy Ashford, Smith Street Books, Melbourne, $19.95. Here’s the link to buy it on Amazon.com.

Le Picnic Tarragon Lemonade

TARRAGON LEMONADE


Makes 450 ml (15 fl oz) cordial

230 g (8 oz/1 cup) caster (superfine) sugar
8 tarragon sprigs, leaves picked, plus extra to garnish
250 ml (8 fl oz/1 cup) lemon juice; you’ll need about 5 lemons
chilled soda water (club soda), to serve
lemon slices, to garnish

Combine the sugar and 125 ml (4 fl oz/ 1/2 cup) water in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat, stir in the tarragon leaves and lemon juice, then leave to cool to room temperature.

Remove the tarragon leaves and pour the cordial into a sterilized bottle with a tightly fitting lid. Seal tightly and store in the fridge, where it will keep for up to 1 month.

To serve as a lemonade, simply combine 1 part cordial with 4 parts soda water. Garnish with extra tarragon sprigs and lemon slices.

18

04 2017

Cochon555 highlights winning tastes of heritage pigs

Cochon555 Deporkables chefs in Boston
Roughly five hundred folks feasted on about 1,500 pounds of succulent heritage pork last weekend at the Boston stop on the Cochon555 (cochon555.com) national barbecue competition tour. And they drank a surprisingly broad array of wines, cocktails, punches, and spirits selected by local sommeliers to pair with the cuisines.

The winning team opted for a Mexican menu with six different dishes served on two separate plates. Working with a 281-pound Mulefoot hog from Dogpatch Farm in Maine, the “Deporkables” were led by Matt Jennings of Townsman (townsmanboston.com), a brasserie-inspired restaurant on Boston’s Greenway. The plate at right included bbq pork head tamales with a thin slice of a pork loin burrito. They were contributed by team member Will Gilson of Puritan & Co. (puritancambridge.com) in Cambridge. The little cup held a delicious sample of pig skin noodle and smoked tripe menudo created by team member David Bazrigan of Bambara (bambara-cambridge.com) in Cambridge. Additional dishes include Jennings’ chorizo verde with sliced cactus leaves and guacamole, pork belly al pastor from Colin Lynch of Bar Mezzana (barmezzana.com), and a Yucatecan-style roast pork from Matthew Gaudet of Superfine Food (superfinefood.com) in Manchester By the Sea.

The annual Cochon555 US Tour consists of similar super-local events at 20 cities across the country. It wraps up on October 1 in Chicago. Ten chefs will face off at the Grand Cochon competition. The series is in its tenth season. It was organized to publicize heritage breed pigs and a portion of the proceeds supports the Piggy Bank—a farm ark of ten heritage breeds that gives piglets to farmers trying to build heritage pig herds. (It’s a good charity. For more about it, see www.piggy-bank.org.)

Christian Asencio and Marte of Moody's in Waltham

A nod to the butcher


Moody’s Delicatessen & Provisions (moodyswaltham.com) ran a pop-up butcher shop at Cochon555, with the proceeds supporting the Piggy Bank. They were featuring a Berkshire/Tamworth cross from Brown Boar Farm. And, contrary to the years of advice to cook pork to death, they were advising that the roasts go into a 375°F oven for 35 minutes per pound until the internal temperature reaches 135°F. As a treat for the guests at Cochon555, Moody’s was also giving away samples of some of their exquisite charcuterie. That’s sous chef Christian Asencio (Moody’s Back Room is the restaurant behind the butcher shop and deli) with his friend Marte.

Riane Justin with ale-cask aged Glenfiddich

A taste of Scotch with that ‘Q


The tour has a number of local and national sponsors. One of the most unusual was Glenfiddich, the Speyside single malt Scotch whisky. At the Boston event, the distiller erected a domed tent that offered several cocktails made with Glenfiddich as well as some sensory tricks designed to make drinkers pay closer attention to what they taste. Samples of Glenfiddich 12 Year Old colored red or green made some tasters think one was spicy and the other minty. (They were identical.) Distillers William Grant & Sons have been experimenting with variations on their lightly peated single malt, offering a Glenfiddich 14 Year Old sweetened by aging in bourbon casks. (It’s the base for the Old Fashioned recipe below.) They have also started aging in IPA casks, which imparts a nice bite of herbal hops to whisky. That’s Rhode Island’s own Riane Justin offering samples in the photo above.

GLENFIDDICH 14 YEAR OLD FASHIONED


Aging in bourbon barrels makes this whisky sweeter than usual, while the peach bitters accentuate the peat very nicely. It’s very good with pork barbecue.

Ingredients


2 parts Glenfiddich Bourbon Barrel Reserve 14 Year Old
1/4 part Demerara syrup (equal parts hot water and Demerara sugar)
2 dashes peach bitters
grapefruit twist to garnish

Directions


In a double rocks glass, add the Demerara syrup and bitters. Add the Scotch, then ice, and stir. Garnish with a grapefruit twist.

14

04 2017

Natalie’s winning Butter-Poached Lobster recipe

Butter Poached Lobster for recipe from Natalie's at Camden Harbour Inn

Prepared with grilled maitake and oyster mushrooms along with a corn-parsnip ragout, this is the recipe that won Chris Long plaudits as the 2013 Maine Lobster Chef of the Year. The recipe below and photo above are adapted with permission from Natalie’s Restaurant (nataliesrestaurant.com) at the Camden Harbour Inn (camdenharbourinn.com). (The corn stock directions are ours, so don’t blame Chris and Shelby.)

Ingredients


1 Maine lobster
1 pound butter at room temperature
2 ounces fresh thyme
1 shallot, minced
1 cup corn stock *
1 cup corn kernels
1/2 cup chopped parsnips
1 lemon
salt and pepper to taste
2 ounces wild mushrooms
parsnip chips
micro arugula
basil flowers

Directions


Boil lobster in salted water, 7 minutes for claws and 3 minutes for tail. Shock-chill in ice water to stop the meat from further cooking.

Remove lobster meat from shell and place claws and tail in bowl with 10 ounces of butter.

Chop the thyme and fold in 4 ounces of butter to mix well.

To make the ragout, sauté shallot in remaining 2 ounces of butter. Add corn stock and reduce by half. Then add corn, parsnips, and juice from half of the lemon. Season with salt and pepper and simmer until corn is cooked (about 3 minutes).

Grill mushrooms and set in bowl with lobster and butter. Transfer the mix to a pan and gently heat to warm up the lobster.

Assembly


Place the ragout in center of plate. Take lobster and mushrooms out of the butter. Season with salt and pepper and lemon juice. Arrange on top of ragout. Spoon thyme butter around lobster and ragout. Garnish with parsnip chips, micro arugula, and basil flowers.

*To make corn stock, bring to a boil a quart of lightly salted water with four corn cobs (kernels removed), a peppercorn, a few strands of parsley, a few sprigs of thyme, and a small bay leaf. Reduce heat and simmer for an hour. Strain well.

11

04 2017

Natalie’s celebrates lobster on its home waters

Shelby Stevens and Chris Long, co-chefs of Natalie's at the Camden Harbour Inn
Natalie’s co-chef Shelby Stevens is a Mainer, but she’s not from lobster country. She grew up in Farmington, an inland town where mountain timber meets upcountry lakes. But perched on the hillside over picturesque Camden harbor, Natalie’s occupies a prominent spot on the Times Square of Lobster Land. Roughly half of the state’s annual lobster catch—130 million pounds in 2016—is landed at Penobscot Bay ports. Stevens and her husband, co-chef Chris Long (pictured above in their official portrait), naturally developed an extensive repertoire of lobster fine-dining dishes to wow the guests at the tony Camden Harbour Inn (camdenharbourinn.com). When the crustacean is in season, Natalie’s offers a five-course tasting menu of four lobster dishes and a dessert as one of its menu options.

When we visited the Danforth Inn in Portland for the Natalie’s popup in March, David ordered the lobster tasting. It’s easy to go gaga for lobster, as it’s a luxury ingredient. But many years ago, David was a Maine lobsterman and, as it will, familiarity bred contempt. We figured that any chefs who could overcome David’s blasé attitude about lobster were doing something right.

Stevens and Long won a convert. They have put a lot of thought into their lobster dishes. Many are classics of European fine dining given a modern presentation. Others are true originals in the spirit of the classics.

Drawing from the nearby sea and woods


As they enter their fifth season at the Camden Harbour Inn, Stevens and Long have set down culinary roots. Their menus speak with a local accent because many of the ingredients are either caught or foraged in the immediate environment.

“Our next-door neighbor is a lobsterman,” Stevens says. He also brings them a lot of his bycatch—mostly sweet Atlantic rock crab, aka “peeky-toe crab”—that they cook at home. “He’s really proud of his shellfish,” Stevens notes. Maine lobster is in season, even now, thanks to the Monhegan Island lobstermen. Finding ingredients to complement the crustaceans is more challenging, but the Natalie’s chefs were up to it.

lobster beet salad at Natalie's at the Camden Harbour Inn

Lobster and golden beet salad


Clever presentation made the first salvo in the lobster tasting menu a genuine surprise attack. The elegant salad was served with the crisp half round of bread (on the left) laid over it like a lobster shell . Smile one. Alternating wedges of red and golden beets and pieces of lobster claw created another visual joke. Smile two. Liberal use of Urfa pepper elevated the usually earthy beetroot into something more complex. Urfa is a moderately hot Turkish pepper with overtones of chocolate and a touch of smoke. It also produces a slightly rasping, puckery mouth feel like the tannins in red wine. That helps open up the otherwise unctuous quality of the fatty lobster claws and sweet beets. Smile three. Pairing beets and lobster isn’t common, but U.K. and Scandinavian chefs do it on occasion—usually in a heavier presentation. Kudos to Stevens and Long for keeping it light.

deconstructed lobster chowder from Natalie's at the Camden Harbor Inn

Deconstructed lobster chowder


There’s something inherently funny about chowder. Maybe it’s the look of the word, or the way we say it—as if we were already chewing the dish. Philosophically, deconstructed chowder is the ghost of that joke—an ironic rendering of what is typically the most straightforward food in the lexicon of New England eating. The biggest complaint about lobster chowder in most restaurants is that there’s too much chowder and not enough lobster.

As befits a deconstructed version, Natalie’s turns that upside down with a heap of claw and knuckle meat atop the fine dice of onion, celery, and (we think) parsnip. The decorative squid rings on top are a nice nod to the other seafood that usually finds its way into chowder. The actual “chowder” was more a velouté based on shellfish stock and thickened with butter and cream. If there had not been more courses coming, we might have asked for more chowder.

poached lobster bisque at Natalie's at the Camden Harbour Inn

Poached lobster bisque


Any restaurant that serves a lot of composed lobster dishes has mounds of lobster carcasses and bits and pieces of shell left over from the prep process. The classic French response to all this chitinous material kicking around is to throw it in a stew pot with a mirepoix of onions, celery, and carrots. Simmer for hours, and strain, strain, strain to get a gorgeous lobster stock. Add heavy cream, sherry, and some cooked lobster, and Voila! You have lobster bisque. This version is a little more complex, and we suspect Madeira pinch-hit for sherry. (Several other dishes used Madeira as well.) It was also laced with spicy Urfa chile pepper. The ultra-rich bisque with a side of shredded lobster, some greens, and paper-thin slices of pickled Jerusalem artichoke made a nice interlude.

Lobster with fennel and seaweed at Natalie's at the Camden Harbor Inn

Butter-poached and grilled lobster


After three dishes with claw and knuckle meat, it was time for the tail. The meat was simultaneously buttery and smoky, so we’re guessing it might have been first grilled, then removed from the shell and poached in butter. Judging by their recipes, Stevens and Long sometimes cook lobster in pieces. It’s a logistical nightmare in the kitchen but allows them to cook the tails less than the claws or body. That keeps the proteins in these long-fiber muscles from overcooking. In other words, they stay tender.

Lobster heated in butter is always good, but to make it into a fine-dining dish, the chefs pulled out all the stops. It was paired with finely shaved raw fennel, placed on a cooked fennel purée, topped with a piece of salty-cracker crisped seaweed, and arranged in peekaboo fashion beneath a cloud of seaweed foam. All that made for a great visual presentation. Better yet, the elements came together nicely in the mouth.

One final note: We enjoyed some terrific wine pairings by the new sommelier at the Danforth Inn, Ryan Eberlein. Working with a wine cellar built for Southeast Asian and Indonesian cuisine, he plucked some amazing, often obscure wines that complemented dishes perfectly. Perhaps observing the chefs’ fondness for Madeira, he paired the final lobster dish with a Verdelho—the principle grape of Madeira. It happens to make amazingly complex, zesty white table wine when grown in Australia. The Mollydooker 2016 Violinist had a crisp lemon and lime palate followed by the flavors of ripe pineapple and lychee. It couldn’t have been better if it had been grown for the dish.

08

04 2017

Popping into Portland’s Danforth for Natalie’s popup

Danforth Inn exterior in Portland, Maine
With nine handsome rooms in an 1823 Federal mansion, Portland’s Danforth Inn (danforthinn.com) is a nifty hideaway in Maine’s biggest city. That’s what hoteliers Raymond Brunyanszki and Oscar Verest, owners of the Camden Harbour Inn (camdenharbourinn.com), had in mind when they purchased the Danforth in 2014. Their extensive upgrades included creating Tempo Dulu (tempodulu.restaurant), a fine-dining restaurant focused on Southeast Asian, Indonesian, and Malaysian cuisines. Chef Michael McDonnell recently got a few days off from riffing on rijsttafel. At the end of March, Tempo Dulu hosted a popup of Natalie’s (nataliesrestaurant.com), the Camden Harbour Inn’s gastronomic showcase. It was a homecoming of sorts. Natalie’s co-chefs Shelby Stevens and Chris Long were married at the Danforth last year. (That’s a picture of the dining room below.)

Stevens and Long serve a thoroughly modern New England cuisine. Their dishes are very seasonal and rely heavily on local ingredients. Both chefs trained at the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont. Stevens also worked under Daniel Boulud at Restaurant Daniel in New York. And Long was a kitchen leader under perfectionist Charlie Trotter at his eponymous Chicago restaurant. A stretch in San Francisco (“nothing beats the San Francisco farmer’s markets,” says Stevens) rounded out their fine dining influences. Both joined Natalie’s in 2013. In their first season, Long’s inventive treatment of the state’s signature crustacean won him the Maine Lobster Chef of the Year title. (We’ll post that recipe in a few days.)

Since we’re usually to be found eating at Waterman’s Beach Lobster when we’re anywhere near Camden, we thought we’d take advantage of the late March popup to sample Midcoast Maine’s fine dining leader. In summer, the chefs draw extensively from the Camden Harbour Inn’s kitchen garden. They also rely heavily on local foragers, and we wondered they would do in mud season.

Dining room in Danforth Inn, in Portland, Maine

What’s local in Maine right now?


Maine overflows with corn, blueberries, tomatoes, and heaps of lobster in the summer. In late March, not so much. Part of the fun of eating the Natalie’s dishes was seeing how the chefs used the current provender and found ways to incorporate preserved provisions. To that end, one of us ate the tasting menu described below. We’ll talk about the lobster tasting menu in the next post.

Razor clams as hors d'oeuvres from Natalie'sBut we shared a plate of hors d’oevres that included two revelatory mini-dishes. Dark, lumpen roasted Jerusalem artichokes initially seemed unpromising, a kind of seasonal vegetable consolation prize. But they were stuffed with sweet foie gras that played perfectly against the earthiness of the tubers. The delicate razor clams were an even bigger surprise. Once relegated to the category of “bait” by most denizens of the Penobscot Bay, the Atlantic jackknife clam (to keep from confusing it with the Pacific razor clam) has been making a culinary comeback in recent years. It is milder and more tender than a quahog. Finely sliced and drenched with yuzu juice, it made a ceviche that was a great palate opener for both tasting menus.

fried Maine oyster from Natalie'si

Fried Maine oyster with osetra caviar


The seven course tasting menu started off with a real bite of Maine. The chefs served a plump local oyster (Damariscotta, we’re guessing) with all its flavor sealed inside a crisp crust. Little black pearls of osetra caviar tumbled off the top from beneath fronds of microgreens. The rich mouthful swam in a pool of buttery oyster velouté almost rich enough to be a bisque.

Two more plates followed—truffle-scented panna cottas on a purée of caramelized onion and a rather traditional French flounder-wrapped crab with grapefruit and lobster bisque.

frilled maitake from Natalie's

Grilled maitake evokes taste of the woods


Serving a trio of “entrée” dishes was a nice touch in a tasting menu. The triplet began with the flounder-crab dish and ended with a perfectly grilled piece of farm-raised ribeye steak with a black garlic demiglace.

The surprise came in between. “Maitake,” as Japanese mushroom farmers call it, has become all the rage in fine-dining restaurants. Mainers know it as “hen of the woods,” so-called because it looks like a chicken with all its feathers fluffed up. The clumping mushroom grows on decaying main roots of hardwoods like oak, maple, beech, and birch. It’s widely distributed in northern New England and clumps can reach up to 30 pounds. Its “leaves” have no gills (it spreads its white spores through tiny pores), so they are very meaty and perfect for grilling.

The grilled mushroom perched atop a mushroom risotto. It was drizzled with a Madeira emulsion. Shavings of P’tit Basque ewe’s milk cheese played up the earthiness of the hen of the woods—one of the rare mushrooms that keeps very well in the freezer for cooking all winter.

The table was too dark to capture an image, but the Natalie’s cheese course was another unexpected surprise. Rather than just another plate of cheese, it consisted of an open-faced caramelized onion tart oozing with melted Vermont raclette cheese. It was described as a tarte tatin, but the crust was more bread than pastry and apples were nowhere to be seen. It was closer to an Alsatian flammeküche. By whatever name, it was a great way to present a cheese course.

orange blossom panna cotta from Natalie's

Something sweet (and complex)


The tasting menu dessert was big and complex, incorporating roasted butternut squash and chocolate ice creams along with candied pecans. After six other courses and assorted intermezzos, we wished we could have saved the big finish for another night. The perfect ending for a large meal was the dish presented as a pre-dessert (pictured above). The small jiggle of orange blossom panna cotta, pictured above, was flecked with ground black pepper and topped with a tart dot of lemon curd. It sat on a rhubarb sauce with small bits of citrusy Buddha’s hand fruit and itty-bitty but peppery nasturtium leaves on top.

And it tasted every bit as good as it looks.

05

04 2017

Compelling CARO marries Mendoza and Bordeaux

Bodegas Caro vineyard
In November, we wrote about the CARO Amancaya blend of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon as a bargain big red. (See this post.) On a cold and rainy March weekend, we decided it was time to dust off a bottle of that wine’s big brother. The 2013 CARO is a 50/50 blend of Malbec grown in Mendoza’s Lujan de Cayo district (above, courtesy of Bodegas CARO) and Cabernet Sauvignon grown in the adjoining Uco Valley. The CARO wines are a joint project between Nicolas Catena and the Barons de Rothschild. In this top wine of the collaboration, intense Argentine fruit meets Bordeaux-style winemaking to great effect. It retails for $50-$60.

CARO 2013 on our tableWe pondered what would pair well with such a voluptuous red and decided that grilled steak alone wasn’t up to the task. We like beef with Cabernet and blue cheese with Malbec. So we created a variant of boeuf en croute that uses an easy rough puff pastry with a potent Roquefort substituting for some of the butter. The result was even better than we expected.

CARO 2013 is still evolving in the bottle, and we found it changed markedly in the course of a meal. Intense initial aromas conjured blackberries and cassis with resinous overtones of the dry brush in the Andes foothills. The balance between Malbec rigor and Cabernet lushness was quite appealing. The acidity cut through the lusciousness of the pastry crust while the elegant, supple tannins brought out the meatiness of the filet mignon. The sweetness of the roasted tomatoes brought out the leather and tar of the wine’s Malbec component. As the meal progressed, Cabernet came more to the fore. The wine is ready to drink now, but we’d love to try it again with the same dish in a few years.

boeuf en croute with CARO

BOEUF EN CROUTE ROQUEFORT


We knew that we wanted to combine the intensity of a good Roquefort with the richness of puff pastry. Most versions of boeuf en croute that we found (or beef Wellington, for that matter) used frozen puff pastry. So we resorted to rough puff pastry, which is folded about a thousand times less than the real thing. Substituting bleu cheese for 20 percent of the butter provided just the right flavor without overwhelming the dish or messing up the texture.

Serves 2

For rough puff pastry


Ingredients

1 2/3 cups flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 stick plus 5 tablespoons butter at room temperature but not soft
3 tablespoons Roquefort bleu cheese
1/3 cup cold water, more as needed

Directions

Combine flour and salt in a large bowl. Cut butter and bleu cheese in small pieces and add to the bowl. Using pastry cutter or two knives, combine until texture of fine gravel. Pieces of butter and cheese should be visible.

Make a depression in center of mixture and add about 1/3 cup of cold water. Mix until a firm, rough dough forms, adding more water as needed. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate 20 minutes to rest.

On a lightly floured board or counter, knead dough gently and form into a smooth rectangle about 7 inches long on one dimension. Keeping edges straight, roll out dough to roughly 7 by 21 inches. Butter and cheese should create marbled effect.

Fold 1/3 of dough down from the top, then fold from the bottom to overlap. Turn 90 degrees and again roll out to three times its length. Fold as before. Cut into four equal pieces. Cover pieces in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 20 minutes until ready to roll out to encase beef.

For beef and mushrooms


Ingredients

two 6-ounce filets mignon
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 shallot, minced
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced then chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried tarragon
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup sherry
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup minced parsley (about 6 sprigs, finely chopped)
1 egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon water
2 clusters cocktail tomatoes (Campari tomatoes) on the vine

Directions

Season beef with salt and pepper. Heat a large cast iron skillet over high flame. Add olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter, then sear beef on all sides. Remove to a rack over a plate to catch juices. Let cool, wrap and refrigerate.

Make mushroom duxelles in same pan. Add remaining tablespoon butter to pan and cook shallot until translucent. Add mushrooms, thyme, tarragon and bay leaf. Cook until tender. Add sherry and turn up heat. Cook until liquid has evaporated.

While cooking, combine cornstarch and yogurt in a bowl, mixing well. As mushroom mixture loses excess moisture, add yogurt mixture and stir well. Reduce heat and cook slowly until thick and pasty. Stir in minced parsley and reserve.

boeuf en croute to accompany CARO just cooked

To assemble


Roll out a quarter of the pastry into a circle about 2 inches bigger than one filet. Roll out another quarter slightly larger. Spoon mushroom duxelles on smaller piece. Place filet on top. Paint the exposed edges with egg wash. Lay second piece over top and pinch at edges to seal. Place beef case on aluminum foil. Repeat with second filet. Refrigerate two beef cases until ready to cook.

About 1 hour before serving, set oven at 425°F and place a heavy baking sheet inside on middle rack.

Brush both pieces of pastry with egg wash and make two slits on top to let steam escape. After oven is preheated, carefully lift pastries onto the preheated baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce oven to 400°F and continue to bake 20 minutes for medium rare.

Remove from the oven and let stand about 10 minutes before serving on individual plates with quickly broiled tomato cluster.

boeuf en croute with CARO cut on plate

29

03 2017

Oceania’s ‘Marina’ features fine dining five ways

Grand dining room on Oceania's Marina
Experienced cruisers expect a Grand Dining Room—and that’s exactly what Oceania Cruises (oceaniacruises.com) calls its spacious and glittering Continental dining venue. It has the requisite fine linens and crystal chandeliers. A full armada of water and wine glasses gleam on the tables. The menu borrows a little from Italy and a lot from France. It includes a few Jacques Pepin signature bistro dishes (steak-frites, roast chicken, poached salmon). Or diners can go fancier with lobster bisque and venison medallions. The menu even proffers spa-inspired “healthy living choices,” such as steamed artichokes, chicken consommé, and simple roasted fish. In short, there’s a little something for everyone in a very pleasant and lively room with excellent service. Although the GDR is larger than most other restaurants on board the Marina, it is only one of many fine dining choices.

Jacques aboard Oceania Marina

Dinner with a French accent at Jacques

Although he consults to the entire Oceania dining program, Jacques Pepin’s personal stamp is most pronounced in the restaurant that bears his name. Jacques serves what might be called the greatest hits of French cuisine, from baked escargots with garlic butter or foie gras terrine with candied black cherries to bouillabaisse or baked onion soup topped with stringy Gruyère. The classic preparation of Dover sole makes superb dinner theater—the waiter fillets it tableside before serving. The dessert menu is a delectable class in French pronunciation: baba au rhum, pot de crème, mousse au chocolat, tarte au pommes, and—of course—crème brûlée a la lavande.

Photographing the lobster at Toscana on Oceania Marina

Mangiare come un italiano at Toscana

The menu at Toscana is nominally Tuscan, but the kitchen balances the Tuscan grill with a choice of no less than ten pastas. They are all beautifully executed in generous portions, making them suitable as secondi instead of primi. The risottos (asparagus or lobster) arrive with the rice slightly soupy and al dente. (Bravo!) The grilled veal chop with wild mushrooms is a quintessential representation of the Tuscan countryside. One of the most popular dishes at Toscana (besides the incredible breads) is the lobster fra diavolo served over fresh tagliolini. Presentation is so striking that even in the romantically low light, it’s hard to resist taking a photo (above).

Polo Grill on Oceania Marina

Polo Grill celebrates American steakhouse

The steakhouse is possibly North America’s greatest contribution to the worldwide constellation of restaurant types. Polo Grill is arguably better than many steakhouses found back on land. It serves generously cut and perfectly cooked beef, veal, and lamb. (Three people at our table one night ordered filet mignon—one medium rare, one medium, and one medium well. They arrived at the table exactly cooked, which is no mean feat since meat keeps cooking between kitchen and table.) Polo also has the full range of rich salads—Caesar prepared at the table among them.

Beet appetizer at Polo Grill on Oceania Marina

But Polo truly excels in the attention paid to sides and appetizers. The napoleon of roasted beet layered with garlic goat cheese and dressed with a Champagne and truffle vinaigrette (above) was a work of art that tasted as good as it looked. Side dishes even included lobster mac and cheese. Huge porterhouse steaks are a big hit at Polo, but it seemed like every table had at least one person wearing a bib and a satisfied smile while tucking into an entire steamed Maine lobster.

Red Ginger dining room on Oceania Marina

Red Ginger conjures flavors of East Asia

All the specialty restaurants can be booked by advance reservation, and some passengers make those reservations when they buy their cruise tickets. As a result, Red Ginger is one of the hardest reservations to score aboard the Marina. With glittering gold walls, a proliferation of shiny lacquer, and the dramatic spot lighting, it is also perhaps the most glam of the shipboard dining rooms. The sharing plate of appetizers called “Skewers, Sushi, and Tempura” sets the pan-Asian tone for the menu. It’s easy to mix a Southeast Asian spicy duck and watermelon salad with a second starter of Japanese tuna tataki, as shown below.

Red Ginger plates on Oceania Marina

The main courses at Red Ginger are similarly international. They range from rib-eye beef prepared as Korean bulgogi to a roasted rack of lamb rubbed with seven spices. The lobster that’s such a big hit in Polo, Toscana, and even Jacques, makes a cameo at Red Ginger as lobster pad Thai. The tamarind and lime make it sweet and tart at the same time—an excellent way to treat the rich flavor of lobster. One of the culinary classes focuses on Red Ginger favorites. The lobster pad Thai recipe below is exactly as it’s taught.

Lobster pad Thai at Red Ginger on Oceania Marina

LOBSTER PAD THAI


Serves 2

Ingredients

For sauce

1/4 cup tamarind juice
2 tablespoons each palm sugar, fish sauce, nam prik pao (Thai chili-garlic paste), and creamy peanut butter
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon ginger juice

For pad Thai

2 tablespoons peanut oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons ginger juice
1/4 cup scallions, thinly sliced on diagonal
1/4 cup leeks, thinly sliced on diagonal
1 cup lobster pieces
2 eggs, beaten
4 cups rice noodles, softened
1/2 cup bean sprouts
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
4 lime wedges
1/4 cup chopped roasted peanuts

Directions

Whisk together all the sauce ingredients until smooth. If needed, thin with warm water. Reserve.

Line up the ingredients in order, with 1/2 cup of the prepared sauce between the eggs and the noodles.

In a wok over high, heat the peanut oil. When the oil is hot, begin adding the garlic, ginger, scallions and leeks to the wok in sequence. Use two spatulas and continuously toss to cook evenly and keep ingredients from burning at high heat. Slide the vegetables up the sides of the wok and sear the lobster. Slide the lobster up the sides of the wok and add the egg to scramble.

When the egg is just cooked, bring back the vegetables and lobster and add the ½ cup of the sauce, noodles and bean sprouts. Using the spatulas, gently toss the ingredients to cover them with sauce, adding more if needed, being careful not to break the noodles. When heated through, divide among two serving dishes. Finish with the sesame oil, lime wedges and peanuts.

24

03 2017

Jumping ship for a taste of the port

Ana Svoboda shows ginger at Blue Harbor Tropical Arboretum, part of an Oceania shore excursion
When Oceania Cruises (oceaniacruises.com) culinary director Kathryn Kelly designs the culinary shore excursions for Marina and her sister ships, she asks herself one essential question. “Where would I like to go if I had one day in this port?” she says. In Europe, the answer might be a visit to a winery or a three-star restaurant. In the western Caribbean, culinary expeditions are more likely to focus on local foods and foodways.

Arboretum looks to future of Roatán food


We joined Kelly for the “Honduran Farm & Ocean to Table Experience.” This shore excursion on the island of Roatán starts at the Blue Harbor Tropical Arboretum (blueharbortropicalarboretum.com). The plantings on this 160-acre property represent most of the economically significant plants of the growing zone, including several species of fruit trees. Walking through the grounds, general manager Ana Svoboda (above with ginger) points out familiar fruits like guava and mango and less familiar cacao, mangosteen, and custard apple. (Red cacao and coffee are among the key crops in Honduras, but coffee grows poorly at low altitude, so it’s not part of the arboretum.)

Lettuce at Blue Harbor Tropical Arboretum's hydroponic farm

While the plantings represent Roatán’s botanical past, the facility’s extensive hydroponic farm is an investment in the future. Roatán is part of the MesoAmerican Reef system, second only to the Great Barrier Reef, so fresh water is at a premium. Hydroponics uses only 10 percent of the water required for conventional farming.

The farm focuses on high-value lettuce, other salad greens, and herbs. Annual production is 70-80,000 heads of lettuce alone. By growing in waist-height “rows,” the farm maximizes its succession crops. It harvests every 53 days. The organic produce—Blue Harbor uses organic fertilizers and no pesticides—is sold to local restaurants and supermarkets, and some to nearby islands. The facility also sells cashews and citrus fruits from the arboretum groves.

Chef Samuel on Oceania shore excursion in Honduras

Going big on shrimp for cooking


Roatán is known for its succulent pink shrimp. The large, sweet, and almost iridescent species played a starring role in the cooking demonstration given by Chef Samuel, a quiet mountain of a man, on Big French Key. The chef bought them from fishermen setting their nets about 70 miles south. To show the versatility of the shrimp, he prepared them three ways.

He first made cocktail shrimp with an accompanying sauce. He prepared the shrimp by peeling away the shell, leaving just the tip of the tail. He cut down the groove in the back and removed and discarded the “vein,” or alimentary tract. He heated salted water to a boil, cut a large lime in half and squeezed half for its juice. He added both halves of the fruit to the water to cut the fishy flavor and aroma. The shrimp simmered just three minutes. The cocktail sauce was equally simple. He sautéed diced tomato, minced garlic, chopped onion, and parsley. When the mixture was cool, he added a small Scotch bonnet pepper and puréed in a blender.

Chef Samuel with homemade grater on Oceania shore excursion
His second preparation was garlic shrimp. In very hot oil in a frying pan, he quickly cooked some minced garlic to flavor the oil. The shrimp—again, shell off except for the tip of the tail—cooked up in just a minute or two.

As a final preparation, Chef Samuel made coconut shrimp. They were truly heavenly, in part because he grated a fresh coconut using a distinctive island-style grater. It consists of a large can punctured with nails to make sharp bumps, as shown in the photo above. It made quick work of the coconut. Chef Samuel dipped the shrimp in beer and milk-based tempura batter, rolled them in coconut shards, and deep-fried them in 375°F oil until golden brown. Wow!

Coconut shrim in Honduras on Oceania shore excursion

Since most of us don’t have a deep fryer at home, Chef Kathryn Kelly has come up with this pan-fried version.

CHEF KELLY’S COCONUT SHRIMP


Serves 2

Ingredients

1/2 cup chickpea flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup bread crumbs (preferably panko)
1/4 cup dry shredded coconut
6 to 8 jumbo shrimp (10 to 12 count), deveined, whole with tail on
Sunflower or peanut oil, for frying
Lime wedges

Directions

Set out three small, shallow aluminum trays. Pour the flour in the first tray, the beaten eggs in the second, and the bread crumbs and coconut flakes in the third. Dry the shrimp with paper towels.

Dredge a shrimp in the flour. Gently shake off any excess. Dip the shrimp in the egg, turning the shrimp so it is completely coated. Dip the shrimp in the bread crumb and coconut mix, turning and pressing gently so it is completely coated. Repeat with the other shrimp. Allow the coated shrimp to rest and set for 15 minutes.

Line a plate with paper towels. Heat the oil in a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat. Oil depth should be half the thickness of the shrimp. When the oil is hot (365°F to 375°F), carefully place the shrimp in the pan and fry until the bottom halves are golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes. Carefully turn the shrimp and fry until the other halves are golden brown, about 3 to 4 more minutes. Transfer the shrimp to the towel-lined plate to drain. Serve with chili garlic sauce (easily found at the grocery store), lime wedges on the side, and enjoy!

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03 2017