Author Archive

Pouilly-Fumé complements asparagus-prosciutto risotto

asparagus prosciutto risotto with Pouilly-Fumé

We sang the praises of Sancerre a few weeks ago, lauding its round fruit combined with tart minerality. We are continuing to welcome the spring and summer seasons with other Loire Valley wines. Sancerre’s sister Sauvignon Blanc wine, Pouilly-Fumé, certainly has a strong family resemblance. With a bit flintier taste than Sancerre and a haunting smokiness, Pouilly-Fumé pairs wonderfully with asparagus. We had a couple of bottles of Saget La Perrière 2013 on hand when we acquired up a nice bundle of just-picked asparagus from the Connecticut River farms in Hadley, Massachusetts. We immediately thought of our favorite risotto treatment for the vegetable.

That recipe was created for Pinot Grigio, so it uses San Daniele prosciutto and Grana Padana cheese. It’s easy to adapt the recipe for the more assertive Pouilly-Fumé. We found that the stronger tastes of a good domestic prosciutto and an aged Parmigiano-Reggiano were better suited to complement the wine. The asparagus flavors emphasize some of the sharper notes with this pairing.

Like the same company’s Sancerre, the Saget La Perrière Pouilly-Fumé 2013 was cold-fermented in stainless steel tanks continuously chilled to stay below 64°F. Fermented entirely with wild yeasts, it ages several months on the lees. Fruit notes of grapefruit and pear are the most pronounced, with a lingering lusciousness of peach. The wine lingers on the palate with a freshness that combines with the umami of the cheese and prosciutto to form a lush tonic chord of flavor. Suggested retail is $28.

25

05 2017

A is for Asparagus in new Alain Ducasse cookbook

asparagus at market
It’s asparagus season in our neighborhood. The fields of Hadley, Massachusetts are yielding the delicious spears that once made the Connecticut River Valley the asparagus capital of North America. The industry has never quite recovered from a mid-20th century blight, but the farms are producing some stunning asparagus for a few weeks each year. We are eating as much as we can while it is in season.

Alain Ducasse grabbed our attention with a brilliant recipe for asparagus and soft-boiled egg in his new cookbook. It’s called Simple Nature: 150 New Recipes for Fresh, Healthy Dishes. Ducasse launched his first “Simple Nature” cookbook five years ago. This second installment is, if anything, simpler and more natural. The celebrity French chef penned it with chef Christophe Saintagne and nutritionist Paule Neyrat. The precise yet straightforward dishes provide a peek into Ducasse’s concept of cuisine. They’re seasonal—the book begins with the fall harvest and progresses to the following summer. Recipes come with notes by Ducasse and Neyrat, identified the bottom by their initials.

So to launch a short series of asparagus posts, we thought that Ducasse’s daringly simple treatment would be a good way to let a recipe show his philosophy of cuisine. It also provides a French take on this tantalizingly short-season vegetable. The photo is courtesy of the publisher.

Simple Nature: 150 New Recipes for Fresh, Healthy Dishes is published in the U.S. by Rizzoli New York. It lists for $45, but is discounted on Amazon.

Alain Ducasse asparagus with soft boiled egg

ASPARAGUS, SOFT-BOILED EGG, AND VINAIGRETTE

SERVES 4
PREPARATION TIME: 20 MINUTES
COOK TIME: 10 MINUTES


6 tablespoons shallot vinaigrette (see below)
2 bunches green asparagus
Salt
4 eggs
1 bunch tarragon
Espelette pepper

Make the shallot vinaigrette. Set aside.

Prepare the asparagus and soft-boiled eggs.

Remove the scales from the asparagus spears. Cut off the tough end of the stem and peel to 3 centimeters – 11/4 inches from the tip. Set aside 2 asparagus spears. Tie the others into small bunches with kitchen twine.Bring salted water to a boil in a large saucepan and immerse the bunches of asparagus for about 6 minutes. Check that they are cooked with the tip of a knife, which should slide in easily. At the same time, boil the eggs in the same pan, also for 6 minutes.

Drain the asparagus on a clean cloth and untie. Take the eggs out of the pan and transfer to a bowl filled with cold water. When they have cooled somewhat, peel them.

Season the vinaigrette

Rinse, dry, pluck, and mince the tarragon leaves. Season the shallot vinaigrette with salt and Espelette pepper. Mix, then add the minced tarragon. Stir.

Finish and serve

Arrange the asparagus on four heated plates. Add 1soft-boiled egg to each plate and make a small cut on the yolk with a knife. Drizzle with vinaigrette. Use a mandoline with safety guard to finely slice the reserved asparagus spears over the plates and season with Espelette pepper.

Notes

AD – Be sure to use asparagus grown as locally as possible. And take the time to heat your plates for 10 minutes in an oven set at 110˚C – 225˚F (gas mark 1/4). It’s a worthwhile step.

PN – A nice one-dish meal, chef. The protein from the eggs is the best there is; asparagus contains a lot of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and dietary fiber, and so do the tarragon and shallots.

SHALLOT VINAIGRETTE

MAKES 20CL – 2/3 CUP
PREPARATION TIME: 5 MINUTES
COOK TIME: 20 MINUTES


5 olive shallots (or regular shallots)
100 milliliter – 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
100 milliliter – 1/3 cup plus1tablespoon olive oil

Prepare the shallots

Peel and mince the shallots.

Make the shallot vinaigrette

Put the shallots in a small saucepan and add the vinegar. Simmer until the vinegar almost completely evaporates, about 20 minutes, stirring from time to time. Off the heat, gradually add the oil while whisking to thoroughly emulsify.

Finish

Transfer the vinaigrette to a bowl and let cool. Keep it refrigerated until serving time.

23

05 2017

Utiel Requena wines conjure tastes of northeast Spain

La Vinya del Senyor in Barcelona
We’re convinced that there is nothing like taste to evoke memories of place. A sip of wine will call back the flavor of the food, the sun on our faces, the wobbly leg of the cafe table, and the street life around us. We’re just starting to taste several wines from the Utiel Requena region in the northwest corner of the autonomous region of Valencia. As we taste, we’re reliving trips to Catalunya, Aragón, Valencia, and the Balearic Islands. In addition to speaking variants of Catalan, these regions feature cuisines that pair very well with the Bobal wines of Utiel Requena. We’ll be enjoying them with some of our favorite dishes.

As shown in this photo just below, D.O. Utiel Requena sits in the rain shadow of mountains, so the region is dry and perfectly suited to organic growing. Most of the producers do grow organically, and they concentrate on the Bobal grape. That’s an indigenous red varietal found almost nowhere else—a great local grape for the cuisine. Historically, Bobal was overcropped and used for blending with wine from other Spanish regions. In the last generation, though, producers have taken advantage of the old vines—most on their own rootstock—to make wines with fabulous concentration and well-defined character.

Vineyards in Utiel Requena

A Bobal rosé—in this case Tarantas—makes a great complement to one of our favorite bar foods, coca, which is pizza-like flatbread topped primarily with red peppers. The lightly sparkling wine made entirely from Bobal has a strawberry nose and tangy red-currant and melon flavors in the mouth. The producer of Tarantas wines is Bodegas Iranzo (www.bodegasiranzo.com), a family concern that has been making wine in the region since 1335! The pronounced fruit of the rosé brings out the herbaceous quality of the pepper while emphasizing the caramel notes from cooking.

Barcelona’s best patio


We first tasted coca at an outdoor cafe table at La Vinya del Senyor, the wine bar that shares a plaza with the Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar. Pat wrote about it in her new book 100 Places in Spain Every Woman Should Go. The photo at the top of this post shows some folks having a good time—and a bottle of wine (of course).

Funded and even partially built by the people of the neighborhood, Santa Maria del Mar (at right) was consecrated in 1384 and remains a perfect example of Catalan Gothic style. Its serene interior and popular appeal make it a favorite for society weddings. We spent a magical evening watching a bride and groom enter the church single and leave as a couple. They lingered in the plaza, surrounded by their boisterous friends, a group of street musicians, and a churlish taxi driver blasting his horn as he tried to no avail to break up the revelry.

We’re not the only ones who are in love with this wine bar. In her cookbook The New Spanish Table, Anya von Bremzen sings the praises of the bar’s coca. We have adapted her recipe below.

coca mallorquina with Tarantas rosé from Utiel Requena

COCA MALLORQUINA


Von Bremzen’s version is more purist, eschewing the cheese that makes a coca seem more like a pizza. But we like the small specks of jamón serrano and creaminess of melted Mahon, a Mallorcan semisoft cheese. The defining characteristic is the topping of slightly caramelized sweet red peppers. Use your favorite pizza dough recipe, but be sure to oil the pan and oil the surface of the dough. If you don’t have a favorite home recipe, see ours here: hungrytravelers.com/black-truffle-pizza-tricks.

Ingredients


olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, shaved thin
2 cups of strips from roasted and peeled sweet red peppers
peel of lemon, finely chopped
2 teaspoons sugar
juice of 1 lemon
1 lb. pizza dough
2 ounces jamón serrano, chopped
1 tablespoon capers
4 ounces Mahon cheese, grated

Directions


Set oven at 450°F.

Drizzle olive oil to cover base of heavy frying pan. Add garlic and fry until crisp. (This gives garlic flavor to the oil.) Remove garlic. Add peppers, lemon peel, and sugar. Sauté until peppers start to caramelize on surface. Add lemon juice and continue cooking until evaporated.

Spread dough on oiled pan (14-inch round or 11×17 sheet). Spread pepper mix evenly. Distribute pieces of crisp garlic evenly. Sprinkle with jamón, capers, and cheese.

Cook 8-10 minutes until crust begins to crisp.

17

05 2017

Fall River has grip on wacky sandwiches

Kelley Benjamin delivers two chow mein sandwiches at Mee Sum Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge in Fall River.
In its heyday, Fall River, Massachusetts, was a factory town par excellence. And that’s just the sort of place where the need for economy meets the imagination of restaurateurs to produce some of the most innovative and inexpensive casual eats. Just as ballplayers of old seemed to spring full-formed from the soil of America’s farms, some of the wackiest contributions to American handheld cuisine spring from the creativity of grill cooks and chefs of the country’s lunch counters and diners.

Fall River sandwiches page 1And Fall River has some great ones, as we detailed this past Sunday in the Boston Globe‘s travel section. (Read the story here.) It doesn’t spoil the fun to hint at the menu. It includes the chouriço and fries sub at Nick’s Coney Island Hot Dogs, the grated and melted cheese sandwich (with or without meat sauce) at J.J.’s Coney Island, and the chow mein sandwich from Mee Sum Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge. At the top of this post, Kelley Benjamin delivers our chow mein sandwiches. We chose to devour them open-faced, which is the less messy approach.

09

05 2017

As spring blooms, Sancerre launches season for whites

Sancerre with lentil salad and grilled chicken
Pat has fond memories of traipsing through the Loire Valley one summer. As much as the rolling green land and the amazing fairy-tale châteaux, she remembers the food-friendly local wines. Then this winter we encountered some Cabernet Franc that reminded us how good Loire Valley reds can be with fish and lighter summer fare. The valley is home base to some of the greatest French wine grapes not called Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay. With summer on the horizon, we realized it was time to rectify our lack of attention to Loire Valley wines—some of which are the quintessential sips at the end of long, warm day.

We got a respite from our chilly, damp spring last week in time for the forsythia to burst into bloom. It was warm enough to light the grill, so we brushed some lightly brined chicken with sesame oil and slow-grilled it over indirect heat. The non-vinous star of the meal was the accompanying cold lentil salad with crumbled goat cheese. (See recipe below.)

The wine was a 2015 Sancerre from Domaine de la Perrière. It’s the flagship white of Saget Perrière, ninth generation winemakers from Pouilly-sur-Loire, and worth far more than its $24 list price. U.S. consumers often dismiss Sancerre as “merely Sauvignon Blanc.” That’s a little like saying that a grand cru Burgundy is “only Chardonnay.” Sancerre is one of the best-rounded expressions of Sauvignon Blanc—full of luscious white fruit, full but not tart acids, and a minerality that cuts through unctuous cheeses or fish. This particular Sancerre has a remarkable freshness from the flower aromas of the first sniff to the lingering lemon zest in the aftertaste. It’s made entirely with wild yeasts and aged at least three months on the lees, where it picks up some bread-y aromas and an almost meaty mouth feel.

FRENCH LENTIL SALAD


This recipe is adapted from a version that David Leibovitz published in My Paris Kitchen. He has another variation on his web site (www.davidlebovitz.com), and we’ve found additional variants in several French cookbooks. But we credit Leibovitz for turning us on to the dish, which we’ve altered and adapted over the years. Thanks, David.

Makes 6 cups

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups Le Puy green lentils
4 cups water
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup peeled and finely diced carrot
1 cup peeled and finely diced celery
1 small onion, peeled and finely diced
1 tablespoon wine vinegar
1 1/4 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup olive oil
1 shallot, peeled and minced
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped to small pea size
1 cup crumbled fresh chèvre

Directions

Place lentils in a 3-quart saucepan. Add 4 cups of water and 2 teaspoons salt to cover lentils by about 2 inches. Add bay leaf and thyme. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the carrot, celery, and onion and cook 5 minutes more. Be careful not to overcook lentils.

While lentils are cooking, whisk together the vinegar, salt, mustard, oil, and shallot in a large bowl.

Drain the lentils and vegetables well. Stir them into the dressing while still warm, coating the lentils completely. Remove the bay leaf and let mixture cool to room temperature, turning it over a few times as it cools to distribute dressing. Add a few twists of black pepper and stir in parsley, walnuts, and goat cheese before serving. We like to serve in small crowns molded in a 1/3 cup measuring cup.

05

05 2017

Montreal Poutinefest moves to August on 375th

Montreal Poutinefest in Boston Globe
This summer is a big birthday season in Canada. The country is marking the 150th anniversary of Confederation, and the city of Montreal is marking the 375th anniversary of its founding. As you can imagine, the period between the Quebec National Day (June 24) and Canada Day (July 1) is more hectic than usual in Montreal.

So the Monteal Poutinefest, on which we reported last June, is making way for other celebrations on the Quai de l’Horloge in the Old Port. But it’s expected to be back—bigger and better than ever—in August. So start making plans now. The Poutinefest is scheduled for August 15-20. Admission will again be free, but you might want to reserve a room in Montreal now. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

As you can see from the clip above, we wrote about it in the April 30 edition of the Boston Globe’s travel section. Here’s a link to read online: https://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/travel/2017/04/27/montreal-poutinefest-celebrates-fries-with-that/DWfAFxsgaCaLEM6txLs3HJ/story.html

02

05 2017

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