Archive for the ‘appetizer’Category

Cave Spring Cellars shines in Jordan, Ontario

Cave Spring Cellars barrels
Jordan Village compresses the Niagara Peninsula experience into a single stop. In just one kilometer along Nineteenth Street, the downtown packs in lodgings with character, a bakery, restaurants, a tavern, and just enough boutique shopping to stave off retail withdrawal. This being Niagara, there is, of course, also a winery.

Cave Spring Cellars (cavespring.ca), in fact, is the centerpiece of the community.

The Pennachetti family began buying land on the Beamsville Bench in the early 1970s and by the end of the decade, they had become visionary viticulturalists. Conventional wisdom held that only the area around Niagara-on-the-Lake was warm enough for European wine grapes to thrive, but the Pennachettis began growing Riesling and Chardonnay with considerable success.

In 1986, Len Pennachetti and family members joined forces with winemaker Angelo Pavan to found Cave Spring Cellars. Today they have about 164 acres of vineyards—about 135 acres on the Beamsville Bench and the remainder closer to Lake Ontario in the Lincoln Lakeshore viticultural subdistrict. The original plantings set Cave Spring on its course: the winery specializes in varietal white wines with a special emphasis on Riesling.

Tasting the wines


Pouring at Cave Spring Cellars Provincial liquor stores and some wine shops sell the wines, but about half the portfolio is only available in the Cave Spring Cellars tasting room in Jordan. The 1871 building was constructed as a vinegar works with thick limestone walls that keep the interior naturally cool both above and below ground.

All kinds of tasting options are available, but knowing that we’d be eating (and drinking) at the restaurant next door, we opted for a simple tasting of the “Dolomite” series. Only available at the winery, these limited-release wines are grown in the shadow of the Niagara escarpment in the transition between the Beamsville Bench and the Lincoln Lakeshore.

The 2015 Riesling “Dolomite” (retails for $18 Canadian) is the flagship of this group. It is a superb example of a Mosel clone of Riesling in cooler areas of Niagara. The floral nose leads into a nice fleshy mouthfeel followed by acid fruit notes of lime, lychee, and grapefruit. It is bright and vigorous—a terrific food wine.

Cave Springs wines at On the Twenty restaurant

Eating and drinking


Cave Spring was the first winery in the Niagara region to open a sibling restaurant. Located in the same building as the tasting room, On the Twenty (innonthetwenty.com/dining/dine-on-the-twenty) restaurant is perfect for exploring the food-friendliness of the Cave Spring wines. Chef Jason Williams is home grown. Niagara-born, he trained in the Niagara College Culinary program and worked under some of the region’s leading chefs.

heirloom beets at On the Twenty restaurant at Cave Spring Cellars Williams draws on the local bounty to build menus that complement and enhance the wines. This salad of roasted heirloom beets with a scoop of whipped goat cheese and a toasted hazelnut vinaigrette was a striking example of sweet early-season beets balanced by the light tang of the goat cheese and the dark, ashen quality of a smear of burnt honey. The house rosé (a light treatment of Cabernet Franc) tasted as if it had been conceived as a component of the dish.

venison carpaccio at On the Twenty at Cave Spring CellarsSimilarly, the venison carpaccio with dollops of egg yolk puree and parmesan emulsion is a very mild dish, even with the black pepper and crushed juniper berries on the edges. Trusting to the menu’s pairing suggestion, we had it with the Gamay. We’ve written before how this grape becomes very expressive in Niagara, and Cave Spring’s version is no exception. The fruitiness and soft tannins played very nicely with the spice on the edges and the unctuous meat.

Time for bed


Inn on the Twenty, sister to Cave Spring CellarsAfter dinner, it’s a short walk across the street from the restaurant to the Inn on the Twenty (innonthetwenty.com), another property in the Cave Spring family. A former sugar mill has found new life as a stylish lodging with 24 suites that blend traditional furnishings with a confident use of color. (There are also several rooms in adjacent buildings). All the suites have fireplaces and some have hidden private patios. Breakfast at the Inn on the Twenty is included in the rates. If you’d like a bottle of Cave Spring Cellars wine in your room when you check in, be sure to ask when you make your reservations.

We’d suggest the Blanc de Blancs Brut, which has a delicious yeastiness from spending three years on the lees.

For an overview of Niagara wineries, see the web site of the Vintner’s Quality Alliance of Ontario (vqaontario.ca). For an overview of attractions, restaurants, and lodging in the area, see Visit Niagara (visitniagaracanada.com).

10

09 2017

Vineland Estates Winery: a clone of one’s own

Tasting room at Vineland in Niagara

“These trees are the beginnings of Canada,” David Hulley told us as he welcomed us to the cathedral-like log barn that serves as the tasting room of Vineland Estates Winery (vineland.com). “Trees were being cut down for warships. Some of them weren’t needed, so they were used for this barn.”

The 1877 structure and the landmark stone tower are among several practical and handsome buildings remaining from a 19th century Mennonite homestead. They perch on an elevated slope along the Twenty Mile Bench of the Niagara escarpment. The chinked log-cabin barn certainly makes the region’s most dramatic tasting room. The winery’s setting atop the rise among vineyards makes it among the most picturesque estates in the Niagara region.

The buildings anchor 42 acres of vineyards, including the initial 1979 plantings of the Weis 21 Riesling clone. Vineland founder Hermann Weis hails from Germany’s Mosel wine region and brought the clone that bears his family’s name to Canada. The winemaker and nurseryman was convinced that Riesling would thrive in this particular slice of the Niagara peninsula. The heat sink of Lake Ontario keeps the vineyards cool in summer and warm into the fall. The limestone soils have good drainage, and the slope between the Twenty Mile Bench and the lake encourages good air circulation. After tasting the wines in the rustic barn, we were convinced that Weis was on to something.

At the tasting bar


Pouring at Vineland in NiagaraThe Elevation Riesling is Vineland’s signature wine. It is crafted with grapes from old vines in the St. Urban vineyard surrounding the winery. The 2015 ($20) is an outstanding example of the Mosel clone flourishing in the Niagara setting. The vines are in their fourth decade and produce grapes with impressive intensity, a citrus zing, and luscious fruit with overtones of ripe peach and apricot. Fermented fairly dry, it’s a very food-friendly wine. We also tried the 2008 ($30), which was made in a sweet German auslese style. The same stone fruits are present in the mouth, and the intense acids balance the residual sugars very well. It would be perfect with a game bird stuffing with chestnut dressing.

And now the reds…


Riesling may have been the founder’s passion, but Vineland also found its niche red early on. “In Niagara, Cabernet Franc is king,” Hulley told us. “There are very few places in the world that can make pure Cabernet Franc.”

bottles in tasting room at Vineland in NiagaraBefore trying a reserve Cab Franc, we sampled the 2014 Elevation Cabernet ($28). This elegant wine is a blend of two-thirds Cabernet Franc, one-third Cabernet Sauvignon. It was aged for 15 months in French oak with a light toast. The Cabernet Sauvignon contributes powerfully to the cedar and elderberry nose, but Cabernet Franc and its vegetative tannins dominate the mouth. It needs a few more years in the bottle—or a salty piece of meat—to show at its best. A fully mature 2009 Elevation Cabernet ($75) demonstrates a more harmonious marriage of the grapes. The tannins have softened and the fruit flavors have overtaken the vegetative flavors. The lush wine lingers on the palate like a sunset’s afterglow.

Perhaps the best middle ground is the 2012 Vineland Estate Cabernet Franc Reserve ($50). It’s mostly (89%) Cabernet Franc with a mellowing touch of Merlot (9%) and just a hint of Cabernet Sauvignon. In a tasting, it shows leather and coffee on the nose and rich black fruits with bittersweet chocolate in the mouth. It makes you hungry for a steak.

At the table


Vineland also opened one of the first winery-based fine dining restaurants in the area. Simply called “The Restaurant,” it occupies an 1845 farmhouse (above) with expansive views across the vineyards. Executive chef Justin Downes grew up in the town of Vineland and studied at Niagara College. Like many Niagara chefs, he has a firm commitment to local products. After the teaser of the wine tasting, we were eager to pair some of the estate’s wines with Downes’ food.

charcuterie at Vineland restaurant in NiagaraThe flagship 2015 Vineland Riesling proved its versatility with our first two courses. The lemon-lime zestiness of the wine balanced nicely with a plate of briny Nova Scotia oysters on the half shell. With that wine, a mignonette was superfluous. Then Downes surprised us with a stunning platter that was almost a study in the branches of charcuterie. It included a marvelously mellow pâté de campagne with just a touch of brandy, an unctuous medallion of pork rillettes, thin slices of duck prosciutto, cured pork loin, and a chorizo with a healthy dose of black peppercorns. The pickled onions and green beans provided an acid counterpart. Once again, the Riesling more than held its own.

Every course was carefully thought out and meticulously executed. One pairing that surprised us was roasted quail with a kale pesto, wild spring mushrooms, a sunnyside-up quail egg, and a dab of ricotta. Downes served it with the 2014 Elevation Cabernet—the same wine we found too closed in the tasting. The salty little quail brought the wine alive. Because the meat had such a concentrated flavor from the browning, it stood up just fine to the wine. Below is the dish—beautiful and rustic at the same time.

quail at Vineland restaurant in Niagara

Overviews

For an overview of Niagara wineries, see the web site of the Vintner’s Quality Alliance of Ontario (vqaontario.ca) or Visit Niagara (visitniagaracanada.com).

Inniskillin icewines hit the sweet spot

Debi Pratt at Inniskillin in Niagara
Like many wine drinkers, we’ve always thought of icewine as an after-dinner treat. But if Inniskillin (www.inniskillin.com) has its way, we’ll be drinking it with dinner as well. As Debi Pratt told us when we toured the property, icewine makes an excellent, if somewhat extravagant, table wine.

Inniskillin is another pioneer in the Niagara wine region. It was founded in 1975 by Austrian-born Karl Kaiser and Canadian Donald Ziraldo. “Karl said, ‘If I’m going to live in a new country, I’m going to drink the wines of my new country,’” Pratt told us.

Ziraldo had actually planted Riesling, Chardonnay, and Gamay vines the year before at his commercial nursery. But when Inniskillin launched, the winery relied heavily on two winter-hardy French hybrid grapes, Vidal Blanc and Maréchal Foch. The early Vidal plantings survive for icewine, but nobler vines have displaced the old red hybrid as well as the original Gamay. Today’s Inniskillin Niagara table wines lean heavily on Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Riesling, and Pinot Noir. (Inniskillin also has a branch in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia.)

When cold is cool


Inniskillin icewine vineyard in NiagaraBut Inniskillin electrified the wine world with its distinctive New World icewines. Winemaker Kaiser produced Niagara’s first icewines in 1984, using the thick-skinned Vidal grapes. Familiar with German and Austrian icewines, he suspected that the climate in Niagara should be perfect to produce icewines in most harvests. Subsequent years proved him right, and the consumer response to the once-exotic product was strong.

“Donald and Karl are pioneers of Ontario icewine,” Pratt said. Today, Inniskillin reserves 5 percent of its grapes for icewines. They hang on the vines until at least early December and sometimes aren’t harvested until early March. The optimal temperature for harvesting is -10°C (14°F). VQA regulations state that the harvest must be carried out at -8°C (17/6°F) or lower.

Thick-skinned Vidal grapes last longer on the vine than other varietals. As a result, the grape accounts for about 85 percent of Canada’s icewine production. But Inniskillin and some other Niagara wineries have also had good luck with Riesling and Cabernet Franc. They also have thick enough skins to become desiccated on the vine without rotting.

Icewine with food


icewine glass at Inniskillin in NiagaraYou can taste icewine flights at the dedicated Icewine Tasting Bar. We headed instead to the Riedel Room, which is named for the premium maker of wine glasses. After Kaiser’s prompting, Riedel developed a specific glass for tasting icewine. “It evolved from an aromatic glass, a port glass, and a Sauterne glass,” said Pratt. “The shape maximizes the layers of aromas in icewines.”

Food, we were to quickly learn, also brings out the nuances of the wine. We sampled three dishes prepared by chef Tim MacKiddie to pair with Riesling, Vidal, and Cabernet Franc icewines.

icewine and food pairing at Inniskillin in Niagara

Riesling pairing

In the Riedel icewine glasses, the Riesling icewine showed a lot of flowery notes and citrus that ranged from Meyer lemon to bergamot. MacKiddie served a goat cheese croquette with a fennel salad lightly dressed with a cumin-lime vinaigrette. The citrus notes balanced the ashen cheese nicely, while the bright anise of the fennel echoed the aromatics of the wine.

Vidal pairing

The Vidal icewine was rounder and more luscious, tasting of apricots and gooseberries. MacKiddie explained that baking spices pair nicely with Vidal, which tends to preserve its fruitiness even as an icewine. He then proved his point by serving a rhubarb tart with cinnamon butter pastry and a crumble topping.

Cabernet Franc pairing

The “dessert” course among the icewines was reserved for the Cabernet Franc, which displayed a luscious concentrate of blackberries and elderberries spiked with black pepper. MacKiddie offered a “Canadian s’more.” It consisted of a block of chocolate ganache with a few toasted homemade marshmallows, all sitting in a small pool of Cabernet Franc syrup. “A match made in heaven,” he called it—and we agreed

We were convinced: Icewine can pair nicely with food. Pratt pointed out that Inniskillin’s sparkling icewines—either Sparkling Vidal or Sparkling Cabernet Franc—might be even more food friendly. “The bubbles cut the sweetness,” she said.

Nonetheless, it’s hard to give up the sheer indulgence of simply sipping and enjoying icewine as a special pleasure all its own.

For an overview of Niagara wineries, see the web site of the Vintner’s Quality Alliance of Ontario (vqaontario.ca) or Visit Niagara (visitniagaracanada.com).

20

07 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

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

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

Café Martinique at Atlantis dresses up humble conch

Chef de cuisine Lisa Rolle of Café Martinique at Atlantis“I trained by watching other chefs,” says Lisa Rolle, who worked her way up through the kitchens of the Atlantis resort (atlantisbahamas.com). Now she’s the chef de cuisine at Café Martinique, perhaps the resort’s top fine dining establishment.

Understated and elegant, Café Martinique nonetheless has an air of mystery and mystique befitting the fanciful world of Atlantis. A birdcage elevator carries guests to the second-floor dining room. The venue recreates the 1960s restaurant where James Bond met his eye-patch wearing arch-nemesis Emilio Largo in the 1965 film Thunderball.

Today’s Café Martinique is part of the culinary empire of French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Although Vongerichten develops the recipes, Rolle injects local flavors. “The base of a dish is local,” she says. “A lot of the items we use are local.” Herbs and greens are grown by local farmers. Rolle also makes wonderful use of fresh-caught seafood. She might serve a roasted Bahamian lobster tail with fried plantain, oregano, and chili. Or she could prepare local snapper with braised fennel, lemon, and olive oil.

conch on ice at Café Martinique at AtlantisRolle was born and raised in the Bahamas. Her roots definitely show in Café Martinique’s cracked conch appetizer. (That’s raw conch on ice to the right.) The dish of fried conch with a dipping sauce is an island staple that you might munch on in a bar while watching a televised cricket match. Rolle brings it into the fine-dining realm by accompanying the mollusk with avocado and pickled vegetables, all dusted with kaffir lime and chili powders. She serves the plate with a dipping sauce of chili citrus mayonnaise.

Admittedly, conch is a specialty of the tropics and subtropics, though more northerly fishmongers will often stock it. It’s also available via overnight shipment from many fishmongers on both the east and west coasts. In a pinch, substitute sea clams or surf clams, but discard the bellies. Here is my adaptation of Chef Rolle’s Café Martinique recipe for cracked conch.

CRACKED CONCH À LA MARTINIQUE


4 appetizer servings cracked conch plate at Café Martinique at Atlantis

Ingredients

For conch

1-1/2 pounds conch meat
lime juice
salt
hot pepper sauce
rice flour
oil for frying (peanut, canola, palm, or a blend)
salt

For chili citrus mayo

2 egg yolks
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon sriracha
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups grapeseed oil

For pickled vegetables

2 shallots
1 small carrot, peeled
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sugar
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon Thai chile pepper, minced

For kaffir powder

1 kaffir lime leaf

For lime vinaigrette

1/4 cup lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3/4 cup grapeseed oil

For plating

frisee or other light salad greens
avocado, peeled and cut in 8 slices
chili powder

Directions

Prepare conch by “cracking” it. Using a hammer-style meat tenderizer or the flat bottom of a cast iron frying pan, pound conch meat until it is matchstick thin. Sprinkle with lime juice, a little salt, and a few dashes of hot pepper sauce. Reserve.

Make chili citrus mayo. In food processor, combine egg yolks, juices, sriracha and salt. Puree. With motor running, drizzle in the oil. Refrigerate until serving.

Pickle the vegetables. Cut the shallots and carrot into matchstick-sized pieces. Add to a saucepan with vinegar and sugar. Bring mixture to a boil and simmer 1 minute. Remove from heat and season with minced Thai chile pepper and salt. Let cool to room temperature.

Make lime vinaigrette. Combine juice, salt, sugar, and mustard in small bowl. Whisk in oil. Pour mixture into a screw-top jar so it can be shaken before being poured on salad. (There will be a lot left over for use on other salads.)

Make kaffir powder by drying the leaf in microwave, then grinding it to dust in a spice grinder or with mortar and pestle.

To cook conch, heat about 1/4 inch cooking oil in heavy, deep frying pan. (An old-fashioned cast iron chicken cooker is ideal.) Dredge pieces of conch in rice flour and fry until crispy and lightly golden. Drain on paper towels and dust with salt.

To assemble, toss salad greens with a little lime vinaigrette. Cover plates with dressed greens. Top with fried conch, avocado, and pickled vegetables. Dust with kaffir and chili powders, and place mayo dipping sauce in a bowl next to each plate.

17

02 2017

Camisadu farmstay in heart of Cannonau country

Agriturismo Camisadu
Exploring the Cannonau wine country means spending at least a few days in the mountains of Sardinia. That’s hardly a hardship. The scenery is beautiful and aromas of the Mediterranean scrub hang in the air. This macchia Mediterranea, as it’s called, consists of myrtle and strawberry trees with an undergrowth of yellow-flowered gorse and mastic, a shrub that bleeds a gummy sap. In the heat of the Sardinian sun, they smell like a resinous cache of rosemary, bay, and wild thyme. Stands of cork oak and groves of evergreen holm oaks punctuate patches of machhia. Sheep graze in the few open meadows. Pigs forage for acorns in the oak forest.

One of the simpler lodgings I experienced was a farmhouse just outside Oliena. Agriturismo Camisadu offers a farmstay in six guest rooms, two with en suite bathrooms with bidet and shower. Rough-hewn wooden beams cross the ceilings, and terracotta tiles cover the floors. Whitewashed walls are decorated with country artifacts—baskets, old saddles, woven bags, painted wooden shelves. But the interiors are really only for sleeping. If you’re here, you’ll want to be outdoors. The grounds are landscaped with pomegranate trees and prickly pear cactus. The farm offers cooking classes and excursions to gather wild herbs.

Tasting the countryside

Making bread at Camisadu The basic stay at Camisadu includes a Sardinian country breakfast of fresh bread, jams and coffee. But the farm stay also offers lunch and dinner with local vegetables and roast meats. The staff make the Sardinian crisp flat bread called pane carasau. Rolled very thin, it puffs up when cooked in a brick oven burning oak logs.

roasting meat at CamisaduThe cooks also roast pork and lamb on vertical metal skewers in front of a roaring fire in a shallow wood fireplace. I was with a group organized by Laore Sardegna, which provides technical assistance to Sardinian agriculture. So we began an afternoon feast by standing around sipping a crisp Cannonau rosé and eating hot carasau and appertizers of pecorino sardo. In this case, the cheese consisted of balls of soft, fresh cheese rolled in grated aged cheese (below). The salty, piquant cheese was a perfect foil for the fruity wine. Later, we moved on to fire-roasted pork with Cannonau wines from the Cantina Oliena (see previous post). It was hard to move on….

Overnight rates at Camisadu vary by season, but rarely exceed €65 per night with breakfast. The web site (agriturismocamisadu.com) is severely dated, so the easiest way to arrange a booking is by email at camisadu@email.it. Agriturismo Camisadu is about 1 km outside Oliena’s town center on the Strada Vecchia Oliena-Orgosolo. Phone service is spotty, but the number (a cell connection) is +39 368.347.9502. Alternately, book through Sardegna.com or Booking.com.

Pecorino sardo and rose

07

01 2017

Eat, drink, and be merry in New Orleans at the holidays

New Orleans is always ready for the holidays
As a New Englander, I always secretly pitied people who had to celebrate Christmas in a warm climate. But after one day in New Orleans, I realized the error of my ways. Even in December, potted trees and ferns flourish on wrought iron balconies and poinsettias and camellias bloom profusely. All it takes are a few red bows and some twinkling white lights to deck the city for the holidays.

With decorating out of the way, New Orleanians can spend more time at the table. Great food is a city birthright and I can’t think of another place where you can eat better—or at a more reasonable price—than New Orleans at Christmas.

Until the Civil War, Creole families enjoyed lavish feasts after Mass on Christmas Eve and again on New Year’s Eve. Today’s chefs have improved on that tradition. Now more than 50 restaurants—including many of the city’s best—offer four-course, fixed-price Reveillon menus throughout the holiday season. (See holiday.neworleansonline.com for a full list.) The term “Reveillon” refers to a late night meal. But today’s diners don’t have to wait until after midnight to feast. Moreover, they can choose between contemporary cooking or the city’s signature Creole cuisine, which blends French technique, African tradition, and Spanish spices. Reveillon menus are almost evenly divided between the two.

Tujague's is the second oldest restaurant in New Orleans

Celebrate at venerable Tujague’s

For tradition, it’s hard to beat Tujague’s (823 Decatur Street, 504-525-8676, www.tujaguesrestaurant.com). Founded in 1856 by immigrants from Bordeaux, Tujague’s is the second oldest restaurant in the city. The long wooden bar in the front room was brought from France that same year. The bar is a lively place for a drink, but the dining room with historic photos on the walls is a better choice for a leisurely meal. The Reveillon menu hits on many of the city’s classics. Fresh local seafood finds its way into bacon-wrapped oysters en brochette or crawfish and goat cheese crepes. One of the entree choices is Chicken Pontalba, a city favorite featuring a chicken breast on a bed of crunchy fried potato cubes, ham, and mushrooms—all topped with Béarnaise sauce, that piquant daughter of Hollandaise.

Making Café Brûlot at Arnaud's

Drink to the season at Arnaud’s

Tujague’s was into its seventh decade when Arnaud’s (813 Bienville Street, 504-523-5433, www.arnaudsrestaurant.com) was founded in 1918 by a French wine salesman. An attention to fine libations has always been part of the Arnaud’s experience. The best way to start a Reveillon dinner is with a French 75 cocktail: cognac and lemon juice topped with champagne. Menu choices usually include a version of Arnaud’s signature dish of shrimp in remoulade sauce. (Made with mayonnaise, Creole mustard, paprika, chopped pickle, and a slew of spices, Arnaud’s remoulade is the standard by which all Creole versions of the French sauce are measured.) The most satisfying and dramatic way to end a meal is with a cup of Café Brûlot. The mix of black coffee, lemon and orange rinds, cinnamon sticks, and orange Curaçao is prepared tableside and flamed with brandy (above).

Filet Wellington at Broussard's

Broussard’s strikes French pose

Broussard’s (819 Conti Street, 504-581-3866, broussards.com) was founded in 1920 by chef Joseph Broussard, who merged his classical Parisian training with the flavors and flair of Creole cuisine. Still located in a mansion owned by his wife’s family, Broussard’s is formal enough to make a meal feel special and casual enough to make diners relax. The Reveillon menu includes such classics as Creole Turtle Soup—a rich, almost gumbo-like soup always topped with sherry—and such celebratory dishes as Filet Wellington accompanied by blue cheese puff pastry and wild mushrooms. Broussard’s also served my favorite dessert of my Reveillon dining: peppermint stick panna cotta topped with chocolate ganache, a few raspberries and a dab of whipped cream. (Next post will have a recipe!)

appetizer sampler at Tableau

Tableau makes holiday stage set

The latest venture from Dickie Brennan (a scion of New Orleans’ dominant restaurant family) is Tableau (616 St. Peter Street, 504-934-3463, www.tableaufrenchquarter.com). Brennan purchased part of the Jackson Square property of the historic Le Petit Theatre (www.lepetittheatre.com), renovated the building and created a contemporary restaurant with an open kitchen in the main dining room. The renovated theater space presents all manner of performing events. Tableau is a great spot for a pre-theater dinner or for dining on a balcony overlooking Jackson Square on a warm evening. It’s also a perfect place to enjoy a contemporary interpretation of time-honored Creole cuisine.

Chef John Martin makes the most of local products. His rich Gulf Oyster Stew, which gets a sassy anise hit from Pernod, comes topped with a Southern black pepper biscuit. His mixed grill of Gulf pompano and Gulf shrimp (with a side of roasted root vegetables) pops to life on a base of citrus gastrique and satsuma gazpacho.

The inventive pairings certainly give diners a lot to talk about. In fact, wherever you choose to eat, expect to be drawn into conversation with diners at neighboring tables. The holiday season only enhances New Orleanians’ gregarious nature and the Reveillon menus are such a good deal that many locals dine out as often as possible in December.

Local color lights up Toronto neighborhoods

Kensington Market street scene in Toronto
Toronto’s playful side is literally written on its walls. The city is full of murals created with a high degree of artistry and a witty sense of humor. The one above with the car-turned-planter in the foreground embodies the spirit of the Kensington Market neighborhood. Just west of Chinatown, most of its shops and eateries are found along Augusta Avenue and adjacent Nassau Street, Baldwin Street, and Kensington Avenue.

The eastern boundary stretches to Spadina Avenue in Chinatown, making a continuous colorful neighborhood of eateries and shops. Once the center of hippie culture in Canada, Kensington Market was where many young American men moved to avoid the military draft during the Vietnam war. The area retains its psychedelic patchouli vibe in the street art and even the graffiti.

burrito stand in Toronto Kensington Market The Kensington Market eateries also lean toward the inventive—be they Hungarian-Thai, Remixed Filipino, or Jamaican-Italian. The preponderance of small restaurants, however, have a Latin flair. NAFTA has opened the borders to Mexican immigrants, and they seem to arrive hungry for such Mexican street food standards as churros, tacos, and chorizo. The Latin presence makes Kensington Market a great area for a quick bite.

But one of the city’s best murals—and perhaps the best Mexican food—is at El Catrin Destilería (18 Tank House Lane, 416-203-2121, www.elcatrin.ca). We stopped for a meal after touring the Distillery District shopping, dining, and entertainment area with Will Ennis of Go Tours (www.gotourscanada.com).

Exploring whisky village


Main square of Distillery District in Toronto “This is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city,” Will told us. Gooderham & Worts was founded as a grain processor in 1831 and expanded into making whisky in 1837. About half of the roughly 80,000 imperial gallons produced each year was exported, by the way. The rest stayed in the city of 10,000 residents. The story goes that workers’ wages were actually based on levels of drunkenness that ranged from “morning drunk” (or hung over) to “drunk as a pig.”

The brick distillery as it now stands was built in 1859. By 1862, it was producing a quarter of the distilled spirits in all of Canada. By the end of the 19th century, it was among the largest distilleries in the world. Prohibition in Ontario (1916-1927) put a crimp in the business. (The firm adjusted by canning denatured alcohol and antifreeze during World War I.) Whisky production ceased in 1990 and developers transformed the red brick industrial buildings into a shopping and nightlife district. It is crazy popular among wedding photographers, who love the atmospherics.

One good pour deserves another


Pouring sake at Ontario Spring Water Sake Two small establishments in the development carry on the tradition of making alcoholic beverages. Ontario Spring Water Sake Company (51 Gristmill Lane, 416-365-7253, www.ontariosake.com) brews sake in the “pure rice” style. The brewers use only cooked milled rice, water, yeast, and koji. (Koji is rice inoculated with the aspergillus oryzae mold, which imparts a distinct flavor.) You can watch the process through a large window. Better yet, for $10 you can enjoy a tasting flight of three styles.

In addition, Mill Street Brewpub (21 Tank House Lane, 416-681-0338, millstreetbrewery.com) opened in 2002. It was Canada’s first brewer of certified organic beer. The storefront brews small batch seasonal beers on site. The flagship beer is a Pilsener with a nice bit of hops. If it’s available when you visit, try the West Coast Style IPA. Made with 50 percent malted wheat and a nice dose of Cascade hops, it gives a less bitter impression than most IPAs. The nose has strong, pleasing mango notes. Mill Street also makes beer schnapps, a liqueur triple-distilled from beer and redolent of malt and hops. Mill Street is the only maker in Canada and the schnapps is only sold on site. “It lights a bit of a fire in your stomach,” a server told us as he poured small tastes.

A taste of Mexico


Mural in El Catrin in Toronto Distillery District
After that snort, we were ready for El Catrin Destileria (18 Tank House Lane, 416-203-2121, elcatrin.ca). This cavernous space with 22-foot ceilings opened in 2013. The tequilas and the food are authentically Mexican. Street artist Oscar Flores painted the two-story mural that dominates one wall. (The other consists of cubbyholes filled with tequilas.) Flores went wild with bright colors, decorative skulls, coyotes, sunflower, eagles, and armadillos.

Chef Olivier Le Calvez hails from Mexico City. His father is French, his mother Mexican. He spent his teens living in France and did his culinary studies there. As a result, he prepares Mexican food—even street food—with French technique.

Cuisine in the sun


Making guacamole at El Catrin During warm weather, diners and drinkers flock to the tables in the 5,000 square-foot outdoor patio at El Catrin. With a bright October sun shining, we did the same. A server brought all the ingredients for guacamole to the table and mashed it in a mortar as we watched. Several tortilla chip scoops later, we moved on to an excellent tortilla soup. Le Calvez’s version is rich with ripe tomatoes and pureed to make it as thick as a gazpacho. The tacos al pastor were delicious—filled with smoky pork, tiny blocks of sweet pineapple, and chopped red onion.

Esquítes at El Catrin We especially enjoyed the shot glasses full of roasted corn. Called esquítes, they are a table adaptation of Mexican street corn. Le Calvez roasts the corn whole in the husks over charcoal. It steams the kernels and imparts a smoky flavor. Then he cuts the kernels off the cob and sautées them with a little butter and chopped epazote. He mixes in a little chipotle mayonnaise, some crumbled cortijo cheese, and a squeeze of lime.

distillery-chef Le Calvez sees himself as something of an ambassador, introducing authentic Mexican food to Canadians. He makes recipes “that I enjoyed when I was young,” he says. As with the esquítes, he often brings street food to the table. He hopes Torontonians will adopt the Mexican attitude about a meal. “We love to sit down at the table and enjoy the food,” says Le Calvez. “That’s very important to us in Mexico. A meal lasts up to two hours.”

27

10 2016