Archive for the ‘fish’Category

Ontario food rivals the view at Elements on the Falls

Canada 150 at Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Falls, ON
A big “CANADA 150” sculpture celebrating the country’s 150th anniversary of Confederation had just been installed when we settled into a window table at Elements on the Falls Restaurant (niagaraparks.com/visit/culinary/elements-on-the-falls-restaurant/). People were having so much fun climbing on the sculpture and posing for photos that we were almost distracted from the glorious view of Horseshoe Falls.

The restaurant is one of five owned and managed by Niagara Parks. The agency was established in 1885 to preserve and protect the natural resources of Niagara Falls and the Niagara River. Niagara Parks also ensures a good time for all in this legendary natural setting. They oversee everything from cruises and zipline tours of the falls to gardens, golf courses, historic sites, and the Niagara River Recreation Trail. Their guests also eat well at the Niagara Parks restaurants.

We’re often leery of restaurants with great views. Restaurateurs sometimes think that the scenery will lead diners to overlook less than stellar food or that people will pay a premium for the view alone. But we needn’t have worried at Elements on the Falls. Our meal was every bit as good as the view.

Chef Elbert Wiersema, Elements on the Falls, Niagara Falls, ON

Elements participates in the Feast ON program (ontarioculinary.com), which promotes fresh food from Ontario province. Chef Elbert Wiersema (above) knows how to make the most of that local produce, fish, and meat. The Dutch-born chef cooked in Paris, London, and Bermuda before landing in Ontario about 15 years ago. He has cultivated a deep appreciation for the foods and wines of his adopted home.

An Ontario feast


Our first dish featured a small fillet of lake perch, fried very crisp and served with a side dish of local wild rice, farmers cheese, and fruit salsa. The mild fish matched the soft flavors of the rice and cheese, while the small cubed fruits gave a piquant counterpart to the crisp skin.

Lamb mixed grill at Elements on the Falls, Niagara Falls, ON

Chef Wiersema’s unique version of lamb mixed grill (above) had its own built-in drama. We were each served on a piece of slate where a roasted merguez sausage sat atop roasted heirloom potatoes, green onion, and asparagus. A saskatoon berry sauce made with reduced Baco Noir wine provided a sweet-tart counterpart.

As the plate was served, we were cautioned that the stone sitting on one end was very hot. Indeed it was. Chef Wiersema had selected flat-sided stones from the banks of the Niagara River, then heated them blazingly hot in the oven. The hot stone on each plate was an individual grill where we could cook our lamb sirloin steaks to taste.

The meal concluded with a salute to Canadian cuisine that evoked the very symbol of the country in this celebratory year. A crispy maple tart sat in a swash of reduced ice-cider and was garnished with tart and citrusy sea buckthorn berries. Chef kindly shared his tart recipe. We’re looking forward to trying it during New England maple season.

Maple tart at Elements on the Falls, Niagara Falls, ON

MAPLE BUTTER TARTS

Ingredients

6 sheets frozen phyllo pastry, thawed
3 Tablespoons (45 ml) melted butter

For filling
1 egg
1/2 cup (125 ml) packed brown sugar
1/2 cup (125 ml) Maple syrup
2 Tablespoons (30 ml) melted butter
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla
1 teaspoon (5 ml) fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup (85 ml) coarsely chopped pecans

Directions

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Place the phyllo pastry between two sheets of waxed paper and cover with a damp tea towel. Place one sheet on a work surface, keeping the remaining sheets covered.

Brush the phyllo with some of the melted butter; top with a second sheet. Continue stacking the sheets of phyllo, brushing each with melted butter, until you have a stack of 6. Brush the top sheet well with butter. Cut into 12 even squares.

Press the squares evenly into 12 muffin cups.

In a bowl, beat the egg well with a whisk, then whisk in the sugar, maple syrup, butter, vanilla and lemon juice. Stir in the nuts.

Spoon the filling evenly into the prepared phyllo cups, being careful not to let the filling come up above the pastry. (They will appear about half full.)

Bake in the bottom third of the oven until the pastry is golden, about 15 minutes. Place the pan on a rack to cool completely.

Courtesy Chef Elbert Wiersema, Elements on the Falls, Niagara Parks

07

08 2017

On a hot day, good Vouvray lifts a salade Niçoise

Marie de Beauregard Vouvray at backyard picnic
The mercury was pushing 95°F (35°C) and the dew point was well into the sticky zone. When we brought a chilled bottle of Vouvray to checkout at the wine shop the clerk sighed. “Hooray for Vouvray!” she said. To which we could only add, “Amen.”

Chenin Blanc doesn’t get a lot of respect in the wine world. It makes naturally sweet, loosey-goosey wines that go well in picnic baskets. But a good Vouvray, like the 2015 Marie de Beauregard from Saget La Perrière, shows how polished Chenin Blanc can become. The chalk and flint of the soils from the vineyards in La Roche Corbon outside Vouvray city come through quickly on the nose. Pears and acacia honey dominate the first tastes, followed by a hint of candied fruits and a spicy lemon zing. The intense acidity of the wine carries all those sweet fruits nicely. The finish is soft and almost yeasty, like a good champagne. We suspect that comes from fermenting with the natural yeasts after chilling the must to precipitate out the pectins and solids. The wine retails at $13-$17, depending on your local merchant. Suggested retail is $20, and it’s worth it.

SALADE NIÇOISE


Serves 4

It was too hot to cook indoors, so we settled on a salade Niçoise. Our favorite local fishmonger, New Deal Fish Market (www.newdealfishmarket.com), had just cut up a nice bigeye. We bought about 12 ounces of trim for half the price per pound of steaks and cut them into 1.5-inch cubes. Lightly painted with a little olive oil, they grill up nicely over hardwood charcoal at 20-30 seconds per side. (There should be four sides if you cut them correctly.) We have evolved our version of this classic summer salad from a 1972 kitchen bible called Charles Virion’s French Country Cookbook. It’s worth seeking out in used bookstores. Or you can go with an Amazon merchant.

salade Nicoise to accompany Vouvray

Ingredients


3 cups diced cold boiled potatoes
3 cups haricots verts, blanched 3-4 minutes and chilled in ice water
16 pitted Niçoise or Kalamata olives
1/2 cup simple French dressing (see recipe below)
Boston lettuce leaves
4 fresh tomatoes, peeled and quartered
4 hard boiled eggs, peeled and quartered
12 ounces fresh tuna, cut into cubes
olive oil to brush kebabs

Directions


tuna kebabs for VouvrayLight charcoal grill.

Mix potatoes, green beans, olives, and French dressing together.

Line serving platter with lettuce. Pile potato-bean-olive mixture on top. Ring with tomato and egg wedges.

Place tuna cubes on bamboo skewers that have been soaked 1 hour in water. Brush with oil.

Grill tuna skewers 20-30 seconds per side, turning gingerly with tongs. Place skewers atop salad and serve with glasses of cold Vouvray.

BASIC FRENCH DRESSING


Makes 1/2 cup

Ingredients


1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and grated
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon water
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon leaf
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Directions


Line a small saucepan with a dish towel. Place small nonreactive bowl in pan. (This stabilizes the bowl so you can whisk and pour at the same time.) Place all ingredients through vinegar into bowl and whisk thoroughly to mix. Drizzle in olive oil while continuing to whisk. Mixture should emulsify and become thick. Recipe can be scaled up proportionately but becomes tedious to whisk as volume increases.

13

07 2017

77° West establishes New World flavors at Atlantis

main dining room at 77° West
Patti and I had barely sat down at 77° West when a server delivered a bowl of tortilla chips and four salsas to sample while we studied the menu. The combination of pico de gallo, roasted tomatoes, roasted tomatillos, and guacamole telegraphed the kitchen’s culinary bent.

empanadas at 77° WestThe chefs at 77° West, the newest fine dining option at Atlantis (atlantisbahamas.com), work in an open kitchen to create dishes that fuse South American and Caribbean flavors and cuisines. My meal felt like a whirlwind tour through South America. For example, I couldn’t resist the empanadas starters. The flaky turnovers are among my fast-food standbys when I’m in Spanish-speaking countries. The chefs at 77° West elevated this staple of hand-held cuisine by filling the flaky crust with duck, cotija cheese, and chorizo. A pineapple and avocado crema was the perfect accompaniment.

moqueca at 77° WestMoqueca is one of Brazil’s best-known dishes. The chefs at 77° West build on the base of the Bahian moqueca, which shows up at casual fish shacks and fine dining restaurants alike. This version placed an oven roasted grouper fillet atop the signature stew of coconut milk, onion, tomatoes, garlic, cilantro, and palm oil. A bed of coconut rice helped trap all the flavorful broth. This moqueca was a perfect synthesis of Portuguese and African culinary influences.

I grew to love dulce de leche during a visit to Buenos Aires where cooks use this mixture of caramelized sugar and milk in almost anything sweet. 77° West offers an elegant dulce de leche cheesecake with a thick topping of tres leche cream and a drizzle of salted caramel sauce. It made a rich and delicious ending to the meal. The following recipe, developed once I got home, is simpler but preserves the signature flavors and creamy texture. The photo, however, shows the restaurant’s beautiful presentation.

INDIVIDUAL DULCE DE LECHE CHEESECAKES


Serves 6dulce de leche cheesecake at 77° West at Atlantis

Ingredients

3/8 cup graham cracker crumbs
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 8-ounce package cream cheese
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs, separated
1 tablespoon flour
13.4 ounce can dulce de leche (Nestle La Lechera is good)
1/4 teaspoon fleur de sel finishing salt

Directions

Set oven to 325°F.

Mix graham cracker crumbs, brown sugar, and salt in bowl. Add melted butter and mix thoroughly. Divide into 6 paper (or silicon) muffin liners and press down to compress. Set aside.

In large bowl, place cream cheese and sugar. Beat until well blended. Mix in vanilla and egg whites and beat until very smooth. Spoon into muffin liners (about 3 tablespoons each).

Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool on a rack.

While cheesecake is cooking, prepare the topping. Heat dulce de leche gently in small pan until warm. Stir in egg yolks until smooth. Slowly bring mixture to a simmer, stirring all the while. Remove from heat.

When individual cakes cool enough to shrink slightly in the liners, reheat the dulce de leche and spoon over the top of the cakes. Smooth surface. Continue to cool on rack. When room temperature, sprinkle with fleur de sel and refrigerate until served.

20

02 2017

Whitby’s Magpie Cafe famed for fish and chips

Diners wait to enter the Magpie Café in Whitby, United Kingdom
Back in November we wrote about John Long’s Fish & Chips, the eatery that’s almost an institution in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It’s been around since 1914 and does a bang-up job with the United Kingdom’s signature fast food.

Much as we relished the Belfast version, nothing beats eating fish and chips by the sea. One of the best places we’ve discovered is the Magpie Cafe (14 Pier Road, +44 1947.602.058, www.magpiecafe.co.uk) in the seaside town of Whitby. It’s in North Yorkshire about 250 miles from London.

Ruins of a medieval abbey loom above the village of Whitby in North Yorkshire, home of Magpie CafeWhitby’s long, sandy beach makes it a favorite destination for British vacationers. The ruins of a medieval abbey and an ancient graveyard perch high on a bluff and add atmosphere to the tidy town. A busy fishing fleet lends a lively sense of purpose—and guarantees plenty of fresh catch for lovers of fish and chips.

Duncan Robson’s family has operated the Magpie Cafe for more than 50 years and he feels a great responsibility to uphold the standards of what he calls “a quintessentially British dish.” Drawing a comparison that visitors from the United States are sure to appreciate, Robson calls fish and chips “the English equivalent of a hamburger—quick and easy.”

Fast food, however, need not be slapdash. The Magpie always uses fresh fish, much of it from the local fleet. Once diners have settled in the 1750 building with windows looking out on the harbor, they are offered a choice of cod or haddock for their fish and chips. Cod is considered the “meatier” of the two fish and is served with skin and bones removed. The stronger-tasting haddock is served without the bones, but with the skin intact to boost the flavor. The fish is dipped in Magpie’s secret-recipe batter. Both the fish and the thickly cut potatoes are deep-fried in beef tallow. Its high smoke point produces a crisper, more flavorful fry than vegetable oil.

Fish and chips is the most popular dish at the Magpie Café in Whitby, United Kingdom The Magpie offers “small” and “regular” portions, which is Yorkshire-speak for big and bigger. The small portion is more than enough for most diners, particularly when served with a side of mushy peas. Virtually unknown outside the British Isles, these “marrowfat peas” are a large-seeded version of the green garden pea that is allowed to fully mature before being dried. Mushy peas are made by soaking the peas overnight, then cooking them with seasoning until their texture more or less resembles oatmeal. They are admittedly something of an acquired taste, but nonetheless an indispensable accompaniment to a traditional fish and chips meal.

It’s a good idea to leave a little room for dessert as the Magpie offers about 20 choices. One of the most popular is another British classic: sticky toffee pudding served with crème anglaise or a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Robson kindly shared the recipe that has been on the Magpie menu for more than 30 years.

STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING


Duncan Robson’s father Ian tells with mock horror of a restaurateur whose idea of sticky toffee pudding was to slice up a Jamaican ginger cake and cover the slices with sauce. Says Robson, “There’s no substitute for the genuine article.”

9 servings

Ingredients


For the sponge cake (or “pudding”)
1 1/2 cups pitted and chopped dates
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 cups boiling water
5 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup superfine sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

For the toffee sauce
1 1/2 cups (firmly packed) dark brown sugar
10 tablespoons butter (1 stick + 2 tablespoons)
1 cup heavy cream

Directions


For the sponge cake, place dates and baking soda in a bowl and cover with boiling water.

Set oven to 375ºF.

In a separate bowl, mix together the butter and superfine sugar. Then beat in the eggs one at a time and add the vanilla extract. Beat in the flour and baking powder. Stir in the date mixture. (This will produce a very runny batter.)

Pour batter into a greased 8-inch-square ovenproof dish and bake at 375ºF for 40 minutes, or until the sponge cake springs back when pressed.

While the sponge cake is baking, make the toffee sauce. Place brown sugar, butter, and heavy cream in a heavy saucepan. Stirring well, bring to a boil for three minutes.

When the sponge cake is cooked, prick with a skewer several times, then pour the toffee sauce over the sponge cake. Serve immediately with crème anglaise, whipped cream, or ice cream. Serve any extra sauce on the side.

27

01 2017

Hadskis hits sweet spot of great casual bistro fare

Hello from the kitchen at Hadskis in Belfast
Chef and restaurateur Niall McKenna bet on Belfast’s revival and won. After opening the posh James Street South in 2003, he got hammered with the economic downturn of 2008. So he transformed the upscale dining venue into a great-value steakhouse, The Bar and Grill. As Belfast began to climb out of the economic doldrums, he followed up in October 2014 with Hadskis (33 Donegall St., 28 9032 5444, hadskis.co.uk) in the suddenly desirable Cathedral Quarter. Once again, he hit the sweet spot of serving the kind of food people want to eat at a price they’re happy to pay.

You might have to do a little looking to find Hadskis. It’s off Donegall Street in Commercial Court, one of those alleyway cul-de-sacs in the Cathedral Quarter warren. The name honors 18th century iron foundry founder Stewart Hadskis, who made pots and pans. Hadskis loved to make them, and chef McKenna loves to use them.

Simplicity made manifest


It’s a refreshingly nonsense-free place. Cooks work in an open kitchen near the entrance. They have a single line of two flat-top grills, two stoves with big open gas-fired hobs, a couple of ovens, and a deep fryer that mostly churns out chips to accompany the protein-centric plates. The room is long and narrow, which means that no table has more than one or two neighboring tables.

Ribeye steak at Hadskis in Belfast Like The Bar and Grill, Hadskis is known for grilled beef, which McKenna buys from Hannan Meats (hannanmeats.com). Top chefs affectionately call Peter Hannan the god of meat. He sources the animals from about 120 Irish farms, most in Northern Ireland, and dry-ages the beef in cold rooms lined with slabs of Himalayan salt. It sounds all hocus-pocus, but it’s not. The animals are pasture-fed and humanely treated, and the meat is packed with flavor. The Irish do love their beef—maybe even more than the English—and Hannan provides truly great products.

Hadskis handles most of its meat simply by cooking steaks and chops on a charcoal grill. The grilled ribeye shown above is accompanied by a bowl of fried potatoes and a small pot of Béarnaise sauce. The latter must be included so the diner doesn’t feel shorted on cholesterol.

Spicy meatballs with orecchiette at Hadskis Hannan meats find their way into more humble dishes as well. “Hannan’s spiced meatballs” is a gorgeous plate with orecchiete pasta, a harissa-spiced tomato sugo, and grated parmesan. Neither Italian nor North African nor Irish, it works as a warming combination of all three. The meatballs, naturally, are the star.

Equal time for fish


The kitchen also treats fish to searing heat. The menu almost always features two or three roasted fish options.

Monkfish with chickpeas at Hadskis When we visited they included bream encrusted in herbs, pollock roasted in a spicy crust with fregola (known better to most Americans as Israeli couscous), and roasted stone bass with braised fennel and crab orzo. Usually served as a starter, an entrée portion of monkfish and spiced sausage with chickpeas (above left) right was a nicely warming dish on a cool night. Vaguely Moroccan in the flavor profile, it was also a nice way to highlight the local catch.

What was perhaps most striking about dining at Hadskis was how local all the products were. Sure, the menu says in fine print “We source our ingredients from local suppliers.” But everyone says that and few follow through so thoroughly. There’s an economic method to the locavore obsession, too. The pound sterling has taken a beating since the Brexit vote, but McKenna doesn’t build his menu on items he has to buy in euros or dollars. As a result, his costs stay constant even as the pound slides.

06

12 2016

John Long’s serves apotheosis of fish and chips

diner at John Long's Fish & Chips in Belfast
Owner John Copeland is fond of calling John Long’s Fish & Chips (39 Athol Street, 028 9032 1848, www.johnlongs.com) one of the “seven wonders of Belfast.” That puts his modest eatery right up there with Titanic Belfast (which relates the tale of the doomed ship built in the local shipyards) and the Crown Liquor Saloon (the 1820s bar known for its ornate decoration).

John Copeland at John Long's Fish & Chips in Belfast But Copeland is onto something. John Long’s is a Belfast institution. Founded in 1914 by its namesake to serve fish and chips to the workers in the city’s thriving linen mills, it’s the city’s longest established fish and chips shop. Located five blocks due west from City Hall, John Long’s is a little off the beaten path. But we knew we had arrived when we spotted the tall red brick building with a white potato delivery van parked out front.

Copeland became owner in 1996, after first being a customer. “I used to come here 40 years ago. I would order two fish, chips, baked beans, and two glasses of milk,” he told us. He was taking a break from preparing orders to stop and chat with diners seated at the rows of Formica booths. The seating was installed by the second owner when he moved the establishment a few yards down the street in the 1970s.

Upholding a tradition


Copeland takes his stewardship of John Long’s fish and chips legacy seriously. “The fish comes in fresh every day,” he said. “We use haddock from the Irish Sea all the time. It’s all caught about 40 miles up the coast.”

namesake meal at John Long's Fish & Chips in BelfastHe’s equally particular about the potatoes, preferring golden-skinned Maris Piper variety popular in England. “A lot of my spuds come out of England, where the soil is drier. Wet spuds don’t fry the same,” he explained.

Although the establishment serves a few other dishes—hamburgers, sausages, scalloped potatoes—the basic fish and chips are its raison d’être. The fish is flaky and rich, and the fried potatoes have a sweet earthiness than most fries lack. It’s Irish comfort food at its best.

Although the Roman Catholic Church no longer decrees fish on Fridays, old habits die hard. “Friday is still a big day in Belfast for fish and chips,” Copeland said. But he acknowledged that he always have room for more diners. “I would love to talk to the Pope to bring it back again.”

28

11 2016

St. George’s Market in Belfast shows what’s fresh

Baker at St. George's Market in Belfast
We always advise friends who want to eat well while traveling to spend some time in the local fresh food market. It’s the best way to see first-hand what’s in season and fresh so that you can make good choices when perusing a restaurant menu. In Belfast, Northern Ireland, the best place to head is St. George’s Market at 12-20 East Bridge Street. It’s open Fridays from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Fishmonger cuts salmon steaks at St. George's Market in Belfast. The handsome red brick market building opened in 1890 to sell butter, chicken, and eggs. Its offerings have multiplied since then and recent refurbishments have made it one of the leading fresh food markets in the United Kingdom. You’ll find freshly dug potatoes, beets, and carrots with rich soil still clinging to them. The ice flats of the fish mongers overflow with everything from majestic whole salmon to nightmarish monkfish to vast heaps of oysters and langoustines. Butcher stalls carry every variation of Irish bacon, sausages nearly bursting their casings, beautifully trimmed lamb roasts, and richly marbled steaks. The heady aroma of fresh bread rises from every baker’s stall.

All that good food will certainly make you hungry. Fortunately, St. George’s is also a fine place for a casual bite to eat. Cooks serve up everything from burgers and curries to paella and barbecue. The hit TV series “Game of Thrones” is mostly filmed in and around Belfast so it’s not surprising that one vendor also serves a Game of Thrones Special. It consists of two 4-ounce wild venison burgers, bacon, cheese, and fried onions. Numerous vendors sell variants on the Ulster fry breakfast of fried eggs, pork sausage, bacon, patties of black and white pudding, potato and soda breads, and a tomato.

Breakfast in a bite


Jenny Holland with a tray of fry pies from Bia RebelOur favorite version, elegant in its simplicity, is the “fry pie” created by Brian Donnelly. A chef with serious credentials, including a stint in London taking abuse from Gordon Ramsay, Donnelly is happy to be home in Belfast. He and his wife, Jenny Holland, recently launched Bia Rebel. The name means “food rebel.” Essentially a catering operation, they do do lunch deliveries and pop-up dinners. They also sell a few select dishes at the market that buyers can take home to reheat.

To hear Brian tell it, the fry pie was a no brainer. “I like fries and I like pies,” he says. “But you can’t eat a fry walking down the street.”

His solution was to encase sausage, bacon, egg, and brown gravy in a rich pie shell. “Sometimes I add soda bread or bread pudding,” he says. Baked in muffin tins, the fry pies are just the right size to grasp in one hand and enjoy while perusing the market stalls.

21

11 2016

Little Italy simmers with many new tastes

Different food approaches in Little Italy in Toronto
There are certainly fancier coffee shops than Café Diplomatico (594 College St., 416-534-4637, cafediplomatico.ca), but few that so consistently screen European soccer matches on the TVs. Since 1968, it’s been one of the principal landmarks of Toronto’s Little Italy. Ironically, that’s just about the time that the neighborhood was beginning to lose its accent.

We met Kevin Dupree, owner of the Culinary Adventure Co. (647-955-8357, www.culinaryadventureco.com), in front of “The Dip” for a walk around the neighborhood along College Street between Euclid Avenue and Shaw Street. Dupree’s company offers a full menu of neighborhood sampling tours and a number of other gastronomic activities—including a summertime canoe trip to the Toronto islands with a master chef who prepares a picnic.

But this particular evening, we concentrated on Little Italy. He explained that Italian immigration to Toronto began around 1880 and slowed to a trickle after 1930. The residential part of the neighborhood remained Italian into the 1960s, and it’s still full of Italian bars, coffee shops, and restaurants.

P.G. Clucks in Little Italy in Toronto That preponderance of eating and drinking establishments made this stretch of College Street a nightlife destination, and other cuisines have moved in to create a dynamic multicultural mix. We ducked into a streetfront stall—P.G. Clucks—selling “Nashville-style” fried chicken sandwiches. (They’re fiery hot with spices.) And we spent a while at Hapa Izakaya (602 College St., 647-748-4272, hapaizakaya.com), a Toronto offshoot of the Vancouver-based chain of hip Japanese bar-restaurants. Dark and loud, our area was bathed in the blue glow of UV lamps—which made the white menus glow in the dark. The sake sampler was eye-opening, and the whole mackerel warmed up with blowtorch blast (see top image) was delicate and delicious.

entrance to Sotto Voce in Little Italy in Toronto But we really felt the soul of Little Italy in the spot across the street from the Dip. Sotto Voce Wine and Pasta Bar (595 College St., 416-536-4564, sottovoce.ca) has been around for about 20 years, and it’s still serving the recipes of the Sicilian grandmother of one of the owners. The wine list is strongest on southern Italian wines, and the pasta plates feature red sauce without shame. We enjoyed some superb Sicilian meatballs made with pine nuts and currants and a bowl of gnocchi with wild boar ragu. The “fanciest” dish of the night was Gamberoni a la Puttanesca—spaghetti with tiger shrimp in a tomato sauce redolent of anchovies, garlic, black olives, and capers. It’s actually a modern Neapolitan dish that’s taken hold on both sides of the Atlantic.

The recipe below is not from Sotto Voce. It’s our own adaptation of many different approaches to puttanesca, but it has the same kind of umami punch as the one we enjoyed in Toronto.

SHRIMP PUTTANESCA


Serves 4 Shrimp puttanesca at Sotto Voce in Toronto's Little Italy

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
pinch of salt
can of anchovies (2 ounces)
1 head of garlic, cloves separated, peeled, and minced
6 ounce can of tomato paste
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
26-ounce can or box of crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup capers (drained)
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, chopped
12 ounces spaghetti
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
8 ounces tiger shrimp tails with shells

In large pot, heat olive oil. Add chopped onions and pinch of salt. Cook at medium heat until onion begins to soften (about 5 minutes). Add anchovies and garlic, mashing up the anchovies with a spatula. Continue cooking about 3 minutes until garlic has softened. Add tomato paste, wine, and pepper flakes and stir well to mix. Add tomatoes, capers, and olives. Bring to a simmer. Cover and cook gently with occasional stirring for about a half hour. It will become thick and saucy.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil to cook spaghetti. When pasta goes into the water, add the lemon zest and juice to the slowly bubbling sauce. Add the shrimp and raise heat until the pot just barely bubbles.

When spaghetti is al dente (7-8 minutes), drain it, reserving some cooking liquid. Add drained spaghetti to shrimp puttanesca sauce and mix well. Add reserved cooking liquid as needed to thin.

Serve hot in bowls.

21

10 2016

Hawaiian food with a French twist

Chef Mavro in Honolulu
Perhaps it’s because he’s French, but George Mavrothalassitis, known to everyone simply as Chef Mavro, is the most romantic of chefs. He’s still recalls his first morning in Honolulu, looking over Waikiki Beach to Diamond Head at sunrise. “I fell in love at first sight,” he says. Almost thirty years later, the love affair continues.

Chef Mavro art-filled interior Born in Marseilles, Chef Mavro developed an early appreciation for fresh fish paired with the strong Provençal flavors of olive oil, garlic, fennel, rosemary, bay laurel, and other herbs. “I never worked with cream and butter in my life,” he says, noting that it was easy to translate his approach to cooking to using fresh ingredients from the Hawaiian archipelago. He first cooked at some top hotel restaurants on Oahu and Maui and was one of the founding chefs of the Hawaii Regional Cuisine movement. When he opened his eponymous Honolulu restaurant Chef Mavro (1969 S King St, Honolulu; 808-944-4714; www.chefmavro.com) in 1998, his romanticism carried over into the design. He went to great pains to get the lighting just right. “I wanted women to look wonderful,” he says. “The light caresses you.”

Chef Mavro zucchini tempura Of course, any woman will also look pretty blissed-out as she savors each step of Chef Mavro’s four- or six-course tasting menu. Some chefs treat tasting menus like a band playing a medley of greatest hits. Chef Mavro treats dinner like a symphony that builds from the amuse-bouche to a crescendo of the fish and meat dishes to the teasing envoi of cheese, pre-dessert, dessert, and miniature pastries. Rather than having a wine list, he recommends wine pairings to complete the experience of each dish.

Chef Mavro - Confit hamachi “I cook technically,” says Chef Mavro, referring to his technique developed from nouvelle cuisine. He notes that he uses all the ingredients in his backyard and is inspired by the mix of ethnic cuisines of the islands. “I put my craziness on your plate,” he adds with a smile.

One person’s crazy is another person’s delicious.

lobster dish at Chef Mavro.The range of foods he gets from Hawaii—mainly from Oahu and the Big Island—is really impressive. He served me the zucchini tempura appetizer (above right) on a coulis of amazing fresh tomatoes. For the hamachi confit (above left) he uses fish farmed off the west coast of the Big Island, in this case giving it a spectacular garnish of lemon shave ice—a delightful savory riff on a favorite Hawaiian dessert. Even the Maine lobster (right) was local, in a sense. A special facility on the Big Island flies in lobster from Maine, then holds the crustaceans in tanks of cold deep-sea water for weeks or more until they have fully recovered from jet lag. As a result, Chef Mavro always has truly fresh Atlantic lobster on the menu. For my tasting menu, he roasted it and served it with an emulsion of the lobster juice and Basque espelette peppers.

I kept ticking off fantastic local products as I ate—from the medallions of Wagyu beef (another Big Island specialty) to the mousse made with Big Island Goat Dairy cheese, to the watermelon refresher course and the yuzu ice cream. When I commented how pronounced the flavors were, Chef Mavro shrugged.

“Life is too short,” he said. “I decided a long time ago to eat only what is delicious.”

You will see what he means if you try his recipe for Confit Hamachi. This is a little different from the one pictured above, since it uses sour cream to make the lomilomi that goes under the medallions of hamachi. Since hamachi is hard to get in most fish markets, you can substitute amberjack (usually sold for sushi), skipjack, or, more commonly, wild-caught salmon steaks.

CONFIT HAMACHI

Chef Mavro Lomi Hamachi
with lomi lomi salmon, tomatoes, sour cream, salmon roe

4 servings

Ingredients for the hamachi:
4 pieces hamachi medallions, 3 ounces each
2 cups extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Ingredients for the lomilomi salmon:
4 tablespoons sour cream
juice of one-half lemon
1 medium tomato, peeled, core removed, diced
1 medium shallot, minced
4 ounces smoked salmon, diced
1 tablespoon sliced green onions
sea salt and pepper to taste

For garnish
4 tablespoons salmon roe

Directions
In a small sauce pan, bring the olive oil to 140° F (60° C). Poach the hamachi for 8 minutes (make sure the fish is totally submerged in the oil).

In a mixing bowl, combine sour cream, lemon juice, tomato, shallot, salmon, green onions, and salt and pepper to taste.

Place the lomilomi salmon in the center of an individual plate with the hamachi on top.

Finish by placing 1 tablespoon of salmon roe on each piece of hamachi.

14

03 2016

Starting a day in paradise at the fish auction

Honolulu fish auction
The sun was barely up when I arrived at Honolulu’s commercial fishing port and headed to Pier 38 for the Honolulu Fish Auction. By standards of the 140-vessel fishing fleet, the day was far advanced. Boats start unloading the catch about 1 a.m. for the auction, which begins at 5:30 a.m. and lasts until every fish is sold—usually sometime between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Brooks Takenaka and Chef Mavro at Honolulu Fish Auction Whether in a fine restaurant or a beachside bar, I have never enjoyed tastier or fresher fish than in Hawaii. I was curious to get a glimpse at the only fresh tuna auction in the United States and thrilled when Chef Mavro, one of the island’s top talents, asked me to join him on a visit.

The United Fishing Agency started the auction in 1952, explained general manager Brooks Takenaka, who joined us as we walked through the big warehouse-like facility where fish lay on palettes covered with crushed ice. (That’s Takenaka standing with Chef Mavro on the right.) Takenaka’s agency sells the fish on behalf of the fishermen, who leave that day with money in their pockets. “Fishermen risk their lives; they want to get paid,” Takenaka told me. “I pay them today.”

big eye tuna at Honolulu Fish Auction The auction handles between 20 and 28 million pounds of fish per year. Bigeye tuna and swordfish are the primary species, followed by yellowfin tuna. But on most days, there will be more than 20 species available for chefs, markets, and wholesalers. After an ozone wash to remove bacteria, the fish enter the facility to be weighed, tagged, and inspected. Those in the know can determine a lot from a small cut of flesh taken from the tail. “The redder the flesh, the better,” said Takenaka. “It means that the fish is fresher.” He also noted that fish with more fat has more flavor and is the most highly prized.

Chef Mavro buys fresh fish daily through a broker and personally visits the auction a few times a month to see what is most abundant and what looks really good. “I buy the best and I tell my chefs not to destroy it,” he says. “The idea is to protect it and bring out the natural flavors.”

The auction is a model of efficiency. Staff lay out fish on long palettes and buyers circle round. There is no yelling or waving of number placards. I had to listen carefully to even hear any hints of discussion or bidding. A few minutes and a few subtle gestures and a palette would be packed up and sorted by buyer and another would appear in its place.

Tours of the Honolulu Fish Auction are offered on Saturdays from 6 to 7:30 am. To register, see www.hawaii-seafood.org/auction/tour.

“We can process up to 175,000 pounds a day,” Takenaka told me. I thought he might crave a good steak after being surrounded by fish all day. But Takenaka is loyal to his industry. “I eat fish every day,” he told me. “I never get tired of it.”

Like Chef Mavro, Takenaka and his wife Cynthia like to keep preparations simple, so as not to overwhelm the fresh flavor of the fish. They kindly shared one of their favorite recipes.

FISH HAWAIIAN STYLE

The fish can be either pan-sautéed or cooked on the grill. In either case, the Takenakas caution not to overcook the fish. Feel free to substitute any herb of your choice for the parsley. Typical fish for this method of preparation might be sablefish (aka “black cod”) or opakapaka (Hawaiian pink snapper).

Ingredients
1 pound of fish fillets
1 egg, beaten *
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons minced Italian parsley
1/2 cup macadamia nuts
1 tablespoon light cooking oil (canola, grapeseed, or even mild olive oil)
4 limes, quartered

Directions
Combine egg, salt, pepper, and parsley. This is the egg wash.

Coarsely chop macadamia nuts, then place in a blender or grinder to chop fine. Alternately, chop fine with a knife. These are the crumbs to “bread” the fish.

Dip fish pieces into egg wash, then roll in chopped nuts to coat.

Add oil to pan and heat over medium until oil is hot but not smoking. Add fish fillets and sauté on medium heat until flesh is opaque—90 seconds to 3 minutes, depending on thickness of fillets. Remove from pan and let sit a few minutes.

Serve with quarters of fresh lime for squeezing over the fish.

* If grilling the fish, leave out the egg. Instead, mix cooking oil (2-3 tablespoons), chopped parsley, salt, pepper, and chopped macadamia nuts. Coat the fish with mixture. Fish cooks very quickly on the grill, so watch it closely. Squeeze fresh lime on cooked fish.

06

03 2016