Archive for the ‘oysters’Category

Lincoln Inn emerges as Vermont’s gourmet destination

Lincoln Inn in Woodstock, Vermont
The Lincoln Inn in Woodstock is among the most European of the little inns in Vermont, and not just because chef Jevgenija Saromova hails from Latvia. She and innkeeper partner Mara Mehlman describe the property as a “restaurant with rooms.” That’s a model common in the European countryside, and often signals great dining. Think, for example, of Maison Troisgros, one of the pioneers of modern French cuisine.

Woodstock isn’t Roanne, of course, and Jevgenija Saromova (or Chef Saromova, as she prefers) isn’t Jean or Pierre Troisgros. Not yet, anyway. But she has impressive classical culinary credentials and a personal style unique in northern New England. She worked in top restaurants in Italy, France, and England before joining Mehlman in Vermont. The two women have applied the model of the French “auberge” to an 1875 farmhouse with six charming, carefully decorated rooms and green lawns that roll down to the Ottauquechee River.

Innkeeper Mara Mehlman of the Lincoln Inn in Woodstock, Vermont A native Californian, Mara first dreamed of living in Vermont when she took a Vermont foliage bicycle tour. Years later, she purchased the property, thoroughly renovated the building, and re-opened the inn rooms in July 2014. It became a gastronomic destination when Chef Saromova arrived from England a few months later. The women clearly love Vermont—skiing in the winter, kayaking in the summer—but they have no intention of replicating traditional New England fare.

“We’re not about maple syrup and cheddar cheese,” says Mara. “This is fine dining.”

Chef Saromova explains. “I don’t like boring food plates,” she says. “I like to combine textures and flavors.”

Refined Dining


Chef Jevgenija Saromova of the Lincoln Inn in Woodstock, VermontChef Saromova spent nearly two decades as a member or leader of a kitchen brigade, but she works alone in the Lincoln Inn kitchen. Every dish is created to her taste and executed precisely as she envisions it. In effect, every diner gets the personal attention of the master chef. During most of the year, the restaurant serves a four-course prix fixe dinner Thursday through Sunday, with a more casual tavern night on Wednesdays. During foliage season, nights for dinner increase and tavern night goes on hiatus. The four-course meals—$55 per person—are gourmet pleasures. The menu changes daily. True to Chef Saromova’s word, it’s anything but boring. The Inn at Woodstock and other area lodgings send their foodie guests here for the full-blown fine-dining experience—complete with an excellent and surprising wine list.

Paul Newman Dining Room at the Lincoln Inn in Woodstock, Vermont In addition to the main dining room tables, one party per evening can book the Chef’s Table for a seven- or twelve-course tasting menu. Some of the plates are variations of those on the four-course menu, while others include specialized or especially precious ingredients. The Chef’s Table is served in the Paul Newman dining room (left). Newman and his family used to vacation here and a previous owner enclosed a side porch as their private dining room. One diner at the table faces a photograph of Newman in his prime, and some ladies have been known to fantasize that they were having dinner with the actor. We enjoyed a seven-course meal that ranks as one of the most memorable we’ve eaten stateside in a long time. Each course demonstrated another aspect of the chef’s ability to exploit taste and texture combinations for yet another striking composition.

Gazpacho served at the Lincoln Inn in Woodstock, Vermont

Chilled Gazpacho and Olive Tapenade Crostini


Chef Saromova grows her own kitchen garden in the river bottom land behind the inn. Despite this year’s drought, she had good crops of tomatoes. Her take on chilled gazpacho is especially sweet from both the tomatoes and the roasted red peppers. It also has just a hint of red onion. The saltiness of methodically hand-pitted ripe olives (Kalamata and Niçoise by the taste) in the tapenade brings out the fresh vegetable flavors, while the paper-thin crostini give visual interest to the composition of the dish and a satisfying crunch. The dish was reveille for the taste buds: Fall in and stand at attention.

Lobster served at the Lincoln Inn in Woodstock, Vermont

Lobster and Mascarpone-Enriched Orzo


Butter-poached lobster tail is a classic of French haute cuisine. The technique demands a low temperature to keep the butter from browning. Lobster cooked this way is more tender than boiled or steamed. Orzo and chopped mild greens mixed with a judicious bit of mascarpone form a presentation base for the lobster meat. The sweetness of the cheese calls the lobster’s sweetness to the fore.

Sea bass and scallop served at the Lincoln Inn in Woodstock, Vermont

Sea Bass and Seared Scallops


Neither sea bass nor scallops strike any diner as unusual, but Chef Saromova’s approach to serving them together as a fish course speaks volumes about her classical training and her command of technique. The sea bass—striped bass, in this case, rather than more conventional farmed sea bass—is roasted in a persillade. Traditionally, persillade is a chopped parsley and garlic preparation that most chefs use throughout a meal. This version was light on the garlic and included enough mustard and breadcrumbs that it sealed in juices of this sometimes dry fish. The scallop was perfectly seared—just barely cooked through. For contrast, the sea bass came with stewed black-eyed peas. The legumes emphasize the meatiness of the fish. The scallop sat on a pasta-like salad of thin strips of cucumber and white radish lightly dressed with champagne vinegar—sharp flavors that highlight the scallop’s delicacy.

beet and goat cheese salad served at the Lincoln Inn in Woodstock, Vermont

Beet, Goat Cheese, Granita Salad


The photo above doesn’t really do justice to this inventive salad where so many things were happening on the plate. The slices of red and yellow beet (left side) were sweet and delicious. They paired nicely with fresh lettuce leaves and a slice of soft goat cheese. The pomegranate-orange granita, however, elevated everything with a tart punch. The pickled cherry was, well, the cherry on top. The “dust” on the plate was dehydrated beet that had been pulverized in a blender. It was a pretty touch. The salad completely refreshed our palates before the meat courses began.

Filet and escargot served at the Lincoln Inn in Woodstock, Vermont

Filet Mignon, Ravioli, and Escargot/Oyster Fricasee


This dish is an embarrassment of riches. Fortunately, each of the premium ingredients was restricted to a small portion. The raviolo atop the small piece of perfectly cooked, perfectly salted filet mignon was filled with an explosive mix of truffle and foie gras—pretty much an orgy of umami. Surprisingly, the oyster shell filled with a fricassee of escargot and oyster was equally dark, savory, and garlicky. Even more surprising, the snails were juicy and tender. (Face it—snails are usually rubbery.) The sweet potato purée provided a contrast of smooth and sweet to chewy and meaty. It was a brilliant dish.

Lamb two ways served at the Lincoln Inn in Woodstock, Vermont

Lamb Chop and Smoked Lamb Breast


Lamb two ways is another Escoffier classic, but Chef Saromova’s variant is pure Vermont country. The lamb chop here is cut from a roasted rack. It was perfect. The second lamb dish was the breast—or brisket. She boned, rolled, and tied it up with string. After brining it for 20 hours, she cold-smoked with cherry chips for two hours, and braised it six hours until it was falling apart. As if the meats weren’t unctuous enough, Chef Saromova served them with figs poached in port wine. The little “berries” are actually balsamic glaze mixed with agar-agar and olive oil, then frozen so that they form little beads of explosive flavor. It’s just proof that such touches predate so-called molecular cuisine.

Chocolate delice served at the Lincoln Inn in Woodstock, Vermont

Chocolate and Fruit


Chef Saromova clearly favors creamy desserts. The chocolate delice—essentially a chocolate terrine with cookie crumb base and chocolate icing—is the ostensible star of this plate. The “bars” are a champagne and strawberry terrine. The flavor favors the wine over the fruit. By contrast, the strawberry sorbet tastes more intensely of strawberry than most fresh strawberries do. Capping it all off, the sweetened vanilla yogurt has a skin that makes it explode in the mouth.

Coffee, anyone?

Lincoln Inn & Restaurant at the Covered Bridge, 2709 W. Woodstock Rd., Woodstock, VT 05091; 802-457-7052; www.lincolninn.com.

Grill 23 bar menu demonstrates steakhouse evolution

Grill 23 launch party for summer 2016 bar menu
Grill 23 in Boston’s historic Salada Tea building launched 30 years ago to make sure that the business guys in Back Bay had a proper steakhouse where they could seal new ventures over a big, juicy slabs of beef. It’s still under the same ownership, but left the old steak-and-martini steakhouse formula behind years ago. With its succession of smart and inventive chefs, Grill 23 keeps refining what a steakhouse should be. These days the kitchen operates under corporate culinary director Eric Brennan, and just last week he launched an ambitious new bar menu with a party (above).

Grill 23 Six Shooters Since Grill 23 has only had a discreet bar area since 2014, the restaurant isn’t locked into tradition. The new menu is a smart cross between steakhouse classics and contemporary bites. It’s been years since we’ve seen deviled ham on chive biscuits on anyone’s menu north of the Mason-Dixon line—or dared to order a crab and artichoke dip with slices of grilled baguette. At the same time, Brennan has introduced a thoroughly decadent foie gras slider on a cinnamon-sugar-dusted apple cider doughnut with a dab of jalapeno jelly. (It’s great with a classic Manhattan, by the way.) The bar also serves a tasty Grill 23 Six Shooter—six shot glasses, each containing a Cotuit oyster marinating in a spicy blend of beer and lime juice with a spice and salt rim.

The charcuterie and cheese choices are almost a requirement of a contemporary bar, and the flatiron steak and steak tips are definitive steakhouse bar plates. But Brennan exercises some imagination with the burgers, serving the beef burger with truffle cheddar, black garlic, and “oven cured” (read: partially dried and extra sweet) tomato. The lamb burger comes with a small round of fried eggplant, some chevre, and a saffron tomato jam. Brennan was kind enough to share the recipe. Grill 23 is at 161 Berkeley St., Boston; 617-542-2255; www.grill23.com.

Grill 23 lamb burgers at launch party for 2016 summer bar menu

LAMB BURGER WITH SAFFRON TOMATO JAM

Makes four 8 oz. burgers

Ingredients

For the burger
2 lbs ground lamb
3 garlic cloves
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp rosemary, minced
Salt and pepper to taste

For the jam
2 1/2 lbs tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 tsp saffron, bloomed in 1/4 cup sherry
2 1/2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp salt
1 Tbsp olive oil

Directions

To make the burgers, slowly roast the garlic cloves in the olive oil on the stovetop until soft and light golden.

Puree the garlic mixture with mustard and rosemary and thoroughly combine with ground lamb.

Make a small patty and taste for salt and pepper; adjust seasoning if necessary.

To make the jam, stew the all ingredients over low heat. Once the tomatoes have completely broken down and liquid has become fully incorporated, set aside and allow to cool.

Divide the lamb mixture into four equal patties and grill.

Assemble the burgers by topping the patties with a slice of fried, breaded eggplant, fresh goat cheese, arugula, and a spoonful of the saffron tomato jam on a griddled brioche bun.

12

06 2016

Provisions provides pitch-perfect Boston bistro

Braised beef cheeks and rigatoni at Provisions
We wondered if the opening of State Street Provisions (255 State St., Boston; 617-863-8363; statestreetprovisions.com) during December’s holiday blur was like Hollywood releasing its most promising films just before Christmas to make them eligible for award consideration. In that case, Provisions wins Best Boston Bistro of 2015. But that hardly makes the place out of date for 2016.

Readers of HungryTravelers know we rarely write about our home turf, but Provisions seems so representative of dining trends we’re seeing in Europe and the U.S. alike that we couldn’t resist. Also, we expect a lot of visitors to Boston this year, and we’re happy to send them to this waterfront bistro/gastropub where they’ll get good value (and great food and drink) for their money.

dining room at Provision Executive chef Tom Borgia has piped a pitch-perfect menu for the location and probable clientele. The menu draws heavily on local suppliers—it is just steps from Boston Public Market, after all—and Borgia has used those local ingredients to assemble meal offerings that are somewhere between the simplicity of a Dublin gastropub and the heartiness of a neighborhood Parisian bistro. The backbone of the menu is the pantry of fresh breads, housemade sausages and preserves, pickles, cheeses, and charcuterie. The prepared dishes are inventive without being precious—chicken liver pâté with a cranberry mostarda, for example, or a grilled chicken sandwich with feta, roasted peppers, pancetta, and aioli.

The number of seafood options initially seems surprising, given that famed fish restaurant Legal Sea Foods is just around the corner, but Provisions does seafood differently. We loved starting with fried oysters served with ginger aioli, dashi broth, radish, and some flaked bonito. Fried oysters are usually more about the breading than the oysters, but the accompaniments brought out the succulence of the shellfish.

The dish that ultimately made us swoon was a pasta appetizer of rigatoni—those 2-inch long open tubes that are perfect with a thick sauce. (Provisions makes its own pasta and also offers a pasta of the day.) They were served with braised beef cheeks (a luscious dish on a cold night), and roasted mushrooms and Brussels sprouts. The recipe is below; the photo (courtesy of Provisions) is above.

Cocktails at the bar in Provisions Desserts at Provisions are very bistro-ish as well—baked custards and the like. But the main after-dinner draw is the same as the main pre-dinner draw: the bar. In addition to a good craft beer list and some distinctive wines by the glass, Provisions has an active and inventive cocktail program. And you have to love a bar that has Amaro Lucano on tap.

PROVISIONS’ RIGATONI & BRAISED BEEF CHEEKS


You could substitute a good grade of commercial pasta for the home-made rigatoni, especially if you don’t have a machine to extrude pasta. But note that the Provisions pasta is made using only egg yolks instead of whole eggs—creating a silky, densely colored rigatoni. The optional poached egg creates a genuinely yummy sauce.

Makes 6 appetizer servings

Dough for rigatoni
1/4 lb. semolina flour (generous 3/4 cup)
1/4 lb. all purpose flour (generous 3/4 cup)
1/4 lb. egg yolks (6-7 large yolks)
1 Tablespoon water

Braised beef cheek
2 lb. beef cheek
3 Tablespoons canola oil
1 carrot peeled and rough chopped
1 stalk celery rough chopped
1/2 Spanish onion peeled and rough chopped
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/2 cup red wine
2 quarts chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste

Roasted oyster mushrooms
8 ounces oyster mushrooms (stems removed)
3 Tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon minced shallot
salt and pepper to taste

Roasted Brussels sprouts
8 ounces Brussels sprouts quartered
3 Tablespoons canola oil
salt and pepper to taste

Make the pasta:
Mix all ingredients together in a large mixer or food processor until it forms a uniform ball. Allow to rest for 10 minutes. Push through pasta extruder with hollow rigatoni attachment and cut into 2-inch lengths.

Cook the beef cheek:
Season beef cheeks with salt and pepper and then brown on high heat with canola oil in a thick bottomed stainless steel or cast iron pan. Remove beef cheeks and add rough chopped vegetables.

Lower heat to medium and brown vegetables slightly. Add tomato paste and allow to cook for 2 minutes on medium heat. Add browned beef cheeks back to pan and add red wine.

Allow red wine to reduce until thick. Add chicken stock, cover, and reduce heat to low and cook until beef cheeks are very tender (about 1 hour). Remove beef cheeks from the pan, strain braising liquid and reserve. Dice the beef cheeks and reserve.

Roast the mushrooms:
Toss all ingredients in a mixing bowl until mushrooms are well coated with oil, salt, and pepper. Spread seasoned mushrooms on a baking sheet and roast at 350° F for 8 minutes. Reserve.

Roast the Brussels sprouts:
Toss all ingredients in a mixing bowl until quartered Brussels sprouts are well coated with oil, salt, and pepper. Spread seasoned sprouts on a baking sheet and roast at 350° F for 12 minutes. Reserve.

To Plate:

Boil the rigatoni in heavily salted water until tender (2-3 minutes). Meanwhile, heat diced cheeks, mushrooms, and Brussels sprouts in the braising liquid. Add pasta and heat for an additional 1 minute. Place a small amount on each plate and garnish with chopped parsley and grated Pecorino Romano.

Optional:
Top each serving with a poached egg. Heat a small amount of salted water and vinegar to about 180°F. Stir and crack an egg into it. Keep water at 180°F for about 4 minutes. Remove the egg with a slotted spoon and place ever so gently on top of pasta. Then garnish with parsley and grated Pecorino Romano.

Winning shellfish dish in PEI chef cookoff

Finalists cookJudging the final round of the Garland International Chef Challenge turned out to be a big deal. Instead of hiding in a back room while we tasted, Dominic Serio and I sat on the main stage while the two finalists cooked on the main floor of the hall in front of the stage. Chef Alain Bossé paced back and forth for an hour offering commentary and gently kidding both contestants.

With $10,000 on the line, the two finalists gave us their hand-printed menus. Marc Lepine was preparing lobster poached in orange beurre blanc with crab meatballs, miso mayo, fennel sponge, wild rice crispies, and lobster jus. Ryan Morrison proposed “packed” lobster tail, oyster and crab hushpuppies, cauliflower purée, chanterelle and spearmint “salad,” and dill-pickled mustard seeds. They had to complete the ambitious dishes from prep to plate in one hour.

00 - Marc's dishBoth competitors stayed calm and controlled as the clock ticked away. My view from the stage let me look down on their dishes (and the backs of their heads). Both chefs were methodical, executing their complex garnishes first — Lepine’s fennel sponge (made with agar-agar) and wild rice crispies (uncooked wild rice puffed in hot oil), and Morrison’s dill-pickled mustard seeds. Then they marshaled each segment of the dish in an order so that everything hot would be done last for presentation.

Even the way they chose to plate showed the different mindsets of two tremendously talented chefs. Lepine saw his plate as a series of featured items linked by sauces, and that’s how he plated them. Morrison saw his plate as a gestalt of flavors, and he literally piled one element on top of another. The final judging was close but unanimous. Both plates were gorgeous (and delicious). They were very different, but in the end, tiny details made the difference. Morrison’s pickled mustard seeds really thrust the shellfish flavors front and center, while Lepine’s bland fennel sponge detracted from the seafood. Ryan Morrison, whose dish is pictured below, went back to Vancouver $10,000 richer than when he had come.
00-ryan's dish

01

10 2013

PEI folks give new meaning to foodies

Scott LinkletterI can’t say I’ve ever see an island where so many people make or gather or process wonderful food. Between judging duties at the International Shellfish Festival I had the chance yesterday to drive around the island a bit, heading up to the north shore to see a mussel processing operation (more on that later on), pay a visit to a potato farm, catch a picnic in the fields, and visit Raspberry Point oysters. That’s Scott Linkletter at the top of this post, hauling a cage of oysters to show how they’re grown using an Australian system of posts driven into the soft bottom of shallow waters. The cages are suspended on lines that hang on the posts. Every few days he and his staff haul cages out so the sun can dry out any incipient seaweed or mussel growth that would impede the flow of water to the oysters. It’s an ingenious system.

Picnic with the Pendergasts


CampbellsI also got a chance to join a picnic being catered by the Pendergast brothers, chef David and baker Richard, at Mull Na Beinne Farm, where Vernon and Bertha Campbell have grown gorgeous PEI potatoes since 1980. Here are the Campbells in front of their giant potato harvester, which is manufacturer in Prince Edward Island. (Yes, there are a LOT of potatoes here.)

Mussel rollsRichard and David put on a great spread that included mussel rolls (mussels and mayo on sourdough finger rolls), a fine chowder, and baked beans with oyster sauce. Then David picked up a guitar (Richard had a fiddle) and played some tunes. Check out this verse of his original, “Campbelltown.”

Tasty start to PEI International Shellfish Festival

lobster chowder2Mussels, oysters, or lobster? It’s hard to choose among them on Prince Edward Island, the small Canadian province with the massive shellfish harvest. This year I’m getting my fill of all of them as a judge of Garland Canada International Chef Challenge. But before the competitions got started on Friday the 13th, I joined 500 other diners for the Feast and Frolic kickoff dinner at the Charlottetown Festival Grounds. Food Network Canada star (and Islander) chef Michael Smith played emcee, and the students of the Culinary Institute of Canada did the cooking. It was an auspicious beginning.

The moderately deconstructed lobster chowder (above) consisted of a celeriac broth with foraged sea asparagus and green swoops of pureed lovage. A butter-poached claw and half-tail of PEI lobster was perched on a slab of perfect PEI potato (a fingerling cut lengthwise in thirds).

0 - salad servingAs Smith gleefully pointed out, locavore dining has always been the rule on PEI, and to drive it home, the salad course consisted of a big bowl of mixed greens and flowers (nasturtium, violas) and lettuce that each table harvested with scissors from planter centerpieces. Ilona Daniel of the Culinary Institute was at my table, so she mixed the dressing and tossed the salad.

Beef and crabBut the capper of the evening was an unusual surf and turf: braised PEI grassfed beef shortrib with some possibly local (I couldn’t find out) snow crab legs and a side bucket of PEI blue mussels. It was a reminder that even a small island like PEI has a resident beef industry, and that while most of us think of snow crab as a northern Pacific species, Islanders do indeed fish for them in the waters north of the island.

Tonging for wild oysters in Apalachicola Bay

I met Kendall Schoelles around dawn at 14.2 miles west of the John Gorrie Memorial Bridge on Route 30A. (That’s how they measure distances in Apalachicola, Florida.) We drove his pickup down a packed dirt path to a marshland dock, where we boarded Schoelles’ shallow-draft oyster boat. We were headed for the oystering grant that’s been in his family since the late 19th century. The Schoelles family grant used to be 1,100 acres; after government takings, it’s down to 158. That’s enough to keep Kendall and his brother harvesting enough oysters to make a living. Most Apalachicola oystermen, like those pictured above, have to make do with the public bars.

Apalachicola Bay oysters are the pride of the Gulf of Mexico – plump, sweet, and salty. It’s the last place in North America where wild oysters are harvested by hand by oystermen in small wooden boats. It’s back-breaking work, not unlike the small-boat lobstering I used to do in Maine, and I felt honored that Schoelles let me come along to participate, if only peripherally, in this vanishing way of life. Food doesn’t get any more locavore than shellfish from a town’s front-yard bay.

Apalachicola Bay is a unique environment on the Gulf of Mexico, created by an extensive barrier island system at the mouth of the Apalachicola River, which drains much of Georgia and the Florida panhandle. The plankton-rich mix of salt and fresh water creates optimal conditions for oysters. Apalachicola bivalves have always been the premium Gulf Coast oysters, so prized that oysters from elsewhere in the Gulf were sent here for packing so they would be shipped out in crates stamped ”Apalachicola.”

Schoelles revved the engine and we sped through the weeds into flatwater, unable to see more than a few feet in the fog. I asked how he found his lease under such conditions. ”Mostly, I just know,” he told me. ”I’ve been coming here most of my life.” Schoelles has never fished more than two months anywhere else but on his lease. He paused for effect, ”Of course, the last four or five years I use GPS.”

We anchored on a bar and Schoelles got down his tongs, which resemble two garden rakes connected together like a pair of scissors. The fog was starting to lift, and I could see that loons ringed the boat because tonging stirs up the small fish that they like to eat. The chicks were diving feet from the gunwales while the adults kept their distance. Both herring and laughing gulls had keen eyes on the boat.

Tonging is intensely hard work – reaching down to the bars, closing the rakes, and hauling the catch to the surface. Schoelles did it methodically, moving the boat a few feet every few minutes, until we had a huge heap of oysters and other sea life on the deck. With the sun trying to peek through the fog behind him, he seemed to glow beatifically.

Then we sat down for the grunt work. Because Apalachicola Bay oysters are wild, not farmed, they grow in clumps with a slew of other organisms – mussels, clams, sea cucumbers, giant algae, and other creatures I couldn’t possibly name. The oysters have to be separated from all these other objects – mostly by banging on the junctions with a steel culling iron without cracking the shell. All the small oysters must be tossed back to grow. Schoelles held out whelks and starfish to take ashore to die because both are oyster predators.

The cracked oysters (it’s easy to smash a shell by accident) became bird food for the gulls that follow the boat. One laughing gull has been coming to Schoelles’ boat every morning for two years. How does he know it’s the same gull? He doesn’t – not for sure – but the two seem to have an understanding.

The birds of Apalachicola eat well – but then so do the people. For more on where to enjoy the nutty, buttery flavor of Apalachicola Bay oysters, see my profile of three restaurants in the October 28 Boston Globe: “Where to eat oysters in Apalachicola.”

10

11 2012