Archive for the ‘oysters’Category

Tasting Mondavi whites with New England seafood

Order counter at Abbott's Lobster in the Rough in Noank, Connecticut

In our next lives we want to come back as Mondavis. Every American branch of the clan seems to have a purple thumb ever since Cesare and his sons Robert and Peter took over the Charles Krug winery in 1943. As one of two winemakers at the Michael Mondavi Family Estate (michaelmondavifamilyestate.com), Rob Mondavi Jr. has developed quite a reputation for his quality Napa Cabernets. So we wondered: What about the whites?

Abbott's Lobster in the Rough signIn New England, where we live, summer means seafood. While we might sip a red with bluefish, we really need white wines for the kings of ocean: oysters and lobster. So we tossed a bottle each of 2015 Emblem Chardonnay Carneros and 2015 Animo Napa Valley Heritage Sauvignon Blanc into a cooler, placed a bag of ice on top, and paid a visit to Abbott’s Lobster in the Rough (abbottslobster.com).

We had a method to that madness. This Noank, Connecticut, seafood shack on the west side of the Mystic River is famous for the buttery hot lobster roll, a specialty of the Connecticut shore. Moreover, Abbott’s does not fry anything. All the seafood is raw, steamed, or grilled. No breading, no grease—just pure fish and shellfish. (For a view on wine with a lobster salad roll, see our post on rosé.)

Heritage Sauvignon Blanc with Connecticut bluepoint oysters

2015 Heritage Sauvignon Blanc with oysters


Mondavi’s Heritage Sauvignon Blanc represents an unusual French lineage. Back in the 1880s, the head of California’s State Viticultural Commission brought Sauvignon Blanc cuttings from Château de Yquem in Bordeaux back to the Golden State. The Mondavis got cuttings from the descendants of those vines and planted a new vineyard in 2006. In deference to the historic plant genetics, they even used the same 19th century root stock and trellising.

Talk about boutique wine! The vineyard is so small that the Mondavis were able to make exactly six barrels in 2015. The juice was fermented in French oak barrels and cellared in the fermentation vessels for nine months before bottling.

Connecticut bluepoint oystersThere’s no discounting the California terroir. The Animo vineyards are high on the slopes of Atlas Peak, where they stick up above the usual Napa cloud cover. This Sauvignon Blanc has a stony backbone reminiscent of good Sancerre with a more pronounced white peach and lime zest fruitiness. From the 11 different oysters available on the half shell at Abbott’s, we selected Connecticut Blue Points for their mild neutrality. They emphasized the mineral qualities of the wine, which was also fine for sipping without food in the salt air. It is a wine with multiple subtle layers. As it warms, some of the more floral flavors come forward, especially chamomile, bramble blossoms, and dandelions. Hints of mango and other petrol notes are held in check by the bright acidity. Retail ranges $57-$65.

Emblem Chardonnay with lobster roll

2015 Emblem Chardonnay with lobster


Michael Mondavi Family Estate grows the grapes for its Emblem Chardonnay in the southern part of the Los Carneros appellation, where fog from San Francisco Bay moderates the vineyard climate. There wasn’t much rain in 2015, but all that fog kept the grapes hydrated. Cold fall nights preserved a significant acidity, while a long hang time allowed for the typical Napa monster sugar development. (The dry wine runs close to 15% alcohol.)

The fruit in this wine is luscious and full-bodied. Alas, we caught the wine at an awkward phase in its development. (Think a teenager’s growth spurt.) The technical notes say the wine was aged 10 months in new French oak. Right now, it tastes more like a year in new American oak. The vanillin and other oak aromatics overwhelm the otherwise powerful fruit. We suspect it will improve a lot by next summer.

Even now, the 2015 Emblem Chardonnay works really well with buttered lobster. You’ve heard wine geeks babble about buttery Chardonnay, right? This one needed butter added. The salt of the lobster and the slight oiliness of the butter on lobster and bun alike showed the 2015 at its best. Next time you encounter an oaky Chardonnay, order a hot buttered lobster roll. You’ll be glad you did. Retail price varies $30-$35.

04

08 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).

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

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

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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.”

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11 2012