Archive for the ‘Restaurants’Category

Radicchio di Treviso: sweet winter crunch

Lucio Torresan of Tenuta al Parco golds a sheaf of field-grown radichhio
We’ve written about the beautiful Venetian city of Treviso as a center for Prosecco DOC and the birthplace of tiramisù, but it’s also home to one of our favorite winter vegetables. Radicchio Rosso di Treviso IGP is the blanched winter chicory indigenous to the region.

Treviso radicchio generally comes in elongated, slightly pointy, tightly packed heads. But as Lucio Torresan of Park Farm (actually, Azienda Agricola Tenuta al Parco) shows above, field-grown radicchio looks little like the market product. Those big red and green weeds he’s holding “are so bitter that even the goats won’t eat them.”

Workers at the Tenuta al Parco farm trim Treviso radicchioWhen Torresan and his workers get done with the field-grown plants, though, they will be tender and sweet, with just a slight residual bitterness.

Magic in the dark

“You must force it in cold water in the dark,” he explains. “It becomes a completely different vegetable.” His barn includes a room-sized refrigerator stacked high with field-harvested radicchio. From October into the winter, his workers pull up the plants by the roots, removing the top half of the leaves with machetes. With part of the root still attached, the plants hold in cold storage for a month before they are replanted in water for forcing.

Completely stripped of their outer leaves, heads of Treviso radicchio soak in cold water before being packed and shipped.Torresan sets the field-harvested plants into indoor shallow tanks fed with a constant flow of spring water. Under the low light, tender inner leaves begin to grow at the heart of the plant in about 10 days. After another 15-18 days, they are ready to harvest. Workers strip the outer leaves, leaving the tender hearts. The market vegetable has burgundy-red leaves with white ribs. Once the tanks are clear, the process repeats with more plants from the cooler. This system produces delicate radicchio di Treviso until early May.

The farm store at Tenuta al Parco is open daily at Via San Martino 24/B, Morgano (+39 042 273 9028).

Both tasty and lovely

Venetians go wild over Treviso radicchio, preferring it to its softball-shaped cousin, radicchio di Chioggia. (The latter is the bitter variety grown in the U.S.) Restaurateurs serve it in risottos, chopped into a raw salsa for steak tartare, and roasted and drizzled with vinegar. Portions are usually small, since the intense flavor can be sharp. My favorite treatment was duck ravioli with radicchio-chestnut sauce. It’s a seasonal specialty at Graspo de Ua, a tiny hotel restaurant in Venice. The restaurant has excelled at traditional Venetian fare since 1860. It’s on Calle dei Bombaseri not far from the Rialto bridge (+39 041 520 0150, ristorantealgraspodeua.it/en). The following recipe is adapted from their version, as shown below.

RADICCHIO AND CHESTNUT SAUCE ON RAVIOLI


The traditional Venetian dish uses ravioli stuffed with duck and spinach. Ground pork ravioli or mushroom ravioli can substitute.

Serves 4

Radicchio and chestnut sauce on ravioli as served at Ristorante al Graspo de Ua in Venice, Italy.Ingredients

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 large shallot, minced
4 heads radicchio di Treviso, chopped
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 7-ounce can of Italian chestnuts, drained and coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 lb. fresh ravioli
2 ounces Gran Padano cheese, coarsely shredded
1 small bunch Italian parsley, minced

Directions

Bring large pot of lightly salted water to a boil for pasta.

In 10- to 12-inch frying pan, melt butter over medium heat. Add shallot and cook 2 minutes until soft. Then add radicchio to pan and cook, stirring frequently, until it wilts (7-10 minutes). Add vinegar, sugar, chestnuts, and sea salt and continue to cook until radicchio is almost melting.

Meanwhile, cook ravioli al dente. Drain and keep warm.

Divide ravioli evenly onto four preheated 10-inch plates and top with sauce. Sprinkle with shredded cheese and minced parsley.

17

01 2017

New Orleans starts morning on the sweet side

Café du Monde in New Orleans
Beignets are the official state donut of Louisiana and perhaps the most famous of foods in New Orleans. (A later post will discuss gumbo, the other signature New Orleans dish.)

Beignets at Café du Monde in New OrleansBut back to beignets. The squares of yeasted pastry dough are vat-fried and then treated to a thick dusting of confectioners’ sugar. They are said to have originated in France and made their way to New Orleans with the Acadians who fled the Canadian maritime provinces when Britain took over in the mid-18th century. I’m not sure that the French would appreciate having their light-as-air pastries dubbed as donuts.

You can try beignets any time of day or night at Café du Monde (800 Decatur Street, 504-525-4544, www.cafedumonde.com). This city institution, established in 1862, is open 24/7 and sits right near the French Market. As you stroll the streets of the French Quarter, you’ll be able to tell who has enjoyed some beignets by the tell-tale dusting of sugar on their clothes.

An African inspired breakfast treat


The Old Coffee Pot in New Orleans

Finding the city’s other fried breakfast dish takes more effort. Callas, a deep-fried ball of rice mixed with sugar and egg, was most likely introduced to New Orleans by enslaved Africans. In fact, slave women often sold them on the streets of the French Quarter on their one day off each week. These days, callas are not as ubiquitous.

The Old Coffee Pot Restaurant (714 St. Peter Street, 504-524-3500, www.theoldcoffeepot.com) is the only place I found in the French Quarter with callas on the breakfast menu. The restaurant opened in 1894 and is a charming place to start the day. It features an open kitchen, long wooden bar, murals of old scenes of the French Quarter, and a wrought iron chandelier with cascading roses.

Callas at the Old Coffee Pot in New OrleansAfter correcting my pronunciation (the accent is on the second syllable, as in “call-OSS”), my waitress Shirley told me that very few people know about callas these days. She remembers them as a treat that children would eat before they made their First Communion. For a filling breakfast, the Old Coffee Pot serves two callas with powdered sugar and optional syrup along with a big helping of grits. Diners need only decide whether they want the cook to mix chopped pecans with the rice. Shirley assured me that both options are equally good. So I went all in. I opted for the extra crunch of the pecans—and added a healthy pour of syrup. It was a satisfying breakfast with a bit of city history on the side.

25

12 2016

Chef Slade Rushing puts zing back in Brennan’s

Brennan's dining room
If you favor a light breakfast, you will have to adjust your thinking in New Orleans. Every meal, it seems, is an excuse for excess. French Quarter stalwart Brennan’s (417 Royal Street, 504-525-9711, www.brennansneworleans.com) epitomizes the local penchant of beginning the day with a celebratory breakfast. The meal might start with a glass of sparkling wine mixed with pear and cinnamon purée and proceed through a couple of courses—and then dessert. After all, Brennan’s is credited with introducing Bananas Foster.

In 1946, family patriarch Owen Brennan opened the restaurant that launched a dining dynasty. Brennan’s has been housed in an instantly recognizable bright pink building since the 1950s. It had fallen on hard times before Ralph Brennan and partner Terry White purchased it in 2013. “I played here as a child and worked here in high school and college,” Brennan recalled when he stopped at my table in the Chanteclair Room to chat. “I was afraid it was going to leave the family.”

The restaurant closed for an 18-month renovation. The new owners refurbished the bar and relocated the kitchen to create a dining room with windows on Royal Street. They painted the walls of the Chanteclair Room with murals depicting 1895 Mardi Gras scenes of the Proteus parade.

A gastronomic leader once again

Chef Slade Rushing of Brennan's Of even more interest to diners, Brennan’s hired Slade Rushing (right) as executive chef. (Ralph Brennan’s son Patrick is sous chef.)

“I’ve always wanted to take over an institution in the French Quarter,” said Mississippi-born Rushing. “Here in the South, food is a way of life, a reason to celebrate.” Rushing has tweaked a few classic dishes and introduced some new ones that are probably destined to become classics themselves.

For the traditional New Orleans dish of Eggs Sardou, Rushing replaced English muffins with breaded and fried artichoke bottoms as the base for poached eggs. His sauce features tomato, chervil, and champagne vinegar.

Edd Yolk Carpaccio at Brennan'sRushing’s additions to the menu include Egg Yolk Carpaccio, his restaurant-elegant version of a Spanish bar food classic (left). It features grilled shrimp dabbed with an andouille vinaigrette and swimming in a brilliant yellow puddle of egg yolk. (The warm plate half cooks the yolk.) On top is a vertical tangle of crisp shoestring sweet potato fries. He also put a Southern spin on North Atlantic lobster by serving shelled barbecued lobster tail and claw with spiced butter, lemon confit, and thyme.

He is most excited about Rabbit Rushing, a dish that speaks of his Southern roots. “That’s my background on a plate,” Rushing says of the fried Mississippi rabbit served with creamed collards, eggs over easy, and pickled pork jus. “My dad would wake me up at 3 a.m. I’d get my shotgun and we’d shoot a rabbit in the collard patch. The meat was so fresh it was jumping in the pan.”

The dish has proven immensely popular. “It’s elevated soul food,” says Rushing of the dish he is holding in the photo above. “Taste memories are the most important thing that chefs can bring to the kitchen.”

23

12 2016

Commander’s Palace lives up to the legend

Dining room at Commander's Palace in New Orleans
Enjoying a leisurely four-course Reveillon dinner (see previous post) is probably the best way to revel in the holiday spirit in New Orleans. But a fine meal is by no means limited to dinner—or to the historic French Quarter.

St. Charles streetcar in New OrleansFor office parties and ladies who lunch, many restaurants also offer midday holiday menus. Among them is Commander’s Palace (1403 Washington Ave., 504-899-8221, commanderspalace.com). This dining institution is housed in a bright blue building in the Garden District, where American interlopers shunned by French Creole society built their own grand mansions in the 19th century. The St. Charles streetcar carries passengers from the edge of the French Quarter to the Garden District in trolleys decked with garlands.

Emile Commander opened Commander’s Palace in the 1880s. It was already a landmark when the Brennan family acquired it in 1969. In truth, it’s nearly impossible not to eat in a Brennan restaurant in New Orleans. The extended family has bred great restaurateurs the way the Bourbon family bred kings and queens. I’ll admit, though, that trying to decipher the family tree and follow the twists and turns of family disagreements could give anyone dyspepsia.

“This is a holiday lunch at Commander’s Palace,” the maitre d’ told me as he led me through a maze of dining rooms. “We can’t guarantee what’s going to happen.”

Dining at a grande dame


servers at Commander's Palace in New Orleans

Actually, they can guarantee a fine meal, which should start with a glass of Commander’s Palace Cuvée Brut Blanc de Noir. It’s made for the restaurant by Iron Horse Vineyard, a sparkling wine specialist in Sonoma’s Green Valley. The Christmas Celebration lunch starts with turtle soup, followed by Sugarcane Lacquered South Texas Quail. I opted instead for the soup of the day. I figured that roasted pumpkin soup with whiskey and toasted pumpkin seeds seemed like a pot I could try to recreate back home in New England.

Some of New Orleans’ most famous chefs have honed their skills in Commander’s kitchen. Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse both served as executive chef during the 1970s and 1980s. Prudhomme created the Creole Bread Pudding Souffle that remains the restaurant’s signature dessert (available à la carte or with the Christmas Celebration Lunch). For a dramatic end, it’s finished tableside with warm whiskey cream.

ROASTED PUMPKIN WHISKEY SOUP

roasted pumpkin soupThis isn’t the restaurant’s recipe, but it tastes very much the same. Any of the winter squashes can be substituted for pumpkin, though a nice sugar pie pumpkin makes a sweet, rich soup. Butternut squash also works well, and tends to be available all winter. I’ve given the directions here to make your own roasted pumpkin seeds, but snack jar pepitas are a lot less trouble.

Serves 8 as a soup course

Ingredients

3 pound pumpkin or butternut squash
3 tablespoons olive oil
sea salt
1/4 pound butter (1 stick)
2 leeks, washed, trimmed, and sliced into thin rounds
1 onion, roughly chopped
8 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons whiskey
1 cup buttermilk
black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons minced parsley

Directions

Set oven at 375°F.

Trim off the stem and base of the squash or pumpkin. Cut top to bottom into six pieces. Remove seeds and reserve. Paint the flesh with olive oil and place on a roasting pan. Roast in oven 15-20 minutes or until flesh is tender and beginning to brown. Remove from oven and set aside. Turn oven down to 300°F.

To prepare pumpkin seeds, rinse thoroughly to remove all pulp, then place in pan with water to cover. Bring to boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain well and pat dry. Toss with remaining olive oil and spread in single layer on a baking sheet. Salt generously. Roast in about 45 minutes until crisp and brown. Reserve.

In large soup pot, melt half the butter. Add leeks and onion and sprinkle with pinch of salt. Cover pot and sweat leeks and onion over low heat about 20 minutes. Add a little water if needed to keep them from sticking to pan.

Scoop roasted pumpkin flesh away from skin and add to leeks and onion. Pour in the stock, season and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes, then let the soup cool. Add whiskey, buttermilk, and remaining butter and stir to dissolve. Purée in a blender and adjust seasoning with salt and black pepper. Reheat for serving.

Serve sprinkled with a few roasted pumpkin seeds and minced parsley.

Panna cotta Christmas style

Peppermint panna cotta
As I mentioned in the last post, Broussard’s served a dynamite version of panna cotta tweaked for the holiday season. Not only was it an intense pink and redolent of peppermint, it also had a luscious chocolate topping. While my homemade attempt doesn’t indulge in some stray raspberries as a garnish, it does boast that winning combination of peppermint and chocolate.

Many restaurant chefs offer panna cotta as a dessert option because making it doesn’t require a pastry chef’s skill set. In fact, it is about as easy as making Jell-O. Still, it’s rich and satisfying and can be made to look fabulous. This recipe is a simple adaptation of the restaurant classic, but scaled down to dinner-party volume. To make it even easier, the chocolate layer is a commercial ganache in a jar. It’s just the right texture.

PEPPERMINT PANNA COTTA

serves 6

Ingredients

2 cups heavy cream
3/8 cup (75 grams) granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons gelatin
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
6-8 drops red food coloring
Hershey’s Spreads chocolate
whipped cream
crushed Starlight mints or candy canes for garnish

Directions

Pour the cream into a saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin on top of the cream. Let it dissolve on the surface for at least 10 minutes.

Move pan to burner over medium heat. Begin stirring with a small whisk. When cream is warm, add the sugar and the two extracts. Continue stirring until the lumpy gelatin is completely dissolved and cream is smooth. Stir in food coloring and stir to distribute evenly. At no time should the mixture boil.

Remove pan from heat and pour warm cream into six juice glasses or clear tulip cups. Cover each with plastic wrap and refrigerate six hours to overnight to fully set the panna cotta.

Warm the Hershey’s Spreads chocolate in a pan to liquefy. Pour a thin layer atop each glass of panna cotta and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Top each serving with a dollop of whipped cream and garnish with crushed peppermint candy.

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

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

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

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

Tujague's is the second oldest restaurant in New Orleans

Celebrate at venerable Tujague’s

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

Making Café Brûlot at Arnaud's

Drink to the season at Arnaud’s

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

Filet Wellington at Broussard's

Broussard’s strikes French pose

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

appetizer sampler at Tableau

Tableau makes holiday stage set

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

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

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

Pub crawl reveals Cathedral Quarter riches

The Guinness Creation mural in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter
After falling on hard times, Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter has been enjoying boom years of late. The district is named for St. Anne’s, a grand structure of the Church of Ireland though not technically a cathedral since it is not a bishop’s seat. The church anchors the 18th century warehouse district north of the city center. The “cathedral” was erected 1899-1903 as an expression of Belfast’s industrial wealth and power at the cusp of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Historic Guinness sign in Belfast's Cathedral QuarterThese days the Cathedral Quarter is an area more for fun than the backbreaking labor of teamsters and longshoremen. Its atmospheric warren of narrow streets, alleys, cul-de-sacs, and byways is studded with small shops and pubs. Ancient city walls are splashed with colorful murals (like the Dali-esque Guinness Creation above) and old signage (like the Guinness placard at right) has been preserved as part of Northern Ireland’s cultural heritage. As a result, the Cathedral Quarter has emerged as one of the liveliest parts of Belfast for nightlife. Here are some of the congenial gems where it’s easy to while away an evening with a pint or two.

The Dirty Onion

Peat fire at Dirty Onion in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter
Belfast’s oldest timber-framed building was constructed around 1750 as a warehouse. It held bonded spirits from 1921 to 1991. Literally tens of thousands of Jameson whiskey cases passed through “Stack N.” A fair bit is still consumed at The Dirty Onion, which now occupies the old warehouse space. The bar also hosts live traditional music every night and two afternoons a week. Its upstairs sister, Yardbird, serves rotisserie chicken. But on a cold damp night, nothing beats pulling up a chair and a pint to a downstairs fireplace (above). The bar burns traditional peat turf. Its smoke is as sweet as a sip of Scotch whisky.
The Dirty Onion, 3 Hill Street, 28 9024 3712, www.thedirtyonion.com

The Duke of York

Duke of York in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter
There’s been a pub at the site of the Duke of York since the mid-18th century, and the collection of antique mirrors, hotel furniture, and woodwork inside attests that the current pub has outlasted many another business in the neighborhood. It’s located on Commercial Court, which is protected by the Commissioners of Public Works under the National Monuments Act. The Duke has an impressive collection of more than 100 Irish whiskeys, many of which ceased production decades ago. For all the high spirits, it’s a bar for the well-behaved. An inscription on the half rail of the exterior sets the tone. It reads, “Come in soberly, drink moderately, depart quietly and come again.”
The Duke of York, 7-11 Commercial Court, 28 9024 1062, dukeofyorkbelfast.com

Muriel’s Cafe Bar

Muriel's Cafe and Bar in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter
Located in a former millinery, Muriel’s exudes a certain feminine charm with its ironic displays of bygone women’s fashions and its ever so twee downstairs stage set. (Upstairs is more in line with the masculine, wood-paneled bars of the rest of the neighborhood.) Known as much for its coffee, pastries, afternoon tea, and Sunday brunch as for its alcoholic libations, Muriel’s injects a spritz of whimsy into the historic streets of the Cathedral Quarter.
Muriel’s Cafe Bar, 12-14 Church Lane, 28 9033 2445

Harp Bar

Muriel's Harp Bar in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter
The back of the Harp shares the Commercial Court alley with the Duke of York. The pub is nearly as decorous and glamorous, with tufted red leather banquettes in one room, red velvet chairs, and Victorian antiques all about. Glass display cases behind the bar hold a stunning collection of Irish whiskeys, although the rare tipples are not for sale. The building used to be the headquarters and bonded warehouse of The Old Bushmills Distillery Company. Black Bush is the whiskey of choice.
Harp Bar, 35 Hill Street, 28 9032 9923, www.harpbarbelfast.com

John Hewitt

The John Hewitt in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter
The John Hewitt has the demeanor of a pub that’s seen at least a century of Belfast imbibers. But the handsome spot only opened in December 1999. It’s a cash generator for the Belfast Unemployed Resource Centre. It was named for the late poet, socialist, and community activist who founded the Centre in 1983. With such a sterling left wing pedigree, the bar is hugely popular with poets, musicians, journalists, and artists. The John Hewitt also hosts events for Belfast arts festivals and programs live music most nights. (Wednesday nights are usually devoted to charity fundraisers.)
The John Hewitt, 51 Donegall Street, 28 9023 3768, thejohnhewitt.com

Bert’s Jazz Bar

Bert's Jazz Bar at the Merchant Hotel in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter
The Merchant Hotel spearheaded the Cathedral Quarter revival when it opened a decade ago. Its fine, polished bar off the lobby remains the model of an Edwardian whiskey bar. But much of the action has shifted in recent years to Bert’s, located downstairs with a separate street entrance. It’s Belfast’s only dedicated jazz bar, programming live music every night from 9 p.m. The bar specializes in Jazz Age cocktails and the kitchen features affordable French bistro fare.
16 Skipper Street, 28 9026 2713, themerchanthotel.com

Sunflower Public House

Exterior of The Sunflower in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter
The security cage at the entrance to this disarmingly charming pub on the corner of Kent and Union streets is a remnant of the 1980s, when the Troubles kept everyone wary. Now it’s just a bit of social history that predates half the student and backpacker clientele who flock in for traditional music sessions—or for Gypsy Swing or Hot Jazz on Thursdays. On Tuesday nights, a somewhat more seasoned crowd of ukelele players gathers for a jam. Pipers come on Wednesdays.
Sunflower Public House, 65 Union Street, 028 9023 2474, www.sunflowerbelfast.com
Ukelele jam at The Sunflower in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter

11

12 2016

Made in Belfast’s pork belly dish delivers pig ecstasy

Crispy pork belly dish at Made in Belfast City Hall
We dream of returning to restaurants around the globe just for one dish. Made in Belfast is one of those restaurants, and the dish (above) is the “crispy outdoor bred pork belly.” It’s on the menu in every season. Only the accompaniments change. In early November, the pork belly came on a bed of mashed potato and roasted squash with two kinds of croquettes. One contained black pudding (blood sausage) and apple. The other had roasted pulled pork. Pieces of broccoli and cauliflower nestled beside the meat, while a cabbage-carrot slaw in creamy sauce puddled on one edge. The garlicky pork jus pulled all the flavors together.

Interior of Made in Belfast City Hall This was a brilliant 21st century adaptation of traditional Irish fare. The veggies were fresh and bright. The charcuterie in the croquettes was rich enough and no more. And the pork belly was meaty and luscious. It seemed to reflect every happy day that hog had enjoyed, which was much of the reason we ordered it. Restaurant founder Emma Bricknell makes humane, ethical treatment of animals one of the cornerstones of her mini-empire of three Belfast restaurants. Her other guiding principle is to buy local, so the menus are highly seasonal.

Multiple Options

Since we were walking from our hotel and it was raining, we opted for the closest of the three: Made in Belfast City Hall (Wellington Street, 028 9024 6712, madeinbelfast.com). The original 2009 spot is Made in Belfast Cathedral Quarter, and it’s celebrated for its quirky thrift shop décor. The newest of the group is Made in Belfast The Grill, also in the Cathedral Quarter. It emphasizes burgers and steaks. All three serve some variation of roasted pork belly—currently co-starring creamed minted cabbage.

10

12 2016

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

Enjoy a millionaire’s tea at a pauper’s price

Tea tray at Good Food & Wine in Belfast
Aptly named Good Food & Wine is a gourmet treat shop and casual cafe that serves afternoon tea all day long. It’s tucked into the Queen’s Arcade shopping center between Fountain Street and Donegall Place, Not only is it steps from Belfast City Hall and the Linen Hall Library, it’s also handy to the central shopping district. Mind you, afternoon tea here is not the lifted pinkie, fine porcelain, hushed ambiance formal tea. For that experience, visit the nearby Merchant Hotel (16 Skipper St., 28 9023 4888, themerchanthotel.com), the poshest address in the city.

Counter at Good Food & Wine in BelfastBut at £7.50 per person, it’s hard to beat Good Food & Wine for a tiered tray of finger sandwiches and sweet treats and a pot of brewed looseleaf Belfast Blend. (It contains 90% Assam and 10% Tanzanian black teas.) The selection of sandwiches and treats varies by the day. When we stopped for a respite, we were served four egg salad finger sandwiches on alternating white and dark bread and slices of a three-layer chocolate torte. Even if you just stop in for a cup of tea or coffee, you’ll find a sweet treat at the edge of the saucer. Often, it’s a tiny square of a classic Northern Irish “tray bake” called the Millionaire’s Bar. It stacks a layer of shortbread, a layer of caramel, and a layer of chocolate.

The Millionaire’s Bar (also sometimes called Millionaire’s Shortcake) is a popular treat in Belfast. Most versions are topped with semisweet or milk chocolate. For a change of pace, Good Food & Wine sometimes uses white chocolate (legally called “white confectionery” in the U.S.). We played around with a few recipes and came up with the version below. The sprinkle of sea salt on top enhances the toasty flavor of the caramel.

Good Food & Wine, 12-16 Queen’s Arcade, 28 2766 8879, thegoodfoodandwinecompany.co.uk

White Chocolate Millionaire's Bar

MILLIONAIRE’S BARS


A few notes about the recipe: Measurements are largely given by weight. Since many baking ingredients vary widely by volume, weighing the components guarantees that the recipe comes out the same each time. As far as we can tell, no one makes golden syrup on this side of the Atlantic. Imported cans of Lyle’s Golden Syrup are available in gourmet shops and well-stocked grocery stores. Nothing can substitute for the toffee flavor, as the syrup is made partially with invert sugar.

Makes 16-20 pieces

Ingredients

For shortbread
225 grams (8 oz.) all purpose flour
175 grams (6 oz.) butter, cold, cut in small cubes
75 grams (2 3/4 oz.) granulated sugar, ground fine in spice grinder or food processor

For topping
150 grams (5 oz.) butter
394-gram (14 fl. oz.) can condensed milk
100 grams (3 1/2 fl. oz.) golden syrup
2 tablespoons heavy cream
350 grams white chocolate, grated or cut very small
sea salt for finishing (Maldon flake or similar)

Directions

Preheat oven to 300ºF. Line a 9×9 inch baking pan with aluminum foil.

In food processor, combine flour and small cubes of butter. Process in pulses to consistency of fine breadcrumbs. Add ground sugar and pulse until combined.

Place mixture in lined pan and spread evenly with back of a spoon. Press down shortbread firmly to pack tightly in pan.

Bake for 30-35 minutes until pale golden brown. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

As shortbread is baking, begin to prepare the caramel layer of topping. Place butter, condensed milk, and golden syrup in saucepan. Stir occasionally while heating until butter melts and mixture is smooth.

Raise heat to bring mixture to a boil, stirring often. When the caramel thickens and turns golden brown, remove from heat. When it has cooled a little, pour over the cooled shortbread, spreading evenly over the surface. Set aside to cool completely.

When caramel is cooled, prepare chocolate layer. Bring water to a simmer in bottom of double boiler. In top of double boiler, heat the cream over direct heat until simmering. Place over simmering water in double boiler and add white chocolate, stirring until mixture is smooth. Pour over pan and smooth to edges. Sprinkle sparingly with finishing salt and let cool before cutting.

04

12 2016