Archive for the ‘Restaurants’Category

Oceania’s ‘Marina’ features fine dining five ways

Grand dining room on Oceania's Marina
Experienced cruisers expect a Grand Dining Room—and that’s exactly what Oceania Cruises (oceaniacruises.com) calls its spacious and glittering Continental dining venue. It has the requisite fine linens and crystal chandeliers. A full armada of water and wine glasses gleam on the tables. The menu borrows a little from Italy and a lot from France. It includes a few Jacques Pepin signature bistro dishes (steak-frites, roast chicken, poached salmon). Or diners can go fancier with lobster bisque and venison medallions. The menu even proffers spa-inspired “healthy living choices,” such as steamed artichokes, chicken consommé, and simple roasted fish. In short, there’s a little something for everyone in a very pleasant and lively room with excellent service. Although the GDR is larger than most other restaurants on board the Marina, it is only one of many fine dining choices.

Jacques aboard Oceania Marina

Dinner with a French accent at Jacques

Although he consults to the entire Oceania dining program, Jacques Pepin’s personal stamp is most pronounced in the restaurant that bears his name. Jacques serves what might be called the greatest hits of French cuisine, from baked escargots with garlic butter or foie gras terrine with candied black cherries to bouillabaisse or baked onion soup topped with stringy Gruyère. The classic preparation of Dover sole makes superb dinner theater—the waiter fillets it tableside before serving. The dessert menu is a delectable class in French pronunciation: baba au rhum, pot de crème, mousse au chocolat, tarte au pommes, and—of course—crème brûlée a la lavande.

Photographing the lobster at Toscana on Oceania Marina

Mangiare come un italiano at Toscana

The menu at Toscana is nominally Tuscan, but the kitchen balances the Tuscan grill with a choice of no less than ten pastas. They are all beautifully executed in generous portions, making them suitable as secondi instead of primi. The risottos (asparagus or lobster) arrive with the rice slightly soupy and al dente. (Bravo!) The grilled veal chop with wild mushrooms is a quintessential representation of the Tuscan countryside. One of the most popular dishes at Toscana (besides the incredible breads) is the lobster fra diavolo served over fresh tagliolini. Presentation is so striking that even in the romantically low light, it’s hard to resist taking a photo (above).

Polo Grill on Oceania Marina

Polo Grill celebrates American steakhouse

The steakhouse is possibly North America’s greatest contribution to the worldwide constellation of restaurant types. Polo Grill is arguably better than many steakhouses found back on land. It serves generously cut and perfectly cooked beef, veal, and lamb. (Three people at our table one night ordered filet mignon—one medium rare, one medium, and one medium well. They arrived at the table exactly cooked, which is no mean feat since meat keeps cooking between kitchen and table.) Polo also has the full range of rich salads—Caesar prepared at the table among them.

Beet appetizer at Polo Grill on Oceania Marina

But Polo truly excels in the attention paid to sides and appetizers. The napoleon of roasted beet layered with garlic goat cheese and dressed with a Champagne and truffle vinaigrette (above) was a work of art that tasted as good as it looked. Side dishes even included lobster mac and cheese. Huge porterhouse steaks are a big hit at Polo, but it seemed like every table had at least one person wearing a bib and a satisfied smile while tucking into an entire steamed Maine lobster.

Red Ginger dining room on Oceania Marina

Red Ginger conjures flavors of East Asia

All the specialty restaurants can be booked by advance reservation, and some passengers make those reservations when they buy their cruise tickets. As a result, Red Ginger is one of the hardest reservations to score aboard the Marina. With glittering gold walls, a proliferation of shiny lacquer, and the dramatic spot lighting, it is also perhaps the most glam of the shipboard dining rooms. The sharing plate of appetizers called “Skewers, Sushi, and Tempura” sets the pan-Asian tone for the menu. It’s easy to mix a Southeast Asian spicy duck and watermelon salad with a second starter of Japanese tuna tataki, as shown below.

Red Ginger plates on Oceania Marina

The main courses at Red Ginger are similarly international. They range from rib-eye beef prepared as Korean bulgogi to a roasted rack of lamb rubbed with seven spices. The lobster that’s such a big hit in Polo, Toscana, and even Jacques, makes a cameo at Red Ginger as lobster pad Thai. The tamarind and lime make it sweet and tart at the same time—an excellent way to treat the rich flavor of lobster. One of the culinary classes focuses on Red Ginger favorites. The lobster pad Thai recipe below is exactly as it’s taught.

Lobster pad Thai at Red Ginger on Oceania Marina

LOBSTER PAD THAI


Serves 2

Ingredients

For sauce

1/4 cup tamarind juice
2 tablespoons each palm sugar, fish sauce, nam prik pao (Thai chili-garlic paste), and creamy peanut butter
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon ginger juice

For pad Thai

2 tablespoons peanut oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons ginger juice
1/4 cup scallions, thinly sliced on diagonal
1/4 cup leeks, thinly sliced on diagonal
1 cup lobster pieces
2 eggs, beaten
4 cups rice noodles, softened
1/2 cup bean sprouts
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
4 lime wedges
1/4 cup chopped roasted peanuts

Directions

Whisk together all the sauce ingredients until smooth. If needed, thin with warm water. Reserve.

Line up the ingredients in order, with 1/2 cup of the prepared sauce between the eggs and the noodles.

In a wok over high, heat the peanut oil. When the oil is hot, begin adding the garlic, ginger, scallions and leeks to the wok in sequence. Use two spatulas and continuously toss to cook evenly and keep ingredients from burning at high heat. Slide the vegetables up the sides of the wok and sear the lobster. Slide the lobster up the sides of the wok and add the egg to scramble.

When the egg is just cooked, bring back the vegetables and lobster and add the ½ cup of the sauce, noodles and bean sprouts. Using the spatulas, gently toss the ingredients to cover them with sauce, adding more if needed, being careful not to break the noodles. When heated through, divide among two serving dishes. Finish with the sesame oil, lime wedges and peanuts.

24

03 2017

Jumping ship for a taste of the port

Ana Svoboda shows ginger at Blue Harbor Tropical Arboretum, part of an Oceania shore excursion
When Oceania Cruises (oceaniacruises.com) culinary director Kathryn Kelly designs the culinary shore excursions for Marina and her sister ships, she asks herself one essential question. “Where would I like to go if I had one day in this port?” she says. In Europe, the answer might be a visit to a winery or a three-star restaurant. In the western Caribbean, culinary expeditions are more likely to focus on local foods and foodways.

Arboretum looks to future of Roatán food


We joined Kelly for the “Honduran Farm & Ocean to Table Experience.” This shore excursion on the island of Roatán starts at the Blue Harbor Tropical Arboretum (blueharbortropicalarboretum.com). The plantings on this 160-acre property represent most of the economically significant plants of the growing zone, including several species of fruit trees. Walking through the grounds, general manager Ana Svoboda (above with ginger) points out familiar fruits like guava and mango and less familiar cacao, mangosteen, and custard apple. (Red cacao and coffee are among the key crops in Honduras, but coffee grows poorly at low altitude, so it’s not part of the arboretum.)

Lettuce at Blue Harbor Tropical Arboretum's hydroponic farm

While the plantings represent Roatán’s botanical past, the facility’s extensive hydroponic farm is an investment in the future. Roatán is part of the MesoAmerican Reef system, second only to the Great Barrier Reef, so fresh water is at a premium. Hydroponics uses only 10 percent of the water required for conventional farming.

The farm focuses on high-value lettuce, other salad greens, and herbs. Annual production is 70-80,000 heads of lettuce alone. By growing in waist-height “rows,” the farm maximizes its succession crops. It harvests every 53 days. The organic produce—Blue Harbor uses organic fertilizers and no pesticides—is sold to local restaurants and supermarkets, and some to nearby islands. The facility also sells cashews and citrus fruits from the arboretum groves.

Chef Samuel on Oceania shore excursion in Honduras

Going big on shrimp for cooking


Roatán is known for its succulent pink shrimp. The large, sweet, and almost iridescent species played a starring role in the cooking demonstration given by Chef Samuel, a quiet mountain of a man, on Big French Key. The chef bought them from fishermen setting their nets about 70 miles south. To show the versatility of the shrimp, he prepared them three ways.

He first made cocktail shrimp with an accompanying sauce. He prepared the shrimp by peeling away the shell, leaving just the tip of the tail. He cut down the groove in the back and removed and discarded the “vein,” or alimentary tract. He heated salted water to a boil, cut a large lime in half and squeezed half for its juice. He added both halves of the fruit to the water to cut the fishy flavor and aroma. The shrimp simmered just three minutes. The cocktail sauce was equally simple. He sautéed diced tomato, minced garlic, chopped onion, and parsley. When the mixture was cool, he added a small Scotch bonnet pepper and puréed in a blender.

Chef Samuel with homemade grater on Oceania shore excursion
His second preparation was garlic shrimp. In very hot oil in a frying pan, he quickly cooked some minced garlic to flavor the oil. The shrimp—again, shell off except for the tip of the tail—cooked up in just a minute or two.

As a final preparation, Chef Samuel made coconut shrimp. They were truly heavenly, in part because he grated a fresh coconut using a distinctive island-style grater. It consists of a large can punctured with nails to make sharp bumps, as shown in the photo above. It made quick work of the coconut. Chef Samuel dipped the shrimp in beer and milk-based tempura batter, rolled them in coconut shards, and deep-fried them in 375°F oil until golden brown. Wow!

Coconut shrim in Honduras on Oceania shore excursion

Since most of us don’t have a deep fryer at home, Chef Kathryn Kelly has come up with this pan-fried version.

CHEF KELLY’S COCONUT SHRIMP


Serves 2

Ingredients

1/2 cup chickpea flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup bread crumbs (preferably panko)
1/4 cup dry shredded coconut
6 to 8 jumbo shrimp (10 to 12 count), deveined, whole with tail on
Sunflower or peanut oil, for frying
Lime wedges

Directions

Set out three small, shallow aluminum trays. Pour the flour in the first tray, the beaten eggs in the second, and the bread crumbs and coconut flakes in the third. Dry the shrimp with paper towels.

Dredge a shrimp in the flour. Gently shake off any excess. Dip the shrimp in the egg, turning the shrimp so it is completely coated. Dip the shrimp in the bread crumb and coconut mix, turning and pressing gently so it is completely coated. Repeat with the other shrimp. Allow the coated shrimp to rest and set for 15 minutes.

Line a plate with paper towels. Heat the oil in a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat. Oil depth should be half the thickness of the shrimp. When the oil is hot (365°F to 375°F), carefully place the shrimp in the pan and fry until the bottom halves are golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes. Carefully turn the shrimp and fry until the other halves are golden brown, about 3 to 4 more minutes. Transfer the shrimp to the towel-lined plate to drain. Serve with chili garlic sauce (easily found at the grocery store), lime wedges on the side, and enjoy!

21

03 2017

Cruising with an appetite on Oceania Marina

Oceania Marina at dock in Key West
Despite an industry-wide upgrade to shipboard dining in recent years, few cruise lines dare to make the culinary experience a brand signature. But Oceania (oceaniacruises.com)—the middle sister in the Norwegian-Oceania-Regent family—has embraced the plate. We sailed the western Caribbean aboard Oceania’s Marina in February and can report that it was a tasty trip.

Oceania Marina galley
The Marina‘s galleys were designed before the rest of the ship. With a capacity for 1,250 passengers, she has the largest number of square feet of galley space per passenger of any comparably sized vessel afloat. That translates into a massive central galley and smaller galleys for each of the individual restaurants and for cabin service. Marina was originally planned at 54,000 gross tonnes, but the finished galleys pushed her over 60,000.

Master chef Frank Garanger aboard Oceania Marina
During our sailing, Marina had more than 140 cooks aboard. Jacques Pepin, the former personal chef of Charles de Gaulle, is the gastronomic godfather of the Oceania line, and contributed to the line’s culinary vision. Two chefs who are members of the prestigious Maîtres Cuisiniers de France (MCF) oversee the galleys directly. One of them, Frank Garanger (above), explained the organization. “We hire young cooks from all over the world and bring them up in the system of the classical kitchen,” he said. “It’s the same system you’d find in any five-star restaurant in Europe.”

Master chef Laurent Trias aboard Oceania Marina
Laurent Trias, also an MCF, showed us the library of more than 2,000 recipes. Binders fill shelf after shelf. Each recipe includes detailed directions and photo of how the finished dish should be plated. We did some quick math and realized that the galleys were producing about 25,000 individual meals each week.

Great taste cooked to order

bread basket at Toscano aboard Oceania Marina

Twenty-five cooks deal entirely with pastry, and the bread ovens aboard Marina would be the envy of many a bakery ashore. Working almost entirely with French flour, the bakers create all the baguettes, rustic loaves, beignets, croissants, muffins, and even bagels served morning, noon, and night at the various shipboard restaurants. (That’s the bread basket at Toscana pictured above.) Maybe getting to see the bakery skewed our perception, but we found breads and pastries uniformly superb throughout our voyage.

Dining room at Jacques aboard Oceania Marina

Even the offerings in the buffet restaurant (Terrace Cafe) are a cut above most cruise food. But Marina also has six fine-dining restaurants, including Jacques (pictured above), featuring the food of Jacques Pepin. Restaurant themes range from Italian to French country and steakhouse to pan-Asian. Only one—a wine and food tasting restaurant—carries a surcharge, though all require reservations. We’ll be writing about some of the options in a later post.

Fortunately, gastronomy is a participatory sport aboard Marina. The ship’s culinary center is a state-of-the-art culinary classroom for a hands-on cooking school at sea. Port excursions also include some culinary expeditions—foraging for local foods, visiting local restaurants, trying local dishes. (More to come on those subjects, too.)

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14

03 2017

Graycliff anchors the ages in Nassau

Executive chef Elijah Bowe of Graycliff in Nassau, Bahamas
Houses lead big lives in the Bahamas. Graycliff (www.graycliff.com), for example, was built in Nassau in 1740 by notorious pirate John Howard Graysmith. During the American Revolution, the U.S. Navy used the house for its headquarters and garrison. In 1844, Graycliff became Nassau’s first inn. Over the years, it’s been owned by British nobility and by a woman close to gangster Al Capone. Its latest chapter began in 1973 when the Garzaroli family from Italy purchased the property.

cigar roller at Graycliff in Nassau, Bahamas

Today, visitors can spend the night in one of 18 guest rooms decorated in old world style. They can also watch master cigar rollers from Cuba or buy sweet confections at the on-site chocolatier. Those who choose to dine in the sunlit dining rooms can also tour the 250,000-bottle wine cellar in the former prison in the basement. It’s said to be the third largest private wine collection in the world.

wine cellar at Graycliff in Nassau, Bahamas

The dining room menu deftly blends the Italian heritage of the Gazarolis with the local cuisine of executive chef Elijah Bowe, pictured at the top of the post. He grew up in a small fishing village on the west end of Grand Bahama. “Growing up, we always had fresh seafood,” Bowe recalls. “At night with the full moon, we would go out and catch shrimp. We could walk out in waist-deep water and pick conch out of the water.”

Bowe studied in Florida and New Orleans and cut his teeth in the kitchens of an earlier incarnation of the Atlantis resort. He has been at Graycliff for 15 years and is adamant about using fresh fish, often from fishermen who bring their catch to the kitchen door. He also buys as much produce as possible from local growers. His resulting menus infuse continental cuisine with Bahamian flavors.

A recent lunch menu offered traditional pasta all’Amatriciana, curried Mahi Mahi with mango and papaya relish, smothered Bahamian grouper, and New Zealand rack of lamb. Bowe also crafts masterful versions of the island classics of conch chowder (finished at the table with sherry) and guava duff. The latter is a jellyroll-like concoction of diced guava rolled into a dough and then boiled or steamed. It’s often served with a rum sauce for dessert.

Bowe often offers cooking classes through the Graycliff Culinary Academy. He shared his recipe for Graycliff Bahamian Conch Chowder. The “secret” ingredient is Bowe’s version of sherry infused with thyme and fiery-hot Scotch bonnet chile peppers.

conch chowder as served at Graycliff in Nassau, Bahamas

GRAYCLIFF BAHAMIAN CONCH CHOWDER


Makes 2 quarts

Ingredients

1 pound fresh conch
whole milk
4 tablespoons salted butter
1 1/2 cloves garlic, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced yellow bell pepper
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
1/2 cup diced green bell pepper
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 12-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, chopped, juices reserved
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
water
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 sprigs fresh thyme
4 dried bay leaves
1 cup diced carrot
1 cup peeled and diced Idaho or russet potato
1 tablespoon peppered sherry (see recipe below), plus more for serving
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Directions

Place conch in a small bowl and pour over enough milk to cover by 1/2 inch. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Remove conch from milk and pound using a meat mallet or the bottom of a heavy pan until conch is tender, about 2-3 minutes. Cut into 1/2-inch pieces.

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, melt salted butter. Add conch and cook until it just becomes firm, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add onion and celery, and cook until tender, about 2 minutes. Add yellow, red, and green peppers and cook, stirring, about 5 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring, until it begins to darken in color, about 8 minutes. Add whole tomatoes and juice; cook until the mixture begins to thicken, about 5 minutes.

Add wine to deglaze, scraping the brown bits off the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Cook until the wine is absorbed, about 3 minutes. Stir in flour and cook for 1 minute. Stir in 5 cups of water and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook for 30 minutes.

Add thyme, bay leaves, carrots, and potatoes. Return to a boil; reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, skimming any foam that rises to the surface, until carrots and potatoes are tender, 10 to 20 minutes, adding more water if necessary.

Stir in peppered sherry and unsalted butter. Serve immediately with additional peppered sherry, if desired. Store in the refrigerator, in a covered container, for up to 3 days or up to 2 months in the freezer.

PEPPERED SHERRY

Makes 3 1/4 cups

1 750ml bottle dry sherry
6-8 Scotch bonnet chile peppers, halved lengthwise
2 sprigs fresh thyme

In a large container, combine sherry, chiles, and thyme. Store covered at room temperature for at least 2 weeks and up to 2 months.

27

02 2017

77° West establishes New World flavors at Atlantis

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

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

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

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

INDIVIDUAL DULCE DE LECHE CHEESECAKES


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

Ingredients

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

Directions

Set oven to 325°F.

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

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

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

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

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

20

02 2017

Café Martinique at Atlantis dresses up humble conch

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

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

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

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

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

CRACKED CONCH À LA MARTINIQUE


4 appetizer servings cracked conch plate at Café Martinique at Atlantis

Ingredients

For conch

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

For chili citrus mayo

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

For pickled vegetables

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

For kaffir powder

1 kaffir lime leaf

For lime vinaigrette

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

For plating

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

Directions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

17

02 2017

Living the Atlantis fantasy on Paradise Island, Bahamas

Pegasus fountain at Atlantis on Paradise Island, Bahamas
It takes a certain audacity to create a resort themed to the lost city of Atlantis. Royal Towers was the first hotel built on the 171-acre property of Atlantis (atlantisbahamas.com) on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. It still embodies that fanciful vision of lost glory. Much has been written about Atlantis since it opened more than 20 years ago, but you do have to see it to believe it. It’s so over-the-top that it is almost impossible not to be caught up in the tale of the drowned city first related by Plato.

Grand Lobby at AtlantisThe sunny Bahamian weather certainly doesn’t hurt, but it was the artwork that drew me in. As soon as I stepped out of a taxi, I was greeted by a gigantic fountain with leaping bronze figures of Pegasus (above). I walked past the winged horses to giant green doors flanked by larger-than-life relief sculptures of stylized seahorses and whales. But I was still unprepared for the soaring Great Hall (the Atlantis version of a hotel lobby). Eight enormous murals tell the fictional story of Atlantis from its creation until it sank into the sea. The scale of the aptly named space is enough to make a visitor feel either insignificant or fortunate to be the momentary ruler of all that towers above.

Underwater "dig" at AtlantisAs they say on late-night television—wait, there’s more! In the Dig on the lower level, I wandered through an imaginary version of the walkways and tunnels of the sunken city, all the while surrounded by tanks of fish that might float through the watery grave. Among the lionfish, piranhas, moray eels, clownfish, and seahorses were grouper and spiny lobster—species that might make their way to the dinner plate.

In a place that thinks so big, it’s not surprising that Atlantis boasts 21 restaurants that range from ultra-casual to ultra-swanky dining. And that’s not counting the 19 bars and lounges. It’s an almost overwhelming number of choices. Many world cuisines are represented, but given my short visit, I decided to focus on local foods and flavors.

open kitchen at Bimini Road restaurant at Atlantis

Colorful, casual Bimini Road is perhaps the best place to start. The bright murals on the walls almost distracted me from the open kitchen (above) and the displays of local fish and shellfish on ice, including snapper, lobster tail, and the Bahamian “national food,” conch. This spiral-shaped whelk is common to the Bahamas and the Caribbean. The meat is firm and chewy like calamari, though Bahamians consider it more flavorful. It’s also very versatile. Bimini Road serves several variations of conch favored by islanders. Conch salad, similar to ceviche, features minced raw conch with peppers, onion, and citrus juices. Cracked conch is deep-fried and served with a dipping sauce. Bimini Road also serves conch fritters, and for good measure, conch nachos.

But I settled on another island classic, conch chowder. The chowder was thick with pepper and tomato and was served with a wedge of johnny cake, the island’s signature baking-powder bread that was perfect for sopping up the last of the broth.

Johnny cake is ubiquitous and it’s always good. It made a delightfully simple accompaniment to chowder, especially at Atlantis, which is otherwise a temple of the unrestrained imagination. The johnny cake recipe below is courtesy of Nassau Paradise Island Promotion Board.

JOHNNY CAKE


Serves 9-12Conch chowder and johnny cake at Bimini Road at Atlantis

Ingredients

3 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup cold butter, cut into small cubes
2/3 cup milk

Directions

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Cut in butter using a pastry cutter or your hands, working the mixture until it resembles coarse meal. Add milk and combine until you have a soft dough consistency.

Knead on a floured surface until smooth. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes, then transfer into a greased 9×9-inch pan.

Bake at 350°F for 20-25 minutes, until the edges of the cake begin to turn a light golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack before serving.

14

02 2017

Tenderness and restraint are key to pizza love

Executive chef Rosario Del Nero at Medford branch of Bertucci's
We had always assumed that good pizza required a certain amount of drama. Showboat pizzaiolos sometimes toss the dough into the air, spinning it to stretch to size. In Naples, guys slap the dough around back and forth on the counter as if they were Jack Nicholson working over Faye Dunaway in Chinatown (“she’s my daughter, she’s my sister…”).

That’s no way to treat a lady.

Rosario Del Nero shapes pizza dough “No, no, no, no, no, no, no,” says Bertucci’s executive chef Rosario Del Nero, “Dough is a living thing. You must treat it gently.” He slips a bench knife under a half pound round of pizza dough and carefully transfers it from the covered proofing box to a bowl of flour. Turning the dough over to coat the surface, he moves it gently to a marble counter. He begins to prod the dough with his fingers, stretching the round into a flatter piece. “I’m transferring the heat of my body to the dough,” he explains.

“Once the dough is fermented and rested [see previous post], you can’t reshape it,” Del Nero explains. “It’s full of air. You don’t want to disturb the structure.”

With the heat of his hands, he pushes from the center out to the edges, turning the dough all the time. In seconds it stretches a little, then a little more. “It’s best when you use your body heat,” Del Nero says. “You can use a rolling pin, but the texture will be a little different.”

He scatters some semolina meal on a long-handled wooden paddle and lays the pliant dough on top. (Bertucci’s has three sizes of peels and three weights of dough to make the three sizes of pizza on the menu.) Then it’s time for the fun part: topping the pizza.

Getting dressed for the show


Bertucci’s has dozens of toppings, all neatly arrayed on the counter of the open kitchen. But Del Nero says, “When it comes to toppings, less is more. You don’t want to overwhelm your pizza.”

Rosario Del Nero slices pizzaHis personal favorite combines chunky tomato sauce, a sprinkle of pecorino Romano cheese (in part for its saltiness), freshly roasted thin slices of eggplant, and some small balls of fresh mozzarella crushed between finger and thumb. When it comes out of the beehive brick oven (about three minutes), he sprinkles it with a chiffonade of fresh basil and brushes the bare edge of the crust with olive oil. “The oil releases its aroma when it touches the warm bread,” he says. Bertucci’s uses an olive oil that volatilizes at 140°F—about the temperature of pizza crust as it comes from the oven.

Under Del Nero’s direction, we made a similarly restrained pizza with tomato sauce, artichoke hearts, crushed cloves of roasted garlic, and the same small balls of mozzarella. He guided us to wiggle the soft pizza off the paddle onto the oven floor, then to use a metal peel to retrieve it from the 600°F oven. The oven is so massive, he says, that it takes two days to get up to heat. At home, the best (though still not adequate) substitute is to use a pizza stone and make sure it is preheated a long time.

In the glass


Del Nero endorsed our artichoke and garlic pizza, bestowing the Bertucci’s black olive seal of approval. As we sat down to eat, he said that he prefers wine with pizza. “Beer is too yeasty,” he believes.

We tasted a few of the wines he was about to introduce with some new menu items. Both were from the Francis Ford Coppola Winery. The “Votre Santé” pinot noir is named for Coppola’s grandmother, who grew up in French Tunisia and always offered the classic toast when she raised a glass. The Diamond Collection “Claret” is a Bordeaux-style blend dominated by cabernet sauvignon and lightened by petite verdot. The fruitier pinot noir was spot-on with the eggplant, while the more austere claret cut through the unctuousness of the roasted garlic.

Given that both Coppola wines are widely available and reasonably priced, we may try the same combinations at home. They won’t be the same, of course, without the brick oven—or the passionate good company.

10

02 2017

Perfecting pizza, one ball of dough at a time

Melissa Surber delivers chicken marengo pizza at Bertucci's in Medford
Rosario Del Nero bites into a slice of pizza and savors it for a moment. “It’s not Neapolitan, it’s not Roman,” he says. “It’s rustic, provincial Italian pizza. It’s not as wet as Neapolitan, which is what most people have, or as thick as Roman.”

He is not even considering the toppings. Del Nero focuses on the dough that cooks up into the crust. It must be just so. “Flour, water, yeast—it’s simple,” he says. “But the secret ingredient is time. You cannot rush the yeast.”

He pulls out a piece of paper and a pencil and draws a graph. “X is quality,” he explains. “Y is time.” He draws a curve that peaks at about 40 hours. “Anywhere between 36 and 48 hours of slow rising in the cooler, the dough makes perfect pizza.”

Rosario del Nero enjoys a slice of Bertucci's pizzaA native of the Valtellina valley in Lombardy, Del Nero was the original chef of Bertucci’s when the chain began expanding beyond the original pizzeria with bocce court in Davis Square in Somerville, Massachusetts. After more than a decade away from the group, he returned to Bertucci’s last August as executive chef and culinary vice president. Ever since, he has been infusing the 85-restaurant group with his passion and his discipline to make a superb and consistent product. He invited us to the Medford, Massachusetts, location for a lesson in his philosophy and practice of pizza.

The wrong way


Del Nero certainly turned around our perceptions of pizza crust. Given that we use a home gas oven that works hard to reach 550°F, we thought we had experimented sufficiently to make a pretty good home crust. It used 210 grams of mixed white and whole wheat flour, a teaspoon of sugar, a quarter teaspoon of instant dry yeast, and 150 grams of ice water. We would whirl it up in a food processor and let it sit at least 10 minutes before adding three-quarters teaspoon of sea salt and a tablespoon of olive oil. We’d whirl it up again, then let it rise in an oiled quart container all day, pressing it down when it threatened to spill out.

Listening to Del Nero, we quickly learned that we were doing a few things right and a couple of critical things wrong. Using very little yeast was a plus, but oiling the dough was a no-no.

“You have plants at home? Trying oiling their leaves and see how fast they die,” he said. “Dough is the same way. It has to breathe.”

The right way


Rosario Del Nero inspects pizza dough at Bertucci's Our biggest mistake was rushing the dough. “It has to rise very slowly so it forms tiny air bubbles. The flavor won’t be as good if the dough is rushed,” he said. “You don’t want to punch it down. That’s fine for bread, but you want pizza to be soft and pliable. Punching it makes it tough.”

We felt as if we’d been beating our kids. At home the next Friday, we made dough and let it rise in the vegetable crisper drawer of our refrigerator until after lunch on Sunday. We left it covered on the counter—because “the dough hates air,” as Del Nero told us. It warmed to room temperature in time for us to shape it into pizza for dinner.

The resulting pizza was a revelation. The same recipe was easier to shape and cooked up with a crisp but not crunchy texture. It also tasted much better.

So we went back the next week for more instruction.

06

02 2017

Whitby’s Magpie Cafe famed for fish and chips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING


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

9 servings

Ingredients


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

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

Directions


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

Set oven to 375ºF.

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

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

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

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

27

01 2017