Archive for the ‘Restaurants’Category

Savoring Sara Moulton’s spring pea soup

Sara  Moulton and Tyler Kinnett at Harvest
Ever the prodigal daughter, chef Sara Moulton returned to her roots at Harvest Restaurant in Cambridge, Mass., for the launch of her latest cookbook, Sara Moulton’s Home Cooking 101: How to Make Everything Taste Better.

Sara Moulton's Home Cooking 101 For readers who only know Moulton from her television work—a pioneer host for nearly 10 years on the Food Network and more recently the host of “Sara’s Weeknight Meals” on public television, the woman has serious chops. She worked for seven years as a restaurant chef, cooked with Julia Child in her home for dinner parties, spent four years testing and developing recipes for the late, lamented Gourmet magazine, and ran Gourmet‘s dining room for more than two decades.

But she started at Harvest in Cambridge—a brainchild of Modernist architect Ben Thompson and his equally avant garde wife Jane. Harvest opened in 1975, and some of the biggest names in Boston-area cooking worked in the kitchen, including Lydia Shire, Chris Schlesinger, Frank McClelland, Barbara Lynch, Jimmy Burke…. Above, that’s Sara Moulton with Harvest’s current executive chef Tyler Kinnett, who interpreted some recipes for Moulton’s new book at the launch luncheon.

Since the weather was still chilly, Kinnett did a tasty turn on Moulton’s “Pea Vichyssoise with Smoked Salmon” by serving it as a warm soup with a swirl of crème fraiche instead of garnishing with crumbled chevre. He also added crisp roasted diced potatoes instead of the crunchy wasabi peas that Moulton calls for to add zing to the cold version. Kinnett cold-smoked the salmon himself to keep the flavor very mild and delicate as a perfect counterpoint to the sweet peas.

Moulton was good enough to let us pass along the original recipe, though we suggest you buy the book so you’re not stuck with a one-course meal. Here’s the link on Amazon.

The photo below is Tyler Kinnett’s version as he served it at Harvest. The recipe is for Sara’s cold pea soup, which looks very similar. One caveat on technique: Don’t over-blend the soup or the potatoes will give it the texture of wallpaper paste.

PEA VICHYSSOISE WITH SMOKED SALMON

Serves 4 (7-8 cups)

Ingredients Sara Moulton pea soup at Harvest

2 cups medium chopped leeks, white parts only
1 cup medium-chopped peeled russet (baking) potatoes
1 cup medium-chopped peeled boiling potatoes
2 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 cups fresh or defrosted frozen peas
2 1/2 cups lowfat buttermilk
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
4 ounces smoked salmon, medium chopped
4 ounces fresh goat cheese (or feta), crumbled
1/2 cup wasabi peas

Directions

Combine the leeks, potatoes, and garlic in a medium saucepan. Add 2 cups of water and the stock, bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the potatoes are very tender, about 15 minutes. Add the green peas, bring the liquid back to a boil, and simmer until the peas are tender, about 2 minutes.

Fill a blender about one-third full with some of the soup mixture, add some of the buttermilk, and puree until smooth. Repeat the procedure until completely pureed, transferring each batch to a bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper and chill well.

Ladle the soup into four bowls. Top each portion with one-fourth of the salmon, goat cheese, and wasabi peas.

Reprinted with permission from
Sara Moulton’s Home Cooking 101: How to Make Everything Taste Better (Oxmoor House, 2016)

07

04 2016

Hawaiian food with a French twist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONFIT HAMACHI

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

4 servings

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

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

For garnish
4 tablespoons salmon roe

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

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

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

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

14

03 2016

Starting a day in paradise at the fish auction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FISH HAWAIIAN STYLE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

06

03 2016

Going loco for Koko Moco

Koko Head Cafe in Honolulu
New York-born chef Lee Anne Wong cooked in restaurants around the world before settling on Oahu and opening Koko Head Cafe in Honolulu’s Kaimuki neighborhood in 2014 (1145c 12th Ave, Honolulu; 808-732-8920, kokoheadcafe.com). She may have been a newcomer, but she had an unerring sense of what people would want to eat when they gather for brunch in this very Hawaiian take on a modern diner, right down to the varnished plywood counter and orange vinyl banquettes.

She also seems to belong to the school that holds that brunch really should hold you all day. Wong’s inventive dishes range from kimchi bacon cheddar scones to a hearty congee with bacon, ham, Portuguese sausage, cheddar cheese, scallions, and cinnamon-bacon croutons.

But I was most taken with her “Skillets,” which come to the table in small, piping-hot cast iron pans. The Chicky and Eggs, for example, highlights her easy way with Euro-Asian fusion dishes. It features Japanese-style fried chicken, French-style scrambled eggs, house-made pickles, and maple Tabasco sauce.

Wong’s version of the Hawaiian staple Loco Moco, demonstrates how quickly she absorbed local foodways and made them her own. Introduced on the Big Island in 1949, the extremely filling Loco Moco features a hamburger patty on white rice, topped with brown gravy and a fried egg. Wong calls her take on the comfort dish Koko Moco. She uses local grass-fed beef for the patty and high-quality sushi rice cooked in garlic oil until it develops a crunchy crust as the base. In addition to the gravy (in this case, a meatless mushroom version) and a local egg cooked sunny side up, Wong gives the whole dish a shot in the arm with garnishes of scallions, toasted sesame seeds, peppery togarashi (a Japanese spice mix with hot red pepper), and tempura-fried kimchi.

Koka Moka dish

KOKO MOCO

Serves 4

Beef Patties
1 1/2 lbs high quality grass-fed ground beef
1 tablespoon shoyu (Japanese soy sauce)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
salt

In a small bowl combine the shoyu, Worcestershire, and black pepper, mixing well. Pour over the ground beef and massage with your hands until well-mixed, being careful to not over work the meat. Form the beef into four 6-ounce patties, about 4″ in diameter and 1/2″ thick. Refrigerate covered until needed

Garlic Oil
12 large cloves peeled garlic, smashed/crushed
1 cup vegetable oil

Combine the oil and garlic cloves in a small pan or pot. Simmer on low heat until the garlic begins to turn golden and the oil is fragrant, about 20-30 minutes. Allow the oil to cool to room temperature. Remove the garlic cloves and save for another use.

Savory Mushroom Gravy
1 cup dried shiitake mushrooms soaked overnight in 4 cups water
6 tablespoons butter
1 cup finely minced yellow onions
1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
2/3 cup all purpose flour
3 tablespoons Maggi seasoning
3 tablespoons mushroom soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 cups cremini mushrooms, quartered, trimmed, stems reserved
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon dried sage or 3 tablespoons fresh sage, minced
oil for sautéing mushrooms

Remove the rehydrated shiitake mushrooms from the soaking liquid, squeezing out excess liquid. Reserve the mushroom water. Remove the stems from the rehydrated shiitakes, set aside. Slice the mushrooms into 1/4″ thick slices, set aside.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat and saute the onions for 5 minutes until they begin to soften, stirring often with a wooden spoon. Add the minced garlic and cook for one minute more. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and stir well until incorporated, it will become thick like a dough. Slowly add in the mushroom soaking liquid, stirring out any lumps (use a whisk) until all of the liquid has been added. Continue to whisk and cook over medium heat for 3 minutes. Add the Maggi, mushroom soy, sugar, and black pepper.

Combine the shiitake mushroom stems and the cremini mushroom trimmings and stems and add to the cup of cream. Add the minced sage, bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce to low heat and cook until the stems are tender, about 5 minutes. Puree the cream and mushroom mixture on high in a blender until it is a smooth puree. Add the puree to the mushroom gravy pot.

Bring the mushroom gravy to a boil, whisking until smooth. Check for seasoning and adjust as necessary. Puree the gravy in the blender on high in small batches (be careful to only fill the blender pitcher halfway and keep the lid held tightly on with a toweled hand). Return the finished gravy to a clean pot.

In a large sauté pan, heat up a few tablespoons of oil over high heat and add the quartered cremini mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper. Cook the mushrooms for 2-3 minutes, stirring often. Add the sliced shiitake mushrooms to the pan and cook, stir frying vigorously for another 3 minutes until all of the mushrooms are cooked and tender. Drain on paper towels then add the cooked mushrooms to the mushroom gravy. Keep warm or refrigerate until needed.

Assembling Koko Moco

4 six-inch cast iron skillets or a small 6-8″ nonstick pan.
4 six-ounce beef patties
garlic oil
4 cups steamed white rice
1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
4 large eggs
1 green onion, minced
salt
togarashi
toasted sesame seeds

Heat the skillets on high heat until they begin to lightly smoke. If using a small nonstick pan you will need to fry four batches of rice, or you can use a large nonstick pan and cut the rice in quarters once finished. Add a tablespoon of oil to the skillets and press one cup of rice into the bottom of each skillet. Reduce heat to medium-high and cook until lightly golden brown. Add a 1/4 teaspoon of fresh minced garlic on the top of the rice and gently stir in. Season the rice with salt.

Separately: Season the beef patties with salt and pepper. Grill or griddle the beef patties to desired temperature.

Fry the eggs individually sunny side up in a nonstick pan using garlic oil to fry; season with salt and pepper.

Warm the gravy in a small pot. To assemble, place the cooked burger patty on top of the seasoned garlic rice. Ladle a generous portion of gravy over the burger (1/2 to 1 cup). Top with a fried egg and garnish with sliced green onion, togarashi, salt and toasted sesame seeds. Serve immediately.

14

02 2016

Beets provide tasty twist on Hawaiian poke

Kaimuki in Honolulu, where Ed Kenney serves beet poke One of the great things about the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival is that the schedule allows plenty of free time to check out the rest of the local food scene. I was particularly curious about Kaimuki, a residential neighborhood north of Diamond Head and about two miles east of Waikiki Beach. Waialae Avenue and its side streets are full of a tantalizing mix of Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Thai restaurants that provide the Asian zing to Hawaii, as well as a great ice cream shop Via Gelato (1142 12th Avenue, 808-732-2800, www.viagelatohawaii.com) that makes such fabulous flavors as green tea chocolate chip, black sesame, lilikoi, and guava.

Two chefs have made the greatest impact in turning the neighborhood into a dining destination. Ed Kenney has three eateries within hailing distance of each other. He first opened Town (3425 Waialae Avenue, 808-735-5900; www.townkaimuki.com) about ten years ago with a focus on San Francisco-style Italian dishes made with highly local ingredients. As Town evolved, it became ever more Hawaiian, but its Italian roots have always shown. Last summer, he branched out with Mud Hen Water (3452 Waialae Avenue, 808-737-6000, www.mudhenwater.com). It took food inspirations from around the world and executed them with a Hawaiian sensibility, demonstrating conclusively that the New Hawaiian culinary revolution has a new generation up-ending the status quo.

In between, Kenney launched the wonderfully old-fashioned Kaimuki Superette (3458 Waialae Avenue, 808-734-7800, www.kaimukisuperette.com) which serves very 21st century sandwiches such as poached octopus with celery seed and tarragon aioli or slow-roasted pork with fennel aioli and arugula. The Superette’s grilled lemon lemonade can’t be beat on a hot day—and the Superette’s inventive salads, such as watermelon with chile-lime salt, cilantro, and jalapeño, are equally refreshing.

Beet poke at Kaimuki I was most taken with Kenney’s Beet Poke, a colorful dish that he first created for Mud Hen Water and is so popular that it’s also in the deli line-up at the Superette. As Kenney explained, it’s a variation on the iconic Hawaiian dish usually made with seafood. It also seems to sum up his approach to bringing a modern touch to traditional dishes and local ingredients. Thanks to the seaweed, sesame, and wasabi, the flavor profiles are surprisingly like traditional poke—but with sweet, gingery beets in place of fish.

Kenney’s Beet Poke has several steps and calls for a few ingredients not always readily available to mainlanders. But Kenney has suggested some simplifications and substitutions that still result in a delicious dish. For example, at the restaurants he roasts his beets “lawalu style” in the dying embers of a fire, but notes that most cooks will simply want to roast them in the oven. He also smokes the macadamia nuts, but again points out that even raw chopped nuts work fine.

Beet poke

ED KENNEY’S BEET POKE

This dish (shown above) is essentially a roast beet salad where the beets are tossed with pickled seaweed, thinly sliced sweet onion, and some toasted sesame oil. A mash of avocado with wasabi and lemon juice is served on the side as a counterpoint. The recipe is given here in steps. Be sure to read through for all the ingredients. It’s a good idea to roast the beets and pickle the seaweed the night before. Then it all goes together in a flash. I’ve given Kenney’s directions for smoking the nuts, but I made the dish without smoking and found it was fine.

Roasted Beets

4 tennis-ball-sized red beets (whole, tops cut off, unpeeled)
1-inch finger of ginger (smashed or coarsely shredded)
1 orange
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

beets roasting for beet poke Preheat oven to 350° F.

Place beets and ginger in an oven proof dish. Cut the orange in half and squeeze the juice over the beets. Add the halves to the dish. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cover with foil. Roast in the oven for one hour or until a knife can be inserted into the beets without much effort. Don’t overcook or they’ll be like the awful beets served in grade school cafeterias.

Allow beets to cool. Peel the beets and cut into random 1/2 to 1 inch chunks.


Pickled Seaweed:

3/4 cup limu (fresh seaweed) or rehydrated hijiki or wakame (available at Asian grocery stores or most branches of Whole Foods)
1 tablespoon sea salt
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar

Rinse the seaweed well, then toss the seaweed with salt, place in a colander, and allow to sit and drain for one hour. Meanwhile, bring the remaining ingredients to a boil to make the brine. Allow the brine to cool for 5 minutes, then pour over the seaweed and place in the refrigerator. Seaweed will be ready to use in 2-3 hours and will keep for up to a week.


Mashed Wasabi Avocado:

1 teaspoon wasabi powder
1 teaspoon warm water
1 ripe avocado
1/4 teaspoon lemon juice
salt and pepper

Combine the wasabi powder with warm water and mix well until a thin paste is formed. Allow the wasabi to sit and bloom, covered, for ten minutes.

Mash the avocado in a bowl with a fork, add the wasabi paste, and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper and mix well. Refrigerate.

Smoked Macadamia Nuts

1 cup macadamia nuts
wood chips

Place the nuts to one side of a deep pan. Place the wood chips in a small cast iron (or fire proof) bowl that will fit in the other side of the deep pan. Ignite the wood chips with a torch until they begin to smoke. Place the smoking wood chips in the deep pan with the nuts and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Allow the nuts to smoke for 30 minutes.

Repeat the process one more time with fresh chips for a total of one hour of smoking time. Chop the nuts roughly and reserve.

To Assemble:

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1/2 cup sweet onion (shaved thin)
1/4 cup green onion tops (sliced thin)
1 striped or golden beet (raw, shaved thin) placed in iced water to crisp.

Place the beets in a bowl with the seaweed, 2 tablespoons of chopped macadamia nuts, sweet onion, and sesame oil. Toss with salt and pepper to taste.

Place a dollop of the avocado mixture on a plate and spoon the beet poke next to it. Garnish the poke with three wheels of shaved raw beet and sliced green onion tops.

04

02 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.

Real meat and potatoes in Córdoba

steak at El Churrasco in Cordoba Because La Mezquita—the 10th century mosque partially inhabited by a 16th century cathedral—is the biggest attraction in Córdoba, many travelers think they should be eating a North African diet long on eggplant and fried fish. But Córdoba is also in the heart of one of Spain’s chief beef-raising regions, and the venerable Restaurante El Churrasco (Calle Romero 16, Córdoba; tel: 957-290-819; elchurrasco.es) serves some utterly delicious steaks grilled over oak charcoal. We made an overnight stop in the ancient city so we could visit the mosque in the pre-tourist silent hour before the morning Mass (trust us—it’s much more spiritual without the tour groups), and we enjoyed a typically extended Spanish Sunday afternoon feast at El Churrasco.

smoked sardine at El Churrasco Before we got down to business with the steak, we enjoyed a sampling of several tapas in lieu of appetizers. That included some fried eggplant with classic Córdoban salmorejo (a gazpacho variant thickened with pureed bread to the texture of a dip) and the restaurant’s pride and joy, a prize-winning smoked sardine with guacamole and tomato compote on a piece of toast. The photo at right shows the morsel. Those sprouts? They’re sprouted poppy seeds, which gives the umami-laden bite a nice snap of spice.

Poor Man's Potatoes at El Churrasco One thing you might notice about Córdoban cuisine is that it sometimes seems that every dish is garnished with a little chopped ham and hard-boiled egg. That included a nice seasonal batch of shell beans sauteed in olive oil (Cordoba also produces some of Spain’s best olive oil). El Churrasco also served an interesting but different take on a Spain-wide standard, patatas a lo pobre, or Poor Man’s Potatoes. The traditional version calls for sautéeing thin slices of potato in olive oil with some minced garlic, salt, and minced parsley. As shown here, El Churrasco used small cubes of parboiled potatoes and sautéed them with bits of serrano ham until lightly browned. At the last second, the kitchen stirred in an egg and soft-scrambled it with the spuds. The approach was simple but the results were delicious.

And then came the steak (and a bottle of Rioja).

08

11 2015

Coles keeps faith by reinventing the classics

Bourbon ball cake at Coles in Lexington Lexingtonians have been heading to the brick building at the corner of East Main Street and South Ashland to dine for decades. The spot opened in 1938 as The Stirrup Cup, adding the iconic murals of English hunt scenes—complete with a blessing of the hounds—in 1949. A succession of restaurants have occupied the space, but none more felicitously than current occupant, Coles 735 Main (735 East Main St., Lexington; 859-266-9000; coles735main.com).

More than six decades after they were painted, those murals still lend a sense of occasion to the pretty dining room. And, as you might expect, executive chef Cole Arimes concocts a sophisticated mix of local and global tastes just right for a big night out. He might add truffle-infused lobster cream to a bowl of shrimp and grits (made, of course, with grits from Weisenberger Mill) or coat Scottish salmon with a bourbon-maple glaze and slowly smoke it to perfection.

Bourbon also features in the dessert that’s perfect for a candle in the middle and a round of “Happy Birthday.” In a witty play on the local popular bourbon ball candies, Arimes elevates the now-familiar flourless chocolate torte with bourbon-soaked pecans and then serves each slice with Woodford Reserve gelato and housemade caramel. Here is his recipe for the torte—as he reeled it off the top of his head. (We tested and tweaked it a little.)

BOURBON BALL FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE TORTE


Makes one 9-inch torte

Ingredients

1 cup bourbon
2 cups pecans, coarsely chopped
12 oz. semisweet chocolate
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 lb. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
6 eggs

Directions

Pour bourbon over pecans and let soak at least 1 hour. Place in a small saucepan, and cook off bourbon from pecans until dry. Transfer to mixing bowl.

Chop chocolate in 10-cup or larger food processor.

In a second saucepan, combine sugar and water and bring to a boil over medium heat. Once boiling, count to 90 and then drizzle into chocolate as food processor is running. Add butter, small portions at a time, until fully incorporated. Add all 6 eggs at once. Once incorporated, scrape sides and run for another 20 seconds.

Combine chocolate mixture with pecans in mixing bowl. Scrape into a 9-inch buttered springform baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes, rotating every 15 minutes or so. (Cake should spring back when touched in the center and not stick to a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the middle.)

Let cake cool to room temperature before releasing from pan. Then chill before serving.

13

09 2015

Dudley’s on Short is long on bonhomie

Dudley's on Short in Lexington, downstairs
Located in the Gothic Revival National Bank Building of 1889, Dudley’s on Short (259 W Short St., Lexington; 859-252-1010; dudleysrestaurant.com) just might be the crossroads of Lexington, Kentucky. The last time we had dinner there, mayor Jim Gray—resplendent in a seersucker suit—stopped by the table to greet some of our local tablemates. And after dinner, we were nearly waylaid from our next whiskey bar by garden designer Jon Carloftis and his partner Dale Fisher, two of the city’s legendary bon vivants and owners of the historic estate Botherum profiled in Garden and Gun.

Dudley's fried chicken sticks The menu is calculated to encourage conviviality. The list of dishes “for the table” is nearly as long as the entrées and some of the “snacks and bites” (house fries with green goddess and smoky aioli, for example) as well as some of the “short plates” (steamed mussels) can also be shared while everyone enjoys a cocktail or two. Who’s in a rush? The rest of the menu includes big plates of meat and fish as well as au courant dishes such as kale and parmesan salad or crispy cauliflower with cracked pink peppercorns and chèvre.

Dudley’s moved to its current location five years ago and has been a hit ever since. The ground level bar is the liveliest scene, but the most coveted seats are on the second level outdoor deck, which is a perfect blend of al fresco dining and restaurant buzz. The peekaboo plantings that alternately hide and reveal other tables were cleverly designed by Jon Carloftis Fine Gardens.

Of all the dishes to share, we were especially taken with the Black-eyed Pea Hummus, which is a little exotic yet very much of Kentucky. Dudley’s serves it with garlic flat bread (somewhere between pizza crust and focaccia) and grilled vegetables. We found that a squeeze of lemon on top really brought out the mellow garlic and nutty peanut flavors. Owner Debbie Long was kind enough to share the recipe.

DUDLEY’S BLACK-EYED PEA HUMMUS


2 cups cooked black-eyed peas
2 cups cooked garbanzo beans
1/4 cup torn basil leaves
5 cloves of roasted garlic
3 chives, chopped
1/3 cup smooth peanut butter or sesame tahini
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 cup grassy extra virgin olive oil

Combine all ingredients except oil in a food processor and purée. With motor running, add oil in a steady drizzle until incorporated. Continue processing to desired texture. (We like it a little lumpy.)

05

09 2015

At Smithtown Seafood, ‘local’ is measured in feet

Dried whole tilapia at Smithtown Seafood in Lexington, KY
Chef Ouita Michel, who calls Holly Hill Inn (www.hollyhillinn.com) in Midway, Kentucky, her home base, is completely on board with the vision of FoodChain (see previous post). She’s so on board that she opened the little takeout seafood restaurant inside the Bread Box called Smithtown Seafood (smithtownseafood.com) and installed the immensely talented Jonathan Sanning as her chef de cuisine. (That’s Jonathan below holding the fried fish.)

Jonathan Fanning, chef de cuisiine at Smithtown Seafood in Lexington, KY Ouita (as everyone in Lexington seems to call her because everyone in Lexington who cares about food knows her) studied at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, and took as her primary lesson the observation that the best French and Italian chefs create meals out of what they find around them. She’s inculcated that same respect for local products in Sanning, who is Kentucky trained but has the chops to cook anywhere and at any level. For the moment, he’s getting a kick out of working hard at Smithtown, and Lexingtonians are lucky that he does.

Smithtown Seafood is easily the chief customer for the tilapia being raised on the other side of the wall at FoodChain, and is also a big user of FoodChain’s herbs and lettuces. You order at the counter, and when your food is ready, you walk about 20 feet to the taproom of West Sixth Brewing, where, if you’re smart, you order a Lemongrass American Wheat to go with the fish dishes or an amber with the meat.

The fish excite us the most. Smithtown offers three variations of tilapia baskets using the FoodChain fish. The one shown above is Tilapia Singapore, a fried whole fish with sweet and spicy pickled vegetables and FoodChain microgreens. Another version pairs the fish with a tomatillo-serrano salsa verde and corn tortillas. And finally, there’s a basket of fried pieces battered in Weisenberger cornmeal, served with fries and hushpuppies (of course).

Smithtown Seafood fish tacos in crispy rice paper Sanning’s own palate skews Mexican, Southeast Asian, and West African—and he’s not afraid to mix them up. The Rockin’ Rice Paper Catfish Taco pictured here is a smart twist on the Baja fish taco with pieces of fried wild-caught saltwater catfish and Thai-style pickled vegetables and microgreens on puffy pieces of fried rice paper. The rice crisps are far better than a taco shell for holding everything together in your hand.

Another good way to enjoy Sanning’s signature acid-spice style is by ordering a side of one of his salads. The Nebbe Black-Eyed Pea Salad could be a vegetarian meal all by itself. Here’s the recipe:

NEBBE BLACK-EYED PEA SALAD


This adaptation of a spicy Senegalese bean salad is typical of Jonathan Sanning’s propensity for using an ingredient that’s traditional in Southern cuisine as the base for something light, bright, and completely contemporary.

Makes about 16 cups

Ingredients
1 lb. dry black-eyed peas
1/2 cup lime juice
1 cup minced parsley
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 habañero pepper, seeded and finely minced
1 cup light salad oil (olive, sunflower, canola, blended….)
10 green onions, thinly sliced (both white and green parts)
2 roasted red bell peppers, peeled and diced small
1 English cucumber, peeled and diced small
2 cups cherry tomatoes (quartered) or grape tomatoes (halved)

Directions
Cover black-eyed peas with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook until tender (about 1 hour, less if pre-soaked). Leave the peas in the water and salt heavily—a real brine. Let sit for 2-3 minutes, then drain.

Combine lime juice, parsley, salt, pepper, and habañero in a food processor. Add oil and blend until smooth.

Combine black-eyed peas, green onions, red bell peppers, cucumber, and cherry tomatoes. Toss with lime and herb mixture. Taste and adjust salt and pepper, if necessary.