Archive for the ‘Restaurants’Category

John Long’s serves apotheosis of fish and chips

diner at John Long's Fish & Chips in Belfast
Owner John Copeland is fond of calling John Long’s Fish & Chips (39 Athol Street, 028 9032 1848, www.johnlongs.com) one of the “seven wonders of Belfast.” That puts his modest eatery right up there with Titanic Belfast (which relates the tale of the doomed ship built in the local shipyards) and the Crown Liquor Saloon (the 1820s bar known for its ornate decoration).

John Copeland at John Long's Fish & Chips in Belfast But Copeland is onto something. John Long’s is a Belfast institution. Founded in 1914 by its namesake to serve fish and chips to the workers in the city’s thriving linen mills, it’s the city’s longest established fish and chips shop. Located five blocks due west from City Hall, John Long’s is a little off the beaten path. But we knew we had arrived when we spotted the tall red brick building with a white potato delivery van parked out front.

Copeland became owner in 1996, after first being a customer. “I used to come here 40 years ago. I would order two fish, chips, baked beans, and two glasses of milk,” he told us. He was taking a break from preparing orders to stop and chat with diners seated at the rows of Formica booths. The seating was installed by the second owner when he moved the establishment a few yards down the street in the 1970s.

Upholding a tradition


Copeland takes his stewardship of John Long’s fish and chips legacy seriously. “The fish comes in fresh every day,” he said. “We use haddock from the Irish Sea all the time. It’s all caught about 40 miles up the coast.”

namesake meal at John Long's Fish & Chips in BelfastHe’s equally particular about the potatoes, preferring golden-skinned Maris Piper variety popular in England. “A lot of my spuds come out of England, where the soil is drier. Wet spuds don’t fry the same,” he explained.

Although the establishment serves a few other dishes—hamburgers, sausages, scalloped potatoes—the basic fish and chips are its raison d’être. The fish is flaky and rich, and the fried potatoes have a sweet earthiness than most fries lack. It’s Irish comfort food at its best.

Although the Roman Catholic Church no longer decrees fish on Fridays, old habits die hard. “Friday is still a big day in Belfast for fish and chips,” Copeland said. But he acknowledged that he always have room for more diners. “I would love to talk to the Pope to bring it back again.”

28

11 2016

Belfast’s OX treats Irish food with hugs and kisses

canape of butternut squash, onion galette, ricotta, and fennel pollen at OX in Belfast
We weren’t surprised to eat foie gras and truffles at OX in Belfast, which won its first Michelin star last spring after opening in March 2013. (It’s one of two starred restaurants in Belfast.) Restaurateurs believe that foie gras and truffles must appear on a menu before Michelin will award even one star. No doubt there are exceptions, but we haven’t encountered them. What was a delightful surprise was that such highfalutin ingredients were the exception rather than the rule at OX (1 Oxford Street, 28 9031 4121, oxbelfast.com).

interior of OX in BelfastThe truly defining moments in the spectacular autumn tasting menu were those dishes where humble, local ingredients sang. OX aims to serve brilliantly conceived, highly seasonal food. The price is low for fine dining (£50 for the tasting menu) and the dishes are easily understood. There’s no need to brush up on the precepts of Structuralism before making a reservation. Just bring a hearty appetite, an appreciative eye, and an open-minded palate.

Picture perfect


Chef Stephen Toman’s food looks as good as it tastes. The canapés shown at the top of this post were feats of legerdemain. The cracker is an onion galette. Mounted on it are a few dabs of fresh ricotta cheese freckled with fennel pollen. The “pastry” draped over the cheese is perfectly cooked, thinly sliced butternut squash. The whole plate is sprinkled with marigold petals. It is about as sunny looking and tasting a plate as you could find in gray November in Belfast—and it was all accomplished with local ingredients.

550px-ox03-beet-venison-kohlrabi Flowers are one of Toman’s tools to make the dark foods of winter look brighter. After a great celeriac soup (more on that later), Toman lit up a dark dish with pansy blossoms. Called “beetroot, wild venison, fermented kohlrabi, black garlic,” it combined several elements we rarely use at home and often avoid when we go out. We shouldn’t have worried. The beet was rich and sweet, the venison was butter-tender and savory, and the kohlrabi was a truly inspired pickle. It was the ideal foil to the unctuousness of the other ingredients. A glass of pinot noir from Germany’s Baden region (on the border with Alsace) had the austerity and spiciness to bring out the best in the food.

Nuanced wine list


The synergy between the owners—Belfast native Toman and Brittany-born Alain Kerloc’h—gives OX an international sensibility that places it directly between classical French dining and the New Nordic cuisine emanating from Copenhagen. Kerloc’h manages the restaurant and often serves as maitre d’ but his background is as a sommelier. A handful of wines on the list are there for big spenders, but most are food friendly choices from all over Europe, often without regard for prestige appellations. We tasted six with the dinner, and each was a surprise.

Chateaubriand and truffle at OX in BelfastFoie gras appeared in a supporting role in the most classic dish of the night—a slice of Chateaubriand served with foie gras, artichoke, and hop shoot. The dish seemed to be Toman’s nod to his lineage as a classically trained chef who worked extensively in Paris, including at the legendary Taillevent. The accompanying wine—a 2013 Faugères—was fruit-forward and uncomplicated. The inclusion of a small percentage of Syrah gave the Grenache-dominated red a spicy finish. The wine made the steak and liver course actually seem light!

Like Toman, we often exalt vegetables over proteins when we’re cooking at home. We thought we could best replicate his celeriac soup—minus the swirl of black trumpet mushrooms and generous shavings of truffle. (The inspiration is pictured below.) The recipe that follows is our adaptation of a French standard with the addition of diced apple at the bottom—a trick we learned at OX. It’s more rustic than Toman’s version, but it’s a cinch to make at home. If you feel it needs some extra oomph (lacking truffle), try stirring in some crumbled pieces of bacon.

celeriac soup at OX in Belfast

CELERIAC SOUP AND DICED APPLE


Ingredients
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 leeks, cleaned and thinly sliced
sea salt
4 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
3 pounds celery root, peeled and cut in 1/2-inch cubes
6 cups chicken or mild vegetable stock
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 large apple, peeled, cored, and cut in 1/4-inch dice
crumbled bacon (optional)
extra virgin olive oil to garnish

Directions
In large soup pot over medium heat, melt butter and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add sliced leeks and a pinch of salt. Stir and cook until leeks begin to soften. Add garlic and another pinch of salt. Cook slowly until leeks and garlic are soft but not brown. Add celery root, stock, and ground pepper. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook about 45 minutes until celery is very soft. Using an immersion blender, purée until creamy and smooth, adding extra stock if necessary.

To serve, cover bottom of each bowl with diced apple. Pour in celeriac soup, and add optional bacon. Garnish with a few drops of extra virgin olive oil.

24

11 2016

Belfast holidays close out Year of Food and Drink

Belfast City Hall at holidays

With no Thanksgiving to break up the autumn, folks in Northern Ireland start looking ahead to Christmas as soon as Halloween is over. That doesn’t mean that Belfast lacks for reasons to give thanks. With all its occasional rough spots, Northern Ireland has enjoyed nearly a generation of peace since the Good Friday Peace Accord of 1998. The Peace Wall (below) has become a huge tourist attraction.

At the Peace Wall in Belfast Belfast has blossomed as a cosmopolitan, sophisticated city proud of its Irish roots. Nowhere is the renaissance more obvious than on the gastronomic front. Ireland north and south spent 2016 celebrating the island’s great provender, amazing farmers, and legendary fishermen during the Year of Food and Drink.

fish supplier in BelfastBelfast’s chefs have broadly embraced that renewed local pride, and menus across the city proclaim the provenance of every meal’s raw materials. That focus on fresh and local has meant an auspicious year for Belfast’s food and drink scene, including stronger international recognition. Walk through the restaurant neighborhoods early in the morning, and you encounter vans delivering sides of dry-aged beef, huge sacks of newly dug potatoes, or some of the world’s prettiest salmon.

Great dining bargains

Bread and soup at Vin Cafe in Belfast When the Michelin stars were announced last spring, Belfast gained a second starred restaurant, Ox, to complement Michael Deane’s Eipic. Many of the city’s best chefs, Deane included, have complemented their fine dining with more casual spots where it’s possible to get a bargain lunch or pre-theater dinner. For example, the parsnip soup and wheaten bread lunch here was a weekday special at Deane’s Vin Cafe (44 Bedford St., 028 9024 8830, www.michaeldeane.co.uk/vin-cafe). It cost a measly £5. (The glass of rosé was £5.50, but it was worth it.) As visiting Americans, we enjoyed the additional advantage of a weak post-Brexit-vote pound—about $1.25 to £1.

As Belfast celebrates its local foods, many of the city’s best restaurants are also drawing up special holiday menus for the Christmas season. It’s a great time to eat in Northern Ireland’s capital city. In the upcoming posts, we’ll be outlining some places to go and tastes to enjoy. To explore a little online, be sure to see www.ireland.com.

19

11 2016

Bravura Navarra wine hits all the high notes

albondigas de bacalao at Taberna de Haro
Spain’s D.O. Navarra wine district nestles just east of La Rioja like two lovers spooning in bed. With much the same soils, the same Río Ebro influence, and a millennium-long winemaking tradition, Navarra has everything to make great wines. It even has some of the oldest plots of the Garnacha grape in northern Spain.

Eleven Navarra producers came through Boston last night showcasing one wine each at the terrific Spanish restaurant Taberna de Haro (999 South Beacon St., Brookline, 617-277-8272, tabernaboston.com). Chef Deborah Hansen’s crew passed tapas as we tasted. Among them were the stunning deconstructed version of her salt cod saffron meatballs, albóndigas de bacalao, shown above.

We tasted blends mostly dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. A few were jazzed up with Syrah, a newcomer to Navarra still accounting for less than 1 percent of vineyards. Without exception they were well-made wines suitable for drinking with roast meats, dishes full of ripe peppers or mushrooms, and other powerful flavors. Most were retailing at $20-$25.

Tempranillo standout


Beatriz Ochoa with Ochoa Reserva 2009 at Taberna de Haro To our taste, we were most impressed by the Bodegas Ochoa Reserva 2009. It was the only blend that placed the native Tempranillo grape at center stage. It picked up some blackberry notes from 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, and a velvety smoothness aided by 15% Merlot. Of all the wines we tasted, it was the most Spanish and reflective of the terroir.

This family-owned winery, which dates from 1845, was a pioneer in switching Navarra from mass production of inexpensive wines to lower-yield, high quality wines. Javier Ochoa, who just retired with the 2016 vintage, began the switch a generation ago. One of his daughters, Adriana, is the company winemaker now. She and her sister Beatriz Ochoa, who is general manager, represent the sixth generation of the family. That’s Beatriz in the photo above. See their whole line at the web site.

This particular wine spent 18 months in French and American oak and five years in bottle. It is remarkably harmonious, warm and welcoming, and ultimately powerful—a splendid example of fine winemaking where a French supporting cast lets Tempranillo star. It retails around $22.

What food would Beatriz choose if she was opening a bottle of Ochoa Reserva?

“Lamb chops,” she said without hesitation. “From the grill!”

17

11 2016

Top Toronto restaurants reflect city’s many faces

Note Bene in Toronto
During our brief stay in Toronto, we managed to dine at three of the city’s leading restaurants not run by Susur Lee. (For a look at his Luckee, see our earlier post.) The Top Chef Canada cooking competition (2011-2014) helped drive the dining culture here, placing an emphasis on restaurants that are personal expressions of the chef. So each of the three had the firm stamp of a strong personality in the kitchen.

Nota Bene


Crsipy duck salad at Nota Bene in Toronto Chef David Lee was a partner when he opened Nota Bene to great acclaim in 2008. After becoming full owner, he overhauled and redesigned the restaurant last February. More than ever, this is a classy yet casual fine dining room expressing the latest fascinations of a very talented, classically trained chef. Born in England and trained in France, Lee also draws on his Asian heritage for inspiration.

His crispy duck salad is a perfect East-West hybrid. In concept, it’s a lot like the duck confit salads ubiquitous in Parisian cafés. But Lee spins it as northern Cambodian by adding green papaya, fish sauce, and Asian chiles and herbs. Instead of bitter melon, he uses cool local cucumber. The dining room (shown above) has a little more decorum than many Toronto foodie haunts. In the face of many new upstarts with exciting and locally focused menus, Lee has shown real staying power. His command of multiple cuisines—from French to Chinese to Peruvian to Scandinavian—is his strong suit. It’s hard to pick a Toronto spot that can appeal better to diners with divergent tastes.
Nota Bene, 180 Queen Street West, 416-977-6400, notabenerestaurant.com

The Good Son


Chef Vittorio Colacitti competed on Top Chef Canada before opening The Good Son in spring 2015. An Italian-Canadian Toronto native, he eschews red sauce and pasta, but he is wed to his wood-burning oven and grill. Most dishes are kissed by fire, whether it’s roasted black cod or the pizzas that appear on almost every table. Decor is self-consciously shabby-chic with mismatched wooden tables and chairs augmented by button-tufted banquettes and booths. But the food is bold and most plates are meant to be shared. The chef’s stint at Thai & International Food Academy in Bangkok gives his food an Asian accent. He even makes a kimchee fried rice to accompany the unctuous bolgogi braised short ribs. Colacitti treats seasonal local products on the eclectic menu to a touch of smoke and bold seasonings.
The Good Son, 1096 Queen Street West, 416-551-0589, thegoodsontoronto.com

Richmond Station


charcuterie at Richmond Station in Toronto
Chef Carl Heinrich launched this Financial District farm-to-table gem in 2012, the same year he won season two of Top Chef Canada. Still an ingredient-focused restaurant, Richmond Station has a strong charcuterie component. Pickled vegetables appear across the menu, and the charcuterie plate (above) even includes a house-made head cheese. Our experience was atypical, of course, since we were sequestered in a small dining room with an extended wine tasting (see previous post).

Richmond Station duck pate in TorontoNonetheless, some of the menu classics were featured on the pairing menu concocted by chef de cuisine Hayden Johnston. There’s a hint of Jewish comfort food with this menu, including the delicious duck liver pâté on a toasted brioche. Johnston topped it with a small scoop of tart cherry mostarda and a sprinkle of Maldon finishing salt. Paired with an intense Charles Baker Riesling, it set up all the rich and deep flavors to follow.

The seasonal focus of Toronto restaurants meant that brassicas were big on most of the October menus. Richmond Station normally serves a cauliflower agnolotti with baby greens, pickled shiitake mushrooms, and fried sourdough. To accompany a Tawse Gamay Noir, Johnston adapted the dish to create the quintessence of Toronto fall cuisine. Shown below, the pasta was served with toothy cauliflower, brussels sprouts leaves, and juicy thin slices of dry-aged beef tenderloin.
Richmond Station, 1 Richmond Street West, 647-748-1444, richmondstation.ca

Richmond Station in Toronto - cauliflower agnolotti

11

11 2016

Local color lights up Toronto neighborhoods

Kensington Market street scene in Toronto
Toronto’s playful side is literally written on its walls. The city is full of murals created with a high degree of artistry and a witty sense of humor. The one above with the car-turned-planter in the foreground embodies the spirit of the Kensington Market neighborhood. Just west of Chinatown, most of its shops and eateries are found along Augusta Avenue and adjacent Nassau Street, Baldwin Street, and Kensington Avenue.

The eastern boundary stretches to Spadina Avenue in Chinatown, making a continuous colorful neighborhood of eateries and shops. Once the center of hippie culture in Canada, Kensington Market was where many young American men moved to avoid the military draft during the Vietnam war. The area retains its psychedelic patchouli vibe in the street art and even the graffiti.

burrito stand in Toronto Kensington Market The Kensington Market eateries also lean toward the inventive—be they Hungarian-Thai, Remixed Filipino, or Jamaican-Italian. The preponderance of small restaurants, however, have a Latin flair. NAFTA has opened the borders to Mexican immigrants, and they seem to arrive hungry for such Mexican street food standards as churros, tacos, and chorizo. The Latin presence makes Kensington Market a great area for a quick bite.

But one of the city’s best murals—and perhaps the best Mexican food—is at El Catrin Destilería (18 Tank House Lane, 416-203-2121, www.elcatrin.ca). We stopped for a meal after touring the Distillery District shopping, dining, and entertainment area with Will Ennis of Go Tours (www.gotourscanada.com).

Exploring whisky village


Main square of Distillery District in Toronto “This is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city,” Will told us. Gooderham & Worts was founded as a grain processor in 1831 and expanded into making whisky in 1837. About half of the roughly 80,000 imperial gallons produced each year was exported, by the way. The rest stayed in the city of 10,000 residents. The story goes that workers’ wages were actually based on levels of drunkenness that ranged from “morning drunk” (or hung over) to “drunk as a pig.”

The brick distillery as it now stands was built in 1859. By 1862, it was producing a quarter of the distilled spirits in all of Canada. By the end of the 19th century, it was among the largest distilleries in the world. Prohibition in Ontario (1916-1927) put a crimp in the business. (The firm adjusted by canning denatured alcohol and antifreeze during World War I.) Whisky production ceased in 1990 and developers transformed the red brick industrial buildings into a shopping and nightlife district. It is crazy popular among wedding photographers, who love the atmospherics.

One good pour deserves another


Pouring sake at Ontario Spring Water Sake Two small establishments in the development carry on the tradition of making alcoholic beverages. Ontario Spring Water Sake Company (51 Gristmill Lane, 416-365-7253, www.ontariosake.com) brews sake in the “pure rice” style. The brewers use only cooked milled rice, water, yeast, and koji. (Koji is rice inoculated with the aspergillus oryzae mold, which imparts a distinct flavor.) You can watch the process through a large window. Better yet, for $10 you can enjoy a tasting flight of three styles.

In addition, Mill Street Brewpub (21 Tank House Lane, 416-681-0338, millstreetbrewery.com) opened in 2002. It was Canada’s first brewer of certified organic beer. The storefront brews small batch seasonal beers on site. The flagship beer is a Pilsener with a nice bit of hops. If it’s available when you visit, try the West Coast Style IPA. Made with 50 percent malted wheat and a nice dose of Cascade hops, it gives a less bitter impression than most IPAs. The nose has strong, pleasing mango notes. Mill Street also makes beer schnapps, a liqueur triple-distilled from beer and redolent of malt and hops. Mill Street is the only maker in Canada and the schnapps is only sold on site. “It lights a bit of a fire in your stomach,” a server told us as he poured small tastes.

A taste of Mexico


Mural in El Catrin in Toronto Distillery District
After that snort, we were ready for El Catrin Destileria (18 Tank House Lane, 416-203-2121, elcatrin.ca). This cavernous space with 22-foot ceilings opened in 2013. The tequilas and the food are authentically Mexican. Street artist Oscar Flores painted the two-story mural that dominates one wall. (The other consists of cubbyholes filled with tequilas.) Flores went wild with bright colors, decorative skulls, coyotes, sunflower, eagles, and armadillos.

Chef Olivier Le Calvez hails from Mexico City. His father is French, his mother Mexican. He spent his teens living in France and did his culinary studies there. As a result, he prepares Mexican food—even street food—with French technique.

Cuisine in the sun


Making guacamole at El Catrin During warm weather, diners and drinkers flock to the tables in the 5,000 square-foot outdoor patio at El Catrin. With a bright October sun shining, we did the same. A server brought all the ingredients for guacamole to the table and mashed it in a mortar as we watched. Several tortilla chip scoops later, we moved on to an excellent tortilla soup. Le Calvez’s version is rich with ripe tomatoes and pureed to make it as thick as a gazpacho. The tacos al pastor were delicious—filled with smoky pork, tiny blocks of sweet pineapple, and chopped red onion.

Esquítes at El Catrin We especially enjoyed the shot glasses full of roasted corn. Called esquítes, they are a table adaptation of Mexican street corn. Le Calvez roasts the corn whole in the husks over charcoal. It steams the kernels and imparts a smoky flavor. Then he cuts the kernels off the cob and sautées them with a little butter and chopped epazote. He mixes in a little chipotle mayonnaise, some crumbled cortijo cheese, and a squeeze of lime.

distillery-chef Le Calvez sees himself as something of an ambassador, introducing authentic Mexican food to Canadians. He makes recipes “that I enjoyed when I was young,” he says. As with the esquítes, he often brings street food to the table. He hopes Torontonians will adopt the Mexican attitude about a meal. “We love to sit down at the table and enjoy the food,” says Le Calvez. “That’s very important to us in Mexico. A meal lasts up to two hours.”

27

10 2016

Toronto Chinatown awash with flavors

Exterior of King's Noodle in Toronto Chinatown
“Growing up in Chinatown,” said chef and culinary educator John Lee, “was a Duddy Kravitz kind of experience.” He was making a very Canadian reference to Mordecai Richler’s nostalgic novel of the Canadian Jewish immigrant experience. John was showing us around his childhood haunts in Toronto’s Old Chinatown. (It’s not to be confused with at least five other Chinatowns east of Toronto proper.)

Toronto Chinatown street scene The Toronto neighborhood radiating from the corner of Spadina Avenue and West Dundas Street was a Jewish immigrant neighborhood for the first half of the 20th century. As the Jewish population moved north after World War II, Chinese immigrants flooded into the area. Of Korean descent, Lee waxed nostalgic about his Chinese and Jewish friends as well as the old-time Jewish shopkeepers and deli owners.

Fruit stand in Toronto Chinatown Although new money from Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland has poured into Chinatown over the last few decades, the neighborhood retains that bustling edge of striving newcomers. Shoppers crowd the streets. Merchandise seems to spill out of stores packed to the rafters. Street merchants are always ready to haggle. It’s hard to tell whether the neighborhood has more fruit stands selling mangosteens and sweet sops, or more restaurants promising congee and crispy duck.

Taste of Chinatown


John Lee pours tea In such a restaurant-packed neighborhood, it’s useful to have a guide who is in the trade. John’s stories continued over a raft of dishes at the colorful, well-established King’s Noodle Restaurant (396 Spadina Ave., 416-598-1817, www.kingsnoodle.ca). We started with excellent shrimp dumplings—one of the ways to judge the quality of a Chinese kitchen. Side dishes of Chinese broccoli (kai lan) in oyster sauce and a Yeung Chow fried rice (made with barbecued pork bits) set up the main focus of our meal. John took the lead, ordering a barbecue plate with barbecued pork ribs, soya chicken, and crispy pork belly (below). As we left, John confessed that King’s Noodle is one of his reliable fall-backs for great barbecue. Duly noted—we’ll be back.

Barbecue plate at King's Noodle in Toronto Chinatown

24

10 2016

Little Italy simmers with many new tastes

Different food approaches in Little Italy in Toronto
There are certainly fancier coffee shops than Café Diplomatico (594 College St., 416-534-4637, cafediplomatico.ca), but few that so consistently screen European soccer matches on the TVs. Since 1968, it’s been one of the principal landmarks of Toronto’s Little Italy. Ironically, that’s just about the time that the neighborhood was beginning to lose its accent.

We met Kevin Dupree, owner of the Culinary Adventure Co. (647-955-8357, www.culinaryadventureco.com), in front of “The Dip” for a walk around the neighborhood along College Street between Euclid Avenue and Shaw Street. Dupree’s company offers a full menu of neighborhood sampling tours and a number of other gastronomic activities—including a summertime canoe trip to the Toronto islands with a master chef who prepares a picnic.

But this particular evening, we concentrated on Little Italy. He explained that Italian immigration to Toronto began around 1880 and slowed to a trickle after 1930. The residential part of the neighborhood remained Italian into the 1960s, and it’s still full of Italian bars, coffee shops, and restaurants.

P.G. Clucks in Little Italy in Toronto That preponderance of eating and drinking establishments made this stretch of College Street a nightlife destination, and other cuisines have moved in to create a dynamic multicultural mix. We ducked into a streetfront stall—P.G. Clucks—selling “Nashville-style” fried chicken sandwiches. (They’re fiery hot with spices.) And we spent a while at Hapa Izakaya (602 College St., 647-748-4272, hapaizakaya.com), a Toronto offshoot of the Vancouver-based chain of hip Japanese bar-restaurants. Dark and loud, our area was bathed in the blue glow of UV lamps—which made the white menus glow in the dark. The sake sampler was eye-opening, and the whole mackerel warmed up with blowtorch blast (see top image) was delicate and delicious.

entrance to Sotto Voce in Little Italy in Toronto But we really felt the soul of Little Italy in the spot across the street from the Dip. Sotto Voce Wine and Pasta Bar (595 College St., 416-536-4564, sottovoce.ca) has been around for about 20 years, and it’s still serving the recipes of the Sicilian grandmother of one of the owners. The wine list is strongest on southern Italian wines, and the pasta plates feature red sauce without shame. We enjoyed some superb Sicilian meatballs made with pine nuts and currants and a bowl of gnocchi with wild boar ragu. The “fanciest” dish of the night was Gamberoni a la Puttanesca—spaghetti with tiger shrimp in a tomato sauce redolent of anchovies, garlic, black olives, and capers. It’s actually a modern Neapolitan dish that’s taken hold on both sides of the Atlantic.

The recipe below is not from Sotto Voce. It’s our own adaptation of many different approaches to puttanesca, but it has the same kind of umami punch as the one we enjoyed in Toronto.

SHRIMP PUTTANESCA


Serves 4 Shrimp puttanesca at Sotto Voce in Toronto's Little Italy

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
pinch of salt
can of anchovies (2 ounces)
1 head of garlic, cloves separated, peeled, and minced
6 ounce can of tomato paste
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
26-ounce can or box of crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup capers (drained)
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, chopped
12 ounces spaghetti
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
8 ounces tiger shrimp tails with shells

In large pot, heat olive oil. Add chopped onions and pinch of salt. Cook at medium heat until onion begins to soften (about 5 minutes). Add anchovies and garlic, mashing up the anchovies with a spatula. Continue cooking about 3 minutes until garlic has softened. Add tomato paste, wine, and pepper flakes and stir well to mix. Add tomatoes, capers, and olives. Bring to a simmer. Cover and cook gently with occasional stirring for about a half hour. It will become thick and saucy.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil to cook spaghetti. When pasta goes into the water, add the lemon zest and juice to the slowly bubbling sauce. Add the shrimp and raise heat until the pot just barely bubbles.

When spaghetti is al dente (7-8 minutes), drain it, reserving some cooking liquid. Add drained spaghetti to shrimp puttanesca sauce and mix well. Add reserved cooking liquid as needed to thin.

Serve hot in bowls.

21

10 2016

Vegetable Butcher puts an edge on the harvest

Cara Mangini demonstrates techniques from her new book, The Vegetable Butcher
The vegetables that announce each season “give us little moments to celebrate,” says Cara Mangini, the author of The Vegetable Butcher, published earlier this year by Workman Publishing.

The Vegetable Butcher cover Mangini is proprietor of the “produce-inspired” restaurant Little Eater and its companion Little Eater Produce and Provisions in Columbus, Ohio. They are located in the historic North Market (59 Spruce St.; restaurant 614-670-4375, grocery 614-947-7483; littleeater.com) Mangini describes herself as on a mission to honor and support the work of farmers by “putting vegetables at the center of the plate.”

She certainly made a good case during a recent meal at Harvest Restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts (44 Brattle St.; 617-868-2255; harvestcambridge.com), where she collaborated with Harvest executive chef Tyler Kinnett. The meal featured recipes from her book and demonstrations of the thoughtful preparation—and cutting—that goes into making something more complex than steamed vegetables and tossed salad.

Smashed beets from The Vegetable Butcher We had already been enjoying some of the last of the tomatoes and corn of the summer growing season. Mangini and Kinnett gave those summer staples a fresh flavor with a course of heirloom tomato panzanella with walnut-basil pesto and stracciatella. A course of corn fritters topped with mixed bean ragout followed. Even as we were lamenting the end of summer, Mangini and Kinnett anticipated the earthy fall flavors to come with a beautiful plate of smashed and seared beets with chimichurri, goat cheese crema, and arugula (above).

Each dish was a revelation of how delicious and satisfying vegetables can be with just a little extra thought and care. The Vegetable Butcher is organized alphabetically by vegetable, making it a quick reference when you get home from the market or farm stand. Mangini was kind enough to share her recipe for Turkish Carrot Yogurt Dip. It was served as a starter at the Harvest dinner and everyone at our table loved it.

TURKISH CARROT YOGURT DIP


Turkish Yogurt Carrot Dip from The Vegetable Butcher Ingredients

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for finishing
3 medium to large carrots (10 to 12 ounces total), peeled, shredded on the large holes of a box grater
1/3 cup pine nuts (or 1/3 cup finely chopped walnuts)
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus extra as needed
2 cups low-fat or full-fat plain Greek yogurt
1 to 2 garlic cloves, finely grated on a Microplane, pressed, or crushed into a paste

Directions

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add a pinch of the carrots to the oil to test it: The oil is ready if the carrots sizzle. Add the remaining carrots and cook, stirring frequently, until they begin to soften, about 6 minutes.

Add the pine nuts and salt. Reduce the heat to medium and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the carrots are completely soft and browning and the pine nuts are golden, another 5 to 6 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until it is incorporated and fragrant, another 30 seconds to 1 minute. Let cool briefly to warm.

Place the yogurt in a medium-size bowl. Stir in the warm carrot mixture, and season with salt to taste.

Transfer the dip to a serving bowl, and drizzle the top with olive oil. The dip will keep, in an airtight container in the refrigerator, for up to 5 days.

Serve with triangles of pita bread or with pita chips seasoned with sea salt.

26

09 2016

Lincoln Inn emerges as Vermont’s gourmet destination

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

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

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

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

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

Refined Dining


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

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

Gazpacho served at the Lincoln Inn in Woodstock, Vermont

Chilled Gazpacho and Olive Tapenade Crostini


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

Lobster served at the Lincoln Inn in Woodstock, Vermont

Lobster and Mascarpone-Enriched Orzo


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

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

Sea Bass and Seared Scallops


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

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

Beet, Goat Cheese, Granita Salad


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

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

Filet Mignon, Ravioli, and Escargot/Oyster Fricasee


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

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

Lamb Chop and Smoked Lamb Breast


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

Chocolate delice served at the Lincoln Inn in Woodstock, Vermont

Chocolate and Fruit


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

Coffee, anyone?

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