Archive for the ‘Restaurants’Category

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.

Oklahoma onion burger an institution

Interior of Tucker's Onion Burgers in Oklahoma City
During the Dust Bowl years that made many Okies into migrants (see John Steinbeck), Oklahoma grill cooks began serving onion burgers. El Reno, about 30 miles west of Oklahoma City, claims to be the birthplace. According to legend, cook Ross Davis invented the onion burger at the Hamburger Inn on Rte. 66 in downtown El Reno. He piled half a shredded onion on top of a nickel meat patty and smashed them together with a spatula. Presto! The onions transformed the wafer-thin patty into a substantial meal. Three diners in El Reno—Sid’s Diner, Johnnies Grill, and Robert’s Grill—specialize in the dish. The town also holds a Burger Day Festival in May.

happy diner at Tucker's Onion Burger in Oklahoma City The dust storms are gone, but a taste for onion burgers remains. In fact, one of the hottest chains in Oklahoma City is Tucker’s Onion Burgers (tuckersonionburgers.com), with three outlets. Tucker’s brings diner food into the 21st century with its polished modern settings that evoke the mythical malt shop past of the “Happy Days” era. That’s a familiar meme—think of the Sonic or Johnny Rocket chains.

Tucker’s is big on corporate responsibility. The beef is “ethically produced by regional growers” and the potatoes are hand-cut every morning and fried in peanut oil. The company goes to great lengths to reduce water use and electricity and recycles everything. The best modern twist is that every order slip is a paper bag. When the order is ready, the cooks slip it into the bag to go. Although Tucker’s does offer a salad and a turkey burger, most customers choose between single or double burgers, with cheese or without. Drinks include homemade lemonade and canned local craft beer. The burgers are delicious enough to live up to the hype.

Thrill of the grill


Tucker Onion Burger in Oklahoma City In fact, they were so good that when we got home we decided to adapt the onion burger idea to the charcoal grill, since meat always tastes better with a little smoke. Smashing thin-cut raw onions into burger on a hot grate was a non-starter. So we tried something different. We sliced a Bermuda onion 1/8” thick with an adjustable chef’s mandoline. Then we sweated the sliced onion with a little bit of oil and salt in a cast iron skillet until the pieces were soft. We drained them on a paper towel. When the onions were cool, we folded them into 12 ounces of ground beef (85 percent lean) and made two patties.

The onion made the burger a little “loose,” so we cooked them well on one side before flipping. A slice of cheese melted on top for the last 30 seconds helped to hold the burgers together to lift them onto buns. On balance, the onion was more distributed through the meat, and therefore a little more subtle than in a traditional onion burger. Those Dustbowl Okie grill guys were clearly onto something.

15

09 2016

Cattlemen’s Steakhouse upholds Western ways

Stockyards City in Oklahoma City shows a Western air
Every time a server places a grilled steak before a hungry diner at Cattlemen’s Steakhouse, the refrain is the same. “I’ll have you cut right into that,” the server says, “and make sure that we cooked it right.”

It’s hardly a surprise that beef gets special treatment at Cattlemen’s. It’s Oklahoma City’s oldest continuously operated restaurant. Originally called Cattlemen’s Cafe, it opened in 1910 right in the midst of Stockyards City to serve the ranchers, cowboys, and cattle haulers involved in sending beef to the markets back East.

Located slightly west of downtown, today’s Stockyards District remains the home of one of the biggest livestock markets in the West. Shops specializing in jeans, boots, 10-gallon hats, and belts with big buckles line the streets. In this cowboy corner of town, Cattlemen’s is a legend. During Prohibition, owner Homer Paul served homemade alcoholic libations in defiance of the Revenue men. The restaurant even changed hands in a game of dice in 1945. Putting up his life savings against the establishment, rancher Gene Wade rolled double threes to win—hence the “33” brand displayed prominently on the walls. The Wade clan owned Cattlemen’s until 1990, when it changed hands in a more conventional manner—in a sale.

Still point in a changing world


Interior of cafe side of Cattlemen's STeakhouse in Oklahoma City Cattlemen’s has expanded and gussied things up over the years. At some point it started calling itself a steakhouse. But the cafe room on the north side has changed hardly a whit since the Wades won the place. Grab a stool at the counter or slide into a booth with red vinyl seats and you get a feel for what Oklahoma City was like when it was a dusty cattle town on the Plains instead of a big city with a downtown bristling with skyscrapers.

The menu at Cattlemen’s is surprisingly long. We say “surprisingly,” since only a rookie or a vegan would order anything but steak. Even the breakfast menu has an entire panel of steak options, each of which comes with two eggs, home fries, and toast.

Lunch steak at Cattlemen's Steakhouse in Oklahoma CityThe beef ranges from chewy club steak (the lunch steak as shown here) to big T-bone steaks to the daily prime special. Like most restaurants, Cattlemen’s serves USDA Choice meats, but every day it has at least one cut that’s USDA Prime, which represents the top 2 percent of beef. Degrees of doneness are spelled out on the menu, just so there are no misunderstandings. Choice or Prime, it’s full of flavor, and the accompanying baked Idaho is flaky and comes with a copious supply of butter. (Cholesterol is not a big concern at Cattlemen’s.) For lunch and dinner, Cattlemen’s also has a really great selection of reserve wines, including Tim Mondavi’s Continuum and Blackbird Arise.

Cattlemen’s Steakhouse (1309 S. Agnew Ave., Oklahoma City; 405-236-0416; cattlemensrestaurant.com) opens at 6 a.m. daily and closes at 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, midnight on Friday and Saturday.

12

09 2016

Lexus Gran Fondo speeds onto Cape Cod

Chatham Bars Inn chefs at Lexus Gran Fondo
“Think of it as a party on wheels,” said Chatham Bars Inn general manager John Speers. He was speaking over cocktails on the inn’s wrap-around front porch. “Our kind of gran fondo always incorporates food and wine.”

Cyclists finish 100-mile ride at Lexus Gran Fondo The Lexus Gran Fondo launched in high style on Memorial Day weekend. The cycling and gastronomic events all centered on the historic inn at the elbow of Cape Cod. The luxury car brand has long supported other cycling events. But Lexus pulled out all the stops for this first Gran Fondo under the company name.

A team of Lexus-affiliated professional riders led the 100-mile ride on Saturday from the XV Beacon (xvbeacon.com) hotel in Boston to the Chatham Bars Inn (chathambarsinn.com). Less ambitious riders could opt for 50-mile and 28-mile loops entirely on Cape Cod. Even the shorter rides worked up everyone’s appetite.

 Lexus Culinary Master Cassidee Dabney, executive chef of Blackberry Farm , serves her soup at Lexus Gran Fondo Those who elected to spend Friday night in Chatham rather than Boston enjoyed an outdoor buffet. Lexus Culinary Master Cassidee Dabney, executive chef of Blackberry Farm (www.blackberryfarm.com) in Walland, Tennessee, did a star turn with a turbocharged soup. She served a bowl of smoked chicken broth with a soft boiled egg, grits, and chicken skin cracklings and chopped peanuts on top.

Lobster roll at picnic spread for Lexus Gran Fondo But Cape Cod bounty drove most of the gastronomic events. Executive chef Anthony Cole of the Chatham Bars Inn laid out a seafood extravaganza. In addition to a raw bar of local oysters and littleneck clams, his staff served chopped razor clams in a citrus mignonette. A dab of caviar topped the de rigeur lobster rolls served on heavenly brioche rolls. The inn also served roasted beets with Bluebird, an organic blue cheese made on the nearby island of Martha’s Vineyard.

Cole’s kitchen also prepared a rock crab risotto with baby fava beans and walnuts. It was a gutsy choice, since risotto for the masses can be hit or miss. While we didn’t get the recipe for a 60-serving version, we’ve come up with this smaller recipe for home consumption. We missed the window for fresh baby fava beans, so we’ve substituted baby limas.

CRAB RISOTTO WITH WALNUT PISTOU AND BABY LIMAS

Serves 4 as a appetizer course

Pistou
3/4 cup Italian parsley leaves
Crab risotto with walnut pistou and baby lima beans 1/2 cup walnut pieces
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
zest of one lemon
juice of one lemon
1/4 cup olive oil

Process parsley and walnuts in small food processor until finely chopped. Add salt, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Purée. Add olive oil and purée until smooth. Reserve for later step in risotto.

Risotto
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1 cup arborio rice
1/4 cup white wine
2 cups seafood stock
3/4 cup crab meat
3/4 cup baby lima beans, steamed until just tender
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano (plus more for table)

In 2-3 quart pressure cooker, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add minced shallot and cook until translucent. Add rice and stir until well-coated with oil. Raise heat to high and add white wine. Stir to keep from burning until wine is absorbed. Add 1 1/4 cups of stock, stirring well. When pot begins to simmer, tighten lid and cook on medium pressure for exactly 8 minutes, turning down heat to keep pressure steady.

Remove from heat and run pot under cold water to decompress. Remove lid and place pot back on low heat. Stir in crab, precooked lima beans, and a little remaining stock. Cook for 1 minute and test rice for doneness. (It should be al dente in the middle but rather creamy.) Add more stock as needed. When rice is desired texture, stir in pistou and continue to heat. Add grated cheese and stir to incorporate. Serve in bowls and pass more grated cheese.

19

07 2016

Pioneering pairings of food and beer

cover of Food & Beer Chef Daniel Burns is on a mission to bring beer pairing into the fine dining conversation. Burns runs the kitchen of the Michelin-starred Luksus (www.luksusnyc.com). It shares a space in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, with the bar Tørst (Danish for “toast”) operated by Danish brewer Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø. (Jarnit-Bjergsø is also the brewer at cult favorite Evil Twin Brewing.)

Between them, they have put craft beer on a par with wine for fine dining. And they have collaborated on a fascinating new book called simply Food & Beer. Part manifesto, part cookbook, part a dialogue on gastronomic philosophy, it’s a perfect addition to the bookshelf of anyone who cares about the cutting edge in contemporary restaurant cuisine.

As part of the book’s launch, Burns did a star turn at Harvest restaurant (harvestcambridge.com) in Cambridge, where he and Harvest executive chef Tyler Kinnett adapted some of the recipes from Food & Beer to pair with craft beers. All the drinks were served in wine glasses. This kept the individual portions fairly small, while giving each beer more head room to express the complexity of aromas.

Burns believes that beer can be more flexible than wine for food pairings. “Wine is a pure expression of terroir,” he explains. “Beer is not. You can take ingredients from all over the world and add any flavors you want. So as a chef, beer gives me a vast spectrum of flavors to choose from when I’m pairing beer with food.”

The meal Burns and Kinnett served at Harvest was a demonstration. A couple of dishes also hint at how to go about the beer-pairing process at home (beyond serving Bud with chili).
.

Licorice gravlax and a blonde


licorice cured trout for beer dinner Gravlax is a style of curing raw fish or meat using salt and sugar. To demonstrate how a panoply of flavors can be enhanced with a beer, Burns and Kinnett served a plate of licorice-cured trout with pickled beet topped by dandelion greens.

Burns was René Redzepi’s sous chef at Noma in Copenhagen, and the experience shaped his palate to favor Nordic tastes. It doesn’t get much more Nordic than gravlax, beet root, and licorice. Yet the cure was light enough that the dish turned out to be surprisingly subtle. The trout was cured with sea salt, Demerara sugar (a coarse, raw sugar), and licorice powder. Slightly bitter dandelion greens and toasted rye crumbs provided crunchy contrast to the soft trout and beet. The beer pairing was Blackberry Farm Abbey Blonde, a light ale made with a Pilsner malt. The beer has a slightly sweet, earthy flavor profile and a rounded mouth feel. One sip brought out the Demerara sugar in the trout cure and the earthy toast of the rye crumbs for a completely altered taste experience.

When Burns is choosing a beer to pair with a dish, he explains, he looks for the secondary flavors of the food. “I might put four or five flavors together on a plate,” he explained. “I want the beer to highlight maybe the third or even fourth flavor.”

Sea bass with an IPA


sea bass with beer dinner Burns prepared a small portion of sea bass with a few pieces of grilled salsify and two purées on the plate—one of fennel, the other of the minty Asian vegetable shiso. The fish and the salsify (which tastes like mild artichoke heart) were both mild. Their flavors were almost secondary to the intensity of the two purées. But it was the beer pairing that accomplished that gastronomic bait and switch.

Burns and the Harvest team picked Evil Twin Citra Sunshine Slacker for the pairing. It’s a beer we’d usually serve with bar snacks instead of real food. It’s an acquired taste, we think, because the Citra hop is so astringent. Drinking it is a little like biting into a grapefruit. But with this dish, the low-alcohol IPA expresses its secondary herbal notes nicely. It assumes a lemon-y quality that provided some punch to the anise of the fennel and the grassy-minty quality of the shiso. Call it the battle of botanicals, but it works.

With a new craft brewery opening up a few blocks from our house next month, we think we’ll get our growlers filled and see what summer bounty might benefit from being served with a little malt and hops. It’s kind of like deciding the wine to drink before picking the menu.

15

07 2016

Ocean meets wine country in Pismo Beach

sunset and the pier at Pismo Beach
California beach country is often also wine country. On the Central Coast, wineries nestle in the foothills of the Santa Lucia mountain range only about five miles from the ocean. The San Luis Obispo wine country comprises about thirty wineries squeezed into the hills between Arroyo Grande in the south and San Luis Obispo in the north.

Pelican preens on Pismo Beach pier Over the hills in Pismo Beach, Lissa Hallberg of the Tastes of the Valleys wine tasting bar and bottle shop was eager to introduce me to their products. The coastal village just over the mountains from Arroyo Grande boasts a long strand of soft sand. The town resists modernization, preferring to embody the classic, low-key beach getaway. In the morning, fishermen cast for Spanish mackerel off the 1,200-foot pier where seagulls and pelicans also perch. A gentle surf usually accommodates boarders and everyone can find enough sand to spread out a blanket. Dog walkers and joggers follow the shore south to wander among the undulating dunes. Shorebirds touch down in little lagoons, taking turns flap-flap-flapping to shake out their wings once they land.

Waiting for the sun to go down


Lissa Hallberg of the Tastes of the Valleys purs a sample in Pismo Beach As befits a beach vacation, Pismo Beach boasts plenty of arcades, salt water taffy pullers, ice cream parlors, and retro souvenir shops. But when the sun sinks low in the sky, all eyes turn to the pier. Local custom dictates buying a bottle of wine, pouring some into a Solo cup, and strolling down to the pier before sunset. I selected a bottle of Laetitia Vineyard and Winery Estate Chardonnay. Hallberg grimaced a bit at the thought of the plastic party cup adulterating the honeyed, mineral-driven taste of the wine from the Arroyo Grande Valley. (The region resembles Champagne in its soils and growing conditions, and the best wines are simple and unoaked.) Hallberg needn’t have worried. Watching the sun set, the taste of terroir came through fine without a crystal glass. I could get used to the ritual.

Tastes of the Valleys is at 911 Price Street, Pismo Beach; 805-773-8466; www.pismowineshop.com.

09

07 2016

Scrigno del Duomo serves food fit for a treasury

exterior of Scrigno del Duomo in Trento
From the outside, it would be easy to think that the restaurant called Scrigno del Duomo is at least as venerable as Le Due Spade (previous post). The building dates from the 14th century and has some faded frescoes to prove it. It was built as the treasury for the cathedral across the plaza. The restaurant, however, is much more recent. It opened in 1999 and quickly became one of Trento’s favorite establishments. The strategic location on the main plaza helps, no doubt, but the kitchen stands on its own merits.

Many diners at Scrigno del Duomo opt to eat at the wine bar. The bar menu focuses on the local sausages and cheeses, as well as some small pasta dishes. The local wine list is exhaustive, but the restaurant also carries an extensive collection of fine French wines, especially Champagnes. Honestly, I’d rather drink a local sparkling wine than a Champagne with the cuisine, but Scrigno del Duomo clearly hosts many family and business celebrations.

Diners who elect a full dinner generally order from the a la carte menu. Count on spending between 35€ and 70€ per person, including two glasses of wine. Portions are modest but the flavors are sensational.

Dishes that surprise and delight


whimsical beef tartare at Scrigno del Duomo in Trento I started with one of the more inventive tartares I’ve ever encountered. When it appeared I thought the waiter had brought the wrong dish. It was smiling at me! The beef was patted into a neat block, faced on two sides by thin, lightly toasted bread. The assemblage sat on a small salad. Chef Mattia Piffer deconstructed the raw egg that customarily accompanies tartare. He dotted the dish with dabs of aioli (the egg white) and a carrot puree (with the egg yolk). When I realized that, I smiled too.

spaghetti with juniper berries and trout caviar at Scrigno del Duomo in Trento My pasta dish was also full of surprises. Simply described as “spaghetti,” it was a plate of well buttered, perfectly al dente egg noodles. They were tossed with chopped chives and trout caviar. Piffer had sauteed juniper berries in the butter before tossing the mixture with the pasta. The combination of the resinous juniper with the umami-laden caviar was truly inspired. I’m thinking that it should work equally well with smoked mackerel or fresh bluefish.

carrot cake at Scrigno del Duomo in Trento My dessert was the least unusual, but it made a nice conclusion for a light meal. Piffer served a slice of a simple olive-oil cake with a tangle of candied ribbons of carrot and a rich vanilla ice cream. It worked well with a glass of Rotari sparkling rosé.

The most prized tables at Scrigno del Duomo (Piazza Duomo 29, Trento; tel. +39 (0)461 220 030; www.scrignodelduomo.com) are outside, but the interior rooms have a lovely late medieval ambiance. Meals this good deserve to be in a treasury.

03

07 2016

Le Due Spade in Trento serves creative seasonal fare

Osteria a Le Due Spade in Trento
Batted back and forth between Italy and Austria over the centuries, Trento developed a cuisine informed by both traditions. Osteria a “Le Due Spade” (or “the two swords”) claims to have served pilgrims since the 14th century. An attendee at the Council of Trent wrote in his diary on December 11, 1545, that he ate at the sign of the two swords and found the landlord “merry company.” So the restaurant simply claims “dal 1545” on its sign.

The restaurant’s creative local cuisine flashes forward nearly five centuries. Chef Federico Parolari and his staff make everything on the premises, including pasta and bread. They also use highly seasonal ingredients. I ate at Le Due Spade on the third week of May when I attended the Mostra Vini del Trentino. The appetizer plate below demonstrated the dual culinary traditions and the kitchen’s commitment to seasonal local products.

appetizer at Le Due Spade in Trento

On the left stands a cheese puff—essentially a popover with cheese sauce and a trickle of basil oil. Four delicious slices of veal carpaccio make up the middle offering. A small drizzle of balsamic vinegar provides a sweet-and-sour complement that enlivens the flavor of the meat. Dairy farms dot the hillsides of Trentino that are not covered with vineyards. Free-range veal is plentiful, mild, and delicious.

The third appetizer was yet another variation on canderli, the bread dumplings of northern Italy. They are kissing cousins of Austrian knüdeln. Parolari gave this dumpling a delightful twist. Hop shoots—not the flowers that go into brewing, but the new spring shoots of the plant—were the primary component of the dumpling. They tasted slightly bitter, intensely green, and rather nut-like. Parolari wrapped each soft dumpling in shredded phyllo dough and baked them in the oven. One bite through the crisp crust reveals the oozing soft dumpling inside.

pork plate Portions at Le Due Spade are much more Italian than Austrian. Since the dishes boast bold flavors, a small amount suffices. My main dish of roast pork came as small pieces with explosive flavor accompanied by colorful, equally diminutive vegetables. The sweet carrot was balanced by even sweeter roasted onion. The braised radicchio supplied a touch of bitterness countered by the artichoke stem. The rich flavor of the pork itself supplied the salt and umami. The plate nodded to tradition but seemed utterly up to date/

Osteria a “Le Due Spade” (Via Don Arcangelo Rizzi, 11, Trento; tel. +39 (0)461 234-343; www.leduespade.com) offers two tasting menus and a full a la carte menu, along with local wines. Nearly 500 years of satisfied diners can’t be wrong.

01

07 2016

Chefs can win 10 weeks of free black truffles

shaving black truffles on pasta
Australian black truffle season has begun. Chefs who want to get a little inventive also have the chance to win an entire season’s supply next summer—a pound of premium black truffles per week during the roughly 10-week season.

I was dubious about the Aussie product until I went there, saw how they were grown, and spent a few weeks experimenting with them. We tend to think of truffles as a fall and winter product. They are. It’s just that fall and winter in Australia are flipped from fall and winter in the northern hemisphere. Thanks to speedy air shipment, it’s feasible to serve freshly shaved black truffles with sweet corn, tomatoes, and all those other great summer crops. Available June through August, they’re not just for steak or mushroom risotto anymore.

To read the article on black truffles that I wrote for the Robb Report, visit this link. If you’d like to see the recipes that Pat and I developed for black truffle tamales, corn ravioli, ultimate and decadent grilled cheese sandwiches, and more, please hit this link.

The black truffle sweet corn tamales were among the most inspired ways to make a truffle go a long way, but sometimes it’s just nice to shave one over buttered pasta (above).

Contest for chefs, pastry chefs, and bartenders


The Truffle and Wine Company is encouraging culinary creativity with Australian black truffles. They are running a contest for chefs, pastry chefs, and bartenders (black truffle Manhattan anyone?) to create new dishes. Contestants should make a truffle creation and photograph it with an Australian winter truffle in the picture. Post the image to social media with the hashtag #makeitrain. Before posting, you need to follow the Truffle and Wine Company at one or more of its social media accounts. They are https://www.facebook.com/truffleandwineusa,
https://instagram.com/trufflewinecous, and https://twitter.com/trufflewinecous.

All chefs, restaurants and bartenders are eligible to enter the social media competition. Chefs with the five highest scores based on social media hits will be visited by the company to try out the dish. The winner gets the ultimate prize of a season of free truffles. For more details, see the website of the Truffle and Wine Company at www.truffleandwineusa.com.

29

06 2016