Archive for the ‘Restaurants’Category

Natalie’s celebrates lobster on its home waters

Shelby Stevens and Chris Long, co-chefs of Natalie's at the Camden Harbour Inn
Natalie’s co-chef Shelby Stevens is a Mainer, but she’s not from lobster country. She grew up in Farmington, an inland town where mountain timber meets upcountry lakes. But perched on the hillside over picturesque Camden harbor, Natalie’s occupies a prominent spot on the Times Square of Lobster Land. Roughly half of the state’s annual lobster catch—130 million pounds in 2016—is landed at Penobscot Bay ports. Stevens and her husband, co-chef Chris Long (pictured above in their official portrait), naturally developed an extensive repertoire of lobster fine-dining dishes to wow the guests at the tony Camden Harbour Inn (camdenharbourinn.com). When the crustacean is in season, Natalie’s offers a five-course tasting menu of four lobster dishes and a dessert as one of its menu options.

When we visited the Danforth Inn in Portland for the Natalie’s popup in March, David ordered the lobster tasting. It’s easy to go gaga for lobster, as it’s a luxury ingredient. But many years ago, David was a Maine lobsterman and, as it will, familiarity bred contempt. We figured that any chefs who could overcome David’s blasé attitude about lobster were doing something right.

Stevens and Long won a convert. They have put a lot of thought into their lobster dishes. Many are classics of European fine dining given a modern presentation. Others are true originals in the spirit of the classics.

Drawing from the nearby sea and woods


As they enter their fifth season at the Camden Harbour Inn, Stevens and Long have set down culinary roots. Their menus speak with a local accent because many of the ingredients are either caught or foraged in the immediate environment.

“Our next-door neighbor is a lobsterman,” Stevens says. He also brings them a lot of his bycatch—mostly sweet Atlantic rock crab, aka “peeky-toe crab”—that they cook at home. “He’s really proud of his shellfish,” Stevens notes. Maine lobster is in season, even now, thanks to the Monhegan Island lobstermen. Finding ingredients to complement the crustaceans is more challenging, but the Natalie’s chefs were up to it.

lobster beet salad at Natalie's at the Camden Harbour Inn

Lobster and golden beet salad


Clever presentation made the first salvo in the lobster tasting menu a genuine surprise attack. The elegant salad was served with the crisp half round of bread (on the left) laid over it like a lobster shell . Smile one. Alternating wedges of red and golden beets and pieces of lobster claw created another visual joke. Smile two. Liberal use of Urfa pepper elevated the usually earthy beetroot into something more complex. Urfa is a moderately hot Turkish pepper with overtones of chocolate and a touch of smoke. It also produces a slightly rasping, puckery mouth feel like the tannins in red wine. That helps open up the otherwise unctuous quality of the fatty lobster claws and sweet beets. Smile three. Pairing beets and lobster isn’t common, but U.K. and Scandinavian chefs do it on occasion—usually in a heavier presentation. Kudos to Stevens and Long for keeping it light.

deconstructed lobster chowder from Natalie's at the Camden Harbor Inn

Deconstructed lobster chowder


There’s something inherently funny about chowder. Maybe it’s the look of the word, or the way we say it—as if we were already chewing the dish. Philosophically, deconstructed chowder is the ghost of that joke—an ironic rendering of what is typically the most straightforward food in the lexicon of New England eating. The biggest complaint about lobster chowder in most restaurants is that there’s too much chowder and not enough lobster.

As befits a deconstructed version, Natalie’s turns that upside down with a heap of claw and knuckle meat atop the fine dice of onion, celery, and (we think) parsnip. The decorative squid rings on top are a nice nod to the other seafood that usually finds its way into chowder. The actual “chowder” was more a velouté based on shellfish stock and thickened with butter and cream. If there had not been more courses coming, we might have asked for more chowder.

poached lobster bisque at Natalie's at the Camden Harbour Inn

Poached lobster bisque


Any restaurant that serves a lot of composed lobster dishes has mounds of lobster carcasses and bits and pieces of shell left over from the prep process. The classic French response to all this chitinous material kicking around is to throw it in a stew pot with a mirepoix of onions, celery, and carrots. Simmer for hours, and strain, strain, strain to get a gorgeous lobster stock. Add heavy cream, sherry, and some cooked lobster, and Voila! You have lobster bisque. This version is a little more complex, and we suspect Madeira pinch-hit for sherry. (Several other dishes used Madeira as well.) It was also laced with spicy Urfa chile pepper. The ultra-rich bisque with a side of shredded lobster, some greens, and paper-thin slices of pickled Jerusalem artichoke made a nice interlude.

Lobster with fennel and seaweed at Natalie's at the Camden Harbor Inn

Butter-poached and grilled lobster


After three dishes with claw and knuckle meat, it was time for the tail. The meat was simultaneously buttery and smoky, so we’re guessing it might have been first grilled, then removed from the shell and poached in butter. Judging by their recipes, Stevens and Long sometimes cook lobster in pieces. It’s a logistical nightmare in the kitchen but allows them to cook the tails less than the claws or body. That keeps the proteins in these long-fiber muscles from overcooking. In other words, they stay tender.

Lobster heated in butter is always good, but to make it into a fine-dining dish, the chefs pulled out all the stops. It was paired with finely shaved raw fennel, placed on a cooked fennel purée, topped with a piece of salty-cracker crisped seaweed, and arranged in peekaboo fashion beneath a cloud of seaweed foam. All that made for a great visual presentation. Better yet, the elements came together nicely in the mouth.

One final note: We enjoyed some terrific wine pairings by the new sommelier at the Danforth Inn, Ryan Eberlein. Working with a wine cellar built for Southeast Asian and Indonesian cuisine, he plucked some amazing, often obscure wines that complemented dishes perfectly. Perhaps observing the chefs’ fondness for Madeira, he paired the final lobster dish with a Verdelho—the principle grape of Madeira. It happens to make amazingly complex, zesty white table wine when grown in Australia. The Mollydooker 2016 Violinist had a crisp lemon and lime palate followed by the flavors of ripe pineapple and lychee. It couldn’t have been better if it had been grown for the dish.

08

04 2017

Popping into Portland’s Danforth for Natalie’s popup

Danforth Inn exterior in Portland, Maine
With nine handsome rooms in an 1823 Federal mansion, Portland’s Danforth Inn (danforthinn.com) is a nifty hideaway in Maine’s biggest city. That’s what hoteliers Raymond Brunyanszki and Oscar Verest, owners of the Camden Harbour Inn (camdenharbourinn.com), had in mind when they purchased the Danforth in 2014. Their extensive upgrades included creating Tempo Dulu (tempodulu.restaurant), a fine-dining restaurant focused on Southeast Asian, Indonesian, and Malaysian cuisines. Chef Michael McDonnell recently got a few days off from riffing on rijsttafel. At the end of March, Tempo Dulu hosted a popup of Natalie’s (nataliesrestaurant.com), the Camden Harbour Inn’s gastronomic showcase. It was a homecoming of sorts. Natalie’s co-chefs Shelby Stevens and Chris Long were married at the Danforth last year. (That’s a picture of the dining room below.)

Stevens and Long serve a thoroughly modern New England cuisine. Their dishes are very seasonal and rely heavily on local ingredients. Both chefs trained at the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont. Stevens also worked under Daniel Boulud at Restaurant Daniel in New York. And Long was a kitchen leader under perfectionist Charlie Trotter at his eponymous Chicago restaurant. A stretch in San Francisco (“nothing beats the San Francisco farmer’s markets,” says Stevens) rounded out their fine dining influences. Both joined Natalie’s in 2013. In their first season, Long’s inventive treatment of the state’s signature crustacean won him the Maine Lobster Chef of the Year title. (We’ll post that recipe in a few days.)

Since we’re usually to be found eating at Waterman’s Beach Lobster when we’re anywhere near Camden, we thought we’d take advantage of the late March popup to sample Midcoast Maine’s fine dining leader. In summer, the chefs draw extensively from the Camden Harbour Inn’s kitchen garden. They also rely heavily on local foragers, and we wondered they would do in mud season.

Dining room in Danforth Inn, in Portland, Maine

What’s local in Maine right now?


Maine overflows with corn, blueberries, tomatoes, and heaps of lobster in the summer. In late March, not so much. Part of the fun of eating the Natalie’s dishes was seeing how the chefs used the current provender and found ways to incorporate preserved provisions. To that end, one of us ate the tasting menu described below. We’ll talk about the lobster tasting menu in the next post.

Razor clams as hors d'oeuvres from Natalie'sBut we shared a plate of hors d’oevres that included two revelatory mini-dishes. Dark, lumpen roasted Jerusalem artichokes initially seemed unpromising, a kind of seasonal vegetable consolation prize. But they were stuffed with sweet foie gras that played perfectly against the earthiness of the tubers. The delicate razor clams were an even bigger surprise. Once relegated to the category of “bait” by most denizens of the Penobscot Bay, the Atlantic jackknife clam (to keep from confusing it with the Pacific razor clam) has been making a culinary comeback in recent years. It is milder and more tender than a quahog. Finely sliced and drenched with yuzu juice, it made a ceviche that was a great palate opener for both tasting menus.

fried Maine oyster from Natalie'si

Fried Maine oyster with osetra caviar


The seven course tasting menu started off with a real bite of Maine. The chefs served a plump local oyster (Damariscotta, we’re guessing) with all its flavor sealed inside a crisp crust. Little black pearls of osetra caviar tumbled off the top from beneath fronds of microgreens. The rich mouthful swam in a pool of buttery oyster velouté almost rich enough to be a bisque.

Two more plates followed—truffle-scented panna cottas on a purée of caramelized onion and a rather traditional French flounder-wrapped crab with grapefruit and lobster bisque.

frilled maitake from Natalie's

Grilled maitake evokes taste of the woods


Serving a trio of “entrée” dishes was a nice touch in a tasting menu. The triplet began with the flounder-crab dish and ended with a perfectly grilled piece of farm-raised ribeye steak with a black garlic demiglace.

The surprise came in between. “Maitake,” as Japanese mushroom farmers call it, has become all the rage in fine-dining restaurants. Mainers know it as “hen of the woods,” so-called because it looks like a chicken with all its feathers fluffed up. The clumping mushroom grows on decaying main roots of hardwoods like oak, maple, beech, and birch. It’s widely distributed in northern New England and clumps can reach up to 30 pounds. Its “leaves” have no gills (it spreads its white spores through tiny pores), so they are very meaty and perfect for grilling.

The grilled mushroom perched atop a mushroom risotto. It was drizzled with a Madeira emulsion. Shavings of P’tit Basque ewe’s milk cheese played up the earthiness of the hen of the woods—one of the rare mushrooms that keeps very well in the freezer for cooking all winter.

The table was too dark to capture an image, but the Natalie’s cheese course was another unexpected surprise. Rather than just another plate of cheese, it consisted of an open-faced caramelized onion tart oozing with melted Vermont raclette cheese. It was described as a tarte tatin, but the crust was more bread than pastry and apples were nowhere to be seen. It was closer to an Alsatian flammeküche. By whatever name, it was a great way to present a cheese course.

orange blossom panna cotta from Natalie's

Something sweet (and complex)


The tasting menu dessert was big and complex, incorporating roasted butternut squash and chocolate ice creams along with candied pecans. After six other courses and assorted intermezzos, we wished we could have saved the big finish for another night. The perfect ending for a large meal was the dish presented as a pre-dessert (pictured above). The small jiggle of orange blossom panna cotta, pictured above, was flecked with ground black pepper and topped with a tart dot of lemon curd. It sat on a rhubarb sauce with small bits of citrusy Buddha’s hand fruit and itty-bitty but peppery nasturtium leaves on top.

And it tasted every bit as good as it looks.

05

04 2017

Oceania’s ‘Marina’ features fine dining five ways

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

Jacques aboard Oceania Marina

Dinner with a French accent at Jacques

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

Photographing the lobster at Toscana on Oceania Marina

Mangiare come un italiano at Toscana

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

Polo Grill on Oceania Marina

Polo Grill celebrates American steakhouse

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

Beet appetizer at Polo Grill on Oceania Marina

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

Red Ginger dining room on Oceania Marina

Red Ginger conjures flavors of East Asia

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

Red Ginger plates on Oceania Marina

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

Lobster pad Thai at Red Ginger on Oceania Marina

LOBSTER PAD THAI


Serves 2

Ingredients

For sauce

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

For pad Thai

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

Directions

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

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

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

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

24

03 2017

Jumping ship for a taste of the port

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

Arboretum looks to future of Roatán food


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

Lettuce at Blue Harbor Tropical Arboretum's hydroponic farm

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

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

Chef Samuel on Oceania shore excursion in Honduras

Going big on shrimp for cooking


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

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

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

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

Coconut shrim in Honduras on Oceania shore excursion

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

CHEF KELLY’S COCONUT SHRIMP


Serves 2

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

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

21

03 2017

Cruising with an appetite on Oceania Marina

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

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

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

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

Great taste cooked to order

bread basket at Toscano aboard Oceania Marina

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

Dining room at Jacques aboard Oceania Marina

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

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

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14

03 2017

Graycliff anchors the ages in Nassau

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

cigar roller at Graycliff in Nassau, Bahamas

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

wine cellar at Graycliff in Nassau, Bahamas

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

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

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

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

conch chowder as served at Graycliff in Nassau, Bahamas

GRAYCLIFF BAHAMIAN CONCH CHOWDER


Makes 2 quarts

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

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

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

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

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

PEPPERED SHERRY

Makes 3 1/4 cups

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

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

27

02 2017

77° West establishes New World flavors at Atlantis

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

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

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

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

INDIVIDUAL DULCE DE LECHE CHEESECAKES


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

Ingredients

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

Directions

Set oven to 325°F.

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

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

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

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

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

20

02 2017

Café Martinique at Atlantis dresses up humble conch

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

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

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

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

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

CRACKED CONCH À LA MARTINIQUE


4 appetizer servings cracked conch plate at Café Martinique at Atlantis

Ingredients

For conch

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

For chili citrus mayo

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

For pickled vegetables

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

For kaffir powder

1 kaffir lime leaf

For lime vinaigrette

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

For plating

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

Directions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

17

02 2017

Living the Atlantis fantasy on Paradise Island, Bahamas

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

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

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

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

open kitchen at Bimini Road restaurant at Atlantis

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

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

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

JOHNNY CAKE


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

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

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

14

02 2017

Tenderness and restraint are key to pizza love

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

That’s no way to treat a lady.

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

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

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

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

Getting dressed for the show


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

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

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

In the glass


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

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

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

10

02 2017