Category: Restaurants

Nantucket restaurants: big changes in 2017

Nantucket restaurants: big changes in 2017

Every year brings changes in the Nantucket restaurant scene: chefs leave or move to new restaurants, business are sold and reopened, and the intense competition for continuing excellence continues. Realistically, the main tourist season is little more than two months long, and they have just a little time to get established, get their kitchen routine going, build a reputation and attract customers. This is going to be the big challenge this year as two “bigfoot” restaurants have changed hands.

Company of the Cauldron

cauldronChef Joseph Keller who worked with his brother Thomas at the French Laundry and at Per Se has purchased The Company of  the Cauldron from long-time owners All and Andrea Kovalencik. Keller also was the chef at the Woodbox on Nantucket some 18 years ago and developed a beloved popover recipe which is now featured at TCotC. Keller was able to keep much the same staff and promises to maintain the same style of a single prix fixe meal. Right now, their website is under construction, but you can see their weekly menu summarized on their Facebook page.

Keller has maintained the single menu per night for a fixed price that had been the policy of the previous owners  (their kitchen is probably smaller than yours), but that fixed price has gone up significantly. Lobster Monday is now $115, Tuesday Surf and Turn $98. Every Wednesday is now his ever-popular fried chicken $83, Thursday Grilled Hangar Steak $89, Friday Pan Roasted Swordfish $92, and Saturday Grilled Tri tip $98. Every dinner comes with a salad course, popovers and a dessert course. You can make a reservation by Email or telephone, but you have to give a credit card number to confirm, and they require a deposit of $25 for 5 or under, and $100 for 6 or more.

We look forward to trying them out when we arrive.

However to illustrate this year’s price inflation, last year’s menu featured 4 course meals for $75 with Lobster Mondays being $98, rather than 3 courses, (plus a popover).

The Club Car

Club carThe Club Car, right on the way to Straight Wharf has been a popular dining destination since Joe Pantorno and Chef Michael Shannon opened it in 1977. It was a white tablecloth restaurant with tuxedoed waiters and well-regarded food and service. After Shannon retired, sous-chef Tom Proch took over, continuing treasured dishes like Shannon’s Shrimp Scampi and Beef Wellington, but in recent years, especially after Proch retired, the restaurant’s service had become tired and the food repetitive, but much less impressive, while maintaining their high prices, where a number of entrees were over $40.

So it is with some excitement that we learned that Pantorno sold the Club Car to a new team: head chef Mayumi Hattori (formerly the chef at Straight Wharf) Ty Costa, director of operations, and general manager Tanya McDonough. In addition, the interior had been completely redesigned by Tharon Anderson with a lighter and brighter and less formal look (and apparently no white tablecloths).

Club car interior
New interior design- courtesy The Club Car

Hattori, who is of Japanese and Spanish descent, wanted to include some of her home cooking and has overhauled the menu, doing away with the formal dining experience, and replaced it with 6 tapas ($5-$10), 4 toasts ($8-$15), 12 small vegetable plates ($14-$19), 7 Land and Sea plates ($19-$31) and for people who want a traditional main course, there is limited availability of 3 larger plates: roast chicken $39, lamb shank ($40) and whole lubina for a jaw dropping $50. Lubina is just a word for sea bass. So any question that the Club Car is less expensive is easily dispelled.

In an interview in the Inky, Hattori indicated that she wanted to focus on small plates where vegetables are the star. She is also featuring 4 “toasts,” sweet pea, mushroom, beets and jamon Iberico. They do not plan to offer bread. Since the intention of the small plates approach is to get the table to order a number of dishes, this could run up quite a bill, although the food is most likely to be delicious, based on Hattori’s work at Straight Wharf. And of course, by not serving free bread, she hopes to sell more appetizers and toasts.

The pricey Club Car was always the home of the silver-haired yachting set often in formal nautical garb, and switching their menu to small plates with a vegetarian emphasis is intended to attract a younger crowd. This may or may not work, considering the prices, but these are experienced restaurant people and they can make changes quickly if this doesn’t pan out.

The Charlie Noble

That restaurant at 15 South Water Street that keeps opening and closing, once the beloved Atlantic Café, then the Seadog Brewpub and then Nix’s (which closed suddenly last August), is reopening as The Charlie Noble. It’s run by Fred Bisaillon and Denise Corson, who also run the B-ACK Yard BBQ. The name “Charlie Noble” is nautical slang for the smokestack over the ship’s galley. The owners intend this to be a family restaurant much like the Atlantic Café, and open year round.

Their menu includes similar dishes to the previous occupants, with appetizers including crab cakes, shrimp cocktail, crab cocktail, lobster quesadilla, wings, and crab cakes, and, of course clam chowder. The main courses feature seafood such as lobster and seafood stew ($32), fish and chips ($24), blackened salmon ($23), and golden shrimp plate ($28). They also offer prime beef short rib ($33), Mushroom Kale Bolognese ($24), and a12 oz NY Strip ($36).

They also offer a bucket of 8 pieces of Fried Chicken for $46, (maybe you can share with the next table) and a Seafood Tower for $65, for a hungry table, with crab legs, fried clams, shrimp, cod and fried clams along with corn. No word on what smaller families can pry out of them. Of course even if a couple ordered this chicken and ate only half, this would  only be a quarter of the cost of two orders of fried chicken at Company of the Cauldron. And you could take the rest home!

 

fat chad
The Fat Chad

And of course, their sandwich menu includes Lobster Roll, Big Pig ($18) American Burger ($15), Codfish sandwich ($16), Surf and Turf Burger, and the “Fat Chad,” with triple patties, bacon, cheddar and pulled pork for $22, and a Deep Fried Chicken Sandwich for ($17).

Oh, and they have 5 yummy sounding desserts. Looks like a great, relaxing place for dinner with your family and friends!

Greydon House Restaurant

greydonhouse
Greydon House – courtesy N Magazine

Greydon House (17 Broad St) had a long, slow opening, with hotel rooms available late last summer, but the restaurant, helmed by Michelin starred chef Marcus Ware didn’t open until late in the fall. While people have praised the elegance and décor of the hotel and its $750-$1100 rooms, the menu itself is about all we know about what is probably a really fine restaurant. Ware was the executive chef at Charlie Palmer’s restaurant in Chicago, and more recently at the Michelin starred Aureole restaurant in New York.

The menu features appetizers from $14 to $26 and oysters for $3.50 each. Some of these appetizers include Spring Salad, Grilled Asparagus, Potato Gnocchi, Crispy Calamari and Fusilli with Veal Bolgnese. The entrees range from $29 (chicken) to Halibut ($44), and also include Scallops ($42), Monkfish ($36), Pork Chop ($42) and Black Angus Steak ($36). In other words, at first glance, quite a conventional but somewhat expensive menu. We will be interested in seeing how Ware carries this out.

Afterhouse Raw and Wine Bar

Afterhouse-Raw-and-Wine-Bar-Nantucket
Afterhouse- courtesy Fisher Real Estate

Afterhouse is the project of Galley chef Scott Osif, with David Sylvia and Kevin Anderson, all of whom worked together at the Galley. Located at 18 Broad St, it takes over the space occupied by the Meursault Wine Bar, and in keeping with its informality, it has no web presence. The restaurant features crab salad, oysters, fish eggs, tinned fishes and a leg of Bellota ham, they serve on toast. Along with their beers and wines, this makes up an interesting seafood restaurant in a space without a stove. They are open from 2:30 pm to 12:30 am, so line cooks coming off shift. According to an interview in the Inky, the afterhouse is a room on a whale ship next to the galley, where a sailor could relax and get out of the elements. We expect a number of people will want to relax here.

Sandbar at the Jetties

Sandbar at the Jetties now has an extensive menu for lunch and dinner. The menu includes burgers and dogs, a raw bar, salads, chicken, steak and lobster. They also have an extensive drinks menu. Just the thing for beach refreshment.

Keepers

Keepers-Restaurant-Nantucket
Keepers- courtesy Fisher Real Estate

Keepers is a new mid-island family restaurant at 5 Amelia Drive, and run by Sabrina Dawson and Gaven Norton. The menu prices are very reasonable, and include appetizers like Shrimp Skewers, Seared Salmon Tacos and Crispy Arancini. Entrees include Meatloaf, Pork Tenderloin, Chicken under a Brick and Flat Iron Steak, and four salad items.

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Aranci 67 in Wilton

Aranci 67 in Wilton

After several years in Georgetown, the owners of Aranci 67 moved to Wilton, occupying the 142 Old Ridgefield Rd space briefly held by Cielo and before that by the popular Luca. The owners, Julia and Antonio Perillo, have moved the ambiance and warm service, but the menu is according to my old notes somewhat different than in Georgetown although Antonio is still the chef. If anything, the current menu is better.

We checked out Aranci 67 last summer, soon after it opened, but waited for it to shake down before reviewing it. The restaurant is a solid, quality Italian restaurant with imaginative and well-prepared food. The restaurant has about 12 tables and still features a triptych of a Sorrento orange grove. “Aranci 67” is the actual address of the family’s home in Sorrento, in the “laces” section of the Italian boot.

tables

We visited solo on a Tuesday night and were warmly welcomed and seated right away. The bread was warm and butter was available.

crab cakeFor our appetizer, we ordered the crab cake (Polpetto di Granchi, $12), served with their aurora sauce. The excellent cake was mildly spicy from flecks of red peppers, and was served with a small salad with oil and vinegar dressing.

Our entrée was a really outstanding boneless trout (Trota al Limone e Capperi, $24) which was both tender and flavorful, served with a lemon and caper sauce. We were really impressed by how delicate this was, although it was substantial.

trout

Finally, for dessert, we had a flourless chocolate torte, made with almond flour, which was fine, and almost more than we could eat after the two main courses.almond cake

Aranci 67 is open for lunch Monday through Friday from 12-3 and for dinner Monday through Saturday from 5 to 10 pm, and closed Sundays. We are glad to welcome them to Wilton.

The Pastry Hideaway opens in Wilton

The Pastry Hideaway opens in Wilton

Pastry chef Pamela Graham has been working for months to bring her vision of fresh baked pastries to Wilton, and now after more renovation than she had expected, The Pastry Hideaway is in full swing, offering the kind of delicious baked goods Wilton has long been without.

The Pastry Hideaway opened a week ago and is now stocked with the sort of rolls and muffins you’ve been longing for. The store really is a sort of a “hideaway,” at 126 Old Ridgefield Rd in Wilton Center in the lower level of that building. Turn at the sign and park behind. You then are a few steps from a great bakery!

We stopped in for breakfast rolls this morning and found that she and her staff had already put out monkey bread (with and without caramel coating), croissants (plain and filled), muffins, cookies and Danish pastries.

croissants

While the caramel monkey bread was excellent her blueberry muffins were outstanding: fresh, crumbly and flavorful. And really sizeable, too.

The Pastry Hideaway is open Tuesday through Sunday 7:30 am to 3pm, serving breakfast fare and lunches. Be sure to drop in!

Harbor Lights Restaurant in Norwalk

Harbor Lights Restaurant in Norwalk

facadeWe had dinner at Harbor Lights in Norwalk last Saturday and found it to be uniformly excellent. Despite the unprepossessing façade, this is a very fine restaurant that gets everything right: the food, the service, and the atmosphere are all top notch. While primarily a seafood restaurant, they do have steaks and lamb on the menu as well.

Located on the waterfront, Harbor Lights provides a view of the harbor and, in good weather, outdoor seating as well.

harbor

CrabcakeWe both started our dinner with a substantial Crab Cake, served with tartar sauce and a small Greek salad very similar to the what we had at Orlando seafood. The crab was plentiful and bits of chopped red pepper added just the right amount of spiciness.

One of our entrees, shown above, was called French Sea Bass, served with strips of carrots, asparagus, potatoes, olives, mushrooms and tomatoes. Not only was it delicious and substantial, it was a fascinating presentation.

shrimp

The other delicious entrée was Shrimp Mykonos, served on rice with feta cheese, peppers, and red onions. Again, imaginatively prepared and delicious.

Finally, one of our desserts was Profiteroles: three scoops of vanilla ice cream in a puff pastry with chocolate fudge and whipped cream.

Our other dessert was the traditional Crème Brulee, with a warm crunchy top and a creamy filling. Like the crab cake, this traditional dish was elevated by its thoughtful preparation.

Everything about Harbor Lights shows how much the staff cares about your experience. As an example, we noticed that a woman at the next table spilled her water glass. They were there in seconds to dry the table, mop up the floor and provide a new glass of water. Simply excellent attention to detail: you will enjoy this restaurant again and again.

Even the salt and pepper mills match, and smaller tables get smaller versions, with larger versions on the longer tables.

salt

Cactus Rose in Wilton, revisited

Cactus Rose in Wilton, revisited

Cactus Rose has been in Wilton since 2011, although their building has suffered through two plumbing related floods that closed them in 2015 and again in 2016. They were able to retain their staff during this most recent shut-down and we went back to see how they’ve evolved.  In 2011, they started with a fairly elaborate menu, but when we revisited in 2013, their menu has been simplified, along with their service.

However, when we visited Saturday evening (always a challenging night for restaurants) the service was excellent. We had two servers, one who provided water and drink orders, and one who took the food order. Other staff delivered the food, but all of them were pleasant and hard working and genuinely interested in whether you were happy with your food. We arrived about 6:15, and by 7 pm, the restaurant was lively and very busy. But the service did not flag.

Our table was set with two square plates that might have been for some sort of appetizer. However, they weren’t for bread, as none was provided or on the menu. They eventually cleared them when our appetizers arrived.

There are now about 10 dinner entrees, priced from $19 to $29, some of them with a Southwestern theme such as fish tacos, black skillet fajitas, lobster enchiladas, and tequila chicken, as well as salmon, blackened tilapia, paella, baby back ribs, steak frites, littleneck clams and grilled vegetables on a mushroom risotto.

The appetizers included their “most interesting clams,” steamed in Dos Equis, and as we recall, it is very good. They also offer a number of appetizers ($7-$17) including taco and nachos, seared shrimp, lobster quesadilla, seared wild shrimp, and a number of salads ($7-$15).

In addition, they offered a separate menu card of “specials,” including carrot and ginger soup and grilled calamari appetizers, and Seared Prime Filet Mignon ($35), Wild Chilean Sea Bass ($35), Seared Lamb Chops ($30) and Organic Half Chicken ($23).

It is interesting to note that the specials were for the most part more expensive than the main menu items, except for the chicken which apparently had a number of takers. We generally don’t order chicken out because we have it so much at home, and try to avoid any dish labeled “organic,” which is just an excuse to raise the price on dishes that are otherwise identical to conventional ones.

beetsFor our appetizers, we chose the beet salad with candied walnuts, goat cheese,
arugula, cilantro, balsamic glaze ($9). They were happy to omit the cilantro in our portion. While the salad was good, there were more beets there than anyone needed, and we didn’t finish it.

quesadillaOur other appetizer was the Lobster Quesadilla ($17) which was four filled tortilla halves with goat cheese and lobster. There was also a side of some related cheese and some chopped tomatoes (pico de gallo). While there was indeed lobster in every quesadilla, the cheese dominated, and the result was a very filling appetizer that we didn’t finish.

We decided to splurge and order the Sea Bass shown at the top of the article, ($35) served with sautéed spinach and everybody’s favorite trendy vegetable, quinoa, along with a brown sage butter sauce. The fish was a huge tall piece, moist and with a bit of browned skin, but it was essentially unadorned and not all the flavorful.  And the mixture of spinach and quinoa into a sort of risotto was decidedly weird. It didn’t work very well.

Our other entrée were the Lobster Enchiladas ($29) which was really quite spicy, overpowering the lobster flavor. Incidentally, the presentation and amount of spicy sauce has changed substantially since our 2013 visit. This version had bell peppers, onions, jack cheese and chipotle cream sauce. Again, this was too filling to finish.

Their dessert menu was recited, and included crème brulee, churros, cookies, and a few other things, but none tempted us after this filling meal.

cotton-candyThey do still provide a little complimentary puff of cotton candy in a mason jar to finish the meal, and this will undoubtedly impress young diners.

Overall, the staff was uniformly friendly and the service very good. But the food could have been better, we think, and in this sort of menu, less is more. Our bill with 3 glasses of wine and tax, but before tip was $140.

facade

Le Penguin in Westport

Le Penguin in Westport

doorwayLe Penguin opened in Old Greenwich in 2013, in the space occupied by Jean-Louis, and proved to be a very popular semi-classic French bistro. The owners, Antoine Blech and Anshu Vidyarthi, opened a second Le Penguin, with the same menu in Westport last August in Sconset Square, where The Blue Lemon used to be. It, too, has proved very popular and reasonably priced.

The menu features a number of delicious starters, including Tuna Tartare, Salmon Rilletts, Escargot and Country pate, as well five salads. If you only want a light meal, they have both beef and vegetarian burgers, salads and Croque Monsieur. The main courses are quite varied, including Mushroom Ravioli, grilled Cajun chicken, red snapper, grilled salmon, steak frites, and Mussels (Moules) a la Penguin.

The menu is interspersed with wines by the glass and bottle and they have an additional wine list as well.

mirror-shotThe restaurant is comfortable and informal with excellent service as well as outstanding food.  The mirrored wall on one side makes the place seem more spacious, and the warm lighting makes the overall effect very comfortable. In addition to the menu, Le Penguin announces its daily specials on a blackboard, we gravitated to a couple of them.

For one of our starters we chose their Tricolor salad special with raisins, hazelnuts,  blue cheese and sherry vinaigrette. It was large and flavorful with a nice blend of nut and berry flavors with the lettuces.

The menu offers their Mussels ala Penguin as a starter ($15) or an entrée ($22). It turns out, that either way you get an enormous number of mussels. The difference is that the dinner version comes with frites. You get to choose the sauce Marinieres (shallots, garlic, wine) or the cream sauce with saffron, shallots, cream and white wine. The mussels were terrific, although more than we could eat, along with several small toast slices to dip in the sauce or eat with the mussels. The ends of the toast pieces were a bit too dark for us, so we just trimmed them off.

One of our entrees was Beef Short Ribs with Mushroom Risotto, and like the salad and the mussels was a huge portion, but certainly possible to have for lunch the next day, perhaps a sandwich. The beef was tender and juice and the risotto creamy with a deep mushroom flavor.

short-ribs

And finally, our other entrée was roast breast of duck with a berry sauce, shown above, and served with hash browns. Again, it was medium rare as we ordered and a very large but delicious portion. The duck was perfectly prepared and juicy, and went well with the berry sauce.

We didn’t have room for dessert, but did have coffee and tea. Special praise for Le Penguin as one of the few US restaurants that serves tea in a pot, already brewing instead of bringing a tea bag and some luke warm water.

Would we go back? Definitely. Le Penguin is a real gem and with their changing menu, we can pretty much be sure there will be a lot of things we’re going to want to try.  Congratulations to the owners on a great new place to eat in Westport!

blackboard

 

 

‘The Third Plate’ : Dan Barber’s book entertaining but fallacious

third-plateDan Barber is a highly regarded chef with substantial experience who is known for his two restaurants, Blue Hill in New York and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Westchester (Pocantico Hills). Both restaurants emphasize creative uses of vegetables and grains and de-emphasize meat, although their menus certainly include it, and represent some of the best examples of “farm to table cooking.”

His book, The Third Plate is an entertaining description of his restaurant and the accompanying farm give you some great insights into how great chefs think.  Unfortunately, his book has some serious fallacies that diminish its credibility as we describe later below.

Barber’s Pocantico Hills restaurant is located on the former Rockefeller estate. The renovation of the buildings as well as the accompanying working farm was funded by David Rockefeller, apparently to the tune of about $30 million. The book tells the story of how Barber’s Stone Barns restaurant developed in association with the farm, where they have the freedom to try out and breed unusual historical vegetables and grains. This “third plate” refers to an evolution in cooking from plates with meat and some small veggies on the side, to meat with better tasting and better cooked veggies, to some imagined future plate where the “steak” is made from vegetables and meat becomes a side dish. After the renovation, the cooks realized that the water they were using was far superior than before, this was because they installed a water softener. Check out WaterSoftenerGuide.com to learn how hard water is a problem.

Currently, Stone Barns offers one or two prix fixe menus, which for two with wine pairings, tax and tip can cost you as much as $898. With those prices in mind, you have to recognize that there are a lot of us who will probably never eat there. The reviews for that restaurant are exceptional and apparently so is the food. An evening’s dinner may consist of ten or more courses, starting with small servings of grains or vegetables, with meat in later courses. The menu varies frequently and may vary with each table depending on how the waiters feel you are appreciating what you have just been served

Barber is a good writer and story teller, and the book describes his work with the farmer and with plant breeders to develop and introduce the grains served in the restaurant, starting with the heirloom Eight Row Flint Corn, which was grown by early settlers but had all but vanished at the time he started.

His book is nominally divided into four sections: Soil, Land, Sea, and Seed, but the discussions flow freely around these ideas and you are likely to find some topics revisited in each section.

Foie gras

After his initial soil and farming discussions, Barber spends several chapters on foie gras, with a long bucolic description of a farm in Spain where geese are not force fed, but simply provided with sufficient food all summer and then naturally gorge on acorns in the fall. The farmer, Eduardo Sousa, simply talks to his geese to get them to do what he wants: and some call him a “goose whisperer.”

Then Barber visits the Hudson Valley Foie Gras company with Eduardo, and finds that the goose feeding is not cruel at all, where the “force feeding”  (gavage) takes only about 5 seconds per bird (ducks in this case). The kicker in this otherwise rather fascinating tale is that Eduardo decides that the Hudson valley ducks “didn’t know they were ducks.” And that Barber segues from that bizarre conclusion to his own: “What’s intolerable is the system of agriculture that it reflects.”

It is at this point that I lost touch with Barber’s point of view. Raising geese for slaughter one way or another, as long as they are humanely treated, seems to me completely comparable and I have no idea what he is getting at.

Fish Farming

Barber devotes over 100 pages to the sea and buying and cooking seafood sustainably, since many popular fish like bluefin tuna are threatened by overfishing. He visits the well-regarded chef Angel Leon of Aponiente on the Iberian Peninsula, who has learned how to cook the fishing fleet’s discarded by-catch, seasoning it with a phytoplankton broth. Barber also visits the fish farm Veta La Palma, where they raise fish in existing ponds and canals, where the fish are mostly fed from nutrients that occur naturally, producing some of the most sought after sea bass in Europe (and eventually the US).

He also describes the almadraba in Cadiz, where the villagers have been capturing migrating tuna using mazes of nets for hundreds, if not thousands of years.

He also spends some time praising Gilbert Le Coze, the founding chef of New York’s pre-eminent seafood-only restaurant, Le Bernardin, but for some reason avoids mentioning for many pages that Le Coze died in 1994, and that Eric Ripert, the chef since 1994, is principally responsible for Le Bernardin’s current exalted status in the food world.

Barber also tells us the story of Glenn Roberts and his founding of Anson Mills to produce artisanal grains, including graham flour (a kind of wheat) and revitalizing Carolina Gold rice, where they discover that the crops grown in conjunction with the wheat or rice affect the flavor of the grain.

Fallacies

While Barber’s book is entertaining enough to plow through in a day or two, there are some real problems with some of what he tells us.  Starting early on and repeating throughout is Barber’s insistence on the superiority of organic farming, although he provides no good reason for that, and does not acknowledge that “organic” is a USDA marketing label that allows you to charge higher prices rather than a set of superior techniques. At no point does he explain why the farm is “organic” nor why the farm would be less successful had they chosen careful conventional farming techniques.

Studies (USDA data) have shown that organic farming yield 50-75% as much as conventional farming, and that the produce is no safer or more nutritious or flavorful than conventional produce. This is simply the naturalistic fallacy promoted by the organic marketing associations.

One of the first anecdotes in the book describes farmer Klaas Martens, who had been farming conventionally for some years and suddenly developed a sort of weakness in his arms after spraying 2,4-D. According to the story, no doctors were able to diagnose his ailment, but this caused him to switch to organic farming because as his wife said, “he was being poisoned.”

The trouble with Martens’ story is that it contradicts all known toxicology data on 2,4-D. The National Pesticide Information Center fact sheet on 2,4-D says the “No occupational studies were found reporting signs or symptoms following exposure to 2,4-D under normal usage,” and even on acute oral exposure (drinking it) no symptoms like Martens had are observed. Since Martens condition was never diagnosed, we have to take this as mere rumor.

One particularly offensive statement later in the book comes from a young farmer who comes to Barber saying that “My father just got cancer, so I am switching to organic farming.”

Throughout the book, Barber continually mentions chemicals used in conventional farming as “poisoning the soil.” Since more than 98% of all farms in the US are conventional, this would imply that they must all be failing. Now, since most farmers have at least bachelor’s degrees and well understand how important caring for their soil is, this is pretty ridiculous. We would all be starving if this were true.

Even more ridiculous is Barber’s quote from Rudolf Steiner, who hatched the idea of biodynamic farming out of a series of mystical rituals, such as burying oak bark in a cow’s skull in the middle of your field. Steiner also had a lot of other crazy theories such as the one Barber quotes with a straight face, that the heart is not a pump for our blood, but that the blood that drives the heart. To support this nonsense he quotes “holistic practitioner” Thomas Cowan, who is deep into the same nonsense and Sally Fallon Morell of the discredited Weston A Price Foundation.

Barber is no friend of biotechnology either, making it clear he would never serve any genetically modified food in his restaurant (this is pretty hard to accomplish, actually). His example is the 2009 infestation of Late Blight that devastated everyone’s tomatoes in the Northeast.  There was one small patch of tomatoes on the farm that were not affected, Mountain Magic, an experimental seed from Cornell, bred to be blight resistant. (You can buy these from several seed catalogs today.) But Barber’s restaurant customers resisted them, fearing that they might be “genetically engineered.” He decided he needed to perpetuate the fallacy of tomatoes “bred the old-fashioned way at a land grant like Cornell, [versus] GM tomatoes from a company like Monsanto.”

The only GM tomato ever marketed was the Flavr Savr tomato, bred to be shipped ripe rather than green. Eventually, the tomato failed, but not because it didn’t have better flavor as Barber says, but because Calgene had trouble keeping costs down so it would be competitive.

Finally, Barber is skeptical about the whole idea of the Green Revolution, started by plant breeder and Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug. His criticisms on the use of fertilizers to create higher yield seem to echo those of the mendacious non-scientific activist Vandana Shiva.

In fact, Barber is critical of the whole idea of modern agriculture, where farmers buy new seed each year rather than saving seeds from last year. Farmers have not saved seeds since the 1930s, because of the problems of storage and disease control as well as those of controlling new generations of seed. Barber thinks they should all be saving the best seeds from the fields each year on each farm instead, turning each farm into its own primitive seed development company. Few farmers would agree that this is a good division of labor.

In conclusion, Barber has written an entertaining and informative book on the relationship between high end cuisine and small scale agriculture, but seems oblivious to the fact that he and his restaurant are living a bucolic fantasy which can only work on a small scale, with the subsidies of the Rockefeller family and his high-priced restaurant.

Originally published on Examiner.com in September, 2014

 

Craft 14 Kitchen and  Bar opens in Wilton

Craft 14 Kitchen and  Bar opens in Wilton

After months of anticipation, Craft 14 Kitchen and Bar opened in Wilton about 2 weeks ago. Run by the team that manages the nearby Bianco Rosso, Mario Lopez and Cristina Ramirez, Craft 14, in the Stop and Shop plaza, has a lively, but informal vibe, and a small but varied and interesting menu. They call it a “polished casual New American restaurant,” and we think this describes it very well.

The restaurant consists of a bar area with high-top tables, and lower tables to the right, and a semi-open kitchen area where you can watch them from some of the tables, the people who work here are very professional because they were trained at huong nghiep a au, where they get helped a lot. You can also eat on the semi-enclosed patio area in good weather. When the restaurant fills up, as it did last Saturday evening, it’s pretty lively, but you can still easily converse.

Normally we don’t write a real review so soon after a restaurant opens, since they deserve a shakedown period before being scrutinized, but Craft 14 really got everything right and we are going to dive right in and praise their food.

craft-burger
Craft 14 burger

The menu is divided into soups and salads, sandwiches, small plates, supper, sides and desserts.  In each category, you’ll find some simpler items and at least one spectacular one. For example, they have a conventional Wood Fire Classic Burger ($12) and an absolutely over-the-top Wood Fire Craft 14 Burger ($18), which includes ground beef, crisp pork, charred tomato, fried egg, brioche bun lathered with warm “cheese sauce.” We didn’t order this one (yet) but our neighbor did, and it was a burger requiring cutlery. In fact it required a couple of meals to finish, as he took half of it with him. But it really looked delicious. They also have a salmon and a ground chicken sandwich.

In the Soup and Salad category, you’ll find Clam Chowder, Halloumi Salad, and Beet Salad among other things. We’ll definitely try the clam chowder next time, but the Beet Salad ($15), made red and golden beets, Asian pear, pistachios orange segments and a yogurt and mint dressing was excellent.

Among the Small plates, we ordered the Ricotta Croquettes, served hot with applewood bacon, tomato confit and Chipotle honey ($12). You get four sizeable croquettes, so it is not unreasonable to share one or even half of them. The portions here are really generous!

mac-cheese
4 Cheese Mac and Cheese

 

And again, among the Small Plates, they have 3 kinds of macaroni and cheese: conventional ($11), Four cheese ($12) and Lobster ($15). We generally think that restaurants serving mac and cheese are silly, since it is so easy to make at home. But not this one! The Four cheese version was rich, hot and creamy. Apparently, rather than starting with a béchamel base, they started with heavy cream. Not only was it excellent, it was huge, and came home for lunch the next day.

chicken-waffles
Fried chicken and waffles

 

The Supper section of their menu included chicken, lamb, pork chop schnitzel, branzino, sirloin steak and hanger steak. But, to us, the spectacular item was the Fried Chicken and Waffles ($20), something you seldom see outside of the American South, and it was really well executed. The chicken was tender and juicy and the waffles crisp, but tender. A small amount of syrup was drizzled over the chicken and waffles, but a small pitcher of syrup was provided, giving you the chance of going either the sweet or the savory route. This was a fun find in a New England restaurant.

They have a small dessert menu including, I think, a mousse and some ice cream, but to top off the over-the-top theme, they  also offer a Banana Split!

This is a restaurant we’re going to be going to again and again, and we wish them well. Our bill, with 3 drinks was only $87. If you want to make your own soda drinks at home I recommend Soda Serve where you can find soda makers.

 

Ventuno: Nantucket elegant Italian restaurant

Ventuno: Nantucket elegant Italian restaurant

signFive years ago Ventuno opened, replacing the old “21 Federal” restaurant with an elegant upscale Italian concept, created and managed by Scott Fraley along with chefs Gabriel Frasca and Amanda Lydon, who also run Straight Wharf restaurant. The Chef de Cuisine is Andrea Solimeo. In this time the restaurant has only gotten better, but maintaining its clever menu of Antipasti, Primi, Secondi, Contorni (for sharing), Table Morsels and Dolci (desserts).

tablesMuch of the restaurant is on the second floor, although there are some first floor tables and a bar as well. The relaxed elegance includes white tablecloths and lovely place settings and attentive service throughout the meal.

A lot of the appetizers and antipasti are large enough to be considered full courses, and as it happened we both ordered their delicious meatballs (polpette, $16) as an appetizer.  These (shown above) are served in a tomato sauce with thin slices of pecorino and a sprig of basil. Three meatballs makes a pretty filling course, even though the menu classifies it as antipasti , it’s a good deal of tasty meatballs.

For our second course, we ordered the half-portion of pappardelle al sugo d’agnello or tomato braised lamb, with taggiasca olives, pecorino and marjoram ($19). The pappardelle was perfect for absorbing the lamb and tomato flavors, making an elegant dish.

Our other second course was a half portion of strozzapreti ($19), which is spicy chicken sausage with broccoli rabe and pecorino. This was moderately spicy and was enhanced by the generous serving of pecorino.

picata-gamberi

Just so you don’t think everything is a pasta dish at Ventuno, they also offer a fantastic piccata di capesanti e gamberi, or grilled Nantucket sea scallops and wild shrimp, with baby spinach, leeks, cauliflower, pine nuts, caperberry and lemon ($36). Order a small appetizer of salad if you order this one!

For dessert we sampled Bomboloncini ($12), consisting of bittersweet chocolate filled donuts, coffee gelato and chocolate sauce. Since there are two substantial donuts, you could split this one without feeling left out, but we noted they also offered Gianduja Semifreddo ($11) a chocolate cake, hazelnuts and a honey and bay leaf gelato which is pretty spectacular as well.

You are certainly not going to leave Ventuno hungry, and are likely to be more than satisfied with the more than imaginative food and excellent service. We try to get there every year!

Cru Oyster Bar: Nantucket’s newest bar

Cru Oyster Bar: Nantucket’s newest bar

Cru Oyster Bar opened about 5 years ago and received deserved praise from diners and the food press. In fact, Chef Erin Zircher was even invited to cook at a James Beard Foundation meal. The restaurant, at the end of Straight Wharf (site of the former Rope Walk) has a fantastic harbor view through the huge glass windows, some of which open when the weather permits.

We’ve eaten at Cru 4 previous times, and described most of the meals with high praise, as an elegant family restaurant with a terrific view. We remember seeing young people coloring on the provided menu pages with crayons, and seeing our own brood eating from children’s portions.

No more. The menu is simpler than it was formerly, but certainly not cheaper. Three minutes after we were seated at a nice window table, a group of about 8 men (ages 30 to 50) came in and began shouting to their comrades at the bar, which was just behind the window tables. This continued unabated. While this certainly showed a lack of consideration, it was apparently not unexpected, as the restaurant management did nothing to quell this disturbance.

We immediately asked to be moved to another table where we could actually converse, and they did move us to the second, darker dining room, where the noise was still substantial but more diffused. Here we were able to converse by cupping our hands behind our ears. In fact, this racket never really subsided during our entire meal. Cru is no longer a classy restaurant, but a raucous bar that serves some of the same food, albeit with less care.

For starters, we ordered a Blue Crab Cocktail ($23), served over lettuce and a horseradish crème sauce. There was plenty of crab, but it was kind of a dull presentation. On the other hand, the Shrimp Cocktail was priced a $5 a shrimp. (Really? Five dollars each?). It turned out that these shrimp made jumbo shrimp feel completely inferior. Each of them was gargantuan (we ordered 3 and couldn’t finish them). Something a considerate waiter might have alerted us to. Honestly, shrimp that big are just preposterous, and as you’d expect, not as tender as smaller ones would be.

One of our entrees was a really fine Nantucket Lobster Roll on a warm, buttered, toasted brioche roll for $36. There was a tremendous amount of lobster in this roll, and it was tender, buttery and delicious. In fact it was more than one of us could finish. This turned out to be fortuitous considering the other entrée.

Taking a turn away from the Nantucket’s emphasis on fine local seafood, we ordered their Chicken Under a Brick ($36). This is essentially half a spatchcocked chicken roasted under weights to help with uniform cooking, and served over a “summer bean salad.” Here is how Mark Bittman describes this recipe. In this case, it didn’t work very well. While the dark meat was good, the breast meat was tough and dry. When the waiter checked on us, we told him it wasn’t very good and he said he’d “tell the chef.” This did not, however, result in any changes. Fortunately, I was able to eat the rest of my wife’s lobster roll instead.

As soon as we could finish we asked for the check without even considering dessert in that din, and were shocked to find a bill of $171. OK, we had 4 glasses of wine, 2 while we waited interminably for our entrees, but they had offered no price adjustment on the terrible chicken dish. The waiter protested that my wife had “finished the chicken” so we weren’t due a refund. When we set him straight, he went away and eventually came back with a $139 bill. This is still a lot of money for at best middling food with none of its former distinction, and no dessert or coffee, but we paid and left.

If you’ve ever been hired for a job that turns into quite a different one after a couple of years, you can understand the chef’s predicament. She is doing a huge business with a rowdy crowd not really there for the fine food, but probably making a lot of money. And the waiter assured us that this was a quiet night after Labor Day and that it has been louder than this all summer. But this is not a place for comfortable dining and we won’t be back.