Archive for April, 2010

2010 San Pellegrino Awards- Good for the USA!

Posted 26 Apr 2010 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining

Check out the San Pellegrino Top 50 Best Restaurants. Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark takes the #1 spot, Daniel in NYC rises 33 spots into the top 10 along with Alinea (up 3) and Per Se (down 4) and French Landry drops 20 spots to #32. Eleven Madison Park, WD~50 make the list for the first time. Way to go Eleven Madison Park (see my blog entry from April 19th).

Eat Airport Food ~ Here

Posted 26 Apr 2010 — by S.E.
Category Quick Service

When passing through an airport with pangs of hunger in my gut, nothing attracts me more than a thoughtfully designed independent quick service restaurant (IQSR’s). This doesn’t mean that I have something against the big airport foodservice operators like Delaware North (Travel Hospitality Services) and Anton, I simply prefer to eat at places owned by local operators. Their passion, creative and quirks make me think. A couple weeks ago I had two hunger and schedule driven experiences with IQSR’s that are worth sharing. The first was at Dazbog Coffee at Denver International Airport and the second was at a cool little place called Flo’s Shanghai Café at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport.

Dazbog "God of Good Fortune"

Running through Denver airport while starving, with no time to spare, I had the good fortune of finding a relatively new Dazbog Coffee outlet in Terminal C. Dazbog was created in Denver by two Russian entrepreneurs and offers a refined set of coffee beverages and smoothies for the discerning customer. On their website they state “the Yuffa family fled Russia to embark on a new and better life of freedom, democracy and opportunity.” I noticed their first store in Denver on 17th street back in 2005. The reason I love Dazbog (other than that freedom and democracy stuff I just mentioned), is the hip Russian Theme the place offers, the quality of thinking behind the concept and the quality of the coffees and smoothies they offer (try the Forbidden Fruit!). Prices are right, the coffee is excellent and the overall feel of the airport outlet is bright and friendly rather than generic and corporate like so many other small foodservice outlets I encounter on the road. Dazbog, according to the guys that run this place, is an old Russian mythological figure who is the “giver of good fortune.” Not a bad restaurant name for a new venture, huh? These guys seem to have found good fortune in the U.S.

Flo's Entrace

Flo’s Shanghai Café is the coolest IQST at Sky Harbor Airport…period. I came up to the third floor in terminal four after getting my ticket and the escalator popped me out right in front of Flo’s. Looking at the place, it was immediately obvious that it was different than most QSR’s. Flo’s has a large arched entryway that looks like a huge upside down horseshoe with large orange Chinese tea lanterns hanging from the ceiling and a long green counter where orders are placed. It has a wide open floor plan that was way to spread out to generate the revenue per square foot that one of the large corporations would require. This made Flo’s look marvelously inviting and comfortable and drew me in for a bite.

Love the Lanterns

Checking out the details I noticed that there’s a real working kitchen in the back where entrees are made fresh and to order. Staff members are friendly and the food is simple, fresh and tasty. I had a grilled chicken with peanuts over steamed white rice. Although served in a Styrofoam bowl, the dish was fantastic otherwise (compared to most airport food). Flo’s is owned by a Phoenix operator with several other restaurants in the local market. Well thought out, with a local rather than corporate feel, I dig Flo’s and will stop there again the next time I am at Sky Harbor.

First Fruits of Spring: Fiddleheads, Spargel and Morels

Posted 25 Apr 2010 — by S.E.
Category At Home

Tonight, dinner was with some old friends, one of whom is a well know chef of the highest caliber. We had planned our dinner for some weeks and, knowing his penchant for keeping all ingredients local and organic, I couldn’t wait to head over to his house. It didn’t surprise me to discover upon arrival that his mise en place was complete and that dinner would be served within the hour. This included fresh spargel (white asparagus), fiddlehead ferns, morel mushrooms and a wood-roasted half sirloin. I suspected he would focus on local ingredients in season, and had been thinking about this since arriving home for the weekend from work to find a local ingredient of my own growing in my yard.

Last Friday evening I noticed garlic chives growing along the back border of my lawn. Pulling one up and snapping it in half, I took in its fragrant, sharp aroma. The smell reminded me of how, as a child, we used to dare each other to chew their garlicky, pale white bulbs raw.  Even then, I loved food and would take the dare, breath reeking the rest of the afternoon to my brother’s sheer delight. As kids, we used to find garlic chives, morel mushrooms, and fiddlehead ferns growing wild throughout a twenty acre dairy farm pasture and the dense woods along its perimeter. They were sure signs of spring and arrived each year like clockwork.

Fiddlehead Ferns

Later on Saturday I came across these ingredients again. I made a quick trip to Whole Foods and found crates of ramps and fiddleheads stacked in the produce section (few people were buying). Large bundles of white asparagus were on display as well. I was tempted, but stayed focused on what I needed (two loaves of sourdough) and made my way to the exit.

Spargel (White Asparagus)

So, imagine how pleased I was today to find three wonderful, local, in-season ingredients waiting to be finished for our meal along with several other accompaniments. These included a batch of artichokes roasting, cipollini onions sautéing and golden beets sautéing with garlic. After an hour of visiting while the sirloin finished, the meal was nearly complete. The morels were completed with cognac and veal glace, sea salt and fresh pepper while the golden beets and garlic, on low heat, became tender, caramelized and sweet. He roasted a small batch of fingerling potatoes with rosemary as well to round out the meal. When all was set, I took an end-cut of the sirloin, topped it with two succulent morels and a liberal portion of veal glace, a scoop of golden beets, an artichoke, three potatoes, an onion, a half-dozen white asparagus and a small spoonful of fiddleheads. Within minutes we were seated and within another twenty, sated. Sunday dinner the way it should be!

Dinner!

Eleven Madison Park ~ NY

Posted 19 Apr 2010 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining

Being a chef, it’s a real struggle to remain objective when dining out. If things go well, I am elated. My level of trust and faith in the establishment goes up as does my spending. If things go poorly, I am devastated. Every missed sequence in service, every fingerprint on a plate rim or empty beverage glass that sits for a duration of three minutes or more, and my patience begins to sink. In contrast, when food and service are exceptional, it feels like I am part of a symbiotic dance; me as the recipient of service and my server the provider. Without me, my server has no one to deliver service to. Without him or her, I have no one from which to receive it. Logic dictates that good service can only occur between two (or more) individuals who are mutually committed to the experience. And committed I was when I made my way across midtown toward 11 Madison Park restaurant. 

The sun was shining as I passed through Madison Square Park; the place was packed. A canopy of new leaves was starting to form and the large cast iron planters throughout the park were loaded with fresh flowers and ornamentals. Shake Shack was in the weeds with 200 people in line waiting and 

Fountain in Madison Park

every seat surrounding it occupied. People were everywhere, sitting, standing and walking. Over the years it appears that Manhattan has become a children’s paradise as evidenced by a half dozen moms with kids in carriages weaving their way along past the ornamental fountain and Eternal Light Pole the park is known for. I have never seen so many happy, healthy kids in the city. It was just after 1:00 when I crossed Madison Avenue. 

Although my preference is to try high end restaurants for dinner rather than lunch, today my schedule didn’t allow this. However, I chose to use lunch as a way of testing the talent at 11 Madison Park. Lunch service for a chef can be more challenging than dinner. Finding the right balance between creativity, richness, and basic nutrition requires extra thought and refined restraint. The meal demands a degree of elegant simplicity. Move down scale and the meal could be deemed too common. Move up too much and the meal could be overwhelming to those who have to return to the office or some other commitment. It takes a special talent to find the middle. These were the thoughts running through my mind as I met a friend outside the place and we moved through the revolving door into the airy two story dining room. 

What has stuck with me on this trip is how youthful yet professional the service personnel I have encountered are. The hostess waiting at the entrance to the restaurant, attractive and in her late twenties, offered a warm and authentic welcome as we entered. She quickly found my name in the reservation system and came around her station to talk with us. She took my brief case and my friends coat and placed them in a closet and, handing him a claim check,  promptly took us to our table along the long banquette on the Madison Avenue side of the restaurant. I took the inside seat facing the dining room and my partner in this culinary adventure took the seat facing me. A few minutes later we were presented with our menus and offered a few minutes to look over the wine list before making a beverage choice. 

Our server was a delightful recent graduate of a prestigious culinary school in New York. After a brief chat about her background and menu favorites, she suggested we try a Pinot Blanc from the Terlan wine-growing region (Alto-Adige) of Italy. We both tried a 2005 Kellerei Terlan, Nova Domus, Resierva (60% Pinot Blanc, 30% Chardonnay and 10% Sauvignon Blanc). After enduring the wonderful, unseasonal heat outside, the cool, refreshing taste of this Pinot Blanc from just south of the Austrian border was sublime. 

Carrot Marshmallow, Foie Gras, Asparagus

11 Madison Park offers a two-course Prix Fixe ($28), three-course Prix Fixe ($42), and a six course gourmand menu ($68) for lunch. My dining partner was pressed for time and could stay until no later than 2:15 so we both agreed to have the two course menu. We placed our orders and sat back for a few seconds to relax. The tall ceilings, natural stained mill work and art deco light fixtures awash in the natural light that comes in through the high windows creates a comfortable ambiance. Relaxing wasn’t difficult. As I soaked in the room, taking pictures as inconspicuously as possible, I took notice of the silver tray service being performed. Food sent from the kitchen comes out on rectangular silver trays with handles; two plates per tray. A back server carries and holds the tray while the front server removes the plates from the tray tableside and presents the items to the appropriate guest. I watched a team work its way from table to table within their section of the busy dining room performing this elegant and flawless service. While observing, it also dawned on me that my surroundings were exceptionally quiet. Although busy, the room wasn’t bustling, that’s the wrong word. It was cruising with pure comfort and precision. Then the food started to arrive. 

Our first course was a nice seasonal amuse-bouche of baby carrot marshmallows and foie gras terrine on asparagus gelee and a crispy wheat cracker. The presentation was well balanced and the flavor was stunning. Each marshmallow was shaped into a square and lightly dusted with a citrus powder reminiscent of dried Myer lemons. The foie gras 

Curry Soup with Langostino

terrine with asparagus gelee was a well conceived item with the foie gras stacked on top of the cracker base followed by the gelee. This approach allowed the fatty foie gras to serve as a barrier between the cracker and the moist gelee preventing the cracker from softening and crumbling. I tried the marshmallow first and it was light and smooth in texture, not rubbery like the commercial marshmallows you toast over a campfire. The light dusting of citrus powder provided a slight palate cleansing finish. Then I tasted the foie gras and asparagus gelee. A properly prepared gelee is so light in gelatin that it begins to melt in the palm of your hand after a couple of seconds. Both the foie gras and the gelee were perfect. The foie gras provided a wonderful rich burst of flavor followed by the postage stamp sized yet potent melt of the gelee. A very simple, delicious, yet technical start that left me excited for my next course. 

Next, our server approached us with a rosemary ficelle and a crispy mini baguette. Although perfectly prepared, the bread offering was made outstanding by the sweet unsalted organic cow’s milk butter and fresh goat’s milk butter served along with it. Contrasting the two, the cow’s milk was rendered even sweeter when compared to the slightly pungent yet mild goat’s milk butter. Both were tempered perfectly for service. These little details, executed in what appeared to be an effortless manner, are the hallmark of a great restaurant. 

Spaetzle with Pork Belly

With the mild taste of the goats milk butter just fading from my palate, our server arrived with a small cup of lemon grass and madras curry soup with petit langostino. The best way to describe this dish is subtle and subdued. Surprised to find a curry so early in a multi-course menu, it wasn’t until I tasted the dish that I understood the thought process behind it. This was an exceptionally light yet rich curry with a lightly foamed curry froth above a broth very lightly scented with lemon grass and langostino. The three or four langostinos in the broth were perfectly cooked with each taste ending with a wonderful langostino finish. The texture of the dish was enhanced by a crispy rectangular cracker perfect for dipping, served on the side. My only problem with this dish was the stalk of lemon grass placed in the broth for service. I am not a fan of such impractical garnishes but acknowledge that, even though it wasn’t a garnish I would eat, the scent of the lemongrass was mouthwatering. 

Daniel Humm, the chef at 11 Madison Park, is a wunderkind whose rise in the culinary profession has been meteoric. He’s over six feet tall and imposing but with a boyish face. He runs a large, spotless, almost militaristic (in a very positive sense) kitchen. Since arriving at 11 Madison Park, Humm has steadily earned an escalating level of acclaim starting with a three star review by the New York Times in 2007 and, more recently, a four star review in August 2009. Over the years I have learned that the best time to eat at a great restaurant is while it is on it’s way up and this is my impression of 11 Madison Park. This place is on its way to three Michelin Stars and there is no question in my mind that Chef Humm will achieve this result. 

Humm started his career as a teenager at a restaurant in Zurich in the North of Switzerland. Many of the dishes on his menu provide a glimpse into his Swiss heritage. This is why I chose the spaetzle with Niman Ranch Pork Belly, Pommery Mustard and Spinach as my next course. Surely this has to be a dish that Humm has made hundreds of times since his early years as a cook. He didn’t disappoint me. The pork belly was flawlessly cooked (sous vide?) and garnished with a cluster of tender yet plump soaked mustard seeds, and melt in your mouth lightly browned spaetzle. The rich pork contrasted with the tangy mustard and silky smooth sautéed spinach creating a balanced combination. 

Herb Roasted Colorado Lamb

With spring in the air, I ordered the herb roasted Colorado lamb with Sucrine lettuce, garden peas and pickled mustard seed. When the dish arrived is was stunning. The wonderful roasted lamb was presented three ways (roasted loin, rib and sausage), served with a lamb reduction with mint, black trumpet mushroom, butternut agnolotti. The Sucrine lettuce was lightly sautéed and served as a base to the agnolotti, peas and pea tendril garnish. At first I was worried that the pickled mustard seeds in this dish would be too similar to the mustard garnish in the pork belly but this proved to be incorrect. The flavors of the lamb were a stark and wonderful contrast to the pork belly and proved an excellent main course with little if any flavor redundancy. Every item on the dish was expertly prepared and cooked with precision. I get hungry all over again just looking at the photo. 

Dessert service at 11 Madison Park is a bit surprising. They use a traditional dessert cart with a clear glass rolled top. The cart had five options on it when presented to me and I selected a pine nut dulce de leche tart and a cappuccino as 

Dessert Cart

 my final course. The reason that the dessert service was surprising is that it takes tremendous trust and faith for a chef of Humm’s stature to allow his service personnel to portion and serve dessert via guerridon in the dining room. The loss of control is significant and the risk of inconsistent portioning and plating high. Such a decision is representative of a level of trust on part of Chef Humm and expertise on part of his servers that is nothing less than impressive. And, like the rest of my experience at 11 Madison Park, this too was flawless. The tart was delectable and, when paired with my cappuccino, a fitting end to my meal. My server, sensing that I was completely sated, and without hesitation, brought me a two ounce pour of a wonderful Sauternes to cap my experience. She read my every move and anticipated various ways to keep my dining experience consistently beyond expectation. What started out as a symbiotic dance ended with me becoming putty in her hands.  This was the best lunch I have had in years, as close as possible to perfect. With my meal finished, my server quickly slid over and suggested a quick tour of the kitchen. Instantly I accepted…but that’s another blog entry!

The Peninsula Hotel Chicago

Posted 14 Apr 2010 — by S.E.
Category Hotels

Peninsula Hotel Lobby

A recent trip to Chicago landed me at the Peninsula Hotel on East Superior Street visiting with a friend who serves on their management team. I have known him for nearly two decades but like most guys my age, only contact him live once every couple of years to check in and see how he’s doing. It was late on a Saturday afternoon when I called him just after my plane landed at Midway. We had prearranged our meeting at the hotel a couple of days earlier and he was just finishing up for the day when we connected. After a quick cab ride from the airport I was on my way up in the elevator to the hotel lobby on the fifth floor. From the minute I got out of the cab the five-star service this hotel is known for was evident. It was even more apparent when the elevator opened on the fifth floor and I stepped out. The main lobby was elegant with its shiny, coral colored stone floor, cream colored walls, lightly vaulted ceiling, potted plants and cherry storefront display cases. Straight off the elevator down a long, pleasant corridor is the main reception desk.

Pastry Buffet

The lobby restaurant is off to the right of the reception desk on the same floor. The exterior wall of the lobby restaurant consists of a series of two story high windows looking out over an expansive patio. The fit and finish of the space is extraordinary. Looking up, the coffered ceiling consists of a wonderful series of large squares inset periodically with a recessed circle where delicate crystal chandeliers hang like falling water. Although architecturally stunning, the dessert buffet in the middle of the room was even more impressive. On Saturday evenings, the Peninsula offers guests what has become one of the most popular classical dessert buffets in the city. Looking over the selections, it is likely that the Peninsula is the only hotel in the city producing this quality of work. The display exhibited a level of craftsmanship rare in today’s culinary world. My first inclination was to start grazing. Instead we took off up the elevator to the Peninsula suite for a tour.

Peninsula Suite Sitting Room

The Peninsula suite, located on the 18th floor, is the hotels premier accommodation with up to three bedrooms, a dining room, living room, office, media room, massive bathroom, fireplace and terrace overlooking Michigan Avenue. The entrance to the Peninsula  suite was staid and unremarkable but the suite itself was anything but. Once the lights were on, I noticed more custom light fixtures along with high end furnishings, custom millwork, tile and granite, and museum quality art throughout. The suite runs $8000 per night.

We wrapped up our tour with dinner at Shanghai Terrace the hotels premiere Shanghainese – Cantonese restaurant. Shanghai Terrace, with its expansive hardwood floor, slat-back mahogany colored chairs, high ceiling and wispy curtains, has a traditional Chinese dinner club feel to it. The servers wear pressed red jackets and float through the dining room with grace.

King Crab

Our meal started with a taste of king crab with pickled vegetables. The tiny portion was a perfect start. Lightly coated with rice flour and quickly fried, the crispy, salty, savory crab was offset by the chilled acidic vegetables and micro greens.

A delicious Peking duck followed the king crab. First, a small bamboo steamer arrived with mandarin pancakes and a yin yang shaped plate with two sauces. A large plate of hot roasted duck with julienne scallion and cucumber came next. The pancakes were savory, light in texture and warm through the center. When rolled with a couple pieces of duck breast, scallion, cucumber and hoisin sauce, they were a delicious appetizer.

Dim sum was next! I love dim sum. Shanghai Terrace’s dim sum has a high degree of  Cantonese authenticity. The

Scallop

 sampling we tasted had a seared pork dumpling, steamed vegetable dumpling and crispy shrimp spring roll with dipping sauce.

The fourth course was a broiled sea scallop with fresh soy beans in spicy mapo sauce with diced tofu. Those of you that know me know that I love seafood. This scallop was perfectly broiled and tasted fantastic. In addition to taste, textural contrast was what made this dish so good (diced tofu, scallop, fresh soybean, and crispy fried noodle). The portion size was perfect too. Four courses in, I am not yet sated and have room for more.

Four small entrée dishes served family style arrived as the fifth course. These consisted of : 1) “Dong Bo” Pork Belly braised with red miso, palm sugar, star anise, shanghai rice cake and braised jus, 2)

Pork Belly & Steamed Fish

Steamed Halibut with spicy black beans, flower mushrooms, ginger, scallions, yu choy, 3) Wok Braised Lobster with bok choy, ginger, scallion and superior broth, 4) Crispy Tofu with enokitaki, vegetables, garlic and mushroom jus. Each of these dishes had a modern flair with a high degree of Japanese influence. My favorite was the pork belly followed by the lobster. Now I am getting full!

We wrapped things up with a dessert sampler consisting of four small plated items: 1) Green Tea Crème Brulee with chestnut confit and passion fruit sorbet, 2) Pistachio Parfait, pineapple cilantro salad, coconut pearls, 3) Asian Pear and Almond Spring Rolls with honey peanuts and chocolate sauce, 4) Tofu Cheesecake with citrus salad, crispy coconut rice noodles. Of these my favorite was the Green Tea Crème Brulee.

Dessert Platter

 

It was a quick visit lasting just under three hours but a fantastic one regardless of duration. My host was in rare form and we spent time savoring our meal while also tearing it to peices the way chefs do. Coversation flowed from food to family to mutual friends and prior experiences together, many of which were halirous both then and now. The meal was exceptional as was the company. Foodservice is all about the people and good people make for the best restauranteurs.

Daube De Boeuf at Bistro Jeanty

Posted 14 Apr 2010 — by S.E.
Category Full Service

I had a dining experience in March that was so delicious that it brought back a long forgotten experience from my earliest days as a cook. The trigger was the initial smell of the beef daube at Bistro Jeanty in Yountville, California. The beef daube was so incredible that within seconds it brought me back 25 years to the first time I tasted the dish as an extern working 200 miles west of Yountville in South Lake Tahoe.

In 1986 I was on my internship at a casino in Lake Tahoe and tasted my first classical beef daube prepared by Chef Hans Jordi. Chef Hans, at six feet six, was so tall that he had to take his chef hat off to walk around the kitchen. His stride was wider than the wingspan of a small aircraft and he spoke as fast as he walked. His sharp Swiss accent and corresponding attitude was not for the faint of heart. To say he was demanding as the hotels executive chef is an understatement. However, if you paid attention and spent 2-3 hours per day working beyond your normal shift, he, in turn would spend time sharing classical recipes with whoever was willing. That we worked for free 2-3 hours per day was the norm back then. This was the 1980’s when we cooks were paid at the cashier stand in the casino and offered free drink tokens with our pay.

Table at Bistro Jeanty

 Many, after a couple of drinks, never even made it out of the casino with their compensation. It was a different time, but that’s another story. Beef daube was one of the dishes Chef Hans shared and one that I took great pleasure in learning to make. More important, Hans drilled classical techniques and cuisine into our heads over the entire span of time that I worked for him.

Being prepared was essential to keeping up with Jordi so each of us carried a copy of Louis Saulnier’s Le Repertoire de La Cuisine in our knife roll just in case he tossed out a reference to a classical dish or query regarding the proper ingredients for a specific classical French garnish. On a regular basis he would offer up a classical term and expect us to recite the proper description and corresponding ingredients without hesitation. When it came to classical sauces he expected us to know them all, from Aioli (garlic infused fresh mayonnaise) to Zingara (demi-glace with tomato, mushroom, truffles, beef tongue, ham, cayenne and Madeira). Get one or two of these mini examinations correct and you were eligible for the classical cooking lesson later that day. Get them wrong and you were sent packing.

So it was Chef Hans Jordi’s face that flashed through my mind as I tasted the beef daube at Bistro Jeanty. It always amazes me how food aromas or flavors can unbind the various layers of prior experience that are laminated together like a piece of plywood in long term memory. How is it that food experiences

Daube De Boeuf

become such powerful memory markers and memory triggers? I hadn’t thought about Chef Jordi in 20 years and now, with the smell of Bistro Jeanty’s beef daube wafting in the air, it was like Jordi was standing over me (all six feet six of him).

Bistro Jeanty slow braises their beef daube to the perfect state of fork-tenderness. For $18.50, you get a good portion of daube paired with mashed potatoes, buttered peas and carrots. The moderately thick, gelatinous glace that serves as the base for the dish is so wonderfully done that the liquid alone, with a baguette, could be a meal. Note that the beef daube was not my entrée; it belonged to the guy sitting next to me. I had ordered the Pork belly with lentil and foie gras ragout ($15.50) and was halfway through the dish before I was offered a taste of the daube. I rinsed with red wine and then water and tasted a fork full of the daube. After my second bite, I traded the remainder of my Pork belly for what was left of the daube, both were outstanding.

Chef Philippe Jeanty’s cuisine is as good as it has ever been. He had some tough times last year, closing his new venture “Jeanty at Jack’s” in San Francisco in May. Some in the food business said that his absence in Yountville and

Pork Belly with Lentil and Foie Gras

 the distractions in San Francisco resulted in a drop in the quality of the food and service at the Bistro Jeanty. I disagree. I think Chef Jeanty’s cuisine is as good as ever and that he is preserving the art of classical French bistro cuisine that few in the U.S. can duplicate. The classical preparations he features daily have become scarce in the U.S. and the level of execution he sustains, even scarcer. Eating at Bistro Jeanty was a joy not only because of the memories it brought back but also the fact that it preserves such an important cuisine and aesthetic for all to enjoy. I left Bistro Jeanty completely sated and fondly reminiscent of my life as a cook in prior years.

Lobster is New England Street Food

Posted 05 Apr 2010 — by S.E.
Category Travel

Motif #1

Last weekend I made my way down the narrow streets of Bear Skin Neck in Rockport Massachusetts to my favorite north shore lobster shack. Actually, I have three lobster shacks that I favor on the North Shore; Roy Moore Lobster Company just happened to be the one I was closet to. After record breaking rain the prior week, we were blessed on Sunday Morning with record breaking heat and sun. (Still don’t believe in global warming?) The sun and heat triggered a primeval craving for a walk down Bear Skin Neck that usually, like the lilacs around my house, activates later in the spring. As soon as I think of eating in Rockport, I can’t suppress the anticipation of taking a walk through town after eating for a tour of the wonderful art galleries and shops. Once my summer craving for steamed clams and lobsters starts, it has to be sated. Off to Bearskin Neck we went.

Roy Moore's in Rockport, MA

Legend has it that back in 1700 there was a bear in the village that wandered down to the waters edge and was caught by the rising tide and killed. An alternative tale is that the neck was named after the bear skin that colonial resident John Babson left drying on the neck. For the next three hundred years, the legend as well as the name held fast as did the town itself. After making a cameo appearance in the war of 1812, the port took off in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s due to the high quality of granite that was quarried locally and shipped from the quay all around the world. Granite neck would have been a more fitting name.

Roy Moore’s is a real seafood shanty, it isn’t a fabricated place created in the 1990’s to resemble one. It was founded on the south side of Bear Skin Neck in 1918 while the granite industry was still flourishing. I have been eating lobsters and clams there since the late 1960’s. The building consists of a tiny single story fish shack with faded cedar shingle siding and a giant red wooden lobster sign out front. Inside there are several chilled display cases filled with fish and loaded lobster tanks circulating fresh salt water. Toward the back of the space there’s a small kitchen, a closet really, equipped for steaming lobsters and clams, a double bain-marie for holding hot chowder, and a couple of microwave ovens. There is no bathroom and, except for the half-dozen picnic tables on the back deck, there’s no seating either. It’s not luxury food, the Wampanoag Indians used to use whole lobsters as fertilizer. This is rustic New England street food. Lobster served the way it is supposed to be, simply cooked right out of the tank, cracked, with drawn butter and a napkin on the side. The same way they have cooked lobsters on Bearskin neck for hundreds of years.

An Old Shanty it is

Bearskin neck has been an active fishing port since the late 17th century but today it has tilted toward the tourist trade like most other New England ports. The shops along the neck are true old-school shanties transformed into art galleries, retail shops, restaurants and inns. Although the architecture along the avenue is seaside New England in style, there is no lack of low-end t-shirt and souvenir shops stuffed into these historic spaces. The art galleries are another story and include the work of artists known locally as well as others with global reputations like the late Martin Ahern and John Terelak.

Fitz Hugh Lane, Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, Paul Manship, Katherine Lane Weems and Walker Hancock all passed through this town during their careers and Manship and Hancock both lived within five miles of town center for most of their lives. Manship is best known for his sculpture of Prometheus that overlooks the ice rink in Rockefeller Center. Hancock is noted for creating one of the most lifelike busts of Robert Frost, now at the Robert Frost library at

The Menu

Amherst, during a series of sittings at his studio in Lanesville in 1950. For more on the history of art in Rockport and on Cape Ann, visit the Rockport Art Association on Main St. It’s worth the trip.

Art galleries and Bearskin Neck go together like steamed lobster and drawn butter. Now that the weather is warming up, take some time and head north to Rockport for some “lobsta and steemas.” Sit out on the back deck and let the ocean air blow over you. Just be sure to get to Roy Moore’s before 5:45PM, that’s when the last lobster drops into the pot before closing.