Archive for September, 2010

Flavor Forecast 2010

Posted 23 Sep 2010 — by S.E.
Category Food Alert Trends, In Case You Missed It!

After talking with several culinary folks today about emerging food trends I notice from time to time I have decided to add a new category titled “In Case You Missed It” as a holding pen for quick posts about current events, trends and happenings in foodservice. The individuals I was speaking with were not aware of these trends and were interested in them and my take on what they mean. As always, I am happy to share.

Today’s post is about McCormick’s Flavor Forecast 2010. Not only do I love the list of flavor pairings this year but I also love the press that Kevan Vetter, McCormick & Co’s corporate chef is getting for his decade long run of predicting some of the most popular and culture shifting flavor combinations in America. Vetter is a kind hearted, collaborative, and sharing guy who goes about his work in a professional yet understated manner. He epitomizes the “open source” approach to food and food ideas that has taken hold over the past five years. To get a sense of the guy, you have to watch his video forecast…it’s a must see. He is joined in the video by the funky Richard Blais, and the delightful Rachal Rappaport, a fellow food blogger from Baltimore.

My two favorite flavor parings (ones that I have used all summer) are Thai basil and melon and toasted cumin and chick peas. In case you missed it, check it out!

Al Forno: The Most Consistent Restaurant in America

Posted 22 Sep 2010 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining

As mentioned in a recent post, I bumped into George Germon and Johanne Killeen at their new foodbar Tini a couple of weeks ago. We had a great chat and the discussion reminded me of a delicious and inspiring dinner I had at Al Forno recently. The source of my inspiration is the long standing consistency and excellence achieved by Johanne and George at Al Forno after all more than 20 years in operation. That George and Johanne not only look great but speak about food with the same inspired voice they had when I first met them two decades ago leaves me in awe. My most recent meal there was no exception.

Of each of the seasons of the year my favorite time to visit Al Forno is early spring or late fall when the weather is grey and rainy, as odd as that may sound. When the sky is grey in Providence along South Water Street the location smells of Pink Floyd and Edgar Allan Poe to me. The restaurant sits just across the mouth of the Providence River between South Main and South Water streets. It’s directly across from the Point Street power station and during winter the silhouette of the power plant is reminiscent of the stark industrial Battersea power station that appeared on the cover of the Pink Floyd album Animals back in 1977. Arched four story windows are dimly lit between each of the three massive smoke stacks that give the Point Street station it’s Battersea like feel.  

When it rains this side of town the wind sweeping up the bay blows the drops horizontally into my face and I pull the collar of my jacket up to protect it. Running along the slippery cobblestones toward Al Forno with my collar up, dark dreary rain stinging my face, I feel like Edgar Allan Poe on one of his trips down Benefit Street, just a mile away, chasing the widow Sara Helen Whitman back in 1845. Providence’s south Main Street in spring and late fall, like other Poe dwelling places including Baltimore’s Fells point and Boston’s North End, has a macabre feeling on a stormy night and that’s just the way I like it when headed to Al Forno.

Is it strange for me to like this? Not really when you think about what happens when I step inside the restaurant. Once inside, the heat radiating from the massive wood fired ovens that George built more than 20 years ago creates an old fashioned dry heat and slightly smoky aroma that acts as a salve to the weather outside and delirium of Poe-like thoughts. Without the weather and mid-nineteenth century meets Pink Floyd mood the contrast between outside and in would not be so dramatic, the comfort not so deep. And that’s what I feel when I go to Al Forno, a reviving deep comfort.  Who wants to walk around soaking wet, feeling like Edgar Allan Poe, David Gilmour ringing in his ears? I much prefer warming up at the first floor bar, the massive wood fired oven in view on the other side of the garage like window along the wall.

Why the comfort? Because a restaurant that year after year offers perfectly prepared foods provides customers with a reliable experience in a world where finding the constant is a challenge. I am physically comfortable when I step through the door because I know what I like, know they will have it, and know it will be exactly like it was the last time I ordered it (not that I order the same item every time).

I even know the exact table I like. My preferred perch at Al Forno is one of the two-tops against a window on the left hand side of the second floor dining room – power plant in full view. As far as the menu goes, I always order an appetizer, a baked pasta, a pizza and fish if available. My back up entree is the Spicy Clam Roast with Mashed Potatoes, a dish I first enjoyed in 1992 that remains exactly the same today. Note that I plan my meal knowing there will be leftovers. Al Forno food is great the next day. 

George and Johanne have been plying their trade since the mid 1970’s when George worked for Dewey Dufresne, the emerging leader of the nascent Providence restaurant scene back then. Today Dewey is known as the king of Clinton Street after guiding his wonderful and talented son Wylie to the heights of the molecular and scientific food scene in the lower east village. Dewey, it seems, has a penchant for cultivating restaurant talent and passed this on to Johanne and George. The two, like their restaurant, have aged gracefully and now, like Dewey before them, they have spawned several generations of talented chefs that have gone on to open their own restaurants, most notably Bran Kingsford at Bacaro in Providence (to name just one).  Where they differ from most is the enduring quality offered at Al Forno. Most restaurants in their third decade of life are threadbare or uninspired but Al Forno bucked that fate and remains as relevant and excellent today as ever. Sated and comfortable!

 Grilled Pizza Margarita

Antipasto Al Forno

Crispy Cod Cakes with Smashed Avocado

Baked Pasta with Tomato Cream and Five Cheeses

Al Forno

577 South Main St

Providence, RI 02903


Burdicks Chocolate, Walpole, NH ~ A Mighty Chocolate Mouse

Posted 15 Sep 2010 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining, Food Alert Trends, Pastry & Dessert


As I write this, I am just finishing a delicious dark chocolate mouse, an L.A. Burdick Handmade Chocolates signature confection. It was a mouse made from dark chocolate ganache with fresh orange juice and a covering of dark chocolate. Over the past 23 years, thousands of others like it have helped place Burdick’s at the forefront of the craft chocolate movement in America. Burdick’s is one of my absolute favorite places to visit and this past weekend, craving a chocolate mouse, I set out on a road trip to the original Burdick’s store in Walpole, N.H. Back in 1987 Larry Burdick dreamed up the launch of his own confections shop and shortly thereafter Burdick’s was born. Back then it was unusual to find someone so committed to the craft of fine artisanal confections and Burdick’s stood out. Larry’s philosophy and extreme approach to quality was a forerunner to the shift toward quality and sustainability that is widespread today. He is regarded as one of the pioneers and catalysts of the America’s high-end chocolate boom while also being one of the entrepreneurial saviors of the small town of Walpole.

When I first discovered Burdick’s I was poking around Walpole (don’t ask why) and found his original store. Wandering in, it became clear to me that this wasn’t a neophyte’s attempt at an imitation chocolate shop targeted at the rare tourist that would pass through town. Although quaint in an undercapitalized but inspired sort of way, the store was pristine when it came to the chocolates on display. Peering back into the kitchen, I saw blocks of Felchlin couverture and all the proper tools, tempering machines and equipment that served as further evidence of a professional working his craft. Up front, the service was inconsistent but, tasting from a tray of samples, the flavor, mouth feel, and texture of the chocolate was astonishing. Delighted, my first thought was what the hell is this guy doing way up here in the middle of New Hampshire?

Turns out, Larry had moved up to Walpole from Manhattan as a respite from the frenetic pace and cost of living. He had paid his dues at some of the best restaurants in the city and moved north to pursue his dream and raise his family. Bucolic Walpole New Hampshire drew him in and kept him as it did the film maker Ken Burns and other well known celebrity and corporate types. Walpole offered Burdick and others like him a more restrained white clapboard and stars and stripes reality than the one created by visiting Saab and Granola urbanites dwelling to the west just across the Connecticut river in Vermont.

Although trained in France and Switzerland, another key to Burdick’s early success in addition to his chocolate mice was his willingness to take his classical training and parlay it into new flavor combinations and techniques. At a time when American born chefs were just starting to cast a vision for where cuisine in America could go, Larry was experimenting as well with combinations that the Swiss and French of the day would have castigated. Today, his bonbons, truffles, and caramels are well past the experimentation stage. One of my favorites is the lemon pepper truffle with dark chocolate, pepper, lemon and cream, dusted with fine cocoa powder (pictured above). The lemon and pepper flavors are so subtle and balanced that you have to inhale slightly to fully taste them after putting the truffle in your mouth and chewing for a couple of seconds. He also makes a fantastic rosehip tea bonbon and a tequila scented white chocolate and pistachio bonbon that are standouts.

As I look to my coffee table, there are five or six more bonbons left in the medium sized assortment I purchased. Getting close to 700 words now, it’s time for me to break away and enjoy another treat. There’s one more mouse left, a white one made from dark chocolate ganache with cinnamon covered in white chocolate. Lifting it up by its blue silk tail, it is now in my mouth and for this split second in time I am sated…

Grilled Island Creek Oysters

Posted 05 Sep 2010 — by S.E.
Category At Home

Next Saturday one of the best blowout oyster events in the country will take place just forty five minutes south of Boston in Duxbury Massachusetts. The fifth annual Island Creek Oyster Festival attracts up to 3000 people to Duxbury beach where the folks from Island Creek Oysters serve an estimated 30,000 oysters over a seven hour stretch from 3 to 11 p.m. The festival is a fundraiser for the Island Creek Foundation, a foundation that supports multiple causes and serves as proof that my favorite oysters are raised by people with giving hearts. If you like Oysters, there’s no other place to be.

Inspired by the approaching festivities, I took some time today to purchase a couple dozen of Island Creek’s best as a warm up for next week. These oysters are delicious. They are healthy and plump, briny and sweet. Like many cold water oysters, they have complex, crisp flavors that inspire me when I work with them.

Motivated, I scan the garden and fridge to see what’s on hand for a quick snack. There are two beautiful organic cucumbers from Grateful Farms, three bursting ripe tomatoes from my garden, a handful of just-picked shallots, a fresh red onion (onions are great this time of year), and my out-of-control patch of fresh herbs out back. Just to be sure I am on the right track I step out onto my pack patio, shuck three oysters and slurp them down refreshing my memory of how good these oysters are. It’s cool outside and I decide the weather is perfect for grilled oysters.

Grilled oysters are fantastic. When grilling oysters the trick is to cook them flat side up over a blazing hot preheated grill just until they start to pop open. Once they begin to open up, remove them from the grill and shuck off the top shell while taking care not to spill the juice. Just to be safe, I like to keep a large plate under my hands to catch any juice that may spill. If done right the oysters should be medium rare when served.


With eight medium rare grilled oysters topped with mignonette ready, I sit down with an ice cold Boston Larger and a napkin. Halfway through, the warm-up act takes effect and I start to wonder what next weekend will be like. How much effort does it take to shuck 30,000 oysters? Will there really be 3000 people there? These oysters are so good that I am sure both estimates will prove correct.

 Grilled Island Creek Oysters with Tomato Water Mignonette

 8 ea      Island Creek Oysters, scrubbed clean with a soft brush,

 Grill over high heat, remove top shell.

 For the tomato water mignonette

 ½         tsp        minced shallots

1          tsp        Extra virgin olive oil

½         tsp        Salt

½         tsp        Red Onion, minced

¼         C         Cucumber, peeled, seeded, fine dice

½         tsp        Italian Parsley, chopped fine

            pinch    Black pepper, fresh ground

3          tbsp      Tomato Water*

 Combine all ingredients. Taste, adjust salt and pepper. Spoon ½ teaspoon of the mignonette onto each hot oyster and serve.

* For the tomato water, cut a medium size tomato into 8-10 pieces and toss with 1 tsp of salt. Place in a small bowl and allow the tomato to rest for 20-30 minutes until the salt extracts 2-3 ounces of juice.

Craigie on Main Cambridge, MA: Time For A 10 Course Tasting Menu

Posted 02 Sep 2010 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining

The persistent recession we suffer from has me cutting back even when it comes to food. Rather than eat out for lunch, most days I brown bag it from home. Dinners out are usually two or three courses, up to five or six on occasion if I am researching a restaurant for this blog. It has been months since I have enjoyed a true multi-course meal of eight to ten courses and last week I decided to do something about it.

With another planned trip to Boston already on my schedule I decided to visit Tony Maws at Cragie on Main and made a reservation for the ten course tasting menu. I have been intrigued by Cragie on Main since visiting (although not eating) there during the TedX conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology last May.

For nearly a decade now, Maws has been building a solid reputation as a culinary craftsman with a sustainability orientation. He is known as a chef’s chef and can usually be found at the chefs table just across from the restaurant entry expediting service. When I arrived just as the restaurant opened at 5:30PM, he was totally engrossed with sharpening a ten-inch chef’s knife as his kitchen crew finalized their station set-up. This is a chef with a deep work ethic and there is no question in my mind that he could outperform nearly anyone at any station in his kitchen. I can’t explain how I know culinary talent when I see it but I do and Chef Maws has it.

Cragie on Main is the second incarnation of Maw’s original venture Cragie Street Bistro, hence the odd name. It occupies the first floor of a triangular building on Main Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts one block from Lafayette Square. The large open kitchen is just inside the main entrance and divides the restaurant into a main dining room on one side and a large comfortable bar on the other. I am seated at a wonderful corner banquette for two with views of the entire dining room and kitchen. Within minutes the food starts to arrive…I will let the pictures speak for themselves. 

 Three Seafood Preparations:

Squid noodles, Nuac Cham, House cured Greek sardine with Banyuls reduction,

House-smoked Coho Salmon, Dijon-Miso Vinaigrette


Hiramasa Sashimi

Three melons, green tomato-shiso salad, soy vinaigrette


Miso and Herb Marinated Grilled Cobia

 Maine crab, roasted cherry tomatoes, pistou-dashi broth



Red Chile and Sesame Marinated Hiramasa Kama



Potage of Local Butter and Sugar Corn

Boudin noir crostini


Grilled Vermont Pork Belly

Hominy, huckleberry jus


Elysian Fields Lamb Three Ways: Spice Crusted Breast,

Grilled Tongue, Roasted Neck

 Roasted fingerling potatoes, Alisa Craig onions, Cubanelle pepper puree



House Made Sorbets

Peach and plum 


 Creamy Anson Mills Corn Grits

Demerara brulee, lemon-thyme ice cream, blackberry compote


Rhubarb and Hibiscus Mousse


 Chocolate Almond Nougat

Cragie on Main

853 Main Street
Cambridge, MA 02139
617 497-5511