Archive for September, 2011

Persimmon ~ Bristol, RI

Posted 30 Sep 2011 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining

Entering Persimmon restaurant in Bristol, Rhode Island is like walking into a French impressionist painting. The entrance is pastel green painted brick with large inviting windows wonderfully weighted with planters overflowing with ivy and geraniums. Pass through the large red front door into the serene and subtly decorated dining room and you fall into the comfort and care of the lovely Lisa Speidel, wife of Chef and co-owner Champe Speidel.  Take notice of the small framed photo on the maitre d’ stand located to the right of the entryway; it’s a loving photo of Lisa and Champe on their wedding day. The meaning isn’t lost on me. Pausing, I realize that this dining room is a place where Lisa spends dozens of hours a week. It is her office, her production floor, her work space and, at times when customers aren’t present, her respite from a busy day. I am a guest now awash with comfort and I feel like I am sitting in the Speidel’s living room. Persimmon evokes a relaxing vibe and feels right. All this emotion and feeling in a matter of minutes upon entering the restaurant.

Tucked into a four-top by one of the front windows, I can see most of the dining room. All the tables are full and people are visibly relaxed and comfortable on this sunny late summer evening; remnants of the sun painting parts of the room varying shades of yellow and orange. My server approaches and reviews the menu, takes my wine order and departs at a comfortable pace. Wine in hand, my first course arrives; a plate of warm Quonset Point oysters with wakame seaweed butter. I know these oysters, they are
from Bill Silke’s American Mussel Harvesters salt water farm just down Narragansett Bay. There’s fresh and then there’s AMH fresh and nothing is better, these are as good as oysters get.

Warm Quonset Point Oysters, Wakame Seaweed Butter

Chef Champe Speidel is a James Beard Best Chef Northeast finalist for 2011 and the recognition is well deserved and overdue. Speidel opened Persimmon in 2005 with just 38 seats, vision and deep passion for the culinary profession. Having run a small fine dining restaurant myself for several years, I can only imagine how hard he works to make a restaurant with such limited seating profitable. He is soft spoken yet precise and, according to the ladies I know his good looks are the definition of dashing. From my perspective he’s a professional chef’s chef and the town of Bristol is lucky to have him.

The oysters are followed by a delicate scallop crudo garnished with herbs and thinly sliced red chili. I know the herbs and garnish are from a farm just up the road from the restaurant and suspect the massive sea scallops are from New Bedford, MA. Speidel knows what he likes and isn’t afraid to stray away from hyper local items in favor of foods reminiscent of his youth in Florida like the Red Drum fillets on the menu tonight. Spiced with Andouille sausage and little neck clams rich with umami, this clearly isn’t a Rhode Island dish but it sure is delicious and satisfying.

Scallop Crudo with Fresh Herbs and Red Chili

Like Rhode Island as a whole, Bristol has a disproportionate number of great restaurants relative to its size. Just one block from the stunning harbor and marina, Persimmon is in its own class and floats among the best restaurants in the country from a service and quality perspective. It isn’t New York chic or tightly wound like the best modernist restaurants of Chicago; it’s a classic local restaurant serving world class food without the fuss. It fits its surroundings in Bristol perfectly but could just as easily be located on the upper east side of Manhattan or the south end of Boston. Once inside this Monet painting of a restaurant you forget the outside world anyway; it’s the food that takes you away.

 Foie Gras with Lamb Neck Confit

Red Drum Fillet, Andoullie, Little Necks

Lamb Loin, Sausage, Belly, Rillettes

Warm Salad of Native Summer Vegetales, Herbs, Flowers, Vegetable Crisps, Creamy Dressing

Carrot Cake


Persimmon Restaurant

31 State St.

Bristol, RI 02809


Spur ~ Seattle

Posted 24 Sep 2011 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining

It’s a Wednesday night and I am sitting at a table in the dining room at Spur in Seattle with Chef Dana Tough, a true culinary professional and rising national star. Tough, whose boyish looks betrays tremendous talent, and co-chef Brian McCracken opened Spur in Seattle’s Belletown neighborhood in 2008 and have never looked back. Within the first year they built a reputation for an innovative approach to modern American gastronomy.  As I sit with Dana, a black and white image of the canals of Amsterdam is projected via an LCD projector on a whitewashed interior wall. The room is dimly lit and the projected image casts a classic European tone in the room. It makes me feel cool and jazzy, relaxed and hip. Dana laughs and tells me that on other nights he projects black and white spaghetti westerns on the screen much to his customers delight. I am here to eat and to talk innovation and we are off to a good start. Staring at Dana I wonder if, perhaps, the most innovative thing about Spur is its leadership model.

It’s About Leadership

Spur has two head chefs. It’s very rare to find a restaurant where two chefs, side by side, ply their trade and achieve greatness without a train wreck of ego and rivalry. Sitting here I am subtly observant, seeking evidence whether the two chef model works at Spur. Halfway through our meal Chef Brian McCracken comes in and stops by our table. He is smiling because it’s his birthday. Dana smiles back and shakes his hand. The authenticity in his smile and genuine professional regard between the two leaves me amazed. Having two chefs in one restaurant is unprecedented. Most restaurants have a hierarchy with one chef at the top serving as pack leader and a bunch of followers below. Spur thrives because McCracken and Tough collaborate and the restaurant bubbles with a positive atmosphere and happy yet hardworking staff. That McCracken came into the restaurant on his birthday to say hello and have a drink suggests that Spur is more than just a business, it’s a passion. I can tell he loves the place and that Dana and he respect the hell out of each other. Real collaboration is
innovative in the restaurant business.

It’s About People

If innovation is about problem solving, one problem Spur has is that it is extremely busy with no room for growth. In turn, McCracken and Tough talk about the launch of Coterie Room, a new restaurant venture adjacent to Spur. The “McToughen” team as they are known in Seattle have three restaurants (Spur, Tavern Law, Coterie) with no expectation of slowing down. Both speak about the need to find pathways for advancement of their talented staff members and expansion provides new opportunities for all. Innovation not only includes outright rejection of the old-school brigade system for a higher form of collaboration, it includes a concern for growth and personnel, quality of work life and advancement.

It’s About Food and Drink

Dana heads back to the kitchen and I start down the path of nine courses randomly selected from the menu. Spur defines the modern American Gastropub and may have in fact invented it. Each dish that arrives is perfectly portioned, and dynamic with a modernist aesthetic. I start with a beautiful foie gras terrine with rhubarb, rose and sorrel. What follows includes eight additional masterfully prepared courses and several fresh, craft made cocktails. Execution is excellent save one protein that may have been in a thermal circulator for a bit too long. Flavor progression is nice even though the items Dana selected are a mix and match of the a la carte menu. This tells me that the overall menu is thoughtfully designed. The food exceeds my expectations and Dana and Brian do as well.


Foie Gras Terrine, Rhubarb, Rose, Sorrel


Tomatoes and Melon

Big Eye Tuna Crudo, Caviar, Avocado, Radish


Veal Sweetbreads, Bing Cherry, Corn, Lemon Verbena


Corned Duck Breast, Stone Fruit, Chanterelle, Leek


Parisian Gnocchi, Turnip, English Peas, Truffle


Waygu Sirloin, Cauliflower, Baby Artichoke, Almond Gremolata


Strawberry, Vanilla Cream, Rhubarb Ice Cream


Chocolate Torte, Bing Cherry, Peanut, Sorrel



113 Blanchard Street,

Seattle, Washington, 98121


Sportello Restaurant ~ Boston

Posted 01 Sep 2011 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining

Barbra Lynch seems to design her restaurants so they run better without her than with her.  Don’t get me wrong, Chef Lynch is at the center of her restaurant group. She is the visionary and the driving force behind every new concept and outlet. However, her restaurants are well run and the food at each and every one is consistently excellent, not just excellent when Barbara is in the house. I admire this.

A recent trip to Sportello, Lynch’s take on a modern lunch counter, is a case in point. I arrive a bit before lunch and take a seat on a black bar stool at the end of the counter closest to the hot line. Sportello is located next door to Menton, Lynch’s fine dining outpost in the Seaport (Fort Point) neighborhood of Boston and one flight of stairs above Lynch’s wonderful bar Drink.

My server is just across the counter at the point of sales system talking with a colleague about the graduate courses she is taking in Gastronomy at Boston University. I can’t help but hear her quick but detailed description of the course and the words she uses suggests to me that she is a writer and an intellect.  To my left, a heavy set chef walks past, glances at her and takes up station on the hot line. He makes eye contact with me for a second and smiles slightly and turns away to finish his station prep.

The kitchen at Sportello is wide open to the dining counter; the entire culinary crew is on stage. Now my server approaches and takes a drink order. I ask about BU and she smiles and fills me in on her background. She’s working for Lynch to build her resume and learn the business while hoping her graduate degree will lead to greener pastures in the world of food, food writing, teaching or, perhaps restaurant ownership.

Off she goes to pull my drink order while I study the menu seeking options. She’s back now with some suggestions. I ask her to bring me the two best selling items on the menu and she agrees to deliver a tagliatelle with sauce Bolognese and fried basil and her favorite item: a strozzapreti (hand rolled “priest chokers) with braised rabbit, picholine olives and rosemary. I am game so off she goes again.

First up: a hot plate of tagliatelle topped with finely grated pecorino. For years I have been making an excellent tagliatelle, one that I roll a few extra times through the pasta machine to assure that the thin sheets have excellent bite after being cooked al dente, a la minute. The tagliatelle (the pasta itself) at Sportello exceeds my expectations. Better yet, the Bolognese is the real deal and not overcooked like so many I have tried. It’s rich with a deep meat and tomato flavor. The basil leaf adds color and aroma; an excellent simple dish.

Second: the strozzapreti. The rustic inconsistency of the shapes of this hand-rolled deliciously light pasta is endearing. After braising the rabbit the sauce is reduced by eighty percent into a savory brown glace that clings with gelatinous tenacity to the pasta. Each piece of rabbit is moist and fork-tender throughout. This is a very rich dish that is cut by the light bitterness of the picholine olives and the saltiness of the pecorino. By the way, I ordered half portions knowing that Sportello would be generous. The rabbit is the best I have had in Boston.

Prior to heading for the door I sample a small plate of fresh ricotta (usually an amuse at Sportello) as a dessert and it is a perfect ending. Not once did any employee at Sportello flash Chef Lynch’s picture in my face. Her image isn’t glued to the wall nor is it pasted across the menu. Sportello is a standalone restaurant with a good professional, smart crew that executes Lynch’s cuisine with no pretense and with no need to stand on her shoulders all day long. I like this restaurant and, as I have said before, I like Barbara Lynch.


348 Congress St

Boston, MA 02210