Asparagus

Spring vs. Fall: Guilty of Seasonal Profiling?

by Anne Maxfield on April 11, 2016

Accidental Locavore Red Hook ApplesWhile wandering the golf course on a beautiful October day last fall and picking apples off the trees, it occurred to the Accidental Locavore that maybe, just maybe, it’s not really a dislike of fall produce, but possibly I’m guilty of seasonal profiling.

Accidental Locavore Nice MarketWhile I’ll happily gorge on asparagus, ramps, morels and strawberries the minute they start to appear, apples, and any form of winter squash generally get the cold shoulder from me. I’m always so ho-hum about them – cooking them and enjoying them on an as-needed basis, but never really embracing them.

Accidental Locavore Butternut Squash With SaucesHowever, this winter, I made a recipe for butternut squash from Ottolenghi’s Plenty More that was wonderful and could make me a believer. And when I feel like they’ve been sitting around too long, there’s always dehydrating them for the dog (or unsuspecting guests). Like most fruits and vegetables, a fresh-picked crisp apple has a lot going for it, great flavor and texture, that you don’t get later in the year. But the days get shorter, leaves fall off trees and you know it’s going to be progressively colder. Not good.

Accidental Locavore DaffodilsSpring on the other hand, brings all sorts of young greens. There are morels and ramps to be foraged for, or bought at a farmers’ market – which are back in business. Asparagus hit the stores, getting bigger (my favorites, yes, I’m a size queen) as the season progresses. Artichokes, another favorite, arrive from the other coast and strawberries introduce months of berries and cherries. There are all my favorite flowers – daffodils, tulips, peonies and lilacs. The days get longer and warmer and sorry, you can’t begin to argue that anything in October beats that!

Accidental Locavore Huge SquashEven though I might be a candidate for fall tolerance training (butternut squash matter?), I love a day where it’s light past 5:00, I can dust off the barbecue and save Frank from washing a pile of pots and pans. Give me spring lamb, asparagus any way, and a bunch of daffodils from the garden and I’m happy! What about you? Any arguments for squash and apples?

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Dinner at the Seafire Grill

by Anne Maxfield on August 17, 2015

Accidental Locavore Seafire Grill InteriorRecently the Accidental Locavore was invited to try out the (new to me) Seafire Grill. It’s a big room on East 48th Street. When you enter, there’s a large, active bar to your right and a long dining room behind that. We were warmly greeted by Aron the manager, sporting a good-looking pink tie.

Even though it was a Wednesday night in the summer, the bar and restaurant were packed, with large parties enjoying themselves. That didn’t keep the service from being perfectly attentive, a sign of a well-run restaurant.

When you sit down, a basket of flatbread crackers and focaccia arrive at the table with the house specialty – a very tasty whitefish spread. It had a nice smoky flavor, which distracted from the slightly stale focaccia.

The wine list is extensive and interesting, with plenty of selections, both red and white, at all price points. We decided on a lovely Sancerre from the list of half bottles.

Accidental Locavore Oysters RockefellerWhat’s interesting about Seafire Grill is that it’s run like a steak house. Large, generally unadorned portions of seafood can be complimented by a host of side dishes and vegetables. While several of the dishes have an Asian flair, there’s nothing “weird” on the menu – it’s all pretty straight-forward.

Our self-imposed ground rules were that we couldn’t order the same thing so we could taste as many different dishes as two people could. We started out with the tuna tartare and oysters Rockefeller. The tuna came on a bed of seaweed salad which was a little sweet, but the tuna was perfectly fresh and nicely prepared. Oysters Rockefeller are a pretty traditional dish, but every now and then they hit the spot and these certainly did! The addition of some pink peppercorns gave the well-prepared oysters a nice punch.

Accidental Locavore Arctic CharI opted for the daily special of Arctic char over julienned zucchini and soba noodles. Perfectly cooked, it was nicely flavored and the pickled ginger that topped it was a good addition.

After a short debate as to whether swordfish was still on the do-not-eat list (if it’s American it’s okay) my friend had the Montauk swordfish. It came with two sauces, one an avocado, similar to a guacamole, and a Seafire version of a remoulade. Again, it was a perfectly cooked piece of fish, well-spiced and enhanced with the avocado sauce.

Accidental Locavore Seafire AsparagusWe were encouraged to order some vegetables and since kale always sounds too healthy, we went with the asparagus. It was billed as having black truffles and Parmesan (definitely not as virtuous as the kale). Five average-sized spears came to the table. Sadly there was no sense of either truffle or Parmesan – just some balsamic-colored sauce with no discernible flavor.

If you’re not a fish lover, there are plenty of meat options, including a good variety of steaks and surf & turf, if you’re really on the fence.

Desserts were tempting, with a good selection of the classics (cheesecake, crème brûlee, molten chocolate cake) to what looked like a nice trip of cheeses but we were way too full from the generous portions to indulge.

The night we were there it was pretty noisy, but there were two large tables behind us which probably created the din. We both remarked that the wait-staff was exactly attentive enough – a delicate balancing act, especially as it got busier and busier. Prices are what you would expect for midtown, with all the fish being pristine and perfectly cooked.

I’d like to thank both Aron and Alex, Seafire Grill’s managers, for a lovely dinner and Janet, for putting it all together.

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A Presidential Dinner

by Anne Maxfield on May 11, 2015

Accidental Locavore Dinner in the White SuiteFollowing the tour of Golf Adriatic, the Accidental Locavore and company went on to explore the Kempinski Hotel Adriatic. Entering the recently built hotel, the lobby is a big open expanse with an inlaid floor and many chandeliers. Downstairs is a large and luxurious spa, with a host of top-notch services. After touring a standard room and junior suite (both lovely, with lots of high-end finishes and the latest in electronics), we went up to the top floor to the white Presidential Suite (the other one, at the opposite end of the hotel is the Black Suite). It’s massive and very white, with columns draped in Swarovski crystals, white couches, white marble everywhere–you get the idea. The floor-to-ceiling glass opens up to an almost equally gigantic terrace. Had it been clearer out, we would have been able to see across the Adriatic to Venice, but we happily settled for the coast of Slovenia.

When we turned around and went back inside, we found a large table set for dinner. It turned out to be the surprise we’d been hearing rumors about all afternoon.

Marko, our guide from the Istrian Tourist Bureau, had worked for the hotel and managed to get Istrian Master Chef Zoran Čobanov of the hotel to prepare one final feast for us. Chef took many of the local products we’d been eating all week and elevated them to the stratosphere!

Accidental Locavore Amuse of RicottaIt started with an amuse of fresh ricotta with three spears of wild asparagus and half a strawberry. The ricotta was creamy and delicious and the slight bitterness of the asparagus was tempered by the sweetness of the cream and strawberry.

Accidental Locavore Tuna CarpaccioFrom there we moved on to the “real” menu. First up was one of the most beautiful presentations of tuna carpaccio I’ve ever seen! Three bars of tuna were centered in a large white bowl surrounded by three drops of beet sauce on the left and three drops of carrot purée on the right. Topping the tuna were some micro greens, dehydrated olives and drops of lime jelly. I was hesitant at first; as you all know, beets are not on my hit parade, but I just ignored the drops on the left and focused on what turned out to be a dish that you just never wanted to finish!

Accidental Locavore Asparagus Soup With Ice CreamFollowing that was a light and refreshing asparagus soup. Making it unique was the Grana Padano ice cream, slowly melting into the soup. It was like the best combination of cheese and cream, but better, way better!

Accidental Locavore Istrian FritajaThat was followed by what was described as an “Istrian new fritaja with black truffle”. I guess that the easy way of describing it would be to call it a deconstructed version of scrambled eggs with black truffle, but that is really an injustice. You were presented with another large white plate with a small dark knob in the center of a creamy, pale yellow sauce, surrounded by truffle shavings. There was a sprinkling of local sea salt and off to the side, some caviar. The knob was actually a mushroom hiding the yolk of an egg. When you cut into the mushroom the yolk was broken and then you spooned the caviar in and mixed it all up. In a trip filled with amazing meals, this is the dish I’ll be dreaming about!

Accidental Locavore Sponge With FishWhen we got through swooning over the fritaja, there was a fish course with a piece of Adriatic fish, toasted and served on a “sepia ink sponge” with tiny clams. Although it doesn’t sound as divine as the rest of the menu and for some the idea of eating a black sponge seemed daunting, the sponge turned out to be an airy piece of bread dyed black with squid ink and topping a perfectly cooked fish filet and sweet clams. Adding a drizzle of the local olive oil made this seemingly simple dish as wonderful as the previous courses.

Accidental Locavore Lemon CreamTo cleanse our palates, the fish was followed by a smooth and refreshing frozen lemon cream. Palates cleansed, we moved on to dessert. What was simply described as “Chocolate cake with olive oil” was anything but!

Accidental Locavore Chocolate DessertRiding on a trail of cream sauce was a chocolate ball, dusted with cocoa. There was a single raspberry, a drop of blueberry sauce, a greenish disc of olive oil and a swirl of the thinnest chocolate cookie. The ball consisted of a chocolate cookie topped with mousse and surrounded by a hard chocolate shell. Taking a taste of each of the elements with the centerpiece, just gave new dimensions to this grand finale.

While this truly memorable evening was created just for us, I’ve been told that some of the dishes (including my favorite–the fritaja) are available in the hotel restaurant Kanova. Or, for an extraordinary evening, you can book the suite, have them recreate our amazing dinner and take your after-dinner drinks in the suite’s rooftop hot tub overlooking the lights of the Adriatic coast. Živjeli!

 

 

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The Accidental Locavore in Nice, at Le Victor Hugo

by Anne Maxfield on April 14, 2014

Accidental Locavore Russan CathedralThe Accidental Locavore thinks that sometimes the old saying “no good deed goes unpunished” doesn’t hold true in France. Many of our most memorable meals  come when my husband and I have been exploring  places one of us has little or no interest in (all the F1 racetracks in France) and afterwards, as a reward we always seem to find an amazing meal.

Such was the case when we went off in search of the one big tourist attraction in Nice we had never seen, the Russian Orthodox Cathedral. This was an adventure that the Locavore had wanted to do for a while, but Frank is not a big church guy and it was pretty far off our regular routes. Along the way, down Avenue Victor Hugo, possibly the most beautiful street in Nice, we came upon a little corner bistro, with a simple but interesting menu, a possibility for lunch later. Accidental Locavore Le Victor Hugo

After a mostly nice, long walk we came to the Cathedral. Built by Tzar Nicholas and finished in 1912, it’s big and beautiful, with azure and green tiled onion domes surrounded by an intricate cast iron fence…locked! Now why a church would be closed on Good Friday is beyond me, but it’s probably because the Russian Orthodox religion has Easter on a different calendar than we do. Back home we schlepped, with me hoping that lunch at le Victor Hugo would be good enough to erase his short-term memory of a long walk for a closed cathedral.

Accidental Locavore French CharcuterieYou had to know it was going to be fine when the musician (my husband) was seated under a painting of a conductor. You had to know it was going to be fine when there was no menu, just a recitation of the day’s three main courses. You had to really hope it was going to be fine, when Frank ordered a lunchtime pastis. And you had to relax and know it was going to be fine when you got really hungry, seeing what the guy at the next table was eating.

It was more than fine!Accidental Locavore Cold Asparagus

While Frank sipped his drink, the hostess/waitress brought an amuse bouche of salami and a smooth pâté on tiny slices of ficelle (a baguette’s skinny cousin) I had a starter of white asparagus with green tips in a simple vinaigrette. Then we both had the côte de boeuf, perfectly grilled, sprinkled with sea salt and served with béarnaise sauce on the side.Accidental Locavore Cote de Boeuf It tasted as good as it looked! But what would any steak in France be without a side of frites? These were small cubes, golden brown, hot, salty and amazingly good!Accidental Locavore Frites As Frank noticed, somehow each and every piece of potato was perfectly fried on each surface. Definitely in the top ten of potatoes I have eaten, and believe me, we ate all of them!

Dessert? No room for what looked like perfect pastries and tarts, just a very reasonable bill and a couple of very happy diners. Accidental Locavore Happy Frank

As we left, Frank looked at an adjoining table and said wistfully (and on a full stomach) “They got an entree portion of the potatoes….”

 

 

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