Chef’s Tasting Table at Mohonk Mountain House

by Anne Maxfield on May 15, 2017

Accidental Locavore Mohonk Mountain House Fois GrasMohonk Mountain House is one of the Hudson Valley’s iconic hotels and has been a favorite place to stay for almost 150 years.

There’s plenty to do to build up an appetite and a massive dining room to enjoy a meal.

But everyone knows that.

Accidental Locavore Mohonk Mountain House OysterWhat you don’t know is that there’s a secret staircase in the back of the dining room leading to the massive kitchen that regularly puts out 500-600 meals every evening.

In the middle of that, is the space that only puts out 10 very special meals.

I was one of those lucky diners recently and was invited to experience the eleven-course Chef’s Tasting Table menu with wines, designed by Executive Chef Jim Palmeri.

It’s offered on Friday and Saturday nights at 6:30 with a six-person minimum. You can take your chances on an available spot (or two), or be a big spender and reserve the whole table for a very special occasion.  If you like wine, you might want to consider spending the night – the wines are lovely and well matched to the food, and the road home from Mohonk is not one you want to mess with.

Accidental Locavore Mohonk Mountain House RisottoThe menu changes depending on the season and what’s good locally. While Chef Palmeri and his team use local ingredients wherever possible, they do stretch the boundaries to include luxuries like black truffles and, for our dinner, mainly French wines.

If you think eleven courses sounds daunting, most of them are just a mouthful or two. The exceptions are the entrée (the only choice you have to make for the evening) and the dessert – so extraordinary it deserves and is getting its own post.

Mohonk Mountain House SashimiOne of the big treats for me as a diner has always been those meals where you just sit back and let the chefs do what they do best – cook. I love the combination of not having to make a choice and the surprise that each course and every mouthful brings!

To have something to refer to, I was given a menu at the beginning, but it got folded it up and hidden in my purse so as not to ruin the surprises to come.

Mohonk Mountain House DuckAnd, to not ruin your surprise, because you truly need to go there (I know you’ve got a birthday coming up), I’m just going to highlight some of my favorite bites and let you drool over the photos.

To book your own dining adventure (and don’t forget about a room) call: 845-883-3798.

My thanks to Chef Jim Palmeri, Executive Sous Chef Steve Anson, Robert Leduc and the amazing staff at the Mohonk Mountain House for a memorable dinner!

For more photos, check out Mohonk Mountain House Cheese Course







Beef and Onion Gratin

by Anne Maxfield on February 18, 2016

Accidental Locavore Beef GratinWhile you might think that a gratin has to have cheese, as the Accidental Locavore recently found out, it just means that it is topped with a browned crust. I was making the famous chicken from Judy Rodger’s The Zuni Café Cookbook and came across her recipe for a beef gratin or le Miroton, which she says is a French way to transform leftovers. Having some leftover roast beef, I thought this would be a good alternative to roast beef sandwiches (even on Tartine’s great bread, 2-3 days lunch is enough). Her recipe is per person, I doubled it to serve 2:

  • 10 ounces leftover beef from Pot au Feu or short ribs, sliced ¼” thick
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound onions (about 4-5) sliced
  • Salt & pepper
  • 2 teaspoons flour
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 2 small ripe tomatoes

For the topping:

  • ½ cup fresh breadcrumbs
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • Splash of white wine

Accidental Locavore Stewing OnionsIn a sauté pan that will hold the onions in a ½-1” layer, warm a splash of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and stir once or twice. Cook until they are colored slightly. Salt and stir again. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan and cook until the onions are soft and silky, about 15 minutes.

Sprinkle the onions with the flour, stir and simmer until the juices have thickened. Stir in the broth and cook for a few minutes until you have a syrupy stew. Salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat the oven to 425°.

Slice off the ends of the tomato and slice ¼” thick. If the tomatoes are really wet, place between paper towels while you’re prepping the gratin.

Combine the topping ingredients in a small bowl and toss well.

Accidental Locavore Prepping GratinConstruct the gratin. In a shallow gratin pan lightly greased with olive oil, begin with a smear of the onions, then a layer of the meat, slightly overlapping. Spread with a thicker layer of onions, then the tomatoes. Repeat, ending with a Spartan layer of tomatoes. Tamp lightly to encourage the layers to sink into each other. It should be quite moist. If not, add a splash of broth or water. It will thicken during cooking and you want it have enough sauce.

Top with a thin layer of breadcrumbs (depending on the size of your dish, you may not need them all).

Bake until it bubbles at the edges and the topping is golden brown, about 15-30 minutes. Serve and enjoy!

My verdict: A great way to use any number of leftovers! Judy suggests that instead of the tomatoes, you could use truffles and I almost used some truffle paste I had, but decided not to go overboard. Mushrooms or potatoes would be fine – actually, you could just use whatever was kicking around the fridge. I ended up using red wine with the bread crumbs and other than having pink breadcrumbs, it didn’t seem to make a difference.




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!





The Zen of Wild Asparagus

by Anne Maxfield on May 4, 2015

Accidental Locavore Wild AsparagusSometimes something simple makes you step back and focus. For the Accidental Locavore, it was hunting wild asparagus in Istria. There, wild asparagus are everywhere, but if you’re not looking you can easily walk past acres of them. Our hunt started in Golaš, by the winery San Tommaso. Accidental Locavore San Tommaso WineryWe got a briefing from Goran and Janja on how to pick them (snap off from just above the ground) and learned that the harpoon-like tool he picked up wasn’t for asparagus, but snakes – never a good sign!

Accidental Locavore Wild IrisWandering out towards the woods, we passed by beautiful clumps of iris, growing wild by old stone walls. Further out in the countryside, Goran showed us what to look for. Usually there are feathery clumps of greenery, like its cultivated cousin. Then you have to really focus in and look for the elusive spears. In the wild, asparagus is well camouflaged. It blends in and looks like grass. Accidental Locavore Another Wild AsparagusI don’t think I ever found a green spear, just purple ones because they stood out a little from the rest. Goran and Janja just cruised along stopping every couple of feet to pick a stalk or two. After a while, when you’ve really begun to focus in, it does become easier and then you start to see them everywhere. Luckily, the same could not be said for snakes!

Accidental Locavore Goran With AsparagusWhen we had a nice bunch we headed back to the winery to prepare them. Once rinsed, Janja told us to snap off the tips and the next section (about an inch or two). That made a nice bowlful that was split between two dishes. Sneaking a nibble, I noticed that they were much more bitter than the larger, cultivated ones we get, but still tasting like asparagus.

Accidental Locavore Istrian BaconFirst up: scrambled eggs with wild asparagus, bacon and Parmesan. The asparagus was cooked in the fat from the bacon and set aside. Once the (dozen) farm-fresh eggs were scrambled the bacon and asparagus were added back in and topped with cheese. Paired with a Malvazija, it was a well-deserved and delicious dish!

Accidental Locavore Scrambled Eggs With AsparagusNext up: risotto with wild asparagus. This time, onions were sautéed in local olive oil and the rice added. Much stirring and twenty minutes later, the asparagus went in and a sprinkle of Parmesan finished off the dish. The rice was perfectly al dente and the asparagus gave a nice, slightly bitter bite to the dish that was offset by the cheese. A Terran, the local red grape, was the perfect accompaniment.

Accidental Locavore Risotto With AsparagusWe don’t often get to forage for our food and thankfully we don’t need to. However, sometimes it’s good to put aside the big city malaise of going, going, going and take time and regard the surroundings. Who knows what you’ll find?

Accidental Locavore San Tommaso WinesIf you’re interested, San Tommaso does tours and other lunches when asparagus aren’t in season. Pasta with truffles and charcuterie are some of the other choices. They’re flexible and Janja will work with you to make it memorable (but the asparagus are a really good reason to go in the spring!).