Providence

Accidental Locavore Taste Trekkers ShowAs you may have realized, the Accidental Locavore was recently in Providence, Rhode Island. Part of it was work and part of it was more work, if you can call it that. I was invited to the first Taste Trekker’s Conference, which was being held there. The purpose of it was to tempt people who travel for food (isn’t that all of us?) with destinations and cuisines near and far. Why Providence? Travel & Leisure named it America’s favorite city for food and drink.

It was a three-day event, but I was only able to attend the Saturday events. It started with a welcome address from Providence’s mayor, who amazingly gave everyone not only his Twitter handle, but his cell phone number! Can you imagine Nanny Bloomberg doing the same?

Accidental Locavore Lamb DemoWe then broke into smaller groups for a series of seminars. The first one was watching a lamb being broken down (butchered). It was surprisingly educational to see where everything comes from and I’m always fascinated by professionals with great knife skills (yeah, I know – practice, practice, practice). As he worked, Chef Speidel also explained how he tries to mix the various parts of the lamb when he serves it, so there’s no waste. The lambs came from North Star Sheep Farm which happens to be on the way to my parent’s house in Maine, so there may be a new stop on our next trip.

The next seminar was equally interesting – a look at a local charcuterie producer, Daniele. Did you have any idea that somewhere in Rhode Island there are 250,000 prosciuttos (prosciutti?) aging? Along with the prosciutto, this family business makes a variety of sausages and salamis from family recipes brought over during WWII. All were delicious and well worth seeking out.

Accidental Locavore Slicing ProscuittoFunnily enough, my least favorite seminar was the most educational. Tim Brown told us about his adventures in Madagascar at the chocolate plantation. After more of a (boring) slide show about growing cacao and the people involved, I was regretting my choice until we started tasting the chocolate. Much like wine tasting, Tim taught us the proper way to taste and evaluate chocolate, a skill which came in handy when Julie and I did our tasting.

Accidental Locavore Proscuitto and MozzarellaAfter the seminars, we got to mingle and feast on a large variety of food and purveyors. I was delighted to meet the owners of Narragansett Creamery (the makers of the amazing ricotta in the ravioli at Gracie’s). Speaking of ravioli, there was also pasta to be tasted from one of our friend’s favorite places in Providence, Venda Ravioli.

With all that food tasted, it was no surprise that I didn’t have enough of an appetite for a big dinner at Pot au Feu later. I’m hoping that this first Taste Trekker’s Conference was a success and can’t wait for next year’s! I’ll travel for food anytime, won’t you?

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Pot au Feu: Where Everyone Knows Your Name

by Anne Maxfield on October 14, 2013

Accidental Locavore WaterfireHow many times have you just wandered into a restaurant and felt immediately at home? Rarely, and hardly ever when you’re travelling solo, but that’s what happened when the Accidental Locavore wandered into Pot au Feu in Providence, recently. Gary, the manager at the Biltmore recommended it and I was immediately attracted to it (besides my weakness for anything French) because it was at the end of the route of Waterfire, an almost magical event where they light the river in Providence.

I wandered in and found a seat at the bar. It’s lovely, with beautiful blonde wood and art nouveau liquor cabinets (look on their website as my photos were terrible). Gary asked me to give his regards to Bob (the owner)and as it turned out, that’s who was tending bar that night. We immediately got to chatting and in the small-world, category, it turns out that we both knew the other Pot au Feu–Le Roi de Pot au Feu–in Paris. Bob said he had given them his aprons the last time he was there. Before long, as the bar started to fill up, he was giving me the low-down and introducing me to anyone and everyone who stopped by.

Accidental Locavore Broiled OystersWhile I was enjoying some amazing oysters broiled with a horseradish cream sauce, Bob was telling very funny and terribly politically-incorrect jokes that even more incredibly, were paired with the food I was eating.

Accidental Locavore CrepesAs I moved onto that evening’s special, savory crepes with blue cheese, chicken tomatoes and olives, Bob was telling me that the restaurant is actually the oldest bistro in the US and showing me photos and documents from the early days. In between that he was mixing drinks for all the regulars, which was everyone (including me) and showing off his bartending finesse. You know there’s that horrible trend now to consider anyone who can mix two alcoholic ingredients together and add ice, a mixologist. Well, Bob is most definitely not a mixologist, he’s a classic (and classy) bartender. Ask him for his signature Sazerac and hear the history of America’s first cocktail and how the New York Times messed up the recipe.

Unfortunately for me, I had been eating all day (ok, all weekend, ok, all week) and didn’t have the appetite to conquer a major meal like pot au feu. I’m sure in a place like that, it would be just perfect. I’ll just have to go back with a big appetite, perch at the bar, say hi to my new buddies and indulge while Bob mixes up more Sazerac’s.

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The Tyranny of Tasting Menus

by Anne Maxfield on October 7, 2013

Accidental Locavore Gracie's Scallop and Pork BellyRecently there has been dissent in  the ranks in regards to tasting menus, and while we can all agree that more than ten courses might be construed as excessive, the Accidental Locavore happens to love the freedom involved in a tasting menu. “Freedom,” you scoff, “it’s forcing you to eat whatever the chef tosses on a plate. There’s no choice involved.” Precisely!

One of the things that was always great about dining in Italy was that there would be a discussion (mostly in rapid-fire Italian) and then dish after dish of amazing food would just appear on the table. Because of that, even if you went to the same restaurant over and over, no meals would ever be the same.

Part of it has to be the element of surprise – just sitting back and letting another person take care of you food-wise. That’s why often in Indian, Thai or Chinese restaurants I let someone else order.

Accidental Locavore Gracie's Duck with Beet SauceI had forgotten how much fun it was, just to be indulged, until I was at Gracie’s in Providence (in the interest of disclosure, I am doing some consulting for them). Dining on my own, I was easily talked into the five-course tasting menu with wines, which somehow morphed into seven courses. What made it more fun was that the couple next to me was also doing the tasting, so I got a voyeuristic sneak preview of some of the dishes (which of course only made me start salivating sooner – 50 shades of food…).

Cheese Course, Hannabells, Tarentaise, Middlebury blue,Some of the highlights:

  • A translucent tuna tartare with gooseberries from their rooftop garden and salsa verde.
  • Cheese ravioli with tomatoes and red pepper caponata. It was the first time I’ve ever had ricotta-stuffed ravioli where you could actually taste the ricotta (it’s from Narragansett Creamery  and supposedly available at Eataly, I may never make my own again!).
  • The chef’s riff on scallops wrapped in bacon, with a perfectly cooked scallop resting on a slice of pork belly and surrounded by autumn vegetables.
  • How well the blue cheese sourdough bread paired with the Gamay that was poured for the fourth course.
  • A sublime duck breast with seckle pear, fennel and beets. When I asked Chef Matt how he cooked it, he said it started out with a really good duck, and that he really let it rest after cooking (a message we’ve all heard and probably ignored – no longer!).
  • What will now be my latest cheese obsession – Hannahbells from Shy Brothers Farm in Westport MA. Amazing little buttons of fabulous cheese – takes you straight to France (and can be ordered online, which I will do as soon as this is finished). It was part of a mini cheese plate with lovely accompaniments (which, sorry Chef Matt, I never touched as the cheese was so good on its own).

Accidental Locavore Gracie's DessertIf you think I got special treatment, I’ve been told that they routinely do tasting menus for solo diners. In fact, they have regulars who come solo to the bar on a weekly basis for the pleasure of the surprise. So, if you feel like being indulged, why don’t you let yourself be “tyrannized” by a tasting menu at a great restaurant like Gracie’s?

And I did get special treatment, these beautiful photographs are by Jason Wessel who does all Gracie’s photography. Many thanks!

 

 

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