Crabtree’s Kittle House—Truly Farm-to-Table

by Anne Maxfield on April 23, 2018

Accidental Locavore Crabtree's Chef LippinThere are a lot of restaurants calling themselves farm-to-table, and in a sense, all food is farm-to-table. Some may just have stopped at a processing plant or two and some may have traveled further than you have in your lifetime.

That’s not the case with Chef Jay Lippin at Crabtree’s Kittle House.

Here’s a place where the chef has binders full of notes, for the 40 or so farmers he works with. And that’s not counting the garden beds ringing the property.

It started out when farmers would come to the back door of the kitchen offering to sell their crops. As the numbers and quality of local farms increased, so did the potential for using as much local food as possible.

In the fall Chef Lippin reviews what went well, exhaustively studies seed catalogues (marking them up to the point where one farmer said it looked like a porcupine!) and analyzes everything with each farmer who supplies the restaurant.

All this attention to detail and care is reflected in the food. Along with sourcing as much as he can locally, he’s made it a point to use less-than-perfect food and bits, like green coriander seeds, with spectacular results.

We’ve eaten there a few times and every meal has been memorable.

Recently, I broke with tradition and insisted that my birthday dinner be at Crabtree’s.

Accidental Locavore Crabtree Tap RoomWe opted for the Tap Room, it’s more casual and you have the advantage of being able to order from both menus.

A half dozen Kumamoto oysters and a “perfect” Moscow mule for Frank got us off to a great start.

The kitchen sent up what Jay calls salmon bacon and eggs. It’s maple-smoked salmon on a piece of cornbread and topped with a tiny sunny-side up quail egg. Sweet and smoky it paired wonderfully with an incredible Spanish white that Leo, the sommelier gave us to taste.

Accidental Locavore Crabtree's SalmonI opted for the duck breast, served over puréed fava beans with a black currant compote. I’ve never really given fava beans much thought—too much prep work, but after last night I may have to rethink my stance on them. The duck was perfectly cooked and seasoned and would have been fine on its own or with just the black current compote. However, the fava bean purée just launched it into a whole other dimension–spectacular!

Frank had the hangar steak, also perfectly seasoned and cooked. There was a pile of perfectly stacked onion rings that came with it. Onion rings to me, are almost always a disappointment—too thick and bready, or too thin and flavorless. These managed to have the best of both worlds, thin rings of onions with a batter that was just thick and spiced enough to give them both flavor and character—the best onion rings I’ve had in ages!

We were way too full for dessert, but Frank managed to make the most of an almond cake with almond ice cream and almond brittle. I snuck a bite or two because it was so good.

The kitchen also sent over an espresso panna cotta which was almost like a dessert version of a cappuccino—top layer of espresso and bottom layer of cream. Considering how stuffed we were, we did manage to eat a good portion of it.

Accidental Locavore Crabtree's DessertAll our experiences at Crabtree’s have been terrific. While the food is consistently great (I honestly don’t think I’ve had a bad bite there), I also want to give a shout-out to the staff. It is one of the most professional, attentive and friendly groups and they are a big part of what makes it a wonderful restaurant.


A couple of notes: Since it was my birthday where we were there this last time, I wasn’t taking pictures, so these photos are from previous visits. Also, the wine cellars there are so incredible, they deserve their own piece, so stay tuned.


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La Fin

by Anne Maxfield on February 29, 2016

Accidental Locavore Nice at NightIt’s always at the end of a trip that you discover stuff you wish you’d known before. On the next-to-last day in Nice, the Accidental Locavore discovered that if you hit the good bakery just at 12:30, the baguettes are blissfully warm! If I didn’t have a lunch reservation at one of my favorite restaurants, Le Victor Hugo (another last day discovery on a previous trip), the bread would have been covered with one of several cheeses I’d collected. And if Victor Hugo was open for dinner…

Accidental Locavore Green and White TulipsAnother idea that occurred to me on the way to the marché, was that I should have been looking for events etc. on Meetup. Duh. One of my goals there was to build a network, but it’s difficult when you really don’t have a starting point. I’m also used to the old France, before smart phones. People had conversations in restaurants with whoever was sitting next to them (or at least their dogs). Now everyone is so involved with their devices (also guilty) that they’re in their own little worlds (and the dogs look bored).

Accidental Locavore Sausage and PolentaChecking out a couple of AirBnB apartments for future trips would have been a good idea and it would have been fun to see some real estate. There were a couple that looked good in the pictures, but I’d want to know exactly where they were before committing for a month.

Accidental Locavore Fountains in the ParkMy last lunch was at a tiny wine store, not far from the Promenade du Paillon, a beautifully rebuilt series of parks, dividing the old city and the beach from the rest of the city. They’ve got a great selection of biodynamic (organic) wines and a small area in the back with marble tables and funny Formica chairs you may remember from kindergarten. There’s a plat du jour but only at lunch, otherwise, it’s just cheese and charcuterie (never a bad thing). That day it was Figatellu a Corsican sausage, slightly smoked, and served over polenta, with some poivron for color. So simple and just amazing—I’ll be back!

Accidental Locavore Along the MedLike tomatoes in August or wine at lunch in France, some things are just better sur place. I’ll take home with me the memories of walking along the beach by the Promenade des Anglais, hearing the tumbling of the rocks in the sea. I’ll wish I was one of the insiders at Safari, getting bisous from the waiters who have been there as long as I can remember. And if I was a resident, maybe even bisous from the women at Victor Hugo and the crew at the boulangerie.

Accidental Locavore Golden PotatoesI’ll come home and wish the potatoes had flavor, the bread had crunch and the cheese, ah well the cheese. But I’ll also know that I’ll be back, and soon!



Croatia Through Wine and Food

by Anne Maxfield on March 9, 2015

Accidental Locavore Croatian WinesThere’s always a tipping point, isn’t there? The Accidental Locavore is hoping this was it—a dinner celebrating the food and wines of Croatia at Delmonico’s—that would finally get us to pull the trigger and visit a country that has been on our list for ages.

You may wonder why Delmonico’s, one of those New York/Wall Street institutions, but it makes perfect sense when you learn that the owners hailed from that part of the world. It was a boisterous group (too many cases of cabin fever?), invited to explore the incredible variety of Croatian cuisine with a seven-course dinner with wines (and the winemakers).

Accidental Locavore Croatian CharcuterieWhen we sat down, there was a beautiful platter of charcuterie—meats, cheeses and olives. One of the many outstanding sausages on the plate was Kulen, which is also the first Croatian food product with protected origin. It’s got a wonderful, slightly coarse texture and a little bit of spice from hot paprika. I could have eaten nothing but that and gone home happy, but I paced myself and even restrained from popping a few extra slices in my pocket. According to the Croatian Eno-Gastronomy magazine we were given, “the sausage is always accompanied by excellent wines,” and the first of several white wines, a Grasevina Galić, certainly fit the bill.

Accidental Locavore Croatian MusselsDistracting us from the charcuterie was a lovely bowl of mussels cooked in white wine with roast garlic, lemon, butter and herbs – delicious! Where the first wine was closer to a Riesling, this one was a Chardonnay from Vina Laguna.

Accidental Locavore Croatian PastaNext up, one of my favorite dishes of the evening – fuži, a homemade pasta (think of a diamond shape rolled into a tube) with wild mushrooms, truffles and Parmesan. Earthy with the mushrooms and truffles, it was just a wonderful simple pasta and if I had known Croatia had truffles (both black and white), we might have gone there long ago. With the pasta – a Malvazij from Kozlovic Winery, which we were fortunate to be given a bottle of. According to the label, “it is the perfect wine to serve with truffle pasta,” and it was!

I don’t know if it was just because I was so in love with the fuži, but the lemon sole that was the following course was my least favorite of the evening. Hard to do something that delicate for a large group, but it did show off the Istrian olive oil nicely. The wine, a Pošip from Stina Vineyards, has a stunning label (check it out here on their site) and went well with the fish.

Accidental Locavore Croatian PrawnsSwitching to red wines, the first one was a Plavac from Miloš and it was paired with what they referred to as scampi (but we probably consider it a prawn) in a buzara sauce. The scampi was sweet and tender and the sauce had tomatoes, garlic and breadcrumbs, which went well with the prawns and stood up to the red wine.

Accidental Locavore Croatian LambYes, we’re still eating…. Last on the savory side was a huge broiled lamb chop with potatoes and a few carefully plated green beans. It was a fabulous piece of Croatian lamb, perfectly cooked and just delicious. Unfortunately, by this point most of us were pretty full, but we managed to do justice to a great piece of meat. There were a couple of reds that they poured with the lamb, a Dingač Bura and a red from Kozlovic, their Santa Lucia. Maybe I’d just had enough (ok, more than enough) by then, but both of the reds had a nose like anchovies which made them a little tough to enjoy.

Finally, on to dessert – a warm apple strudel with ice cream. It was just the right bite of something sweet to end on, and the dessert wine (yes, we’re still drinking), Bibich Ambra, had strong notes of butterscotch, making it a perfect match to the apples.

And have we booked a trip? Not yet, and now that I have all the great information from the Croatian National Tourist Board , there are so many places that look amazing it may take us some time to narrow down where and what we want to see. Or, we may just do what we usually do and simply hit the road and see where it takes us.






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!