Willow Restaurant at the Mirabeau

Willow is the new Charlie Palmer restaurant at Rhinebeck’s Mirabeau Inn and Spa.

It’s always a bit risky (and some might say unfair) to hit up a restaurant in the first week.

And doubly so on a Friday night (with a chef in the party).

But we were looking forward to trying it–friends had “previewed” it at brunch on the opening weekend and wanted to go for dinner.

Unlike recent, much anticipated openings that were hugely disappointing, Willow came through with delicious food.

The room is much more formal than we’ve gotten used to seeing. No dark grey walls or Edison bulbs to be found. A fireplace at one end, with framed vintage Hermes (I’m assuming) scarves on the other and interesting carpeting to mute noise. It looks very much like what it is—a hotel dining room in an upscale inn.

I started out with the Shelter Island grilled oysters, with pancetta, garlic and parsley oil. They were delicious, plump and juicy and the garlic and parsley made a nice sauce for them.

Other appetizers that were passed around the table were a salad of beets and endive blanketed with a blizzard of ricotta salata. I’ll have to take everyone’s word that they were good. Frank had the tuna tartare Niçoise with olives, haricots vert, potatoes, radishes and a tiny “HV” quail egg. It was good, but someone went a little overboard with the olives—almost overwhelming the tuna. We were all happy when John went for the fois gras (and was willing to share). It was a nice piece of seared fois gras with a couple of brioche slices and a row of apple slices. All good, but as I said to John, almost everything goes with fois gras (and tastes wonderful).

Thinking there might be dessert, I went for the small portion of gnocchi with wild mushrooms. It was a risky move, as good gnocchi are rare, but the risk/reward paid off with delicate, melt-in-your-mouth gnocchi. The mushrooms led to one of the funnier moments of the evening. There was a small bunch of (I’m guessing) hen-of-the-woods and somehow my knife had disappeared. When I asked for a knife, the server returned with a huge streak knife, capable of doing serious damage. We will now jokingly refer to any steak knives as “gnocchi knives”.

We all decided that John’s halibut was the best-looking plate of the evening and the fish was perfectly cooked on a bed of risotto with chanterelles.

Frank had the chicken—it’s his new test for restaurants—how well can you do chicken? They passed with flying colors—crispy skin and tasty meat. He wasn’t fond of the sunchokes that accompanied the chicken—they seemed a little overcooked, but the “heirloom” spinach was very tasty. He also ordered the Brussels sprout side dish—roasted with an agrodolce sauce, chipotle aioli and another blizzard of ricotta salata. It was a good combination and once we got the grilled lime that came with it to actually produce juice, it made it even better.

Our other friend had the duck breast with farro and huckleberries. The duck was nice and rosy and tasted good, but I was missing the crunch of duck skin. The combo of farro and huckleberries was a nice change from the usual duck with a fruit sauce.

Having saved room for dessert, I went for the bittersweet chocolate cake with salted caramel and chocolate bourbon ice cream. After being assured by our waiter that the cake was nut free, I was surprised when the base of the cake turned out to be marzipan (almond paste).

Which brings me to the big issue. Service. Our waiter was a great guy, helpful, eager and completely overwhelmed. When asked, he admitted that his training was basically “sink or swim.” If you remember the scene in Ratatouille where Linguini is roller skating through the restaurant you get the idea.

Luckily, that’s something that some training can rectify, but it was a bit surprising in a fine dining restaurant that has Charlie Palmer’s name attached.

What’s more important is that we had a great time that night and the food was terrific. We’ll definitely be back and look forward to being there when the kitchen and staff have had the time to get into their groove.

 

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The Trendiest Sheet Pan Chicken

This sheet pan chicken recipe is supposed to be the most popular recipe on the NY Times Cooking site, and it looked good, so we had to give it a try. Serves 4:

The Trendiest Sheet Pan Chicken

  • 3 ½ pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken parts
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and ground pepper
  • ½ cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 ½ cups green Castelvetrano olives, crushed and pitted
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely grated
  • 1 cup parsley, tender leaves and stems, chopped

Heat oven to 450°. Place chicken on a rimmed baking sheet and toss with turmeric and 2 tablespoons olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Make sure chicken is skin-side up, then pour vinegar over and around chicken and place in the oven.

Bake chicken, without flipping, until cooked through and deeply browned all over, 25 to 30 minutes.

While the chicken is cooking, combine olives, garlic, parsley, the remaining 4 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons water in a small bowl; season with salt and pepper.

Once chicken is cooked, remove baking sheet from the oven and transfer chicken to a large serving platter, leaving behind any of the juices and bits stuck to the pan.

Make sure the baking sheet is on a sturdy surface (the stovetop, a counter), then pour the olive mixture onto the sheet. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, gently scrape up all the bits the chicken left behind, letting the olive mixture mingle with the rendered fat and turn into a sauce. Pour olive mixture over the chicken, serve and enjoy!

My verdict: I think Frank liked this better than I did. It might be because for once, I cooked him a breast and kept the thighs to myself. Both were crispy skinned and tender inside, so I would definitely use this technique to make chicken anytime.

However, the next time I make the recipe, I’ll deglaze the sheet pan on the stove over heat.  I didn’t like the sauce being cold and while I love garlic, the raw garlic overpowered the dish (true confession, I have great garlic from our CSA and it’s very pungent, but I only used 1 good sized clove).

The other thing missing IMHO was a little acid, so maybe a squirt of lemon in the sauce at the end.

And if I’m being hyper-critical, the olives were good, but a little subtle. Maybe a mix of black and green would pop more.

And, on another note, use a sturdy sheet pan so it doesn’t warp and be prepared to do some serious oven cleaning afterward.

Have you tried this? What did you think?

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GIR: Get it Right (Again)

GIR (Get it Right) has been a favorite of mine since the beginning.

My GIR mini spatula gets used daily and I think their silicone lids are just genius for so many things.

So, when they announced a major product expansion and asked if I wanted to try some of the new items, you know I jumped at the chance.

The expansion adds potato mashers, tongs, basting brushes, peelers and a spaghetti spoon to the lineup. I was lucky enough to get a pair of basting brushes and a potato masher in my preferred color, red, to test out.

The basting brushes would have been great if we were still grilling, but that sadly stopped when we sold our house. However, I’ve managed to use both of them to spread marinade and baste chickens. Like most of the GIR products, they work better than our previous silicone basting brush. They come in two sizes, the longer one being great for grilling and other high heat uses, when you don’t want to get too close to the heat source. The smaller one is good for more delicate, close up uses and both of them are one piece, so I’m not searching the sink for the head of the brush.

Funnily enough, I found a great “off-label” use for the potato masher, which doubled as a recipe holder when I was making some baguettes recently.

It was also a great excuse to use some of the potatoes from our CSA and make mashed potatoes. It mashed the potatoes easily and I was able to get them pretty lump-free. If you like smoother mashed potatoes, you might want to try their perforated masher; as my golf group says, you have options.

When the full line is released, I look forward to putting GIR’s 4 new peelers to the test. When we moved recently, only one peeler made the cut (pun intended) and it remains my favorite. I like it for the way its serrated edges go through even tough customers like eggplants with ease. The fact that it’s two headed with a julienne peeler on one side, is an added bonus. But since I’m always impressed with the way GIR manages to improve on the basics, bring them on!

Do you have a favorite kitchen tool? What is it?

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Pork Chops With Rosemary and Capers

Sometimes you just crave good pork chops.

I did and this recipe from bon appetit with capers and rosemary caught my attention. Serves 2:

  • 2 1″-thick bone-in pork chops
  • Salt
  • 1½ teaspoons sugar, divided
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 large shallot, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar
  • 3 sprigs rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon drained capers
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Season pork chops with salt and sprinkle evenly with ½ teaspoon of sugar. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook chops, undisturbed, until well-browned underneath, about 3 minutes. Turn and cook just until second side is lightly browned, about 1 minute. Transfer chops to a plate (they won’t be fully cooked) and reduce heat to medium.

Pour remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil into the same skillet and add shallot and garlic. Cook, stirring often, until softened and just beginning to brown, about 3 minutes.

Add vinegar and remaining 1 teaspoon sugar to skillet. Cook, swirling pan occasionally, until vinegar is nearly evaporated, about 2 minutes.

Add rosemary, capers, and ½ cup water to skillet; season with salt. Reduce heat as needed to maintain a very low simmer. Add butter and swirl pan continuously (and vigorously) until sauce becomes smooth, glossy, and emulsified.

Return pork chops to skillet, arranging darker side up. Simmer gently in sauce, swirling occasionally, until chops are cooked through, about 3 minutes (a thermometer inserted near the bones should register 135°).

Transfer pork chops to plates and spoon sauce over, serve and enjoy!

My verdict: These were really good and will go into regular rotation along with the ones with mustard and cornichons! I served them with mashed potatoes so I could take the new GIR potato masher for a test run and they were the perfect vehicle to soak up the extra sauce (BTW, the potato masher is great too but more about that later).

I was a little leery of the sugar in the recipe since I’d just trashed my grill pan because a marinade had sugar in it, but it was fine and my cast iron pan easily handled it.

Sage would probably work well in place of the rosemary, depending on what you had on hand.

 

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Stuffed Poblano Chiles With Chorizo and Goat Cheese

I picked up some nice looking poblano chiles from my CSA last week and wanted something other than chiles rellenos to make with them. This looked good, with chorizo and goat cheese. Serves 4:

  • 4 large (about 1 1/4 pounds total) fresh poblano chiles, look for straight ones
  • 1 pound Mexican chorizo
  • 2 cups diced white onion (about 1 medium onion)
  • Salt
  • 1 pound zucchini, diced
  • 6 ounces goat cheese
  • 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ cup panko breadcrumbs
  • ¼ cup chopped pine nuts
  • 2 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro

Roast the poblano chiles directly over a gas flame or under a very hot broiler on a baking sheet, turning regularly until the skins have blistered and blackened on all sides, about 5 minutes for open flame, about 10 minutes for broiler. Place in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let stand 5 minutes.

Rub off the blackened skin, then cut an incision in the side of each one, starting 1/2-inch below the stem end and continuing to the tip. Make two more cuts on either side of that opening, next to the stem, to extend the open at the top, about 1/2-inch on both sides. Open up the poblanos and remove all the seeds. Rinse the the chiles,to remove the remaining seeds, being careful not to rip the opening any wider; and drain on paper towels, cut-side down.

Remove the casings and crumble the chorizo into a 12” non-stick skillet set over high heat. Cook for 5 minutes, using a spoon to break up any large pieces, until the chorizo is nicely browned and cooked through. Lower the temperature to medium, scoop in the diced onion, zucchini, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Stir to combine, then cover and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally until the zucchini has softened. Remove from the heat and cool completely.

Preheat the oven to 375°. Crumble the goat cheese over the chorizo mixture and stir to combine. Stuff each poblano with 1/4 of the chorizo-goat cheese mixture and then fold the chile around the sides of the filling leaving a gap in the center. Place the filled chiles into a 13 x 9-inch casserole dish and wrap tightly with aluminum foil. Bake for 30 minutes.

Heat the olive oil in a 10-inch non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, scoop in the panko crumbs and pine nuts. Cook for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly, until the mixture is golden brown. Cool completely. While the chiles are baking, stir the chopped cilantro and 1/4 teaspoon salt into the panko/almond mixture. Remove the casserole from the oven, slide the chiles onto a serving dish and sprinkle the panko topping over the top. Serve and enjoy!

My verdict: I think I liked this more than Frank did. The stuffed poblanos were a little dry. It may have been from a slightly overcooked chorizo mix, or the fact that no one remembered to buy a zucchini, so we went without. If I made them again, I’d probably only cook the mix for about 10 minutes, since it will have more cooking time in the oven.

It was funny, because we both had one poblano that was really hot and one that was totally mild. I preferred the hot chile—it gave the dish more flavor.

I roasted and prepped the poblanos ahead of time, stuffed and baked them the next day. You can stuff them and refrigerate until you’re ready to bake them.

 

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