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Bite Club: Vermont's Food & Drink Blog

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April 2013

April 30, 2013

Gorging at the Black River Produce Food Show

IMG_5612The restaurant business is a brutal one. Cripplingly long hours, injuries and physical and emotional stress are just some of the hardships restaurateurs and chefs endure, only to cater to the capricious whims of the dining public.

But one bright spot to the biz, at least in Vermont, is a close-knit community of producers with great food. Today's sixth annual Black River Produce Food Show is a culinary Candyland — without the presence of Gloppy the Molasses Monster or Lord Licorice. Some requisite out-of-state distributors make the trip, but the reason most Vermont industry folk come out each year is to see what's happening on the local scene.

Here are a few of my favorites:


One of my favorite cheeses, finally made in Vermont by one of my favorite producers, Maplebrook Fine Cheese. The semi-soft, nutty fontina that I tried was the first official batch, but Italy had better take note. The Green Mountains can make our own earthy fontina just fine, thanks.

Continue reading "Gorging at the Black River Produce Food Show" »

Alice Eats: NECI on Main's Restaurant Week Déjeuner à la Française

IMG_5585118 Main Street, Montpelier, 223-3188

Back home in Connecticut, my friends and I favored lunch at a now-shuttered French bistro called Le Figaro. Steak frites at 11:30 a.m? Hell, yeah.

Now that my hometown celebrity chef Jean-Louis Gerin is at the helm of the New England Culinary Institute, a wonderful piece of home is here with me in Vermont. And just for Vermont Restaurant Week, he's imported an elegant bistro lunch to NECI on Main that I wish my childhood friends were here to share with me.

For $15, diners choose two of the three listed courses from chef Andre Burnier's bill of fare.

IMG_5588We started with a simple salade verte, dressed in lemon and olive oil and showered with crumbled goat cheese. Walnuts and apple matchsticks lent a dry and wet crunch, respectively.

A different "wholesome, single-vegetable soup" changes each day as the second appetizer option. Tomato was the offering that day and it was simple, comforting and flecked with garlic as well as the requisite basil. A big, grilled crostini lolled in the potage, soaking up the red broth. The flavor of the char on the bread was so enticing that I gobbled it up, despite the fact that I'd already partaken of the bread basket with three different types of home-baked breads, including a satisfyingly sour, sturdy whole-grain loaf.

Continue reading "Alice Eats: NECI on Main's Restaurant Week Déjeuner à la Française" »

April 26, 2013

Grazing: Fried Chicken Sandwich at Tip Top Café (or Hello, Restaurant Week)

I turned around to look at the clock on the wall behind me — 11:45 a.m. I usually don't eat lunch until 2 or so, but today was different.

It's the kickoff of Vermont Restaurant Week, something we've been waiting for and working toward all year. As the menus have dribbled in, we've salivated and plotted and planned. What makes this one especially sweet for me is that four spots in the Upper Valley are taking part. That may not sound like a lot, but it's twice as many as last year.

At 11:46, I began gathering my things to go for lunch at one of them.

Corn_chowderI don't think I've ever been disappointed with a meal at Tip Top Café, which is saying a lot for a place that's been around for seven years. When I first moved to the Upper Valley, I would hit this airy White River Junction bistro weekly for to-go lunches of curries and creative sandwiches.

At night, Tip Top morphs from a sunny café into an atmospheric, candlelit restaurant with martinis and first-rate food (on First Fridays, it's impossible to get a seat here without a long wait). This year, Tip Top is participating in Restaurant Week for the first time. 

And the place is doin' it right. The kitchen is loading it on for the $10, two-course lunch special. The cup of chunky corn-and-ham chowder that kicked it off today was spicy and silky, and dense with sweet corn, minced red peppers, slivers of potato and what looked like bits of kielbasa.

Continue reading "Grazing: Fried Chicken Sandwich at Tip Top Café (or Hello, Restaurant Week)" »

...And One More Restaurant Makes 105!

CrepeIn case you weren't already feeling spoiled for choices with 104 Vermont Restaurant Week participants, one more restaurant posted its menu last night! Mr. Crêpe, at 144 Church Street in Burlington, has joined the fold.

The casual restaurant is offering both lunch and dinner deals, including the full menu of sweet and savory crêpes. Click here to see the full bill of fare.

Vermont Restaurant Week's Signature Dessert Chosen at Sweet Start Smackdown

Higher Ground was packed on Wednesday night with desserts, foodies and drag queens. Another Vermont Restaurant Week, another Sweet Start Smackdown to kick it off.

Almost 400 people sampled treats from 10 pastry chefs handpicked by Seven Days' food team. Fifty percent of the votes came from the judges: Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry's; Gretel-Ann Fischer, runner-up on this year's season of TLC's pastry-competition show, "Next Great Baker"; and local drag legend Amber LeMay. The rest came from guests, each of whom were given three gold tokens with which to cast their votes. (Guests could buy more booty to stack the deck — the proceeds went to the Vermont Foodbank.)

Continue reading "Vermont Restaurant Week's Signature Dessert Chosen at Sweet Start Smackdown" »

April 25, 2013

A Change of Season at Three Tomatoes

AbeezVermont Restaurant Week kicks off tomorrow. Today, Three Tomatoes Trattoria co-owner Jim Reiman contacted us to make a last-minute overhaul of his Restaurant Week menu.

With new spring produce coming in, including asparagus and leeks, Reiman decided to take advantage by updating his offerings, taking out heavy beef braciole and replacing it with crab cakes, for example. Click here to see what's now available for the $9 lunch special and on the $25 dinner menu from tomorrow through May 5.

April 23, 2013

Alice Eats: Battle of the Campus Chefs

IMG_5541Last night I judged the University of Vermont's Battle of the Campus Chefs for the third year in a row. As I was leaving work, one colleague asked if I was going to be tasting Salisbury steak. Such notions are exactly why it's important to me to take time out of my schedule each year to join the fight.

There were days, I'm sure, when university chefs mostly consisted of lunch ladies without much of a palate or concern for quality of ingredients. But that's changed. Now, most chefs at UVM and other universities have culinary school training and impressive resumés.

Why leave restaurants? The soul-wearying stress, for one. Also, many chefs have young families and would like to see them occasionally. College schedules allow that. And once a year, those chefs (with the assistance of UVM club members, such as Slow Food and Engineers Without Borders) get to stut their stuff in one of Vermont's most impressive displays of culinary skill. Seriously.

And last night, the contest was closer than ever.

Among the nine competitors, four had nearly equal scores — at least in my estimation. Though there were some inevitable clunkers, most dishes were not only solidly conceived and prepared, but showcased primarily local ingredients.

Continue reading "Alice Eats: Battle of the Campus Chefs" »

April 19, 2013

Grazing: During a Crazy Week, Finding Comfort in Cream

When news of the Boston Marathon bombing began trickling in on Monday afternoon, we were in the throes of production at 7D, unable to really tune into the details. Some people seemed silently rattled and distracted, but it was a distraction we had to push aside while we finished up edits and layout and proofing.

When I began to really tune in a few hours later — ingesting images of smoke and blown-off limbs and blood staining the street — it was haunting and horrible yet hard to tear away. Yeah, bombings happen all over the world, practically every single day, but when random violence strikes a place you know well — such as Boylston Street — the line between normalcy and chaos seems paper thin. 

Like a ton of people, I became a news junkie this week, reading stories about the victims and following the addictive Subreddit devoted to finding the bombers. And on this gorgeous, windy day in Vermont, our neighbors a few hours south woke up to stories of even more violence and an eerie lockdown. 

Continue reading "Grazing: During a Crazy Week, Finding Comfort in Cream" »

How To Get a Preview Taste of Winooski's Mule Bar

MuleBreaking Sweet Start Smackdown news: Jean-Luc Matecat (second from left), chef of the hotly anticipated Mule Bar, in Winooski, will replace Christopher Amm of the Mad Taco at the Vermont Restaurant Week kick-off event. Both restaurants are co-owned by Joey Nagy. Scott Kerner and Wes Hamilton, of Three Penny Taproom, are his partners in Mule Bar.

The beer bar is slated to open next month at 38 Main Street, the former Pho Pasteur location.

Expect a creative dessert from Matecat at the April 24 pastry competition. He was most recently chef at the whimsical Amuse at the Essex Resort & Spa.

And don't wait to get a ticket. The event will likely sell out by the end of today.

April 18, 2013

Prepping for Vermont Restaurant Week — With a Smoothie


As I write this, I'm supping on a blueberry-kale smoothie — because, about a week from now, Vermont Restaurant Week will swing into gear and I'll need some space, as it were. This year, the gargantuan event, which we begin planning in January, is longer than ever — 10 days. That's a lot of calories, especially considering there are 104 restaurants taking part, from Burlington to the Upper Valley — even a restaurant in Lyme, N.H. is joining in!

You may have noticed that Seven Days is extra bulky this week; nestled inside is the VRW menu guide, packed with delectable-sounding dishes such as broiled oysters with garlic-bread crumbs (at Rí Rá's Whiskey Room) and a grilled Ayer Farm lamb burger (at Antidote in Vergennes). Personally, I needed to tackle the guide in increments, as there's so much to pore over and so many decisions to be made. 

Even for those not hell-bent on total indulgence, though, it's possible to stay (relatively) healthy over the course of this event. Fields Restaurant in Jericho is dishing up a chopped kale salad with pickled shallots and feta; Cornerstone Pub & Kitchen in Barre is stuffing quinoa ravioli with spring vegetables and serving them in a pool of tomato-soy broth.

In other words, there's something for every palate — vegan, carnivore or in between. Just be sure to make your reservations before everyone else does.

The photo above is courtesy of Red Clover Inn in Mendon.

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