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Bite Club: Vermont's Food & Drink Blog

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February 2013

February 26, 2013

Alice Eats: Depot Café

IMG_5337515 Depot Street, Manchester Center, 366-8181

Looks like you won't be eating Ikea meatballs anytime soon. They've just been pulled from stores after Czech food inspectors found horse meat in a sample of them. Personally, I like horses, both to ride and to eat.

But if you're still screaming for a chance to eat inside a furniture store, Depot 62 Home Furnishings Center in Manchester Center has you covered.

And instead of Scandinavian fare, you'll be able to dig into the best wood-fired Turkish specialties Vermont has to offer.

The surroundings are what might best be described as futuristic Turkish shabby chic, all furry woven chairs, quirky chandeliers and antique antlers and tennis rackets. It's an apt background to the dishes that emerge from the oven looking primed for a Martha Stewart photo shoot.

IMG_5336Case in point, the organic hummus, served on a woven tray. But really, the chickpea dip was a bit of an afterthought when served next to soft, sesame-topped pita bread that was hot, chewy and right out of the fire. If I ever run a marathon, I want to carbo load at Depot Café.

But the hummus was still nothing to sneeze at. Optimally creamy and smooth, it benefited from a liberal dusting of sumac. I just wish that it had had more garlic and lemon for more of a punch. Next time, I'll likely try the smoky baba ghanoush or soup of the day (yesterday it was a very appealing red lentil) instead. Luckily, the bread, which is also organic, comes with every entrée.

IMG_5339Case in point, the Adana chicken. At $14.95, the free-range chicken breast dish sounded expensive, but it contained enough food for two meals. I missed having a vegetable on the side, though.

Marinated in a yogurt sauce flavored with garlic and red pepper, the chicken reminded me of a Turkish take on aromatic Indian reshmi kebab.

The pita slices broke in half easily, making it possible to assemble a fun sandwich with chicken dipped in the yogurt sauce on the side. The sauce sang of fresh dill, a surprising flavor that conjured summer on that snowy Vermont day. Happily, I still have leftovers waiting.

Continue reading "Alice Eats: Depot Café" »

February 22, 2013

Grazing: The Gooey Joys of Raclette

Raclette1Whenever my parents would unearth their avocado-green fondue pot, exciting things would follow — namely, dipping chicken tenders into my Dad's killer Schlitz-based beer batter, then frying them into crispy, amoeba-like shapes in the bubbling oil. 

It wasn't until years later that I sampled cheese fondue for the first time and, inspired by the communal gluttony, I purchased my own stainless-steel fondue pot ... which I used approximately twice. Reminded of its existence by my colleague Alice Levitt's recent article on fondue — and inspired to resurrect the tradition — I carted home thousands of calories' worth of cheese along with an Elmore Mountain Bread baguette.

Unfortunately, some of the fondue pot's parts were scattered to the wind, and my Kirsch was showing signs of age.

Fortunately, there's another convivial Swiss tradition for consuming copious amounts of cheese: Raclette, or melted Alpine cheese served with cornichons, pickled onions, boiled potatoes and cured meats. Though it, too, calls for special equipment (an electric raclette melter), a fire of any sort will do. After all, Raclette is hundreds of years old, predating electric outlets.

So I unwrapped my two types of cheese — a brick of squishy, cheap German cheese called Butterkäse, and a wedge of Spring Brook Farm Raclette — and arranged them on a rimmed cookie sheet. I then balanced this, perhaps unwisely, atop the grill of my gas fireplace. (You could use a warm stove, too, heated to 250 degrees or so). The cheeses began to melt and slide around after about three minutes, and within 12 minutes, they were ready to scoop onto the plate. 

The pale-straw-colored Butterkäse, literally "butter cheese," melted the fastest; it's mild and oily, but with a rustic edge. It's also the less expensive of the two. Befitting its name, the Spring Brook Farm Raclette fit the job perfectly: still a quick melter but with an elegant, addictive texture somewhere between silky lemon curd and butter.

Traditionally, as raclette melts, it's scraped onto diners' plates and savored over an hour or more of dipping, smearing and pickle crunching. Without a broiler, my raclette never became brown and bubbly, but it was still warming and scumptious when slathered over a crusty baguette and chased with tangy bites of cornichons, onions and apples. And since cheese and cider are such good pals, it was an ideal time to sample some Flag Hill Farm Sapsucker, a hard "cider beer" made in Vershire that's so dry it almost feels like drinking flannel. Alongside the molten cheese, the barely effervescent cider became rounder, with hints of orange peel, quince and biscuits. 

Raclette feels a little bit like eating deconstructed grilled cheese, but with a few Old World touches to keep it civil. Get it while it's hot, though; once it starts to harden, its appeal rapidly fades.

February 21, 2013

A Sushi Bar (Finally) Opens in Montpelier

Sushi_insideAfter sitting empty for years, the former Chittenden Bank building on Montpelier's State Street is back in business — as a sushi restaurant. Asiana House opened on Tuesday night.

Chef Gary Ma opened the restaurant with his wife, Sandra, and he was busy behind the sushi bar last night turning out nigiri sushi and maki rolls for what looked like an almost-full house on the eatery's second night in operation.

A gleaming bank safe door in the foyer is a reminder of what was here before, and building owner Jesse Jacobs' renovation, which took place before the Mas signed on as tenants, retains a vintage look.

Though Ma eventually wants to roll out new dishes, Asiana House's menu and prices are practically identical to those of its sister restaurant in Burlington — sushi, a long list of vegetarian and specialty maki rolls, even fried oysters and bibimbap — but the Scott 2 Hottie Maki roll, a torched roll with with salmon and belly salmon, avocado, spicy mayo and spicy teriyaki sauce, looks like an addition.

A row of martini glasses hangs upside-down in a rack behind the sushi counter, but they can't be used yet; a liquor license is still pending. In this weather, tea is satisfying, anyway.

Asiana House in Montpelier is open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner.

February 19, 2013

Vermont Chefs Earn James Beard Nods

Food-miseryJust as the Oscars will bestow awards for the best in film this week, the culinary award fairy has touched down today with James Beard Foundation nominations. The semifinalists for James Beard Foundation awards were announced earlier today and Vermont has more contenders for Best Chef: Northeast than ever before.

No surprise that Eric Warnstedt of Hen of the Wood at the Grist Mill is a contender. This is his fifth year as a nominee. But since he's consistently made it to the finals, he's at least gotten to go to the big awards show, to be held in May. Fingers crossed that this year will end his Susan Lucci-like streak.

Steve Atkins of the Kitchen Table Bistro is nominated for the third time. He and his wife Lara, a pastry chef, were semifinalists for the honor in both 2009 and 2010.

Though Atkins is named alone this year, another team did make the list: Aaron Josinsky and Nathaniel Wade (right) of Misery Loves Co. Wade was named a semifinalist in 2011 for his work at ¡Duino! (Duende). Both were working at Bluebird Tavern in 2010 when it was a semifinalist for Best New Restaurant.

No such honors were floated to Vermont this year. Last year, Pistou was a semifinalist for Best New Restaurant.

So beside delicious food, what do all four nominated chefs have in common? They all cooked at the James Beard house in 2010 as part of Team Vermont. Finalists will be announced on March 18 and we expect at least a few of this year's pack will make the cut.

Alice Eats: Sodexo's Global Chef Progam

IMG_5301With the opening of Grünhaus Nordic Street Eats in Montpelier, Vermonters are finally getting a taste of Scandinavian food. But this week and next, there's a very special way to enjoy excellent Swedish food for next to nothing.

Last night, I was the oldest nonemployee at the University Marché in UVM's Living and Learning Building. I was there to taste food prepared by Göran Päandel Berggren, a member of Sodexo's Global Chef program and executive chef at GE Healthcare in Uppsala, Sweden. Berggren's path to Sodexo was a common one. Once a Stockholm restaurateur, he found that managing the cafeteria where he feeds thousands of workers each day allows him more time with his family.

IMG_5302Each meal that Berggren will prepare during his visit to Vermont features several courses. And there are a number of opportunities to meet the chatty chef and try his delicacies.

He'll be at Redstone Unlimited Dining from 4:30 to 8 p.m. tonight, then will serve lunch at the Davis Center's Marketplace from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Wednesday. He'll head to dining halls at Champlain and St. Michael's colleges at the end of this week and next week.

Last night, each three-course meal ($9.99) began with a bowl of pea soup.

It may not look like much in its compostable paper cup, but the soup was about as perfect as a pea soup can be. The thick potage got its saline balance from salt-cured pork shoulder. No additional salt was necessary. There was plenty of the tender meat in the bowl, and meltingly soft carrots. I wished I had ordered another bowl on the side. Berggren's history lesson made the soup even more interesting: According to legend, it was a poisoned bowl of pea soup that killed 16th-century king Erik XIV.

Continue reading "Alice Eats: Sodexo's Global Chef Progam" »

February 14, 2013

L'Amante's Owners to Open Wine Bar and Retail Store

Food-grilling-lamanteGrape things are again afoot in Burlington (sorry). This April, L'Amante owners Kevin and Kathi Cleary will open a wine bar, store and event and education space steps away from their College Street restaurant.

"It will be completely different than anything else in Burlington, or Vermont. It will be all things wine," says Kevin Cleary, who is in the thick of renovations at 126 College Street to create a retail wine and cheese shop, a 36-seat wine bar and a glassed-in event and classroom area where he'll hold classes as part of Vermont Wine School. 

The 3000-square-foot space will be called Uva — Italian for grape — and though Cleary is mum on the décor, the couple's trips to Italy have left their mark. "We love going to the small wine bars in Venice, Florence and Rome where it's a really laid-back and casual atmosphere, and you don't feel pressured to eat a whole meal," says Cleary. 

A full menu would be difficult at Uva, as it will lack a kitchen; prepared food will be carried a few steps from L'Amante. The bar — where guests can order from a selection of 20 wines by the glass — will not be without sustenance, though. A hand-cranked slicer will dole out imported and local meats and cheeses alongside a menu of small plates and charcuterie.

Uva has been a long time coming. "It's one of those things. We've been here for 10 years, and after five years we had the itch to create something again," says Cleary, who has studied wine seriously for decades. Two years ago, he founded the Vermont Wine School, an outpost of the Wine & Spirits Education Trust and the only formal wine education center in Vermont. (Disclosure: I earned my Level 3 WSET certificate there.)

The new spot also solves at least two frustrations: For years, the Clearys have had to turn away scores of private functions; the glassed-in event space will enable them to cater those events, as well as hold more wine classes.

Another frustration was not being able to sell guests a wine they might be sipping at L'Amante. "People are constantly asking us, where can I buy this wine? And we would tell them who the importer is. Now, If you're drinking a glass of Barolo you like and you're walking out at 10 p.m., you can go over to the store and bring it home with you," says Cleary. (Vermont law calls for a strict demarcation between the retail space and the bar, so shopping with glass in hand is a no-no).

Continue reading "L'Amante's Owners to Open Wine Bar and Retail Store" »

One Federal Opens a Diner

PhotoMaple season is fast approaching, but in St. Albans it will arrive at 7 a.m. on Thursday, February 21.

That's when Maple City Diner opens at 17 Swanton Road, the home of Athena's Diner since 2011.

The owners of the new eatery are familiar faces in the Maple City itself — Marcus and Erika Hamblett, the owners of One Federal.

Erika Hamblett says that she and her husband will take over the space tomorrow and close for minor cosmetic changes, then reopen for seven-days-a-week service on Tuesday.

Those changes include vintage photos of local sugar houses. Soon, wood booths will replace the conventional diner booths for more of a sugar-shack feel, says Marcus Hamblett.

6a00d83451b91969e2011571485023970bThe menu, prepared by chef de cuisine and One Federal alum Stephen Young, also takes a cue from sugaring time. Breakfast includes a bacon waffle topped with maple butter; brown-sugar-pecan French toast; and skillets such as "the Vermonter," with apple, caramelized onion, bacon and cheddar over home fries and eggs.

Lunch features classic diner fare such as hot open hamburg and turkey sandwiches and a variety of burgers and clubs. Dinner brings seared pork loin and chicken topped with cheddar, apples and bacon. One Federal's popular house maple vinaigrette will top salads.

As at the Hamblett's 4-year-old restaurant, nearly everything will be made from scratch and locally sourced.

Though Maple City Diner will serve a full menu from the beginning, the owners have plans for growth in months to come. New England Culinary Institute grad Marcus Hamblett envisions a grab-and-go counter similar to the one at the defunct Burlington NECI Commons. There, freshly made breads, sandwiches and prepared salads will be available to-go, along with homemade pies, cakes and other pastries, including "big maple cinnamon buns."

Doughnuts will also be a big part of the fun. A doughnut machine will soon be popping out fresh desserts, including a bacon version.

Maple lovers of the world, unite and take over.

February 12, 2013

Big Things Are Happening for Gretel-Ann Fischer

IMG_5285Last night, 120 people gathered at Bluebird Barbecue in Burlington to pay homage to one woman.

Just a few months ago, Gretel-Ann Fischer was considering closing her Winooski bakery, Cupp's. Now, thanks to a spot on TLC's "Next Great Baker," business is booming. Last night, the show revealed that the Vermont baker came in second in the competition.

This morning, I checked in with Fischer. It wasn't easy for her to take the time. She said that a line of people was waiting for the bakery to open at 6:30 this morning, and autograph-seekers and fans are still pouring in.

The crazy day started just two hours after Fischer finally fell asleep. "I was so amped up," she said.

Though Fischer didn't win, in a tearful speech to guests she said that she would be OK either way. That's right, she didn't know the outcome. The TLC crew filmed both her and competitor Ashley Holt winning, but the women didn't know which version would run until the rest of us did.

Ultimately, Fischer said she's pleased with the outcome.

IMG_0012 (1)"I don't mind. I'm in a better position," she said. "If I had won, Buddy [Valastro, "Cake Boss" and "Next Great Baker" host] owns me for that year... Now I have free rein to promote my own business."

Fischer believes that the fact that she has her own store and Holt does not may have played into Valastro's ultimate decision.

And things are great in Cupp's land. Fischer has had more cake orders in a single month than ever before, which is especially notable in normally quiet January and February. The extra business will soon necessitate new hires.

Fischer will also need help in the bakery because some of her time is now being spent on two cookbooks, appearances on other national TV shows, and a series of guest videos for a popular website.

"In my wildest dreams, I never would have imagined this," said the baker.

We leave you with something else Fischer said she never could have imagined: the supportive chants of her Vermont friends, family and bakery regulars after she learned she did not win the competition.

February 8, 2013

Grazing: Snowed in With a Bee's Knees

734476_10151254701388553_502872597_nI forget how old I was when someone told me that too much gin would make me want to fight, or cry, or both. Either way, besides a few stray Sapphire-and-tonics in my twenties, I generally avoided the stuff.

That is, until I first sipped a crisp Plymouth gin martini. And a Hendrick's gin rickey. And then, Caledonia Spirits' Barr Hill Gin. Each has its own seductive flavor profile, from juniper to coriander to (in Barr Hill's case) the faintest hint of honey. 

That's probably what makes it the ideal spirit for the Bee's Knees, one of the simplest, most gorgeous cocktails in the universe, and one I'm slightly obsessed with at the moment. Gin, lemon and honey, shaken with ice and then strained, yields a golden, sour-sweet, magical thing that almost tastes good for you. The Prohibition-era mixologists who created it were either genius or eminently practical, as they surely researched myriad ways to deal with a surfeit of bathtub gin.

However, the very simplicity on which the Bee's Knees depends can also be its downfall — too much booze can make it harsh, while the honey can turn into a cold, hard mass in the shaker (as I learned when I first tried to make one). At Hourglass at the Stowe Mountain Lodge, bartenders counter this problem by using honey simple syrup, a clever twist that yields their stunning rendition (pictured), which has just the perfect sweet-tart-floral balance. (They use Barr Hill, by the way). 

I've watched bartenders struggle with the honey-glop thing as I did, and then deliver overly sharp concoctions. I love the citrusy, bracing version at the Parker House Inn in Quechee, where bartender and co-owner Adam Adler also makes another alluring concoction: a blend of gin, apple cider and St. Germain that I think is called a Cider Press (details are fuzzy).

Back at the ranch, I have a small jar of honey syrup at the ready. It takes only a few moments to make — just heat equal parts water and honey until dissolved. I mix it with a small sprig of rosemary to add another layer of wintery flavor.

The Bee's Knees

2 ounces Barr Hill Gin
3/4 ounce honey simple syrup (or use a warm spoon for honey, and mix fast and furiously)
3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice
Sprig of rosemary (optional)
Lemon peel or twist (optional) 

Combine first four ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake wildly to blend, then strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with lemon peel or twist, and serve.

February 6, 2013

Vermont Foodbank Lands an Unexpected and 'Worthy' $2200

Foodbank 2They may possess wild talents, far-flung followers and occasional swagger, but Vermont's brewers, chefs and restaurateurs are also generous. That's what the Vermont Foodbank found out last week when it got an unexpected email from Dave Brodrick, one of three owners of South Royalton's Worthy Burger: A big check was on the way.

The Night Before the Night Before, a December 23 fête at the eatery, drew together hard-to-find beers, five courses of food, a cadre of local restaurant and brewing persona and some 85 beer fans for a benefit that was actually initiated by an out-of-stater: Sam Calagione, the founder of Delaware's Dogfish Head.

,FoodBank check 1The Worthy crew, along with peeps from Hen of the Wood, Prohibition Pig, Three Penny Taproom and American Flatbread, drew in beers from Lawson's Finest Liquids, the Alchemist, Hill Farmstead Brewery, Zero Gravity and the Bobcat Café and Brewery, as well as finger food from HOTW and sliders and oysters from Worthy's kitchen.

Calagione himself appeared with what Brodrick calls "four super-special kegs," including Birra Etrusca Bronze, an "ancient ale" planned partly according to analysis of 2800-year-old Etruscan drinking vessels (for realz).

The organizers had little problem selling $75 tickets, which probably made some beer geeks very, very happy — and also pulled in $2200 in proceeds.

Continue reading "Vermont Foodbank Lands an Unexpected and 'Worthy' $2200" »

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