Archive for the ‘Rhode Island’ Category

Years ago, before Alex & Ani founder Carolyn Rafaelian bought Sakonnet Vineyards in Little Compton, its success at creating quality wine was mediocre at best.
I heard stories that the grapevines on the property were there just for show. The story goes that the land was contaminated, and they couldn’t use it for winemaking. So despite having this magnificent piece of property, just about all of their grape juice was imported from South America.
To me, that defeated the purpose of going to a local vineyard. You expect them to grow the grapes and then use those grapes to make their wine.
Fast forward years later, the property is now called Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyards, and their website claims that they make their wines from the grapes they grow on their land. Is this truly the case? Or is this a bunch of BS? It’s hard to really know for sure.

The tasting room is full, especially on rainy days!

That issue aside, the vineyard seems to attract a lot of tourists, especially on rainy days when there isn’t a whole heck of a lot to do in Little Compton. Sampling a variety of wines, even if they’re not really that great, is better than sitting at home and watching television.
The property also has an outdoor stage for mellow concerts when the weather is cooperating. (They were denied a permit to have a larger concert venue established on their property, because of the traffic and noise it would create. The town of Little Compton has had a bug up its ass lately…just ask the folks trying to get the historic Stone House open again.)
And there is a café, which is open seven days a week through Columbus Day…and weekends through the winter months.
That’s good to know, because there isn’t a huge choice of places to dine nearby. There’s a luncheonette and pizza joint in Little Compton Commons, and there’s a grill and sandwich place at Tiverton Four Corners. But that’s about it.
The café at Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyards serves up a tasty menu of freshly prepared sandwiches, flatbreads, salads and more. At a recent lunch, my daughter and I enjoyed their steamed pork dumplings as a starter. My daughter chose the Sakonnet Club, a turkey and ham sandwich on sourdough. I went with the Grilled Tuscan, which featured Genoa salami, capicola and soppressata and mozzarella on sourdough, all freshly made and grilled to melt the cheese. The table next to us had a bachelorette party, and all the gals there had different flatbreads, which looked really delicious…something to keep in mind for our next visit. Our sandwiches came with a light salad and a bag of chips on the side.
I had a glass of mediocre Albariño with my lunch, but it served its purpose.
All in all, a really nice lunch, and other things on the menu that I am looking forward to trying in the future.
I didn’t taste more than one wine at the vineyard that day, so in all fairness, I need to make a return visit for that purpose. But for me, the best wines in the area are located down the road at Westport Rivers. Although they don’t have the beautiful room and property that Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyard has, they more than make up for it in the quality of their wine.
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I’ve known Plum Pt. Bistro owner Ralph Conte for about 20 years now. Back in the day, Ralph owned Raphael Bar Risto in Providence. At that time, it was not only the best restaurant in town, but The Tunnel Bar at Raphael’s was also the hottest singles bar in town.

My buddy, Charles, and I would spend every Friday and Saturday night there, from dinner until closing, chatting with the ladies, sipping cocktails, and enjoying incredible food. As much as that kind of lifestyle can take its toll on your health, so can running a restaurant like that. And after a number of years, Ralph decided to close the doors on our beloved restaurant.

I was heartbroken, not only because it was a favorite hang out of mine, but it was also where I met my wife!

Fast forward a half a dozen years later.

Restaurants are in Ralph’s blood, so it was no surprise that he opened a smaller, family-run establishment, this time far away from the noise of Providence. Plum Pt. Bistro in Saunderstown became an instant hit with the locals and there’s rarely any empty seat in the house no matter what day you go.

Plum Pt. Bistro is smaller and more manageable than the old Raphael’s, and Ralph has his family to help him. His wife, Alyssa, daughter Zoe, and son Raphael, all work at the restaurant. The result is a comfortable atmosphere that makes you feel like you’re home. Ralph’s skills with Mediterranean flavors has not diminished in the least.

Although I love many of the standards that are on their menu, I always look to the blackboard first for the night’s specials. On a recent trip, there was fresh locally caught striped bass, tuna, and black bass. The tuna tartare was sensational. The whole fried black bass, served in a lemon butter caper sauce, with fresh seasonal vegetables and potatoes on the side, was the best whole fish I’ve had in many years. My daughter devoured the fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with ricotta cheese, sitting on a bed of beautiful marinara sauce. And her favorite regular dish on the menu is the potato gnocchi with pesto. My wife had the lettuce wraps, which were surprisingly fresh and tasty, dipping them in the Asian-style peanut sauce on the side. And a beet salad was raised to the next level by adding a perfectly cooked marinated steak to it.

My whole fried black bass, before I devoured it.

 

Plum Pt. Bistro has great bartenders that will make you your favorite cocktail, or create a new favorite for you. My buddy, Skip, from the Raphael days, still works for Ralph behind the bar. And they have a decent wine selection, too. Reservations are highly recommended. You need to call them since they don’t offer reservations online.

Plum Pt. Bistro is on the mainland of Rhode Island, right at the end of the Jamestown Bridge…just a stone’s throw from Wickford. Absolutely worth the trip if you’re spending any time in Newport. Cross the bridges and get some amazing food! Hey…I live on the other side of the state and it’s worth the trip for me!

 

I get a lot of travel and food magazines, and for whatever reason, when they talk about where to stay in Providence, The Dean Hotel seems to be everybody’s new favorite. When they talk about where to get a great cocktail, The Dean is listed again. (I did notice that the cocktails article info was submitted by someone who has a financial part in the operation of the hotel…a bit suspicious.)

But, nonetheless, I decided it was time for me to check it out for myself.

Those of us that have been in Rhode Island for some time might remember what was previously at The Dean’s address back in the day: the legendary Sportsman’s Inn, a roach-infested whorehouse, to put it plainly. As as one reviewer put it: “Don’t go there without antibiotics!”

So The Dean is a serious improvement! I was told that to keep its historical value, The Dean had to leave the tiny hotel rooms exactly the same size as they were before. The result is a very cozy room that is clean and modern…just really small…as is the bathroom. But it’s got everything you would need to spend the night here, no complaints.

My small but very clean room at The Dean.

 

The Dean has many of the amenities you’re looking for in a nice city hotel: valet parking, a coffee shop (Bolt Coffee) for your morning wake-up, a very good cocktail lounge (The Magdalenae Room), a restaurant (Faust) and Boombox, a karaoke bar. Okay…in all honesty, I was glad to hear that the German food of Faust is being replaced this fall with the truly creative food of one of Providence’s best: north. (www.foodbynorth.com) And as long as I don’t have to hear the karaoke bar when I’m trying to sleep, I can deal with that.

I had dinner elsewhere in town the night I stayed at The Dean. (Faust was already closed.) But I did stop by to have a cocktail–or three–at The Magdalenae Room. The choice of spirits is limited, but the essentials are there. A nice chat with the bartender who knew his drinks and knew his way around Providence. Even someone like me that has lived here for almost 30 years learned a few things! (Was it the best crafted cocktail in Providence? That honor still remains with The Eddy.)

All in all, my experience at The Dean was a good one. I don’t know if it deserves all the attention it’s been getting in those magazine articles I’ve read, however. But it’s clean, it’s not expensive, and when north opens up, it can very much be an ideal one-stop in Providence.

We recently invited our closest friends, neighbors and family members to our home to celebrate life after my wife’s last year of health issues. (We are grateful the prognosis is good!) We called it our FLY party (F*ck Last Year!) and it was a huge success.

Pre-party prep!

We went all-out this time, taking our “usual” 100-person summer party to the next level, renting a large tent and tables…hiring a staff to serve food and drinks and clear the tables and park cars…hiring a bartender…enlisting the culinary services of Rocket Fine Street Food of Providence and bringing in the best shucking oysters in Rhode Island with 401 Catering and Events.

Unlike past years, where I would spend all day cooking a few appetizers and ran around cleaning the yard all night–barely chatting with the very friends I’ve invited–this time, we coughed up the extra cash to hire people to do the work, allowing us to actually be part of the party!

What a fun night! Great food and drink…great friends.

If you’re in Providence, look for the Rocket truck! Go to their website (www.rocketstreetfood.com) and check out where they’ll be on their calendar. It’s worth the effort.

If you’ve got a big event, and are looking for the best Rhode Island oysters, go with the guys that supply the best east coast restaurants with the best the Ocean State has to offer. No gig is too big! Max, Brian and their staff are professional and truly some of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. and they’re passionate about the quality of their oysters! Start here: www.401catering.com.

 

The definition of a consomme is: “a clear soup made with concentrated stock.” I might add “mind-blowing” to that sentence, especially with this recipe. The key to success– and this is crucial–is to use absolutely garden-fresh, in-season ingredients. If you try this with greenhouse or supermarket tomatoes, you’re just wasting your time.

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4 1/2 lbs. of fresh garden tomatoes (my favorite is the heirloom: Brandywine)
1 large bunch of fresh basil, leaves and stems
1 2-inch piece of fresh horseradish, peeled
1 clove of garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar (I use Alessi)
2 oz. vodka (I use Tito’s)
sea salt and pepper

 

Remove the core of the tomatoes, but leave everything else, including seeds and skin.

Put all the tomatoes, basil, horseradish, garlic, vinegar and vodka in a blender or food processor. You might need to do this in batches if your equipment can’t handle it all.

Process until you get a kind of slush.

Line a mixing bowl with a double layer of cheesecloth and pour the tomato slush mixture into it. Gather up the corners of the cheesecloth carefully, and tie them securely so you can lift the bundle up by the knot. Hang the bundle from a hook over a clean bowl in the fridge so that it catches the liquid that drips out, and leave the whole thing in there overnight. The liquid that drips out will be clear. (You can place an optional slice of beet in the bowl to add color, but I choose not to, because I think it changes the flavor.)

Cheesecloth bundle dripping overnight in the fridge.

Cheesecloth bundle dripping overnight in the fridge.

To serve, chill bowls (or in this case: the sipping glasses) in the fridge. When ready to serve, ladle out the consomme and garnish with a tiny basil leaf. A drop of excellent quality olive oil is optional.

Synthetic cheesecloth apparatus. The real thing works better.

Synthetic cheesecloth apparatus. The real thing works better.

 

I tried using a synthetic cheesecloth for this recipe, and I found that it doesn’t filter out enough of the solids to make a clear consomme. You could use it along with real cheesecloth, just to use the stand, or just hang it all in real cheesecloth, as described in this recipe.

Every other year, the Master Gardeners of the University of Rhode Island host “Gardening with the Masters,” a tour which showcases over 2 dozen home gardens. Some big, some small, these gardens are the passion and obsession of 26 Master Gardeners in Rhode Island and nearby Connecticut.  This year, 14 gardens on the tour have never been on the tour before…including mine!

The Gardening with the Masters tour happens from 10AM to 4PM on June 24 and 25, rain or shine, so make plans to visit our area and get some great ideas and tips for your own home garden.

You’ve just got 2 weeks to buy your tickets online!

Your ticket to the event is a booklet that lists all the gardens on the tour, along with maps that help you get to each location. Tickets are $20 (good for both days) and can be purchased at: www.uri.edu/mastergardener up to June 15. They will be mailed out. Call 401-874-2900 for details.

I gave my garden the title of “Space, the Final Frontier,” because my particular garden challenges include managing an almost 2-acre yard backed by 6 acres of forest and protected wetlands. You’ll see stands of bamboo, fruit trees, native plants, a vegetable and herb garden, a greenhouse, and my wife’s art studio (http://farmcoast.com/blog/tag/bow-house-studio/) will be open to the public that weekend as well. We’re right down the road from historic Tiverton Four Corners, featuring shops, art galleries and restaurants.

URI Master Gardeners (and others who know their stuff) will be on site to answer questions about plants, composting, and good gardening practices.

Ask questions, bring your camera, bring a picnic lunch, take notes, but most importantly enjoy the beauty created in these gardens!

My garden and yard is accessible for the handicapped in most areas.

 

 

We stumbled upon the Grange one Sunday while looking for a place to have brunch. After a rich dinner the night before at Persimmon in Providence, RI, we really didn’t want to go the route of eggs, sausages, and other heavy stuff. What a great surprise to find a vegetarian restaurant with a great atmosphere and surprisingly flavorful food!

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My kale Caesar salad was super-fresh and absolutely delicious. But the real winner was the “carrot pastrami” reuben sandwich. Served on French rye, it’s got the kraut, Swiss and Thousand Island…but carrots filling in for the pastrami…and you just don’t miss it! Full of flavor and texture, I don’t know what they do to the carrots, but it rocks! My wife had the roasted veggie bowl: delicious and big enough to take half of it home to enjoy again.

Reuben sandwich with "carrot pastrami."

Reuben sandwich with “carrot pastrami.”

They’ve got a full bar for those that crave a cocktail…though their house-made juices are fantastic.

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We will be back!

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the dining experiences I’ve had at Persimmon’s former location in Bristol, RI. But it was clear that the place was too small. The opportunity to buy the former Rue de L’Espoire at 99 Hope Street on the east side of Providence came up, and James Beard nominee (for best chef Northeast) Champ Speidel and his wife, Lisa, went for it. It’s just what they (we) needed!

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The space holds almost 3 times more people, and the vibe is upbeat and exciting. The dining experience rivals the best of New York City. But there’s no stuffiness here. This is fine dining they way it should be: small plates with incredible flavors, all while you enjoy the company of friends in a casual atmosphere. The suits are here…but no one feels out-of-place in a pair of jeans.

Oysters 3 ways.

Oysters 3 ways.

My wife and I sat at the chef’s table (a front-row view of the workings of the kitchen) and enjoyed small plate after small plate of incredible bites: from deviled quail eggs with sturgeon caviar to crispy chicken skin. Oysters 3 ways: fried, raw, and chips were mind-blowing. Pasta carbonara with earthy black truffles was the carbonara I’ve always dreamed about. Tempura rock shrimp weren’t heavily battered, but lightly crisp with a highly addictive sauce. Boneless stuffed chicken wings, deconstructed, re-constructed and filled with Asian flavors, was an unexpected hit out of the park.

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Watching chef Champ at work was a real treat. It was great to talk to him, his wife, Lisa, and their enthusiastic staff. We learned a lot.
I’ve always told my friends that Persimmon in Bristol was Rhode Island’s best restaurant. Now, in its new Providence location on Hope Street, just a stone’s throw from Brown University, it has truly arrived. http://www.persimmonbristol.com

Once again this weekend, I’ll be at the annual Providence Art Club Founder’s Day celebration, raising a glass in their honor. The cool thing is that I got to decide what went in the glass!

First, some history…

The Providence Art Club is the third-oldest art club in the United States. The Philadelphia Sketch Club was founded in 1860. New York’s Salmagundi Club, founded in 1871, came next. But they were both founded by an all-male board. The Providence Art Club is the oldest art club in the nation that also included women. And that was back in 1880! That’s especially huge when you see what’s going on in the country even today.

Now through April 22, the Providence Art Club is featuring “Making Her Mark, the Women Artists of the Providence Art Club 1880,” an exposition featuring the works of the women artists that founded the art club over 130 years ago.

 

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My wife is an artist member of the Providence Art Club. That’s how a zhlub like me got in! Several years ago, they asked me to come up with a cocktail for their first Founders Day celebration. One hundred glasses were raised to honor the founding fathers of the Providence Art Club. This year, we’re expecting up to 150 people to be there for the celebration.

Silhouettes of past art club members line the walls of the Providence Art Club, so my wife came up with the name of the cocktail: The Silhouette. I decided to base my cocktail on the Boulevardier, an awesome drink that substitutes bourbon for gin in the classic Negroni.
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2 oz. Eagle Rare 10-year bourbon
1 oz. Antica Formula sweet vermouth
1/2 oz. Campari
2 shakes Regan’s orange bitters

In a cocktail shaker with ice, stir the ingredients and then strain into a rocks glass with one large ice cube.

Garnish with an orange twist.

Cheers!

Despite almost universal opposition to the cruel way calves are treated, the Humane Society says the veal industry shows little signs of changing. That’s why many people simply refuse to eat veal. I was one of them.

The veal industry is a by-product of the dairy industry. To get the dairy cows to produce milk, they are impregnated every year. Half of their offspring are male, no use to the dairy business, and those are the calves that become veal.

I said I was one of the people who didn’t eat veal. What changed was my source. A few years ago, Sweet and Salty Farm (www.sweetandsaltyfarm.com), a dairy farm down the road from me in Little Compton, Rhode Island, began selling their own line of yogurt and cheese. And like most dairies, when calves are born, they have no use for the males. But rather than taking them away from their mothers and caging them for their short lives, they allow the calves to stay with their moms, nursing for up to four months before weaning. Then they graze in the fields by their mothers’ side, living a stress-free life. And when the time finally comes, they are dispatched humanely.

The result is incredible grass-fed veal I don’t feel guilty about eating: a rich, red in color…nothing like beef and a far better option than conventional veal. I also buy the veal bones from the farm to make a rich, flavorful veal stock, roasting the bones on a baking sheet with onions, carrots and celery…then moving them all to a large pot of water that cooks for 24 hours.

Traditionally, veal saltimbocca consists of veal medallions rolled with prosciutto and sage leaves. Often it is served with a marsala sauce. I got rid of the marsala–too sweet–and substituted a chardonnay. I added fontina cheese. And a guest’s aversion to spinach gave me the option to use kale…with bacon, of course!

By the way, if you’re not lucky enough to have a farm that humanely raises veal (or you’re still queasy about veal in general), this recipe works with chicken breasts, too.

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1 1/2 lbs. grass-fed veal, pounded thin and cut into medallions about 3″ around
1/2 lb. prosciutto, sliced paper-thin
1/2 lb. fontina cheese, sliced thin
1 cup all-purpose flour (I use Cup4Cup gluten-free flour)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
olive oil
butter
2 cups veal stock
1 cup un-oaked white wine (I like to cook with Alice White chardonnay)
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage
1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
12 oz. baby portobello mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 lb. spaghetti
2 bunches organic kale
3 strips bacon, finely chopped

 

Place the veal cutlets on a cutting board between a few layers of plastic wrap. Pound the cutlets to about 1/8″ thickness. Cut them into pieces about 3″ around, which will make them easier to handle.

Place the flour in a bowl and add the teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Mix well.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and butter in a pan. Drop the veal medallions in the flour and coat both sides of the meat, shaking off any excess. Carefully lay the veal in the pan and cook the veal until it’s just barely browned. You don’t want to cook it all the way through. When the medallions have cooked, place them on a baking sheet. Cook the medallions in batches, adding more olive oil or butter to the pan if needed.

When you’ve cooked all the medallions, use the same pan to sauté the onion until translucent. Add the mushrooms and cook them down. (You can add a little of the veal stock to help the mushrooms release their liquid.) Add the rest of the veal stock, wine and sage. Cook over medium heat until it’s reduced by half. If the sauce looks a bit thin, make a quick roux in a separate pan by heating equal parts melted butter and flour until it forms a paste. Stir this paste into the sauce, making sure there are no lumps.

Back to the veal medallions: place a piece of prosciutto on top of each medallion, and then a slice of fontina on top of that. Keep the baking sheet with the medallions in a warm (150 degree) oven.

Boil the spaghetti in well-salted water until al dente. Strain and toss in a bowl with unsalted butter. Season with a bit more salt.

Hand-tear the kale and remove all the tough, woody stems. Wash the kale thoroughly in cold water, making sure you get all the dirt and sand that can be caught in its leaves. Heat some olive oil (and bacon fat, if you have it!) in a pan, and toss in the chopped bacon, just to warm the bits up. Working in batches, place a handful of kale in the pan, and when it wilts down a bit, place another handful in, and so on until you’ve got all the kale in. Season with salt and pepper, and keep tossing the kale until it has wilted to its desired doneness. (I like it to still have a bit of a crunch.)

When you’re ready to serve, turn the oven on broil and place the baking sheet with the veal medallions on the top rack. You want the cheese to melt, but you don’t want it to burn, so keep an eye on it!

Serve a few medallions on the plate, with spaghetti, kale and sauce on the side.