Mark Ferri
Missy Robbins' Grilled eel with stewed cherry tomatoes, fino verde basil & balsamic vinegar.
magnify Click image to view more.

Spring/Summer Menu Preview 2010

Judiaann Woo - March 2010

The bloom is on the rose and on these five chefs' creative energies as well as they mothball stews and plot for two sunny seasons of abundance.

Missy Robbins
A Voce Madison & A Voce Columbus
New York City
"I'm very lucky to have wonderful teams at both A Voce locations. Even though the concept is the same--dishes based on regional Italian tradition using seasonal ingredients--the menus are very different. I want to give people a reason to visit both locations on a regular basis. And because my food is based on simplicity and perfect technique, execution is crucial. I also work really hard to source exactly the right raw ingredients. Just about every dish gets finished with extra-virgin olive oil and sea salt, so I'll taste as many varieties as I can to find just the right one for me."

Grilled eel with stewed cherry tomatoes, fino verde basil & balsamic vinegar. "I haven't done a whole lot of eel cookery over the course of my career, but I've always loved it. Partially grill skin-on eel; brush with balsamic vinegar; return to the grill to gain depth and a little char; season. Select cherry tomato varieties in different colors, shapes, and sizes; blanch and peel; cook briefly, just long enough for them to release their juices, in white wine, olive oil, garlic, thyme, oregano, sea salt, and black pepper. To serve, place the tomatoes with some of their juice in the bottom of a shallow bowl by Fortessa drizzled with some good extra-virgin olive oil; top with the grilled eel; finish with some aged Villa Manodori balsamic vinegar and fino verde basil. I love this variety of tiny basil I can only get in season at the farmers' market. Its herbaceous flavor adds just the right note to the sweetness and acidity of the tomatoes and balsamic vinegar, balanced with the fattiness of the eel."

House-made ricotta-filled ravioli with crispy artichokes, lemon & marjoram. "Due to the high volume of our restaurants, it would be difficult to make fresh ricotta for everything. So instead, I highlight our house-made ricotta in a single dish, like the filling in this simple ravioli. Ricotta is surprisingly easy to make: combine milk and an acid--in this case, lemon juice; heat until curds form; separate the curds from the whey; season with sea salt, black pepper, and lemon zest to bring out the lemon flavor. To prepare the baby artichokes: halve the artichokes; braise in equal parts white wine, water, and olive oil flavored with garlic, parsley, thyme, and a few lemon slices; hold in the braising liquid until needed; at pickup, crisp in olive oil cut side down. Serve a few ravioli on a plate with a light sauce made by sweating garlic in olive oil and adding some chicken stock and butter to finish. Garnish with a fine julienne of fresh lemon zest, marjoram, and a dusting of Parmesan."

Slow roasted veal breast with favas, mint, pecorino & black pepper. "We get almost all our meat, including our veal, from Pat La Frieda meat purveyors here in New York City. To make the veal breast: rub with lots of chopped garlic and rosemary and season heavily with kosher salt; cure overnight; roast for about eight hours in a 250 degree convection oven; remove the bones; press the veal using a weighted sheet pan to achieve a rectangular shape, which makes for neater plating. Anyone who has ever worked with me will tell you that I'm a big fan of the rectangle. I just like straight lines. Cut into seven ounce portions; sear in a skillet, then place in an oven until heated through; cut into slices; serve with a light jus flavored with white wine, veal stock, San Marzano tomatoes, black pepper, cloves, bay leaf, thyme, and a good amount of garlic. Pair it with a light salad of blanched fava beans, tossed with fava leaves, mint, lemon juice, Tuscan olive oil, pecorino shavings, and healthy grind of black pepper."

Raspberry granita with grappa di moscato & lime. "We started offering a granita option served on its own in a dish as part of our regular gelato program, and it's been a huge hit. So when raspberries hit their peak of ripeness, I plan to serve a raspberry granita as a more composed dessert. To make the granita: freeze the sweetened fruit puree in shallow trays, scraping with a fork on a regular basis, until small ice shards form an evenly icy and fluffy consistency; serve the granita in a glass bowl with some grappa di moscato poured over and softly whipped cream on top with a grating of lime zest. The cream will round out the intensity of the raspberries and the grappa will add sweetness to each spoonful, a refreshing way to end any meal."

Jody Adams
Cambridge, Massachusetts
"I've had the restaurant now for 16 years. We started out cooking with a broader Mediterranean influence, but I've always been inspired by flavors from all over. About three years ago, we did a complete renovation and changed our menu focus exclusively to regional Italian. It's where my heart lives. Now, I cook regional, seasonal, responsible Italian-inspired food pushed through a New England looking glass."

Antipasti from the sea: salt cod, octopus, shrimp in lardo. "Throughout the year, I focus on different regions of Italy, depending on the season. For spring, my influence will turn toward Venice. This antipasti will focus on the sea and the spice route for which the city is famous. We make our own salt cod, a preparation that takes about six days to complete, using local fish. Puree the salt cod into a brandade with some cooked potatoes, olive oil, shallots, garlic, and cream; place a spoonful on a plate over a smear of black olive tapenade and top with a single charred hot pepper. Cook baby octopus in a court bouillon with garlic, hot pepper, celery, onions, and a wine cork to keep it tender. I'm not sure if the cork trick really works, but there are certain things that we all just do because they can't hurt. Marinate the cooked octopus in a vinaigrette of red wine vinegar, fennel pollen, shallots, and thinly sliced celery; serve on a bit of harissa/garlic mayonnaise. To contrast the spicy and sassy, garnish with a dice of cooling zesty lemon gelée. For the shrimp, wrap in house-cured lardo and roast in the oven. I like the large head-on variety for the drama. Serve shrimp on a salad of blanched sliced asparagus and dress with a sauce of orange juice, shallots, garlic, poppy seeds, Champagne vinegar, and grapeseed oil."

Slow braised rabbit leg & grilled rack with polenta, artichokes & pine nuts. "Rabbit and lamb are two of my all-time favorite things to cook and eat. Rabbits in particular are about as symbolic of spring as you can get. We sell a ton. I get mine from Vermont. They're about three pounds each. Marinate both the legs and rack overnight with thyme, oregano, garlic, cardamom, and lemon; the next day braise the legs in white wine and rabbit stock until tender. Brine the racks for a couple of hours in a solution of salt, sugar, honey, and the same spices used in the overnight marinade; French the racks before grilling briefly to medium; serve over creamy Anson Mills white heirloom polenta seasoned with pecorino cheese. Alongside, serve some small artichokes, braised whole, with prosciutto, shallots, saffron, white wine, olive oil, and salt. Scatter around a quick sauté of fava beans, fava sprouts, pine nuts, and diced preserved lemon with some of the strained and reduced braising liquid finished with a touch of butter and lemon spooned around the plate."

Lamb with honey, peas, garlic & rosemary. "As with the rabbit, I often do pairings of two different preparations using different parts of the same animal. This dish includes lamb shanks, prepared osso buco–style, and grilled lamb chops. Stud osso buco with garlic cloves and braise in red wine, lamb stock, honey, anchovy, rosemary, and lemon and orange zests until very tender. Marinate the rack in the same combination of spices and aromatics; sear in a hot pan; coat with a mixture of roasted garlic, honey, and bread crumbs toasted in olive oil; roast to medium-rare. On a large plate from Kahla Porcelain, serve two chops per order with crispy pan-fried semolina gnocchi with pancetta, leeks, fresh peas, and a tiny bit of fresh hops for some contrast and bitterness. Serve the osso buco glazed with the reduced braising liquid over a creamy leek and green garlic puree."

Anise/orange panna cotta with spiced rhubarb & shortbread. "Warm heavy cream and infuse with star anise and orange zest before mixing with gelatin, sugar, and buttermilk. I like the acidity of the buttermilk and how it balances out the richness of the cream. Strain and chill the panna cotta in round molds until set. Serve unmolded with an elongated diamond of crisp buttery shortbread cookie dusted in orange-flavored sugar with a julienne of rhubarb, first roasted with sugar, star anise, orange zest, and fresh ginger. Garnish the plate with cubes of milky white gelée flavored with Pernod for another layer of anise flavorAnise/orange panna cotta with spiced rhubarb & shortbread."

John B. Shields & Karen Urie Shields
Town House
Chilhowie, Virginia
"We've had the pleasure of working in many fine restaurants in the Chicago area before meeting up with the passionate owners of Town House. They offered us the opportunity to do our own thing in a lush agrarian environment that brought us closer to our food. Now we can cook in the style we want to but still have the lifestyle we've always dreamed about, which allows us to be even more creative."

Gazpacho Frappé. "This dish brings together two Spanish traditions, gazpacho from the south and bacalao from the Basque region up north. Blend heirloom tomatoes, green peppers, cucumbers, lychees, cantaloupe, and a little shallot to make a gazpacho water; let the pulpy mixture sit for a couple of hours to release all its flavors before draining through cheesecloth; blend the resulting gazpacho water with a little xanthan gum to add some ‘creaminess;' place in the freezer. For the bacalao, soak salt cod in changes of water over a 24 hour period before steeping in milk, cream, thyme, white wine, olive oil, garlic, and bay leaf. Gel the resulting salt cod–infused cream with agar-agar to get a thick pudding-like consistency. The bacalao adds richness while balancing out the acidity. To serve, blend some of the frozen gazpacho with some reserved gazpacho water to achieve a frappé and present in a glass with the salt cod cream spooned over. On top, drizzle some tomato syrup made from a reduction of tomato water cooked down with Thai chiles, salt, and glucose as well as a good Spanish olive oil thickened with liquid nitrogen and mixed with bread dust made by finely grinding wood-fired dried bread into a fine powder with a touch of sea salt."

Shrimp poached in shrimp oil, liquid walnuts, scrambled egg mousse with vanilla & "minted" peas. "For the shrimp oil: simmer crab and shrimp shells in grapeseed oil with some tomato paste for an hour; let infuse overnight before straining. For the egg mousse: combine eggs, milk, salt, butter, and a touch of vanilla bean; vacuum seal in a food grade plastic bag and poach until barely scrambled; puree the contents until smooth; place in an iSi whipper and aerate with two chargers. For the liquid walnuts: mix walnut oil with tapioca maltodextrin and fill molds shaped like half walnut shells; freeze until solid before dipping in melted isomalt sugar. As the sugar cools, it forms a thin shell around the liquid center. Just before plating, poach the shrimp in the shrimp oil. Trim and place shrimp in the bottom of a shallow bowl with some of the poaching oil. Dress blanched peas in a gastrique of white wine, white wine vinegar, sugar, and eucalyptus. The eucalyptus adds a minty note without mint. Add some warm dollops of egg mousse around and between the shrimp and peas and top with two walnut halves."

Oxtail, semi-frozen green curry, crystallized shallots & popcorn, stewed fillet of honeydew melon. "The idea behind this dish is to take something that is traditionally thought of as a winter meat and to cut its richness and fat with light summery elements. The oxtail is first braised in rich stock in the traditional manner with the addition of smoked onions and citrus peel for depth. The seasoning of the oxtail is kept simple to allow the garnishes to flavor the meat. The oxtail is seasoned with lime zest and sea salt and sits on the plate next to a piece of fork tender honeydew melon cooked sous-vide with a pinch of salt. In the well of the honeydew, place a scoop of savory green curry ice cream flavored with Vietnamese herbs, kaffir lime leaf, coconut, and wasabi. Over it all, lay a large thin sheet of popcorn sugar made by folding powdered popcorn into a neutral hard crack sugar syrup and allowing it to cool before pulverizing it into a fine powder and sifting it onto a Silpat-lined sheet pan to bake and form thin sheets. Place the plate in a hot oven for five minutes. As the sugar melts, it forms a whisper-thin veil of popcorn flavored sugar that covers everything. Garnish the final plate with sprouted peanuts tossed in roasted peanut oil flavored with mustard powder, mustard seeds, turmeric, corn silks, caramel deglazed with fish sauce, and dehydrated crystallized shallots. To one side, place a bouquet of herbs--flowering coriander, Thai basil, various mints, radish sprouts, arugula flowers, and a little grated wasabi for the guests to add to their liking."

Dessert pastry chef Karen Urie Shields
Spring: Cucumbers, matcha, lovage, carrots, buttermilk/marshmallow ice cream. "This dessert is a celebration of spring colors. Many of the components are left in their raw state, still alive with freshness. In a bowl, place a piece of very light sponge cake flavored with green matcha tea next to a scoop of fluffy buttermilk/marshmallow ice cream; cover lightly with some loose cucumber sorbet made from the juice of fresh cucumbers sweetened with sugar syrup for a slushy mouthfeel. Sprinkle shards of refreshing lovage granité over and around the bowl for another layer of texture and flavor. Garnish with a few curls of thinly sliced celery and a small mountain of fresh shoots--poke, watercress, blackberry, sorrel, basil, mint, and fennel. Top with a ‘carrot' of isomalt sugar tinted with natural orange food coloring. To form the carrot shape, dip a small ring mold in the melted isomalt and pull upwards slowly to form a carrot-like shape as the sugar cools. Finish by pouring fresh carrot juice tableside."

Scott Gottlich
"I was born in Texas, but I've worked in both California and New York City and now I'm back in Texas again. It's nice to be back. The restaurant's name means ‘jewels' in French, and that's exactly the feeling we've tried to create in our food and atmosphere. I want people to feel as if they're having dinner in my house, except that it's much nicer here than at my place. The round dining room and muted colors create a feeling of warmth and intimacy, a place to dine and drink with good friends"."I was born in Texas, but I've worked in both California and New York City and now I'm back in Texas again. It's nice to be back. The restaurant's name means ‘jewels' in French, and that's exactly the feeling we've tried to create in our food and atmosphere. I want people to feel as if they're having dinner in my house, except that it's much nicer here than at my place. The round dining room and muted colors create a feeling of warmth and intimacy, a place to dine and drink with good friends."

Study of eggs: Coddled with Champagne cream, deviled with caviar, brouillé with fines herbes. "To prepare the coddled egg: gently chip off the top of an organic brown egg and separate the yolk from the white, placing only the yolk back in the shell; season; cook gently in a water bath until just barely set; place a few drops of a classic gastrique in the shell; fill with whipped cream flavored with Champagne vinegar and a touch of salt; garnish with julienned preserved lemon and torn chervil. For the deviled egg: hard boil a quail egg; shell it; cut it in half; remove the yolk; mash it with a little crème fraîche, Dijon mustard, salt, pepper, and a touch of lemon juice; spoon the mixture back into the whites and top with golden osetra. The final preparation is oeufs brouillés, or soft scrambled eggs, prepared in the classic French way, slowly, over a bain-marie to attain a moist and velvety texture. Flavor with butter, crème fraîche, mascarpone, salt, and pepper; fold in minced fines herbes [parsley, chives, chervil, and tarragon], and spread on toasted brioche with a tiny salad of fines herbes on top."

Olive oil poached wild striped bass, white gazpacho, almond/caper berry salad & peeled grapes. "White gazpacho is very common in Andalusia, the southern region of Spain, where it's often served cold as a soup. For this preparation, I plan to serve it warm and thickened, like a puree, as an accompaniment to striped bass. To make the gazpacho: blend peeled almonds with water, milk, good quality day-old bread, garlic, Sherry vinegar, lemon juice, and salt until very smooth; heat gently; serve with a skinless fillet of wild striped bass poached in aromatic olive oil infused with parsley, thyme, chives, garlic, and lemon zest. While the fish is still warm, season and squeeze a bit of fresh lemon juice over and sprinkle with some of the same fresh herbs used to flavor the olive oil. Garnish with a salad of sliced caper berries, sliced and toasted almonds, sweated shallots, and peeled red grapes."

Spring lamb loin with English pea/mint puree, pickled ramps & purple mustard mousseline. "When I think of spring, I always think of lamb for some reason. For this dish, season the whole loin and roast it to medium-rare. Slice and serve with a puree of blanched English peas, pickled ramps, and purple mustard mousseline. To make the puree, blend blanched and shocked English peas and fresh mint with sweated onions and chicken stock until smooth and creamy. For the ramps, make a pickling brine of vinegar, water, sugar, salt, black peppercorns, chile flakes, garlic, and bay leaf. Bring the brine to a boil and pour over ramps. To make the purple mustard mousseline, whip heavy cream into stiff peaks before gently folding in a demi-glace fortified with purple mustard, also known as violet mustard. The purple color comes from the addition of grape must, or unfermented grape juice, which adds a sweet-tart taste to a blend of mustard seeds, vinegar, and spices. The color is nice, but it's the flavor in particular that goes so well with roasted meats that I love so much."

Strawberries four ways. "This dessert consists of a quartet to celebrate the arrival of the season's best strawberries that I like to serve on a square plate by Revol. The first consists of a shortbread cookie topped with strawberry pâte de fruit and buttermilk panna cotta and garnished with spherified strawberry caviar. The second would be a slice of gelled terrine consisting of a brown sugar/balsamic layer sandwiched between layers of Sauternes and sliced berry-laced strawberry gelée, the composition garnished with dots of aged balsamic vinegar and micro basil. The third is a strawberry/banana parfait. To make it, layer strawberry custard lightened with whipped cream with banana custard also lightened with whipped cream in a shot glass; set a spoon-shaped tuile over the top of the glass. For the fourth tasting, serve a tiny strawberry/chocolate ice cream soda topped with pistachio foam in a mini beer mug shot glass by Libbey Glass; garnish with a strawberry still showing some of its green leaf pressed downward into the rim opposite the mug's handle."

Michael Chiarello
Napa Valley
"Spring in Napa Valley is paved with wild mustard flowers, like a blanket of yellow in The Wizard of Oz. It's a magical time of year, where everything is about to explode. This past December marked our first anniversary at Bottega. It had been nine years since I had a restaurant, and while it was a productive and interesting time, there's nothing quite like being back in the kitchen, working six nights a week. I forgot how much I love it. It's like kissing an old girlfriend returning from Argentina--it all comes back to you."

Sage/fava budino with warm shaved asparagus & Meyer lemon salad topped with crispy egg. "We grow fava beans and mustard greens as a cover crop in my vineyards, so with such an abundance of favas I'm always looking for ways to incorporate them into my cooking. A budino [Italian for ‘pudding'] can be either sweet or savory. For this version, mix together cream, milk, eggs, and crustless torn bread; combine with a fine puree of fava beans, sage, and pecorino cheese; strain the mixture; place in molds; cook gently in a water bath until set. To plate, unmold the budino and serve with asparagus, sliced thinly lengthwise on a mandoline and barely cooked in vegetable stock and butter. Dress with beurre fondue and diced preserved Meyer lemon; top with half a boiled egg made crispy by a dip in buttermilk and then panko bread crumbs before getting deep-fried in olive oil. The whites should be set, but the yolk should remain very soft. Season with grey salt and pecorino shavings."

Grey salt–crusted roasted whole fish with roasted Meyer lemon & wild herbs. "I discovered my favorite salt in 2001, a grey salt from the coast of Brittany I use for all my seasoning. For spring, I'm planning to serve a whole fish, maybe a wild striped bass or branzino, roasted in a crust made of this grey salt mixed with just enough water to get to a snow-like consistency and whatever wild herbs are available at the time, including wild mint, nepitella [a mint-like Italian herb], and mustard flowers. Cover a roasting pan with the salt mixture and lay the fish over, filling the cavity with two or three fork-pricked Meyer lemons. Pack the salt mixture on top, leaving the head and tail exposed, and bake at 500 degrees until an internal temperature reaches 140 degrees. Let rest for about 15 minutes before cracking open the salt crust tableside, allowing all the steam and fragrant aromas to come out. The fish is then skinned and filleted, seasoned with grey salt, a late harvest olive oil, and the juices from the roasted Meyer lemons. Accompany with mixed herb salad."

Pork shank confit with spring shelling bean stew. "Cut flat whole hind shanks with trotters intact so they can stand upright on a plate; coat with a mixture of grey salt, fennel pollen, juniper berries, and black peppercorns; cure overnight; rinse; dry. I like to use Duroc pigs, an heirloom variety, for their exceptional flavor. Cover shanks with olive oil and melted pork fat; add whole garlic cloves, juniper berries, and fennel seeds; cook in a low oven for about eight hours until very tender; cool in its own fat; reserve in refrigerator. To serve, roll shanks in powdered sugar and deep-fry to brown and crisp; drizzle with an agrodolce [sweet-and-sour] glaze made spicy with a puree of Calabrian chiles. For the bean stew, simply sweat spring onions in a little of the confit fat before adding shucked peas, favas, scarlet runners, and fresh chickpeas; season; finish with a little olive oil; serve under the pork; garnish with fried rosemary."

Zeppoli with oven roasted peach/rosemary marmellata. "Make zeppoli with a traditional yeast leavened dough flavored with orange zest and black anise; scoop out rounds of dough to deep-fry; dust with powdered sugar mixed with a pinch of salt; serve in a parchment paper cone with roasted peach/rosemary marmellata. To make the marmellata, toss peeled, halved, and stoned cling peaches in brown butter with a little rosemary, salt, and black pepper; sear cut side down on a hot plancha until they release their juices; place peaches in a thick simple syrup flavored with a bay leaf and Meyer lemon and tangerine juices; roast in a wood-burning oven to draw out the moisture and add a bit of smokiness."