Monday, May 27, 2013

Affogato- Perfection in Opposites

 You know, I have long been a believer that the simplest things in life are what are truly wonderful.  Walking through rows of flowers early in the morning, laughter, a favorite song on the radio, laughter, a knowing smile...the same often holds true for food.  There are some amazing dishes out there- truly incredible.  There are chefs who perform back breaking feats to plate a masterpiece that combines flavors and textures with such skill, and their complexity knows no bounds.  And as glorious as those dishes are, sometimes there isn't anything more wonderful than a simple dish, a mix of heart, and history and love.  To me, this is Affogato.

Affogato is the simplest of Italian desserts. Its recipe is two simple steps- scoop
ice cream, and pour hot, rich freshly prepared espresso over the top.  Together, they combine the perfection of opposites into a beautiful harmony.  The sweet of the ice cream, with the bitter flavor of the espresso.  The heat offset with the icy chill....the contrasts are where the beauty lies here.

I recently made this using that incredibly decadent chocolate ice cream I made some weeks ago, and the Napoli espresso from Nespresso. The rich complexity of the coffee bloomed into a light floral flavor with the addition of the bittersweet chocolate. 

No matter though what you use in regards to espresso or ice cream- the combination yields perfect complexity.  In the world of opposites attracting this is a place where one piece plays off of the other and brings out the best of each.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Merchant's Row, Concord, MA

Salmon Tartare
As wonderful as the stay at Concord's Colonial Inn was, the real start of the show was their food.  The Inn has two restaurants on site, Liberty and Merchants Row.  Both are under the watchful eye and leadership of head chef Cassandra Pianowski but their menus vary in that Liberty offers a more casual experience, light bites, or small nibbles, where Merchants Row is more geared towards full dinners, gatherings with friends and intimate meals.  Though the settings are very different, the quality of the food excels in both.  

We began our experience with a selection of passed appetizers as we were introduced to the inn, and its history.  Trays of Deviled Eggs, the Inns original take on the historical favorite Johnny Cakes, skewered bacon bites and crostini topped with Maple Brook Burrata were passed throughout the room.  Sadly I have a very odd dislike of Deviled Eggs (its a texture thing) so I had to abstain.  However, I gladly dug into the rest of the passed appetizers. 

I became mildly obsessed with the bacon bites however.  Thick slices of beautiful smoky bacon, lightly painted with maple syrup and then skewered wit a lovely piece of sweet potato created a perfect combination of salty and sweet.  There was something about it that was also ever so slightly reminiscent of breakfast and images of french toast popped to was one of those "perfect bites".

The Maple Brook Burrata was another intriguing taste.  Veering from the typical
Shrimp and Grits
here, Pianowski paired this wonderfully creamy cheese with sweet basil, savory onion and the wonderfully springy strawberry.  The flavors were light, they popped and they mingled in wonderful harmony.  

Finally, the Pianowski switched up our traditional Johnny Cake which can often be found to be a bit boring, and instead stuffed it full of fresh, delicious crab meat.  Fried to a light golden brown these orbs offered incredible amounts of crab and very little of any detractor.  Johnny Cake indeed...

As appetizers these each would have been fantastic ways to whet one's appetite.  They are all found on their full menu, and should definitely be tried as soon as possible.

We then moved into the main dining room of Merchants Row to continue our culinary adventure.  Merchant's Row is another section of the Inn that has recently undergone a bit of an update.  We learned that it had been lightened in its decorations creating a breezier feel, though it had nicely maintained its colonial spirit.  The staff were all friendly and knowledgeable and in general it was an incredibly comfortable space.

We began our dinner with a Salmon Tartare served atop a slab of Hawaiian Black Lava Salt tossed in a gingered Siracha Mayo and accompanied by pickled red onions and managa chips, all drizzled with a bit of sweet soy.  As the first course, it set the bar high.  The salmon was incredible.  The fattiness cut with the spicy ginger and then when mixed with the pickled onions it became an absolute delight.  

Next we were served a Southern classic- Shrimp and Grits.  I have never been a
Seafood Course
huge fan of grits- there hasn't ever been anything wrong with them per say, but they just haven't ever grabbed me as something delicious- until now.  Thick and rich and creamy, flavor with smoked pork, and dotted with plump mushrooms they were fantastic.  The shrimp followed suit, perfectly cooked and taking on the flavors of the smoked pork and chives as well, this was a wonderful course.  I could have eaten a much larger portion.  The flavors were incredible and the textured created a wonderful contrast.

We were then greeted with a a lovely intermezzo, a perfectly refreshing Mango Sorbet that helped to clean our palates and prepare for our main courses.

We were treated to a seafood course next and before each of was placed a plate containing beautiful scallops atop a creamy parsnip puree, a drizzle of cherry balsamic, cubes of perfectly cooked beets and a hint of Meyer lemon.  The scallops were lovely, perfect seared to a toasty exterior but still a bit rare inside.  Their natural sweetness was wonderful when paired with the sweet tart cherry balsamic and the creamy, yet nicely earthy parsnips.  

Our final savory course consisted of two of the Colonial Inn's classics, their braised short ribs and their steak frites.  These were two incredible beef tastes.  The short rib was hearty, and rich with deep flavor spotted with fresh herbs.  The steak frites took Hangar steak to the next level.  It was a perfect medium rare, well seasoned without too much of any one thing to over power the clean taste of the meat.  I was basically in love with this dish.  As a close to a meal, though I was pleasantly full, I could have gladly feasted on more of this dish.

We were not left without a sweet taste however, and were served our final
course, the dessert course.  And what a dessert it was.  A trio was placed in front of us, a Stout Chocolate Cake, Brioche Bread Pudding and a Blondie Sundae to round out the amazingness.  I began with the Blondie Sundae- a sweet caramel (?) ice cream, piled high a top a fresh thick Blondie brownie and then topped with a caramel sauce and a giant scoop of fresh homemade whipped cream.  It was incredible bite after bite after bite.  Working down my plate, I dug into the brioche bread pudding next and loved is warm buttery feel, hinted with sweetness but not overdone.  Finally I dipped
my spoon into the Stout Cake which had a rich chocolate flavor but ended up being a bit dry for my taste. 

Chef Pianowski is bring an incredible touch to the Colonial Inn.  Her dishes are classic yet inventive, inviting and comforting with small touches of excitement and all incorporate carefully sourced ingredients.  I will definitely be adding the Colonial Inn to my list of places to dine, between their beautiful patio, welcoming staff and incredible food, its a sure win in Concord.


Monday, May 6, 2013

Concord's Colonial Inn, Concord, MA

 I don't often admit this, and there are times when even I don't believe it, but I love tourist season here in Massachusetts.  Millions of people from all over the US, all over the world flock to the area and explore our well traveled roads.  Sure- they clog our sidewalks, they fill up our restaurants and ask for directions far too frequently, however they also remind me of the wonder of this area that I am so fortunate to live in.  The real beauty of this state however is that it isn't just Boston that keeps those visitors coming back, it's everywhere- the mountains and glory of the western most part of the state, our beaches, the seaside clam shacks, and, of course, the incredible history that lives just outside the city limits.  Just about 40 minutes outside of Boston sits the towns of Lexington and Concord, the sites where our forefathers fought for our freedom and the United States were born.  This past weekend I had the opportunity to revisit Concord through the eyes of a tourist.  

I was invited to spend an evening enjoying the hospitality of The Colonial Inn,
which sits quite perfectly at the head of Concord's Common, just a quick stroll to the beauty of the downtown area on one side, and the Old North Bridge on the other.  It's location couldn't be more ideal.  The beauty of Concord really lies in its versatility.  Downtown Concord offers a host of stores ranging from the best toy store I've ever been to, to clothing and jewelry stores.  It also contains the  Cheese Shop, a spot like no other- with cheese ranging from the typical to the atypical, and the Sally Ann Food Shop- originally a bakery on its own with the best Anadama bread you'll find this side of the Mississippi.  

The Colonial Inn itself is a true example of real hospitality, and history.  The original building was erected in 1716, when these great States were just a colony and the Inn was a home.  It served as a private home throughout the war, owned by a surgeon who helped countless injured soldiers.  It wasn't until 1889 that it was converted to an Inn.  

The beauty of the Inn really lies in the details.  Beautiful old hard wood floors line the floors, original beams hold the rooms together, creaky stairs, rumors of a ghostly presence and registers listing names of former guests from a century ago are all pieces that make this the perfect spot to stay in when visiting these towns.  The hotel has been going through some renovations to make it a bit more modern while still keeping its charm.  The rooms are all undergoing makeovers, room by room, from updating paint and electronics (read flat screen
TVs) to bathrooms.  They are going wing by wing and the room we were given for the evening was in the Prescott wing, which was just recently finished.  

I loved how they had been kept the historic feel with the furniture in the room, and then brought in the modern touches.  The bathroom, while small,
had all of the modern touches I want with a beautiful shower and well proportioned sink area.  The whole inn has been wired with complimentary wifi making it an ideal spot for both the business and pleasure traveler.  

The restaurant is bedecked with two restaurants, Merchants Row and the Liberty, including a beautiful wrap around porch for outdoor dining in beautiful weather, and a saloon type space that showcases local live music most nights.  The night we visited we were lucky enough to be treated to a
local band in that space and a guitar duo in the front of the house as well.  We were also treated to an amazing meal, but I'll share more on that later.

Concord's Colonial Inn provided a beautifully restful spot steeped in all of the history you would want staying in the birth place of our freedom.          

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