If food does not already excite your imagination and make you eager to experiment with unfamiliar combinations of ingredients, it will after talking with Sam Palmisano, new executive chef of Mr. Pickwicks at Ye Olde England Inne. His enthusiasm is immediate and infectious, and, in spite of our meeting first thing in the morning, I became hungry as we discussed the additions he is making to the restaurants new June menu.
I mentioned that I had always thought of Mr. Pickwicks as the place to go for game, because it was on the regular menu year around. Sam agreed that game is the restaurants strength: venison, rabbit, quail, and pheasant, all farm-raised nearby in Vermont, are served daily. The more exotic ostrich, guinea hen, wild boar, and kangaroo that also appear are raised on Colorado ranches. All eight items will still be available in June, some with new trimmings and sauces, along with international and ethnic fare, Sams innovations and/or creations.
The weekend before, a friend and I had done some unannounced research at Mr. Pickwicks: I headed straight to the venison, which was prepared very rare, at my request, with a rubbed marinade of spices, then cooked in port wine-raspberry reduction sauce, and served with a medley of sautéed vegetables and Cajun-fried potatoes. Not usually indulging in either potatoes or fried food, all disappeared with alacrity and great pleasure. My friends more conservative halibut was far from conventional; pan roasted, it was served with celery, apple, and potato puree and apple-fennel salad. It, too, was given short shrift without complaint. Both of the entrées were specials of the day, priced between $20 and $26, placing Mr. Pickwicks in the "upscale" category of Stowes restaurants.
We started our meal with leek-and-fiddlehead quiche with baby field greens, julienned prosciutto, and lemon vinaigrette. Closure was achieved only after Maple Crème Brulee and Chocolate Mousse Cake on a pool of Raspberry Coulis. It was possible that we both would perish from a surfeit of pleasure or plain over indulgence!
As I mentioned, Sam is fairly new at the Inne, arriving last August after four years as chef at the Villa Tragara, which recently closed. Sam refers to himself as self-trained, but in truth he grew up being a chef. His family owned a typical steak-and-seafood restaurant on the Barre-Montpelier Road at that time, and he was allowed to indulge his creative urges very young, both preparing food and cooking. By the age of 19, he was full-time sous chef at the Villa, working there on and off and in various roles, for almost a decade.
Sam is still young. He is married and has two young children, Jay, aged 7, and Aria, only 5 years old. He met and married Holly, his wife, at the Villa, and Holly shares his passion and playfulness with food. Because of her encouragement, and then insistence, he submitted a recipe to the annual Sunkist Signature Recipes contest, which awards prizes during the prestigious annual National Restaurant Show. This show is held each year in Chicago, and on May 19, Sam will be in attendance in order to present a prize-winning recipe. Featuring, as required, Sunkist products, Sam will prepare orange-grilled lobster tails with blood-orange syrup, served with orange salsa and orange-almond basmati rice. His new dish was chosen along with one other, out of 5000 contending recipes.
Besides featuring native game, Pickwicks is in partnership with local produce and dairy farmers, as a member of the Vermont Fresh Network. Sam buys only from nearby growers and processors whenever possible, and, if native products seasonally cost more than the supermarkets, the Inne is glad to support small, local businesses in this way.
When speaking enthusiastically and with unbridled pleasure of the restaurants menu which will change monthly from now on Sam uses words such as imagination, emotional appeal, freedom, and expressiveness. Describing his new contributions, he mentions playful ingredients, and essential freshness and contrast of taste, textures, and temperatures, words that I have borrowed somewhat freely for this column. It is of particular interest that he includes temperature as an essential contrast. It is true that small amounts of fresh, uncooked ingredients, now included in almost every plate along with the usual protein and starch combination, enhance and whet flavor and appetite.
However he learned, Sam is at home working with every nuance of what is currently considered fine cuisine and shows his understanding of it when he speaks. All his words are illustrated on the June menu in tempting dishes such as grilled scallop, shrimp, and clams in chilled gazpacho; caramelized onion pierogies sautéed in truffle butter and served with mixed greens, and balsamic-reduction-and-chive cream; or rack of Vermont rabbit with polenta fries and rabbit-juniper sausage served in a vegetable succotash. While not so extreme as contemporary fusion, there are strong Southern, Southwestern, Asian, and other international tones among the more typical New England and British fare. Even Mr. Pickwicks mixed grill is composed of Buffalo medallion, half of a poussin chicken, and venison sausage all grilled and served with their own sauces and rosemary roast-garlic mashed potatoes.
Dont believe a word you may have heard about British food. If youve traveled in the British Isles, the breadth of Mr. Pickwicks menu will come as no surprise. I remember being struck by the variety and excellent quality of international cuisine in good restaurants there (after all, the British learned a lot during the days of their glorious empire). I particularly remember the plenitude of game and the exquisite freshness of fish and seafood in restaurants in England, Scotland, and Ireland, many of which look very like the cheerful bar and dining area of the Inne. But if youve a touch of Celtic or Saxon blood, dinner at Mr. Pickwicks may leave you a little homesick.
|SMOKED SHRIMP & SCALLOP CHOWDER W/ CORN
|| Serves: 8
3 T butter
1/2 c onion, diced
1/2 c celery, diced
1/2 c leeks, sliced & washed well
2 bay leaves
2 T flour
1 c dry sherry
3 c milk
2 c potatoes, diced
1 c heavy cream
1 c fresh corn kernels
8 oz smoked shrimp, diced
8 oz smoked scallops, diced
Salt & pepper to taste
1. Over med-low heat, melt butter in 4-qrt pot. Sweat onion, celery, leeks & bay leaves until translucent. Stir in flour & continue to cook for 4 min, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. Slowly stir in sherry into a smooth paste. Whisk in milk a little at a time until smooth & creamy.
2. Add potatoes & bring to simmer, cook for 10 min. Add heavy cream & simmer for 5 min more. Stir in corn kernels & cook for 3 min. Season to taste w/ salt & pepper.
3. Add smoked shrimp & scallops & cook until just heated through. Serve w/ crackers or country bread.
|SOFT-SHELL CRABS W/ MANGO SALSA
For Tempura Batter:
1 c flour
1 T baking powder
1/2 T salt
2 T sesame oil
1 c soda water
2 mangos, sliced
1 red onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced
1 c corn kernels
1 jalapeno, seeded & minced
2 T parsley, chopped
2 T rice vinegar
2 T olive oil
1 T sugar
1 T red wine vinegar
1 T sesame oil
Salt & pepper, to taste
For Soft-Shell Crabs:
4 soft-shell crabs, cleaned
2 c Tempura batter (above)
6 T canola oil
1. To make Mango Salsa: In glass bowl, mix all salsa ingredients & refrigerate for at least 2 hr.
2. To make Tempura Batter: In mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt & sesame oil. Slowly whisk in soda water to form smooth batter. Rest for 30 min in refrigerator.
3. To cook Soft-Shell Crabs: Heat canola oil in 12" saute pan over med heat for 2 min.
4. One at a time, dip soft-shell crabs into tempura batter & coat well. Gently lay crabs in heated oil & fry 2 at a time for 3-4 min, or until golden brown. Carefully flip crabs & cook for another 3-4 min, again until golden brown. Dry crabs on paper-towel-lined plate & keep warm in oven set at 150F until other 2 crabs are cooked.
5. Place ample pool of salsa in center of each of 4 serving plates. Top w/ soft-shell crabs. Serve w/ baby field greens, dressed w/ oil & vinegar.
|CHILI-LIME RUBBED GRILLED CORNISH GAME HEN
For Chili-Lime Rub:
4 T jasmine tea leaves
2 T sea salt
2 T lime zest, chopped fine
2 T chili powder
1 T garlic, minced very fine
1 T onion powder
1 T cayenne
1 T Chinese 5-powder spice
For Grilled Game Hens:
6 T chili-lime rub (above)
4 T veg oil
4 Cornish game hens, halved, back bone removed
1. To make chili-lime rub: Place all ingredients in food processor & process until fine. Makes about 3/4 c.
2. To prepare hens: Preheat char-grill on high for 15 min, then turn down to med.
3. Lay thawed or fresh game hens on cutting board breast down. W/ sharp knife or scissors, cut out back bone.
4. Press outward on both legs so hen will lie flat. Rub each skin side of each hen w/ 1 T veg oil. Sprinkle each hen w/ 1-1/2 T chili-lime rub.
5. Grill hens on preheated char-grill for 10 min each side or until done. Serve w/ your favorite starch or salad.
SOURCE: Chef Samuel S. Palmisano, Mr. Pickwick's at Ye Olde England Inne, Stowe, Vt.
Article ©2002 Stowe Reporter All rights reserved, reprinted by permission.