With the national trend towards locally grown, organic, seasonal foods gaining momentum in Rhode Island, consumers are increasingly searching out local produce, meats, and seafood as healthy alternatives to factory farmed foods. With that in mind, we tasted a sampling of dishes made from locally available, seasonal ingredients.
Chez Pascal’s (960 Hope Street, 401-421-4422) Marinated Beet Salad offers tender, roasted young beets from Ward’s Berry Farm in Sharon, MA. They are topped with crisp “teenage lettuce” from Arcadian Fields in Rhode Island’s Hope Valley, mixed with chopped gingered pecans that provide a slight sweetness and crunchy texture, dressed in a light honey vinaigrette, and finished with a custardy baked ricotta from Narragansett Creamery, all adding up to a deliciously balanced combination of flavors and textures. Leather Lips IPA from Haverhill Brewery is a refreshing complement for this salad.
Matt Gennuso, owner and chef of Chez Pascal, pays close attention to the offerings of the farmers market (on Saturdays, it’s held in Lippitt Park, across from the restaurant) and has been offering “Market Menu Mondays” since the beginning of 2009. These menus change weekly and are inspired by the foods found at the market.
Next stop is La Laiterie (188 Wayland Avenue, 401-274-7177), where the chef de cuisine, Benjamin Sukle, has prepared sweet, tender, melt-in-your-mouth Boomster Scallops from Connecticut (also available at the farmers market), fried golden brown, presented on a bed of charred sweet pea pesto, using peas from Four Town Farm in Seekonk, MA, fresh basil from Steve Ramos in Bristol and Manderone, an aged provolone. Tucked between the scallops are bits of oven-cured chicken cracklings, providing a slightly greasy and crunchy juxtaposition to the juicy sweetness of the scallops.
With this, two condiments are offered: Harrisa, a North African chili paste made from paprika peppers from White Barn Farms in Wrentham, MA, and Saba, an Italian grape-musk flavored, sweet-and-sour sauce.
This tasty creation is garnished with pea greens, from White Barn Farms, bronze fennel from Red Planet, an urban farm in Providence, and red ribbon sorrel from Steve Ramos, with yellow and purple herb flowers providing accents.
The bartender recommends Brut Cuve, a sparkling white from the Westport River Winery, in Westport, MA.
When asked about the motivation for offering an ingredient-focused menu that changes frequently, Matt Jennings, who with his wife Kate opened La Laiterie three years ago, explains, “simply put, it just tastes better.”
The changing availability of ingredients also provides constant inspiration to create new dishes. “For me this is a more exciting way to cook,” he says.
On to New Rivers (7 Steeple Street, 401-751-0350), where we choose a quintessential summer dish: homemade ravioli stuffed with basil-infused farmers cheese tossed with grilled fresh corn, adding a subtle toasted flavor, and small, meaty grape tomatoes with fragrant ribbons of basil chiffonade.
The farmers cheese is made at the restaurant using Rhody Fresh Milk, the tender, sweet corn and the grape tomatoes are from Four Town Farm in Seekonk, and the basil comes form Steve Ramos in Bristol. Bruce Tillinghast, owner and chef, suggests a crisp Pinot Grigio from Greenvale Vineyards in Portsmouth, RI, as a complement.
Several times a year during the growing season, New Rivers offers Farmers Dinners for $75 per person at which farmers providing vegetables, fruit, seafood, and meats discuss their products and their growing methods while guests sample dishes incorporating the ingredients.
Tillinghast promises “you will not be able to eat any tomatoes at New Rivers out of season; we only serve locally available tomatoes which means you won’t find any on the menu in the winter.”
Tillinghast, who has been ahead of the curve of the local food movement through his commitment to using locally sourced ingredients since opening his restaurant almost 20 years ago, explains “certain foods become special again if they are only available for part of the year. You appreciate them differently and associate their flavor with a specific time of the year.”