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Marche chef Brian Molino and Flying Pigs Farm owner Jen Small

PHOTO: B.A. Nilsson

Fancying Local Food

Creative evenings of fine-dining at Marché highlight seasonal ingredients from area farms

By B. A. Nilsson

The first example of finger food really was no bigger than your finger. A crisp pecan topped with a mini-marshmallow-sized puff of blue-cheese mousse. Perched vertically above, like a tiny sail, was a triangular gala apple wedge. The little bite did its job quickly, sparking the palate with a classic combination of tartness, sweetness and crunch.

Another classic combo: pork sausage and sage. How about mingling them by wrapping a dollop of said sausage in a sage leaf, then lightly breading and deep frying it?

Then there’s the challenge of pairing apples and pork. For another finger-food item, spread a crouton with apple butter and top with a pork-based pâté.

Thus chefs Brian Molino and Erin Boyle met the challenge of taking two abundant local ingredients and devising a fancy meal. And this was only a part of the first course, a succession of tray-passed hors d’oeuvres.

The event was the third Farmer/Wine Evening at Marché, the fine-dining restaurant at 74 State Street (the hotel’s address is its name) in Albany. Utilizing local ingredients has become a growing priority among better chefs everywhere, and the Capital Region, which typically lags behind the rest of the country by a decade or two, is catching up.

Part of the impetus for this change comes from Boyle, who spent time in San Francisco kitchens. “When I moved back east, it’s been hard to find any produce with flavor,” she says. “California has been doing this for 20 years, but it’s harder here because we have a much shorter growing season.”

Along with incorporating local ingredients into the regular Marché menu, she and executive chef Molino decided to feature those ingredients in these special dinners as well. “As soon as we did the first one,” says Molino, “the farmers have been coming to us. They all know one another, so it’s easy to get recommendations.

For this seasonal dinner, the first choice was an easy one: Indian Ladder Farms, the venerable Altamont orchard now in its fourth generation of family ownership. Indian Ladder is a popular pick-your-own destination, and the onsite store now supplements its own fruit with produce and products from other nearby suppliers, making it more of a one-stop food source.

As Indian Ladder president Peter Ten Eyck observes, in addition to buying a fresh, healthy product, each dollar spent on local apples goes to employ local people who themselves can then afford to give to the community.

Meat for the Marché meal came from heritage pigs raised by Flying Pig Farms in Shushan, where Jennifer Small and Michael Yezzi also raise chickens for meat and eggs. It costs more, of course, to raise animals in a safe, humane manner, and so the meat costs that much more than the factory-farmed supermarket meat we pretend to enjoy.

“Like the farmers themselves, we try to use all parts of the animal,” says Molino. “It inspires you to be creative, and it opens a new experience for the diners.” Hence the fourth course, testa, from the Italian word for “head.” In this case, the meat in the head of a pig, traditional ingredients of head cheese, but here cured into a hefty crimson sausage well ringed with fat. Sliced paper-thin, a few slices were presented alongside the tiny cubes of potato and honeycrisp apple salad.

Apples co-starred with snapper in a first course in which the fish, firm but raw, was married with thin fruit slices; as an intermezzo, a serving of apple sorbet drew added tartness from an accompanying sprig of baby pinot noir grapes. Having sampled apples raw, marinated, pressed into cider for consommé and frozen into that sorbet, what remained? Baking them, of course, and thus it was that they appeared in the form of individual sweet cakes, served for dessert with a Calvados cream.

Pork snuck in alongside apples again in a salad whose greens also came from Flying Pigs Farm. This time, crunchy lardons of bacon nestled with the frisée, with a gala apples adding all the tartness the course required.

“Not all apples are the same,” Molino says, “so we wanted to show off the flavors and textures of the different varieties. For example, we used apple cider and chicken stock for the consommé, but we also cooked it with the apple skins. Our chicken stock is standard stuff, which is by no means clear.” The traditional consomme clarifying technique calls for a “raft” of egg whites that serves to draw out the brew’s impurities. “The apple skins did that for us, and we were surprised by the result.”

Pork made an appearance in the soup, too, in the form of Italian-style sausage wrapped in house-made pasta, submerged like wontons.

And pork had its own entrée showcase: a traditional roasted leg cooked pink and served with chestnuts and porcini mushrooms. It was a nice alternative to the more familiar chops, and certainly far more flavorful than the bland commercial product.

“The more I read about how they’re growing produce and animals,” says Boyle, “the more I realize there’s no excuse for not trying this. As I explore our strange relationship with food, and the eating disorders, obesity, diseases, I wonder why us? Why now?” She is part of the international Slow Food movement, which tries to redress these problems, “and I follow their philosophy of bringing people closer to their food, literally, in miles.

“I want to help the local farmers who are producing wonderful ingredients, so the dinners arose as a way to showcase these products and get the word out to the public.” The next such event takes place Oct. 26 and features items from Schagticoke’s Denison Farm and Elihu in Valley Falls.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Discover France’s Rhone Valley with a trip to Provence—in Stuyvesant Plaza, that is. A late-harvest wine dinner will be held at 7 PM Wednesday (Sept 26), featuring the wines of Perrin & Fils paired with a fall menu by chef de cuisine Michael Cunningham. Enjoy pan-seared Hawaiian wahoo with tiger shrimp dumplings alongside a Perrin Réserve Côtes du Rhône Blanc 2005, spit-roasted boneless quail stuffed with cherry bread pudding and a Vinsobres les Cornuds Côtes du Rhône Village 2003, crispy polenta cake timbale wrapped in applewood-smoked bacon stuffed with chive crème fraïche with Vacqueyras les Christins 2005, and that doesn’t even get to the beef course! The dinner is $90 per person plus tax and tip, and reservations are required. Call 689-7777. . . . Sylvia and Charles James have opened the Labrador Café at 1621 Union St. on Keyes Avenue in the Upper Union Street section of Schenectady. The restaurant is open from 11:30 to 6:30 Tuesday through Saturday, and features family recipes, sandwiches, lunches, takeout and catering. The menu mixes standard American fare with Polish specialties like golumbkis and perogies, not to mention Binghamton-style spiedies! More info: 377-7100, or thelabradorcafe.com. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.


We want your feedback

Have you eaten at any recently reviewed restaurants? Agree or disagree with B.A.? Let us know what you think...

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What you're saying...

I very much enjoyed eating dinner at Daniel's at Ogdens. You review described my dining experience perfectly. This wasn't the case with Pancho's. I much prefer Garcia's or Lake View Tavern for Mexican fare. I agree that a restaurant can have an off night so I'll give the second unit on Central Avenue a try.

Mary Kurtz
Castleton

First, yes I miss the star ratings, bring it back. Second, I haven't had a chance to visit Poncho's yet, but I especially like reading the reviews.

Pat Russo
East Greenbush

I would travel to Amsterdam to this restaurant - it's not that far away. People traveled from all over to eat at Ferrandi's in Amsterdam. From his background, I'm sure the chef's sauce is excellent and that is the most important aspect of an Italian restaurant. Sometimes your reviewer wastes words on the negative aspects of a restaurant. I'm looking forward to trying this restaurant - I look forward to Metroland every Thursday especially for the restaurant review. And by the way Ferrandi's closed its Amsterdam location and is opening a new bistro on Saratoga Lake - Should be up and running in May. It will be called Saratoga Lake Bistro. It should be great!

Peggy Van Deloo
Schenectady

So happy to see you finally made out!! Our experiences have always been wonderful, the staff is extremely professional, the food subperb, and the atmosphere very warm and comfortable. Let us not forget to mention "Maria" the pianist on Friday and Saturday nights.

Charlie and Marie
Michaels Restaurant

I have been to Michael's several times and each time I have enjoyed it very much. The food is delicious and the staff is great. Also, Maria Riccio Bryce plays piano there every Friday and Saturday evening, a nice touch to add to the already wonderful atmosphere. It is also easy to find, exit 27 off the thruway to 30 north for about 5 miles.

N. Moore
Albany

Wonderful!

Elaine Snowdon
Albany

We loved it and will definitely go back.

Rosemarie Rafferty

Absolutely excellent. The quality and the flavor far surpasses that of other Indian restaurants in the area. I was a die-hard Shalimar fan and Tandoor Palace won my heart. It blows Ghandi out of the water. FInally a decent place in Albany where you can get a good dinner for less than $10 and not have tacos. The outdoor seating is also festive.

Brady G'sell

Indian is my favorite cuisine available in the area--I loved Tandoor Palace. We all agreed that the tandoori chicken was superior to other local restaraunts, and we also tried the ka-chori based on that intriguing description-delicious.

Kizzi Casale
Albany

Your comments about the Indian / Pakistani restaurants being as "standardized as McDonald's" shows either that you have eaten at only a few Indian / Pakistani restaurants or that you have some prejudices to work out. That the physical appearances are not what you would consider fancy dancy has no bearing on the food. And after all, that is what the main focus of the reviews should be. Not the physical appearances, which is what most of your reviews concentrate on.
A restaurant like The Shalimar, down on Central Avenue, may not look the greatest, but the food is excellent there. And the menu has lots of variety - beef, lamb, vegetarian, chicken, and more..

Barry Uznitsky
Guilderland



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