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Plat du Jour: Saturday August 18, 2012: Blueberry Pie and Basil Gimlet for Summer and Last Word on the 50 Best New Restaurants

It’s the heart of summer on this mid August weekend, meaning tomatoes, peaches, basil, mint, and company are being served on tables everywhere. What will Trev’s Bistro be serving, besides ribs on the grill and caprese for salad every night with fresh heirloom tomatoes and burrata?

You can certainly count on this magnificent “Live Basil Gimlet” from Scott Beattie, now the mixologist at Goose & Gander in St. Helena, in the northern part of the Napa Valley. (You may even want to double the recipe since it is not a particularly spirit forward cocktail…) The key is to not cheat on the basil. There is no such thing as too much basil in this recipe. Beefeater gin works perfectly with the basil and an intriguing variation would be to try basil and lime juice with either tequila or mezcal, and agave nectar instead of simple syrup.

Bäco Mercat, in Los Angeles, one of the top 10 new restaurants

Blueberries are everywhere and if you can resist snacking on too many of them, use a bunch of cartons in this magnificent blueberry crumble pie I make multiple times each summer. The recipe comes courtesy of Rebecca Charles, chef-owner of the terrific Maine seafood shack in New York’s West Village, Pearl Oyster Bar (also try the lobster roll! As wonderful as the pie is at the restaurant…I like to think for some reason it is even better at home!). This year having been away on Memorial Day and the Fourth of July when I traditionally make this pie, we’ll just call mid-August the unofficial summer holiday occasion for blueberry crumble pie…terrific with a scoop of blueberry ice cream. Be certain to follow the technique of smashing roughly a quarter of the blueberries so their juice moistens the filling. The 1/2 teaspoon of lemon zest is pivotal for tempering the cup of sugar and you will appreciate the added pinch of freshly ground black pepper.

The pie crust by the way is very simple to make, you don’t need to follow any rolling out instructions, but you do need to pre-bake the crust before adding the filling.

A last note this week on Bon Appetit‘s top 10 new restaurants list and the 50 best new restaurant semi-finalists. Andrew Knowlton recently took a fascinating look at some of the themes shared by these restaurants.

Obviously the stand-out theme: 48 of the 50 restaurants do not have tables with tablecloths, even though you can easily spend over $100 a person at many of these destinations. Yes, laundry is expensive and lots of water is used on these tablecloths. The real reason though lies in the desire for simple elegance. Remember, even Noma doesn’t have tablecloths.

No Table Cloths…

Tweezers in roughly half of the restaurants’ kitchens? Indeed, it’s about the details. It’s about precision. That basil leaf needs to sit atop the cherry tomato exactly like so. What this really shows is exemplified by the trend of tasting menus…and my “trend of the year” mentioned in a few moments…

In terms of names, there is no doubt that the frequent appearance of restaurants with animals in the name is attached to our new found love for whole animal cooking. The other direction that names seem to be going is towards sounding like law firms (“Walrus and Carpenter,” “Goose & Gander,” “Milstead & Co.,” and of course, “Baker & Banker).

Small restaurants and husband and wife run restaurants certainly share the spotlight of our increasing preference for intimate restaurant experiences. Gone it seems are the days of the grand supper club and in are the quaint bistros. There is something about the warmth of families owning the small restaurant that gets reflected by the rest of the staff and the menu, then in turn on the dining audience.

The South boasts the most “best new restaurants,” but I would still claim that the Pacific Northwest is the most exciting dining area of the country that is affecting our culinary minds the most. Not only does that region embrace its own unique heritage and ingredients, they embrace other faraway regions, channel it through the Pacific Northwest into their own new, dynamic cuisine, or (Pok Pok…) completely replicate a cuisine that the restaurant is truly a gastronomic transporter. They’re brave up there and wickedly innovative…the days of fried food variations and boiled peanuts for bread plates are fading.

Bars with restaurants? Not a surprise seeing that now every restaurant at least has to have a craft cocktail menu. Craft cocktails are every bit as challenging to create as thoughtful food in the kitchen. Why not have brilliant minds tackle both challenges?

Craft Cocktails…At Bars Affiliated With Restaurants (Or At The Restaurant)

Oliver Strand mentions in the issue of B.A. that coffee roasting and grinding at these new restaurants is the trend of the year. It’s a trend certainly to have small batch local roasters and expert baristas at coffee bars worldwide. Nowadays, espresso and slow drip coffee are on par with wine and craft beer for how people contemplate the hidden flavors and textures and messages of what they’re drinking. It’s the whole third wave coffee concept. However, it still seems like restaurants have a lot of catching up to do…such as Gary Danko in San Francisco.

The real trend amongst many of these restaurants seems to be the emergence of restaurants that don’t serve small plates, small bites, or large plates. They serve a serving and it’s up to you the diners with the help of the servers to organize the best order for the meal, and the right amount of food to order. The old appetizer, entree, dessert order certainly is fading. So is the late 90’s tapas and small plates, meal of finger foods concept. These are restaurants where diners are interested in sampling as much as possible. They want to share everything. They want to try the whole menu as just a party of two.

Brown Crab, Egg Yolk, and Herbs at Noma, an Example of Small-Mid Sized, Thoughtfully Composed Plates

Fortunately, many restaurants have adapted and you can order 3-4 items a person, instead of 2. Not only does this come from America’s fervent “foodie” passion for tasting menus or creating our own version of tasting menus from à la carte offerings, it also can be traced to the desire for smaller portions to avoid binge eating. It’s a lot easier to control yourself with a small steak tartare than a 12 oz. porterhouse.

Enjoy this summer weekend everyone!

 

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