Tag Archives: Martin Sexton

A Restaurant is Born: Menu Sneak Peak

14 Feb

As Chef Bill and I sat at a table chatting about his concept and menu, I couldn’t help but look down with a hint of sadness at the tater tots we ordered.  I love tater tots, but they just seemed to get more and more boring as Bill described his menu.  Each dish sounded more delicious than the previous one. He’s using molecular gastronomy to elevate the food and to make it downright fun.  Here are some highlights that got me especially excited:

Appetizers/Salads:

Bone Marrow Sliders with Tomato Dust on Brioche: Chef Bill is looking forward to hand selecting the fats and the meats that go into his slider and burger dishes.  Usually, you choose a well marbled cut of meat and you go with the ratio of fat that is organically within that cut.  Chef Bill plans to combine a lean cut of meat and grind it up with the right amount of a delicious fat: bone marrow.  He set about solving the burger “leaking” problem with this dish: No matter how fast you get from kitchen to table, some fat and blood leaks onto the bun or onto the plate.  His solution: he will be making an acetate sheet from mustard and using the broiler to shrink the sheet around the burger to seal in all the juices (he affectionately called this method “Shrinky Dinking”). He plans on making his own ketchup and turning it into a dust, and making his own pickles, liquefying them, and then spherifying (making a liquid into a sphere that resembles caviar) them so they will be an intense punch of pickle flavor as you bite in.

Seared Duck, Butternut Squash Soup with Pear Parisian in Glass:  He plans to serve the squash soup in a shallow bowl with soft slices of duck breast fanned out on the side of the plate.  He will then make pear balls and dip them in a gelee that includes star anise and Asian 5 spice.  The soup will be dotted with these balls so that they glisten like marbles in the bowl.  (Since the restaurant will be opening in May, it may not be butternut squash due to seasonality, but this is TBD)

Chipotle Pork Belly with Pickled Parsnips and Smoked Paprika Fondant Over Parmesan Polenta: The plan is to cure the pork belly and finish it with a chipotle glaze that resemebles a mole. It will add a smokey, spicy heat to cut through the richness of the pork belly.  He will use fondant (that is somewhat sweet) made with smoked paprika (so it’s red) that will wrap an über rich and simple polenta in a bundle.  It will be topped with short rib and finished with pickled parsnips to cut through the richness.  (To say that I am sad that this will be something I can never eat is an understatement.  To all you pepper eaters, I can’t wait for a full review).

Seared Foie Gras Over Pear Panna Cotta with Port Gelatin and Bitter Chocolate Biscotti: Foie gras will be seared and served with a pear panna cotta that retains the “grittyness” of the pear so it tastes like, well… a pear. He will wrap the pear panna cotta in a port reduction gelee so that it has a red outside and white inside, like a poached pear.  It will be finished with a bitter chocolate biscotti with pistachios.  This will be a great combination of sweet, bitter, and buttery flavors.

Waldorf Salad: Because what says 1920’s better than Waldorf Salad?  Dressing pearls, spherified apples macerated in brandy, frozen grapes, and black toasted walnuts will bring it into this decade (if not the future).

Entrées:

Seared Skate, Caper Powder, Celeryroot Mousseline and Crisp Lemon Cured Sweetbreads: I have known for a while that Bill has a “thing” for skate. It’s not a popular fish, but one thing that we agree on is that it should be.  It will be seared so it’s crispy and melts in your mouth. It will be served with dehydrated caper dust, celery root mousseline, and sweet breads cured with lemon and fennel pollen and then fried. A microgreen will be included to add a fresh and “living aspect” to the plate to balance the rich, gamy flavors.

Lamb Loin with Pistachio Crusted Chevre and Red Wine Braised Cabbage: Farm raised lamb loin (from the Berkshires) will be seared with salt and pepper to bring out its natural flavors. It will be served with a lamb demi-glace, braised red wine cabbage (to add some tartness), clove and bay leaf. It will be served with goat cheese that will be freeze dried in pistachio dust so when you break into it it will emulsify the cabbage demi-glace to create a vichyssoise sauce once you cut into it.

Roasted Monkfish Loin, Hazelnut/Prosciutto Brittle, Double Stout/Coconut Cream: The monkfish will be crusted with fennel pollen and roasted. It will be served with a hazelnut, prociutto brittle so it is crispy with a toasted hazelnut flavor.  The stout cream is made with creme fraiche, Belhaven stout reduction, and Malibu Rum (to avoid coconut allergies).

Braised Beef Shortrib with Spiced Tomato Bourbon Jam and Potato Puree: The short rib will be cooked with the sous-vide technique and served with a potato puree (because, in the words of Chef Bill, “You just don’t fuck with that!”)  It will be served with a spiced tomato bourbon jam and then a shot of bourbon will be added at the end to give it that slight burn.

Duck Confit, Brie and Avocado Brick, Cucumber/Mango flute, and Apricot/Curry Sauce: The duck confit will be cooked in a classic way, but everything served with it will be anything but classic.  Brie and avocado will be freeze dried and compressed into a layered brick to give a textured  bite (like a tough marshmallow).  It will be served with a cone of sliced mango and cucumber on the side which will be filled with an apricot curry sauce.  The sauce is cooked by “burning the shit” out of onions until they become like charcoal, then roasting the apricots on top of them.  It will be colorful and fun, but based on fundamental ingredients.

Steamed Mussels with Grilled Rosemary and Black Garlic Over Pappardelle: Of all the items on the menu, THIS has me the most excited.  The menu item that originally made me fall in love with Bill’s cooking was the mussels he served at Albert Hall Tavern that came with grilled rosemary and black garlic.  I wanted to bathe in that sauce… it was so good.  We would always ask for extra bread to sop up that amazing sauce.  So the idea of serving this over pappardelle (my favorite pasta) sounds like a dream come true.  As Bill said, “it’s sex in a bowl.”  He commented that there are a few dishes that you look back on and think to yourself “yeah… that one worked” and give yourself a good pat on the back.  He says he has probably created thousands of dishes but this one really stands out.  (I CANNOT WAIT!)

He plans on adding more vegetarian dishes and he recognized that all restaurants had some type of fruit cocktail on their menu in the 1920’s.  He plans to do his own spin on this with some unique flavors like avocado and tropical fruits.

Chef Bill is not a dessert person, so he will be bringing in a pastry chef. It’s extra cost, but he wants to throw everything he can into this restaurant so it’s the best it can be.  He plans on having foods that came into fashion in the 1920’s be especially prevalent on the dessert menu.

I absolutely cannot wait to try every last bite.

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A Restaurant is Born: Conception

13 Feb

How does a restaurant come to be? I am fascinated by this topic.  I’ve read enough of Anthony Bourdain’s musings to realize that it is ridiculously difficult to open (and keep open) a new restaurant.  Any romantic fantasies I had of opening my own little place were quickly squashed when I realized the hours, dedication, expense, and pure cajones needed to make it work.  While I’ve always wanted to cook or bake for a living, I have come to the simple conclusion that it takes a certain kind of personality to do that (mainly a maniacal one without any need for sleep).  Therefore, I have the utmost respect for people who embark on such a journey.  Which is why the prospect of sitting down with Chef Bill Seleno to write about his journey of opening a new restaurant from the ground up was more intriguing than I could explain.  Chef Bill has graciously invited me in for an all-access, behind-the-scenes look at all that goes into opening a restaurant.

We first sat down on a Thursday evening at a place that can only be described as a “joint,” Milady’s Restaurant.  2 hours and nearly 30 (30!) pages of notes later, Bill had grown hoarse and my hand had developed a serious ache… I couldn’t help but feel like we were on the edge of something insanely exciting.  Bill’s energy and enthusiasm for the project basically radiated from him.  He talked with such excitement and passion about this project that I was exhausted by the time we were done talking.  Exhausted in the best way possible.

Here is the scoop on the new restaurant:

What’s it called?

The Keys.  It’s all about being in key. In key with the food… with the theme… with the pairings… and of course, with the piano.

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What’s the theme?

Welcome to the 1920’s.  Do you just love the aesthetic in Boardwalk Empire? Are you unable to contain your excitement for the new version of The Great Gatsby movie being released this year?  Does the new 20’s inspired Gucci Collection tickle your fancy? Do you find yourself craving jazz music, art deco, and flappers? There is no arguing that the 20’s are back.  Even the economic, war-time, and political spheres render memories of the 20’s.  Chef Bill is embracing everything about the era, including the music.

The main dining room is inspired by Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris.  It will be a simple, cafe style with a bar that seats 12 and about 30 tables along the wall.  Chef Bill has plans to blast open the kitchen (can’t wait for those pictures!)

Outside there is a wood deck that seats 30 and is inspired by the poolside party aesthetic of The Great Gatsby. There will be a retractable roof in the upscale, white-and-wood decorated space.

The downstairs is an ode to the prohibition era Cotton Club and the Roaring Twenties.  It will be the core of the restaurant and Bill’s goal is to make it feel as though you are walking into an authentic 1920’s place (he mentioned some less-than-stellar knock-offs of late that have determined that acidic drinks, locker room smells, and bad service equates to authenticity… but we’re not naming names here).  Think dark, rich tones, lots of wood, and an art deco glass ceiling illuminated from above.  All place settings will be antique 20’s and all the cocktail waitresses will have flapper dresses as designed by Aaron, a high-end clothing retailer opening up next door.  And of course the wood burning oven at the end of the bar (where Bill plans to roast some of his famous suckling pigs).

Here it will be more wine-heavy with mostly domestic varieties to match the 20’s prohibition vibe (whereas upstairs will be more imports to tie into the European 20’s vibe).  Bill is also bringing in a master mixologist and a Level 2 Sommelier to get the job done right.

There will be a stage complete with Cotton Club style risers. The plan is to bring in musicians with a jazz influence and background for  live sessions. His goal is to bring in Martin Sexton for opening night and to keep the music playing throughout.  He wants the music piped throughout the entire restaurant, with monitors upstairs, so even if you didn’t pay to be in the concert area you can still experience the great music while you eat.

The goal is to wallpaper the bathroom walls with headlines from real 20’s newspapers.

And what 20’s era stomping ground would be complete without a private, secret room?

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Where will it be?

The location is still hush hush until everything is signed, but it’s in the Mulberry area and is positioned to be close to neighborhoods that inspired its inception.

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What about the food?

Chef Bill is pulling inspiration from the area and the 20’s… A huge influx of Italian and Irish immigrants entered the US in the 20’s, bringing with them more depth of flavors, interesting ingredients, and (thankfully) refrigeration.  Tons of new foods came into the American household in the 20’s (corn flakes, Worcestershire sauce, jell-o molds, and Domino sugar to name a few). Bill mentioned the “holy shit” moment of throwing meat into sauce and suddenly you have a bolognese.  It doesn’t have to be complicated to taste great.  And it doesn’t have to be expensive to be fun and creative.

Bill talked a lot about how food television has had a huge influence on the way we look at food. People now have a much deeper understanding of food (and where it comes from) and sustainable, organic, and humane food is a big part of Bill’s goal.  He wants to see a restaurant where every server knows the name of the guy who milked the goat to make that cheese on your plate.  He wants to invest in environmentally friendly energy alternatives and share this with his suppliers.  That’s not to say he won’t serve foie gras, but he is going to take the time to find the most humane foie gras producers he can find.  And he wants it to be more on the healthy side… no saturated fats and he plans to choose the fats that get mixed with lean proteins to customize the blend, fresh micro-greens on every dish.

Food TV also has influenced the menu inspiration by providing people with visibility into the fun and creative methods of food preparation (think molecular gastronomy, spherification, sous vide).  But these methods have been mostly unattainable by the masses, unless theywant to spend $180 for a 3 course meal that belongs in an art gallery (and probably tastes damn good too).  Chef Bill doesn’t think there is anything wrong with that, but he wants to bring these fun and delicious food styles to the masses.  He wants to use the methods where they make sense with the goal of impressing and delighting his patrons.  He thinks people deserve to expect more from what they’re eating and to give them the opportunity to eat the type of foods that have mystified them.

Chef Bill wants to have fun in the kitchen.  To share his passion and his enjoyment for food with all of us. He wants his open kitchen to have jamming music (when the live musicians aren’t playing) and he wants to cultivate an atmosphere where people want to be (if his stint at Albert Hall Tavern is any indication, we are all in for a treat)!  He wants people to walk out and say, “What the fuck just happened?”

The more we talked about the food and the menu, the more excited I got.  Especially as Bill explained the individual dishes on the menu.  Stay tuned tomorrow for a preview of the menu!

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When do I get to sink my teeth into duck confit with a brie and avocado brick, cucumber/mango flute, and apricot/curry sauce?

The opening is on target for May 1st.  Chef Bill plans to have his waitstaff do a 1 week intensive training to live and breathe the menu and the pairings.  He wants the front of house to work in the kitchen and the back of house to serve food. He wants everyone to understand each other’s roles and to act as a family where everyone has pride and respect for what everyone else does.  He will start with dinner, then lunch a month later, and then jazz brunch a month after that.

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On Tuesday, Chef Bill is leaving for an adventure in California to visit breweries and wineries, to learn how to brew beer and to see where the wine comes from.  He will also being visiting some farms, cooperatives, and fisheries to explore how the food gets from them, to us.  He will be chronicling his journey on Facebook and Twitter, and I’ll be sharing his postings here.

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Next up: A preview of the menu! (get ready to drool)