Fall is for Feasting, part 2 – October: MN & NY

October found my daughter and I having a much quieter travel month than we did in September. But that doesn’t mean we went hungry. Allison found two more destination eateries in NYC, and then we trekked to the shores of Lake Superior in northern Minnesota to check out the local fare.

Fruits de mer – Two nights, two opposite ends of the city (NYC), by Allison Malecha

I never thought I would get my dad all the way to Crown Heights—the Caribbean-bred, newly bohemian-infested Brooklyn neighborhood that is thirty minutes by express subway from Manhattan. Besides being the home of Silver Rice, which I wrote about in last month’s post [https://nomadicnarrator.com/2014/09/26/fall-is-for-feasting-part-1-september/], Crown Heights borders the monumental Brooklyn Museum, and its main drag, Franklin Avenue, is bursting with culinary life.

Owned by New York City native Lev Gewirtzman, Mayfield is the neighborhood’s most prominent fine dining staple—the first place my friends who live in the area take their parents for dinner. In a city of two-tops, this restaurant also has a whole array of hefty picnic-style wood tables that seat six. After attending the opening of the Brooklyn Museum exhibit “Crossing Brooklyn: Art from Bushwick, Bed-Stuy, and Beyond,” my dad and I walked the 15 minutes down Franklin Avenue and got right in without a reservation. Suffice to say, he was much more into the food than the art (his take: “I could make this in my garage”—I disagreed).

We missed the $1 fresh oyster happy hour but were happy to settle for the $13 fried cornmeal ones, served on a slick bed of smoked salmon and celery coleslaw and topped with big dollops of horseradish cream. We then had an unnecessary but 100% delicious Italian interlude of homemade ricotta gnocchi ($12) before moving on to the main courses: buttermilk fried quail ($20) for my dad and sautéed scallops for me. The quail, though striking the requisite balance between moist meat and crispy exterior, was shown up by its side of spoon bread: a ramekin full of hot, butter-sweet, perfectly browned goodness. My dish, a quartet of large sea scallops and a smattering of mini ones, was decidedly lighter fare, fortified by a sizable mound of corn-speckled risotto. The wine list here is also reasonable. We washed our dinner down with a $32 bottle of côtes du rhône. And after all that liquid, it’s worth a trip to the bathroom—the stall on the right is plastered with one of my favorite wallpapers, inspired by architectural blueprints.

Enjoying starters of fried oysters on a bed of coleslaw and smoked salmon, and   at Mayfield, in Brooklyn.

Enjoying starters of fried oysters on a bed of coleslaw and smoked salmon, and ricotta gnocchi at Mayfield, in Brooklyn.

Buttermilk fried squid with sides of spoon bread and sautéed spinach at Mayfield in Brooklyn.

Buttermilk fried squid with sides of spoon bread and sautéed spinach at Mayfield in Brooklyn.

Sauteed sea scallops perfectly browned and put to rest on a bed of corn infused risotto.

Sauteed sea scallops perfectly browned and put to rest on a bed of corn infused risotto.

The next night, my dad was kind enough to pony up for an even fancier affair—a full-on fish fête at Barchetta. Though the New York Times’ Pete Wells gave it only 1 star in September [LINK: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/10/dining/restaurant-review-barchetta-in-chelsea.html?module=Search&mabReward=relbias%3Aw%2C%7B%221%22%3A%22RI%3A8%22%7D], I was intrigued enough to book a table at the six-month-old brainchild of chef and restaurateur Dave Pasternack (known for Esca, in Hells Kitchen). The light-wood tables, soft lighting, and cream walls lined with a row of understated abstract paintings were a welcoming sight at the end of a grey day.

Cocktails to start: a traditional Manhattan for dad (fitting, for the location), while I tried on a “fiaschetta” for size (carpano antica, Campari, elderflower, and Woodford reserve). It fit quite well. Our first bites were many and varied—a six-part crudo tasting ($28), consisting of fresh wedges of fish, from tuna to Spanish mackerel, sitting in pockets of beautifully flavored oil. We were either lucky enough to hit the restaurant on a non “off night,” or my hunger for high-quality fish was too large for me to care. The server recommended that my dad fillet his porgy ($17) himself, but we both settled for having the hard work done for us. My de-boned black sea bass ($17) arrived glistening and flaky. The slightly dry side of acorn squash and lemon tart dessert were an ideal offset to the many bites of rich, meaty fish.

A crudo of varied fresh fish soaking in flavored oils at Barchetta in Chelsea.

A crudo of varied fresh fish soaking in flavored oils at Barchetta in Chelsea.

Freshly de-boned blackened sea bass with a side of acorn squash at Barchetta in Chelsea.

Freshly de-boned black sea bass with a side of acorn squash at Barchetta in Chelsea.

These were just two nights in a whole week of feasting while my dad was in town. I probably should have fasted for a week afterwards – but I didn’t.

Next:

Mid-October my daughter and I took a road trip to the North Shore, with my Dad and his wife. This large peninsula of Minnesota lines the shores of Lake Superior and many of the states 10,000 lakes dot the inland landscape.

We made a pit stop along the scenic North Shore drive at the appropriately named Scenic Cafe’. Talk about using fresh local ingredients; each dish at Scenic screams flavor by infusing unique food combinations like the special starter of the day – figs and walnuts bathed in a maple syrup molasses surrounding a tower of blue cheese served with crudités.

The specialty starter dish of the day used local Minnesota ingredients to create this abundantly flavorful dish.

The specialty starter dish of the day used local Minnesota ingredients to create this abundantly flavorful dish.

Further up the avenue we settled in the area of Tofte and Lutsen for a weekend of reading, walking, spa-ing and of course -eating!

The first night we headed to Lutsen for locally caught walleye and harvested wild rice, which make up the key ingredients to one of Lutsen Lodge‘s traditional menus choices at the Dining Room. The starter of Minnesota Wild Rice soup and finale’ of Swedish Cream round out this flavorful dinner selection.

Potato crusted walleye served with wild rice pilaf – a tradition along with a starter of Minnesota Wild Rice soup, served at Lutsen Lodge Dining Room.

If breakfast fare is more to your liking than head back down the road to Waves of Superior Cafe at Surfside on Lake Superior, spa and townhomes. Acclaimed Chef Judy Barsness, (my Dad’s wife’s sister-in-law) showcases her signature culinary style ‘Minnisine’ using locally caught, grown and handcrafted ingredients to make delectable Minnesota contemporary cuisine. The Sunday brunch is an absolute must after indulging in a relaxing spa treatment.

Chef Judy Barsness presents a Sunday brunch buffet to satisfy even the most discerning palate.

Chef Judy Barsness presents a Sunday brunch buffet to satisfy even the most discerning palate.

Next month I’ll showcase cuisine from our neighbor to the north – Canada. Butter tarts, perogies, poutine….. And of course Thanksgiving – American style!

North Shore, Minnesota – a/k/a a place of respite

This ones for you pops!!

Respite. A break. A breather. A lull. A reprieve. All definitions of respite – all words to define the desire that pulls me to the very northern tip of Minnesota – aka The North Shore.

Minnesota’s North Shore

Head North young woman - to the North Shore of Minnesota

Head North young woman – to the North Shore of Minnesota.

Non-Minnesotans would ask, “North Shore to what?” Answer: Lake Superior. Most resources list this most massive of the five great lakes as the largest fresh water lake by surface and third largest by volume – in the world. Reaching depths of 1,332 feet, this glacial lake swallowed up the giant ore boat made famous by Canadian singer songwriter Gordon Lightfoot’s song, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” based on the true life story of this ship getting caught in one of many magnificent raging early winter lake storms.

I have been coming to the North Shore for 45 of my 50 years. I have traveled extensively, but few places have drawn me back like the North Shore. My mother was born and raised in Duluth which sits on the most southern US tip of the lake – this bay being flanked by Minnesota to the west and Wisconsin to the east. Our family started making the trek to the North Shore back in the 1960’s, mainly a weekend trip, several weekends a month year round.

The famed draw bridge in the Lake Superior Harbor in Duluth.

The famed draw bridge in the Lake Superior harbor in Duluth.

This journey north was a respite for my parents to get a break from their busy lives in and around the Twin Cities. For my three older brothers and I it was a chance to perfect our hot-dog skiing skills on the slops of Lutsen Ski Resort. The views of Lake Superior were truly breathtaking from high atop the resort. In 1972, my skiing season was cut short when I broke my leg skiing. In those days there were no ambulances in that area, so I was taken to the hospital 30 miles away in Grand Marais, in the back of my Dad’s boss’s wood-paneled station wagon.

Other weekends found us cross-country skiing on the Gunflint Trail northwest of Grand Marais or along the backside of Moose Mountain; hiking the paths emanating from Lutsen Lodge or Cascade Falls behind the Cascade Lodge where they make the best blueberry pancakes; jumping off the cliffs into the warm waters of the Temperance River; fishing for river trout in the fast running Onion River or going deep for walleye in the tranquil waters of Tait Lake; golfing with the black bears at the little 9-hole par-3 course at Lutsen Lodge or across the street at Superior National.

Many an hour spent lounging, eating, swimming, hiking...at Lutsen Lodge.

Many an hour spent lounging, eating, swimming, hiking, golfing…at Lutsen Lodge.

The inclusion of the next generation began in the 1990’s and still continues today. Almost 22-years ago, my husband and I drove our 20-month old daughter and our 1-month old son through a raging Minnesota winter storm, to my Dad’s cabin which sits on the shores of Tait Lake, 13 miles off the main road, the last eight on a one lane dirt road – no cell phone. We arrived at the warm and inviting cabin, with two very anxious grandparents standing watch at the front door. After my husband and I were seated in front of a roaring fire with a glass of wine to calm our nerves, the kids were given a bath by the grandparents in the only tubs in the cabin – the two-sided stainless steel kitchen sink.

The one lane dirt road back to Tait Lake - think heavy snow. The leaning tree in the pic was nicknamed 'I-lene' by one of the grandkids.

The one lane dirt road back to Tait Lake – think heavy snow. The leaning tree in the pic was nicknamed ‘I-lene’ by one of the grandkids.

Last weekend found my daughter and I returning to Minnesota from our respective homes in New York City and Arizona to take ‘Grandpa’ up to visit the North Shore. Over the years this has continued to be his ‘go to’ place. The leaves were still in their fall finery – vibrant oranges and reds of Maples and Sumac; blinding yellows of the Aspen and Birch; all intertwined with deep green of the many evergreens that dot the landscape.

We hunkered down for the weekend at a condo at Surfside on Lake Superior. Our unit sat on the shores of the big lake the Ojibwe natives call ‘Gichigami’ – where we curled up in front of a warming fire; enjoyed smoked trout from Kendall’s Smokehouse where we have been buying smoked fish for 40 plus years; sipped a glass of wine while pouring ourselves into our book picks for the weekend. We also took advantage of the onsite Waves of Superior Spa by having a relaxing massage, followed by a delectable Sunday brunch spread presented by Chef Judy, sister-in-law to my Dad’s wife, at the Wave’s Cafe.

The Thinker a/k/a my Dad, Gpa, Grand-snappy - sits overlooking the shores of Lake Superior as he contemplates 80 years of amazing memories!

The Thinker a/k/a my Dad, Gpa, Grand-snappy – sits overlooking the shores of Lake Superior as he contemplates 80 years of amazing memories!

My daughter reading fireside. I spent the weekend listening to the two most well-read people I know - my father and my daughter - wax philosophical for hours on end as they compared their libraries of knowledge. What amazing minds!

My daughter reading fireside. I spent the weekend listening to the two most well-read people I know – my father and my daughter – wax philosophical for hours on end as they compared their libraries of knowledge. What amazing minds!

Waves of Superior Spa at Surfside on Lake Superior.

Waves of Superior Spa at Surfside on Lake Superior.

Chef Judy serves up an amazing fresh and locally inspired Sunday brunch spread: Belgian waffles  with Caribou Maple Syrup, Minnesota wild rice and sausage gravy over biscuits,  homemade granola, cheese blintzes, and other fresh pastries....

Chef Judy serves up an amazing fresh and locally inspired Sunday brunch spread: Belgian waffles with Caribou Maple Syrup, Minnesota wild rice and sausage gravy over biscuits, homemade granola, cheese blintzes, and other fresh pastries….

A little nostalgia was called for to relive some old memories to mix in with the new ones we were making. We had dinner at Lutsen Lodge where I spent endless hours of my youth playing in the game room or reading by the fire while the adults wiled away the hours in the bar after a traditional Minnesota wild rice soup and walleye dinner. We stopped into Sea Villa B-?, the condo we owned back in the 1970’s, and went back to visit Vennskaap Hyte on Tait Lake, the log cabin my Dad and his wife owned for many years. We stopped at a little shop that sold homemade maple syrup among other homemade Minnesota goods. The shop often incorporates the honor system to pay for goods, as the proprietor is often not able to be on site.

My dad and I reminiscing about all the great times spent at the Sea Villas at Lutsen.

My dad and I reminiscing about all the great times spent at the Sea Villas at Lutsen.

A cabin store full of many different local homemade goods like Caribou Cream syrup.

A cabin store full of many different local homemade goods like Caribou Cream syrup.

Only in Minnesota could you feel confident in relying on the honor system for your customers to pay for their purchases.

Only in Minnesota, where ‘Minnesota Nice’ is the mantra, could you feel confident in relying on the honor system for your customers to pay for their purchases.

More Minnesota-North Shore pics to come in the Global Gallery!