Tuesday, July 23, 2013

80 Thoreau... Soooo good

A month ago, I went with my family for dinner at 80 Thoreau in Concord Ma. Set in an unassuming shopping area in the center of Concord, as you approach you would never think that you were about to enter a amazing farm to table gourmet dining experience. 80 Thoreau is an amazing space with beautiful dark wood beams, high ceilings, sky lights, cozy booths, and a gorgeous dark wood bar. It's split into two rooms with 3 separate areas; a bar area, a smaller cozier dining room, and then another dining room next to the open kitchen where you can watch delightful dishes take shape.

80 Thoreau is dedicated to using fresh local ingredients, as a result the menu is constantly changing. Chef Carolyn Johnson, formerly associated with Rialto and Icarus, really does an amazing job of getting the most out of her fresh seasonal ingredients.

I LOVE it when a restaurant brings an amuse-bouche and this one was a tiny radish cut in half topped with garlic scape butter and garnished with a little edible flower. I'm normally not a huge radish fan, but this was a delightfully fresh and seasonally appropriate little bite to start the evening.

For appetizers, 3 out of 4 people at the table opted to start with the gnocchi accompanied by nettles, prosciutto, and I believe a garlic scape purée. The gnocchi were tiny, fried, crispy pillows of deliciousness. I've had two different preparations of gnocchi there now and both times were delightfully memorable. All of our plates were wiped clean by the time were through. The fourth person chose an artichoke white bean soup with capers which was rich, creamy, and a great way to highlight the favors of early summer.

For dinner I had Rohan duck breast with cherries, walnuts, and kale. I'm not in love with kale but this treatment was enough to make me rethink my position. The dish was topped with crispy salty kale chips and the kale itself was really the perfect texture; a little chewy but not too chewy and mixed with the cherries and walnuts every bite was a great balance of sweet and salty with just a touch of bitter thrown in with the walnuts. The duck was shockingly light and went perfectly with all the sides. I was so excited about the duck that I forgot to take a picture of it.

We had two different desserts, The chocolate Bete Noir, a delightful chocolate cake, I would bet flourless. The cake itself was both smooth and dense. I'm a huge chocolate fan and this was one of the best chocolate cake options I've had in Boston or the suburbs. it came with a mint julep ice cream that was very good. It was a light ice cream with a texture somewhere between creamy and icy. The mint flavor was light and sweet but in no way overwhelming. There was a candied mint leaf on top, it was a beautiful touch that made me exclaim "Yes that is a candied friggin mint leaf. I love it here!"

The second dessert consisted of roasted strawberries, a light olive oil cake, and ice cream with a side of lavender honeycomb. I love honeycomb. I have to admit that I stole most of it before my fellow diners got to it. As a rule, I will always default to chocolate, but this was a great spring/summer desert, perfect consistency with flavors that are a light fresh touch and not overwhelming. The perfect end to a delicious meal.

80 Thoreau is honestly one of my favorite restaurants in the greater Boston area.  I can't recommend it highly enough. I didn't cover drinks in this post because honestly the wonderful things that come out of their bar deserve their own post, and I intend to visit for drinks and write that post soon. I highly recommend 80 Thoreau for any occasion I hope you'll go out and give it a try!

Cool summer memories and a simple delicious sorbet

When I was little, my mom had a real gourmet ice cream maker. It hadits own refrigerating element, so no cranking or rolling or salted needed! This was back in the dark ages when NO ONE had an ice cream maker that froze on its own. There was no Williams Sonoms at the mall where you could conveniently find any kitchen gadget you wanted. the internet did not yet exist. 
This thing was a hideous shade of yellow and weighed 1000 pounds. My father would complain every summer when he lugged it from its winter spot in the basement to the cleared off spot on the counter that would be its summer home.

Little me called my mom a gourmet, making things that no other mother would attempt. Weird concoctions that no one had ever heard of made a regular appearance in our kitchen. She often had strange mushrooms soaking on the counter that I would poke at, a disgusted look on my face. My favorite "gourmet" treat of my mothers was the most coveted treat of summer... Grapefruit sorbet. This sweet, tart, and overall delightful dessert was a favorite of the whole family including all of the grandparents. Like so many other things that were a family favorite, my mom would always make a big deal about it, enlisting me to squeeze the pink juicy grapefruits, and letting me drink the extra juice. When she turned the ice cream maker on we would all flee from the horrible racket. She was fond of telling us  "That thing could wake the dead." It was so loud that it would often drive my father and I out of the house; him for chores, me for pool time or playing in the yard. When the sorbet was ready, it was scooped out slowly and with reverence into one of our seldom used Tupperware containers. We each got a spoonful but had to wait for a bowl until it had solidified (cleverly on my moms part that was often after dinner). My mom seldom wasted her homemade sorbet on  burgers or porkchops. So, sorbet often accompanied what my mom would call a "summer outside meal." Which translated to something too messy to eat in her pristine kitchen. In our world that meant tacos or lobster. The delight of the special dinner was heightened by the anticipation of the sorbet cooling in the freezer. The first bite is like a burst of flavor hitting your tongue. To this day I'm always shocked at how good this simple recipe is. It is by far my favorite frozen treat. 

Grapefruit sorbet
2 cups fresh squeezed grapefruit juice
1 cup simple syrup 

For the simple syrup, combine 1 cup sugar with 1 cup water in a sauce pan. Heat on low until the sugar has dissolved. 
Cool the simple syrup in the fridge for several hours or overnight. 
If you don't start with refrigerated grapefruit squeeze the grapefruit and let cool in fridge for several hours or overnight. 
Combine the simple syrup and grapefruit juice in the container of a  self freezing ice cream maker. Set for approx 40 minutes (though they're all different so check on it periodically and add more time if needed)
Scoop sorbet into container and let set in freezer for 2 hours. That is the sweet spot and the perfect time to eat it. It will keep in the freezer for a few weeks but when you're finished with it take a piece of wax paper and push it down on the top of the sorbet. This will help keep it from freezer burning.