Refresher Course

Photographs by Julie Bidwell
Above left:Herb crusted spring rack of lamb with minted English pea pureé; right: L’escale, translated to “port of call,” welcomes visitors with authentic Provençal charm 

When you’re living in New England, embracing the change of seasons becomes part of your DNA. Chefs may relish the arrival of spring even more than most of us, as they have the chance to update their menus and get creative with the young, tender vegetables and other seasonal ingredients, perhaps tweaking signature dishes to incorporate all that’s new. For those of us dining out, the season can be an opportunity to experience something fresh at our favorite restaurants.

“Spring means fresh English peas, fresh fava beans, ramps, and I particularly like fiddlehead ferns,” says l’escale’s executive chef, Frederic Kieffer, who also oversees the Artisan restaurants in Southport, Newfane, Vermont (at The Four Columns Inn), and soon-to-open West Hartford. Chef Frederic works closely with local farms to bring these ingredients and more to his menu of Mediterranean cuisine at l’escale, where there’s an emphasis on seafood. The classically trained French chef grew up in the countryside of France. And the restaurant captures the essence of Cote d’Azur, both in the atmosphere—from the elegant Provencal-inspired dining room to the expansive waterfront terrace overlooking Greenwich Harbor—and through the food.

Left: Crudo: escolar with orange wedges and passion fruit sauce; tuna and avocado with soy-sesame sauce; salmon shishito with radishes and citrus-pepper sauce
Right: Imported burratina with smoked salmon, grilled avocado and artichokes in a “mache green” moscatel glaze

Crudo is almost always on the menu, but Chef Frederic and his team prepare the dish differently depending on the season. Moving into spring, the crudo plate often centers around locally sourced Stonington sea scallops. At a recent tasting dinner, the cool, tender scallops were paired with blood orange sections, slices of shishito pepper, with its seeds adding a bit of texture, and a light tomato-water dressing. The dish is plated with cilantro, fleur de sal and edible flowers, a colorful combination that’s a feast for the eyes, too. The hint of citrus adds brightness and brings out the flavor of the raw scallops in this must-try starter.

Another first course that gets a fresh twist in the spring is the imported burratina. While the classic burrata complement is prosciutto, here the chef pairs the lush imported cheese with smoked salmon, artichoke and avocado that’s grilled as well as pickled strawberries, the smokiness of the salmon and grilled vegetables playing up the taste of the burrata. Certain standards are always on l’escale’s menu, such as the popular and indulgent Bouillabaisse Provencale and for vegetable-lovers, the Georgette’s Salad with kale, frisee, quinoa, blueberries, pumpkin seeds, avocado and more, named and created especially for Georgette Mallory, the wife of The Delamar’s owner, Charles.

Left: Angus beef carpaccio with straciatella di bufala, melon and roquette arugula
Right: Faroe Island salmon in a verjus glaze with lemon, asparagus and artichoke risotto

With the focus on organic and healthy eating, entreés at l’escale are never heavy, but one that’s especially light, delicious and laden with fresh vegetables is the salmon. (Seafood sourcing is so important these days, and this is organic salmon from the Faroe Islands that’s fed from a natural stream of shrimp and calamari, a sustainable alternative to wild salmon.) The salmon in a fish veloute sauce is served on a bed of asparagus with wilted choy and topped with asparagus slaw and a dollop of American caviar, a delicate melange of flavors.

On the sweeter side of things, Pastry Chef Wendy Laurent, a Greenwich native who was once the pastry chef at Gotham Bar & Grill in New York, has a way with seasonal ingredients, too. “I can’t wait for spring and all of the fresh, sweet fruits,” says Chef Wendy. “I always reintroduce the classic peach melba,” she says of this luscious dessert that she prepares with peaches poached in a spiced white wine and served over homemade vanilla ice cream with freshly puréed raspberries and candied almonds. One of Wendy’s specialties that’s a menu staple sure to win over any chocoholic is called Dame Blanche, a warm brownie, ice cream, chocolate sauce and crunchy candied almonds layered into a tall sundae glass. If caramel sauce is more your speed, don’t miss her velvety bread pudding or Bananas Foster, as both are topped with homemade vanilla ice cream and the most decadent hot bourbon caramel.

As the weather gets warmer, an equally fun ending to a meal here may involve sitting outside on the terrace and enjoying a film-noir-inspired cocktail—Dr. Strangelove or Notorious anyone?—or a glass of wine (see page 64 or be sure to ask Sommelier John Freitas for his picks).

Left: Florida Strawberry Shortcake with vanilla chantilly
Right: Dame Blanche

L’ESCALE
500 Steamboat Road, 203-661-4600; lescalerestaurant.com

 

 

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