by Alice Levitt
4 Park Street, Essex Junction 316-3883
Another two days, another two Vermont Restaurant Week meals.Tuesday night it was Bistro Sauce. The meal started with chamomile-scented parsnip soup and a green salad with candied hazelnuts and one big dried date, like a cherry on top. I had been coveting the risotto with guanciale since I got Sauce's Restaurant Week menu. I was not disappointed, though the dish had been modified to include artichokes and lemon zest in place of pickled ramps and fresh herbs. Adobo, full of plump shreds of chicken and hominy, was a sweet-and-sour treat, topped with smoked pepperoncini.
Instead of dessert, the third course offerings included hearty entrées. Slices of LaPlatte Farm steak laid across a bed of creamy garlic mash, sitting in an intense red-wine reduction and a drizzle of Hollandaise. The one complaint: The roasted root veggies included were slightly singed. Nonetheless, the value was incomparable: The steak alone usually goes for $25. For Restaurant Week, that's what I paid for the whole meal. I felt so flush, I splurged on dessert. I highly recommend the elegant bay-leaf ice cream.
The next night, following "Trough to Table: Celebrating Vermont Cheeses" with Tia Keenan at The Essex, I joined a party of nine at The Belted Cow Bistro. We were all excited to dig into Chef John Delpha's champion barbecue. Though lovely, the starters of roasted beet and greens, with Boucher blue cheese vinaigrette and asparagus soup dotted with bacon and mushrooms, were something of an afterthought when anticipating three kinds of barbecued meat, served family style.
Lamb shanks (pictured) that by all appearances could just as easily have come from an elephant were the first to arrive. They were tender, juicy and glazed in a surprisingly complex-tasting mixture that included Worcestershire sauce and Kentucky bourbon. A whole chicken was chopped into easily shareable chunks. The drumstick dripped onto my plate as I bit into the sweetly smoky flesh. The always ideal ribs were precisely that, perfectly tender, with a sauce that included just the right balance of spice, acidity and sweetness. Collard greens, bright-tasting slaw, macaroni salad and Delpha's bistro-crisp fries served as tasty accompaniments.
Strawberry-rhubarb crostata was the dessert on the menu that night, though we tried two others as well. The Belted Cow's light fruit tarts are always a delight, and this, topped with vanilla Island Ice Cream was no exception. Delpha's Jack Daniels Bananas Foster parfait received a perfect score when his team, IQue, won the Jack Daniels World Championship Invitational Barbecue. The dish was a decadent custard that I couldn't stop eating, despite my state of distension. (Hopefully, he'll prepare it when the team cooks at the James Beard House in September.) Even better — lavender crème brûlée. There was nothing boring about the perfectly executed tweak on what I usually consider a yawn-worthy standard.
Tonight, I'm headed to Mr. Pickwick's in Stowe. I'll let you know what I think...