by Alice Levitt
A cute rabbit standing back-to-back with a giant chef's knife. The new logo makes it clear that this is not your grandmother's Café Shelburne.
And you can get a taste of the locally focused French fare now. New chef-owners Bill Iliff and Weston Nicoll (right) began their soft opening last weekend. The restaurant is now welcoming diners, as long as they bring their own wine. Café Shelburne will open officially, complete with wine list by Lauren Taratoot, by November 15.
The wines will focus on bottles from the Loire Valley, which the chefs compare to Vermont, but with a warmer summer that allows the grapes to grow more delicious. The wines are predominantly biodynamic, but Nicoll says this is because "the small producers we want to get, that's just how they're doing it. That's how their grandfathers did it — there's just a word for it now."
The food, too, has moved simultaneously back and forward in time. Classics under previous chef-owner Patrick Grangien, such as escargots, volaille aux champignons and oeufs à la neige, are notably absent. Iliff says they may reappear occasionally as specials, a nod to his days as Grangien's sous-chef when he first moved to Vermont from New Orleans. Theose dishes are replaced by what Nicoll terms "French farmhouse" cuisine.
This makes perfect sense for the pair. They just finished their final season at the Inn at Shelburne Farm with Iliff as chef de cuisine and Nicoll as executive sous-chef.
As at Shelburne Farm, everything that can be sourced locally is. The entrecôte de boeuf with thyme crème fraîche and chanterelle butter originated nearby at Laplatte River Angus Farm. Housemade bacon and chipolata sausage (a French take on Italian links) accompany duck breast from Applecheek Farm. Venison from LegEnd Farm appears in a terrine and braised shank served with sweet potato gnocchi and Brussels sprouts.
The menu will change every two weeks to allow the chefs to show their skills and to take advantage of peak ingredients. Given Vermont's proximity to a francophone culture (and ingredients such as maple syrup), the chefs say that they'll be including refined takes on Québecois dishes along with their French cuisine. Iliff adds that French-Creole flavors may make it onto future menus, too.
But not only freshly picked produce is appearing on plates during the soft opening. Tonight, desserts include brioche bread pudding with peaches preserved from the summer crop at Shelburne Orchards, served with crème fraîche ice cream and a raspberry jam swirl. And no need to wait for next week. Just bring a bottle of wine and enjoy.