The first one flourished in a former feed store. Now the town of Richmond boasts three destination restaurants with New England Culinary connections. Blue Seal started the feeding frenzy. Eight years ago, it looked like chef-owner Deb Weinstein was taking a risk when she opened an upscale eatery on the rural edge of Chittenden County. But she stayed the course with creative, Southwestern-influenced cuisine that piqued palates without being pretentious. This summer she's putting populism on the menu by selling hot dogs from a stand out front during lunch on Tuesdays. "I set up a grill and people drive up," Weinstein says. You can also get sausages or a veggie roll-up with watermelon and chocolate-chip cookies. "I was thinking about a fish taco as well," she adds. Regular diners will also have an outdoor option when the new patio goes in. Weinstein is definitely working to keep things fresh. She says, "I really feel like I've got to move forward and keep it exciting, to generate interest in different areas" . . .
Foodies are just interested in getting a seat at The Kitchen Table, formerly Chequers Restaurant on Route 2 by Exit 11. Business at the bistro has been booming since it opened two months ago. You can't even get a reservation on the weekend. "I guess it's a good problem to have," says co-owner Lara Atkins, who runs the place with her husband and fellow NECI drop-out Steve. Neither was anticipating such an enthusiastic response. Lara figures folks "don't want to drive all the way into Burlington to have a nice meal." Then again, not too many restos in the Queen City offer a plate of LaPlatte River Angus Short Ribs, Thyme-Glazed Carrots and Parsnips, Roasted Shallots and Braising Jus for a cool 17 bucks. The couple plans to renovate another small room in the restaurant to relieve some of the dining demand . . .
In the meantime, Jon Fath is happy to handle the overflow. He and his wife Lucie are opening Toscano in the old Daily Bread at the end of May. "We are going under the moniker of rustic Mediterranean cuisine," he says of the new "mid-scale" Italian restaurant serving a combination of Northern Italian and New American, with French and Asian influences mixed in. "I don't know if you'd call it eclectic," says Fath, a NECI grad who spent the last five years cooking at Junior's. "I'm not real big on that word." He is real big on the idea of a romantic restaurant with a small bar serving wines and craft beers by the glass. The question is whether he'll win over disgruntled "Bread" heads still mourning the loss of muffins and huevos rancheros . . .
eating italiano Will Vermonters ever say basta to pasta? Not as long as the definition of Italian food keeps expanding beyond spaghetti with meatballs to include items like squash-blossom fritters stuffed with taleggio and drizzled with Sicilian honey and truffle oil. That's one of the appetizers on the menu at L'Amante, which opened last week in the old Hunan space on College Street in Burlington. Co-owners Kathi and Kevin Cleary are both Irish, but "We've both done pretty much only Italian food," says Kathi. Kevin's Med cred comes from cooking at Boston restaurants like Pignoli and Il Capriccio. Together they owned and operated their own place -- also called L'Amante -- for four years in Gloucester. The Boston Globe raved about Kevin's "soft-crumbled Italian bread," "ravishingly good broccoli rabe" and an impressive wine list that features about 20 Piedmont selections. Expect northern-leaning "contemporary regional Italian" fare at the elegant eatery, which offers six entrees under $20. And be on the look out for more ristoranti joining the ranks of Conoscenti, Trattoria Delia, Cannon's, Toscano and L'Amante. Even a glorified pizza place in Barre -- All Fired Up -- is upgrading with "bistro-style fare and panini-press sandwiches," according to chef Clarke Congdon. The goal, he says, is to "give people around here a taste of some different food."
virgin merry Most people judge olive oils by their sacrificial status -- as in variations of virginity. But there's another way to classify the tasty lubricant, as demonstrated in a unique cookbook by Putney author Deborah Krasner. Last week The Flavors of Olive Oil: A Tasting Guide and Cookbook won a James Beard Award in the "best single subject category" for its oily insights. "It was such a revelation to realize that every olive oil tastes different," says Krasner, who organized the savory staple from mild to intense. "The point of classifying the flavors is, they give you clues on how to use the oil. With a fava bean dish, you want big glugs of 'leafy green and grassy.' On grilled bread or pasta, it's 'peppery.'" Krasner, who has written six other books about cooking and kitchens, got interested in olive oil while shopping at the Brattleboro Co-op. "People always ask me food questions," she says. "I'd stand by the olive oil display, which seemed to get bigger every time, and decided we needed a way of talking about olive oils... I wanted to make it not like wine." Between the "field trips" sponsored by the Inter-national Olive Oil Council and daily deliveries from all over the world, it sounds like The Flavors of Olive Oil was a fun book to write. "The Greeks believed olives were the gifts of the gods. The more we learn, the more accurate that seems to be."
growth industry "The best thing about having a cookbook is that I don't have to write the recipes in a two-inch square," says Cook's Garden co-founder Ellen Ecker Ogden. Her first book, From the Cook's Garden, is a 258-page harvest of veggie-centric recipes abundantly illustrated with Mary Azarian's colorful woodcuts. For years, the Caldicott Award-winning illustrator has been lending a back-to-the-garden look to the 20-year-old Londonderry-based seed company's catalogue, in which most of Ogden's recipes first appeared. Guided by her William Morrow editor -- a long-time catalogue subscriber whose emails contained as many cultivation questions as editorial suggestions -- Ogden also developed new dishes to cover every seed that her spouse, Shepherd Ogden, stocks. Most entries are straightforward, but Ellen, who admits she doesn't "love" squash, disguises butternut in soup spiked with maple syrup and Chardonnay, and adds blueberries to zucchini bread. "It's really fascinating that things that are in season at the same time taste great together." Seasonally correct recipes should encourage cooks to grow their own -- or at least let them pretend they do.
nibbles and bits The Restaurant in Burlington sure closed in short order. The intimate eatery had only been open a couple months when chef Lenny Williams took his toque and went home. In March, the place was shut down for fire code and permit violations. "It was in regard to use of the basement," says Chief Terry Francis of the Burlington Fire Department. "He could have just not used that room, and there wouldn't be any issue there... It's kind of unfortunate. We heard great things about the food." Word has it Jessica Bridge and Tyre DuVernay plan to take over the lease and turn it into a relaxed bar-resto with fancy cocktails and catered fusion foods . . .
How do you persuade Vermont palates to expand their culinary horizons? Thai, Thai again with downsized portions. Later this month, 9-year-old Parima Thai Restaurant will launch Thursday night "Thai tapas" and Sunday morning "dim sum" brunch with an all-you-can-eat steam table rather than pay-for-what-you-pick carts of prepared foods. Look for tempura-battered carp in a spicy basil sauce on the evening menu and steamed tofu with red beans in the morning. Co-owner Jip Jotikasthira and partner Daryl Campney are already augmenting their edibles with live music three nights a week, as well as a Thai gift shop . . .
Turns out A Single Pebble has a multi-talented staff. On Monday, for one day only, the Berlin restaurant turned itself into a gallery featuring the works of its employees. "I've never worked at a place where there are so many artists," says organizer Bill Callnan, a graduate of the Museum School of Fine Arts. "We have, like, five potters in the house." Those lazy Susans sure come in handy when displaying three-dimensional work . . .
It took a village to launch Mountain Greens Market, a scaled-down version of Healthy Living that opened last week in Bristol. Following the example of the nearby Bobcat Cafe, owner Timmi Moffi raised $100,000 from 20 "investors" who put in $5000 each. Actually, they're low-interest loans. But it took still more cash to fit up the 3000-square-foot market, which specializes in health-food products, especially produce, cheeses and breads. "My parents live in this area," says 29-year-old Moffi, who came from the Otter Creek Food Co-op in Vergennes. "There's such a need for it. All these people have been going into Middlebury, or Burlington, to do their shopping" . . .
Eating fresh and local sounds like age-old ideology. But it was a radical new idea when Alice Waters started serving it up at Chez Panisse, her highly acclaimed restaurant in Berkeley, California. More than 30 years later, she continues to be a tireless advocate for locally based food systems and sustainable organic agriculture. The pioneering foodie is the centerpiece of a "forum" hosted by the Vermont Fresh Network on May 29. On June 1, she'll host a tasting of specialty wines and cheeses down in the Intervale . . .
Speaking of food celebrities, television chef Emeril Lagasse has a relative in Vermont. He's the kick-it-up-a-notch second cousin of Scott, who's been offering all-American family fare at Lagasse's Steak House and Country Cottages in Brandon. "He's very successful and God bless," Lagasse says of his high-profile relative. "But we're happy right here in Vermont. I'm kind of an old-fashioned guy" . . . Bam right.