Spring Menu, A Work in Process

Since I’ve been stuck in the house for almost three weeks now, I have a lot of time to work on what I hope will be an exciting Spring menu.  I’d like to take you through the process of how I head towards a finished menu.

At The Wine Bar I keep a small menu with the same basic outline:  6-8 starters, 2-3 pizzas, cheese and charcuterie selections, and 6-8 entrées (available in full and half portions). These numbers will vary depending on the time of year, with Summer having the largest number of selections because of the volume of business, and Winter the least because it can be quiet. Keeping the small menu especially ensures freshness and quality.  I’m thinking small for early Spring since the busy season doesn’t kick in until June, thus reserving room for more weekend specials when we anticipate being busy.

With that settled, I think about some of the products I’d like to use and make a list of the usual Spring suspects (fava beans, morels, asparagus, ramps……)  and keep the list in front of me while I start to work on a particular dish.  Some are easy, like the steak frites that I’m bringing back, and some take days to weeks to get a preliminary dish composed.  One disadvantage I’m facing right now is not being in the restaurant kitchen to try some things out. I’ll have to try some things at home, and most things when I get back to work.

I really love skate wing and have been wanting to do it for a while now.  I thought about it when preparing the winter menu but it is a highly perishable fish so I thought I’d wait until business was a bit more brisk. I was watching a video of Chef Bryce Shuman of Betony in NYC cook skate a few nights ago and I became inspired.

Skate is good dredged in Wondra flour and pan fried, so I figured that’s what I’d do, except I recall having a nice bin of potato flour in the kitchen, and it works as well as the Wondra.  Since that will satisfy those taken in by the gluten-free fad, the preparation won’t have to be changed from one diner to the next.  I was thinking a fish and chips kind  of thing but my fryer is small, and since I’m doing steak frites I don’t want to commit to another fryer item or do something that close to fish and chips.  This is the kind of stuff you need to think about when designing a menu, especially when your kitchen is small and the equipment is limited.  I thought about it for a couple of days (while I worked on other dishes) and came up with potatoes rösti which are basically coarsely shredded potato pan-fried in butter or other fat in thick pancake form. They can be done ahead of time and finished by a method we affectionately call oven-chucking. It will then be one component of the dish that will require very little attention during service.  This will be important since the other fish dish I’m planning will require several pans and considerably more attention.  I’ll do them thick so they’re crisp on the outside and creamy on the inside.  I haven’t decided on any additions like onion or herbs. The potato will sit under the skate, and be topped with lemon-arugula aioli and pickled ramps for those who like tartar sauce.  I think a drizzle of malt vinegar reduction might work as well but I’m becoming dangerously close to a “twist on” fish and chips. I’ll likely choose another acid. Certainly no slaw of any type. So there you have it. Fish and chips that has no desire to be fish and chips.

The other fish dish will require five pans, which my sous chef Patrick will hate me for since he picks up the fish on busy nights when we have three people cooking. Another thing to consider when designing a menu is who is going to execute each dish, and what are their capabilities.  I have no issue with giving Patrick a five-pan pick-up.

Pan 1: saffron butter poached halibut.

Pan 2: carrot risotto finished with sea urchin butter.

Pan 3: Pernod braised bibb lettuce and baby fennel.

Pan 4:  glazed spring carrots, and radishes.

Pan 5:  warm pea tendril broth.

Of course, he only has six burners in his station so I’ll give him a cold seafood dish as a starter.  I’m not quite as far along as the other two fish plates, but I’m heading in a good direction.  I’d like to do quick blanched calamari, hamachi crudo, and rock shrimp ceviche on avocado puree. My thought for garnish is spicy cucumber relish, pickled green strawberries, tomato oil, and micro basil or cilantro.  Still working on this one.

Well, that’s a small taste of the Early spring menu and how I got there.  Other things I’m working on are Spring vegetables in bulgur and pumpernickel “soil,” Arroz con pollo with chorizo broth and padron peppers, petite veal chops with Parisian potatoes and glazed vegetables with sauce Robert, a lamb burger, and foie gras tortelloni with lobster medallions, lobster-Madeira reduction, uni emulsion, and tarragon.  All these are works in progress.

For dessert, I’m thinking free-form blueberry crumble with ginger curd and sweet lemon goat’s milk yogurt, Moroccan spiced carrot cake, and peanut butter cup with chocolate ice cream on peanut butter cookie crumbs, and a salted peanut brittle stick. I’ll keep you posted on the process and the progress.

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