Sunday, October 13, 2002

Harvesting fall's flavors

Tristate chefs infuse dishes with heartier, earthier ingredients

By Polly Campbell
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Where to find the tastes of fall:

When does fall begin? Maybe it's the day you realize you can't wear sandals anymore and it's time to check the air filters on the furnace. Or when you ask for hot tea instead of iced at lunch.

It's certainly fall when you start thinking about pot roast for dinner, or pork chops with applesauce and butternut squash. That's how Greater Cincinnati's most creative chefs think. Right about now, their menus start changing. New dishes are a little heartier, earthier. The fresh tomatoes come off and the winter squash goes on; they think of new things to do with pork and venison and duck. Here are just a few examples of seasonal dishes that are as appetite-stimulating as a brisk autumn breeze.

At The Heritage in Plainville, chef Scott Melvin always is looking for new locally grown and naturally raised meats and produce to put on his menu. Recently, he's added a grilled pork chop from Niman Ranch, served with homemade applesauce. There's a strip steak from Green Acres farm in Indian Hill, marinated in olive oil, garlic and black peppercorns, served with sherry-garlic wild mushrooms. Maple Leaf Farms' duck breast comes wrapped in apple-smoked bacon with Szechwan peppercorn-honey sauce.

At Boca in Northside, chef David Falk declares himself in love with pork and everything that can be done with it. He has been making his own pancetta and has started a prosciutto, which won't be ready for a year. The pancetta goes in the papardelle “fatta in casa,” house-made pasta served with Niman Ranch pork belly braised in white wine and a ragu of pancetta, white cannellini beans and rosemary.

The pancetta is slipped into some other dishes, too. Grilled strip steak is served with garlic confit, rosemary-roasted Yukon potatoes and Swiss chard braised with pancetta.

In Burlington, Tousey House chef/owner Kristy Schalck says produce at the farmer's market is winding down early this year, and she hasn't gotten any good paw-paws yet. But customers are beginning to clamor for her fall dishes, like pecan-crusted pork.

For a few more weeks, her grilled quail will be on the menu, served with blue cheese and bacon spoon bread, sautied greens and blackberry vinaigrette.

She's just added a new starter: pate made from Shuckman's smoked catfish with Vidalia onion mustard. It's the time of year for pickling and preserving and using up all the tomatoes that aren't going to ripen, so she serves the pate with fried green tomatoes, pickled okra and pickled green beans.

[photo] Julie Francis, chef/owner of Aioli with grilled flank veal steak
(Gary Landers photo)
| ZOOM |
Julie Francis, chef/owner of Aioli, downtown, has posted her new menu at It includes a new treatment for her popular duck leg confit: she serves it with ginger-braised cabbage, pear chutney and potato galette. There's also an intriguing dish I've never seen elsewhere: grilled veal flank steak. It's been on the menu for several weeks, and Ms. Francis says it's been popular. She served it with wild mushroom flan (any kind of wild mushrooms she gets, she says — back trumpet, chanterelles, hen-of-the-woods) grilled asparagus and a peppercorn brandy sauce.

In Monroe at the Brandywine Inn, owners George and Doris Bernas changed the restaurant's format from a prix-fixe to an a la carte menu. But Chef Bernas cannot quit doing his elegant several-course dinners, and customers still ask for them. So he has classic French dinners on the menu, one for October, one for November. (Reserve in advance.)

October's dinner starts with a wild duck pate with pistachios and mushrooms served with Cumberland sauce and marinated mushrooms. Then there's a filet of sole wrapped around a salmon mousse studded with lobster meat, followed by a salad of greens, nuts and bacon vinaigrette. Tournedos de boeuf Bacchus is filet with wild mushrooms and potatoes Anna. Dessert is an individual apple cake with orange sabayon and raspberry sauce.

The menu at the Phoenix, downtown, still consists of smaller-sized portions that can make a light meal or be put together in combinations for a multicourse variety of tastes. Chef Corwin Johnson's fall menu includes medallions of pan-roast monkfish on savory sweet potato puree and persillade butter. Glazed duck has an end-of-summer feel, served with a jalapeno grit cake with wilted bitter greens and sweet corn puree.

You've heard of chicken-fried steak? Chef Mary Swortwood of the Brown Dog Cafi in Blue Ash has chicken-fried venison on her menu. It's served with mustard mashed potatoes and braised red cabbage.

Also on the menu: “earth candy soup,” sweet potato and butternut squash puree with shiitakes and scallions.

There's a last good-by to summer on the menu at Daveed's in Mount Adams — Silver Queen corn and lobster soup with basil jus and foie gras croutons.

Fall additions include a pan-roasted duck breast with ebly wheat (whole wheat berries from France), spinach, pistachio and Vermont white cheddar. Or Italian sausage and duck sopressata ragu with pasta, fontina cheese and porcini crhme.

There's also a cold-weather treatment for salmon with fennel. There are fennel seeds crusted on the salmon and braised fennel in the parmagiano creme. The dish also includes caramelized mushrooms, and is served on dischi volanti (flying saucer) pasta.


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- Harvesting fall's flavors
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