Review: MW Restaurant

21 August 2015

I got to Honolulu for a very short stay, basically transiting between Maui and Australia. Decided to stay overnight just not to risk missing the flight, so I also decided on a nice dinner near by hotel. I found one of the very few hotels outside of Waikiki, and it was a blessing. Most of you won’t understand, but if you grew up in Honolulu, you have a total aversion to Waikiki — and I did everything to keep away from that scene.

I decided on dinner at MW Restaurant, one of the most exciting restaurants in town. I would have come here anyway for my return to Honolulu after my Australia trip, but this was convenient. I walked the few blocks there, thankfully not covered in too much sweat. I was placed at the chef’s counter, which was excellent. I watched a very well functioning kitchen work all night with energy, and often humour and comraderie — a terrific BoH.

The menu looked good but honestly the heat is zapping my appetite — and I have a long flight in the morning to Sydney. So I placed my order and enjoyed the cocktail. If anything has changed in Hawai’i, it’s the availability of huge amounts of booze to make excellent cocktails. I’ve seen things on wine lists I don’t see in California. Fabulous change.

Relaxed and chatted with some of the very friendly and efficient staff both BoH and FoH when my starter arrived, a marriage of island treats from across the world — arancini.

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These Sicilian treats were given a local makeover, with both eel and butterfish inside. Excellent flavour, with a little tinkering on the rice too, to give it a Pacific feel. Excellent crunch outside, fabulous morsels inside. A winner!

I enjoyed some wine before my main course came, and I had a huge grin on my face with this one.

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This was a take on the traditional beef stew and rice. Risotto with a rich base, graced by a beautiful piece of Big Island grass-fed beef and of course the totally awesome oxtail roulade. Oh my this was excellent, almost too rich for this weather! I enjoyed this one with gusto, but had the “meat sweats” afterwards! Loving this!

I was too sweaty and tired and full to have dessert sadly (they looked fabulous!), so had another cocktail — partly to toast the memory of the great Sasha Petraske, who died that day at a far too young 42. It shook me, and it really made what I wrote about living my life as full as I can now even more relevant. I had one last cocktail before braving the humidity (and an odd lack of trades once again) back to my hotel. I hope I left the AC on…

Off to Sydney tomorrow!

MW Restaurant
1538 Kapiolani Boulevard
Honolulu, Hawai’i

Melting in Maui…

19-20 August 2015

The trip began great. I got from DC to LA and had an excellent quick stay and then headed off to Maui — the first time I am back on that island in over 30 years. And it started even better, with an unexpected upgrade to First Class (never though I’d utter these words, but THANK YOU DELTA!) — although I basically slept the whole way there.

The humitidy immediately got to me, and after a mild snafu at the car rental due to my humidity-addled brain, I headed out into Kahului and went to look for lunch. First thing I do whenever I get “home” to Hawai’i is to get a plate lunch, and I went searching. I headed to the nearby and famous Da Kitchen, but sadly the queue was out the door by 11am, and I had no patience in this heat and humidity, so I just drove on out towards Lahaina before the tourist-infested traffic got too bad.

Looped the way to Lahaina and dropped into an excellent place (a converted motel) simply called Local Food, and had my kalua plate. Oh, now I feel at home. I forgot to take a picture so please forgive me. Nothing out of the ordinary, but just great to eat kalua where it belongs. It was too hot though (a hot day even for Maui standards), so I ate most of it in the car with the AC running…

Had a nice and busy afternoon before checking into my hotel and trying to decompress — and cool off. So good to be away from the resorts and in the centre of old Lahaina. Walked around and ended up having a few beers (this will hurt later) in a local drinking shop before my dinner at the much-lauded Lahaina Grill. I headed back to my hotel to chill before dinner.

I walked downstairs (it’s my hotel’s restaurant) and was soon seated in this busy restaurant. You can tell lots of folks with vacation homes on the west coast of Maui come here for dinner too. I chose not to do the tasting menu as it steered away from local foods (stuff like Hudson Valley foie gras…now why would I leave the East Coast by 6 time zones and choose to eat something that’s sources 45 minutes away from home base?). In fact, this is a huge issue when dealing with tasting menus in Hawai’i…you still can’t get the provincialism out sometimes…

I ordered and chilled out with a cocktail. The place was busy and lots of misbehaving children, but I bit my tongue. Par for the course here. Eventually my first course came, the shrimp rolls.

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I chose these partly out of the fact the shrimp were sourced from Kauai. They were nice, but nothing to write home about. In fact, one problem with choosing items from the menu was the lack of locally-sourced items. This shocked me, as Maui has so many good farms. I was extremely disappointed that all of the meats, and a good amount of the seafood even, were from the Mainland. Very disappointing.

But that also explains Maui in many ways. I saw Maui basically like a Pacific Ocean version of Florida, full of places where mainlanders have their vacation home (or rent them). The population of Lahaina looked distinctly not what I would say is typical Hawai’i, and I don’t quite remember Lahaina like this. Oh well… Anyway, my main arrived, one of the few things sourced locally.

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This was the opakapaka, or pink snapper, done in a very ordinary way. Nothing special, and I’m starting to wonder why this place gets all the praise. Feels formulaic, and lacking in ingeniuity or understanding of local ingredients. It’s actually sad. I had another drink and decided to retire early. A disappointing and rather sad dinner.

The next morning I sat and stared at the Pacific Ocean for awhile, partly as my room was stifling thanks to the AC dying overnight… August 20th is a very symbolic day for me, as my readers know. So much of who I am and what I am came because of what happened on that day in 1991 and 2004. One defined my entire career, one defined my entire soul. And now with both so distant, I wonder…I don’t have a career anymore, and I am starting to feel I no longer have a soul.

I left Lahaina after a long morning stroll. Good to be back in shorts and slippers for a few days… Hopped into the car before the tourists jam the road back to Kahului and drove on out. I thought about trying Da Kitchen for lunch again, but decided to go somewhere else further inland towards Haleakala. I wasn’t headed up the mountains, but got to the higher plains and dropped into Hali’imaile General Store for lunch.

The ethos of this place is far better. Built from a historic building during the age of plantations, this turned into a restaurant some years ago, with a focus on not just history but also the region. I appreciated my lunch here so much more, but to be honest the open-air nature of the restaurant (as many places are in Maui) curbed my appetite. There was a distinct lack of trade winds on an already hotter-than-usual and moister-than-usual day, and it was hard to eat too much to be honest.

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But I enjoyed this island curry dish, with some excellent locally-sourced seafood. Perhaps not too genuine to Maui in taste (a little more eastern seemingly), it was tasty and had very nice and generous amounts of seafood. I thanked my server and headed out into the steaming afternoon.

A long and busy afternoon in the heart of Maui, I headed back to Kahului to another hotel. This had barely-working AC and no hot water. Nice… I chilled for a bit before I fought traffic (yes, traffic, thanks often to confused tourists on one-lane roads) to visit another of the top-rated place on the island, Mama’s Fish House.

When I got there my heart sank. I thought it was a serious food place, but it looked more like a tourist trap. Terrible valet system, and they made me wait far after my reservation. It was hot and there again was no trade wind. I was knackered, emotional and just running out of patience. Again, the demographics of the audience is one thing, but I’m extremely surprised about the servers. It seems all the locals are being relegated to busser and back-room jobs, and the noticeably blond folks are working the tables. This is so absolutely un-Hawai’ian… You know it’s a tourist trap with this…

Again, very annoyed at a segment of seafood from the mainland, but there’s enough local stuff. I ordered and tried to chill out, but it was full of loud children and confused tourists. Maui partially became so touristy because of the influx of mainland tourism, unlike Honolulu which was built on Japanese tourism first (before the mainland onslaught). But it just didn’t feel right, and as kama’aina this was the wrong place to be tonight…

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The first dish was a “wonton” of the same Kauai shrimp as yesterday. Again, nothing special. Sad it’s one of the very few local options. There were good Hawai’ian stuff but a lot of it wasn’t seafood… It’s like this place has its priorities wrong.

I waited and waited for my main course, but it was over half hour. I lost my patience. Others may be paying for the view and weather, but I came for the food, and this place did not deliver. I asked for it to go and to close up. I was livid. And to add insult to injury, the valet on the way out was utter chaos.

I drove back to my still hot hotel room and opened this…this was a $47 dish?

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If you wonder what plating does to a dish, this is a great example. I pretty much lost my appetite here and decided to just call a night instead of going to get some real grinds. The weather has run me down, I cannot handle this weather anymore to be honest…

Headed out of Maui tomorrow early morning, honestly I cannot wait. So much of this island is now the worst tourism trap/kitsch/hell I can imagine, the ones I avoided growing up in Honolulu, the ones I avoided living in London and NYC and DC and Tallinn, the ones I try to avoid now. It’s all designed like this, and I can’t imagine how locals feel when they are all but relegated to be the sideline act. Very sinister and disappointing.

I say goodbye to Maui for good. Can’t see myself ever coming back here.

Local Food
222 Papalaua Street

Lahaina Grill
127 Lahainaluna Road
Lahaina, Maui, Hawai’i

Hali’imaile General Store
900 Hali’imaile Road
Makawao, Maui, Hawai’i

Mama’s Fish House
799 Poho Place
Pa’ia, Maui, Hawai’i

Yet Another August 20th…a View from the Pacific

(I apologise for the delay in posting, had bad wifi for days…)

20 August 2015

These days I mark the 20th of August in a rather melancholic way. My friends and long-time readers may know that this date marks 2 of the most important things in my life. 24 years ago, on 20 August 1991, my adopted homeland of Estonia freed itself from a half-century occupation — and my entire professional life has been defined by that event. And 11 years ago, on 20 August 2004, I met the woman who became the love of my life, the person who has now removed herself from my life.

I am spending this day almost “home” in Maui (I grew up in O’ahu), staring at waves in the crisp blue Pacific Ocean, thinking about the last 24 years, the last 11 years, and especially the last 4 years… And most importantly, the last year.

It was last year this time I finally started to listen to my body. My gym activities were ruling my daily life, but the wear-and-tear was starting to catch up to me, from recent and historic damage. And I realised my clock was winding down, especially the ability to live the way I want to. So I made a decision — to just live as much as possible while I still can, do all the things I want while it’s still relatively painless.

I began an almost non-stop travel schedule that took me to places like Japan and Ukraine, Faroe Islands to here in Maui, and in a few days to Australia. I spend nearly 1 of 2 days travelling now, visiting places in the US I never thought I’d see: Carson City, Boise, Oshkosh, Jackson, Little Rock, Topeka, Tallahassee, Macon, Lexington and so much more…

Over the past year I saw massive pressure on two things — my body, and my finances. The latter is no surprise and that will inevitably drain to a point of no return, especially as I have completely divested from the financial markets for personal reasons. Cashflow is severely negative, but I don’t care. My body, however, are giving more unpleasant — and unplanned shocks.

My body cannot cope with beer anymore, which has been a growing issue. Not sure why, but it just cannot — as opposed to any other alcoholic beverage. A lifetime of loving beer has suddenly shuddered to a near end…that’s how quickly things can change.

My left elbow is now so damaged I cannot life any weights unless I get it surgically fixed (which will leave me grounded). I am in chronic pain with my right foot and left ankle problems (both requiring surgery that would more than ground me), and my back is getting worse. And an unhappy side effect to stopping weightlifting is my shoulders are messed up; the right I can’t lift things above the plane, the left is seizing up just towards the back when I sit on a plane…

Yet when I travel I still put ridiculous strain on my joints, whether it’s trekking up Mount Misen in Japan or even hiking in one of the large park cemeteries around the world that have far more hills than most people would see in a week. I also eat as much as I can, trying to experience everything locally — tripe salad in Napoli, grilled eel head in Tokyo, BBQ ribs in St Louis, lamprey in Lisboa.

Basically, I know my body will keep giving me unhappy surprises in the next few years, and the days when I can travel with reckless abandon, to eat what I want and to trek where I please, is limited. It’s already painful at times, and I cannot imagine me being able to enjoy my travels like this even in 2-3 years. I rather do this now. Who cares about retirement and savings? I’m a single guy who will remain that way, no dependents, and can sit behind a desk working when I cannot enjoy my travels anymore.

So many of the people that mentored me during my younger days lament they waited too long to get their travelling done, and had to give up on it sooner than later. However, they were all parents, and they had other responsibilities. I don’t. Time to be a bit selfish for myself, at least before my body gives in.

Of course, I’d rather have had a domesticated life with my now-disappeared ex-gf instead of this globe-trotting…but you play the cards you’re dealt.

So I hope you enjoy this journey with me, because if you are vicariously living through me (or my stomach and/or liver), I’ll probably have to live vicariously through you in a few years. A lot of surgery are being put off, I’ll be an android by then with how much metal they’ll have to put into my body — that’s if the organs don’t quit. Who knows, life is too unpredictable, no reason not to seize every moment possible while still possible.

So as I stare at the blue Pacific Ocean before I head off to Australia, I think of the past on this August 20th — but when I wake up tomorrow, I’m thinking of tomorrow. And more travels. More food. More cemeteries. More mountains. More booze. More life.

It is past 11pm now in the grand scheme of things, and the seconds are ticking away far quicker than I can imagine…

Review: Alden & Harlow

28 July 2015

After this lengthy trip through Wisconsin and New England, today is the final day. A long, long day, flying home from Boston later in the evening after a planned early dinner at the much-praised Alden & Harlow in Cambridge. I left my hotel near Providence not long after sunrise, as I was covering a lot of the Massachusetts coast before fighting the inevitable traffic towards Cambridge, where I need to return this crappy rental car.

I explored a bit of south Massachusetts before moving towards Plymouth and slowly going up the coast. Things were going well, ahead of schedule, and the weather was fantastic if not a bit hot. The sun was blazing as I drove into Cohasset and made a quick stop. Just as I pulled onto the town’s main road, my car’s engine made this horrific sound and I knew the game was up… And Thrifty yesterday told me don’t worry about the engine light?

I pulled into a cul-de-sac with the engine making a horrible grinding noise. It’s dead. I called Thrifty and they said they’ll call me back. It’s 11.30am, and I sense my day was ruined… I opened the car up and wow…the fanbelt is gone, snapped right off, among other issues with the engine. It was a complete mess inside. This thing is dead. Then after about half hour, Thrifty calls me back saying they’ll bring a replacement — but the ETA is about 2 hours. TWO HOURS?!

So for the next 2 hours, in the middle of nowhere, with no shade in the blazing sun, on the hottest day of the year, I was stranded. Sitting in the car was a non-starter as it was already an oven, and the AC cannot run in this condition without risking the car catching on fire. I had half a small bottle of water. So I just plopped myself down on the grass outside and tried to wait it out.

Got very little Twitter sympathy for my predicament tho…that was kind of annoying. Don’t need to be wound up when you’re burning up physically. Cops came by a few times but I told them the tow was coming. Some people just drove by, stared, and drove off… It wasn’t until after 1pm that a kindly neighbour brought me a bottle of water. That was very, very nice of him. He began by “which rental company is this?” — so I sense this has happened here before!

After more waiting, now the sun was in full afternoon blaze on the hottest day of the year, the tow shows up. No wonder it took so long, it came from Everett, which is a suburb way north of Boston, which had to pick a car up at Logan, which is east of town and has crazy traffic, and had to roll down the coast to Cohasset, which is south-east of Boston, crossing goodness knows how many bridges and tunnels… What idiotic system they have!

But I got into another clunker that they brought and they took the dead car away, and I was off, dehydrated and not feeling that great, after 2.5 hours in this sun. People will ask where I got this tan, and I’ll tell them Massachusetts…ugh…

I made a few stops on my way north-west up the coast and fought the traffic into and through Boston, just to make it back to Cambridge and the even more ridiculous traffic just before time to return the car. What a waste of a day… I was so worn out I didn’t give them too much lip when I returned the car, just explained quietly. They took 25% off the rental…ugh, that’s it? I felt ill…

But then I just walked out to Alden & Harlow a block away, one of the most exciting restaurants in Cambridge for small plates. I was early by 20 minutes before opening time. I had purposely planned this place because it was convenient to the car rental and the T, but I suspect after this mess I was gonna cab it to Logan after dinner. Waited around and was finally seated. I opted for a counter space near the roasting station because it was bright, and everywhere else was way too dark. It was warm…

I tried to relax despite today’s ordeal. Obviously I’ve not eaten since last night, but the priority was a few glasses of water first, then a cocktail. Then I ordered a lot of food… I chilled out and just tried to enjoy things, but was still too wound up from today’s idiocy. Some pickled string beans arrived as an amuse. Then the first dish arrived, and I physically relaxed…

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I love broccoli, and this was a huge plate of it. I focused on the very tasty greens and all but skipped the accompanying almond-graced hummus, not because it wasn’t good, but when you are dehydrated that’s the last thing your tongue wants or needs… And the broccoli was so damn good… Then plate number two came, and I smiled.

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A plate of fried smelts, I love these things. Lovely, fried just perfectly retaining the natural flavours of these small fish. Did not need any dip at all, and the lemon slices were tasty too. Excellent, simply done and solid. The plates kept coming…

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The next was a nice clams dish, with some smoked pigs tail. Excellent, the Boston area is known for its clams obviously, so this was excellent. Full flavours here. Really enjoyed it. I drank a lot more water and rose (I had switched to wine) and then the final dish arrived.

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Fried rabbit. A nice piece, with a lot of natural flavours inside the well-done breading. An excellent dish closing an excellent dinner. I kept picking at elements from all 4 plates though the main ingredients in all 4 — broccoli, smelts, clams & rabbit — were long gone. Maybe too much food, but I needed it today.

I thanked the staff profusely, found a cab and headed off to Logan to catch the late flight home. I was dizzy… What a crazy, stupid day. If it wasn’t for this excellent dinner at Alden & Harlow, today would have been one of the stupidest in my life. Damn you, Thrifty, for this. I was ill for 2 days after this… At least I’m home…until the next trip, which is sooner than later…

Alden & Harlow, highly recommended. Thrifty? No.

Alden & Harlow
40 Brattle Street
Cambridge, Massachusetts

Review: New Rivers

27 July 2015

Despite that nice meal at Birch last night, this morning began with a shudder — thanks to Mother Nature. The skies cracked open, and I see a long, wet day ahead. I fought traffic towards Aquidneck Island, slowed by weather and stupid drivers making stupid turns, as well as major roadworks. Took ages to drive a short distance; should have gone around west via the bridge…

But once I got onto Aquidneck Island the skies opened up big-time. Newport was grey and wet and soon flooding. That was not a good morning, and I was soaked to the bone… After a bit, I was driving to Middletown and the flash flood warnings came on my phone. Great… But I survived, and eventually made my way off the island onto the Bristol peninsula, just to see the engine light come on my piece-of-crap rental. Did all that water get in the engine or under the car?

I pushed my way back to the Providence area in early afternoon just as the weather got better — go figure. After a good lunch at the legendary sandwich house Miller’s Roast Beef — including a big ol’ roast beef sandwich and the “caserla” (spicy pork) special sandwich — I went to my hotel to dry off and change, and to call my car rental agency. It drove okay, but I called Thrifty and they said “oh, it’s just the maintenance light, just don’t drive over 1000 miles” — oookee…

For dinner that night I headed to what others consider the best place to eat in Providence, this time on the other side of the river (the Brown University side), New Rivers. When I was doing my trip research I was intrigued by what Chef Beau Vestal wrote, which fits my way of food thinking so much: “the chef is simply a spoke in the wheel of the food cycle, a conduit for ingredients to get to the diner. We try to get the best things we can, try not to over manipulate them, and pass them along to a hungry audience.” Amen, brother.

I chilled at the end of the bar at a very early hour. I wanted to eat early as I had a stupidly long last day tomorrow, so I relaxed with a cocktail and looked over the menu. So many good choices, but I made my choices with an interesting selection. I chilled and enjoyed the ambience. You can tell this is a place that plenty of regulars — both full-time and seasonal — hang out, as so many people seem to know each other. And I was told they keep changing the menu to keep the regulars on their toes. Excellent. Then the first item arrived.

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A pretty simple dish, the smoked mussels were excellent. The flavour was really intense, and worked very well with the cherry tomatoes. Again, little adulteration, and this is a wonderful little snack. I liked it. I switched to some rose for the next course, and my mouth was hanging open when it arrived.

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Wow. That is a LOT of crab in this dish, graced with ample sea urchin. Now this is a fun dish. The crab were simple and flavourful, with the urchin bringing out even more of the ocean’s essence. Cucumbers worked perfectly here too. Fabulous! I was enjoying myself and lots of friendly folks at and behind the bar, so lots of good banter too. Then came my self-constructed main.

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Yep, went with the charcuterie for dinner. They specialise in it, giving people choices on how to construct it. I decided to go with today’s special sausage (sweet Italian), the thick-cut house-smoked bacon, and the smoked duck ham. Very nice selection. The sausage was delicious, but the bacon was just fabulous — cured with brown sugar, smoked with hickory and graced with plenty of ground pepper. Almost perfect. The duck was also fabulous, tasty and smoky. A very nice selection indeed, true to chef’s ethos.

I had an after-dinner drink before I headed out the door, thanking the staff for an excellent evening. Simple and good, everything that’s necessary for a solid night of dining. I headed back to the hotel, hoping to catch up on some sleep for a very, very long last day tomorrow on this lengthy trip.

New Rivers
7 Steeple Street
Providence, Rhode Island

Review: Birch

26 July 2015

I made my way from New Hampshire to Rhode Island, the trip delayed by a day because I had forgotten that the Newport Folk Festival was in full bloom, and there were few hotel availabilities. So after a day off just north-west of Boston, having some terrible BBQ at a place I won’t name (nor review), I made my way south early this Sunday morning to Rhode Island.

Was a long day, dealing with weather and so forth. I was also quickly visiting a historic cemetery in the centre of town, and that was probably the most dangerous cemetery I’ve ever visited. Came close to stepping on used needles a few times and it’s clear people are shooting up there next to oil drums used for winter heat next to some beautiful Armenian tombstones. This is a scary ass place and neighbourhood (I’d forgotten how nasty parts of Providence is) and I got myself out quickly…

The weather just broke when I got to my hotel. I’ve been lucky to have seen almost no bad weather on this trip, even the Wisconsin leg, but it’s changing now with ominous skies. I chilled out in my hotel and decompressed a bit before the evening, then wandered to dinner at what many say is the best restaurant in Providence, the tiny but interesting Birch.

I got there and it was tiny — just a horseshoe-shaped counter. It was already busy at an early hour and I adjusted myself into the tight space anticipating a good meal. I was still re-living the wonderful dining experience at Stages at One Washington in Dover two nights ago, and hoped for another good one tonight. I enjoyed a cocktail as I looked through the menu and ordered.

It’s a tiny space and thus interesting with a lot of interaction all over the place. A small amuse of a golden cherry tomato presented itself first before we moved into the dishes — and my switch to wine. The first dish arrived soon after, and it looked awesome.

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Frankly, simple slices of grass-fed local beef. Excellent, full of flavour, lovely stuff. Simple and excellent, just what I like. I can’t even imagine what places in Milwaukee, like Braise, would have done to this dish… Good stuff. I chilled with more wine when the second dish arrived.

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Very seasonal, this corn dish sat in a broth of shellfish, very concentrated. Excellent flavours here, with some preseved shellfish as well. Corn and shellfish are very symbiotic flavours, and this was just excellent. It tasted so much of the season here in Rhode Island. Excellent.

I like this place, even if it’s a bit tight seating. Solid food, excellent and quick service, friendly folks. I happily drank on more and awaited the third and main course, a tasting of local pork.

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It came and it looked very delicious. Cooked well, the meat was extremely tender and juicy, as well as rich and full. The charred veggies was good in this meaty dish. Very nice. I can see why people like this place.

I relaxed for a bit, chatting with fellow diners before the last course arrived, a strawberry-based dessert.

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Interesting, almost like a compote over some grain-based base… My fellow readers, you know I’m terrible with desserts… But it was tasty, without it being artificially sweet, the natural strawberry was winning here. Nice close.

I had an after-dinner drink as the crowd thinned out. It’s amazing the quality of this dinner at such a low price (under 50 dollars for the 4-course dinner), the kitchen doing the local products very proud here. That corn dish was excellent, and will carry me through a very long day tomorrow on Aquidneck Island.

Excellent, highly recommended — if you can get a spot!

Birch
200 Washington Street
Providence, Rhode Island

Review: Stages at One Washington

24 July 2015

I had to be in New Hampshire as I headed north out of Boston. I didn’t need to be in Concord until the next morning, so I meandered up slowly along the coast. Originally I was going to stop in Portsmouth for the night — it being the twin city of Estonia’s Pärnu — but when I was doing my research I found this place that I’ve never heard of before called Stages at One Washington in Dover. So I decided to stop at this town just north-west of Portsmouth.

I switched my booking to a little earlier in the evening since I was in town already and wanted a good night sleep for an early morning, so I walked down there. One Washington is the location of a historic mill in Dover, now converted into lofts for shops and food and drinks. I eventually found Stages and it looked…abandoned. I walked in, no one is anywhere. Then suddenly Chef Evan Hennessey shows up and seats me at the counter.

He explained to me that they got a last-minute catering gig and all the staff were there, so it was just gonna be him running the restaurant solo. Wow, really? He said there are 2 other couples with bookings, so it’ll be 5 diners and chef — who was pouring water and bringing silverware while explaining the menu options. There were several, a very, very interesting a la carte, but for some reason I went with the 10-course tasting. There was just something about this menu that looked so interesting. And the wine pairing.

Chef acted as sommelier too, pouring the wine. Then one of the couples showed up as he was just starting up cooking my first dish, and they decided to order the same 10-course menu — much to chef’s relief I can imagine! I told him feel free to synch us 3 to make it easier on himself. But he was a pro and worked hard, synching us only at dish 2 and letting me enjoy the first dish first.

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There’s a very nice tomato with some caponata, graced with some basil. One thing chef does is to introduce a lot of fresh herbs into the dishes, cut directly off growing plants in the kitchen. Dish was snappy, fresh and delicious. An excellent start. During the whole time it’s a marvel that chef is doing all the cooking and pouring our wine pairings too…

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He quickly gets back to work and when we finish, he steps in on service too…when have you ever seen a chef at this quality do this unless he was a private chef? A bit surreal…

He returned to cooking and it looked even more interesting. The second dish soon appeared once he finished putting the aster flowers on top.

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Looked brilliant, the artichoke was extremely tasty. I’m not a fan of sunchoke in general (well, mostly for its issues with our digestive system), but worked well in puree. A bit of radish too added to texture and complexity. Another excellent dish that shows off the best of nature.

Chef clears out plates and once again replaces silverware and pours wine and water while he’s cooking our third dish. Hardest working chef in the country I suspect, on this odd night. He’s slicing and cooking and suddenly our third dish was put together.

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It’s a tasting of some excellent potatoes, accompanied by goose yolk. What a rich way to treat the humble potato, in several different methods as you can see, all with that decadent goose yolk. Mmmm, this was just delicious!

I was really loving this dinner so far, and it’s been a celebration of the rich products New Hampshire offers. Now this is the way chefs should treat ingredients, by bringing out the best, not by manipulating them so they no longer have the taste nature intended. I really like how Chef Hennessey designed this menu so far. He happily chatted with us as he worked on our next dish

04-

Now we have a fresh raw oyster bathing in a crab consomme, with some more fresh local radish and other delicious items from the earth. The rich broth brought out a nice touch to the oyster and the radish, which added texture. A fine dish, very happy so far!

Still, chef is still pulling one-man duty cooking our food, bussing our dishes, pouring our new wines from the pairing menu, topping off water, and chatting with us. This man is a wonder, and you can see he’s actually enjoying himself despite doing the job of a whole team. He’s got a lot going for the next dish and we sense the meal is moving to a new stage with dish #5, and I was indeed right.

05-

This dish focuses on cod, bathing in a very well-done oyster sauce. Some strings of dried agretti grace the sauce, but the most interesting side item is the “oyster chip” — which is extremely concentrated and deep tasting, something I can see becoming a huge snack trend in Asia! Cod was fantastic, especially with the rich sauce. Chef did well turning one of the fishes I consider most boring into something very delicious.

At this point one of the staff returned, and you can see chef’s face relax. She took over the FoH duties, and chef could concentrate fully on the food, and the next dish was the most complex one so far.

06-

This dish focused on lamb neck, which was ultra tender from braising, accompanied by flageolet beans and a bit of black trumpet mushrooms (which I love). The richest dish of the night, solidly fabulous!

Chef was still on top of his game despite not having to worry about wines and clearing our dishes, and he worked hard to get the next dish together quickly. He did mention there were 2 more diners coming tonight, so he can’t quite relax even as we reach dish #7.

07-

I was really looking forward to this, the corned beef heart. Excellent preparation, without removing the unique taste of the heart. The small charred kohlrabi was surprisingly delicious too. This chef is a master with simple but tasty vegetable preparations! Excellent, chef has pulled off this meal with skills that few chefs have — not just running the whole restaurant single-handedly for the first half of the meal!

We shift gears a little as we move onto a cheese course of sorts. Vermont has some very interesting cheeses, and chef liked to share these. We watched him there pulling some excellent local chedder, working them non-stop. He then got them ready, plated it and voila…

08a-

Wow, this was kinda wild. With cauliflower essence. Cauliflower worked so, so well here. Wild but rich and fabulous, this is one of the most interesting cheese courses I’ve had in ages. Lovely!

Now the 2 other diners arrived and chef went through the menu options, and they apparently went with the “other” menu — the so-called “Secret 8” menu. This is a menu made from the a la carte menu selections, but just everything — all 8 dishes offered. None of them were the same as the tasting menu’s 10. So chef, by himself, had to execute 18 dishes in this service running solo. Wow.

One of the pleasures now as he simultaneously work on our #9 and their #1 is seeing how he balances things and makes sure all runs smoothly. He gets their first dish out first (which happened to be veal terrine) as he then put our first dessert course together.

09-

Mmm, one of my favourite things, beets. Lovely stuff, with strong flavours. I love beets, and the sorbet was lovely as well. All of us were pretty full so we were enjoying this course slowly — but partly me and the couple next to me wanted to see the other courses too! And in the mean time we saw chef bring out a duck egg and spigiarello (!!!) dish, then after that a small “carbonara” with duck prosciutto. Wow… Remember, it’s only him in the kitchen.

He didn’t forget about our final course, the last dessert, and that soon appeared.

10-

A small tasting of chocolate here. As someone who doesn’t focus on desserts, I was more interested in the other dishes. This dish was nice, but I was watching (and smelling) an awesome oyster stew with various sea vegetables…holy cow, I almost asked if I could do another menu at this point…

I ordered a calvados and just chilled watching the other dishes come for the other diners, drinking really slowly. First was a cusk dish in a green crab dashi, then finally a boar and kohlrabi dish. Oh my goodness, I really need to come back to do the other menu!!!

The last of the others’ food are cheese & dessert so I think I’ve been overwhelmed enough. Did I mention chef was doing everything solo? Wow. I thanked Chef Hennessey profusely and headed out and wandered back to my hotel.

This was one of the best, most interesting tasting menus I’ve had in a long time. It’s unique in approach, focusing on fresh local produce far more than other tasting menus, even more than places like Maaemo. There is a deep love and understanding for the stuff that grows locally by Chef Hennessey, and now I see why he’s rated so highly even though he’s in a hidden-away place like Dover. This guy is damn talented.

And frankly, it’s like having a private chef for a night. Oh, what a night… Beyond recommended, worth a massive detour just for dinner here!

Stages at One Washington
1 Washington Street, Suite 325
Dover, New Hampshire