We had dinner with friends a few weeks ago at M C Perkins Cove, in Ogunquit, the bistro opened last year by Mark Gaier and Clark Frazier (always referred to around here as "Mark and Clark," hence the M C name), the owners and chefs at Arrows, also in Ogunquit, one of the only destination restaurants in Maine. Arrows was anointed as one of the top 50 restaurants in America in 2001 by Gourmet and nominated last year for a James Beard award. On their website there's a long list of other awards and rave notices. Mark and Clark met while working under Jeremiah Towers at Stars in San Francisco, and they brought to Maine the San Francisco mantra: fresh & local, fresh & local, fresh & local... While the climate here puts the idea of totally local a bit out of reach, they do cure their own meats (from local suppliers), make all their breads and desserts in-house, and supply most of the produce and herbs for the restaurants from their garden, which surrounds the Arrows property.
While the concept of M C Perkins is "casual upscale American bistro," the quality and style of the Arrows operation inevitably shines though. In a beautifully designed restaurant like this, with a fabulous view of the surf crashing on the rocks along the Marginal Way, exquisite appointments, stylish accessories and attentive service, it's almost a surprise to find such standard fare as hamburgers, fries, fish and chips and a roast turkey sandwich on the menu. Of course there are also steaks and grilled fish available, which are accompanied by sides selected by the diners from lists of "Evil Carbos" and "Virtuous Vegetables." Plates are designed carefully, but with simplicity, and while the food looks artful when it arrives there's no fussiness.
Given that background, a radicchio gratin we selected for one of our Virtuous Vegetables was a real shock to me, because when it arrived at the table it was so lacking in visual appeal. I was impressed that such an ugly duckling would appear on their menu at all, and at the same time attracted to it by my instant assumption that if it's that unpretty it must be a taste triumph to survive in a place like this. After all, once the radicchio has been fired the magenta streaks lose their brilliance, the leaves look shriveled and wilted, and the food just lies there on the plate, flattened and limp from the heat. But the flavor of the dish, with cheese and onions and the characteristic bitterness of the radicchio, was very interesting, and it paired well with the grilled cod and trout dishes that most of us had ordered, and particularly well with a deep fried chicken that had been marinated with orange, star anise and ginger.
A few days later I had to try to make it at home. I don't usually make notes while dining at restaurants, so I doubt that my version is all that close to the M C dish, but the essential elements of roasted radicchio, onions and cheese are definitely present so the experiment was deemed a success around our table. (Leftovers, by the way, served well a few days later when cut into bite-sized pieces and added to a simple salad of baby spinach, tomatoes, goat cheese and toasted pine nuts. )
(inspired by a similar dish at M C Perkins Cove, Ogunquit ME)
1/3 C olive oil
2 T balsamic vinegar
1 tsp lemon zest
4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1 T rosemary, chopped
salt, hot sauce to taste
1 head radicchio, dry exterior leaves and root-end removed
1 medium red onion, sliced vertically into thin crescents
1/4 C fresh plain goat cheese, crumbled
2 0z Parmeggiano Reggiano
Cut the radicchio through the root into 8 spears. Combine the olive oil, vinegar, zest, garlic and rosemary to make a marinade. Season to taste and pour the marinade over the radicchio and onions and marinate for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Drain.
Arrange the radicchio and onions in an oiled fireproof dish and sprinkle with a little salt. Broil about 5" from the heat for about 6 minutes, turning once. The edges of the radicchio should just be starting to brown.
Scatter on the goat cheese and then use a vegetable peeler to shave the parmesan cheese over the hot radicchio. Serve immediately.
Note: after I posted this I became aware that The Arrows Cookbook (which I haven't seen yet) has a recipe for
Radicchio Gratin with Gruyère Cheese and Bacon. (Hmmm...bacon....why didn't I think of that...?) I ordered a copy...