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    Karl is an award winning food writer and restaurant critic for the St. John's daily, The Telegram. His Dining Out column is one of The Weekend Telegram's most popular features. Karl Wells is also host/producer of the very popular Rogers TV show, One Chef One Critic and a restaurant panellist with enRoute magazine. Karl has written for enRoute, Cuisine Canada Blog, Newfoundland Quarterly and other publications. He is a senior judge with Gold Medal Plates and a Canadian Culinary Championship judge.

One 11 Chophouse

Inside One 11 Chophouse

Inside One 11 Chophouse


One 11 Chophouse
Murray Premises
Ph. 738-1011

We now have two restaurants in St. John’s with a name that includes the word chophouse. The latest is One 11 Chophouse, Murray Premises. (The other is St. John’s Chophouse at the corner of Water St. and Baird’s Cove.) As it turns out there’s also a 111 Chophouse in Worcester, Massachusetts. They are not connected. I was told unequivocally by our server that the name resemblance is purely coincidental.

One 11 Chophouse is the invention of St. John’s restaurateur, Emir Mahic. Mahic’s Gypsy Tea Room, also located in the historic premises, has become one of the city’s best known and, by all accounts, most successful eateries. Then there’s his seasonal project, a delightful outdoor courtyard café that has appeared at the Murray Premises for two summers. (Let’s hope there will be more. Summers and cafés!)

Mahic told me a few years ago he had acquired the space formerly occupied by The Hungry Fisherman. He said his idea was to turn it into an upscale steakhouse for business types (I assumed oil industry business types) serving the best quality beef and wine – more Morton’s than The Keg was my impression.

Executive Chef Ken Pittman, One 11 Chophouse

Executive Chef Ken Pittman, One 11 Chophouse

Accomplished
In most ways he appears to have accomplished what he set out to do. It remains to be seen whether One 11 Chophouse will become a haunt for high powered business types. If they’re looking for the kind of food, atmosphere, service and prices they might find in a very good New York or Chicago steak house, then One 11 Chophouse should do nicely.

My dining partner sneaked a peek through the porthole window in the door before entering and whispered, “Posh!” One 11 Chophouse certainly does have that ambiance. It also has a masculine vibe, a target no doubt of decorators who chose serious, plain colours with which to anchor the room. Mind you, the Murray Premises’ mandated rough-hewn interior is not exactly reminiscent of a Parisian drawing room with hostess in haute couture.

Pork belly amuse bouche

Pork belly amuse bouche


One side of the room features banquette seating. Chairs are upholstered with off white fabric in dark frames. Tablecloths abound, as do sparkling stemware and shiny, modern flatware. Walls and ceiling feature brick and wood. The floor is covered in contrasting sections of brown and light grey carpeting. Modern, tastefully subdued, shaded light fixtures create just enough light to read a menu.

A narrow room runs parallel with the main dining area, just behind the wall with banquette seating. It contains a grey, granite topped bar with bar stools and several extra dining tables.

Wine
Sommelier Craig Newman has put together a credible wine list for One 11 Chophouse that, according to our server, will change and grow as time passes. Champagne lovers will be happy to know that the list contains a strong selection ranging from Hebart Brut Blanc to Louis Roederer Cristal Brut 2005.
Serious beef eaters will be impressed by the cuts, their size and price point. The prime quality steaks which the menu describes as being dry aged in the restaurant’s meat locker include a 16 ounce boneless ribeye, $59, 18 ounce bone in ribeye, $49 and 12 ounce striploin, $41. If you and guest are feeling particularly carnivorous try the tomahawk for two. It’s a gargantuan 40 ounce bone in tomahawk steak (sides and sauce included), $111.

The priciest beef at One 11 Chophouse is the Oakleigh Ranch Wagyu offered as bone in ribeye, $12 per ounce (10 ounce minimum) or 10 ounce striploin, $100. With the exception of the wagyu (raised in Australia) all of the restaurant’s beef is sourced in Prince Edward Island. While the land of potatoes and Anne of Green Gables may not be the first place you’d think of for top grade beef, thanks to promoters like Chef Mark McEwan, PEI Blue Dot Beef is acknowledged to be a quality product.

Scallops with mushrooms, grana padano, sunflower seeds, partridgeberries

Scallops with mushrooms, grana padano, sunflower seeds, partridgeberries


Starters
There are a variety of other meats and seafood on the menu, as well as raw or baked oysters. We began with ocean scallops. Three golden seared beauties served on a soft bed of mushrooms, grana padano (hard, grainy Italian cheese) partridgeberries and sunflower seeds. The tart berries goosed up the wobbly tender scallops considerably.
Oxtail cabbage roll with tomato, blackberry and marrow

Oxtail cabbage roll with tomato, blackberry and marrow


The oxtail cabbage roll hearkened back to Auguste Escoffier, who used to do something similar but more elaborate. Shredded from the bone strands of oxtail meat were encased in almost translucent cooked leaves. It looked more raft than roll shape, a raft floating in an alluring dark pond of blackberry, jus, tomatoes and marrow. I decided this had to be the quintessential winter dish for meat eaters. Everything the relentless wind chill had ripped from me was being slowly, lovingly returned.
Tagliatelle with chicken livers and pistachios

Tagliatelle with chicken livers and pistachios


I love chicken livers, a staple of my youth. We’d have them regularly fried in onions with mashed potatoes and corn. Then I learned how to make chicken liver pâté. How sophisticated! It’s been humbling to learn over time that my devotion is shared, in numerous creative ways, by cooks worldwide, especially in Italy. One 11 Chophouse chef, Ken Pittman, seems to favour Italian style cuisine. His chicken liver ragu featured chopped livers simmered in tomatoes, herbs and pistachios tossed with hand cranked tagliatelle. I savoured every glossy liver coated strand. (This dish would have gone brilliantly with several of the wine list’s Tuscans. Perhaps the Sangiovese Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino 2003.)
Japanese marbled pork loin in toasted granola with oxtail jam, pickled mandarin, sprouts and mustard jus

Japanese marbled pork loin in toasted granola with oxtail jam, pickled mandarin, sprouts and mustard jus


Entrées
The chop I became most intrigued with at One 11 Chophouse was from a Japanese pig. As partial as I am to bovine delights the pull of the exotic sounding pig held sway. The menu said it was Japanese marbled pork loin, something I’d never tasted. Our obliging server told me the pork was imported from Ontario. Marbled pork is rare, however, in 1997 the Japanese began marketing a pig with marbled meat called Tokyo-X. It achieved wider fame later when Chef Masaharu Morimoto and colleagues worked with it on Iron Chef.

Pittman’s plate was lively. The pork, encrusted with toasted granola, had been cut and displayed atop a jam of oxtail meat. Dotting the plate in concentric rings were pickled mandarin sections, Brussels sprouts and mustard flavoured jus. I found the introduction of the oxtail unusual, although it provided an interesting contrast in texture and taste against the pork. Maybe that was the idea. Meanwhile, the pork was extraordinary, like nothing I have ever tasted. The aroma, flavours and succulence were genuine. I knew I was tasting a real farm product and not something from one of those breeding warehouses.

Pan seared salmon with roasted corn veloute, smoked paprika, honey, radish, white beans

Pan seared salmon with roasted corn veloute, smoked paprika, honey, radish, white beans


Pan seared char was advertised on the restaurant’s rudimentary website but when we ordered it had been changed to farmed Atlantic salmon, not quite the same but good in a pinch. Although less interesting visually (Why radish garnish?) the plate did offer delicious flavours. The sweet honey lacquered flesh gave way easily when prodded. Hints of smoked paprika, salmon, the bed of earthy white beans and roasted corn velouté all sang one beautiful harmonious song in my mouth.

One 11 Chophouse opened in late December and then endured the blackout of 2014. No doubt minor adjustments will be made in the near future, as with any new restaurant, but from my recent experience I’d say One 11 Chophouse is ready and able to welcome all hungry diners with a taste for quality food and drink.

Rating:
* * *

Price:
Dinner for two with appetizers, wine, tax and tip – $240.00 (approx.)

Sound level:
Low

* Fair * * Good * * * Excellent * * * * Exceptional

Bacalao at the top of its game

Bacalao interior
Bacalao
65 Le Marchant Rd.
St. John’s
Ph. 579-6565

Andrea Maunder and yours truly

Andrea Maunder and yours truly

I’ve known Andrea Maunder, Bacalao’s owner and resident pastry chef since I asked her to be a regular contributor on my Rogers TV show, One Chef One Critic. She’s a friend, but that does not give Bacalao an advantage when I review it.

My editor, regular readers and Maunder (sometimes to her chagrin) know I do not pull any punches for Bacalao, or any restaurant, despite friendships, preferential treatment or offers of complimentary dishes or drinks, rare as they are.

So, why this preamble? It’s because what follows is a very different assessment of Bacalao from those I have given on three previous occasions. And, I want to underline that everything I am about to say comes from a true place – as scrupulously objective a place as possible.

We (spouse and I) dined at Bacalao last Saturday. Our friend Bill came with us. The front three dining rooms were full and we were about to pretty much fill the fourth room at the rear of the restaurant, across from a bustling kitchen.

Bacalao exteriorBy the time we were seated it was clear to me that an intangible quality I’d never felt before at Bacalao was present. It was what some might call the buzz of a hot restaurant. But why, after seven years, was I feeling this incredible buzz, vibe, or whatever you want to call it? Over the course of the evening I would eventually discover the answer.

Drinks
First, drinks were ordered: bakeapple mojito, glass of house

Maunder's bakeapple mojito

Maunder’s bakeapple mojito

sauvignon blanc and a bottle of Chateau Smith cabernet sauvignon from Washington for the table. The mojito, in a sugar rimmed highball glass and dressed with lime wedge, was golden, light and pétillant. A handful of bakeapples floated on top, like perfect orange coloured clouds reigning over a golden sunset.

The mojito was made with Newfoundlanders rum, bakeapple and mint syrup, club soda and a dash of bitters. Despite the syrup, most of the sweetness came from the sugary rim and I liked that. The taste of the premium quality rum was at the fore, with the berry flavour occupying a firm but lessor spot in the background.

Chateau smithOur wine was new to me. I ordered the Chateau Smith from Charles Smith Wines because I like cabernet sauvignon and because I know that there are some very good wineries in the state of Washington. The Chateau Smith cab was deep, smooth and fruity. I tasted lots of cherry, chocolate and a whisper of vanilla. We all agreed it was a commendable vino.

Maunder is the definition of a hands-on owner but, in my view, her great contribution is in selecting wines and spirits for Bacalao. Her martinis and cocktails are fun and inventive and Bacalao’s wine list features over one hundred highly drinkable wines. A separate specialty wine list contains approximately 25 more choices.

Cured Atlantic salmon with eggplant puree

Cured Atlantic salmon with eggplant puree


Starters
Bacalao is still offering a menu with a range of seafood, meats and wild game. The emphasis on regional products is stronger than ever. Our amuse bouche of cured Atlantic salmon was served on ceramic spoons. A thin round of crostini leaned against the small curl of salmon, underneath which was a soupçon of eggplant purée. The fish snuggled up to the perky, slightly smoky purée for a reason. Together they were the perfect duo, each making the other taste miles better. Poor crostini was rendered surplus to requirements.

Crab and avocado salad

Crab and avocado salad

Newfoundland snow crab was featured in the appetizer special. The rectangular plate had a busy arrangement of green and crab on one side, and a simple quenelle of tomato flavoured mousse on the other. The green was a chiffonade of romaine on which sat half a pitted avocado filled with crab meat. Cascading downward over all was a creamy, herb scented lemonette. This was a fresh, well-crafted and thoughtfully scented plate.
Basques style calamari

Basques style calamari


Basques style calamari was cut to resemble cooked udon noodles. Then it was flash cooked on a pan and served with a combination of chilies, tomato, onion and bell pepper. I’ve seldom tasted calamari prepared so well. It was unusually tender and the red mixture accompaniment could not have complemented better.

Seal meat appetizer

Seal meat appetizer

It’s seal flipper time in Newfoundland and Bacalao answered the call by preparing mini seal flipper pies. A small ramekin contained a stew of seal meat and diced root vegetables covered with a biscuit of pastry. The seal meat had been braised in red wine, rosemary, nutmeg, garlic and allspice for 12 to 14 hours.

I’ve been eating seal meat since I was a young child. Bacalao’s appetizer tasted exactly right to me. The seal carried no wuffy aroma or taste. It had been properly defatted, and tasted like the clean, robust wild game that it is.

Monkfish and salmon

Monkfish and salmon


Mains
The catch of the day entrée celebrated two delicious but different fish: monkfish and Atlantic salmon. The living species are a contrast in appearance and their flesh contrasts as well. A few precious slices of pan seared monkfish sat on a square of baked polenta. A cutlet of pan seared salmon fillet almost seemed to be afloat on a serving of butternut purée.

In between and surrounding the pieces of fish was a slice of roasted fennel, green beans and cooked tomato. A thin trail of red wine sauce also decorated the plate. Both servings of seafood, being either robust in texture (monkfish) or flavour (salmon) held up well with the hardy wine sauce. This was a formidable dish. Honourable mention goes to the exquisitely crispy skin covering the salmon.

Local duck duo

Local duck duo


Duck fanciers will be pleased when they taste Bacalao’s local duck duo. The duck (I’m not sure what type) was raised by a farmer in the Grand Falls-Windsor area. It’s a wonderful product. Such duck deserves special treatment by cooks and that’s what it got. There was the succulent breast and a portion of rich, tender duck leg confit galette.

An accompaniment of butternut squash spätzle with peas and sweet and sour apple spice braised red cabbage provided contrasting texture and accent. The finishing touch was an excellent aromatic Asian inspired red curry sauce made viscous and even better with coconut milk.

Bacalao's lamb entrée

Bacalao’s lamb entrée


Lamb was the substitute game of the day that evening. I wasn’t complaining. The dish presented a delicate rack of New Zealand’s finest along with a tender slice of local lamb shoulder. There was even some flavourful local pulled lamb meat in the Newfoundland mushroom risotto underneath. A sauce of international lamb juices painted the remainder of the plate. It was yet another brilliantly executed dish that honoured the ingredients, the diner and the kitchen that prepared it.

The answer
Creating a popular or hot restaurant requires assembling certain ingredients and making sure they all work together in a harmonious way. It’s like putting the pieces of a difficult puzzle together. Unless that last piece fits snugly, the end result is diminished.

Bacalao's Ivan Kyutukchiev

Bacalao’s Ivan Kyutukchiev

Andrea Maunder has worked tirelessly to make Bacalao a remarkable restaurant, one that perfectly fit her vision as an eatery that would celebrate our local ingredients and our cuisine in a new, sophisticated way. But there was one element lacking. A cohesive, highly talented and thoroughly skilled kitchen brigade that could realize her vision.

To her credit she has completed the puzzle and it is marvelous. How did she do it? By promoting Ivan Kyutukchiev to be Bacalao’s Executive Chef, the general in her kitchen. Kyutukchiev is one of the most gifted chefs I know. Bacalao will be good for him and he will be good for Bacalao. See for yourself while you can still get a dinner reservation. You will be amazed.

Know as well that, as of today, Bacalao receives a four star rating from me.

Rating:
* * * *

Price:
Dinner for two with wine, tax and tip – $190.00 (approx.)

Sound level:
Moderate

* Fair * * Good * * * Excellent * * * * Exceptional

Kosher comfort

Jewish deli art two
Some hits and misses at second Jewish deli pop-up

Pop-up restaurants are yesterday’s news in most cities. When St. John’s chefs finally clued in only a few were interested enough to do one. Several cooks from Raymonds did a pop-up last year at a Duckworth Street venue, Todd Perrin did sort of one at Mallard Cottage before it officially opened, and chefs have gotten together with Roary MacPherson at the Sheraton to do what they’ve called pop-ups as fundraisers for various causes. More power to all of them for trying.

Jonathan Richler

Jonathan Richler

Then there’s the group who can’t say no to smoking brisket for profit. Jonathan Richler, an avid foodie, along with a few of his buddies – trained cooks Adam Blanchard of Five Brothers Cheese and David Williams of Get Stuffed – have pulled off their second Jewish deli pop-up. (Thanks partly to Chinched which rented them space.)

I’ve known Richler for over 10 years. He’s a Jew with a passionate interest in Jewish history and culture. I’ve interviewed him several times about everything from Jewish religious holidays to Jewish cuisine. Being me, my ears always pricked up when Jonathan would describe a traditional recipe for juicy baked chicken, or some other Jewish dish.

Logical fit
Richler has scads of energy, he loves people and likes to have fun. Add to that his interest in food and educating people about Jewish culture, andKatz's poster a Jewish deli pop-up seems a logical fit. After all, the Jewish deli has made a wondrous contribution to world cuisine since the first one opened (Katz’s according to author Ted Merwin in Pastrami on Rye) on New York’s Lower East Side in 1888.

Delis aren’t as popular as they used to be. During their heyday I ate dozens of times at Ben’s, Schwartz’s, and Dunn’s in Montreal. I still crave Ben’s thinly sliced smoked meat on rye (not to mention the cheesecake) but, sadly, it’s something I’ll never taste again. Ben’s is gone and most others are a pale imitation of what they used to be. Last year I ate at the Carnegie Deli in New York. It, like New York, is still awesome.

Doing a reasonable interpretation of Jewish deli food in St. John’s is a tall order. On the basics Richler and company did a good job. A few items were not quite up to par, and there was one surprising fail. Perhaps the overwhelming turnout for the pop-up caused pressure that resulted in the lapses.

Time
We were seated at 4 p.m. at the one day restaurant that would disappear like Brigadoon at 9:30 or so that night (Sun., May 18). If the deli ever pops again you’ll need to set aside 2 1/2 hours for dining in. It’s not produced in deli time, but then such rare experiences should be savoured not rushed. A less expensive take-out option (with less food) was also available – $30 as opposed to $40 for dine-in.

cherry coke clip artPop-ups don’t sell booze so we were offered standard non-alcoholic beverages with one drink slightly altered. It was deli cherry Coke, made by adding a little cherry syrup. That’s what I ordered.

A plate of appetite starters for two included chopped liver, dried chanterelles and potato knishes, pickled red pepper, pickled fennel, Israeli pickles, and matzo crackers. The chopped liver was food processor smooth and had lots of oniony flavour. I didn’t taste or spot any bits of the oft employed hard cooked eggs though.
SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES
Give me a pile of chopped liver on a matzo cracker that I can wash down with cherry Coke (or was that cherry Pepsi?) and I’m happy. The pickles and pickled veggies were brilliant but the knishes were not.

Indelicate pastry
I like flakey, tender pastry and, if not flakey, it must at least be tender. Fillings should also be substantial. Here we had indelicate pastry with scant filling. What I could taste of the filling did have potential. The earthy, dried chanterelles had been rehydrated and blended with potato. Mt. Scio savoury in the knishes was a nice idea, and (quite correctly) the pungent herb was used sparingly.
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Here’s the thing about matzo ball (dumpling) soup. Three balls is acceptable in a rich, schmaltzy broth. (Schmaltz is chicken fat and is essential in good Jewish cooking.) If you only have two balls per bowl they should be extra big balls. Like golf balls. Or, you should add some vegetables or noodles, or both.

Our plain broth had excellent, smoke tinged flavour but was not schmaltzy. In fact, it was so lean you could freeze it and skate on it. The savoury flecked matzo balls were lonely, small and dense. Large, light and airy is preferable. An old Jewish proverb says, “Worries go down better with soup.” But the soup must have substance, or your worries will catch in your throat.

Jewish Deli smoked meat sandwich

Jewish Deli smoked meat sandwich

The smoked meat in my smoked meat on rye was good. It was also black and crisp at the edges. Like all proper deli smoked meat sandwiches it was fatty. (Jewish cuisine is meant to build you up.) But it could have been moister. Several slices were dry.

The surprising fail I mentioned earlier referred to the fries that came with my sandwich. The menu talked about pickled turnip and potato fries. Pickled turnips I knew, but as fries?

UFO’s
Anyway, it didn’t matter because all of the fries were UFO’s, unidentifiable frying objects. (Wait, is that one sweet potato? Is that undercooked turnip?) It was mostly a mass of black, scrawny, tasteless dreck. I asked David Williams about them. I held out hope for some logical explanation. He said he’d get back to me but didn’t.

Jewish deli chicken schnitzel on bagel

Jewish deli chicken schnitzel on bagel


By far the best savoury (and I don’t mean the herb) plate of the day was the chicken schnitzel on bagel with coleslaw, potato salad and pink pickled egg. The modestly creamy coleslaw was crunchy and fresh tasting. I enjoyed the addition of a few strands of salt meat on top. A little meat always makes vegetables taste more interesting.
Jewish clip art two
The so-called German potato salad was too bland for German salad. Where was that yin-yang of the sugar and vinegar? The pink pickled egg made up for the low seasoning of the salad. I’ve now resolved to eat more pickled eggs and pickled things in general. (I remember when a friend operated a pub on Cochrane St. One highlight of my visits was treating myself to a pickled egg from the large Warren’s jar on the bar. Do bars have pickled eggs anymore?)

Star sandwich
A Georgetown bagel with egg washed, breaded and crispy fried chicken breast meat between it was the star of the plate. I think Georgetown bagels are made too small (have you noticed?) but at least they taste right. The bagel, the chicken and the schmaltz mayo were close to perfection.

Jewish deli chocolate rugelach

Jewish deli chocolate rugelach

I was more impressed by the scoop of vanilla ice cream than by the chocolate rugelach underneath it. Most likely the ice cream was from Chinched but the maker was not identified. The rugelach was a tad dry. Nevertheless, the chocolate, vanilla and pastry together made a good team.

One heavenly blintz filled with cottage cheese and napped with blueberry sauce ended our meal. It was extraordinary, and, as full as my belly was, I could have eaten several more. The pancake was light, the sauce bright and the milky, slightly sharp, chewy cheese was the ultimate counterpoint to the soft pancake and sweet berry condiment.

Jewish deli cheese blintz

Jewish deli cheese blintz


Jewish pop-up deli, the second, was good. Let’s hope number three will be better.

Rating:
* *
Price:
Lunch for two with one cherry Coke and tip – $96.00

Sound level:
High

* Fair * * Good * * * Excellent * * * * Exceptional

Jewish Deli menu, 2014