9.27.2014

Decisions. Decisions.

Recently, we were visiting Mark's 93-year-old mother in Lenox, Massachusetts, nestled in the beautiful Berkshire Mountains. (Apologies to all friends in the area - we really needed to spend time with Dorothy/Mom and are so sorry we couldn't see you!)

We took Dorothy to the Clark Art Institute; they have an incredible collection.
Lenox is home to one of our favorite restaurants, Bistro Zinc, about which I wrote last year when I made the Coq au Vin. Since then, I read a post from my friend John Bek who writes He Needs Food in Sydney, Australia. He had taken a wonderful tour through New England that included Lenox. If you are touring New England, you really need to check out his series for great restaurant ideas!

It was beautiful, fully in bloom, and redolent of floral fragrances and sweetgrass.
Note: This is not Markipedia's childhood home; it is Edith Wharton's summer cottage, The Mount, and is definitely worth a visit.
Aside from needing food, John really knows food (and is an amazing photographer) so when he recommends something, I pay attention. In Lenox he ate at Alta Restaurant & Wine Bar on Church Street, so we did as well.

We were warmly greeted by the friendly staff (even without a reservation in high season) and were shown to the corner of the bar, as all tables were reserved. We didn't mind at all, as the server was wonderful and the bar itself beautiful.

It was late-ish and we weren't up for a big meal, so we opted to split both a main course and a salad. I knew John ordered and loved their signature dish of duck with salted caramel sauce, and I was ready to order it myself. But then I spied the lamb tagine.

Decisions, Decisions.

I could easily have had the duck but, when I asked Mark if anything in particular tickled his palate, he said he had seen the tagine instantly and was unable to think of anything else. The decision was made.

Alta’s Lamb Tagine is made with pomegranate molasses, dried apricots, and exotic spices, and is served with stewed vegetables over perfectly cooked couscous. It is a beautiful dish in every way. Our bartender/server, recommended a fantastic 2013 Domaine Houchart rosé from Provence. Mark opted for a gin and tonic made with Greylock Gin, make locally in the Berkshire Mountains.

The Alta Salad is comprised of local mixed greens, Vermont goat cheese, kalamata olives, and tomatoes, all tossed lightly with a balsamic vinaigrette. The perfect ending.

Sometimes decisions are difficult, but this decision had its benefits, too. Dave Pratt, the Assistant Manager, told me that the duck recipe was available and already in print through Edible Berkshires Magazine. The lamb, however, was not. I feel like we made the right decision.

This wine was perfect with the lamb, but I don't think would hold up to the duck.
I made the duck at home and we all loved it. The dark caramel sauce was not overly sweet, and was the perfect foil for the rich duck meat. I now pass the recipe on to you!

~ David

Duck with Salted Caramel Sauce
Chef Benjamin Daire of Alta Restaurant & Wine Bar
My notes are in red.

The Duck
6 (8-ounce) duck breasts (I was only able to get 5-ounce breasts)

Trim the excess duck fat. Season with salt and pepper (on both sides). Pan-sear duck on fat side for 6 minutes on medium heat (4 minutes for smaller breasts); turn breasts skin side up and finish in the oven at 350°, 12–15 minutes for medium- rare (6-7 minutes for smaller breasts).

The Mashed Potatoes
2 pounds Russet potatoes
1 tablespoon salt
1 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons butter

Cut the potatoes in quarters. Cover with cold salted water. When water boils reduce to simmer. Cover pot, cook till fork tender 10-12 minutes. (Mine weren't tender until about 16 minutes.) Strain, return to pot, add cream, butter and mash the potatoes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

The Green Beans
1 pound green beans
1 small red onion, chopped
1 pint cherry tomatoes, each cut in half
extra virgin olive oil, for sautéeing

Boil salted water to blanch the green beans. Cook 3 to 4 minutes or until crisp-tender, chill them in ice water. Sauté onions in a little olive oil until tender. Add cherry tomatoes and green beans. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

The Caramel Sauce
1 cup granulated sugar
¼ cup cold water
6 tablespoon butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup whole milk
½ cup heavy cream


Combine sugar and water in an heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook until deep amber color, about 7–8 minutes. (I suggest a medium amber color.) Remove from heat. Whisk in salt. Quickly and carefully whisk heavy cream and milk into the caramel.

To Serve
Arrange plate with mashed potatoes on the bottom, slice duck breast and place to one side, beans and tomatoes to the other side, all drizzled artfully with the sauce. "Artful" is in the eye of the beholder.

NOTES: Actually, this is a fairly simple recipe with lots of moving parts. If you have kitchen staff, it would be a breeze. I recommend making the potatoes and beans first, and then reheating them just before serving. 

Have all the ingredients for the caramel sauce measured and ready to go. Once the seared breasts go in the oven, start the caramel. It will be finished at about the same tiem as the duck. 

About Alta Wine Bar & Restaurant

Alta co-owner and manager Aurelien Telle was not there that evening, but graciously responded to my email after our visit, and had recalled John's autumnal visit. Aurelien first came to the United States almost 15 years ago. After finishing his studies at the famous Hotel & restaurant Management school of Thonon-les-Bains in France he decided to accept an offer as a Maitre D’ at the Wheatleigh Hotel - a sumptuous gilded-age "cottage" in Lenox - where he stayed for 4 years. He then moved on to be the General Manager of Spice in Pittsfield overseeing the operation of the restaurant. And in May of 2007 he embarked with his 2 business partners in opening Alta Restaurant & Wine Bar.

Benjamin Daire, Executive Chef, joined the Alta team in October of 2011. He is originally from France and has an extensive culinary background having worked for some of the best French Chefs, such as Michel Rostang in Paris. Prior to his position at Alta, he was Sous Chef of (now closed) Spigalina Restaurant in Lenox. Benjamin takes a lot of pride in working with local farms and producers and changing his menu with the seasons.

Assistant manager Dave Pratt holds a bachelor in Hospitality Management from the University of Massachusetts. He previously worked at the historic Red Lion Inn in nearby Stockbridge for many years before moving to Colorado. He returned and joined the team at Alta during the summer of 2008.

In my office, we always wear pink on Wednesdays (Mean Girls, you know).
This young man got it, but also made sure we knew that he was
wearing pink to support his friends with breast cancer. We get it.

26 comments:

  1. Excellent, a great time had by All!

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  2. I will admit I've never been one for duck but I love the sound of this dish particularly the sides!

    Oh and I visited Lenox & Stockbridge for the first time ever this summer - what a magical place!

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    1. I am sure this would be really good with turkey or chicken, too. Oh, and quail!

      Glad you got to the Berkshires. Funny thing is that every time I go to West Stockbridge, I stop into Baldwin's and get their vanilla. But now that I will be making my own vanilla (thanks to you) I may not need to go anymore. :)

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  3. It really was a lovely meal we had at Alta, and I'm chuffed that the co-owner/manager recalls when we were there. Pity we couldn't stay in town longer. Thank's for the mention, David!

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    1. John - I would think that touring around like you and Dean did would be really fun, but also really exhausting. I am getting to the point where I just want to stay put for longer periods of time when I travel. Happy to give you a shout out - more people should be reading you. :)

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  4. Both the Tagine and the duck sound like they are bursting with flavors. I'd have a hard time deciding as well. I love sitting at a bar when there are just 2. So cozy. :-)

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    1. I like that, too, Valentina. Somehow it seems much more intimate - the whole idea of being alone in a crowd. I especially enjoyed that we had the corner of the bar.

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  5. Hi David, my husband and I met you on the train to Portland. I tried to email you but it said your address was invalid? I hope you arte both well. I thought of you as the new Ottolenghi book is out and we were both admiring him a lot! The courgette bab ganoush is unreal. Say hi to Mark too. Erin xx

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    1. Hi, Erin! It is great to hear from you. We both really enjoyed our meal with you, and kept thinking we might see you in Portland. Hope your Airbnb place worked out well - ours did! Plenty More might not be available here yet - but I am going to check right now. :) My email is cocoaandlavender@gmail.com - which address did you try? I hope you had fun on your honeymoon, and it was great fun meet you. Hugs form us both, David

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  6. Hi David! This looks wonderful and so glad you had a great trip! I'm not much for duck, since I can't even really handle dark chicken meat!
    The salted caramel sauce on the duck sounds amazing though, great combo.
    Btw, did you get my last post in your inbox? I'm hearing it went to junk for many, including me! I just don't know how to fix the whole spam issue with emails. ***sigh***

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    1. Haha! Nazneen - I never realized how many people out there don't eat duck! I sure found out this weekend! I guess since I can't eat garlic, I can't be picky about anything else! :)

      I sent you an email about your post - glad you let me know it is there. I didn't get it, and it looks really good! Have a great week, and I hope you get this resolved.

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  7. I love eating at the bar. So much easier to get a drink (wink wink). GREG

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  8. Hi David,we are so happy you all had a great time...and that family picture just made us so nostalgic of our Grandma....thanks for posting such a beautiful post and such a delightful recipe....salted caramel must taste delicious with duck....the closest dish we have tasted is a spicy-caramel cooked chicken which mum used to make years ago....we just imagine how perfect this dish would have tasted,thanks...HAVE A BEAUTIFUL DAY!!! :-)

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    1. Ooohhh... the spicy-caramel cooked chicken sounds amazing. I would love that recipe! :) I am glad this brought back good memories for you of your Grandma!

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  9. Hi David, the salted caramel sauce sounds amazing, as does all your accompaniments. Dinner at your house must be grand!

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    1. I have to admit, that we don't suffer too badly here, Cheri! But I am thinking you don't suffer much either in your house! :)

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  10. David, not only does this sound like a wonderful place to dine at but the recipe looks out of this world delicious as well - the only other recipe similar that I made before was for Caramel Chicken from Andrew Carmellini (I have one of his cookboks) - so I know this duck recipe must taste fabulous! How nice that you got to spend time with Mark´s mum!
    Ganz liebe Grüsse aus dem sonnigen Bonn,
    Andrea

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    1. I will have to look fro Andrew Carmellini's cookbooks! That chicken sounds fabulous, too. Thanks fro that tip, Andrea!

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  11. Duck w salted caramel sauce?!
    That is WILD, D!
    Thanks for sharing the recipe. Might try it w chicken this week.

    And thanks for supporting us Pinkies at your office every Wednesday. xoxo

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    1. Oh, Colette - here I sit in a BLUE shirt today! I was just so tired that I completely forgot it was Wednesday. I will wear pink tomorrow just for you!!

      Let me know how it is with the chicken! xo

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  12. Sounds like you made the right choice: the tagine sounded amazing and looks like your reproduction of the duck turned out pretty darn fine too! That is so nice that you were able to spend time with Mark's mom.

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    1. Thanks, Fiona - it was a really nice visit with a bonus recipe :)

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