Cute Food

When we lived in Maine, my partner Mark used to say that you'd get an interesting reaction from the locals – or at least get their attention – if you asked, "Do you know any good loon recipes?"  To someone from New Hampshire or Maine, that's akin to asking the President of the United States if s/he knows any good bald eagle recipes. It goes beyond raising eyebrows – it raises ire!

Well, you get similar reactions from certain people when you admit that you eat "cute" food.  "Certain people" includes some dear friends and, of course, some of you.  As I was thinking of a way to admit to you, dear readers, that I do eat cute food,  I realized that, at some point in my life, I have eaten almost all the favorite and beloved storybook characters of my childhood.  I am embarrassed to name them...

I have dined on Bambi, Thumper, Lambchop, Piglet, Daffy and/or Donald.  From The Little Mermaid, it was Flounder, Sebastian and – if she was, indeed, an octopus – Ursula, the Sea Witch.  (Well, I thought Ursula was cute in an "evil-destroy-the-world" kind of way.)  The hardest one to admit to is Winnie the Pooh.  Yes, I ate bear – bear jerky, in fact – when I was a Boy Scout.  Happily, I have not knowingly eaten Flicka, Nemo, Kanga or Roo.  Or Tigger.  Now, living in the Southwest,  I must admit my relief that there are no adored characters based on quail.  They are just so darned cute.  Dumb, but cute.  Noisy, but cute.  Cute, but tasty. 

So today's recipe is for Grilled Quail with Rhubarb Compote inspired by a recipe from Arrows Restaurant.  We served it with mashed potatoes and a light salad of Belgian endive and parsley, dressed with extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice.  And we ended the meal in our garden with some beautiful, fresh strawberries dipped in Grand Marnier. 

When I first went to Arrows Restaurant, in the seaside village of Ogunquit, Maine, I had no idea what to expect.  I had been hearing about it from friends in Upstate New York for more than a decade, and had seen it praised annually in Gourmet Magazine, Bon Appétit, Saveur and Food & Wine.  And it still seems that every time I turn the page in a magazine devoted to the finer aspects of dining and cuisine, there it is with a "most romantic" or "best meal of my life" description.  When going to Arrows, the experience actually begins in their gardens as you enter – they are exquisite.  The early evening sunlight that filters through the tall pines onto the dahlias and ranunculus is magical.  And the vegetable gardens – from which they cook – are unbelievable!  I highly recommend treating yourself to a meal – a gastronomic experience and a garden stroll – at Arrows Restaurant.  I promise that it will be an evening you will not forget.

During one of my most memorable experiences there, I ordered a quail dish – my first ever.  Delicious, succulent and nary a cartoon character to bring on the guilt.  Soon thereafter, restaurant owners Mark and Clark came out with The Arrows Cookbook which offers many incredible and home-chef-accessible recipes, including one for quail with rhubarb compote.  This weekend, I wanted to grill something light for dinner and there was a little rhubarb left at the local store.  So, here is my version of Arrows' Grilled Quail with Rhubarb Compote.  (Other than rhubarb, the ingredients have been changed to hide the fact that I forgot to check the recipe prior to shopping...)

– David

Grilled Quail with Rhubarb Compote with Endive Salad

4 semi-boneless quail, washed and patted dry
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped rosemary
finely grated zest of a 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon coarsely cracked black pepper

2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh gingerroot
3 medium stalks rhubarb
finely grated zest of a 1/2 lemon (reserve the juice)
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup red wine vinegar

3 Belgian endives
1/2 cup (packed) fresh parsley leaves
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

In a medium non-reactive bowl, mix olive oil, rosemary, lemon zest and pepper.  Add quail and toss to coat.  Marinate in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours, turning occasionally.

Meanwhile, make the rhubarb compote.  In a large saucepan over medium heat, sauté the shallots in the olive oil until translucent.  Do not let brown.  Add the gingerroot and cook an additional minute.  Add the rhubarb, lemon zest, sugar and vinegar and cook over medium heat for 5-10 minutes, or until rhubarb is soft and the mixture has lost its liquid feeling.  Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.

Wash and dry the endive and parsley leaves and toss them together with the lemon juice and olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Preheat a grill to medium-high heat.  Season quail lightly with salt and place on the grill, breast side down.  Cook for 2-3 minutes and turn, cooking an additional 2-3 minutes until juices run clear and meat is cooked through.

Divide salad between two plates and then place two grilled quail to the side of each salad (using one quail per person would make for a nice light luncheon).  Top quail with rhubarb compote and serve.


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