A few nights ago, Joel and I arrived home to find one of his roommates entertaining several quite intoxicated friends, so we broke out our surplus of 2nd Street Creamery ice cream to share the wealth. (Long story short: I was supposed to receive a sample of eight pints of ice cream. Instead, they accidentally sent eight batches of eight pints. More on our 64-pints-of-ice-cream adventure in a future post.) When we brought out a pint of strawberry rhubarb, one of our new friends was shocked. "No!" he yelled, somewhat belligerently. "I'm from Georgia. Strawberry rhubarb doesn't exist outside of the South!" He refused to believe we were truly holding a pint of strawberry rhubarb until he tasted it, and even then he was suspicious. Then, I told him about a dinner I attended back in May at Summer Winter in Burlington: every course was built around strawberry and rhubarb. "Who ARE you," he asked incredulously, "aside from my new best friend?"
Tucked inside a rather unattractive Marriott hotel in a suburban industrial complex, Summer Winter is truly a hidden gem. The crowning feature is the on-site greenhouse, which is tended by gardener Rachel Kaplan. A greenhouse hidden on a roof deck of a hotel that's part of a huge chain? Practically unheard of, right? Chefs Clark Frasier and Mark Gaier (also of Arrows Restaurant and MC Perkins Cove) sprinkle fresh herbs and vegetables liberally throughout the menu, and on a drizzly evening back in May, they shared their bounty of strawberries and rhubarb with us in a creative multi-course meal with fantastic beer pairings.
We began with a tour of the greenhouse, where plenty of herbs were starting to peek out from the soil. While the chefs and the gardener walked us through their process and philosophy, we sipped strawberry rhubarb margaritas and snacked on strawberries wrapped in Arrows vintage 2010 house-cured prosciutto and fresh mint.
Then, we headed back into the restaurant for the rest of the meal, starting with a strawberry and rhubarb gazpacho with Vietnamese coriander and red onion. It was paired with Allagash White, already one of my preferred light ales. The beer itself is spiced with coriander, so it paired seamlessly with the chilled soup.
In terms of presentation, the next course was quite impressive: cured rhubarb-glazed salmon cooked on a rock with strawberry tea and a rhubarb, daikon, and carrot salad. The salmon was cured but uncooked before touching the hot rock, which was "cooked" in the oven. When the dish was served, the waiters poured hot strawberry tea over the salmon from tiny teapots. While the presentation was beautiful, the taste was also exceptional - plenty of sweetness from the strawberry tea, cut by the tartness of the rhubarb glaze and the coolness of the salad. This course was paired with Cape Ann Sunrise Saison from Gloucester.
The third course had a lot of different things going on, all delicious and all centered around duck (and strawberry and rhubarb, of course): (1) smoked duck breast with duck cracklings, rhubarb chips, and a miners' lettuce salad; (2) duck confit "cube" with strawberry rhubarb gelee and port wine sauce; and (3) saucisson of duck with pickled rhubarb with a strawberry-tarragon mustard and potato pancake. In addition to the beer pairing (Clown Shoes Miracle IPA), this course also came with a small glass of a sparkling sake and strawberry mimosa.
We ended with rhubarb and strawberry gratin with champagne sabayon and a snicker doodle crumble, along with some assorted strawberry and rhubarb treats, paired with Allagash Black, a deliciously dessert-y Belgian-style stout.
I was really pleased with all of the courses, and I wasn't surprised to hear that chefs Mark and Clark have been chosen to compete on the upcoming season of Bravo's Top Chef Masters, which begins later this month. If I find myself in Ogunquit, I plan on trying out one of their other restaurants, Arrows, which has a large garden that influences much of the menu. My dad, who is an extremely picky eater, accompanied me to this dinner and ate every bite of every course, which shows that the chefs' dishes were still accessible despite the creativity, sometimes a difficult balance to strike when picky eaters are concerned. They succeed, though, and it ends up feeling like the right balance for a restaurant that's in a hotel. The menu at Arrows looks a little bit more daring, and I hope I have a chance to try it at some point.
This dinner was complimentary and presented to a group of food writers, bloggers, and their guests. As such, it may not be representative of a normal experience at this restaurant. That said, all opinions expressed are my own, and I was under no obligation to write about the experience.