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Subtle Signs of Spring



Joseph Wood Krutch, a Tennessee-born naturalist, once wrote: 'The most serious charge which can be brought against New England is not Puritanism but February." My loyal gardening companion, Max the golden retriever, and I beg to differ. After putting the gardens to bed in December, and being cooped up indoors for the better part of January, we have begun making daily forays outdoors and are happy to report that the signs of spring, while subtle, are everywhere.

Our first task each year is to pick up the tree limbs and branches that have fallen down during winter storms. This entails firing up the tractor, an event near and dear to Max's heart as it allows him to race alongside as we haul load after load of debris to our woodpile. When the snow begins to melt, Max is also able to rediscover his prized collection of sticks that he deposited around the property last fall and resume his favorite pastime of all-- playing fetch. Our next order of business is pruning the fruit trees followed by cleaning all of the pots and trays in which we will begin planting seedlings in earnest next month. The first snowdrops have poked their heads through the lawn, and an advance guard of red-winged blackbirds arrived yesterday afternoon as raucous and colorful as ever. But, above all else, the days are getting unmistakably longer and the strength of the sunlight palpably stronger which reignites all of the greens we planted in high tunnels and cold frames last fall and starts the growing cycle anew. I cannot imagine anything more reassuring or uplifting, a sentiment also captured by Krutch in the following passage: "God looked upon the world and found that it was good. How great is the happiness of being able, even for a moment, to agree with Him."

Kara and I want to thank everyone for joining us for Valentine's Day which turned out to be the busiest weekend ever at Still River Café. The dining room was filled with laughter, happiness and, of course, love, which is something we strive for every night. The six-course tasting menu was very well received as has been the nine-course tasting menu we offer every weekend. Please keep it in mind if you have an upcoming special occasion or are just looking for a culinary treat.

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             Posted February 17, 2010

Burrata

Although neither Kara nor I believe in worshipping food, there is no question that dining out can, on occasion, be a near religious experience.

We had one such meal a few years ago at a small Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village. It was one of those achingly beautiful and languorous days in late October, the unexpected warmth and sunshine serving both as a reminder of the glories of the prior summer and a portent of the cold weather to follow. All of New York City seemed to be held in its spell, and the sidewalks were full of people looking for any excuse to avoid returning indoors to offices and apartments.

We were still practicing law at the time and, having finished some depositions much earlier than expected, were in no particular hurry to catch our train back to Connecticut. We walked around the West Village for a while and eventually found ourselves on Sixth Avenue. After popping into the old Balducci's to stock up on some hard-to-find gourmet supplies, we wandered south past the IFC Center and the outdoor basketball courts until we came to a small Italian trattoria-- better known as a celebrity hangout than a restaurant-- called Da Silvano. There was a table for two available on the sidewalk that looked particularly inviting so we sat down, ordered a glass of prosecco and began our lunch.

Truth be told, I do not recall many of the particulars of what we ate that day. There was pasta, of course, followed by fish and a couple of bottles of wine (we weren't driving home, after all), but the star of the show was an incredibly delicate and creamy burrata cheese freshly imported from Puglia. It was served simply with extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of sea salt. When a waiter appeared a few minutes later with an enormous white truffle and asked if we would like a few shavings on our cheese, we were so happy and content that we would have agreed to anything. This was followed by a second round of burrata and a return trip by the waiter. Would we like some more white truffles? Si grazie.

We have long since repressed the cost of that lunch. The burrata, on the other hand, has remained indelibly etched in our minds, and Kara has been on a mission to replicate it here at Still River Café. She recently decided to include it on our tasting menu, and the details about how she accomplished this feat follow. Be forewarned: it takes a lot of perseverance and the kind of visual and tactile judgments that can only be learned through trial and error to get burrata right. It also requires fresh cow's milk that we have the good fortune of being able to get from a local farm - Bradway Farm in Union, CT, which has been operated by the same family for nearly 120 years.

In the interest of full disclosure, it should also be pointed out that Kara's early attempts were not promising. The outer shell had the consistency of Silly Putty and made a squeaking sound when it was chewed. Happily, her hard work eventually paid off, and the results are simply astonishing. It takes us back to that golden afternoon in New York City when we knew in our hearts that all was well with the world.

Burrata: Step by Step - you can also view a slideshow here

 

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             Posted January 11, 2010

Best Overall Restaurant in Connecticut!!

Thanks to everyone who voted us the Best Restaurant in Connecticut in Conecticut Magazine's 32 Annual Readers' Choice Awards!

Best Overall
Statewide Winner

Best Hidden Gem
Statewide Winner
Best Desserts
Statewide Runner-Up


Best Overall Restaurant
Best American
Most Romantic
Best Brunch
Best Service
Best Appetizers
Best Desserts
Best Hidden Gem

Windham County

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             Posted December 24, 2009

From the Garden:

The winter solstice is just three weeks away, but you wouldn't know it from the looks of our gardens. We have made extensive use of "floating covers' this fall-lightweight polypropylene mesh stretched over thin wire hoops-which, coupled with the most glorious stretch of October and November weather we have ever seen, has prolonged the growing season for carrots, radishes, beets, chard, turnips, kohlrabi, radicchio and all manner of salad greens. The produce, for its part, seems to relish its extended lease on life and is fresher and more delicious than at any other time of year.

My constant gardening companion and produce sampler, Max, has also enjoyed the extra outdoor time. He and I haven't figured out what we are going to do with ourselves once the snow falls.

We were the beneficiaries of an unexpected and somewhat anomalous supply of late season tomatoes courtesy of a "volunteer" tomato plant that sprouted up in a corner of our greenhouse. Given the disastrous results of our outdoor crop this summer, I couldn't bring myself to remove it and watched with fascination as it grew to enormous proportions and took over the entire space. In the end, this single plant produced over four dozen tomatoes and restored our faith that tomatoes can and will grow in New England again. It was therefore with a mixture of sadness and gratitude bordering on reverence that I finally got around to pulling it last week and adding it to the compost pile.

Kara has taken full advantage of our bountiful fall harvest to produce some really wonderful dishes including a "From the Garden" salad for our 10-course Chef's Tasting Menu consisting of beet tartare with golden beet yolk, baby greens with miso vinaigrette, sake braised baby fennel, warm confit of turnip and rutabaga, Tuscan kale crisp, compressed pear, fingerling chips, almond, arugula and basil "grass", Bush Meadow Farm goat cheese and roasted pepper fritter.

Kara's culinary artistry is also on display in a feature article in the latest issue of Art Culinaire, a beautiful, lavishly-photographed magazine that is the gold standard in the food world. It is an honor to be included in a publication that typically profiles the likes of Batali, Bocuse and Boulud-- just to pick a few chefs whose last names begin with the letter "B."

It seems hard to believe that the holiday season is here again. We had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner with our family last week, a reminder of what is really important about the holidays as we braced for the madness of Black Friday, price wars between Walmart and Amazon and non-stop ads featuring diamonds or imported cars with big red bows. In the end, of course, our greatest gifts are family and friends. Kara and I wish you and yours the happiest of holiday seasons.

 

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             Posted December 2, 2009

Visions of a Tasting Menu:

Join us on Facebook where we share some images from our new Chef's Tasting Menu - click here

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             Posted September 20, 2009

Reflections on a Summer that Almost Wasn't:

Gardening, like life, is about relationships, and the relati onship between a grower and his or her gardens is analogous to a family: the soil, the heart and soul of the matter, is like a marriage, requiring a lifetime commitment and a 100% investment of heart and soul; the plants are like children, a glimmer in the grower's eye while perusing seed catalogues in the depth of winter only to emerge miraculously from seed in the early spring and thereafter be protected and nourished as young transplants through healthy adulthood; and then there are the elements-- the seasons as well as the weather-- that in the summer of 2009, at least, can most closely be analogized to The Mother-In-Law From Hell.

First it was the cold and rain. Not a brief spell of unpleasant weather, mind you, but two solid months of it in May and June breaking records that were over a century old. Then there was more rain but this time accompanied by unrelenting heat and humidity throughout July and August-- terrific weather for growing rice presumably-- but a disaster for crops like tomatoes many of which fell victim to a blight that had not been seen since the Irish Potato Famine. On more than one occasion, I found myself dreaming of winter and the day my gardens, and the frustrating memories associated with them, would be buried under a few feet of snow.

But then the other day, as I was walking through the gardens, I was struck by how much is still growing: a kaleidoscope of chard; rows upon rows of carrots and beets at their peak of sweetness; brilliant red French breakfast radishes; bushels of yellow and green haricots verts; Asian cucumbers; feathery fennel and a dazzling profusion of squash blossoms. It was as if the plants themselves were saying: "Slow down. All was not in vain. We will be gone soon, so take a moment to enjoy our company."

 

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             Posted September 15, 2009

Connecticut Magazine - Best of Connecticut Awards 2009:

Thanks Connecticut Magazine for naming us Best Chef: Locavore!!

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Posted September 1, 2009

August 31, 2009 -- Happy 3rd Anniversary to the SRC!!

This weekend marked the third anniversary of Still River Café. The restaurant has become such an integral part of our lives, and restaurant life is so demanding and all-consuming, that it is sometimes difficult to remember the years we spent in material comfort and financial security as attorneys in large law firms before tossing it all aside and embarking down this path in a moment of inspiration bordering on madness.

Given how little we knew about the restaurant business at the outset, it is a miracle we survived three months let alone three years. Just how unprepared were we? A glimpse behind the scenes of our Opening Night might provide a clue.

For starters, we didn't figure out how to light our stove until 24 hours before the first customers arrived. As such, none of our kitchen staff had ever seen let alone prepared any of our appetizers or entrees before the first order went out. Owing to our own lack of experience and ignorance (I had been fired as a busboy in high school and Kara had worked at a Denny's), we did a woefully inadequate job of training our eager but very green waitstaff. Among other things, we had neglected to inform them that they had to tell Kara when an appetizer was back on a particular table leaving it to the kitchen to determine-- by mental telepathy presumably-- when to fire an entree. In order to be as accommodating as possible, we gave anyone who asked the prized reservation time of 7:00 p.m. thereby creating a logistical logjam of nightmarish proportions. There were numerous deer-trapped-in the headlights moments. Within minutes of the start of service, for example, servers started running up to me to say that customers were ordering such exotic things as Diet Coke and decaf coffee-- neither of which we had thought to stock. I watched with genuine bewilderment as the representative from our computerized point of sale company picked up a towel during service and began drying silverware and wine glasses as they came out of the dishwasher. When I asked him what he was doing, he pointed out gently that we might need to reuse our flatware and stemware from time to time. Fortunately, he had also brought along some cash as it had never occurred to us that a customer might not use a credit card and would need change. To top it off, in the middle of service, a crate of lobsters staged a jailbreak of sorts and hid beneath various refrigerator tables in the kitchen. There were also repeated incidents of customers inadvertently setting their menus ablaze thanks to the stylish but highly impractical candleholders we had at the time.

As we sat in the restaurant the next morning, making lists upon lists of everything that had gone wrong, we felt like boxers on the losing end of a 15-round prizefight that should have been called in the first round. But through a combination of stubbornness and wounded pride, we persevered. Having invested our life savings in the restaurant, what other choice did we have?

And although we continue to work ten times as hard as we ever did as lawyers, we're glad we stuck it out. As in many small businesses, the owners of a restaurant need to wear many hats if they are to eke out an existence in a world of ever-increasing costs and inflexible prices. In addition to her creative duties as Executive Chef, Kara takes care of reservations, ordering supplies, taxes, payroll, balancing our books (and I am tempted to put quotation marks around the word "balancing"), and our website. My responsibilities include planting and maintaining our vegetable, herb and flower gardens, landscaping over seven acres of fields, stonewalls and pastures, researching and ordering wine, fixing anything and everything that breaks, arranging flowers and acting as a combination maitre d' and sommelier with frequent interruptions to field telephone calls from guests who fear that they have gotten lost on the maze of country roads that lead to the restaurant. It is a 24/7 job and frequently exhausting, but we still get a jolt every time we turn on the lights and open the doors for another service which is more than we can say about how we felt when we arrived at our law offices every Monday morning.

Our staff, many of whom have been with us from the beginning, have forgiven us for the Opening Night debacle and have become trusted colleagues, friends and extensions of our family. We have also managed to tread lightly on the environment, growing all of our produce organically, composting our kitchen waste and ordering what we do not raise ourselves from suppliers who share our values. To this end we are honored that Kara just received one of the four Best Chef awards in the annual "Best of Connecticut" issue of Connecticut Magazine. Her category, appropriately enough, was "Best Chef-Locavore."

When asked about life as restaurant owners, we jokingly tell people that after 25 years of making people miserable as lawyers, it's nice to make them happy for a change, but there's a lot of truth in that as well. We have been the scene of first dates and family reunions, marriage proposals and 50th wedding anniversaries. We have hosted rehearsal dinners and weddings including a beautiful ceremony and lunch this past Saturday that Tropical Storm Danny could not dampen. Memorial services have also been held on our property, our ancient barn and peaceful surroundings combining to help mourners deal with the loss of a loved one. We have witnessed after dinner kisses on the deck outside our restaurant that rival the icononic Alfred Eisenstaedt "V-J Day" photo taken in Times Square in 1945 and have watched as guests share a postprandial dance in our dining room, swaying slowly to the strains of Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, oblivious to anyone else and anything at all except one another. It continues to amaze us how often we are thanked by our customers even though it is we who should be thanking them for coming. A couple of weeks ago, a customer told his server to thank Kara "for being born." I'm certain that none of my former law clients ever thought that about me and I'm pretty sure the same can be said for Kara.

Thanks to you all for being part of this journey. It has been our pleasure to share it with you.

 

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         Posted August 31, 2009

Signs of Spring:

Rhubarb, pea tendrils, kohlrabi, salad greens, and blueberry blossoms at the farm.
To get a jump on the season, the salad greens and kohlrabi were planted in the fall and covered with floating covers and hoop tunnels.

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Posted May 12, 2009

Mother's Day - Sunday May 10th - Susan G. Koman for the Cure

Please join us on Mother's Day at the Still River Café. In honor of mothers everywhere, we will be donating 15% of our profits on Mother's Day to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation which is dedicated to finding a cure for breast cancer and ensuring quality care for all.

We will be serving our full dinner menu and will be open special hours from 12:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.

To learn more about the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, you can visit their website at www.komen.com.

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Posted April 27, 2009


Island Time

No . . . as much as we might wish it were otherwise and as nice as the weather in Eastford has been lately, that's not a picture of the view outside Still River Café. It is instead a photograph from our recent trip to our favorite spot in the Caribbean, Saint Barthelemy, a tiny island as famous for what it lacks: no golf courses, casinos, cruise ships or crime, as for what it has: beautiful beaches and dozens of restaurants ranging from simple, family-run affairs to gastronomic temples that rival those in the culinary capitals of the world. The island is a monument to the French love affair with food and culinary traditions. As is true in former French possessions and colonies throughout the world, St. Barths is full of cafes, bakeries, cheese and butcher shops and wine stores indistinguishable from those found throughout France. To get up early in the morning and make a run to the local patisserie for pain au chocolat and a cup of espresso, when the air is filled with the smell of tropical flowers and the sounds of tropical birds and the lighting so soft that the entire island looks like a watercolor, is not just unforgettable, it is transcendent. St. Barths is a magical place and was, in fact, our inspiration for ditching our law careers and opening Still River Café. We wanted to see if we could create a little bit of that magic in the woods of northeastern Connecticut and hope we have succeeded in doing so.

As always, we have returned from our vacation not only tanned and rested but full of inspiration and new ideas that we look forward to sharing with you.


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Posted March 31, 2009

Field of Dreams

During the 18 months Kara and I spent renovating our barn and building our restaurant in the middle of nowhere, the movie we found most comforting was "Field of Dreams." We must have watched it a dozen times. With a business plan no more elaborate than "if we build it, they will come," we felt reassured each time we saw the long line of headlights snaking their way through the Iowa cornfields.

My favorite passage in the movie is when Terence Mann tells Ray Kinsella why his dream would succeed:

People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh... people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.

With apologies to many of our customers who are Red Sox fans, I am a lifelong Yankees fan having grown up on the Connecticut shore and made annual pilgrimages to the Bronx with my father. I have also been a lifelong gardener, and, for me, no matter what is going on in the world around me, my gardens have marked the time. It has never been truer than now.

And while February marks the beginning of Spring Training in baseball, it is an exciting time for growers as well. Each day, the angle of the sun gets higher, the intensity of the sunlight grows stronger, and the amount of daylight increases exponentially. The radicchio, beet, kohlrabi, turnip, leek and onion seedlings I planted last fall that have spent the winter under a protective layer of floating cover and snow burst into life again as do the rows of cold-hardy greens like mache, arugula, tatsoi, mizuna and spinach. It is also when I start many of this year's seedlings under lights before transferring them to cold frames in preparation for planting them in the ground some time in May.

As usual, I have received my marching orders for what to plant from Kara. Not surprisingly, the list grows each year, and I have to scramble to find little nooks and crannies to accommodate it all. I'm sure it'll work out somehow. It always does.

It won't be long before I am indulging both my passions: spending my days up to my elbows in dirt as Suzyn Waldman and John Sterling describe what is happening on another field of dreams.

P.S. For the horticulturally curious, the list of vegetables we plan to raise this summer is set out below. We grow several varieties of many of them that are too numerous to list here.

Acorn squash
Artichokes
Asparagus
Basil
Beets
Blue Hubbard squash
Blueberries
Bok Choy
Broccoli rabe
Brussels sprouts
Burdock
Butternut squash
Cardoons
Carrots
Cauliflower
Celeriac
Chives
Cilantro
Crosnes
Delicata squash
Dill
Edible flowers
Eggplant
English cucumbers
Fava beans
Fennel
Fingerling potatoes
Garlic
Greens
Haricot verts
Heirloom Tomatoes
Japanese cucumbers
Kale
Kohlrabi
Leeks
Mache
Melon
Onions
Oregano
Parsley
Parsnips
Peas
Peppers
Pumpkins
Radicchio
Radishes
Rosemary
Sage
Salsify
Spaghetti squash
Spinach
Strawberries
Summer squash
Sweet potatoes
Swiss chard
Thyme
Turnips

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Posted February 11, 2009

Thank you to the readers (and voters!) of Connecticut Magazine

Connecticut Magazine Readers' Choice Awards 2009:

Best Hidden Gem
Statewide Winner

Best Overall Restaurant
Best Service
Best Appetizers
Best Desserts
Best Hidden Gem

Windham County


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Posted January 7, 2009


Happy Holidays

It is hard to believe that another year at Still River Café is drawing to a close. Life in the restaurant business is such a blur that it is easy to lose track of time, but, as Kara and I have spent the better part of this week decorating our beautiful 150-year old barn with garlands and white lights, we have had an opportunity to reflect upon the fascinating journey we have been on for the past few years and the wonderful friends we have made along the way. We also realized that we have just four more weekends left as well as our New Year's Eve Dinner before we say goodbye to the 2008 season, enjoy a brief hibernation and began preparing for our reopening on Valentine's Day 2009.

We know that the past year has been as challenging for each of you as it has been for us and that we would all like to put 2008 behind us and look forward to a better 2009. That said, we also believe that time is too precious to wish away and that it is perhaps more important than ever to remind ourselves of what is important in life. For that reason, we remain passionately committed to the notion that there are few experiences in life more rewarding than sharing a meal with loved ones and friends, and we do everything in our power to create an environment where our guests can reconnect not only to the food they are eating but to one another as well. Life slows down at Still River Café if only for an evening. To quote William Butler Yeats, it is a place where "peace comes dropping slow;" you can feel it in "the deep heart's core."

 

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Posted December 5, 2008

From the Kitchen - Berkshire Pork



Perhaps no dish served at Still River Café better answers the question we are frequently asked -- "If you are only open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, what do you do with the rest of your week?" -- than the trio of cassoulet, pork belly and pork terrine that Kara has recently added to the menu. Simply put, the logistical challenge of executing these recipes makes the Normandy Invasion look like a day at the beach.

Consider first the ingredients for the cassoulet alone: tarbais beans, duck confit, duck fat, garlic, garlic puree, carrots, onions, parsley, thyme, bay leaf, garlic sausage, veal stock, duck stock, chicken stock, vermouth, cognac and virtually every cut of pork available: shoulder, belly, knuckles, back fat, skin, and a type of cured pork belly known as ventreche. The beans are soaked and the shoulder is seasoned and refrigerated overnight. The remaining components are sautéed, pureed, combined in stages, simmered, chilled and then recombined and re-simmered and re-chilled again and again until the maximum flavor has been coaxed out of each ingredient and the perfect combination of flavors has been achieved.

Preparation of the terrine begins with pork tenderloin which is dry-rubbed with a combination of 12 spices ranging from cumin to coriander to chili pepper, chilled overnight and then cold-smoked over apple chips for a couple of hours. Onions, garlic and shallots are sautéed and then de-glazed with brandy that is added to a pureed mixture of pork belly, pork shoulder and tenderloin trimmings that is again chilled overnight. The terrine is cooked very slowly in a 250 degree water bath until it reaches 150 degrees at which time it is weighted and refrigerated for an additional 24 hours. The terrine is finished with a pistachio and currant crumble, a lemon vinaigrette and celery microgreens.

The pork belly receives its own dry rub, is chilled, covered with white wine, chilled again, patted dry, confited in duck fat until fork tender and cured for several days more before it is pan seared for serving.

All told the pork entrée takes nearly a week to prepare. The same could be said about each of our menu offerings. This is the essence of slow food. In a world that operates at warp speed, we have elected to go the opposite direction. Our recipes have been handed down from generation to generation and shared from culture to culture. As such, each dish, like the produce we raise here and the ingredients we source locally, has a distinct sense of place and a unique story to tell. They reconnect us to our world and one another and satisfy our deepest hungers.
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Posted November 18, 2008

 

No. 1 Foodie Destination in New England - Thanks Boston Magazine!!

After a glorious fall that was more of a prolonged extension of summer, we have finally gotten a few hard frosts and undeniable proof that the seasons are indeed changing.

There is a lot happening in the restaurant as well as the gardens, but first the big news: we just found out that we have been selected by Boston Magazine as the Number 1 Foodie Destination in New England edging out Five fifty-five in Portland, Maine (#3) and Hen of the Wood in Waterbury, Vermont (#2) whose chefs were named Food & Wine Top New Chefs in America in 2007 and 2008 respectively. We are extremely proud even to be mentioned in such company. In selecting us as the top destination, Boston Magazine praised Kara's "breathtaking American cuisine." You can view the article here. Hopefully, this award will encourage more people from greater Boston to make the trip to SRC. Happily, we are a destination much closer to home for most of you.

Our final Farm to Fork Dinner was also a rousing success with guests enjoying a garden tour and cooking demonstration followed by a 7-course tour de force created by Kara and her kitchen staff. In the end, we raised over $1,000 for The Nature Conservancy's rain forest preservation fund-enough to offset a significant portion of the carbon emissions of each of our guests for a year.

We are now hard at work revising our menu to reflect the fact that fall is upon us and winter is knocking at our door. Look for our 20-hour pork and duck confit cassoulet, confit of pork belly, braised oxtail terrine, and house mulled spicy apple cider with an apple foam. These are incredibly busy days in the gardens as well as we race against the fading daylight hours and rush to harvest late summer plantings of carrots, beets, onions, leeks, radishes, kohlrabi and turnips and plant a new round of these vegetables as well as a wide variety of cold-loving salad greens which will be ready in the early spring. We have also been reconditioning the gardens that will lay fallow during the winter with plantings of clover, vetch and winter rye.

And finally, we would like to thank all of you for your continued patronage in economic times that have been daunting for us all. We recognize that going out to eat is a luxury, not a necessity, and we remain 100% committed to doing our very best to assure that the time you choose to spend with us with family and friends is as pleasant and memorable as possible.




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Posted November 1, 2008

 

Fall Tomatoes and Max

The unusual weather patterns we have endured this summer have certainly been a challenge, but the absence of a fall frost thus far means that we still have a wonderful selection of heirloom tomatoes as well as a very nice crop of squash blossoms. We offer a dazzling variety of the former including Striped Germans, Green Zebras, Black Princes and Striped Caverns with house made basil ice cream with basil fresh from our gardens and Bufala di Vermont buffalo mozzerella cheese from Woodstock, Vermont which is the only producer of this cheese in the eastern U.S.

The squash blossom beignets are filled with herbed ricotta cheese, also made in house, and are served with a squash carpaccio and Zephyr squash soup. Always a favorite, we have many customers who schedule their visits to the restaurant to coincide with the availability of this dish.

While we are on the subject of summer, we should also mention that we will be offering a chilled melon soup made with cantaloupes and French Charentais melons which are ripening nicely paired with a Jonah crab salad.

If you haven't looked at our website in a while, you should check out the new food photos in our slide show which demonstrate better than words what's been going on in our kitchen lately.

On the subject of photos, we would also like to welcome the newest member of the Still River Cafe family, Max, whose responsibilities include chewing whatever he can get his teeth on and ingesting anything and everything in and around our gardens as well as keeping us grounded in the midst of what is otherwise the crazy life of the restaurant world.

If you can get away this weekend, by all means pay us a visit and savor the last tastes of summer before, like shorts, sandals, beach chairs and umbrellas, they become just a distant memory.

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Posted September 16, 2008

 

From the Summer Gardens

As of the time of this writing, our gardens are literally bursting at the seams with fresh produce, and, with all the harvesting going on, it is difficult to find the time to take stock of what has taken place since our last newsletter. The wetter and cooler than usual summer weather does not seem to have had an adverse effect on our vegetables and flowers: the squash blossoms are lovelier than ever; our salad greens are as colorful and delicious as always; we have abundant haricots verts, carrots (three kinds) and beets (four kinds); we have begun harvesting our first round of fingerling potatoes; and it looks like we have very promising crops of Brussels sprouts and artichokes on the way. The tomatoes seem to be taking longer than usual to ripen (although that may just be impatience on our part), and they have also attracted the attention of a fat woodchuck who waits until they are just ready to pick before taking a big bite-but only one bite-out of each. Look for braised woodchuck and woodchuck confit on our menu in the very near future.

The perennials which we planted along the stone walls that line our entrance are flourishing. The redesigned bar area seems to be working out very well, and guests have also enjoyed having a pre-dinner glass of wine al fresco while sitting at the French café tables on our deck.

Our entire staff seems inspired by the gardens as well. Kara has taken full advantage of our bountiful harvests to introduce a variety of new dishes this spring and summer such as a chilled cucumber soup paired with cucumber "noodles" made from the juice of the cucumbers, Jonah crab salad atop an asparagus soup, Kobe beef carpaccio "dumplings"with a microgreen salad and squash blossom beignets with a squash carpaccio and a squash soup.

We would love to introduce you to what is growing in our gardens and explain how we grow it organically. To that end, Bob will be available every Sunday in August to give free garden tours 30 minutes prior to the start of brunch. The forecast for this Sunday is for very pleasant weather. Just be sure and mention you would like to have a tour when you make your reservation.

In addition, there is still limited space for our August 24th and October 19th Farm to Fork Dinners, so reserve now if you would like to be part of an evening which includes a garden tour, cooking demonstration and a seven-course tasting menu with optional wine pairing. As discussed in the last newsletter, 25% of the proceeds will be donated to The Nature Conservancy's Rain Forest Project. We are all concerned about the environment we have created, and this struck us as a fairly straightforward and effective way to do some about it while enjoying a wonderful evening in the country.

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Posted August 6, 2008

 

Spring has Sprung!

 

The Still River Cafe reopened for the 2008 season on Friday, March 21st, the first weekend of spring and a time of unlimited optimism for gardeners and growers throughout the northern hemisphere. By the sun reaches the vernal equinox, the produce we planted in the fall that has wintered over in greenhouses and cold frames is practically begging to be harvested, and the seedlings which we started in February are flourishing. We had intended to reopen on Valentine's Day as we attempted to do last year (we were thwarted by an ice storm in 2007), but we were in the midst of a number of construction projects and knew that if we did not finish them while the restaurant was closed they would be delayed for the foreseeable future.

The most visible of these is the work we have done in the entry and bar area which we have endeavored to separate from the dining room adding comfort and privacy for those sitting at tables closest to the door and providing a place to have to have a drink for those arriving early for dinner. We are happy with the way it turned out and hope you will be too.

The winter break also gave us an opportunity to recharge our batteries and reflect upon what we have done and where we would like to go in the future. The challenge in 2007, our first full year in business, was to continue to improve our menu, wine list and service and survive our initial round of restaurant reviews. We are honored by the by the overwhelmingly positive response to Still River Cafe in The New York Times, Connecticut Magazine, the Hartford Courant, the Norwich Bulletin and Zagat's to name a few and are pleased that we were recently named as one of six Connecticut restaurants designated as an Editor's Choice destination in 2008 by Yankee Magazine. And while we recognize that providing the most pleasurable dining experience possible is and must remain our primary focus, we have also decided in 2008 to focus on issues which are near and dear to our hearts and inspired us to open Still River Cafe in the first place.

Very simply put, we left the security of our law careers and created the state's only restaurant which raises virtually all of its own produce because, like many of you, we were concerned about the presence of herbicides, pesticides, growth hormones, antibiotics and other chemical additives in the food our family consumed. We were also growing increasingly alarmed by the disappearance of open spaces and family farms as well as the environmental consequences of industrialized food production upon which so much of the contemporary American diet depends. We have all read that the average American meal travels 1,500 miles before it reaches our plates, and it is now estimated that nearly 25% of the world's carbon emissions are attributable to the way we produce and transport food-an amount equal to that contributed by all of the automobiles on the planet.

To be sure, it is daunting to figure out what we as individuals can do to make a difference, and the situation is made even more confusing by the number of people and businesses seeking to cash in on the public interest in things local, seasonal and organic. It is also easy to become discouraged with the lack of political leadership in this area. The risk is that we will all become numb to these issues or, worse, cynical.

At Still River Café, we strive to tread as lightly on the environment as possible. We never use chemicals of any kind in our gardens; we grow all of our own vegetables and obtain the food we do not produce ourselves locally thereby greatly reducing the distance our food must travel (and assuring incomparable quality and taste); we compost all of the vegetable waste generated in our kitchens (we even compost our menus which are printed each week on recycled paper); we save and filter the oil we use in our kitchen for fuel for our diesel tractor (and, as a consequence, have a tractor which smells delightfully of squash blossom beignets!); and we recycle all of our cardboard, cans and bottles. We are also bottling our own sparkling water as we think there is no justification for flying water half way around the world when the water from our own well is so delicious. The company from which we purchased the equipment that carbonates our water was created by two scientists as a way of raising funds for projects to provide safe drinking water in the Third World. Still, we feel we can and should do something more to try and have an impact beyond our restaurant.

Accordingly, our goal in 2008 is to use our farm / restaurant as an inspiration to our guests to consider raising some of their own produce-organically-- in their own backyards-a revival of the Victory Gardens concept which, during World War II, provided nearly 40% of the country's food production. To that end, we are hosting a series of Work for Food Saturday's where we invite you to join us working in the gardens for a day and, as an added enticement, offer you a gift certificate for brunch for two at Still River Café in return. We will supply the rocks, weeds, insects and tools; you bring a willingness to get your hands dirty and a desire to learn about organic gardening.

We also invite you to join us for one of our Rain Forest Dinners which will begin with a tour of the gardens and discussion of organic gardening techniques, followed by a cooking demonstration in our award-winning kitchen, and topped off by a seven-course tasting menu featuring-as always-the produce grown just feet from our restaurant door. The cost for the Rain Forest Dinner is $125 person and 25% of the proceeds will be donated to The Nature Conservancy's Rain Forest Project-an amount calculated to enable the Conservancy to preserve enough of the Amazon rain forest to offset the annual carbon emissions for one year for each guest who comes to the dinner.

Our other news is that we had a very successful Mother's Day and donated a portion of the proceeds to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure® Foundation which is dedicated to finding a cure for breast cancer and insuring quality care for all. Each guest also received a pink Susan G. Komen for the Cure® wristband commemorating the day and the cause. We will be participating in the "21 and Vine" event on May 29 from 6:00 - 9:00 at the Hartford 21 which is hosted by Spiritus Wines and benefits the Hartford Food Share and the Audubon Society's 10th Annual Owl Garden party June 19th in Pomfret Connecticut.

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Posted May 20, 2008

New York Times Review -- "Extraordinary"

 



We celebrated our one year anniversary on August 31, 2007 which was a milestone of sorts. As those of you who are familiar with the restaurant industry know (and as was pointed out to us repeatedly by those who sought to dissuade us from taking the plunge into this crazy business), 50% of all new restaurants fail in their first year. We didn't. To the contrary, we have seen our business grow steadily month by month. We have also been extremely fortunate to receive a flurry of positive restaurant reviews. In August, Connecticut Magazine awarded us 3-1/2 stars (out of a possible 4) and referred to our menu as "culinary artistry on dazzling display." In September, the New York Times gave us a rating of "Extraordinary"-- the highest rating possible which has only been given to two other restaurants in Connecticut. That was followed by a 4-star rating (out of 4) in the Norwich Bulletin in a review which described our restaurant as "one of the best in Connecticut." A couple of weeks ago, we were notified by ZAGAT that they had selected us for inclusion in their "America's Top Restaurants 2008" guide.

While the reviews in the New York Times and Connecticut Magazine have been a major boost for our business, they have also have produced some very amusing telephone calls from the 203 area code that go something like this:

203 area code caller: Congratulations on (the New York Times or Connecticut Magazine) review!

Kara or me: Thank you.

203 area code caller: You know what this means don't you?

Kara or me: We think so.

203 area code caller: Where's Eastford?

Kara or me: It's near Pomfret.

203 area code caller: [Silence]

Kara or me: Woodstock?

203 area code caller: [Silence].

Kara or me: Union?

203 area code caller: [Forget about it].

Kara or me: It's right off the road from Hartford to Boston.

203 area code caller: [Flicker of recognition]. The Merritt Parkway?

And so it goes. (Click here for actual directions)

On a personal level, our reactions to the favorable press we have received has been a little complicated. Coming from the ultra-competitive, winner-take-all world of the law, it would be easy to pound our chests and trumpet the various reviews and awards as a vindication, a triumph or a victory, but that begs the fundamental question: a vindication of what or a triumph or victory over whom? In reality, the only victories we are interested in now are personal. We want to do what we love to do and make other people happy in the process. To the extent the accolades we have received help us do that, we are pleased to have received them. It's that simple. In addition, as we have explained to visitors to Still River, we didn't get into the restaurant business simply to own a restaurant. No one in his or her right mind would do that. Instead, we did it because we wanted to create something unique and out of the ordinary. To have the Times refer to our little restaurant as "Extraordinary" is therefore particularly gratifying.

 

From a grower's perspective, the Summer of 2007, like all summers, had advantages and disadvantages. We were spared a wet spring, the bane of growers everywhere who attempt to extend their seasons by planting seeds and transplanting seedlings as early as possible. On the negative side, we were inundated by Japanese Beetles in almost biblical proportions. Everywhere there was a blossom or a tender leaf, there was a gang of beetles wreaking havoc and destruction. As organic growers, we dealt with it the only way we know how: by picking them off plants one-by-one and dropping them in a bucket of soapy water. Beetles have a surprisingly wide range, however, and no sooner would we finish collecting beetles for the day than a survivor would put out the word to all of the neighboring beetles that there was a feast to be had for free at Still River Café.

Like everyone in Connecticut, and people living east of the Connecticut River in particular, we were also visited by a severe drought which began in the middle of the summer and lasted well into the fall. Indeed, during one 10-week span, we got less than ½-inch of rain. As we subsist solely on well water both in our home and the restaurant, we were left with no choice but to water our gardens sparingly. We had to prioritize which plants would get water and decided to let the more drought-tolerant varieties fend for themselves.Unfortunately, this meant greatly reduced yields of eggplant and peppers. Our prized heirloom tomatoes weathered the lack of water reasonably well. On the bright side, we had bumper crops of garlic, potatoes and onions. Our various salad greens, which got the lion's share of our irrigation efforts, flourished as well.

The kitchen continues to modify and diversify our menu introducing new amuses bouche, appetizers, entrees and desserts each week. We have acquired a "smoker" for the kitchen which has taken some getting used to. Initially, it was producing such prodigious amounts of smoke that Kara would emerge from the kitchen bleary-eyed and coughing and smelling like someone who had just gotten off a trans-Atlantic flight in the 1960's filled with Russian KGB agents or French philosophers. After a few tries (and no doubt the sacrifice of a certain amount of lung capacity), however, she got the hang of it and is using it to impart a nice seasonal flavor to root vegetable soups as well as to make a dazzling Kobe beef carpaccio dish accented with arugula which is thriving in our cold frames. We have continued to expand our relationships with local suppliers, most notably Cato Corner Farms in nearby Colchester, the principal cheese purveyor at New York City's Greenmarket at Union Square, which provides the majority of the selections on our cheese plate. Our wine list is growing as well, and we are very excited about a relationship we are forming with a Connecticut distributor specializing in small, independently-owned, "garagiste" vineyards and winemakers using organic and biodynamic growing practices.

We are planning a special, multi-course, prix fixe New Year's Eve dinner before closing down for our winter break. Details will follow shortly, but space is limited and you should plan on reserving early if you want to join us. As we did last year, we will reopen on Valentine's Day.

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Posted November 15, 2007

 

 

 

Read our past newsletters:

July 2007

June 2007

May 2007

April 2007

March 2007

February 2007

January 2007

December 2006

 

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Still River Café, 134 Union Road, Eastford, CT 06242   Tele: 860.974.9988