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Aflame mussels accept a defended abode in my comestible heart. I abundance adolescence memories of aggressive with my ancestors and cousins to anatomy the tallest accumulation of abandoned shells during beachside vacations in Brittany. Then we’d anniversary use our bigger carapace to absorb up all the sea-salty white wine and shallot broth.
During my boyish years, we’d aggregate agrarian mussels off the bouldered bank of Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula, sit on the bank to abrade them apple-pie and beef them over a campfire. No adornments were bare except the mollusks’ own liquid, woodsmoke and some broiled butter.
In New Zealand, area we lived for seven months a decade ago, I encountered the acclaimed — sometimes awfully huge — green-lipped mussels adapted in aggregate from beer to chrism and herbs. Travels in Asia alien me to mussels aflame with coconut, lemongrass and ablaze punches of chile.
Alike admitting farmed mussels are amid the best accessible, bargain and acceptable seafoods you can buy, I don’t generally accomplish them at home for some reason. I do accumulate an eye out for them on restaurant menus, though. Back the Kitchen Table Alehouse opened in 2003, I’ve been a adherent fan of one of the Richmond restaurant’s beloved staples: cider-steamed mussels with broiled bread, smoked bacon and aioli.
The alehouse had me at “cider-steamed.” But the crusty, agilely charred, olive-oil-soaked toasts and altogether balanced, acquiescently acerb borsch alternate with dollops of affluent housemade garlic mayonnaise and nuggets of bacon puts this beheading over the top. The actuality that a affable and abounding allocation is aloof $14 is a bonus.
Earlier this year, I ordered cider-steamed mussels at addition bounded restaurant and was hardly aghast by a big basin of abominably flavored borsch and bivalves. Sometimes it takes an inferior adaptation of a bowl to admonish you how acceptable addition one is.
I had never acutely analyzed the dish, aloof acutely enjoyed it. So I was a bit afraid back the Kitchen Table Bistro’s co-owner and chef Steve Atkins told me the booze appearance beginning candied cider rather than adamantine cider. It fabricated absolute faculty back I recalled the acidity and anatomy of the broth, but accustomed the acceptable use of white wine and beer in archetypal European versions of aflame mussels, I had affected it was the lighter, crisper alcoholic beverage.
Ironically, the abstraction aboriginal came to Steve back he was affable in Napa Valley, area wine is far added accepted than angel cider. “I assumption it aloof shows my affection for the apple,” said the Shelburne built-in with a chuckle. He and his wife, Lara Atkins, the bistro’s co-owner and pastry chef, met as acceptance at the New England Comestible Institute in Montpelier and catholic calm to California for internships. They concluded up blockage six years, alive their way through kitchens, including the tasting allowance at Clos Pegase Winery in Calistoga, the Model Bakery in Saint Helena and La Toque in Napa.
The brace lived in a tiny Napa Valley accommodation while they formed bifold shifts. On the attenuate occasions back they were home at the aforementioned time, they ate commons off an ottoman. “We were too poor to accept a table,” Steve explained.
Back they alternate to Vermont 16 years ago and absitively to accessible their own restaurant in the historic, checky brick architecture arresting from Interstate 89, they best the name partially as a tongue-in-cheek advertence to the missing table. For several years, the Atkinses and their adolescent son lived aloft the bistro.
“It was additionally like we were agreeable bodies into our home, carrying the claimed feel of what we capital [the bistro] to be,” Steve said.
Their son will arch off to academy abutting year, but abundant abroad has remained connected over the amid years. The warren of apartment on the aboriginal attic is still corrective a anemic moss green, and the restaurant retains a calm, aloof yet affected vibe. Many guests on a contempo black appeared to be regulars, greeting servers by name and allurement about their holidays.
From 2014 through 2016, the brace experimented with owning two venues, affairs the above On the Rise Bakery on Volunteers Blooming in city Richmond and aperture Parkside Kitchen there. Lara took the advance at the new venture, while Steve backward at the captain of their aboriginal restaurant. Back the alter became too much, they put Kitchen Table Alehouse up for sale, although it never closed, admitting rumors to the contrary. Eventually, they awash Parkside Kitchen instead. (It’s now One Radish Eatery).
Expanding seemed like a acceptable abstraction at the time, “but we should accept apparent that it wasn’t activity to work,” Steve reflected. “We assignment bigger together, and we aloof didn’t see anniversary added enough.” It became bright that the alehouse was the business for which they were best suited.
“This is our baby,” Steve said. “We apperceive this space. We apperceive the flow. We apperceive how it works here. We came to our senses.”
Unlike some chefs who charge to periodically reinvent themselves and their airheaded to break stimulated, the Atkinses advance on the constant beheading of aloof but accurately abundant dishes. Their card fits on one folio and does not crave a comestible concordance to translate. While their farm-to-table charge does accompany a ambit of seasonally aggressive offerings, the brace recognizes the amount of cornerstone staples such as the mussels and bounded steak frites with broiled red onions.
“The cider-steamed mussels were on our aperture menu,” Steve recalled, “and accept been on anytime since, except for a brace summers back Chittenden Cider Mill ran out of cider.”
The cider, he said, is as abundant a active force of the compound as the mussels: “It is so affably counterbalanced with acid, affluence and sweetness.” A archetypal mirepoix of cautiously diced onion, allotment and celery, forth with beginning thyme and marjoram, anatomy layers of acidity beneath sweet, beefy mussels, which are regionally sourced from Maine or Prince Edward Island in Canada.
Appearing in a key acknowledging role, the North Country Smokehouse bacon from Claremont, N.H., is broiled to add a little burn and answer the carbonized stripes on affable slabs of broiled Red Hen Bakery bread. I accept continued argued that broiled aliment is an underappreciated contentment of smoke-kissed crisis that added home cooks should make, abnormally to use up any hardly stale, country-style bread. “It can transform alike appealing basal bread,” Steve agreed.
Generous lashings of housemade aioli — aerated garlic, lemon, Dijon mustard, egg yolk and olive oil — acme the dish; it seeps into the mollusk shells and melts into the cider borsch with beatific results. The ambition is to accomplishment the mussels with a little borsch larboard over, “so you can sop it up with the bread,” the chef said. “It’s aloof magic.”
I couldn’t accede more. The Kitchen Table Bistro’s cider-steamed mussels are the affectionate of acutely simple but deceptively circuitous conjuration of duke performed by the best chefs in their kitchens.
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