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Spring Fling

April 14, 2015

We all have our crushes. My mom has a thing for rabbis. I have a thing for chefs. And bartenders, and distillers, and baristas, and winemakers and cheesemakers and bakers, and, well, you get the idea. I hope the brewers, chocolatiers, coffee roasters, butchers, mongers of all stripes, and buttermakers don’t feel left out. That would be tragic.

I’ve got a lot of love to give.

So sometimes the FLB can get a little redundant when I’m crushing on one particular person, place or thing. That’s part of the problem with obsessive personalities. We’re known to sometimes get fixated on something, and it’s hard to let go.

Well there is one chef locally who is in a very enviable position. He doesn’t own his own restaurant, but he’s found a way to do whatever the heck he wants. And what he wants to do is awesome.

This last point is important. I’ve realized that there are lots of chefs in the Capital Region who want to do awesome things, and are capable of doing awesome things. The problem is that they have business constraints, and literally cannot afford to take risks.

And why take risks when a restaurant is already successful doing what it’s always done?

But Josh Coletto has found a way to make the pop up restaurant work for him. The most recent Rock N Roll brunch at The Low Beat drew a crowd before the doors opened of people willing to stand outside in below freezing temperatures to spend a lot of money on eggs in a bar.

Why? Because his food is local, seasonal, and inventive. He finds a way to use his own duck eggs, beef and pork come from local farms, and he crafts dishes like pozole rojo which are perfect winter breakfasts. I’ve been thrilled to run advanced promos for this effort featuring some of Josh’s recipes.

Now he’s ready for the next challenge, so this CIA-trained chef is doing something fancy.

Let’s take a moment and revisit an old conversation. A while back someone said that the notion of local, seasonal cooking in upstate New York was patently ridiculous. The prooftext to that is that as opposed to the twelve month growing season of California, in this part of the world we have eight months of mud and ice.

While nobody can dispute the last part of the analysis, what the commenter neglected was all of the great winter storage vegetables we have during the icy winter months. Not to mention all of the summer bounty that can be preserved in some way to use during the long cold winter.

Winters here are so long that as soon as the ice pack melts, everyone wants a taste of spring and summer. Regrettably, too many chefs are eager to feed the hungry masses what they want. Would you believe I’ve already seen tomatoes and watermelon on spring menus?

Slow it down, people. Waiting for these things closer to the peak of their season is truly rewarding.

But I get it. Because when the weather warms up, you want to eat something that has sprung from the ground. I just heard that one of my chef pals just had his first ramp harvest this week. But a spring menu shouldn’t be built on ramps alone.

It turns out that if you know what to look for, the mud of spring in upstate New York can yield a lot more than ramps and fiddleheads.

Welcome to Josh’s spring pantry.

It has cranberry bean, purslane, dame’s rocket, white pine, burdock root, wild thyme, Nettle and ricotta gnocchi, sumac, chaga, morel, lambsquarter, Japanese knotweed, moss and acorns. Of course there are fiddleheads and ramps too.

These are the building blocks of an upstate New York spring menu. In fact, what josh has built from this list may be the only true spring menu I’ve ever seen in the Capital Region.

Wild and foraged foods are delicious. Josh isn’t the first to use them in his cooking. I still fondly recall some wild watercress that Brian Bowden got his hands upon and used in the watermelon salad when at Creo. That watercress stole the show. It was fantastic. Full of flavor and character. It made the dish.

So Josh has teamed up with fellow CIA grad and NYC beverage director turned general manager Shiraz Noor to come up with wine pairings for a six course seasonal dinner. It’s going to be at one communal table.

Which town do you think would play host to a meal like this?

Yep. It’s going to be in Troy. Specifically, it’s inside Sweet Sue’s, which will help make this private affair an intimate experience. Susan, who owns this charming cafe and is a talented chef in her own right, will be serving as the pastry chef for the night and making the dessert course.

This is what I’ve always dreamed of seeing. Chefs taking risks. Chefs with a vision, putting it out on the line. Chefs inviting people to come and taste the experience they’ve prepared.

It’s the antithesis of most everything that’s available in the region today.

Dinner isn’t inexpensive. But the ticket price includes food, wine, service, tax, and ticket fees. If you are so moved to leave additional money for extraordinary service, nobody is going to stop you. But there are only eighteen seats at this one-time meal.

The menu is here.

And as much as I love Josh for what he does, I want to curse him for scheduling things like this when I’m on the other side of the world. Fortunately I’ll have all the duck in Beijing to drown my feelings. So I think I’ll be able to pull through.

However, that means I’m relying on you to attend this meal, so that I can live vicariously through your experience.

Perhaps my greatest fear is that this dinner fails to launch. So many people complain about wanting new and different options, and then when those come the same people are hesitant to break out of their comfort zones.

On the other hand, the potential reward for showing regional restaurant owners that there’s a desire for the different is huuuuge.

Go. Support this. Be the change we seek. And be rewarded with a spring menu like no other.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 14, 2015 12:07 pm

    It’s interesting that He’s using nettle in his gnocchi. I just dined at Babbo in NYC last week, and they had a dish of nettle fettuccine on the menu. My wife ordered it and it was fantastic.

    I would be all over this. Unfortunately, I’ll be traveling as well—to Phoenix. So like you, I’m sure to find some good food to drown my sorrows in.

    Anyone have suggestions for Phoenix restaurants?

  2. April 14, 2015 2:59 pm

    Wild thyme really is everywhere if you look for it. I get it in my yard (Delmar) every year. I will have to admit I don’t use it for much. Also, I let my kids whack the fiddleheads that grow along my the fence with sticks. I am a bad suburban forager…

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