It might not surprise you to learn that before going to a new restaurant, I (rather obsessively) read up on the restaurant, relying on community web sites, online menus and traditional media reviews. I know for some diners, this takes the fun out of the experience—but for me, it only adds to the fun. Particularly when the reviews are unanimously good: the anticipation just builds and builds.
But this little pre-reservation routine of mine has some serious drawbacks. If the reviews are poor, I find myself either dreading the experience or trying to steel myself against what lies ahead. And, sometimes it has me downright delusional. Such was the case with a new restaurant that opened just down the street from us. It was to feature a wood-fired oven; seasonal, local and painstakingly-sourced ingredients; and a BYO policy. And did I mention it was just down the street from us? All these things, combined with pre-opening buzz, had me very excited and we made a reservation the first chance we got. And then.
(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos & the recipe.)
Then I began to scour the Internets for early reports. With each disappointing review, my heart sank, But, still, I was determined to love the place. Did I mention it was BYO? And blocks—mere steps—from our front door? We forged ahead with the reservation and I was somehow astonished to find that the reviews had been spot on. The trip was a disappointment and, at times, just odd (a soup served lukewarm; bruschetta on bread hardly toasted). Let’s just say we ended up at a tried-and-true neighborhood favorite for dessert, which helped ease the pain.
A couple Fridays ago we ended up at the same place, determined to give it a second shot, cautiously optimistic. And do you know what? It was spectacular. We had a selection of antipasti that was so good I practically wept: a plate of sliced tomatoes that must have been plucked from the vine that very morning, sprinkled with sea salt and sidled up to a beautiful smear of olive oil aioli; a few gossamer slices of coppa; several slices of perfectly-grilled bread; a tiny bowl of pickled beets and another of grainy mustard; and a simple dish of grilled corn, shaved from the cob and topped with a melting medallion of smoked paprika butter.
The entrees were good too, but the antipasti—and the corn in particular—stole the show. It was summer simplicity at its best. I couldn’t wait to recreate it and the Summer’s-Last-Stand menu was the perfect excuse.
I think I came pretty close to approximating Mado‘s paprika butter. The key to any great compound butter is this: start with good, fresh butter, let it soften up quite a bit and use a light hand in mixing in punchy flavorings. Here, I used smoked paprika, a small clove of minced garlic and a pinch of salt. Once you’ve got the flavorings mixed in, wrap it into a length of wax paper and let it set up in the fridge. You’ll be shocked at how easy something so beautiful and flavorful can be.
Summer’s Last Stand: We’re making the most of one of the last weeks of summer by meandering through the Canadian Rockies. As such, comment moderation and email responses will be slow this week. But, while we’re away, daily posts will highlight components of a Summer’s-Last-Stand BBQ. Up tomorrow: blue cheese coleslaw.
Smoked Paprika Butter
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 small to medium garlic glove, finely minced (preferably with a garlic press)
1 small pinch fine-grain sea salt, plus more to taste
Combine all the ingredients in a medium size bowl and whip together using a spatula until well-blended. Spoon the butter onto a piece of wax paper, creating a shape that approximates a packaged stick of butter. Roll the butter up in the wax paper. Once the butter is rolled up, you can press the wax paper to shape the log of butter into a cylinder. Refrigerate for at least two hours and up to two days.
Serve with grilled sweet corn, buttermilk biscuits or a simply-grilled piece of fish—or anything else you can think of: the possibilities are endless.