On an all too brief visit to our house in France last fall, we went to have lunch on the lovely sunny terrace of the restaurant of our friends Jérome and Claire Durand, À la Fraich’ in Salies de Béarn. Claire makes the best pizzas anywhere for my taste: they have really thin crusts, not too heavy on the sauce and toppings, with a great variety of combinations. My personal favorite is the Imanol, named for their little boy, which includes Basque tomato/red bell pepper sauce, chorizo and raclette cheese from the Alps.
They had recently hired a new chef to make non-pizza menu items and on this particular day one of the appetizers was “Swedish marinated salmon”, or what we know as gravadlax. I’ve been making this for years, but this iteration was a lovely light cure and came with a scrummy chive and dill sauce. The presentation was beautiful as well, and here it is.
I had that Imanol too, but was so eager to taste it I took the photo after I’d started! Note the spicy herb oil in the background – you may have seen that here in the Bistro or Suds.)
So anyway I’ve been working on it, and I think I’ve got it down. Here’s how you do it.
Remove any remaining pin bones from the salmon with tweezers.
For an approx. one pound fillet of salmon (nice and thick, skin on) mix together 1 cup each of sugar and kosher salt. Add enough finely minced dill and freshly ground black pepper until it looks like this:
Then add just enough gin – I used my favorite Plymouth Gin – to make a dry crumbly paste.
Put a thin layer of the cure on the bottom of a container and layer the fish on top, skin side down, then cover the whole thing with the remaining cure. Some folks advocate sandwiching two pieces together with extra cure and dill in the middle, which would definitely be helpful if you were making a larger quantity.
Cover loosely and pop in the fridge for 10 – 12 hours or overnight. The next morning you’ll see a lot of moisture has been extracted from the salmon. The easiest thing to do is rinse off the cure with water and pat dry – that way you stop the curing process before it removes too much liquid and leaves you with too firm gravadlax. Here it is!
Cover tightly with plastic wrap and store in the fridge for up to a week – the curing retards spoilage.
Sauce: Mix heavy cream into sour cream just to thin it out a bit. Add minced dill, minced chives if you have them, black pepper and salt to taste, and a tiny squeeze of lemon.
Finely slice the gravadlax with your sharpest knife and serve with the sauce and toast: with friends at a shiny bar optional. Voilà!
We’re thinking about trying this as a special at Bistro 151 soon – let us know what you think.
Then the boiler broke!
Actually it’s amazing it held out as long as it did:
OK let’s back up a bit to Saturday December 8th. We got a call from Scott that the boiler that heats the Inn and supplies hot water to the Inn had cracked and was useless. However, Brooks Brothers installed an electric hot water heater as a temporary measure: having the hot water heater installed allowed us to stay open since our restrooms and dishwasher would have enough hot water to satisfy public safety demands and we could continue to keep Suds open with the hot water needed by code. Luckily the outside temperature was then above freezing which gave us a couple of days to see if we could get a replacement.
Scott did a great job and not only managed to get a couple of initial quote, but also managed to track down someone who gave us a temporary fix by adding radiator dope of all things.
In the wee hours of Christmas eve morning we got the email that was expected but not wished for: dead as a dodo. But that temporary fix of two weeks previously turned out to be godsend.
Out of the four quotes we had got, Community Energy of Rumford who had installed the old boiler 28 years ago had come up trumps. The new furnace, albeit in its component parts, had arrived three days previously. Roger from Community Energy was already on site by the time we got the email; his team turned up around 6.30. Long story short, these guys were just awesome. They worked their butts off all day and deep into the evening (10 pm), cutting into precious family Christmas Eve time. At one point I saw one of them with a wrench in one hand and a slice of Suds pizza in the other! I can’t recommend them highly enough.
The constituent parts:
A bit of wiring:
A little welding:
Also a word of thanks to our dining room and bistro patrons on Christmas eve, or “Furnace Day” as it will be known from now on!. We had 70 folk booked in for dinner service. By 1 pm, the main part of the Sudbury Inn was getting a bit chilly, so we started deploying space heater. Which sounds like a good idea, but frankly the wiring in a 139-year-old building can be a bit fragile: at one point every time we plugged in a heater the lights went out! So thank you for your patience and good humor in the face of radiators everywhere.
We are now 6 days into the reign of the new furnace, so far so good. Happy holidays to all, and keep thinking snow!
A quote from one of my favorite films: Almost Famous. And I’m starting to think we could actually be almost famous. After a busy day of finalizing pricing, getting the point of sale system installed at last, printing up menus, squaring away the bar, staff training and watching the kitchen team pulling out all the stops we flung open our doors to friends and colleagues from the Bethel area for a gala reception. You know the kind of thing: sparkling wine, complimentary food samples, etc, etc… At 5.15 pm it was game on.
Well, we drew a great crowd into our hopeful little Bistro 151. There was music from our good friends Lex and Joe (www.lexandjoe.com) doing their jazzy, bluesy thing (even some dancing), live ski racing from Europe on the big screen, good conversation and general all round conviviality. And wonderful to see so many smiling faces in what up until now has just been a physical room but also a concept in the making.
And the food! I knew it was going to be good ‘cos the kitchen smelt divine, but it exceeded my expectations (and I hold high expectations). Peter emerged from the kitchen carrying a huge mirrored platter positively groaning with a vast selection of appetizer items, including some which may appear on future iterations of the bistro menu.
Robin floated through the room carrying the grilled jumbo shrimp and mango sauce. Courtney made sure the chafing dishes were kept filled with a selection of our hot items: the baseball filet for the Steak Frites, Quiche Lorraine, Mediterranean Crôute (rhymes with shoot, in case you wanted to know), and that glorious smelling Bistro Chicken: see pictures below. Sneaker and Bobby manned the bar, well manfully.
I’m pretty sure everyone had a good time, and it was great to spend time with some of our very good friends.
So I think we are ready to go. Doors open to the public at 3 pm; we would love to have you join us!
“I have to go home.” “You ARE home!”
Tuesday morning, December 18th, two days to go, and I must confess I do have butterflies in my tummy. It veers between excitement and “what were we thinking”! But hey, it’ll be alright on the night I’m sure.
It was a gorgeous day here in Bethel yesterday. It snowed all day which is not only pretty, but also great news for those of us who find ourselves making a living in a winter resort town. I guess we ended up with 8 or 9 inches on the other side of it and the precipitation finally stopped around 6 this morning. (Many thanks, by the way to the fine folk at Cross Excavation who sent their plow guy down our driveway shortly thereafter.) And sitting at the bar in Bistro 151 doing a wine tasting and watching World Cup downhill skiing on the big TV was quite nice too! Also Peter kept feeding me with menu items, specifically the salad lyonaise – this boy can poach a perfect egg I tell you – and a new pâté.
So, tonight we have all the staff coming in to check out the food and the space. Before that we need to get the point of sale system installed and add the new menu items and prices (a hold-over from yesterday as they didn’t feel like driving in the snow – lightweights!), sort out the napkins, go through the final menu costings with Peter, decide on our opening night wine specials, get the menus printed, put something on the new chalk board, work with our web site guy Brian Beaudry, and maybe go to Oxford for supplies. Piece of cake.
Tomorrow we have the Bethel Chamber of Commerce coming in for breakfast, and then we’ve invited friends and colleagues in town to drop by in the evening so we can show ourselves off. Scott has managed to get the fabulous Lex and Joe to come a provide some blues and jazz to get us in the mood, so I think it’ll be a good time.
Curtain rises 5.30 pm Thursday – break a leg!
We will be opening Thursday 20th December!
Oh boy it’s been a long road, including a broken furnace, but we are finally ready to open.
As you can see we now have a name and a logo. Explanation of the name: well, we are located at 151 Main Street in Bethel Maine. Explanation of the logo: those of you who have been to Paris (France, not Maine) might recognize the font as it’s stolen from the gorgeous Belle Epoque signs on the Paris subway, or “Métropolitain”).
We think it fits in well with what we want to offer you here: simple French bistro food that Steve and I love to eat when we’re “away”. Think bistro salads, pâté, steak frites, coq au vin: all home made right in our kitchen by Peter and the team. And you know what, if you want to choose something from either the Suds or the dining room menus that’s just fine by us. Throw in hi-def TV’s and free wi-fi, and we hope you’ll love it!
The plan is to run training for the staff on Tuesday 18th and we are having friends and family here Wednesday night. Then we will be opening for our first service at 5.30 on Thursday 20th and running straight through until January 2nd. (The exception being Christmas eve and day when we will be offering our special holiday menu from 5 until 8 pm). Initially we’ll just be open for breakfast and dinner, but hopefully once we’ve worked the kinks out we’ll be able to offer lunch too.
The room looks frankly gorgeous with its mix of bar seating, high tops and lower tables, and it’s already being used by Sudbury Inn guests for breakfast.
Sneaker will be our bar tender – you know him from lunch at Suds I’m sure – and sneakers and jeans are the order of the day (to quote some dear friends who run Oliver’s restaurant in England “all we ask is that you don’t turn up naked!”).
Anyway we’d love to see you: check out the opening menu below.
Tastes and snacks
Bread and dips
Gougères – savory cheese puffs
Have one as an appetizer or several to share
Chef’s Quiche Lorraine
Individual bacon and cheese tart with a dressed salad
Today’s Bistro Pâté
Served with cranberry relish, capers and toasted French bread
Frisée lettuce with dijon vinaigrette, bacon, croutons, and topped with a poached egg
A savory mix of warm cheeses with caramelized onions, pine nuts, spinach, peppers and olives in a crisp fillo cup
Larger plates (*items also available in smaller portions)
The bistro classic: grilled to your liking and served with French fries
Our interpretation of coq au vin: braised with mushrooms and red wine, herbed sautéed potatoes and asparagus
Jumbo shrimp with mango sauce, zucchini ribbons and frizzled onions
Vegetable of the day
French fries plain or with mayo
What a great week it’s been. We finally made it back to Bethel Maine on Sunday afternoon. Naturally one of the first things we did was to swing by the Sudbury Inn to peek in on the bar room work. Holy moly! I guess one of the first things that struck me was how imposing it is; as you walk in through the front door of the inn there’s this lovely glowing edifice that is our new bar. It’s a little bigger than I expected, but it just looks so good. Closer inspection reveals that Gary and his carpentry team have done an absolutely wonderful job on the wood work, and have rightly signed their names on this work of art; I snapped this picture right away as I know it will be covered up very soon.
For those of you who are familiar with Suds Pub downstairs, the bistro bar is of the same design with the same scroll work around the edges.
But unlike Suds with its low bar and chairs, the new one will be higher and be surrounded by 14 or 16 high bar stools (42” bar height with 31” chairs, if you must know). There will also be an nice rail for you to pop your feet on when you are sitting there. Like Suds, the bar will be kept in all its natural woody glory, with the expectation that once varnished it will mellow to a gorgeous patina as time goes on.
During the rest of the week, all the remaining plumbing for the coolers was completed by our good friends at Brooks Bros, the 4-beer kegerator has been installed by Pine State, and Gary has installed the shelving on the inside of the bar top. The outsides of the bar have had their first coat of primer. And the first of our two TVs is in the house.
The bar chairs, a lovely rich mahogany with black upholstery, came Thursday and are currently sitting inside 14 Clark Street. A quick double check confirmed that the height is just right.
Then on Friday afternoon, the first coat of poly went onto the bar itself. The aroma was heady, as you would expect (we left the windows open all night), but the effect on the wood is spectacular!
On the menu front, we’re working closely with Peter and the culinary staff on our special classic bistro menu. Once we’ve pinned the food down we’ll let you know, but suffice it to say that the tastings are going very well. And hey, if you have suggestions for a favorite bistro dish you’d like to eat here just let us know; you can either post a comment to this blog or on our Facebook page, or email us at email@example.com.
Stay tuned for details of that food and when we are planning to open up – I can say it will be before Christmas, but we just need to check our project plan so we can firm up the actual launch date. In the meantime, if you are joining us for Thanksgiving lunch in the dining room or Suds feel free to peer in and see what we think is going to be a wonderful space.
Painting and clean-up are in progress, more photos to follow …
Good grief so much got achieved on Friday. We now have all our appliances, so the plumber will be here on Monday to connect everything up.
We also had our carpentry experts in:
- the bar face has now had its paneling installed – remember the panels will be in pale yellow and the trim white
- the actual wooden bar top was hand built in situ, including a beautiful bit of joinery at the corner
- the roll work for the bar edge, again handmade by our master carpenter, has been added
I have to say that our construction team, coordinated by Bob Lausier and our general contractor John Kimball, has been absolutely superb. A massive thank you to them all!
Peter will be back from his vacation this weekend, so next week we will now also start work crafting a menu that will match our beautiful new bistro room. Some new things, and the return of a few stone cold Sudbury Inn classics by popular request!
Ali and Steve have at last made it back to the USA, New York City specifically. Gazing out of the window from the plane as we came into Newark NJ yesterday afternoon you really couldn’t get any sense of the devastation from Sandy. But then we turn on the local news and hear reports of 20 storey apartment buildings in Queens with no power and only one leaky fire hydrant for water, and restaurants on Staten Island with boats and docks inside the bar room. Add in friends and neighbors who have lost entire homes and sometimes their only means of making a living and I realize how blessed I am to be whole and finally on my way home to my friends in Bethel Maine. Tomorrow, fingers crossed.