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Vermont Restaurant Week

Friday, April 26, 2019

Sweet Eats Kick Off Vermont Restaurant Week

Posted By on Fri, Apr 26, 2019 at 6:15 PM

All the desserts entered in the 2019 Sweet Start Smackdown competition - STEPHEN MEASE
  • Stephen Mease
  • All the desserts entered in the 2019 Sweet Start Smackdown competition
Vermont Restaurant Week kicked off in super-sweet, sticky-sweet style on Thursday night at Higher Ground,  site of a friendly dessert competition.

The Sweet Start Smackdown pitted mocha cupcakes against lavender cookies, blueberry buzz buckle against chocolate vulvas.  In all, 10 sweet concoctions competed in the edible showdown with winners picked by the taste-testing, finger-licking crowd and a panel of three judges.

The Winners: Laura Johnson & Amber Corey from The Essex, Culinary Resort & Spa - STEPHEN MEASE
  • Stephen Mease
  • The Winners: Laura Johnson & Amber Corey from The Essex, Culinary Resort & Spa
Triple citrus mascarpone mousse from the Essex won first place. This treat stood out for its bright flavors and masterful technique. The orange mousse with lemon curd filling set on a basil-lime cookie  was  also notable for  ingredients it didn't contain: chocolate, caramel and gluten.

Laura Johnson, the 23-year-old pastry chef at the Essex Resort & Spa, said she was thinking of “spring flavors” when she conceived of  the dessert. “I’m not a big chocolate person,” Johnson said. “And I like the idea of triple citrus.”

Johnson won her first cooking competition at age 9, when her tropical sorbet was the victor at her elementary school showdown in Santa Cruz, Calif.
Triple Citrus Mascarpone Mousse Bite (GF): Orange-infused mascarpone mousse, with a lemon curd core, on a basil lime cookie. The winning dish from Laura Johnson & Amber Corey of The Essex, Culinary Resort & Spa. - STEPHEN MEASE
  • Stephen Mease
  • Triple Citrus Mascarpone Mousse Bite (GF): Orange-infused mascarpone mousse, with a lemon curd core, on a basil lime cookie. The winning dish from Laura Johnson & Amber Corey of The Essex, Culinary Resort & Spa.
Thursday night, Johnson and her co-worker triumphed over second-place finisher Birchgrove Baking of Montpelier. Birchgrove’s salted caramel almond cake packed a two-bite wallop of flavors and textures that crunched, popped, smushed, oozed and delighted. In third place was the seasonal offering of Eveleyne’s on Center in St. Albans: a sugarhouse cake dripping with maple and topped with whipped cream.

Despite the sugar highs that accompanied the event, the dessert crowd was a mellow one. Bartender Kris Hardy, who said he pours shots of whiskey and tequila nonstop at Higher Ground concerts, didn’t serve one shot Thursday night. It was a wine and seltzer kind of night, he said, with some vodka and sodas thrown in.

“It’s more relaxed and laid-back compared to the chaos of a rock and roll concert,” Hardy noted.

One attendee, Hannah Mills, stayed up past her bedtime to attend the Sweet Start Smackdown with her mother. A South Burlington second-grader, Hannah ate and rated every offering. Scoring the sweet eats on a scale of 1 to 10, she bestowed her highest mark — 8 — on the chocolate stout cupcake from Sweet Babu in Winooski.

Eating 10 desserts in one night is a lifetime record for Hannah, who described the activity this way: “It might be a bit much, but it was fun to try them all.”

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Friday, April 22, 2016

The Daily Planet Sweeps Podium in Inaugural Best Bite Bash

Posted By on Fri, Apr 22, 2016 at 5:14 PM

The Best Bite Bash - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • The Best Bite Bash
Hey, everybody, it's Vermont Restaurant Week! After months of planning and organizing, we at Seven Days are thrilled to see the annual 10-day feasting event lift off. 

Actually, lift-off happened last night with a packed house at Higher Ground in South Burlington. Locals poured into the Ballroom for the inaugural Best Bite Bash, a tasting event and menu preview featuring nine Vermont chefs in a friendly competition. The  chefs spent the evening hunched over tiny spoons — 4,000 of them, in fact —  assembling bite-size samples of a dish from their restaurant week menu. Meanwhile, guests circulated, conferring points for flavor, flair and overall best in show. Proceeds from the event went to the Vermont Foodbank.

Host Shawn Lipenski of Winooski-based Velvet Catering & Events was a lively and witty MC, while DJ Disco Phantom kept food comas at bay with bumpin' beats and tunes.

So about the food... 

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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Restaurant Week Diaries: The Tavern at the Essex: Vermont’s Culinary Resort & Spa

Posted By on Thu, Apr 30, 2015 at 3:44 PM

Smoked Chicken Corn Cakes - ALICE LEVITT
  • Alice Levitt
  • Smoked Chicken Corn Cakes
With the exception of sandwiches and a couple of entrées, most main courses at the Tavern at the Essex Resort & Spa cost more than $20. But during Vermont Restaurant Week, that's the price of the Tavern's entire three-course prix-fixe dinner. Next door at more upscale Junction, the three-course menu that usually rings up at $50 is just $30.

Since I'd reviewed Junction a few months ago, I was more interested to see what was new at the Tavern. I began with what could most accurately be called a Tex-Mex bouchée à la reine. Moist smoked chicken and black beans filled a vol-au-vent made of cornmeal. Swishes of chipotle vinaigrette made the crunchy round of dough taste a bit like vadai — Indian savory doughnuts. A handful of queso on top was a bit excessive, but microgreens on the side added crunch and color, even if they were dressed only in olive oil.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Restaurant Week Diaries: Three Brothers Pizzeria

Posted By on Tue, Apr 28, 2015 at 12:50 PM

I'm lucky enough to eat my way across Vermont for a living. When Vermont Restaurant Week comes, I'm pickier than most when it comes to choosing a menu. Ultimately, I look for a meal that I won't be able to get any other time. My first was exactly that: a three-course Lebanese prix-fixe served in a humble Colchester pizzeria.
Tabbouleh salad - ALICE LEVITT
  • Alice Levitt
  • Tabbouleh salad

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Friday, April 24, 2015

Waterworks Wins Sweet Start Smackdown 2015

Posted By on Fri, Apr 24, 2015 at 4:33 PM

Second runner-up Erica Anderson (New Moon Café, Burlington), winner Nicole Maddox (Waterworks Food + Drink, Winooski), first runner-up Juanita Galloway & Anne Marcoe (Good Comida, Shelburne) - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • Second runner-up Erica Anderson (New Moon Café, Burlington), winner Nicole Maddox (Waterworks Food + Drink, Winooski), first runner-up Juanita Galloway & Anne Marcoe (Good Comida, Shelburne)
Good news first: It's the first day of Vermont Restaurant Week! The event kicks off today and runs until Sunday, May 3. Last night, a sold-out crowd of 400 attendees and a panel of expert judges selected the event's Signature Sweet.

Now the bad news: The fourth Sweet Start Smackdown was the final one. Next year, Seven Days will still host a culinary competition, but with a new theme.

For the last Sweet Start, the Restaurant Week team invited back five all-star contestants who placed at least in the top three in a previous year. The other five challengers were new to the competition. Newbie My Little Cupcake replaced all-star Little Sweets at Hen of the Wood just two days before the competition, so new contestants ended up outnumbering all-star teams by one.

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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Restaurant Week Diaries: Kismet

Posted By on Tue, May 6, 2014 at 1:16 PM

The fifth Vermont Restaurant Week is now past tense, but I want to share the details of the best meal I ate in that 10 days.

It was an excellent weekend of eating overall. The $15 menu at the Spot in Burlington featured three well-made courses including a pair of excellent salads. Essex Junction's Café Mediterano knocked it out of the park with a whole-lamb dinner that was truly special. But the standout was a Friday-night meal at Kismet in Montpelier.

Bao gnocchi
  • Bao gnocchi

I'm a little embarrassed to say that I had never dined at Kismet before that night. But the inspired $35 menu made it almost impossible not to. It was at Kismet that I tasted what I'll remember as the dish of Restaurant Week 2014 — bao gnocchi.

Chef-owner Crystal Maderia told me that the appetizer was inspired by her grandmother, who grew up in Hong Kong. Maderia deconstructed dim-sum-style pork buns by serving petite, gnocchi-sized pieces of dough with a pile of pulled cha siu pork tangled with sesame-flavored spinach. It was a moment of genius that I hope Kismet will serve again in another of the restaurant's frequent menu rotations.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Restaurant Week Diaries: The Bagel Place & Wooden Spoon Bistro

Posted By on Tue, Apr 29, 2014 at 1:02 PM

The Bagel Place, 1166 Williston Road, South Burlington, 497-2058

The Wooden Spoon Bistro, 1210 Williston Road, South Burlington, 399-2074

I am just beginning to emerge from the flu that's kept me down for the first few days of Vermont Restaurant Week 2014. But venturing far hasn't been in the cards just yet. The last few days, I've kept close to home in South Burlington with excellent results.

What $10 buys you at the Bagel Place
  • What $10 buys you at the Bagel Place

Around 12:30 p.m., the Bagel Place's line snaked almost out the door. This was no surprise with the deal the bakery and café is offering. For $10, Restaurant Week customers choose a bagel sandwich, drink, chips or soup and a dessert. For some perspective, when I usually purchase an Italian sandwich there, it costs more than $7. For my Restaurant Week meal, I got three more items for less than $1 each.

This wouldn't matter if the food weren't excellent. It is.

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Friday, April 25, 2014

Vermont Restaurant Week's Signature Dessert Chosen at Sweet Start Smackdown

Posted By on Fri, Apr 25, 2014 at 4:40 PM

The contending treats at Sweet Start Smackdown 2014 - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • The contending treats at Sweet Start Smackdown 2014

Vermont Restaurant Week 
kicks off today and runs until Sunday, May 4. Just in time, close to 400 attendees and a panel of expert judges selected the event's third annual Signature Sweet. The 10 contestants were handpicked by the Seven Days food team, but voting was up to the guests — each of whom was given three gold tokens with which to cast his or her votes — and the judges.

Audience votes counted for 50 percent of the final score for each pastry chef. With a $5 donation to Restaurant Week beneficiary Vermont Foodbank, guests could buy three more tokens to bolster votes for their favorites. The other half of the voting power belonged to the judges: New England Culinary Institute executive chef and COO Jean-Louis Gerin; Andrew Silva, one of the founding co-owners of Burlington's Mirabelles; and Lyric Theatre Company's executive director, Syndi Zook.
Madeleine’s Magic Mushroom, Madeleine's Bakery - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • Madeleine’s Magic Mushroom, Madeleine's Bakery

After guests registered, they were met by two rows of five tables. For most, the first stop was Madeleine's Bakery of Milton, a favorite in the Seven Days office. Owner Erika LeBlanc presented "Madeleine’s Magic Mushrooms," cake pops with a pretzel-stick handle. The mushroom-shaped body of each pop consisted of chocolate cake filled with peanut butter meringue, then enrobed in a chocolate shell and drizzled with peanut butter.

Strawberry-almond tiramisu, Dolce VT - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • Strawberry-almond tiramisu, Dolce VT
Stefano Cicirello of Dolce VT was Sweet Start's first food truck representative. The highly concentrated almond cream in his strawberry-and-almond tiramisu packed one of the night's biggest flavor punches. The secret weapon of the smooth, creamy small bite was the crunch of a shower of perfectly toasted almonds.

Caramel apple cookie, Vermont Mooniight Cookies - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • Caramel apple cookie, Vermont Mooniight Cookies
Shaftsbury-based Vermont Moonlight Cookies traveled the farthest to provide sweet treats. Owner Barbara Bacchi displayed the local products she used in her cookies alongside the apple-shaped desserts themselves. Cabot butter flavored the shortbread cookies, which were filled with Red Kite Candy maple caramel and dried local apples.

Maple Umami Bite, Sweet Crunch Bakeshop - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • Maple Umami Bite, Sweet Crunch Bakeshop
Sweet Crunch Bakeshop's maple cookies are deservedly well known outside the bakery's tiny Hyde Park community. Chef Debbie Dolan Burritt served bite-sized versions of her signature cookie, amped up with caramel buttercream, sea salt and candied bacon. Their name, "Maple Umami Bites," proved wholly appropriate.

Flourless chocolate cake, Logan's of Vermont - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • Flourless chocolate cake, Logan's of Vermont
Logan's of Vermont representative Chris Logan presented the night's most classic dessert. His deep, dark flourless chocolate cake was smooth inside with a crisp exterior. Fortunately, it was small enough that its richness didn't overwhelm.

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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Alice Eats: NECI on Main's Restaurant Week Déjeuner à la Française

Posted By on Tue, Apr 30, 2013 at 12:41 PM

118 Main Street, Montpelier, 223-3188

Back home in Connecticut, my friends and I favored lunch at a now-shuttered French bistro called Le Figaro. Steak frites at 11:30 a.m? Hell, yeah.

Now that my hometown celebrity chef Jean-Louis Gerin is at the helm of the New England Culinary Institute, a wonderful piece of home is here with me in Vermont. And just for Vermont Restaurant Week, he's imported an elegant bistro lunch to NECI on Main that I wish my childhood friends were here to share with me.

For $15, diners choose two of the three listed courses from chef Andre Burnier's bill of fare.

We started with a simple salade verte, dressed in lemon and olive oil and showered with crumbled goat cheese. Walnuts and apple matchsticks lent a dry and wet crunch, respectively.

A different "wholesome, single-vegetable soup" changes each day as the second appetizer option. Tomato was the offering that day and it was simple, comforting and flecked with garlic as well as the requisite basil. A big, grilled crostini lolled in the potage, soaking up the red broth. The flavor of the char on the bread was so enticing that I gobbled it up, despite the fact that I'd already partaken of the bread basket with three different types of home-baked breads, including a satisfyingly sour, sturdy whole-grain loaf.

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Friday, April 26, 2013

Grazing: Fried Chicken Sandwich at Tip Top Café (or Hello, Restaurant Week)

Posted By on Fri, Apr 26, 2013 at 4:44 PM

I turned around to look at the clock on the wall behind me — 11:45 a.m. I usually don't eat lunch until 2 or so, but today was different.

It's the kickoff of Vermont Restaurant Week, something we've been waiting for and working toward all year. As the menus have dribbled in, we've salivated and plotted and planned. What makes this one especially sweet for me is that four spots in the Upper Valley are taking part. That may not sound like a lot, but it's twice as many as last year.

At 11:46, I began gathering my things to go for lunch at one of them.

I don't think I've ever been disappointed with a meal at Tip Top Café, which is saying a lot for a place that's been around for seven years. When I first moved to the Upper Valley, I would hit this airy White River Junction bistro weekly for to-go lunches of curries and creative sandwiches.

At night, Tip Top morphs from a sunny café into an atmospheric, candlelit restaurant with martinis and first-rate food (on First Fridays, it's impossible to get a seat here without a long wait). This year, Tip Top is participating in Restaurant Week for the first time. 

And the place is doin' it right. The kitchen is loading it on for the $10, two-course lunch special. The cup of chunky corn-and-ham chowder that kicked it off today was spicy and silky, and dense with sweet corn, minced red peppers, slivers of potato and what looked like bits of kielbasa.

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