Culinary Couple Lee Chizmar + Erin Shea of Bolete Make the Most of Mondays

bolete photoWhen you blend two hospitality professionals with one successful restaurant and fold in two children, you’re not talking about a recipe that yields a ton of time for romance. Still, chef Lee Chizmar and general manager Erin Shea find ways to connect whenever they get the chance.

The owners of Bolete in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, Chizmar and Shea opened their restaurant in 2008 to a steady stream of accolades, and the acclaim has kept them busy ever since. Shea says, “Honestly with a restaurant and two kids under four, there isn’t a lot of room left for reconnecting. We have Mondays off together and try to make sure that we spend that as a family, leaving date nights to few and far between. Romantic for us is if I stay awake long enough to make a sandwich for my husband and share a bottle of wine.  Literally a turkey sandwich.  I know it isn’t glamourous, but it is life right now.”

Uncorking a bottle of wine — and arguing its merits — is a common way Chizmar and Shea sneak in quality couple time. “We will often open a great bottle of wine, even if it isn’t a special occasion. We actually have very different tastes in wine (he is a California boy and I love old world), so great debate and conversation often go into these late night wine dates.  And, really, us both being awake is the special occasion,” she says.

Before starting their family and opening the doors at Bolete, Chizmar and Shea, a couple for the last nine years, dined their way around the northeast. “When we were first together, all our free time was spent enjoying food and drink. In Boston, we would go out to eat every night after work. And, pre-kiddos, we spent a lot of time traveling to New York when the restaurant was closed.” Prune is a perennial favorite of the pair. “The food is so delicious and simple,” notes Shea. They also enjoy discovering different restaurants in Philadelphia. Chef Chizmar’s recent birthday was spent at Townsend. “The cocktail program there is a standout, and I highly recommend heading to their bar for a drink and a snack.”

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The Duo Behind Dai Due in Austin Share Their Favorite Shareable Dish

t.j.fall2014(2)Dai Due opened in 2014, but its origins date back to 2006. The restaurant takes its name from the Italian adage, “Dai due regni di natura, piglia il cibo con misura,” which translates to “From the two kingdoms of nature, choose food with care.” Naturally, then, choosing food with care is the mantra at this popular Austin eatery and butcher shop specializing in the hyper local. Having built a solid reputation and loyal following over eight years as the Dai Due Supper Club and Farmers’ Market, the newish brick and mortar location in the Cherrywood neighborhood of Austin is keeping culinary couple Jesse Griffiths and Tamara Mayfield super busy. Happily, their dedication has paid off: Dai Due was just honored by the Austin Chronicle, being named First Plate Top 10s by both Brandon Watson and Virginia B. Wood and included on the Chronicle’s 2015 Top 100 Restaurants. Open six days a week, Dai Due occupies much of Griffiths and Mayfield’s time.

When they have time to cook at home together, Mayfield says, “It’s always roast chicken.” Together for a decade, she says that they also enjoy sharing a bottle of wine. “If we are doing wine, our favorite would be a bottle of Gigondas (that is what we were drinking when Jesse proposed at Chez Nous in Austin.).

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Jill + Joe Dobias of Joe & MissesDoe on Time off and Time Together

Working in New York City’s East Village, Joe and Jill Dobias, the team behind Joe & MissesDoe, have been in a relationship for 10 years, in business together for six and a half, and married for a year and a half. Joe is executive chef, while Jill manages the restaurant, including its acclaimed bar program. The restaurant is open six days a week, and the pair also operate JoeDough, a successful catering and events company. Like most restaurant couples, this doesn’t leave much time for – much.

Jill says, “Work is work for Joe and me, so even though we live together and work together, we don’t get to spend a lot of ‘couple’ time together. It’s important that on our day off we try to limit the ‘work talk’ and make sure we do ‘normal’ couple things like cook dinner, go out to dinner, and watch movies.”

When they find downtime together in their own Manhattan kitchen, the roles are reversed, with Jill stepping behind the burner. “I love to cook for Joe. He cooks for a living, and he totally appreciates when someone else does it for him. My favorite dish to cook for him is pork chops. It’s really funny because I’m a Jewish girl and I’m cooking the most treif meal possible. I didn’t grow up eating a lot of pork, so I guess I like the challenge. I get really creative, too, and make stuffed pork chops,” she shares with a laugh.

The pair are also sure to venture out to sample other notable restaurants in town. “Joe and I had an amazingly romantic meal at Upland. Chef Justin Smillie’s menu is outstanding. We ate at the bar at ten o’clock on a Monday night … and it was perfect.” Note to foodies: They give special shout outs to the live scallop dish and a chicken liver pasta.

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SeaBlue Restaurant & Wine Bar’s Ken Norcutt Talks #DinersChoice Win, Rave Reviews + Pappy Van Winkle

Ken NorcuttThis week, OpenTable announced the 2014 Diners’ Choice Awards for Top 100 Restaurants in America. Perched atop the list is SeaBlue Restaurant & Wine Bar, a revelation that surprised Ken Norcutt, chef-owner of the restaurant, but one which he chalks up to consistency in service, creativity of cuisine – and experience. Located in the tiny-yet-tony resort town of North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, SeaBlue has been open for a decade. Norcutt is a lifelong restaurant professional. He says, “I’ve been in the restaurant business since I was 14 years old, doing one aspect or another, from busboy to server to bartender to working back of the house to doing banquets. I’ve always had two jobs, and a restaurant was always my second job.”

He began working behind the bar at SeaBlue in 2007, and by the next year, he had purchased the restaurant, revamping its concept and energizing its wine and cocktail programs; the wine list recently earned a 2014 Wine Spectator Best Award of Excellence. Initially, SeaBlue served tapas-style cuisine, with a shallow menu of just 10 items or so. Norcutt wanted to up SeaBlue’s game, and so he upped the menu, greatly expanding it with an array of USDA prime steaks and wagyu cuts. He also serves seafood, with a strong emphasis on local product. New in the past year are oysters. Norcutt estimates he shucked almost 20,000 this season. They are sourced from Virginia – pungoteagues and olde salts – and North Carolina and are complemented with seasonal mignonettes and savory sorbets. “I also do an oysters Rockefeller with applewood smoked bacon, braised spinach, a little panko, and a béarnaise aioli on top, and they’ve been very popular. I think most of my regulars say it’s the best oysters Rockefeller they’ve ever had,” says Norcutt.

SeaBlue Cheese copyLike most of this year’s other Diners Choice Award-winning restaurants, SeaBlue has embraced the artisanal cheese boom, serving a cheese course selected from a rotating inventory of 20 wheels of carefully curated cheeses from around the world that are aged in house. The artful plates, which are accompanied by jams, jellies, nuts, local honeys, and aged vinegar gastriques, have drawn recent attention from Cheese Connoisseur magazine. Norcutt’s latest cheese crush is Shropshire. Made from cow’s milk, Shropshire is semi-soft and similar to Stilton despite its orange-y hue. “It really stands out on the plate – and it’s the perfect blend of the saltiness of a blue cheese and the sharpness of a cheddar. And, we balance that all out by serving it with fig vincotto,” he notes.

North Myrtle Beach has, according to Norcutt, just 15,000 or so permanent residents, but in tourist season, that number swells considerably as 15 million visitors swarm the small beach town. He observes, “Historically, the emphasis in Myrtle Beach dining has been about buffets and chains, and that’s what has allowed SeaBlue to stand out. It is one of only about four or five restaurants that are really trying to change the scene and source from local farms as much as possible.” As the area grows in popularity as a vacation destination, its food culture is growing, too. “There’s a climate change here when it comes to the culinary scene. You’re seeing the buffets and the feeding troughs closing and these new places, like Fire & Smoke gastropub, opening.”

In a field of more than 20,000 restaurants, Norcutt was shocked and elated to find his establishment in the top spot. “When [OpenTable account manager] Page Stokes emailed me last Friday, I think I cried a little bit,” he admits. “We were just hoping to get into the top 100 again this year. And when she said we were the number one restaurant, I was speechless. I’m so glad people reviewed us and said how much they enjoy it here. We’re just a small little restaurant in a small little town; we do what we do and hope everything falls into place. It’s such an honor to be in the company on that list.”

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