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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It’s the Great Pumpkin: 15 Rave Reviews for Gourmet Gourd

pumpkin blogForget artificially flavored pumpkin spice lattes (and don’t get me started on pumpkin ales!); this fall, it’s all about fresh pumpkin. A true superfood, pumpkin has almost everything an eater could want in a single ingredient — protein, fiber, carotenoids, flavor, versatility, and much more. It’s a variety of squash and it can be used dozens — if not hundreds! — of ways when placed in the hands of a creative chef. Diners who are partaking of the real thing are encountering deeply satisfying dishes that capture the essence of autumn in every bite. Find out what they’re sharing in recent OpenTable restaurant reviews. And, ICYMI, here is a picture of the world’s largest pumpkin.

* Dettera Restaurant & Wine Bar, Ambler, Pennsylvania: “My dessert was pumpkin stuffed doughnuts with salted caramel ice cream. The doughnuts were light, the pumpkin smooth with just the right amount of sweetness, and the ice cream was sweet and very caramel-y.”

* Eddie Papa’s American Hangout, Pleasanton, California: “We also shared the seasonal pumpkin egg rolls and would definitely order them again!”

* Floriana, Washington, D.C.: “The pumpkin jalapeno beignets were out of this world!”

* Grove, Grand Rapids, Michigan: “Dessert was pumpkin puree, graham cracker, cinnamon ice cream, and toasted marshmallows. Grove never disappoints!”

The Helmand Restaurant, Baltimore, Maryland: “Delicious starters, the kaddo bowrani baked pumpkin is not to be missed — perfect with the entree as a side for a contrast to the savory spices in the entree.”

Indaco, Charleston, South Carolina: “The pumpkin semifreddo were as tasty as anything we’ve ever eaten in Charleston.”

Mark’s American Cuisine, Houston, Texas: “Munchkin pumpkins made their seasonal debut this past weekend — which was great news for me as I have been a big fan of these lobster-stuffed goodies over the years that they have appeared on Mark’s menu.”

Pamir Restaurant, Morristown, New Jersey: “Wonderful eggplant stew, and delicious pumpkin kadu soup. A real treat from the Middle East. Kabobs were tasty, but the best were the pumpkin-filled turnovers.”

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OpenTable Reviews Reveal #DinersChoice Top 100 Fit for Foodies Restaurants in America — with Slideshow

In celebration of our country’s progressive food and dining culture, we are pleased to honor the 2014 Diners’ Choice Award winners for the Top 100 Fit for Foodies Restaurants in America. These awards reflect the combined opinions of more than 5 million restaurant reviews submitted by verified OpenTable diners for more than 20,000 restaurants in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Newer eateries rule the list, with the majority of winners opening in the last three years. More than 20 were founded in 2012 alone, while 15 launched in 2013, and six debuted as recently as 2014. Also, 14 of the honorees have women as executive chefs. American fare is overwhelmingly popular, but French and Italian restaurants are common among the honorees.  Other popular cuisines include Japanese, Spanish, Middle Eastern, modern European, tapas/small plates, and vegetarian.

Showcasing restaurants with unique menus, easygoing ambience, and passionate chefs who have a “source local, cook global” approach, the complete list includes award winners in 29 states, including Aviary in Portland, Odd Duck in Austin, and Vedge in Philadelphia. Restaurants in Portland and Philadelphia collectively account for almost 25 percent of the list. California has the greatest number of winners with 14, followed closely by Oregon and Pennsylvania with 13 each. New York has eight honorees, while Colorado, Massachusetts, and Washington all have five, and Illinois has four. Minnesota, Missouri, and Texas each have three winning restaurants. Arizona, Delaware, Indiana, Maine, North Carolina, and Virginia, respectively, have two award winners. Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, and Wisconsin are also represented.

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20 Culinary Questions with Editor Amy Strauss of Philadelphia’s The Town Dish

Amy Strauss Brooklyn FleaAmy Strauss is the Editor in Chief of TheTownDish.com, a network of sites focusing on the food and dining scene in the greater Philadelphia area including its sumptuous suburbs — and beyond! An OpenTable member since 2008, she lives in Downington, Pennsylvania, where she can enjoy the best of Philadelphia proper as well the amazing hyper-local fare being served in surrounding towns. You can share in her eating experiences by following her on Twitter at @amy_strauss.

1. What are some of the best qualities of the Philadelphia dining scene? Living in the Philly suburbs, I’m fork-deep between quick-tripping into my local (and booming!) food city to experience the newest restaurant or escaping into my immediate backyard to discover the next well-deserving-of-the-spotlight chef. There’s potential everywhere, and where the Philly food scene stands, it’s eclectic and bold; it’s welcoming and honest. I’ve been around the nation and, although I may be biased, Philly is the best food city.

2. Any restaurants at which you’re something of a regular? For a casual weeknight, I’m hitting the bar. In the suburbs at Station Taproom for first-rate pulled pork sandwiches and craft beer or Tired Hands Brewing Co. for a cheese plate and one-off sour beer, and in Philadelphia, Starr’s Fette Sau for smoky, tender brisket and sharp bourbon drinks. For a “special” occasion (can’t that count as every day?), BARSAVONA or Zahav.

3. If I come to the PHL, where must I dine? In the Philly suburbs, any of these will rock your palate and provide an unforgettable dining experience: Junto (elevated PA Dutch BYOB), Nectar (Asian fusion with locally sourced sensibilities), Avalon (rustic Italian), Majolica (inventive, modernized American BYOB), Restaurant Alba (refined Northern Italian), Amani’s BYOB (local-focused), Taqueria Feliz (hip Mexican), and Bolete Restaurant (farmhouse-inspired). In Philly city proper, Serpico, Sbraga (eat the fried game hen!), High Street on Market, Vernick Food & Drink, Petruce et al., Avance, and Stock.

4. Last best restaurant you dined at? Just last night, I visited Fitler Dining Room, the newest concept from the talented gang at Pub & Kitchen. The happy hour was exceptional, with small bites like a vertical heirloom tomato salad constructed on buttery brioche and dressed with Rogue Creamery Blue. Being a bar that’s strictly beer and wine, they get impressively creative with their limited cocktails. For example, the Campobello Retreat features white wine that’s infused to taste like gin (it does!) and is finished with a fragrant splash of elderflower liqueur. It’s sharp and fun; I immediately wanted another.

5. Restaurants you’d most like to try but have yet to — anywhere? Bryan Voltaggio’s Volt, Quealy Watson’s Hot Joy, and Noma.

6. Favorite city for dining outside your own? Since part of what we do is travel for food, here are my favorite Town Dish trip destinationsAustin, Texas for Qui, Olivia, and Franklin Barbecue;  San Francisco, California for Mission Street Chinese and Saison;  Chicago, Illinois for Blackbird, Girl & the Goat, Publican, Publican Quality Meats, and Pequod’s PizzaPortland, Maine (especially in summer!) for Central Provisions, Eventide Oyster Co., Pai Men Miyake, and David’s Opus 10Atlanta, Georgia for Abattoir, West Egg Cafe, and Cakes & Ale; and New York City (of course) for The Breslin, Momofuku, and Alder.

7. Destination dining cities you’d love to visit? Nashville! Seattle! Aspen! Charleston! San Diego!

8. What’s your overall favorite type of cuisine? There’s nothing more wholesome than rustic Italian, and few and far between are doing it by the book and significantly well. I’m also always surprised with what newcomer chefs are doing with mod-American cuisine, particularly those who are scouting local gardens and throwing together fresh ideas and compositions unlike those seen before (example: Ella’s American Bistro, Majolica).

9. Small shared plates, tasting menu or app/entrée dessert? Tasting menus — always a home run! It’s the best avenue to fully experience a chef’s skill sets and where they execute their most creative dishes.

10. Dish you can’t resist ordering when you see it on a menu? I’m 100% Pennsylvania Dutch, so its in my blood to never resist regionalized, classic foods of my heritage. If I spy elevated soft pretzels, house-made pickles, hand-cut egg noodles — I got to stick to my stick-to-your-ribs gun and consider them mine! Fork and Junto put forth killer interpretations of the classics. Snack-wise, you know if a chef’s throwing deviled eggs on their menu, they’re going to be good. Same goes for hand-cut pappardelle — I usually need that.

11. Have you ever done a bang bang (a la Louis C.K.)? If not, what’s the greatest # of courses you’ve eaten in one restaurant siting? Working as a food writer and reviewer, bang bangs are a regular part of your week! My current course max (at one restaurant) is 14 — but that’s not to say I threw in the napkin. I’d adventure into the 20s. Dare me!

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