Local restaurateurs are spicing up holiday menus with the flavors of the seasons. Chefs are changing menus to include produce like pumpkin and squash that can be sourced this time of the year and add spices like cinnamon, cardamom and even green chile and mesquite.
“Chefs get excited when there’s a change in the seasons,” said Chef-owner Scott Heinonen of The Cottage in Flagstaff. “It happens naturally with chefs when the leaves start falling, and it gets colder. You have a whole new landscape of ingredients to work with, and that keeps it exciting and always changing.”
“There’s a change of scene towards squashes and brassicas vegetables [including broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower and brussels sprouts] and away from the summer vegetables,” explained Heinonen, who six months ago transformed and reopened The Cottage Place as The Cottage, a bright French bistro.
“Pumpkin is in the squash family,” reminded Heinonen. “I like to use squash in hash or in another starch. I’ve also used squash puree as a sauce for a fish dish.” The creative chef has also experimented with deep frying thinly-sliced squash dipped in tempura-style batter. “They’re like onion rings,” he smiled.
“My menu is autumnesque because of cauliflower, beets, braised purple cabbage that I serve with entrees such as pork roti,” said Heinonen, a graduate of the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management at Northern Arizona University. He garnishes his porc roti au herbes de Provence, a pork roast, with caper crème fraiche. Other seasonal dishes include sweet potato and turnip dauphinoise with cheese, butternut squash and cauliflower Parisian-style gnocchi made with pâte à choux; the same “batter” used to make éclairs and pheasant fricassee with duck-fat biscuits.
“I’m making my own strudel this fall. I don’t think anyone does that anymore. I roll out the dough and stretch it thin, so thin that you can read a newspaper through it,” said the owner of the only Flagstaff restaurant that boasts an all-French wine list. Events at The Cottage throughout the year include wine dinners that pair seasonal food with French wines. The autumn wine dinner was held in October, and another wine dinner is planned for December.
At Criollo Latin Kitchen and The Grand Canyon Café, Chef Michael Dilfillipantonio uses locally-grown pumpkins to create seasonal specials. “This is the second fall season in a row that we’ve worked with The Arboretum in Flagstaff that grows a variety of heirloom pumpkins for their annual Pumpkin Festival. They donated a few to us to use in specials here at Criollo and The Grand Canyon Café.”
At Criollo, he made Heirloom Pumpkin Risotto with seared diver scallops and mushrooms. The Grand Canyon Café included The Arboretum’s pumpkins in a fall vegetable quiche. “It’s a fun way to work with locally grown heirloom pumpkins,” added the Flagstaff chef.
“There’s so much to love about this season,” exclaimed Brian Konefal, chef and co-owner of Coppa Café. “Currently, our favorite dish is smoked squash risotto with Sonoran wheat berries and wild mesquite. Diners are loving the fall flavors but with locally sourced ingredients.”
Dara Rodger of Shift Kitchen & Bar shared, “We are an extremely seasonal restaurant that shifts our menu almost daily. That allows us to source as much seasonally and locally driven ingredients as possible. Right now, we are featuring items like fried brussels [sprouts] with Cotija and pepper mayo, apple squash soup with yogurt and pistou, short rib with carrots, red wine and garden cress, and desserts like sourdough bread pudding with pumpkin gelato and pomegranate and Brie creme brûlée with variations of apples.”
“For Thanksgiving, we will be doing what we call ‘Shiftgiving.’ The Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving (Nov. 21 and 22) will be a Thanksgiving inspired menu, with 10 percent of the proceeds going to olehealth.org, a foundation giving to people impacted by the California fires. We did something similar last year that went to BLE (Best Life Ever) foundation,” she said.
The Silver Pine Restaurant and Bar at Little America will feature fall flavors at the popular Thanksgiving Champagne Brunch, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 23. Later that evening, Thanksgiving Dinner will be served with all the trimmings of the season. Reservations are recommended.
According to Dalton Steen at Fat Olives, the Flagstaff restaurant will be showcasing Hatch green chilies and pesto for a Christmastime pizza special. “It’s not overly spicy and has a nice roasted taste. It’s how we think Italians would do hatch green chilies,” explained the wood-fired pizza artisan. FBN
By Stacey Wittig, FBN
Chef-owner Scott Heinonen of The Cottage calls his fall menu “autumnesque,” taking note of the seasonal vegetables that he pairs with entrees.
Photo by Stacey Wittig