Summertimes: Too Hot to Cook

The Lone Wolf
63 Main St., Amherst
(413) 256- 4643 • http://www.thelonewolf.biz
Breakfast and lunch
weekdays 7 a.m.-2 p.m.
weekends 7 a.m.-2:30p.m.
Breakfast $4.50-$9.50 (kids’ menu available)
Lunch $5-$10.

As part of our tour of Amherst with a visiting friend one recent weekend, my partner and I decided to have breakfast at The Lone Wolf. The farmers’ market had been up and running for a week or two, and the town center was packed on this particularly lovely Saturday morning. So was the Lone Wolf.
The neighborhood eatery’s offerings of classic yet creative breakfast and lunch fare make The Lone Wolf a safe bet for any crowd. Everyone is sure to be able to find something they like; you can sit and linger casually without being rushed out the door; and your coffee cup is always refilled before you have a chance to empty it.
After only a short wait, my friend’s special frittata—with Hadley asparagus, caramelized onions, Swiss cheese and spinach—arrived in a thick, enticing slice. The asparagus, clearly fresh, was tender and blanched bright green, retaining some of its crunch. The sweetness of the caramelized onions made a lovely complement to the earthiness of the Swiss, neither flavor stomping on the asparagus’s toes. The spinach was almost unnoticeable, but we weren’t disappointed, as the other ingredients were really the reason for choosing the dish. The frittata itself was light and creamy, more quiche-like than hearty frittatas tend to be. The dish was perhaps misnamed, but this slip certainly didn’t affect its light and springy tastiness.
My partner ordered Rachel’s Choice, a lumberjack-like meal that combined a little of everything. His eggs over easy were perfectly browned on the edges and the yolks were just runny enough to be sopped up with slices of wheatberry toast. His bacon was undercrisped for his taste, but perfect for mine—pleasingly chewy and on the thick side, as smoky, salty, and greasy as bacon should be. The homefries, chunks of baking potatoes cooked up alongside translucent sweet onions and loads of spices, were full of flavor but lacked salt and, we all agreed, would benefit from some crisping around the edges.
The standout of my partner’s order was, undoubtedly, the pancakes—perfectly browned and slightly crunchy around the perimeter, fluffy yet thin, and full of buttermilk goodness. Forking mouthfuls drenched with syrup, he seemed absolutely blissful.
I was in an egg sort of a mood, and went for the Sherwood Omelette, a bulging three-egg pocket filled with black forest ham, cheddar, and caramelized onions. The cheddar, gooey and hot, helped bind the thick cubes of ham and the slippery browned onions. With a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper, the dish was simultaneously sweet and salty and pleasing on the mouth with the chewiness of the ham and the light egg coating. It was served with homefries and a pile of wheatberry toast, onto which I piled bits of onion and cheese that had freed themselves from the omelette. This was weekend bliss.
We lingered lazily, the food coma setting in as we watched children miss their mouths with fistfuls of eggs and elderly couples serenely work through their fruit-topped waffles. After a good 20-minute rest and recovery period, we heaved ourselves out of the booth and went on our way. My dining companions and I agreed my meal had been the belle of the ball, but we were all satisfied, buzzing with caffeine a la roadside diner, and sure we’d be back.

Caminito
7 Old South St., Northampton
(413) 387-6387
Tue.-Fri. 5-10 p.m.
Sat. 4-10 p.m.
Sun. 4-9 p.m.
Entrées $17-$36

I live with a man who lusts after meat. And I mean truly lusts. He talks about it, reads about it, and reminisces about the way meat is cooked and served (and consumed in copious amounts) in his native South American nation. The problem is, we rarely cook it at home. So when we discovered that there was an “authentic” Argentinian steakhouse in Northampton, it was only a matter of days before we showed up, drenched from a sudden thunderstorm and ready to get our eat on.
Caminito is a lovely little restaurant perched atop the hill on bustling Old South Street in NoHo. Small wooden candlelit tables fill the dining room and an inviting terrace holds a number of patio-style tables for al fresco dining. Despite the pounding rain, the dining room steadily filled as we sat—proof of the restaurant’s draw and following.
We began to warm up with a bottle of Luigi Bosca Finca la Linda, a Malbec that had a hint of the spicy edge of a syrah but the mellowness and warmth of a good merlot. Not long before we started sipping, our appetizers arrived, already boasting quantities of iron-boosting red meat. The esparrago con prosciutto was an obvious choice, given that, at the time of our visit, we were at the height of asparagus season. The asparagus had a pleasantly charred flavor from the grill, but was a bit undercooked for my taste. The prosciutto, usually one of my favorite meats, had been wrecked by the grill. The heavenly saltiness of cured meat was masked by the overwhelming taste of grill smoke, and the tender strips had become chewy from the high heat. We were grateful, though, for our delicious second appetizer, beef empanadas.
Empanadas are a savory version of the American turnover. They can be baked or fried and filled with all sorts of meats, cheese, and veggies. These four little golden pillows arrived without fanfare, circled around a bland pile of iceberg lettuce and diced tomatoes. But one bite, and I was hooked. The crust was buttery and light, just slightly crisped on the outside and chewy from the steam of the meat. The ground beef was brought to life with warm spices and chopped olives, egg and peppers.
My hunger was well dented at this point, since I had devoured the appetizers and the bread, but the star of the show was still on its way. My partner and I had ordered the parillada, or, as he described it to me, everything from the grill. A large platter (recommended on the menu for two) soon arrived with piles of meat, oozing with juices and beautiful in their simplicity. The beef short rib strips were chewy and by far the most fun to eat, as I learned to tear the connective tissue from behind the circular bone in order to detach the surrounding chunk of meat. The skirt steak, a bit overdone for our medium rare order, still displayed remarkable flavor and tenderness.
The chorizo, one of my favorite meat dishes, took center stage on the plate, plumped with moisture. The sausage was thoroughly spiced and left my tastebuds at attention but not numb. But perhaps my favorite was the veal sweetbreads, light in color but rich in flavor, buttery soft and well sized to pop into my mouth one after another. The platter was accompanied by a simple salad of sliced tomatoes with olive oil, a touch of vinegar, and oregano, a perfect antidote to the heavy richesse of the meats.
Somehow we found room for flan, another of my partner’s favorites. The custard came topped with a gob of gooey dulce de leche and one spring strawberry and surrounded by fresh whipped cream. The flan itself was light and creamy, not dense or giggly, a flaw of too many restaurant flans and one that ruins diners’ perception of how delicate the custard can and should be.
Finally rising from the table was a difficult task, but my partner had a huge (if a bit greasy) smile on his face, proof that Caminito had stood up to the test of a true carne connoisseur. I’m no authority on what those cuts of meat should taste or look like, but if Caminito is any indicator, I’m ready to hop a plane.

The Night Kitchen
440 Greenfield Rd.
Montague
(413) 367-9580
Thu.-Sun. 5:30-9 p.m.
Entrées $18-$22
Reservations recommended

I’m not big on eating late, nor am I much for going out on a Sunday evening. So I was already verging on blurry-eyed irritation when I arrived at The Night Kitchen one recent Sunday evening to claim my 8 o’clock reservation (the only time I could get a seating all weekend).
But my weary, homebody mood was instantly lifted as the restaurant’s host led my partner and me towards a charming table for two, perched atop a slab of original stone and cornered between iron gears and other originals from the mill. In front of me was a view of the rushing river, careening over the weathered stones in the dusky light. To my left was a simple glass bud vase containing a single daisy and a small candle. As I listened to the water and gazed across the table at my candlelit dining companion, I felt the tiredness and desire to be back in my pajamas slip away. The Night Kitchen has that effect.
The restaurant, located below the Book Mill, is not only one of the loveliest spots to eat (or do almost anything else) in the Valley, but has gorgeous and delicious food to match. Yet there’s nothing pretentious about it. As we sipped our chardonnay (2005 Domaine Talmard Macon, crisp but flattened a bit by overchilling), a couple sat near us planning the menu for their wedding alongside the restaurant’s owner, casually, comfortably, and intimately.
The Night Kitchen’s entryway is papered with a map displaying the locations and brochures of the local farms whose products are used on the menu. So it was no stretch for me to indulge in the early spring bounty of a watercress salad with blue cheese, candied walnuts, and beets. The slices of the roots were tender but not slippery, inviting in their golden and deep burgundy hues. The cress was crisp and clearly fresh, the blue cheese ample and deep in flavor. The salad was left to shine on its own, just lightly dressed with a modest vinaigrette, a surprise as many restaurants overdress fresh and flavorful greens.
My partner began with a heartier starter, a caramelized onion soup, sweet and golden. An island of puff pastry floated in the middle, topped with broiled gruyere—an earthy centerpiece to complement the deep sugars of the onions. Both of us found ourselves sopping up the bits with fresh bread, preferring the remnants of the soup to the saucer of unexciting olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
After much debating, we had settled on two items from the array of fabulous-sounding entrées. My companion ordered grilled rainbow trout in almond butter over a saffron risotto. The presentation was rustic yet elegant, a fillet of fish skin draped over the starchy Arborio and a few tender stalks of spring asparagus. However, the taste was less perfect. Though the fish had been grilled to flaky, light perfection, the almond butter was poorly executed, lacking salt and spice. The risotto, although tasty, wasn’t as jaw-dropping as we had hoped, and felt a bit heavy as a partner to the otherwise light dish.
My entrée, however, was show-stopping, and wiped away the flaws of the trout. A hearty serving of grilled duck breast (I always order duck on a menu; it’s far and away my favorite meat and, as far as I’m concerned, too hard to find) came dotted with plump cherries, tangy and bursting with port-infused juices. The meat was cooked to perfection, easily submitting to my steak knife’s edge. The whole velvety breast was sliced atop toasted Israeli couscous, soft pearls of semolina which posed no threat to the dominant flavors of the fruit and meat, but instead soaked up the juices, adding a pleasant delicate garnish to the duck.
Although we were stuffed and it was getting late, I couldn’t pass up dessert; there was rhubarb. A simple country dish soon arrived before us: warm ginger rhubarb compote spooned atop a slice of toasted sponge cake and finished with a dollop of whipped cream. The compote was outstanding, tart and smooth, benefiting from the well-sweetened cream and the absorbency of the cake.
As we shared nibbles of the finale, I realized I hadn’t even noticed the sky fade to black. Night had fallen upon the Night Kitchen, and I, like Mickey in the restaurant’s namesake tale, had become too absorbed in the culinary wonders at the table and the transporting ambience of the place to sleep. The Night Kitchen experience, I thought as I walked out into the moonless evening, is certainly worth staying awake for.

Author: Sara Franklin

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