Artichoke Foam with Porcini Powder and Carrot, Orange and Mango Spheres with Rose Crystals: You will find neither of these at Paul Turano’s new restaurant COOK in Newtonville. “I wanted to keep things simple, good and approachable, “ Paul tells me as he preps for a class of 12 eager students at the Boston Center for Adult Education. I first met Paul pouring 90+ Cellars alongside his dishes at “Cook-Off” competitions at Gordon’s Liquors in Waltham. Paul squared off against a short list of Boston’s finest chefs and emerged victorious every time. Tonight, I was hoping to learn a few of his secrets.
“Is there any way you can find me some more of this?” he asks handing me a half bottle of Canadian Verjus, the special ingredient in his Kale and Brussels Sprout Salad. Verjus is a tart juice from underripe grapes cut during crop thinning or from second crop berries. It adds acidity to the salad, but in a way that doesn’t clash with wine, unlike vinegar. “I go through a case of it a week, and the distributor tells me he’s running out,” he goes on. One taste of the salad and you understand why it is so popular. Kale and Brussels sprouts aren’t supposed to taste this good.
Next on the menu, milk braised pork with apple purée over polenta. It’s just the type of dish one craves when the air chills and tree leaves turn to fiery reds, golden yellows, and sunset oranges. First, he seasons a pork shoulder with salt and pepper and then sears on the stove top, browning it on all sides.
Next, he adds milk and cooks the meat at a low simmer for a ½ hour. The pot is then covered and placed in an oven for 2 hours until tender. While the pork is braising, Paul and the students peel, core and slice gala and Fuji apples, which are then added to a pot with hard cider. Once cooked, the apples are then placed in a food processor and blended together with rosemary brown butter sauce.
When everything is ready, they slice the pork and place it on top of a bed of Parmesan polenta upon which the apple purée lightly poured. Served with a glass of 90+ Cellars French Fusion Red, the dish is a magnificent mouthful of savory pork, creamy polenta, tart apples, flavorful herbs, and soul satisfying red wine.
For dessert, a hunk of gingerbread with cream cheese frosting put big, sticky smiles on everyone’s faces.
Gingerbread is an overlooked after dinner delight. When made the way Paul makes it, you get a cake-like, not crunchy, texture which when topped off with cream cheese frosting makes going back for seconds unavoidable. You’re going to want to make this, so check out the recipe at the end of the post.
After the last fork full of gingerbread disappeared into the bellies of BCAE students, it occurred to me that Paul’s secret isn’t really a secret at all. Making this food required no special culinary school techniques, over-the-top, crazy ingredients, or an investment banker’s budget. It’s real food, carefully made, with the goal of satisfying the diner. When speaking with Paul, it becomes clear that his purpose is to make you truly happy eating his food and less about seeing his name in lights. In today’s world when it seems everybody just wants to make him or herself famous, it’s reassuring to know that Paul just wants to give you a great meal, reasonably priced so you can come back often. At COOK you’ll find approachable food done amazingly well with a little twist that makes it special. It’s the kind of restaurant you want to claim as your own.
You’ll be seeing me at COOK as often as my schedule will allow. I hope to see you there too.
Love the sound of these dishes? Check out the recipes below: