Homecooked meals are taking on a new meaning at some of Long Island’s most acclaimed restaurants this month. Six Bohlsen Restaurant Group restaurants will be hosting Wednesday night harvest dinners in October: Prime Huntington and Stamford, H2O East Islip and Smithtown, Teller’s and Verace. The menus will feature dishes made with local ingredients paired with local wines. Among the delicious offerings will be foie gras with duck from Crescent Duck Farm, cheeses from Mecox Bay Dairy and produce from Good Water Farms, Satur Farms and Koppert Cress. Paumanok and Palmer, where the team shot a promotional video, are among the participating vineyards.
To whet our appetites, Pulse caught up with owner Michael Bohlsen to talk about food and wine pairing, foodie revolutions and why Long Island is no longer sitting at the kids’ table when it comes to dining.
The Harvest wine pairings are across six of your restaurants. Why was this such a great fit for them?
First of all, it’s a lot of fun. People like to eat for entertainment as much as anything else. We try to give people a little adventure if they want to get a little education or try something new. It’s a great way for us to introduce people to the ways food and wine pair. The harvest menu allows chefs to express their own creativity using local bounty. The wine on Long Island has improved over the last 25 years. Our wineries are winning awards. We’re really proud to be partnering with a lot of these wineries, farms. We’ll have a lot of local fish. My brother Kurt and I were born and raised on Long Island. We love the opportunity to support the local wineries, farmers and fishermen.
How did you come up with the idea and how have you gone about executing it for six restaurants?
We basically sat down this summer and decided we wanted to do this promotion and focus on local producers. We decided to take the Wednesday wine dinners we were already having and use them to help expose this local bounty to people. We started with going to our vendors and asking for direct contact with local purveyors and getting a list of what they’ll have. We gave the list to our chefs and they went about making the menus on their own. We gave them a lot of freedom to create what they thought would work best and express themselves.
Sommeliers also have to be knowledgeable about food to talk pairings. How does Bohlsen Restaurant Group educate them?
The hard way <laughs>. They eat every day in the restaurant. We do these wine dinners all year round. We have three courses. The staff eats it and we talk about them, the ingredients and why they go together. The only way to learn it is to drink it. If you want to learn what foods pair with wines, try different foods with wine.
Is there a pairing you’re particularly excited about?
Everyone loves the Shinnecock Bay diver sea scallops at Prime. They’re made with salsify, bacon, Brussels sprouts and balsamic. We’re pairing them with Palmer Merlot. It has aromas of creamy vanilla and savory clove with plenty of dark fruit flavors. Its great acidity and soft, well-rounded tannins will add layers of flavors to the local scallops.
Why is it so important to support local?
For a long time, Long Island hasn’t gotten the credit it deserves. There’s wonderful food, wine and liquor. The more people understand how wonderful the food, wine and beverage produced on Long Island is, the better off we are. It encourages them to continue. They need outlets and ways to sell products and get awareness out there.
We’re also in the midst of a revolution of food. There’s Food Network, game shows and documentaries about chefs. You can watch YouTube videos. There’s awareness of organic, locally sourced food and small farms versus big farms. It’s ripe for us to focus on these products and the array of what we offer on Long Island.
Going off of that, how has the digital age and social media changed food?
I don’t know that it’s changed food but it’s certainly changed the food business. It’s helped people see food as art. There’s a movement, even amongst Millennials and younger people, towards eating better food and ingredients that are fresher, seasonal and local.
How has that impacted Bohlsen Restaurant Group?
It’s allowed us to do what we do best: Cook fantastic things and teach people. We support the local farming community, fishermen, cheese makers and ranchers and do it in a way that people like. We still have to make people happy. It’s our job to have our finger on the pulse of what Long Islanders want.
What’s an example of something Long Islanders are really craving right now and how did digital help fuel the trend?
This past year, we saw a huge surge in oyster sales. People are loving how versatile they can be. People can have them on the porch with sparkling rosé. It’s the experience of it. They see it on Instagrams of restaurants and influencers and want to go out and try it too.
The video Bohlsen Restaurant Group shot was really awesome (It can be viewed here). Where did your team shoot it and what did you learn by watching it?
We shot on site at Palmer Vineyards. We were given behind-the-scenes access by winemaker Miguel Martin and really shepherded through the process. We were in the fields during the harvest and saw firsthand the care that goes into how grapes are picked. We were able to listen to winemaker Miguel, the vineyard manager and BRG’s head sommelier Paulo Villela discuss how wine is made, what goes into the process and how wine is paired with food. These extraordinary men have well over 20 years experience each! Watching them together really gave us insight into the level of skill and expertise required to understand the nuances of pairing wine with food.
The holidays are around the corner. What are some tips you can give Pulse readers on food and wine pairing?
I am a big proponent of having a good time. I don’t like to overthink that stuff. I like lighter, fruitier wines. I love red wine. Really strong wines can overpower subtle foods. I like to make my food with quality ingredients without over saucing them.
Is there a specific wine you’ve had during a recent holiday season you love?
Raphael Vineyards’ Cabernet Franc. They have a great Sauvignon Blanc also. I have a lot of their wine at home. They’re great wines, very versatile and pair with a lot of foods. They’re crowd-pleasers.
Heading out to farms is a fall tradition for Long Islanders. What’s it like for a restaurateur?
What I and the chefs are always doing is looking for products that look and feel the best and then determining what we’re going to make afterward. The dish is determined by what’s good at the market and not the other way around. It’s like on TV when the contestants get a basket of food and have to make a dish out of it.
How about wineries?
Restaurant people know how much work goes into the wine, how hard it is for a winery to make a dollar. They’re at the mercy of elements like the weather. We know how long the process is from planting a seedling to vine to finally harvesting fruit and how to make the most of the terroir. It’s a lifelong process. We have a deep appreciation for what wineries and winemakers do and perhaps a little more respect than someone who isn’t as familiar.
On a rare day off, what wineries, farms and restaurants do you like to go to?
One of the things about being a restaurateur is I like to change it up. I’m always wanting to try something new. I like to travel. Wherever I go, I start looking for restaurants.
What’s a recent place you went to that you loved and what should we eat there?
Atla on Lafayette in Manhattan. Fish Milanese. It’s delicate, simple, well-seasoned, coated in buttermilk and fried to a golden crispy brown. It’s an incredibly fresh fish served with a slightly acidic cucumber lime ceviche. Delicious!