Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Local, Sustainable and Superb - Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen

Halloween night was the three-year anniversary of the opening of Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen and they marked with occasion by serving all of the courses in threes at their monthly no-menu Monday. There aren’t many restaurants where I would be comfortable paying $45 for a meal of whatever the chefs feel like serving, but AM combines creativity, attention to detail and fresh, local ingredients in a way that makes you want to try anything and everything the kitchen can put together.

Also, the chefs at Andrew Michael understand the importance of sourcing the highest quality meat possible so they get their pork from Newman Farms. Sampling barbecue restaurants has caused me to eat a lot of commercially-raised pork recently, but when I buy meat to cook at home I seek out cuts from animals that were raised using healthy, humane and sustainable methods by shopping at local farmer’s markets with vendors like West Wind Farms, Newman Farm, Donnel Farm and Neola Farms.  And I greatly appreciate area restaurants that do the same.

Subsidized crops like corn, soy and wheat aren’t just bad for human health. They are also bad for the health of farm animals forced to live off of them in high-density feedlots and, because they are grown in such massive annually harvested monocultures, they are bad for the health of the planet. When you buy meat at the farmer’s market you can talk to the farmers about how their animals are raised and what they eat. While grass-finished meat is best for your health and the environment, adding locally raised, organic grains to the feed of pastured animals is still far better than trucking petro-chemical drenched grains thousands of miles to feed to bloated animals that spend months crammed into confined pins without ever seeing pasture land at all.

Of course, restaurants can also have an extra ulterior motive for using locally-sourced meats from small farms. Animals raised with care and attention using traditional methods are delicious, especially when combined with traditional cooking methods like the ones used in the Andrew Michael Kitchen.

On Monday night, our first plate featured three separate seafood dishes built around oysters, shrimp and octopus. It was followed by lasagna made from Donnell Farm beef cheek ragu, Newman Farm lamb ragu and traditional Italian gravy. The main course featured a trio of Newman Farm’s pork shoulder, belly and sausage paired with pistachio gremolata, potatoes and lentils. It was all wrapped up with a dessert that combined chocolate ganache, chocolate torte and chocolate gelato. My wife and I were dining with another couple and it is tremendously fun to try to guess all the elements you are eating. The servers won’t confirm or deny what is in anything until the entire meal is completed and then they reveal the menu.

I realize that upscale, nonbarbecue dining like Andrew Michael might seem like an odd place for me to review here, but they use so much traditionally prepared pork, down to butchering their own whole hogs, that I felt that they deserved some applause here for the excellent work they are doing.

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