How appetizing!

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Diners often skip starters, but practicing foodies know the appetizer course is where chefs shine, combining textures and flavors to create, quite possibly, the highlight of your meal.

Lightly-fried wontons rolled and stuffed with fish and cilantro are a crunchy, scrumptious start at Taste of China (1) (and the newly opened Peter Chang China Grill).

Albondigas, Spanish meatballs, at Camino (2) combine local beef from Griffon’s Aerie and pine nuts. Served in an orange-apricot glaze, these meaty nuggets offer a flavorful introduction to Camino’s Mediterranean cuisine.

Chicken liver paté at Petit Pois (3) may not be low-fat, but it’s the perfect way to ignore your calorie count. Smear this luscious, creamy spread over a toast pointe, and you’ll declare, “What diet?”

Zynodoa’s (4) James Harris creates otherworldly cuisine with the trout appetizer at his Staunton restaurant. Thin slivers of smoked fish surround a crispy potato cake topped with arugula, egg and a mustard vinaigrette.

A must for any tapas lover, bacon-wrapped dates at Mas (5) are fruity, chewy, porky goodness so tasty, you’ll want seconds and fifths and eighths…A perfect complement to Mas’s gorgeous blood-red sangria.

Gnocchi, Italian potato dumplings, threaten heaviness, but Maya (6) creates pillows of air with its yummy appetizer version made from sweet potatoes, eggplant, wild mushroom and brown butter.

Sure, you’ve had chili fries, but poutine? A late-night snacking standard in Montreal, poutine is a flavorsome conglomeration of gravy, fries and squeaky cheese curds. The version at X-Lounge (7) is chow-down worthy.

Some folks have a visceral reaction to snails. What a pity. The escargot forestiere at Pomme (8) is a gorgeous blend of these gastropods lightly cooked in garlic cream, mushrooms and Pernod, a French aperitif. Instantly, you’re in a Paris bistro.

Need cheering up? Zinc Bistro’s (9) pasta appetizer will help. This luscious gathering of housemade pappardelle, coddled eggs, truffle oil, parmesan and lardo (Italian cured fatback) combine to give you soothing “My Italian grandma made this!” comfort.—Jenée Libby

The fungi at the party

A lot of pressure rides on the host of a dinner party until the drinks start to flow, so it’s best to come out of the gates strong with a no-fail, crowd-pleasing appetizer to take the edge off your guests’ hunger. Here’s one from Ivy Inn Restaurant chef and owner Angelo Vangelopoulos.

Balsamic-Glazed Mushroom Crostini
Slice some crusty bread into 1/2" thick slices, drizzle with olive oil and toast in a 450 degree oven. Sauté thin slices of shiitakes, oyster mushrooms or cremini over high heat until browned (about four minutes). Add salt and pepper, a little minced onion and garlic and cook another two minutes. Add a few tablespoons of balsamic vinegar to deglaze the pan and cook until the vinegar has coated the mushrooms. Remove the pan from the heat and toss in some fresh chopped basil and parsley. Spoon mushrooms on top of crostini and serve.—Megan Headley

Find fresh mushrooms from Sharondale Farm at the City Market (Water and First streets), which begins this Saturday, April 2 at 7am.

Did you know?

The phrase “whet your appetite” comes from the late 1600s. It alludes to the sharpening of tools on a whetstone and, figuratively, sharpening one’s hunger.

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