For the second year in a row, Northwest Cherries has commissioned Gracie’s restaurant in Providence to represent Rhode Island while celebrating the Rainier cherry. As part of the annual Northwest Cherries’ Tree-to-Table event one restaurant in each state is asked to create a unique menu offering featuring Rainier cherries. The cherry is regarded for its “crisp bite and pale yellow flesh bursting with exceptional sweetness.” Gracie’s is incorporating Rainier cherries into a specialty cocktail as well as two dinner selections, all of which will be available for the month of July and through August, as long as this year’s Rainier cherry crop lasts.
Gracie’s Executive Chef Matthew Varga loves using the Rainier cherries, calling them, “little pieces of sun-kissed perfection.” Varga added, “The Rainier cherries are excellent. We’re really honored to be selected again for this year. We were thinking about how were we going to use them again. Last year we used them on one of the entrees, the duck. I really wanted to work them into a first course. Typically we do a tomato salad first course this time of year. I thought I could play around with the same flavors with the cherries as with the tomatoes. So I went backwards. I started with what would I do with tomatoes and then I switched it.
“So we have arugula, which Jeffrey grows just for us, the stracciatella cheese is from Fiore Di Nonno in Somerville, Massachusetts, Marcona almonds and balsamic vinegar add that acidity and nuttiness. I like the play of the Rainier cherries and the Bing cherries. You get the sweetness and crunch from the Rainier cherries and you get that really nice soft texture, sweet and almost tart from the Bing. They really play well with each other and as you can see the colors are just amazing. The almond butter is Marcona almonds and milk, cooked in a pressure cooker and pureed. The balsamic pearls and balsamic gel are set with agar, a seaweed gelatin, and they act as the vinaigrette. There are whole Marcona almonds toasted in olive oil, and also on the plate as a nougatine, cooked in a little bit of sugar and corn syrup. It sets like a brittle and then it’s blended.
“You’ve got creaminess, sweetness, acidity, nuttiness and nice pepperiness from that arugula. You don’t need a lot of it because it is really spicy, but when you pick it up with the sweetness of the cherries and the creaminess of the cheese it really works well. I use a single estate extra-virgin olive oil from Tuscany, not too spicy, a little grassy.”
Gracie’s owner Ellen Gracyalny also offered this about the Rainier cherry event, “It’s such a great time of year to promote Rainier cherries in Rhode Island because it’s Providence Restaurant Week. We have had so many people coming through the doors who love Rainier cherries. One table the other night ordered the cocktail and both dishes as part of their three-course dinner.”
Gracie’s Pastry Chef Melissa Denmark created the Rainier cherry dessert pictured here (above and below). It’s a beautiful plate composed of Almond Nougat Semifreddo, Dark Chocolate Mousse, Balsamic Rainier Cherries, Flourless Chocolate Cake, Chocolate Cherry Ganache and a Chocolate Balsamic Drizzle.
Jason Wessel, Gracie’s Wine & Spirits Director, has used the Rainier cherries to create the Mt. Rainier Cocktail. “Classic flavors of caramelized apricot in the Cognac complemented by the subtle sweetness of a dash of Herring cherry liqueur and cherry bitters. Stone fruit flavors fortified and softened by a slightly sweet portion of apricot liqueur. All fruit spirits invigorated by fine bubbles generously added with Cava, a dry sparkler from Spain.”
Wessel’s cocktail recipe follows at the end, after these photos of the Gracie’s dishes. You can find photos of last year’s Rainier cherry dishes from Gracie’s here.