Rick Nichols: Welcome very fine vegetables

Kabocha squash with black kale at Jose Garces' JG Domestic at the Cira Centre. Right, a cassoulet of peanut-fing- erling potatoes, andou- ille sausage, braised cabbage, cheddar.
Kabocha squash with black kale at Jose Garces' JG Domestic at the Cira Centre. Right, a cassoulet of peanut-fing- erling potatoes, andou- ille sausage, braised cabbage, cheddar.
Posted: October 28, 2010

We now have JG (for Jose Garces) Domestic taking its best shot at warming up the chilly lobby of the Cira Centre, the iceberg of an office building tethered, by skywalk, to the classic bones of 30th Street Station.

Domestic has a faux farmhouse thing going on - shelves populated by nicked watering cans and countertop balance scales, antique milk bottles and implements designed, blessedly, before the age of the digital readout.

There are also, in this multiroom, 175-seat arena, acres of maple-hued pine, both knotty and not. And I'm still weighing whether the decor (there's plaid in there, too) makes you ache for the real thing - or does a serviceable job of distracting you from the plate glass and passing headlights.

On a first visit the other night, I shared the "whole animal" special, which on some evenings apparently might be a roast suckling Pennsylvania lamb. This night it was "Arkansas wood-oven rabbit," which, given my recent exertions at cooking a rabbit (of Vermont origin), was a lesson in humility.

It was broken, like Gaul, into three distinct parts; a minuscule seared rack; tender coins of loin roasted in rosemary butter; and a meaty braised leg, each part cooked separately, Garces noted, to respect their varying thermal needs.

For a lunch a few days later, I had a sublime smoked Berkshire pork sandwich, the vinegary tang of its Carolina-ish barbecue saucing offset by a crisp, sweet apple slaw.

But that's sort of the level I've come to expect from a Garces venture. It was what I wasn't expecting that added an extra dimension - sides of hearty vegetable dishes in sizzling cast-iron skillets, a frothed, almost Tuscan-spirited cranberry bean soup, and mushroom flatbread with a crust as flaky-thin and delicate as phyllo.

So at JG Domestic (who came up with that name?), the mainstreaming of well-treated vegetables continues apace, joining seasonal samplers at Osteria and London, Barbuzzo and Supper, the "greens and grains" offerings at Marathon Grill, and the likes of braised red cabbage and parsnip puree that now show up at the once determinedly meat-and-potatoes Union League.

Partly, it's the more expansive pipeline: Chefs have hooked up with local farms, sometimes (as in the case of Supper's Mitch Prensky) harvesting their own potatoes for the evening meal; other times shopping the weekly farm markets; or finding easier access to distant specialties. Still, the sweet roasted kabocha squash at Domestic, says chef de cuisine Dave Conn, is Pennsylvania-grown, and its companion bitter baby black kale, now coming into season, is from Lancaster County. (By next fall, Garces expects to be cooking vegetables - for Domestic, as well as Amada, Tinto, and other properties - from the 40-acre Bucks County farm he recently purchased.)

Partly, it's a growing appreciation for, and the environmentally conscious embrace of, the vegetable kingdom, especially by nonvegetarians: At Marathon Grill, executive chef Luke Eschbach says his airy, mint-inflected red quinoa (green bean and pumpkin seed) salad on the "greens and grains" menu has sold steadily since April.

Partly, it's the addition of toothsome backbone to the vegetables: The morning-harvested "vegetable quartet" at Supper this summer often featured cheese-stuffed Romanian peppers, or chard with a chewy barley risotto, or hay-roasted potatoes - food with chew. Domestic's kabocha squash dish is laced with Otterbein Acres' sheep's milk (and a sprinkling of crunchy candied squash seeds); and its bubbling skillet "cassoulet" of peanut-fingerling potatoes, andouille sausage, braised cabbage, and Grafton cheddar sticks to your ribs.

I haven't had the Mount Saint Helens Porcini Mushrooms (in brandy cream over Anson Mills polenta) at Domestic yet. But Garces is aswoon over them: They come in fresh from Washington state (from volcanic soils on the mountain's flanks), "as big as my head."

Which doesn't make them local, particularly. But given that his past porcini were dried, and imported from Italy, it's progress.

Like a faux farmhouse warming up the bleak volume of a soaring corporate lobby.


Rick Nichols: Cranberry Bean Soup

Makes 4 servings

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 cup dry-cured chorizo sausage, small dice

½ cup Spanish onion, small dice

2 tablespoons fresh garlic, minced

8 cups chicken stock

2 cups fresh cranberry beans

1 cup brussels sprouts, leaves separated

½ cup fresh garlic sausage, cooked and sliced into coins

Salt and fresh ground pepper    to taste

1. In a soup pot over medium heat, combine vegetable oil and chorizo and cook until chorizo is rendered and slightly crispy, about 8 to 10 minutes.

2. Add onion and cook until translucent, about 10 minutes.

3. Add garlic and cook for an additional 2 minutes.

4. Add chicken stock and cranberry beans and season with salt and fresh ground pepper.

5. Simmer until beans are tender, about 1½ hours.

6. Add brussels sprouts and cook for an additional 10 minutes, then reseason to taste with salt and fresh ground pepper.

7. Serve garnished with sliced fresh garlic sausage.

- From Chef Jose Garces, JG Domestic Restaurant

Per serving: 784 calories, 46 grams protein, 80 grams carbohydrates, 10 grams sugar, 31 grams fat, 53 milligrams cholesterol, 1,370 milligrams sodium, 24 grams dietary fiber.


Rick Nichols: Kabocha Squash

Serves 4

2 cups kabocha squash, peeled, cut medium dice

1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided

Salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons fresh garlic, minced

2 tablespoons shallots, small dice

2 bunches baby black kale, stems removed, chiffonade

½ cup chicken stock

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

¼ cup aged sheep's milk cheese

¼ cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

2. In a mixing bowl combine squash, thyme, and 2 tablespoons olive oil and toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and fresh ground pepper. Transfer kabocha squash to a parchment-lined sheet tray in a single layer and roast until just tender, about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

3. In a large saute pan, heat remaining olive oil over medium heat and sweat garlic and shallots until translucent, about 1 minute. Add kale and chicken stock and cook until just wilted and tender, about 3 minutes. Add butter and cooked kabocha squash and cook until butter is melted and mixture is saucy. Season to taste with salt and fresh ground pepper.

4. Transfer squash and kale mixture to a shallow gratin dish and garnish with shaved sheep's milk cheese and pepitas.

Per serving: 345 calories, 9 grams protein, 17 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams sugar, 29 grams fat, 30 milligrams cholesterol, 105 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.


Rick Nichols: Quinoa

Makes 4 servings

1/2 Spanish onion, small dice

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided use

1 bay leaf, dry

Salt and black pepper

   to taste

11/2 cups red quinoa, rinsed       and drained

3 cups water

3 tablespoons piquillo

peppers, small dice

2 cups green beans, blanched and cut into 1-inch pieces

1 lemon, zested and juiced, divided use

12 sprigs parsley, picked and coarsely chopped

4 sprigs mint, picked and coarsely chopped

4 sprigs basil, picked and coarsely chopped

1/2 cup green pumpkin seeds

1. Prepare all ingredients as specified.

2. Sweat onion in 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. Add bay leaf and season with salt and pepper

3. Add quinoa once onion is tender; add water. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and cover. Stir every 5 minutes. Cook for about 20 minutes or until tender but not mushy. The quinoa should have a bite but not be crunchy. If the quinoa is still not tender enough, add more water and continue to cook until desired texture is achieved.

4. Once quinoa is cooked and all the water is absorbed, lay out on a sheet tray to cool.

5. Once quinoa is cooled (room temperature is fine), place in a mixing bowl and add the rest of the vegetables, lemon zest, herbs, and half the pumpkin seeds. Dress with the remaining extra virgin olive oil. Add lemon juice in small amounts until desired acidity level has been achieved. Adjust salt and pepper as needed.

6. Transfer quinoa to a serving dish, garnish with the remaining pumpkin seeds, and serve.

- From chef Luke Eschbach, Marathon Grill

Per serving: 493 calories, 15 grams protein, 58 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams sugar, 25 grams fat, 0 milligrams cholesterol, 24 milligrams sodium, 8 grams dietary fiber.


JG Domestic


Cira Centre

2929 Arch St.

215-222-2363

www.jgdomestic.com.

Contact columnist Rick Nichols at 215-854-2715 or rnichols@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/ricknichols.

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