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Classic Techniques, Fresh Ingredients in a Modern Kitchen

Aug 12, 2018 12:00AM

By Rita Calvert

In an area crying out for a classy, upscale yet friendly restaurant, Harvest Thyme Tavern moves to center stage. While completely low-key in a small shopping center on Central Avenue between Bowie and Davidsonville, the word modern comes to mind, indicating a level of cuisine far from ordinary. The new(ish) spot is already considered a gem. 

Owner and chef Rik Squillari was gracious enough to give me the background for Davidsonville’s newest eatery while treating us with one of his favorite recipes.

You’ve said that Harvest Thyme’s food is a mantra of fresh, homemade ingredients. Tell us about your cuisine. Does your menu change with the seasons?

Yes, over 95 percent of what we have is made in-house. We have a made a few changes to this portion of the menu a couple of times since we have been open. The area that changes for us most is our daily specials’ section. This gives us the ability to be more in tune with what is available to us during that time of year. Since we make all of our own sauces, salad dressing, vinaigrettes, pizza dough, and desserts, we can add seasonal twists.

Tell us about your passion for food and love of wine. Is there a cultural influence from your background? Are you from the Chesapeake region?

I grew up in the restaurant business with my family, so I have always been around food and wine. My great uncle Anton and my father Geno always had wine with dinner in a very traditional northern Italian style. This is where I got most my cultural influences. I have lived in Maryland for most of my life. As I child, my family lived in Cumberland until I graduated high school. After I graduated from Culinary Institute of America, I spent a short period of time in New Jersey, then moved to the D.C./Baltimore-area. My wife and I have lived in Crofton for over 28 years.

You mention Harvest Thyme Tavern is a family business. Can you explain that? 

It’s just my wife, Pam, and myself. We met at the Culinary Institute of America as students and graduated together in 1987. At the CIA in all courses, we learned visual presentation, incorporating colors, textures, and tastes. Although Pam doesn’t work in Harvest Thyme at this point, we both have the appreciation of “visual eating.”

You say you have a growing wine selection, boasting small batch selections and unique wines from all over the world. Tell us about your background as the wine buyer. What about the pricing?

On a weekly basis, I taste anywhere from a couple of dozen to over 70 wines. I look for wines that represent a quality to value ratio. I try to have multiple wines within a category to give our guests options for the style of wine they may be looking for. Our wines, beers, and liquors are also offered for sale at retail in a section of the restaurant. Our pricing for our wine list is retail markup plus a $10 corkage fee. I believe our guest should drink in quality and not necessarily in price. At the low end of our wine list—and you add the corkage fee there—is little or no savings compared to other restaurants. As you go up in price, there can be an excellent value versus other restaurants. 

What made you leave a position as national sales manager for a California wine importer complete with global travel to open an 80-seat restaurant?

I left Epic Wines because they sold to a large corporation, and I didn’t see it as a fit for me. The culture had changed from that personable relationship with the owners to more of moving boxes and not really caring about the relationships you had spent time building. Yes, I spent a lot of time traveling all over the United States and usually at least one trip a year outside of North America. 

How did you decide on the decor with an open display kitchen and wood-fired pizza oven? 

The pizza oven is a gas-fired stone oven. I decided to open kitchen because people like to watch their food being made and the pizza ovens I purchased seems to fit well with the concept. I feel Harvest Thyme is a casual wine bar with about 60 dining room seats and 20 more in the bar.

It’s a beautiful thing to see Panzanella on a menu. What inspired you to focus on it for one out of three salads?

I worked at an Italian restaurant back in the early ‘90s and just really liked this salad a lot. It is easy and full of flavor. In fact, we sell more Panzanella salads than Caesar. We make our own croutons, and we combine these with goat cheese and a balsamic vinaigrette to top our lettuce.

Pan Roasted Rockfish

Over Crispy Polenta with Meyer Lemon Citrus Salad

Chef Rik’s recipe is given in components, of which some can be made in advance.


Polenta

1/2 cup yellow polenta

2 cups water

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 teaspoons fresh chopped basil


Bring water to boil, add salt, gradually stir in polenta and cook for approximately three minutes,
or until it pulls from sides of pan. Stir in butter and basil. Spread on small baking sheet about one-inch thick and cool.

Once cool cut into desired shape. We do a circular mold. Note: Polenta can be made one day and ahead of time.

When ready for service, heat frying pan with clarified butter till hot, add polenta, cook till browned,
flip and repeat till second side is lightly browned.


Rockfish

2 (8 ounce) Rockfish fillets

pinch of salt and pepper

clarified butter or oil for cooking


Heat butter in sauté pan till hot enough for fish to brown. Add filet skin side up and cook till lightly browned (about 3-4 minutes): flip and repeat. total cook time will vary pending thickness of the filets


Meyer Lemon Citrus Salad for Two

1 1/2 cups Mache lettuce

2 Meyer lemons segmented, membrane saved to juice for vinaigrette

1 grapefruit segmented, membrane saved to juice for vinaigrette


Vinaigrette

Yield: 1 cup (12 portions)


2 Meyer lemons juice, plus juice from segmented lemon membrane, about 1/4 cup 

1/4 cup grapefruit juice, plus juice from segmented grape fruit membrane

2 tablespoons orange juice

1 teaspoon salt 

pinch white pepper

2 teaspoons freshly minced ginger

3 teaspoons freshly minced shallot

1 tablespoon rough medium ground pink peppercorns

1 3/4 cups olive oil

1 tablespoon finely chopped
fresh parsley

In a blender or food processor, add all ingredients up to and including pink peppercorns. Puree. With motor running, slowly drizzle in olive oil. Add parsley at the end.

Note: Vinaigrette can be made one to two days in advance.

To Assemble

Place two or three warmed polenta cakes on each serving plate. Top with Rockfish filet and mound citrus salad on top.

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