The Seasoning of a Chef

What you liked about Lindbergh’s Crossing remains at 29 Ceres Street. The classic French technique, the subdued light and charming ambiance of exposed bricks and rafters. And, of course, the great salads and snails. But for chef and new owner Evan Mallet, the world is now his oyster. Mallet’s culinary journey in Portsmouth started in 1998 when he and his wife Denise stopped in for dinner at Lindbergh’s Crossing and made a simple decision. He would apply for a line cook job, just to be part of the restaurant. The room was inviting and the cuisine was even better. It was a place he could learn and share what he already knew. He soon became head chef at Ciento when Lindbergh’s opened the Spanish-themed restaurant at 100 Market Street. After Ciento closed in 2001, the Mallets traveled to the artist community of San Miguel de Allende to operate a Cuban-themed restaurant. In 2003 he returned to Portsmouth with his family to take the helm vacated by Lindbergh’s founding chef, Jeff Tenner. First a line chef, Mallet is now the owner of 29 Ceres Street, once the home of the famed Blue Strawbery. The new restaurant has been christened the Black Trumpet Bistro — partly because of Mallet’s love of exotic mushrooms and partly because these days you have to forage for untrampled Web domain names. The restaurant was closed for two weeks before the latest transformation was unveiled. Mallet claims he felt like he built the pyramids in that time. A few physical changes — new wine racks overhead in the dining room, fresh paint all around and decisions aplenty for the menu, wine and serving ware. The staff — Lauren Crosby, Jasmine Inglesmith, Michael Piergrossi and wine steward Julian Armstrong — all opted to stay and helped with the renovation.
But there is more than a fresh look. Mallet now has full rein to showcase his bold, authentic flavors. A Lindbergh’s favorite, the radiccio salad, now has local, Great Blue Hill cheese. For the simple fried almonds, garlic and olives, he chose Castelvetrano olives that are cured only in salt, no vinegar. These “crafted” olives are just an example of the searching Mallet does for new and interesting flavors. Pickling is another “lost art” he seeks out. He claims hardly anyone under 80 knows how to make picklelily anymore. It’s surprisingly complex, with flavors of sweet, salty, bitter, sour and even umami. Reviving foods of the past are part of his mission.
It was living in Washington, D.C., a decade ago that Mallet experienced world cuisine on a grand scale. Twelve ethnic restaurants were just outside his door. His intrigue continued later with trips to France and Mexico. Mallet’s flavor explorations now center in North Africa. That shifting area was the crossroads of spice trading when cinnamon was as precious as gold. Influenced by centuries of traders and invaders, each group brought something to the mix. Now the turmeric and coriander and more exotic components are not so dear, but the flavors are just as “exquisite,” says Mallet. He mines the sensory riches of that eclectic pocket for new inspiration.
The tiny kitchen of the Black Trumpet has a store of 70 spices to help him puzzle the tongue, add a hint of intrigue — but at the same time his real thrust is to make food that “comforts” and sustains. Looking at the new menu, Mallet is thrilled that a new octopus dish is popular. People are looking beyond the “yuck” factor to explore the world via cuisine. Here, he braises the octopus and chorizo in a tomato base with a paprika mojo — a Cuban-inspired blend of olive oil, garlic, lime juice, cumin and other spices. Another popular dish is the mini bibb Caesar with anchovy-lemon aioli, Muscat grapes and shaved, aged gouda. Mallet uses garum, a fermented anchovy oil collected from crates of fresh sardines just before they are shipped. The housemade Merguez (lamb) sausage is seasoned with harissa and served with spring radish salad and mint mayonnaise. It just all goes together nicely, Mallet says. The tuna tartare with coconut, coriander, cilantro, jalapenos and mashed English peas is a real trip around the world. In the end, that is what Mallet is all about — stretching horizons. He hopes others, many others, share in his curiosity. As ancient cultures may have been defined by their spice mixtures, the new Black Trumpet Bistro will be heralded by the bold flavor combinations of Chef Evan Mallet. NH The Black Trumpet Bistro 29 Ceres St., Portsmouth (603) 431-0887
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