What really knocked my socks off wasn't even an entree, but an appetizer called Mussels a la Manhattan. It's the creation of Executive Chef Nathan Powers - the tasty intersection of black mussels with a Manhattan cocktail-style sauce, plus lemon-cherry aioli, all served with crunchy, charred ciabatta slices.
I've eaten mussels all over the world, including in Brussels (the world capitol of mussels), but I've never tasted a mussels dish that I enjoyed more than this one.
Chef Powers was generous enough to provide me with a recipe for Devour readers to try out at home. Here's his recipe for a 2-person serving of Mussels a la Manhattan. He advises sipping a Manhattan cocktail or two while preparing the mussels.
1 lb. pristine PEI mussels, cleaned
4 oz. unsalted butter (1 stick)
6 leaves Italian parsley - chiffonade
2 sprigs tarragon - chiffonade
5 chives - chopped
6 sprigs chervil - chopped
"Mix the herbs together."
For the Manhattan mix:
6 oz. rye whiskey, such as High West
3 oz. sweet vermouth
6 dashes bitters
"Mix together the rye whiskey, vermouth and bitters."
"In 2 crystal rocks or bucket glasses add ice and one cherry. Pour 1/2 of the Manhattan mixture over the ice in each of the 2 glasses and stir. Put your feet up, ponder your day, decide when to start cooking the mussels … Maybe have another one ..."
For the Lemon-Cherry Aioli:
2 egg yolks
1 clove garlic
Zest and juice from 1-2 lemons
6 pickled or maraschino cherries
2/3 cup canola oil
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Cracked black pepper
1-2 oz water
"In a mortar & pestle grind the garlic to a paste with a little kosher salt. Add the cherries and grind until relatively smooth. Scrape mixture out into a small mixing bowl. Add the lemon juice. In a thin stream drizzle in the canola oil while constantly whisking. Add a little bit of the water to adjust consistency. Finish by drizzling in the EVOO the same way, maintaining a thick emulsion. Season with the lemon zest, salt and pepper and adjust acid with the lemon juice. Reserve."
For the grilled bread:
"Rub 1-inch thick slices of sliced ciabatta bread with olive oil, garlic, salt & pepper and grill or broil until crispy brown and slightly charred. Set aside until ready to serve."
"When you are ready to serve, preheat a large cast iron skillet or sauté pan with a loose fitting lid like a pie tin until very hot. Add a few drops of high heat oil such as grapeseed or canola."
"Add the mussels and sear/sauté for about 1-2 minutes until they just begin to release their juices and start spittin’ … pull away from the flame and cautiously deglaze with the whiskey/vermouth mixture and return to the flame. This will likely produce a large fireball of alcohol flame so be very careful of your surroundings. Have your hood fans at full throttle!"
"Add the butter and cover with the pie tin and continuously agitate the pan to emulsify the butter and cook until the mussels are completely open and liquid is reduced - about 2-4 minutes."
"Add 3/4 of the chopped herbs. Toss a few times and split the mussels into two large pasta plates/bowls. Pour the sauce/juices from the pan over the plated mussels."
"Garnish with the remaining chopped herbs. Drizzle about 2 Tbs. of the lemon cherry aioli over the mussels and garnish with the charred bread. Make another Manhattan and serve."