Annapolis -- Wherever Michael and Cindy Dalesio go, some version of the new, lighter cuisine is sure to follow.
The pair introduced an innovative "spa menu" to Baltimore at Dalesio's in Little Italy in 1986, offering tempting dishes such as a 97-calorie curried zucchini soup and a 387-calorie whole wheat linguine tossed with chicken tenderloins, shiitake mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes and scallions in a veal demi-glace.
When they sold their Little Italy eatery, they brought some of the same menu to Michael's Riviera Grill on the top floor of the Brookshire Hotel. Recently they left the Brookshire and are now bringing their innovative ideas to Annapolis where they are managing Sam's Waterfront Cafe, a casual restaurant in the exclusive Chesapeake Harbour condominium and townhouse community.
But no matter where it is, when the Dalesios run a restaurant, they leave their signature. Chef Lorraine Gore remains behind the burners, but gradually diners are seeing some of the distinctive Dalesio touches such as platters of bruchetta -- Italian grilled bread that is rubbed with garlic and topped with buffalo milk mozzarella, tomatoes and pesto made with almonds instead XTC of pine nuts. Another Dalesio touch is the seafood salad -- a light and luscious combination of shrimp, sea scallops and calamari poached in court boullion and marinated in a sauce accented with Dijon mustard, cider vinegar and honey.
Whether it is called spa cuisine or Mediterranean cuisine, the emphasis is the same. Everything is as fresh as possible -- seafood, meats, herbs, produce. Preparation is simple -- mainly grilling and roasting. When meats are used, they are lean. When fat is used, it is packed with flavor -- hazelnut oil, walnut oil or olive oil.
"The idea is to take the best possible ingredients and cook them as simply as possible. We rely on freshness, color and intense flavors," Mr. Dalesio explained at a luncheon to illustrate how light-tasting food can marry well with lighter, lower alcohol beverages. The luncheon sponsor was Seagram's, who is test marketing Taos, a new aperitif with a mildly sweet, citrus-like flavor, in Maryland, Portland, Ore. and South Florida.
The Dalesio food philosophy was formed back in 1986 after the two enjoyed a couple of meals at the Sonoma Mission Inn while visiting friends in California. They loved the fresh, clean flavors of the food and didn't realize at first that they were dining at a spa where the food not only tasted good, it was good for you, too. Their friends sent them a copy of Edward Safdie's "Spa Food" (Clarkson Potter, 1985) and the rest is food history.
The Sonoma Mission Inn culinary rules are simple: "You don't have to go hungry, and you don't have to give up all the foods, wine or desserts you love." Instead of salt, use fresh herbs and spices, peppers and garlic, reductions of lemon and lime juice, double-rich stocks that are reduced twice to intensify their flavors. Thicken sauces with arrowroot or vegetable purees rather than flour, cream or butter. And present food to make the most of its color, texture, flavor and aroma.
Although the Dalesios take their basic philosophy from the Safdie book, they aren't purists who reject every hint of fat. Many of their recipes rely on olive oil -- an oil that gets good marks for no cholesterol but should still be used in moderation for those committed to a healthful diet because it is after all, f-a-t.
"Not everything is low in calories," Mr. Dalesio said. "We try to eliminate or reduce the cholesterol, sugar, fats and eggs where we can. The secret is moderation. Sometimes there is nothing like a pat of butter.
He added, "It's not a diet. It's a lifestyle adaptation."
Here are a few of the Dalesios' recipes:
Grilled spa salmon
Makes 2 servings.
2 fresh salmon filets, bones removed with tweezers, about 8 ounces each
2 tablespoons walnut oil
freshly cracked pepper
1 lime, squeezed
1 medium tomato, sliced
1 medium onion, sliced
Rub salmon with walnut oil and generously coat with fresh cracked black pepper. Grill over medium hot coals or broil about 4 inches from the heating element for 10 minutes per inch of thickness. Before serving, drizzle with lime juice and garnish with slices of tomato and onion.
Makes 6 servings.
1 pound jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 pound sea scallops
1/2 pound calamari rings (squid chopped into rings; do not use the tentacles)
2 cups court bouillon, see recipe
2/3 cup honey
6 cups water
1 tablespoon arrowroot
8 tablespoon Dijon mustard
6 to 8 garlic cloves, crushed
4 tablespoons cider vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 small red bell pepper, diced
20 turns black pepper
2 medium sliced red onions
1/2 cup scallions, chopped in rings
Poach seafood in 2 cups of court bouillon. Poach seafood one by one and remove. Shrimp should take 2 minutes; scallops 3 to 4 minutes and calamari 10 to 12 minutes. Drain and reserve.
Combine honey and water in a saucepan and reduce by one-third. Thicken by adding 1 tablespoon of arrowroot that has been mixed first with some warm water.
Mix all ingredients together for marinade in a large non-metal bowl and mix well. Add poached seafood, mixing marinade throughout, cover and allow to marinate overnight in the refrigerator. Serve on cold lettuce leaves and radicchio with French bread.
Makes 2 quarts.
1 1/2 quarts water
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
juice of 2 lemons
4 bay leaves
2 cups white wine
5 turns of fresh pepper
Put all ingredients together in a stock pot and bring to a boil. Lower to simmer and cook 15 to 20 minutes.