In The Chef’s Kitchen > An International Flair For Local Ingredients

It’s not easy to take the soul and spirit of what was arguably one of Portsmouth’s most beloved restaurants and channel it into a new venture, but chef Evan Mallett seems to have done it.

After working for four years as both sous and head chef at Lindbergh’s Crossing, Mallett, along his wife, Denise, readily grabbed the opportunity to buy the restaurant in March 2007 when its owners decided to sell and leave the area. The new venue, Black Trumpet, retains the eclectic cooking style and comfort of Lindbergh’s, and further enhances the North African, Spanish and Mexican influences Mallett has always infused into his cooking.

“I have no formal training. It wasn’t the best route for me,” he explains, adding, “I’ve learned best by apprenticing and traveling.” Along this path, Mallett honed his skills for integrating exotic cuisines not only at Lindbergh’s but also in many other kitchens at restaurants around the world. These include running a Cajun restaurant in Mexico, studying under Chef Jeff Tunks at the River Club in Washington, D.C., and working as head chef at the short-lived Ciento, Portsmouth’s first Spanish restaurant.

A self-proclaimed “food geek,” Mallett quickly saw the common ground between two of his passions: comfort food from around the world, and finding and using local ingredients. Many of his dishes exemplify savory comfort foods, such as house-made chorizo with chickpeas in a spicy lemon mélange, fried almonds with olives and garlic, Moroccan lentil soup with Fresno chile relleno, and braised beef shortribs with fried polenta cakes.

After the couple bought the restaurant, Mallett says he and Denise feared that the local community might not take kindly to a restaurant that replaced such a favorite as Lindbergh’s Crossing. But the response has been quite gratifying, he notes. Indeed, many customers expressed relief that Mallett was the new owner and that the style of food they had grown to love at Lindbergh’s would remain. “As the chef at Lindbergh’s Crossing, I established a cuisine that people kept coming back for. The change of name and concept was not that big of a deal,” he says. Mallett named the bistro after he and his family found some black trumpet mushrooms while foraging near their Maine home.

“It’s just comforting to people that Black Trumpet has the same quality of food and service. I don’t think they care about a certain dish that was on the menu years ago no longer being there,” Mallett says. “It fills my heart with pride to see that my restaurant is such a source of happiness to the community.

“I feel like a steward,” he observes. “It’s still very much a neighborhood restaurant, which means a lot to me. The people of Portsmouth and the Seacoast are our bread and butter. By reaching out to them, I knew we could survive a long, cold winter. We get a lot of people who don’t want to deal with driving back from Boston after eating, so the fact that you can get that kind of food without driving far is a plus.”

Mallett changes his menu every six weeks to keep it interesting and current with the freshest local food sources, although he admits New England’s short growing season forces him to use national distributors for some items he can’t get locally. “We make every effort to work with local farmers, and we forage a lot, too,” he says, noting one area farmer who recently started cellaring watermelon radishes, turnips and other root vegetables. Mallett also buys cheese from artisan producers in Massachusetts and Vermont.

Even though modern transportation has transformed the market so even non-seasonal fruits and vegetables are available year-round, Mallett prefers to stick with what’s being grown locally. “I think in the Old World way about ingredients,” he says. “I don’t want to eat strawberries in February.”

Nor, he says, does he casually juxtapose ingredients for the sake of doing so, even if it makes little sense. Citing his lentil soup as an example, Mallett describes how the earthiness of the lentils needs some tang and a sense of heat, which he provides with Fresno chilies and garlic.

A menu as interesting and worldly as Black Trumpet’s needs a stellar wine list, and the selection assembled by wine steward Julian Armstrong is as inspired and enticing as Mallett’s cooking. “I approached the list as a global view of wine, a lot like Evan’s is a global view of food,” Armstrong explains, noting that he is especially fond of wines from Portugal and Spain (especially big-bodied tempranillos) because they pair superbly with Mallett’s bold, robust cooking. Also well represented are malbec, red zinfandel, pinot noir and even tannat—varietals that were made for drinking with food. Prices are fair for restaurant wines, with most selling for between $30 and $60 a bottle. “There are so many good wines out there that don’t have to break the bank and are great with food. I try to find those quality bottles we can put on our list at a reasonable price,” Armstrong says.

“There have definitely been cases of a wine and a dish achieving perfect harmony,” adds Mallett. “We put Venta Mazzaron, a smoky and balanced Spanish tempranillo, on our first list for two reasons: it was a value wine, perfect for our ‘by the glass’ list. And it was born to accompany a dish on our debut menu, tomato-braised octopus and chorizo in a paprika mojo. “

After I have completed a new menu,” Mallett continues, “Julian and I sit down with our menu and our list, and we select wines our servers can feel good about pairing with each dish. “

Guests are always going to leave thinking, ‘I had a great meal, excellent service and tried something I’d never experienced before,’” declares Mallett. “I cook because I enjoy cooking and love geeking out with food. Making people happy is a wonderful byproduct of what I do. I want people to share my interest in food and ingredients.”

Adding what may be his most vital ingredient, Mallett concludes: “And fun. Always fun.”

Pheasant Two Ways (serves 6)

Chef Evan Mallett says chicken can be substituted for the pheasant in this recipe. For wine, he recommends Tohu, a New Zealand chardonnay, or the Hermit Crab, a viognier marsanne from Australia.

3 pheasant roosters
Salt and pepper for dredging
1½ cup all-purpose flour for dredging
½ cup bacon fat (or olive oil, if preferred)
4 cloves
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs thyme
1 cinnamon stick
8 juniper berries, squished
1 cup mirepoix (chopped carrots,
celery and onion)
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 cup white wine
1 quart pheasant stock
1 cup water
6 pitted Medjool dates
1 bag spinach, washed with
stems removed
2 tablespoons butter
4 ounces smoked Virginia ham,
sliced thinly
1 cup Gruyere cheese, grated
¼ cup olive oil for cooking

1. With a sharp knife, remove legs and the breast meat from pheasant and set aside in the fridge. Make a stock with the pheasant bones; reserve.
2. Dredge legs in salt, pepper and flour, and brown in a large, heavy-bottom pan or
Dutch oven with bacon fat (or olive oil). Add spices and juniper berries, mirepoix and
garlic, and sauté for a minute or two.
3. Deglaze pan with wine, add pheasant stock, water and dates, and simmer for an
hour and a half. Remove legs. Force braising liquid through chinois or mesh strainer, pressing the juices out of the dates.
4. Sauté spinach in a small saucepan with butter, a pinch of salt and a splash of water.
Set spinach on a towel to dry and cool.
5. While the legs are braising, pound out the breast meat under a sheet of plastic
wrap. Be careful not to pound too hard and put holes in the breasts. Remove plastic
and turn the breasts skin side down. Layer spinach, ham and cheese on top of the
breasts and roll up tight, tying the roulade with butcher’s twine.
6. A half-hour before serving, season the roulades with salt and pepper. In a heavy
pan with plenty of olive oil, sear the roulades on all sides until browned. Add braising liquid and the precooked legs. Boil and then simmer, cooking the breasts until just cooked through. Serve immediately with rice or couscous, and roasted vegetables.