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AAA Diamond Fare: From Best to Even Better

Chef Eric Ripert prepares baked whole red snapper.

Chef Eric Ripert prepares baked whole red snapper at his AAA Five Diamond Rated restaurant, Le Bernardin, in New York City.

(Photo: Daniel Krieger)

Thanks to AAA inspectors, you don’t need to wonder where to eat this weekend … or any weekend.

Whether you’re looking for a quick bite or a fine-dining experience, inspectors have it covered. They visit hundreds of restaurants across the country each year to judge the food, service and decor, among other things. They approve only those that meet AAA quality standards.

Once a restaurant is approved, it receives a AAA Diamond Rating based on the style of dining it offers. Whether it’s a One Diamond (quick-service style) or a Five Diamond (leading-edge, fine dining), it’s among the best in its category.

We reached out to Diamond Rated restaurants across the spectrum for some of their favorite recipes. All should get your taste buds tingling!

Find out what each Diamond Rating means.

Five Diamond Baked Whole Red Snapper

Le Bernardin, Eric Ripert’s AAA Five Diamond Rated restaurant in New York City, shared a recipe for baked whole red snapper. The fish is seasoned with butter, garlic, rosemary, thyme and lemon and then baked inside a salt crust. Display your encrusted snapper to dinner guests before filleting and serving to make a lasting impression.

Ingredients
(Serves 2-4)

2¼ cups coarse sea salt, plus ½ cup for crust
¾ cup chopped rosemary, plus 2 branches
½ cup chopped fresh thyme (leaves and stems chopped together), plus 5 branches
4½ pounds all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading and rolling
5¼ cups egg whites (about 42 egg whites)
1½ tablespoons butter
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 lemon, sliced into thin rounds
3-4 pound whole red snapper, head on, cleaned, and with scales removed
Freshly ground white pepper to taste
3 egg yolks

  1. To make the dough, start by taking half the coarse salt, chopped rosemary and thyme, and pulse them in a food processor until roughly blended (about 30 seconds). Next, combine flour, the ground salt and herbs, and the remaining salt in a large mixing bowl. Gradually add the egg whites, mixing them in by hand, until the mixture forms a soft but not sticky dough. Using additional flour as needed, turn the dough out onto a work surface and knead until smooth. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let stand for at least 2 hours at room temperature or up to 1 day under refrigeration before using.
  2. When ready to prepare the snapper for baking, place the butter, garlic cloves, 2 branches rosemary, 5 branches thyme and the sliced lemon inside the belly of the fish. Generously sprinkle the inside of the belly and both sides of the fish with pepper.
  3. Flour a large work surface. Pull off half of the dough, then cover the rest with plastic wrap so it doesn’t dry out. Using more flour as necessary, roll the dough into a 17-by-12-inch rectangle, about 4-5 millimeters thick, with a rolling pin. Line a large baking sheet (turn it upside down to get more surface area if needed) with parchment paper and transfer the dough to the parchment paper. Roll the remaining dough into a 24-by-16-inch rectangle. Lay the fish onto the dough on the baking sheet, diagonally if necessary to make it fit. Cover the fish with the remaining large rectangle of dough.
  4. Closely press the top piece of dough around the fish, sealing it well. Trim the excess from the top piece of dough, 2 inches out from the base of the fish. Don’t trim any of the bottom dough. Patch any thin spots in the dough covering the fish. It’s OK if the tail of the fish or a little extra dough is hanging over the edge of the pan; just make sure the rest of the fish is well-sealed. Whisk the egg yolks together with 3 tablespoons water and brush over the dough to coat well. Sprinkle the remaining ½ cup salt over the fish and dab more of the egg wash over the salt. (The recipe can be made to this point up to 1 hour before baking – 2 hours before serving.)
  5. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Bake the snapper until a digital skewer reads 175 degrees when inserted into the center of the fish (about 25 minutes). Remove the snapper from the oven and let rest for 20 minutes.
  6. Slide the fish (crust still on) off the baking sheet and paper and onto a large cutting board. Trim the bottom crust evenly with the top and place on a large serving platter. Present the fish to your guests and then bring it back to the kitchen. Cut through the top crust at the bottom base of the fish and carefully lift off the domed top. Discard.
  7. Fillet the snapper, running a knife under the fillet to separate it from the bone. Place each serving on a plate and season with pepper. When the top fillets have been served, lift off the fish bones and cut the bottom in the same manner.

Four Diamond Scallops

Enjoy an innovative diver scallop dish courtesy of chef Matt Voskuil, of AAA Four Diamond Rated Spiced Pear in Newport, R.I. He pairs plump scallops with a flavorful peppernade of red and yellow peppers, onion, garlic and guanciale. Then it’s drizzled with an oyster butter sauce and garnished with basil puree and prosciutto chips for some extra flair.

Ingredients
(serves 4)

For peppernade:
3 ounces extra-virgin olive oil
1 ounce guanciale, fine julienne
2 cloves garlic, fine julienne
2 red bell peppers, peeled, seeded, julienned
2 yellow bell peppers, peeled, seeded, julienned
1 yellow onion, peeled, julienned
1 sprig rosemary
1 hard-boiled egg, peeled, finely grated
1 ounce Saba
1 lemon, juiced

4 paper-thin slices prosciutto
8 ounces basil leaves

For butter sauce:
1 shallot, sliced
12 ounces chardonnay
1 tablespoon heavy cream
8 ounces unsalted butter, chilled, diced
½ teaspoon espelette pepper
8 oysters, shucked
½ teaspoon chives, finely sliced

8 large diver scallops, cleaned
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
12 micro basil

  1. To prepare the peppernade, combine olive oil and guanciale in a heavy bottomed sauce pan over low heat and cook slowly until the fat of the guanciale is nicely rendered. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Then, add the red and yellow peppers and onion. Season lightly with salt and continue to cook over low heat for 4 to 5 hours, stirring occasionally. Take care not to caramelize the mixture at all. Once most of the liquid has reduced, add the sprig of rosemary and let it steep for 1 minute. Remove the rosemary and discard it. Add the egg, Saba and lemon juice and season with salt. Set aside and keep warm, or chill and reserve for later use.
  2. To prepare the prosciutto chips, arrange the prosciutto slices in a dehydrator and set to 130 degrees. Dehydrate for 6 hours. Remove and store in an airtight container for later use.
  3. To prepare the basil puree, blanch basil in salted, boiling water for 90 seconds. Remove and chill in an ice bath. Drain and process in a blender for 45 seconds. Chill, season with salt, and place in a squeeze bottle until needed.
  4. To begin the butter sauce, place shallot and chardonnay in a small saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat until wine is mostly reduced. Add heavy cream, then bring to a boil for 5 seconds. Reduce heat and whisk in butter, bit by bit, until emulsified. Strain through a fine mesh strainer. Season with salt and espelette pepper. Keep warm.
  5. Season the scallops with salt and pepper. Heat a cast iron pan over high heat and sear the scallops in the grapeseed oil for two minutes. Turn the scallops over and continue cooking for another two minutes.
  6. While the scallops are cooking, stir the oysters and chives into the butter sauce. Check seasoning.
  7. Place two small mounds of peppernade and two scallops on each plate.
  8. Spoon some of the oyster butter onto each plate, taking care to portion two oysters on each plate.
  9. Garnish with the basil puree, micro basil and prosciutto chip.

Three Diamond Sliders

For a unique take on a party favorite, look no further than the hickory-smoked pulled duck sliders from the AAA Three Diamond Rated Twenty8 Food & Spirits at Patriot Place in Foxborough, Mass. The pulled duck is tossed in a delectable Korean-inspired barbecue sauce, placed on a brioche bun and topped with cilantro-lime slaw, shaved jalapenos and Sriracha. These sliders will spice up the menu at the next family cookout.

Ingredients
(recipe yields 3 cups of shredded duck meat)

4 duck breasts
4 duck legs
Hickory wood chips (as needed)

1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Smoke duck for 3 hours, adding new wood chips to the smoker every 15 minutes.

2. While the duck is still hot, pull and shred the meat using two forks.

For Korean barbecue sauce:
½ cup ketchup
½ cup of hoisin sauce
½ cup teriyaki sauce
¼ cup Coca-Cola
1 tablespoon sliced scallions

  1. In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients until fully incorporated.

For cilantro-lime slaw:
1 head cabbage, thinly sliced
1 carrot, julienned
1 jalapeno pepper, julienned
¼ cup sliced scallions
¾ cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
Pinch ginger powder
Salt and pepper, to taste

  1. In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients until fully incorporated.
  2. To serve, place hickory-smoked duck onto bottom half of brioche buns. Cover with Korean barbecue sauce, cilantro-lime slaw and top bun.

Two Diamond Crabcakes

You’ll find crabcakes with whole grain mustard sauce on the menu at Fire & Oak, a AAA Two Diamond Rated restaurant at the Westin Luxury Hotel in Jersey City, N.J. The perfect summer appetizer or entree, they’re made with a mixture of jumbo lump crabmeat, red peppers, jalapenos, Dijon mustard and chives, topped with breadcrumbs and cooked until golden brown. Keep the mustard sauce on the side or give the plate an artful drizzle.

Ingredients

¼ cup red peppers, diced fine
¼ cup jalapenos, diced fine
¼ cup celery, diced fine
1 tablespoon chives, chopped fine
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
1½ pounds jumbo lump crab

  1. Mix all ingredients with mayonnaise, except for the crab meat.
  2. Fold in crab meat, taking care not to break it up too much.
  3. Divide crab mixture into 4 equal portions. Working with one portion at a time, pack tightly into ring mold set on a parchment-lined baking sheet and smooth the top. Carefully remove ring mold.
  4. Repeat with remaining crab mixture.
  5. Cover with plastic wrap and chill at least 1 hour. The cakes will firm slightly when chilled.
  6. If you want to make these ahead of time, crabcakes can be formed 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.

For mustard sauce:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small shallot, finely chopped
1 tablespoon flour
½ cup chicken broth
¼ white wine
½ cup heavy cream
¼ cup whole grain mustard
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter

Breadcrumbs
Parsley

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium. Cook shallot, stirring often, until softened (about 5 minutes). Whisk in flour and cook, whisking often, until just beginning to smell nutty (about 3 minutes). Whisk in wine, bring to a boil, and cook until thick enough to coat a spoon (about 5 minutes). Add cream, bring to a simmer and cook, whisking occasionally, until mixture is again thick enough to coat a spoon (about 4 minutes). Whisk in mustard, then cover sauce and keep warm.
  3. Heat 1 tablespoon oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium.
  4. Working with two crabcakes at a time, sprinkle 1 teaspoon breadcrumbs over each cake and carefully place, crumb side down, in skillet. Cook, occasionally swirling fat in pan around, until bottom sides of crabcakes are deep golden brown (about 5 minutes). Sprinkle 1 teaspoon breadcrumbs over top sides of each cake, then very carefully turn over (cakes will be very delicate, so you may need two spatulas). Cook until breadcrumbs are golden (about 2 minutes). Transfer to a plate.
  5. Wipe out skillet and repeat with remaining crabcakes.
  6. After the second batch of crab cakes is done cooking, return crabcakes on plate to skillet and transfer to oven. Cook until warmed through (about 3 minutes).
  7. Serve crabcakes over mustard sauce and top with parsley.

One Diamond Squash Bloom Pancakes

Chef Claire Criscuolo, of the One Diamond Rated Claire’s Corner Copia in New Haven, Conn., was inspired by her Italian grandmother’s recipe for squash blossom pancakes. Edible squash blossoms grow on zucchini and other types of squash plants. You can often find the delectable battered treats on menus come summertime, when squash is abundant. Serve with a bit of marinara sauce on the side for added flavor.

Ingredients
(makes about 24 pancakes)

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
5 eggs
1 cup milk
¾ cup water
15 squash blossoms, pistil removed, rinsed and coarsely chopped
¼ cup Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Sea salt and pepper
½-¾ cup grapeseed, olive or canola oil for frying

  1. Measure flour and baking powder into a bowl. Whisk to combine. In a separate bowl, add eggs, milk and water; whisk to combine. Pour liquid evenly over dry ingredients and stir.
  2. Add chopped blossoms and parsley, sprinkle with sea salt and pepper; stir to mix well. Place a cookie sheet alongside the stove and line it with a double layer of paper towels or a paper bag.
  3. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Carefully drop ¼ cup of batter into heated oil, leaving space to allow for turning. Do not overcrowd the skillet or the temperature will drop and you’ll have greasy pancakes.
  4. Cook for about 2 minutes, or until the underside is medium golden-brown. Turn and cook the other side for about a minute, or until the underside is medium golden-brown. Transfer the pancakes to the paper towel-lined cookie sheet.
  5. Continue frying remaining batter, heating additional oil as needed. Serve hot, at room temperature or chilled.

Have you been to any of these Diamond Rated restaurants? Have you made similar recipes at home? Tell us in the comments below!

Visit AAA.com/Diamonds for more about the AAA Diamond Ratings program and to find a great place to eat based on your style.

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