Formal dining is alive and well in both the old and the new worlds. Established purveyors of haute cuisine, however, have not remained untouched by food trends that cater to the masses. In fact, the lure of quality in fast food (see story at left) has fostered a renewed competitiveness in upper gastronomic circles to attract the palates of the young, demanding restaurantgoer. The result has been a successful marriage of new tastes and traditional ingredients.
The food of Alain Passard, chef at Arp`ege restaurant in Paris, is a reaction to what he calls some of the ``dull, tasteless food in France.'' Paper-thin slices of lobster and turnips with cranberries is one of his unexpected mixes.
The cuisine being developed on opposite sides of the North Atlantic - in old England and New England - provide added evidence of this move toward a blend of creativity and tradition.
A new food scene in old England
Paul Levy, food and wine critic of the London Observer, says that in spite of a more casual approach to eating out in London, elegant dining has by no means diminished. ``The older, more formal style persists - for example, at the Terrace Room of the Dorchester Hotel,'' he says. ``Anton Mosimann, a true master chef, presents creative, original recipes in the Dorchester's elegant setting with proper service and proper high prices.''
``Grazing has not yet caught on in London,'' he says. ``Still, there can be no doubt that most restaurant clients, whether yuppies, wrinklies, or those in between in age and spending power, want to eat less elaborate food in more relaxed surroundings.''
``Beth Coventry cooks stylish nursery food for a clubby crowd at Green's, 36 Duke Street, SW1,'' Mr. Levy continues. ``Sometimes it includes a royal. Princess Anne had half a kipper on her last visit. As there was only one fish left, she regally shared it with a friend,'' he explained.
``Sally Clarke, a Brit, serves a style of cooking we think of as Californian,'' Levy says. ``At Clarke's, 124 Kensington Church Street, I like her salad of papaya, raw salmon, and squid, char-grilled and then marinated, served with a selection of exotic but homemade breads.''
London, of course, has always had some of the world's best Indian restaurants, and ethnic restaurants are where the culinary excitement is today. ``Each one that opens up tries to be more up-market than the last - and generally succeeds,'' says Levy, ``though no one has yet improved on the Bombay Brasserie, Courtfield Road, SW7.
``London's newer Chinese restaurants make you feel you're in Hong Kong without jet lag, and there must be 50 Singaporean or Malaysian restaurants in London.
``Still, the flavor of the month, or the year, in London, is Thai. At least one new lemon grass and coconut emporium opens each month, and there are marked individual differences between them,'' he says. The new New England cooking
In New England it is difficult to put a label on the constantly changing food styles. But use of local ingredients, combined with creative cooking skills, is establishing a new New England cooking.
At Al Forno restaurant in Providence, R.I., Johanne Killeen and George Germon, a wife-and-husband team, have a cooking philosophy that emphasizes simplicity and balance.
Explaining one of their signature dishes, Ms. Killeen says: ``Clams Al Forno is spicy and juicy, with the hot pepper used as a counterpoint to balance the blandness of the clams. Lemon zest is subtle but must be there to balance the spiciness.''
Al Forno is known for its use of wood-grill cooking using indigenous woods like apple, lilac, local grape vine cuttings, and native hardwood charcoal.
At the Colony Restaurant in Boston, chefs Bruce Frankel and David Kantrowitz also have a strong commitment to foods with a long local lineage. The Colony features traditional dishes prepared with a dash of invention.
Here is the Colony's Wild Mushroom Chowder, a reinterpretation of a basic New England chowder. Wild Mushroom Chowder 2 medium-size red potatoes, peeled 1 small red onion, peeled 3 cups wild or exotic mushrooms (morels, chanterelles, oyster, hedgehog, etc.) 1/4 cup sweet butter 2 cups chicken stock or broth 1 cup heavy cream 1 cup light cream Sea salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste Ground cayenne pepper Chopped fresh chervil or chives, for garnish Soda crackers, optional
Cut potatoes into 1/2-inch wedge shapes; simmer in boiling water until al dente; drain and set aside. Quarter onion; slice into thin crescents. Clean and trim mushrooms. Melt butter in medium saucepan; add mushrooms and saut'e over low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add stock; simmer 15 minutes. Add both creams, salt, white pepper and potatoes; simmer 5 minutes more. Spoon into 8 bowls. Sprinkle with cayenne pepper and herbs.
Clams Al Forno 24 littleneck clams, scrubbed 1 medium onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced 1 jalapeno pepper, coarsely chopped 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste) 3/4 cup water 1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic 1 cup drained canned Italian plum tomatoes, chopped 3 tablespoons unsalted butter Chopped parsley or sliced scallions, for garnish
Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. In baking dish combine all ingredients. Bake 7 minutes; turn clams. Discard any unopened clams.
To serve: Place 6 clams in each of 4 bowls. Surround clams with tomatoes and onions. Divide liquid among the 4 bowls. Makes 4 appetizer or 2 main-course servings.
Double Berry Shortcake 6 Rhode Island Shortcakes, horizontally split (recipe follows) 2 1/2 cups heavy cream, divided 1 teaspoon vanilla extract Cranberry Compote (recipe follows) 2 pints fresh strawberries, sliced Confectioners' sugar, to taste
Whip 1 cup heavy cream with 1 teaspoon vanilla until stiff. Divide 11/2 cups heavy cream among 6 dessert bowls. Top bottom half of each shortcake with 2 to 3 tablespoons cranberry compote. Top with sliced strawberries. Sift confectioners' sugar to taste over berries. Add a dollop of whipped cream. Top with remaining shortcake halves. Garnish with a dollop of whipped cream and 1 to 2 tablespoons cranberry compote.
Cranberry Compote: 1 pound fresh or frozen cranberries, washed and picked over 3/4 cup sugar
Combine cranberries and sugar in a heavy saucepan. Add cold water to cover by 3/4 inch. Bring to boil. Simmer gently until cranberries are soft but still intact. Cool.
Rhode Island Shortcakes: 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour 2/3 cup Gray's Grist Mill Johnny Cake Meal 3 tablespoons sugar 4 teaspoons baking powder 4 tablespoons cold sweet butter cut in 12 pieces 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh ginger 1 cup heavy cream
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Combine dry ingredients in bowl of food processor, fitted with steel blade. Pulse on and off to combine. Add butter and ginger. Pulse on and off to combine (18 to 20 pulses). Empty contents of food processor into mixing bowl. By hand, quickly stir in cream just until blended. Turn onto pastry board. Knead a few times. Press to 11/4-inch to 11/2-inch thickness. Cut into 6 squares. Bake shortcakes on a lightly greased cookie sheet for 10 to 12 minutes. Cool 15 minutes before serving.
From chef Alain Passard of the Paris restaurant, Arp`ege, here is an alternative way to serve lobster.
Lobster Salad With Turnip and Honey Cranberry Vinegar Court Bouillon: 2 carrots, in chunks 1 onion, sliced 2 to 3 sprigs parsley 1 bay leaf Pinch thyme leaves Pinch salt and pepper
To make court bouillon bring carrot onion and seasonings to boil in large stock pot, cover. Simmer 30 minutes. Bring to boil and add lobsters, plunging them head first into bouillon. Cover and simmer 12 minutes or until shell is red and lobster meat is cooked. Drain and cool. Thinly slice turnips. Wash and dry cranberries. Remove lobster tails and claws for garnish. Remove lobster meat from shells and cut in bite-size pieces.
Salad ingredients: 4 whole lobsters, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds each 3 medium turnips, peeled 1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries Vinaigrette dressing: 1/3 cup peanut or vegetable oil 2 tablespoons cranberry vinegar (marinate 2 tablespoons cranberries in 1/4 cup white wine vinegar at least 12 hours; strain) 3 tablespoons honey Pinch salt and pepper
Combine all dressing ingredients. Shake well. Pour thin coating on each of 4 serving plates; top with lobster meat, then turnip slices. Sprinkle with remaining dressing and fresh cranberries.