Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Creating New Dining Traditions: Meet Mark Filteau, NoLo’s New Executive Chef

Dining conventions are changing. First-rate restaurants are doing away with the fussy “fine dining” atmosphere and opting instead to focus on quality local ingredients, creative culinary techniques and the overall customer experience. At The Stonehedge Hotel and Spa’s NoLo Bistro & Bar, Executive Chef Mark Filteau is the driving force behind the fresh and inspired new menu that features innovative seasonal dishes and old favorites made with products grown and made locally.

A Florida native, Filteau has been working in kitchens since age 15. Now a resident of Hudson, N.H., Filteau honed his skills at Legal Sea Foods and at Latitudes at Wentworth By The Sea in New Castle, N.H., among other regional hot spots. Filteau, who took the reins at The Stonehedge Hotel & Spa’s signature restaurant last February, took some time out of his busy schedule recently to talk about his favorite ingredients, his vision for the future of NoLo and the things he enjoys most about his job.

How is NoLo different now from when it was Left Bank? Tell us about some of the changes you’ve made.

We wanted to be more approachable, to not be a place where people had to save up to come in and have a nice meal. I feel like a lot of the staunchy fine dining restaurants are going away and restaurants are becoming more approachable – even though often they are using the same high quality ingredients and techniques. We’ve really tried to remove the fear that people sometimes have when going out to a nice place, where they might be self-conscious about not being able to pronounce something on the menu. Here, you can wear jeans and a T-shirt if you want to and get great food done right without the sticker shock.

Can you talk about some of the local producers you are using?

Right now we’re getting a lot of products from Brookdale Farm [in Hollis, N.H.] and from the Tyngsborough Farmers Market. We get inspired by what’s available. We’ve also recently started working with Mill City Grows in Lowell. We get their lists weekly. We supplement these products by using a distributor that uses suppliers that have local farm programs. My eventual goal is to have everything on the menu come from within 50 miles.

What would you say to people who might be skeptical about eating in a hotel restaurant?

We have a personal touch. The same people are working here every day. We remember our customers. There are locals now who come in every week. And to others who might still have Left Bank in mind when they think of us, I’d say give us a shot. You’ll be very pleasantly surprised.

What’s your vision for NoLo’s future?

I would love for us to get as farm-to-table as we can – produce as much in-house as we can: cheeses, dry aging, butchering our own animals. I’d like to be as self-sustaining as possible. I’d love to do even more themed dinners, maybe one featuring Scotch and cigars or a nose-to-tail experience.

Tell us one of your favorite things about your job.

When you get to the executive chef level you don’t always get to cook that often, but recently when we were really busy I jumped back on the line. Just being in that zone again – there’s nothing else like it. I love that.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Glorious Return of The Hotel Bar

Gone are the days when ordering a drink at a hotel bar was an activity reserved for killing time. Hotel bars, even those at nicer properties, were for many years more or less homogenous, often featuring bland, conservative decor, canned music and a fairly predictable selection of beers, wines and cocktails – certainly not the sort of place you’d want to spend a Saturday night. But with craft cocktail culture taking hold in cities across the globe, it was only a matter of time before hotels began to take notice and get on board.

Today’s hotel bars harken back to the classic cocktail lounges of the 1940s and ‘50s, to the era of Conrad Hilton, when the music was live, everyone dressed to the nines, and bartenders reigned supreme.

Jared Bracci, resident mixologist at NoLo Bistro + Bar, The Stonehedge Hotel & Spa’s signature bar and restaurant, has created innovative bar menus for several local hotspots including M.C. Spiedo in Boston and Stella Blu in Nashua, N.H. He thinks hotel bars started getting their groove back with the launch of Starwood Hotels & Resorts’ W Hotels brand back in the late 1990s.

“Each W Hotel has a trendy restaurant and bar – some of them even have nightclubs,” Bracci says. “They were so good that [W Hotels’ bars] began attracting locals.”

As part of The Stonehedge Hotel & Spa’s recent renovations and rebranding, the former Left Bank Restaurant and bar have been completely reimagined and revamped under the name NoLo, short for North of Lowell — appealing to locals and hotel guests alike who appreciate inventive, hip, seasonally-inspired cocktails and cuisine.

“Customers these days expect better quality than in the past,” says Bracci, whose goal is to bring Boston-style urban sophistication to the bar while also helping NoLo develop a unique regional identity and character.

“Our cocktail menu is based on the Merrimack Valley,” Bracci says. “We use as many locally made spirits as we can get our hands on, and many of our signature drinks are named after notable people from the region.”

“Betty Davis Eyes” (muddled blueberries, Ciroc apple, Bitter Truth Violet Liqueur, cranberry juice, soda, apple wedge) and “Daniel Webster’s Mule” (Tito’s Vodka, fresh lime juice, ginger beer) are just two examples from Bracci’s cocktail menu.

“I think the quality of the locally made spirits we use is much better than what hotel bars have used in the past,” says Bracci. “In addition to our new cocktails, we can make old fashioned drinks much better quality, too. That’s another reason hotel bars are better these days. Better ingredients make superior cocktails.”

Follow The Stonehedge Hotel & Spa on Facebook to find out what Jared will be shaking up next: Facebook.com/TheStonehedge.