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Spectacle: Bistro 7 and the Beet Salad

Michael O'Halloran is out of space. His diminutive Old City BYOB, Bistro 7 is cozy and intimate (for diners) but challengingly short on elbow room for the chef and his sole line cook. O'Halloran was determined to add a fresh, summery beet salad to his menu, but had no cold wells to house the multiple prepared elements--roasted beets, goat cheese, micro-greens and strawberry vinaigrette--that would comprise his dish.

The solution? Press every tasty bit into a terrine (French for "pot") and square the salad. Beets, roasted and sliced, are layered with an orange juice and unflavored gelatin mixture in a worn coffeecake pan inherited from Bistro 7's predecessor, the brunch staple Blue in Green. The whole terrine is allowed to set in the fridge, then sliced to order for a stunning sunrise effect on the plate. But understated bistro food in a tiny space is just one trick in O'Halloran's bag; he'll get the big kitchen and liquor license of his dreams this summer.

Look for the bold flavors of Hong Kong to arrive in Northern Liberties when O'Halloran opens Kong in July. Influenced by visits to his wife's family in Hong Kong, Kong will offer a variety of street food, from noodles to steamed buns, in the style of dai pai dong.

"Dai pai dong means, literally, big ticket market," says O'Halloran. "After World War II, many widows were left with no income, so the government issued food-selling tickets. This was the first time home cooking was made commercially available in Hong Kong. It's all big flavors, from shortribs falling off the bone to very spicy dishes… this is fun food, that goes great with beer."

Bistro 7, 7 N. Third St., Philadelphia, Pa., 215-931-1560, bistro7restaurant.com; Kong, to open in July at 702 N. Second St.

Beet Terrine at Bistro 7

(Yield: 12 servings)

Go Get This:
8 large red beets
6 large yellow beets
2 quarts orange juice
20 sheets unflavored gelatin (available at specialty food stores)
12 tablespoons fresh goat cheese
Large handful micro-greens of your choice
Strawberry vinaigrette (recipe below)

Now Do This:
Roast the beets. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place unpeeled beets in shallow roasting pan and add one inch of water. Cover tightly with foil and roast for 1.5 hours. Beets are done when they are tender when pierced with a sharp knife.

Peel the beets. Work first with the yellow beets to avoid staining them with red beet juice. Using a dish towel, slip the skins off the beets and set each beet aside to cool.

In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, reduce the 2 quarts of orange juice by a quarter. Remove pan from heat and whisk the gelatin sheets in to the warm juice, one at a time, until completely dissolved.

Divide the orange gelatin mixture into 2 bowls--one to dip yellow beets, one to dip red beets.

Slice beets 1/8 inch thick on a mandolin (Michael got his in Chinatown for $13), starting with the yellow beets to avoid staining. Keep yellow and red beets on separate plates.

Line a square or loaf pan with saran wrap, allowing extra to hang over edges by a few inches.

Beginning with sliced red beets, dip each slice individually into orange juice and arrange in overlapping rows (shingling) in the prepared pan. Fill the pan to slightly below the halfway point with red beets. Beet slices must be dipped one a time for the terrine to set properly--no shortcuts work here.

Press down on the red beet layers with another same-sized pan to flatten them. Now dip each slice of yellow beet and shingle in the same fashion until the pan is full.  

Bring edges of Saran wrap on top of beet terrine and press again with another pan to flatten and erase gaps.  Wrap thoroughly in Saran wrap all around dish.

Refrigerate at least four hours. The setting process can be hurried in the freezer for 2 hours, but don't forget about it; once it has frozen through the dish is dead.

To unmold terrine:
Unwrap Saran from terrine and dip a butter knife in hot water.  Run knife around inner edges of dish to loosen beet terrine.  Invert a large flat plate over pan and flip. Gently pull pan away from terrine. Remove remaining Saran wrap.

To serve:
Slice terrine with a sharp knife as you would a loaf cake. Place on the center of a large plate.  Around the terrine place a generous spoon of fresh goat cheese, a pile of micro-greens and a streak of strawberry vinaigrette.

Strawberry-Black Pepper Vinaigrette

Go Get This:
One pint local strawberries, washed, hulled and halved
¼ cup white balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp. sugar
Black pepper to taste

Now Do This:
Puree all ingredients together in a blender or food processor.  Adjust sugar and pepper to taste. Keep refrigerated and use immediately.

Words by Felicia D'Ambrosio, photos by Mike Persico.
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