Bold flavors, big portions, and fresh ingredients-that's what Chef Stephanie Sokolove likes to serve up for friends at her seaside home. No one who's eaten at her popular Boston restaurant, Stephanie's on Newbury, should be surprised. "We're known for what I call sophisticated comfort food," she explains. "The ingredients are familiar, but they're prepared with a slight twist-a more imaginative approach." The menu ranges from staples such as chicken pot pie with a sage crust to dishes enlivened with Italian, Asian, and Mexican influences, as in the lobster quesadilla, a perennial favorite.
"It's the same way I cook at home," she says, pulling fragrant cornbread from the oven. Flecks of jalapeño chiles give it a slight kick. But aside from that nod to Mexico, today's lunch fare is rooted in New England traditions and flavors. "The idea is to take advantage of the season-the produce is so fabulous now," Stephanie says. Naturally, lobster is the main course, split, grilled, and brushed with pesto. "I thought of pesto because I have so much basil in my garden," Stephanie says. "This is one of those things that looks impressive but isn't difficult."
Indeed, all the dishes have panache, but nothing is complicated. "The key word is 'easy,'" she says. "No elaborate preparations. I want to be with my guests, not in the kitchen. Simpler means that less can go wrong."
Before the guests arrive, she enlists the help of the restaurant's executive chef, Corey Comeau, to prepare everything that can be done in advance. More fresh basil goes into Corn Chowder with English Peas . The garden also supplies parsley to garnish the chowder and flowers for tables on the spacious pool terrace. Stephanie throws together a cornucopia-in-a-bowl salad and makes a luscious Peach-Raspberry Cobbler . "It's rustic, the way I like it, with a crunchy streusel topping," she says.
As the guests arrive, Jim Sokolove welcomes them with glasses of wine. "My husband's not a huge foodie," Stephanie admits. "He's been known to have cereal for dinner. But he loves this kind of friendly feast."
Stephanie seems as much a mother as a chef when she declares, "I want everyone to be comfortable and have plenty to eat." Her daughter Courtney says, "In summer we have people here every weekend, and we always want Mom to cook." And who wouldn't? This sort of unfussy, bountiful meal suits the season beautifully.
Stephanie's on Newbury, Boston, Massachusetts; 617/236-0990 or stephaniesonnewbury.com
Video: How to prepare lobster