All-Princeton Post: Scott Anderson Dishes on the New Elements; Manuel Perez Departs The Peacock Inn; Aurelio’s Opens on Leigh Ave.

Everything You Wanted to Know about the Re-launching of Elements

Turns out that since its closing last year to relocate to a new space on Witherspoon Street, every aspect of the Elements experience has been examined, reconsidered, and altered – if not radically transformed. I sat down with chef/owner Scott Anderson and got the who, what, where, why, when, and how of the new Elements, which is expected to debut within weeks. Here’s my 2,500-word report, in the July issue of The Princeton Echo.

Scott Anderson, The Princeton Echo, July 2015

Scott Anderson, The Princeton Echo, July 2015

Change of Chef at The Peacock Inn

Manuel Perez, who had been executive chef since the Peacock Inn’s own relaunch five years ago, has departed. Barry Sussman, the owner, is expected to announce his replacement at any moment. Here are the details, as I reported them in my Food for Thought column in that same issue of The Echo:

Manuel Perez Representing the Peacock Inn at Epicurean Palate, 2012

Manuel Perez Representing the Peacock Inn at Epicurean Palate, 2012

“Owner Barry Sussman announced in mid-June that Perez, who had been executive chef since 2010, when the inn and restaurant’s dramatic, multi-million dollar renovation debuted, was leaving to become chef de cuisine at Bouley restaurant in New York. Perez had worked for famed chef David Bouley early in his career, eventually moving to NJ to work at Restaurant Nicholas in Red Bank and then moving over to the Peacock. Departing with Perez is his wife, Cynthia, who was the restaurant’s pastry chef. At press time Sussman was close to naming a replacement. He told New Jersey Monthly that chefs from two-star Michelin restaurants were in the running. Stay tuned.”
Update: Sam Byrne, formerly of Cross & Orange in Asbury Park, has been tapped for this position.

Aurelio’s Cocina Latina Opens on Leigh Avenue

Aurelio's Princeton

Aurelio’s Princeton

Rocio Lopez hails from Oaxaca; her husband, Marco Gonzalez, from Guatemala. The menu of their cheerful, lemon-yellow cafe reflects both homelands. In truth, I wish the menu had more Guatemalan dishes, because the standout dish on a recent lunch was housemade pupusas with chicharron and cabbage slaw.  Aurelio’s took over the quarters of what had been Tortuga’s Mexican Village, before that restaurant moved directly across the street. Tortuga’s is a longtime favorite of Princetonians. Lopez says she’s not worried, though.

Sweet flowers at Aurelio's, Princeton

Sweet flowers at Aurelio’s, Princeton

More details are here, in my July Food for Thought column in The Echo, along with tidbits about two new Central NJ farmers markets that have out-of-the-ordinary missions and unique rosters of farms. And, oh yes: I divulge my favorite source for fennel pollen.

Agricola’s New Chef; Savory Squid Guts in Berkeley; New Offerings at Central NJ Farmers Markets

Meet Executive Chef Crawford Koeniger of Agricola

Crawford Koeniger, Agricola Princeton

Crawford Koeniger, Agricola Princeton. mercerspace.com

As you likely know by now, that Princeton restaurant’s opening chef, Josh Thomsen, has decamped to Florida. Rising up in the kitchen to take his place is Crawford Koeniger, whom I chatted with as we strolled Great Road Farm, which supplies much of the raw materials for his kitchen. Here’s my profile, in the June issue of The Princeton Echo.

Ippuku: Not Your Usual Sushi Joint

There are many excellent restaurants in downtown Berkeley (CA), but none more exciting than Ippuku, an izakaya renowned for its uncommon but authentic small plate offerings and large selection of shochu – Japan’s clear, distilled spirit. On a recent visit I found even its familiar dishes, such as skewers of grilled chicken breast, uncommonly good. Here are some highlights.

Favas with black sesame, Ippuku

Favas with black sesame, Ippuku

After a freebie of a wedge of raw cabbage with excellent miso mayo – you peel off one leaf at a time and dip it into the creamy sauce – we dug into the above favas. Fresh, perfectly prepared, with a deep umami hit. We couldn’t stop eating them. They, and everything that followed, matched perfectly with 2 shochus (the one shown above is Kura No Shikon) that our excellent server guided us to. Both were made from sweet potatoes (other bases can be barley, rice, or buckwheat), and both seemed to me to be akin to vodka, only much softer and more mellow. Mine also had a slight smokiness that brought to mind peaty Scotch.

I apologize in advance for the photo that follows, for 2 reasons. 1. It’s not the best pic I’ve ever taken and 2. It’s of squid sashimi in salted, fermented squid guts. But I am compelled to include it because this is one of the best and certainly most intriguing things I’ve eaten in a long time. Keep in mind these words of wisdom from Anthony Bourdain: ““Always entertain the possibility that something, no matter how squiggly and scary looking, might just be good.”

Squid sashimi in salted squid guts. Ippuku, Berkeley

Squid sashimi in salted squid guts. Ippuku, Berkeley

“It tastes like the ocean,” was my guest’s rapt reaction.  I enjoyed the contrast between the pleasantly chewy strands of squid sashimi and the rich, salty, silky sauce-like substance.

Ippuku's chicken skewers

Ippuku’s chicken skewers

Not your everyday yakitori. Here, it’s chef’s choice of chicken parts that can include cartilage, tail, and skin. Ours had gizzard (most tender I’ve ever had), wings (my guest’s fave), breast, thigh, and neck (my fave). We also enjoyed a skewer of beef tongue and grilled, split salted horse mackerel.

Tofu pouch stuffed with local megumi natto, Ippuku, Berkeley

Tofu pouch stuffed with natto, Ippuku, Berkeley

Another showstopper is an uncommon tofu dish: Local, organic Megumi natto (fermented soy beans) in a tofu pouch. Salty, pleasantly bitter, with a stringy cheese-like funk. The textural contrast between the slightly sticky (some might say slimy, but in a good way) beans and the grilled pouch (think: dry omelet exterior) is masterful.

Ippuku is the brainchild of Christian Geideman, who learned these techniques in Japan. The space, a mash-up of Japanese roadhouse and modern industrial, matches the food and includes semi-enclosed tatami rooms as well as booths. A $6 per person table charge is assessed in lieu of tip, and the drinks list includes craft beer and sake in addition to shochu.

Farmers Market Updates: Griggstown, West Windsor, Princeton

lillipies at Central NJ farmers markets

lillipies at Central NJ farmers markets

Kielbasa, breakfast sandwiches, & panini are among the new offerings at this season’s batch of farmers markets. Get the delicious particulars, here, in my June Food For Thought column in the Princeton Echo.

 

Outstanding Italian Eats at the Shore & in San Francisco

I’ve had so many memorable meals in recent weeks – all around NJ, in NYC, and in the Bay Area – that it’s going to take several posts just to get caught up. I’m starting with 2 Italians: a real find at the Jersey Shore, and the San Francisco restaurant by James Beard award-winning chef Michael Tusk (of Quince fame) that inspired the design of Agricola in Princeton.

But first, your moment of zen:

Rib Tickler in vintage coupe, Chez Tanner

Rib Tickler in vintage coupe, Chez Tanner

This photo of a Rib Tickler cocktail was taken by my daughter Alice at my Memorial Day weekend cookout. My son-in-law-to-be, Ryan (via my other daughter, Elizabeth), is an excellent mixologist and expertly produced a pitcherful for me from this recipe on tastingtable.com.

Ingredients for Rib Tickler cocktails

Ingredients for Rib Tickler cocktails

I was attracted to it because it used something I hadn’t encountered before: Suze, which I found at CoolVines in Princeton. The cocktail was gorgeous, yes, but also delicious and a big hit.

NJ Monthly cover june15On to the restaurants. First up is Mossuto’s Market & Cafe in Wall Township. Surely you’re heading down the Shore this summer. If you’re anywhere in the vicinity of Belmar and Brielle, I strongly recommend you stop in for a terrific Italian meal (at minimum, a wood-fire pizza and Peroni) and/or to stock your Shore pantry with top-notch Italian comestibles from the market portion of this family-run restaurant, deli, butcher shop, & bakery. Here’s my review, in the June issue of New Jersey Monthly.

On to the City by the Bay.

Cotogna SF window

Cotogna SF window

With only 1 day in San Francisco on my latest trip to visit my daughter in Berkeley, CA, I chose Cotogna, the Northern Italian restaurant in the financial district that’s joined at the hip with sibling Quince. (Cotogna means “quince” in Italian.) Of particular interest was that Jim Nawn, owner of Agricola, had named Cotogna as an inspiration for the design of his Princeton popular eatery. To be exact, the window on Witherspoon Street that shows the cooks hard at work and a suspended wood-slat ceiling. Here’s Cotogna’s ceiling:

Wood slat ceiling at Cotogna, SF

Wood slat ceiling at Cotogna, SF

To be honest, I expected a fine rustic Italian lunch. But I didn’t expect the fireworks Cotogna delivered, nor that it is apparently a power lunch spot. Maybe it’s the bargain $28 3-course fixed price, or the wine list with all glasses at $12 and all bottles at $50. (I had an excellent Niklas lagrein from Alto Adige.) No matter, a decidedly stylish group of diners of all age groups turned up, some clearly on business, some purely social.

Pictorial highlights:

Calypso cocktail & arugula salad with stone fruit & almonds, CotognaSF

Calypso cocktail & arugula salad with stone fruit & almonds, CotognaSF

Cotogna country loaf, more than worth the $6 tab

Cotogna country loaf, more than worth the $6 tab

Super-rich agnolotti stuffed with sugo of 3 meats (1 of which is lamb): Cotogna, SF

Super-rich agnolotti with sugo of 3 meats (1 of which is rabbit): CotognaSF

Buttermilk budino with berries, Cotogna SF

Budino with berries, CotognaSF

Next post: an izakaya in Berkeley that serves anything but your run of the mill sushi, sashimi, and yakatori. Squid in salted squid guts, anyone?

Taiwanese Cuisine in Morristown; Ryan DePersio & Battello Profiled in Edible Jersey

Lin’s Palace, where those in the know ask for the Taiwanese menu

NJ Monthly cover may15This modest storefront (its name notwithstanding) has been dishing up de rigueur Chinese restaurant dishes, as well as sushi, on Speedwell Avenue for decades. But the smart money requests the separate Taiwanese menu. Mr. Lin’s wife, Alice – the head cook – reproduces the specialties of the island that is their birthplace, which for some reason are woefully underrepresented ’round these parts. Get ready for housemade Taiwanese sausage with a touch of sweetness, oyster omelet, shrimp spring rolls, and – if you dare – stinky tofu. My report in the May issue of New Jersey Monthly.

Fascino Chef DePersio Dishes on His Newest Restaurant

Edible Jersey cover summer 2015He made his “Italian without borders” chops with Fascino in Montclair. He rescued fine-dining at NJPAC. Now he’s taken on the red-hot Jersey City dining scene with Battello on the Newport Marina, his largest space yet. My interview on the who, what, why, and how here in the Summer 2015 issue of Edible Jersey (starting on page 40).

Ramen @Ajihei; Bar Food @Witherspoon Grill; Vegetarian in Frenchtown; Pierogies in Milford

Princeton’s Venerable Sushi Restaurant Adds Ramen

Koji Kitamura’s Ajihei has been known for two things since it opened on Chambers Street 15 years ago: exceptional sushi and quirky dining rules. Both remain – but the menu is full of changes, including the addition of three types of ramen. My interview with Mr. Kitamura in the May 2015 issue of the Princeton Echo.

Courtesy Princeton EchoKaoru Kitamura, Courtesy Princeton Echo

Witherspoon Grill Introduces New Bar Menu

Cocktail Hour Menu at Witherspoon Grill

Cocktail Hour Menu at Witherspoon Grill

In that same issue of the Echo, my Food for Thought column included this tasty tidbit:

“They’re labeling it ‘Cocktail Hour,’ singular, but the newly introduced food and drink offerings at the bar at Witherspoon Grill in Princeton can be had not just one, but three hours each weekday – from 3 to 6 pm. Chef Christian Graciano has developed a set of 6 enticing small plate options that range from $3 to $6. Here’s the lineup of flavor-forward noshes:

Duck fat potato with black garlic sour cream
Lamb lollipops with blackberry mint jam, mint yogurt, and feta
Shrimp ceviche corn tacos
Thick Nueske bacon with maple chipotle syrup
Infused-cheese spreads (pesto goat cheese and sun-dried tomato cream cheese) with French baguette
Warm pub pretzel with 2 whole grain mustards, 1 flavored with Irish whiskey & another with stout

Shrimp Ceviche Taco (gluten free), Witherspoon GrillShrimp Ceviche Taco (gluten free), Witherspoon Grill

To wash them down in style (but with a similar eye to budget-consciousness), drink specials include select draft beers for $3; select wines by the glass for $4; and select cocktails for $5. These last include mojitos and sangrias.”

To introduce the new offerings, the folks at Witherspoon Grill hosted a group of us food bloggers, and you can read my colleagues’ comments on Twitter at #eatwellprinceton.

Pulp Vegetarian Cafe & Juice Bar Opens in Frenchtown; Maria’s Homemade Pierogies Opens in Milford

Black Bean Burger, Pulp Vegetarian Cafe, Frenchtown

Black Bean Burger, Pulp, Frenchtown

I recently dined at both Pulp and Maria’s, in the company of two food-writing buddies: Susan Sprague Yeske (Trenton Times, etc.) and Faith Bahadurian (Princeton Packet,etc.). Here’s Faith’s excellent report on our outing, from her blog, NJSpice.

Menu, Maria's Homemade Pierogies, Milford

Menu, Maria’s Homemade Pierogies, Milford

 

This just may be my favorite assignment ever

Second graders in Mr. Pinner’s class at the Wicoff School in West Windsor write restaurant reviews. Hilarity and perspicacity ensue. My report here.

Cover

Fast-Casual with Flair

For the US 1 2015 Spring Dining Issue I asked owners of independent eateries across the Princeton area why they chose to go the fast-casual route.

US 1 Spring Dining 2015 002Their answers are as varied as their offerings, which range from Asian soul food to tapas. Among those profiled:

CrisPanino, Ewing
Infini-T Cafe, Princeton
Jammin’ Crepes, Princeton
Roots Asian Kitchen, West Windsor
The Taco Truck, Princeton
WildFlour Bakery-Cafe, Lawrenceville

Breaking News! Josh Thomsen to leave Agricola

This just in from Agricola Eatery in Princeton:

Josh Thomsen

Josh Thomsen

Jim Nawn, Proprietor of Agricola eatery in Princeton, announced that he and Josh Thomsen, Executive Chef of Agricola, have decided to mutually part ways. “Over two years ago, Chef Josh and I partnered in opening a very successful restaurant for Princeton. I learned and benefitted a great deal from him over that time, and while I am sorry to see him go, exciting new opportunities lie ahead for both of us. We are proud of what we have created and are grateful to have collaborated on Agricola,” said Nawn.

Chef Thomsen will be taking on a new challenge as Executive Chef at Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa in Florida. Replacing Chef Thomsen will be Crawford Koeniger, formerly Executive Chef at Washington House in Basking Ridge. Chef Koeniger joined the Agricola team in January. He has worked in Princeton before with Chris Albrecht, then moving to open Washington House.

“Koeniger is a talented young chef and an excellent fit for Agricola and our team. Agricola is a strong brand and we will endeavor to improve every day going forward, continuing to build on what Chef Thomsen has started,” added Nawn.

Eno Terra Review & Update; 3 Cool Events This Week

Eno Terra Post-Albrecht

NJ Monthly cover April 2015 After the departure last year of Chris Albrecht, this Kingston restaurant’s high-profile opening chef, the owners brought in Mike Metzner, who had once worked at Nicholas in Red Bank. Naturally, I checked in to see how things were going under Metzner. Here is my review from the April issue of New Jersey Monthly. But you’ll also want to read this postscript, because the chef situation has changed again!

“Eat Your Weedies” Foraging Workshop

spring salad FPNL.orgDebbie Naha, a naturalist with an MS degree in Food & Nutrition from NYU will host a foraging workshop at the Mapleton Preserve (D&R Canal State Park) in Kingston from 2 to 4 pm on Saturday, April 25. After an indoor slide talk, the group of up to 25 attendees will be led on a foraging walk and taste testing. Registration is required. Phone 609.683.0483 or visit the Friends of Princeton Nursery Lands website.

Tales of Cooking & Coping (including sweet treats!)

Laura Zinn Fromm

Laura Zinn Fromm

I was sorry to have missed award-winning writer Laura Zinn Fromm’s appearances in Princeton a while back, when she discussed and read from “Sweet Survival,” her memoir-with-recipes about coping with a family fraught with mental illness. By all accounts, she is a great speaker: funny, frank, honest, and sensitive. Fromm will be at Bloomingdale’s at the Mall at Short Hills on Thursday, April 23, from 6 to 8. The store’s culinary coordinator will prepare some of the recipes from her book. The cost is $30 and includes a $25 Bloomingdale’s gift card as well as a copy of “SWEET SURVIVAL.” Registration is required. Email Sajal.Hamilton@bloomingdales.com or call 973-548-2263.

Ootsav Music Festival at Mary Jacobs Library

OostavI can’t be accused of promoting the same old, same old. This unique springtime celebration of classical Indian culture – classical music, dance, crafts, and food – was established last year by students of Montgomery High as a fundraiser for the preservation of the library in the tiny borough of Rocky Hill, which serves both. This year’s event is on Saturday, April 25, from 5 to 9 pm at the library. Tickets ($15) and information here.

 

The Taco Truck, Meatball Mania, Dairy Home Delivery, More

My Newest Gig: Say Hello to the Princeton Echo

Princeton Echo April 2015

Princeton Echo April 2015

Princeton doesn’t lack for free newspapers, but this latest player in town, a monthly, aims to set itself apart by the stories it chooses to cover and its slant. I’m happy to announce that I will be part of that. Each month I contribute both a restaurant feature – an in-depth profile, not a review – and a newsy/gossipy column that’s a collection of happenings and interesting developments on the food and dining scene. (If you have tips, please email me at dinewithpat@gmail.com!)

Here are my entries for April:

Jason Scott & Lynh Pham, The Taco Truck Courtesy Princeton Echo

Jason Scott & Lynh Pham, The Taco Truck
Courtesy Princeton Echo

The Taco Truck: Meet Jason Scott, who with partner Chris Viola, founded what started out as an actual truck in Hoboken and which recently opened its 4th brick-and-mortar location in NJ in the Princeton Shopping Center. How have Princetonians responded to this city slicker? And how has Princeton changed the way The Taco Truck is doing business? Find out here.

“Food for Thought.” This is the name of my new monthly column, a compilation of interesting developments on the Princeton area food, drinks, & dining scene. In the April issue these include:

Courtesy Osteria Procaccini

Courtesy Osteria Procaccini

Meatball mania: Kingston residents have gone bonkers for the meatballs, of all things, at Osteria Procaccini, an artisan pizza spot. Insiders know to scoop them up each week before they run out. What makes them so special?

LactomanLactoman to the rescue! If you live within a 10 mile radius of Princeton, there’s a new, easy, and inexpensive service that delivers milk, cheese, and other products from local farms and food artisans directly to your door. Check it out!

Forrestal Farmers MarketFarmers market season is fast approaching, and the first batch of changes/additions concerns the Princeton Forrestal Village Market. Think more dairy, cheese, fermented goodies, and grab-and-go lunches from the likes of Bobolink Bubbly Jen’s, and Brick Farm Market.

Pork Roll CookbookPork Roll Cookbook & Signing: If you missed the details in my previous post at NJMonthly.com (which accumulated 750 likes in a matter of days), they’re all in April’s “Food for Thought.”