I Create a Cocktail & Dine at Lincoln Ristorante for NYC Summer Restaurant Week

Pat Tanner, Mixologist?

I am a good cook but a terrible cocktail maker. Even when I religiously follow cocktail-making instructions, something almost always goes awry. (Exceptions: I produce excellent Pimm’s cups and on one and only one occasion mint juleps, a fluke I’ve never been able to replicate.)

Pat's Arancino Cocktail

Pat’s Arancino Cocktail

So out of desperation on a recent hot, humid mid-summer day, I started improvising with disparate ingredients that happened to be at hand. I didn’t expect much, but the resulting Arancino cocktail proves that necessity really is the mother of invention.

The inspiration was Arancino Morelli, a sweet liqueur from Piemonte made from infused orange rind. A gift from my daughter Alice, who recently honeymooned in Italy, it’s a delectably thick, sticky-sweet digestif similar to its cousin, limoncello. But that just wouldn’t do on a blistering afternoon. So I poured some over ice and topped it off with Pellegrino. But the genius part, if I may say so, was adding several dashes of lavender bitters.

The bitters were also a gift, last Christmas, from the fiance (and soon to be husband) of my younger daughter, Elizabeth. For the beauty shot at the top of this post I gussied up the drink with orange twists and sprigs of fresh lavender, which I will repeat when I serve it to friends. Hopefully, it will wipe my past missteps from their collective memories.

NYC Restaurant Week Lunch @ Lincoln Ristorante

You know how sometimes when you dine out during Restaurant Week (assuming you’ve been able to snag a reservation – no easy task) you can feel like you’re not getting the full-on experience or the best of what a place has to offer? That is decidedly NOT the case at Lincoln, Jonathan Benno‘s modern Italian restaurant at Lincoln Center. The ravishing 3-course lunch (a mere $25) even includes as an amuse these hot, tender, two-bite cheese fritters:

Cheese fritters, Lincoln Ristorante

Cheese fritters, Lincoln Ristorante

(Actually, the amuse appears after the breads – focaccia and country Italian with sesame seeds, plus a saucer of olive oil and a whipped puree of white beans, lemon, and garlic.)

Diners choose among 2 first courses, 3 mains, and 2 desserts. Since there were two of us, we got to try almost everything – passing up only the rigatoni pasta with marinara, spicy pork sausage, and caciocavallo cheese (which only goes to show how appealing the choices are). First up: creamy, soft buffalo milk burrata with terrific heirloom tomatoes, arugula and – upping the interest factor exponentially – soft, pickled grape hyacinth bulbs (lampascioni).  This specialty of South Italy has a haunting bitterness that appeals to me. The plate is brushed with herb salsa verde.

Burrata & lampascioni, Lincoln Ristorante

Burrata & Lampascioni, Lincoln Ristorante

The salumi platter, the other starter, includes silky, top-quality prosciutto, spicy coppa cotta and a good-size slab of tender, flavorful, house-made head cheese (barely in frame at the top of the photo). The unexpected component here is molten cippolini in pilacca, a zippy Puglian sauce of fried red chili peppers, garlic, and olive oil.

Salumi Platter, Lincoln Ristorante

Salumi Platter, Lincoln Ristorante

For her main course, my lamb-loving friend chose lamb shoulder, spectacularly braised to unctuous softness along with Swiss chard and piquant green olives, then topped with a mix of breadcrumbs, pecorino, and lemon zest. Although not very photogenic, this was our favorite dish.

Braised lamb shoulder, Lincoln Ristorante

Braised Lamb Shoulder, Lincoln Ristorante

But running a close second was my zuppa alla Tarantina, the centerpiece of which is flaky flounder fillet in a sea of tomato-saffron broth dotted with chickpeas, mussels, and tiny clams. The saffron in the full-bodied broth is pronounced without going overboard. I had to fight the urge to bring the rimmed bowl to my mouth to lick the last drops.

Zuppa alla Tarantina, Lincoln Ristorante

Zuppa alla Tarantina, Lincoln Ristorante

Desserts are every bit as appealing. The pretty creme-fraiche crostata features summer berries inside and out. The blackberry compote is to die for, and the quenelle of buttermilk gelato ain’t shabby either.

Summer Berry Crostata, Lincoln Ristorante

Summer Berry Crostata, Lincoln Ristorante

The other Restaurant Week dessert is Chef Benno’s take on a custard-filled dessert from the town of Lecce in Puglia. His version has layers of sponge cake encasing lemon curd, topped with toasted almonds. Underpinnings of figs and fig marmalata are good enough to stand on their own.

Leccese Almond Cake, Lincoln Ristorante

Leccese Almond Cake, Lincoln Ristorante

Diminutive cinnamon biscotti that come with the bill are the final lagniappe. But the restaurant offers one other component that enhances its Restaurant Week lunch even more: 2 four-ounce pours for $12, a white to go with the first course and a red for the second. Both are lovely wines from the Marche region – Verdicchio de Matelica and Sangiovese Morelli.

I should also mention that service here hits that sweet spot between cordiality and professionalism and that the striking, comfortable space is modern yet exudes warmth.

It’s possible that Summer Restaurant Week reservations have all been taken at this point, but I recommend Lincoln Ristorante any time of the year, for any meal.
Lincoln Ristorante on Urbanspoon

And from the this-is-why-I-heart-NY file:

Hearst Plaza, Lincoln Center

Hearst Plaza, Lincoln Center

Serendipity! Happening in the courtyard just outside the restaurant was a rehearsal for a Lincoln Center Out of Doors concert – what would that evening be the world premiere of John Luther Adams’ Sila: The Breath of the World. About 80 contemporary musicians were scattered on three sides, and (as you might just be able to make out) singers in full concert dress black were stationed inside the pool!

 

 

 

 

Big Bad Dad’s NJ Jams; Fancy Food Show Finds & Recipes

“South Jersey Jam” Just One of Big Bad Dad’s Homemade Jams & Jellies

Dan Freeman isn’t really big or bad as far as I can tell (although he is recently back from duty in Afghanistan, so clearly he’s tough). But he is definitely a dad to two little girls, one of whom came up with the name Big Bad Dad’s for his line of all-natural jams, jellies, and fruit toppings. I was happy to make the acquaintance of Dan, his wife, and his jams at the Princeton Farmers Market. I was drawn in by his imaginative combinations, like this curried carrot butter:

Big Bad Dad's Curried Carrot Butter

Big Bad Dad’s Curried Carrot Butter

But what most piqued my interest was his South Jersey Jam, a savory blend of tomatoes, peppers, and garlic seasoned with lemon juice. It’s fresh tasting and nicely balanced – not too heavy on the garlic. Here’s what Freeman says about it: “This jam was born when my friends and I were taste testing a tomato jam I had made. We started by adding a little bit of this and a little bit of that next thing you knew I had the flavor of the old neighborhood. Great on hoagies, hamburgers, hot dogs, eggs, or whatever you can imagine. Enjoy the flavor of the old neighborhood.” Hoagies? Instead of subs? Clearly, the man hails from South Jersey.

Big Bad Dad's South Jersey Jam

Big Bad Dad’s South Jersey Jam

Big Bad Dad’s flavors reflect the seasons, and often sell out. Blackberry Basil Jam should be available soon; Blueberry Lime already is. Fall flavors include Cranberry Horseradish, Pear Chocolate, and Pear Ginger. Hotheads will enjoy Orange Habanero Marmalade and Hot Pepper Jelly but will have to wait for Inferno Jam to come back online.

Speaking of online, you can order jars ($7 for 8 oz.) through the Big Bad Dad’s website. In addition to the Thursday Princeton Farmers Market, Freeman has a table at the Ocean City Farmers Market on Wednesdays, and some of his jars are stocked at Savory Spice in Princeton.

Trends, Finds, & a Cache of Great Recipes from the Fancy Food Show

Summer Fancy Food Show 2014

Summer Fancy Food Show 2014

My full report on the Summer Fancy Food Show, held a few weeks ago in NYC, is coming out the first week in August in US 1, but in the July 18th issue of the Princeton Packet I preview the trends (e.g., sriracha in everything) and share these four excellent recipes I snatched up that make the most of Jersey’s summer bounty:

- Bibb salad with red onion, oranges, and feta drizzled with super-trendy beet finishing vinegar (you can substitute balsamic)

- Mexican grilled poussins with avocado-tomato pico de gallo. An ideal summertime use for butterflied poussins from Griggstown Farm

- Oven-baked candied bacon with aromatic bitters. This is what my next breakfast or brunch guests can expect to be treated to.

- Maple peach yogurt parfait with granola. Jersey peaches are now in high season, but they reach new heights when paired with Jersey maple syrup from Hopewell’s Sweet Sourlands Farms.

The full the recipes and details here.

New Chef (& Lunch) @Rat’s; Filipino Recipes; Halinka Polish Deli

Steven Swiderski Takes the Helm at Rat’s

View from Rat's restaurant @ Grounds for Sculpture

View from Rat’s restaurant @ Grounds for Sculpture

A couple of months ago the top toque at Grounds For Sculpture‘s marquee restaurant quietly changed hands. Shane Cash, who came aboard in late 2010, left Stephen Starr’s restaurant group (which manages Rat’s) to join the team of his TV buddy Robert (“Dinner Impossible”) Irvine. In his place is Steve Swiderski, whose resume includes having been opening chef for Starr’s Buddakan in Philly.

If the lunch I enjoyed at Rat’s in June is any indication, the kitchen is in very capable hands. For one thing, the menu itself is extremely appealing. I almost never bypass rabbit, especially if it, like here, it’s in ragout with tomato, bacon, and white wine over bucatini. But bypass I did because this rainbow trout, the fish of the day, was calling to me:

Rainbow Trout at Rat's, Grounds for Sculpture

Rainbow trout at Rat’s, Grounds for Sculpture

I love trout for itself, but top it with salmoriglio (the pungent chunky salsa from Southern Italy made with lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, oregano, and parsley), and it becomes irresistible. This particular salmoriglio is amped up with minced green olives and red bell pepper. Although you can’t see it, the accompanying frisee salad includes a few fingerling potatoes and haricot vert. Nice.

Turns out I would have been equally happy with my friend’s choice of spring vegetable risotto with asparagus, English peas, creme fraiche, and lemon oil:

Spring vegetable risotto at Rat's, Grounds for Sculpture

Spring vegetable risotto at Rat’s, Grounds for Sculpture

For dessert we shared this orange semifreddo with balsamic pearls, orange gelee, and blood orange supremes:

Orange semifreddo at Rat's, Grounds for Sculpture

Orange semifreddo at Rat’s, Grounds for Sculpture

We started off lunch with two refreshing cocktails, a lemongrass mojito and one made with Crop cucumber vodka and white grapes. Food, drink, and taxes came to $38 per person.

After lunch we wandered the grounds of the 42-acre sculpture park  (admission is $15 for adults), which has an astonishing number of new sculptures, foremost among them Seward Johnson’s 26-foot-tall Marilyn.

Seward Johnson's Marilyn, Grounds for Sculpture

Seward Johnson’s Forever Marilyn, Grounds for Sculpture

Recipes for Filipino Favorites:  Lumpiang (Spring Rolls) & Pancit Bam-I (Cebu-style Noodles w/Sausage & Shrimp)

Maria T. Morales, Kusina Pilipina

Maria T. Morales, Kusina Pilipina

In a previous post I extolled the virtues of the take-away fare of Kusina Pilipina in Franklin Park. Proprietor Mae Morales was subsequently kind enough to share two of her most popular recipes with me. These are excerpted from My story in the 20th issue of the Princeton Packet. (The story includes more background on Ms. Morales and her recipes.)

KUSINA PILIPINA’S FRIED LUMPIANG GULAY (VEGETABLE SPRING ROLLS)

Lumpia, Kusina Pilipina

Lumpia, Kusina Pilipina

Mae Morales doesn’t specify quantities, but you’ll need 1/4 cup of filling per spring roll.

Carrots, julienned
Yam, julienned
Green beans, sliced
Onions, chopped into small cubes
Mung bean sprouts
Vegetable oil for sautéing and deep frying
Firm tofu, cut into small cubes
Spring roll wrappers, such as Wei-Chuan
Dipping sauce of white vinegar seasoned with minced garlic and salt and pepper, for serving

Sauté the vegetables together in a small amount of vegetable oil in a wok or large skillet. When cooked halfway through, remove the vegetables and drain them well. Combine the cubed tofu and the vegetables and let the mixture cool. Place 1/4 cup of the mixture on a spring roll wrapper. Fold the bottom edge over the mixture, and then fold the two sides toward the center. Roll the wrapper tightly toward the top edge. (If desired, seal the top edge with a bit of juice drained from the vegetables.) To deep fry: heat enough vegetable oil to come halfway up the side of the spring rolls. Fry until golden brown and crisp. Drain the lumpiang well on paper towels. Serve with vinegar sauce on the side, for dipping.

KUSINA PILIPINA’S PANCIT BAM-I (Noodles with Sausage and Shrimp)

Pancit, Kusina Pilipina

Pancit, Kusina Pilipina

Onion, chopped
Garlic, chopped
Vegetable oil
1/8 pound boneless pork, julienned
2 pieces Chinese sausage, sliced diagonally
1/8 cup small shrimp, shelled and deveined
Fish sauce, such as Filipino patis
Ground black pepper
2 cups water
Carrots, julienned
Green beans, sliced
Celery, julienned
Mushrooms, such as shiitake, sliced (optional)
Cabbage, julienned
Cellophane noodles (bean thread vermicelli)
Canton pancit noodles (Chinese egg noodles)
Soy sauce

  1. Sauté the onion and garlic in a small amount of vegetable oil. When golden, add the pork. As soon as the pork is tender, add the sausage, shrimp, patis, and black pepper. Pour in 2 cups water and bring to a boil.
  2. Add the carrots, green beans, celery, and mushrooms (if using). Bring to a boil again and add the cabbage and cellophane noodles. When they are barely tender, add the canton pancit noodles and stir the mixture until it’s heated through. Let the mixture sit for a few minutes, and then add soy sauce to taste.

Terrific Find! Halinka Polish Deli in Hillsborough

Halinka Polish Deli platter: stuffed cabbage, potato pancake, cheese & potato pierogi

Halinka Polish Deli platter: stuffed cabbage, potato pancake, cheese & potato pierogi

I and my Central NJ food-writing buddy, Faith “NJSpice” Bahadurian, are on a roll! First, we checked out the homestyle Mexican fare at La Costenita in Hillsborough (full report to follow later). Then we chomped our way through Kusina Pilipina together. Our latest outing – and another winner – is the family-run Halinka Polish Deli in Hillsborough. It stocks a beguiling array of Polish and Eastern European groceries and features the excellent take-away fare and baked goods of owner Halina Herdzik. Hot meal combos like the one above are offered at the bargain price of $7.99. There are a few bare-bones tables at the rear of the space for eating in.

Halinka's blini, courtesy www.PolishDeliNJ.com

Halinka’s blini, courtesy www.PolishDeliNJ.com

We sampled a lot of dishes besides those in the lunch platter above, among them smoky kielbasa, sauerkraut and pork stew, and pork meatballs in creamy mushroom sauce. All are lighter and more delicate in texture than you’d expect, but pack a full complement of flavor. For the complete rundown of the food and experience, check out Faith’s report at NJSpice.net.

Review: Amuse, Westfield; Round-up: Hot Dogs in Central NJ

Engaged Couple, Alumni of Chez Catherine, Open Modern French Bistro Across Town

C.J. Reycraft and Julianne Hodges aim to entice regulars to dine at Amuse, their relaxed BYOB, once a week. Will they succeed? Here’s my take on their new Westfield restaurant in the July issue of NJ Monthly.

NJ Monthly cover July14

Just in Time for Summer! Where to Find the Best Franks from New Brunswick to New Hope

Admittedly, the central part of our state is not exactly a hot spot for hot dogs. (Jimmy Buff’s, why have you forsaken me?) Or is it? My recent survey of eateries specializing in this American icon turned up some delicious surprises, including:

- 2 stands that share a hot dog heritage dating back to the same beloved vendor and his 1950s cart

- a cool, full-service, bona fide, liquor-license-carrying restaurant in New Brunswick that specializes in every form of “encased meat.” So successful, its 2nd location is opening in Atlantic City this Fourth of July weekend. (Congrats to you, Destination Dogs.)

- several eateries that specialize in Trenton-style Italian hot dogs (I repeat: Jimmy Buff’s, why have you forsaken me?)

- Filipino-style dogs. A neon-red breakfast staple – and as beloved in the Philippines as they are here

- An open-air stand at a sleepy country crossroads that causes traffic mayhem on summer weekends

Relish all the details – complete with hotlinks to 7 hot-link emporia – here, in the July 2 issue of US 1.

 

 

Lunch @ Le Cheri (w/recipe); Girl Scouts’ Herb Giveaway; Avanti in Pennington Changes Hands

Lunch @ Le Cheri: How Sweet It Is

I don’t get into Philadelphia nearly as often as the exciting dining scene there warrants, but I made sure to find time to dine at Le Cheri, the second restaurant from Pierre and Charlotte Calmels. Five years ago I fell in love with Bibou, their tiny byob French bistro on South Eighth. (Bibou’s Sunday pre fixe dinner, 4 courses for $45 , is the best deal around.)

Philadelphia Art Alliance, Wikipedia

Philadelphia Art Alliance, Wikipedia

So when the Calmelses opened Le Cheri on Rittenhouse Square in the Philadelphia Art Alliance building – the neat Italianate period piece above – I had to give it a go. Lucky for me, what had been forecast to be a rainy afternoon turned out gloriously sunny, so my little group opted to dine out in the garden in back. Charming, no?

Le Cheri patio garden

Le Cheri patio garden

The weather, season, and setting seemed to cry out for glasses of rose, and the Jean Paul Brun Rose d’Folie ($11) turned out to be as delicious as it is beautiful:

wine glassesThe ambiance also dictated my choice of starter: creamy (but not overly rich) watercress soup with a centerpiece of a few small, tender mussels mixed with julienne duck breast and dots of cayenne oil around the edges.

watercress soupBut I would have been just as satisfied with my friends’ choices: pretty scalloped ravioli filled with mushrooms and napped with rich sauce ivoire…

ravioli…and chilled poached rabbit terrine with Cumberland sauce. (Cumberland sauce is a chunky concoction customarily served with game, similar in style to cranberry sauce. Red currant jelly, orange and lemon rind, and Port are some of its components.) Like the sauce ivoire and much that would follow, this dish is straight out of Escoffier, only made with Pierre Calmels’ light touch and modern sensibility.

rabbit terrineMain dishes are equally beguiling, with each component of every preparation interesting, carefully selected, cooked to perfection, and presented beautifully. To wit:

Seared scallops, lavender oatmeal panisse, sugar snap peas, honeydew melon & mustard seed vinaigrette

Seared scallops, lavender oatmeal panisse, sugar snap peas, honeydew melon & mustard seed vinaigrette

Veal medallions, fingerlings, asparagus, lemon veal jus

Veal medallions, fingerlings, asparagus, lemon veal jus

Chef Georges Perrier crab cake, endive & haricots verts salad, whole grain mustard sauce

Chef Georges Perrier crab cake, endive & haricots verts salad, whole grain mustard sauce

If there’s a weak spot here, it’s dessert. I found the chocolate terrine too rich (tart raspberry sorbet that accompanied it notwithstanding), and the white peach Melba (below), while pretty, was the only classic among an entire meal of classics that seems dated.

??????????My friend who opted for one of the cheeses instead of a sweet came away a winner with this ramekin of runny, creamy, wonderfully pungent epoisses at the perfect stage of ripeness and served with slices of excellent baguette:

epoisses and cappuccinoFrench press coffee, espresso, and cappuccino are impeccable at Le Cheri. For lunch, menu prices range from $8 to 13 for starters, $21 to $27 for mains, and $7 to $9 for desserts and cheese.

"Galette 1523" @ Le Cheri

“Galette 1523″ @ Le Cheri

Now for the promised recipe. The crab cake is listed on the menu as “Galette 1523.” That number refers to the street address of the old Le Bec Fin, and is a faithful replication of the one made famous by Calmels’ mentor, Georges Perrier. Ethereal custard-like texture sets it apart – a cross between quiche and souffle – and plays up the crab’s delicate flavor.Here’s a link to the original recipe.

Girl Scouts Giving Away Fresh Herbs (and Growing Tips)

Apparently it’s not just a one-night stand between chef/owner Jim Weaver of Tre Piani and local Girl Scouts.
Wait – that doesn’t sound right. Let me start again.

scouts at tre piani 013Last year I reported here on a sweet event in which Weaver, the founder of Slow Food Central NJ, invited a Girl Scout troop from Flemington into his kitchen to cook up a farmers-market-to-table meal as part of their badge-earning journey. Now, on Friday, June 27 between 11 am and 2 pm – during the Princeton Forrestal Village farmers market held on the plaza outside Tre Piani – another Girl Scout troop, this one from Plainsboro, will share their knowledge of fresh herbs, as well as herbs themselves, with the public. Here’s the deal, straight from farmers market manager Nirit Yadin:

garden 2009 007

My own herb garden

“Come learn to grow herbs in your own kitchen and reap the benefits of herbs in fresh food. Then get a free pot of herbs to take home. The program is presented by Girl Scout Troop 70694. The girls are working on a Sow What Journey which is all about connecting people to their food. Come, educate yourself and support the troop!’

 

 

 

Breaking News: Changing of the Guard at Pennington’s Avanti

Michael Moriello

Michael Moriello

Michael Moriello, chef and owner of La Mezzaluna, the popular Italian byob on Witherspoon Street in Princeton, has acquired Avanti, the equally popular Italian byob in downtown Pennington. Moriello, who came to the US 9 years ago from Naples, has bought out Vincenzo Severino, a Sicilian native who established Avanti almost 20 years ago on W. Delaware Avenue.

Avanti in Pennington

Avanti in Pennington

Moriello isn’t planning major changes to the menu at Avanti, which offers classic fare like linguine with red or white clam sauce and pasta Bolognese inside a charming carriage house. One change: the restaurant is now serving lunch on Sundays (in addition to dinner).

La Mezzaluna, Princeton

La Mezzaluna, Princeton

At La Mezzaluna, Moriello offers refined Italian dishes like seafood risotto and hazelnut-crusted rack of lamb. He just completed a major renovation of that restaurant’s modern minimalist decor.

Happy Anniversary Alchemist & Barrister (w/recipes) and Zone 7; My Meal @ Razza in JC

PRINCETON’S ALCHEMIST AND BARRISTER TURNS 40

Alchemist & Barrister

Alchemist & Barrister

When it comes to restaurant longevity, I think in dog years: a ratio of 7 to 1. At that rate, this casual pub and restaurant on Witherspoon Street would be turning 280 this year. Like many a grande dame, the A&B is having some work done as she enters her fifth decade, including a new exterior (current one shown above), new windows, a set of French doors that will open onto the restaurant’s alleyway entrance, and an additional bar that will bring the number of beer taps to 50.

Arthur Kukoda, Alchemist & Barrister

Arthur Kukoda, Alchemist & Barrister

A linchpin of the A&B’s success for at least the last 26 years has been executive chef/co-owner Arthur Kukoda. He has consistently traversed that tricky culinary fine line between the traditional and the of-the-moment. The current menu includes both classics – shepherd’s pie and chicken pot pie, to name two – and modern American fusion dishes like poutine with short ribs and ginger-sesame fried calamari. This summer Kukoda’s daughter Melissa will join the A&B team as social media director.

Below are 2 recipes that exemplify this chef’s style. With outdoor grilling season upon us, his mango barbecue chicken (shown above) brings this backyard favorite to new heights. The chicken can be split in half or quartered.

"Fantastic Five" Salad, Alchemist & Barrister

“Fantastic Five” Salad, Alchemist & Barrister

The five-grain salad gives nods to three trends: ancient grains, gluten free, and vegetarian/vegan. (A&B customers can opt to add chicken or shrimp.) The restaurant uses its own grain mix consisting of equal parts quinoa, millet, kaniwa, amaranth, and teff. Kaniwa is a relative of quinoa and similar in its nutty taste. Both are technically seeds, by the way.

A&B bar guru Jason Wilkins has kindly volunteered the craft beer pairing suggestions.

 

A & B’s MANGO BBQ CHICKEN
(Suggested craft beer: Brooklyn Summer Ale or Wells Banana Bread Beer)

1 chicken, boned-out with exception of wing drumettes (Ask butcher to split chicken and debone the rib cage and thigh and leg bones)
For the marinade:
1 bunch scallions, sliced thin
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
Zest and juice of 1 lime
Zest and juice of 1 orange
1/2 cup tamari (gluten-free soy sauce)
1 cup vegetable oil (Kukoda uses a blend of canola and olive oils)
For the mango barbecue sauce:
1 large onion, diced small
1/4 cup fresh ginger, minced
4 cloves garlic, sliced thin
1 poblano pepper, diced small
4 tablespoons vegetable oil (e.g., canola, olive, or a blend of the two)
12 ounces mango nectar or frozen mango chunks (defrosted)
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup lime juice
1 cup rum
4 dashes Worcestershire sauce
24 ounces ketchup

  1. Combine the marinade ingredients. Pour over deboned chicken, cover, and refrigerate for 1 hour.
  2. Make the mango barbecue sauce: In a large saucepan, saute the onion, ginger, garlic, and poblano pepper in 4 tablespoons vegetable oil until soft. Add mango, cider vinegar, lime juice, rum, Worcestershire sauce, and ketchup. Combine well, bring to a boil, and simmer for 30 minutes. Allow sauce to cool, and puree in blender or food processor.
  3. When ready to grill, set aside at least half a cup of the bbq sauce for serving. Remove chicken from the marinade and grill as usual. Toward the later stages of grilling, brush the chicken with the sauce, being careful not to have the chicken over the open flame so sauce does not burn. Serve the reserved sauce with the cooked chicken.
    Serves 4.

A & B’s “FANTASTIC FIVE” GRAIN SALAD
(Suggested craft beers: If adding chicken, pair with Goose Island 312 Urban Wheat Ale or a bottle of Hacker Pschorr Weisse. With shrimp, pair with 21st Amendment Hell or High Watermelon Wheat Beer.)

2 pounds cooked mixed grains (from 1 pound of uncooked), preferably a mix of equal parts quinoa, millet, kaniwa, amaranth, and teff, or use quinoa alone
1/4 cup blanched broccoli florettes
1/4 cup sliced radish
1/4 cup grated carrots
1 cup grilled fresh pineapple rings, diced and separated
Toasted almonds, for garnish
For the grilled pineapple-tamari vinaigrette:
1 shallot, diced
1/3 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons tamari (gluten free soy sauce)
1 cup vegetable oil (preferably a blend of canola and olive oil)
1/2 cup grilled pineapple (from above)

  1. Make the vinaigrette: Combine shallot, rice vinegar, and tamari in a bowl. Whisk in the oil. Fold in 1/2 cup grilled diced pineapple. (Save the other 1/2 cup to add to the salad.)
  2. Combine in a bowl the cooked grain(s), broccoli, radish, carrot, and remaining diced pineapple. Pour in the vinaigrette and toss well. Sprinkle salad with toasted almonds.
    Serves 4.

(The above is excerpted from the May 27, 2014 issue of The Princeton Packet)

Happy Anniversary, Zone 7!

Zone7_Logo_Color-250x300Straight from proprietor/visionary Mikey Azzara of this farm-to-restaurant distribution service comes this notice: “In May of 2008, Zone 7 made its first delivery of Muth Organic Strawberries to The Bent Spoon in Princeton, NJ.  Every year around this time, we like to reflect on our past and look ahead to what the upcoming season will bring.  As we enter Year 7, we want to give thanks for all of your support.” To see how Zone 7 got its start, check out this video: The Story of Zone 7.

My Dinner @ Razza

Razza board

A couple of posts ago I linked to my interview with Dan Richer of Razza Pizza Artigianale that’s in the Summer 2014 issue of Edible Jersey. What I didn’t report on was the terrific meal I enjoyed after the interview concluded. Here are some of the highlights.

Bread at Razza

Bread at Razza

Richer is a man obsessed with fermentation. The wild yeast culture he started more than four years ago forms the basis of both his pizza dough and the loaves of bread that emanate from his wood-fired oven. He pairs the bread with the handmade cultured butter he makes from the cream of grass-fed Lancaster County cows. Bread & butter costs $4 here – and patrons are happy to pony up. The table setting reflects the rustic-industrial look of the space.

Razza bread and butter

Razza bread and butter

Razza’s meatballs ($9) are loose and tender. My husband paid them the highest compliment when he remarked that they reminded him of my own mother’s. They’re made with chunks of day-old Razza bread soaked in buttermilk that’s left over from churning that housemade butter. The tomato sauce is fresh and bright tasting, with a great tomato tang.

Razza meatballs

Razza meatballs

Below is a detail of the Margherita pizza ($15). Note the big, crusty edge, which is full of flavor yet light in texture and has just the right balance of tender/chewy/crisp. It may look like there’s a lot of cheese (handmade fresh mozz), but actually it’s just a thin layer. Richer considers the dough the main event, and all toppings merely condiments. He’s right.

Razza Margherita pizza

Razza Margherita pizza

We also wolfed down the beet salad ($10), which stands miles above the countless other versions out there with its tender red and gold fire-roasted beets, crunchy heirloom watermelon radishes, gorgeous nasturtiums and dollop of rich Lancaster Valley yogurt. And don’t pass up the hazelnut panna cotta if it’s a dessert-of-the-day. You’ll also want to check out the abbreviated but smart list of cocktails, Italian wines, and craft beers from both Italy and the region (NJ, NY, and PA).

Dan Richer of Razza

Dan Richer of Razza

 

 

Excellent Filipino Take-Away; A New Farmers Market; Native Wildflowers

Kusina Pilipina: Filipino Home Cooking on Route 27

Route 27 stretching from Kendall Park through North Brunswick has been home to a continuously evolving string of modest ethnic eateries for as long as I can remember (which is several decades, going back to the well-remembered A-Kitchen and Sitar). The newest ethnic group to be represented is Filipino. Last week when I drove by the sign announcing Kusina Pilipina – located behind the Dunkin Donuts near Beekman Road in Franklin Park – I knew I had to check it out. In part, because I was consumed with guilt.

Menu

As a restaurant critic, I am often asked if there’s any particular cuisine I dislike. I always answer no, that if it’s authentic and capably prepared, all of the world’s cooking is delicious. But in my head I had to admit that the few times I had sampled Filipino food – always at pan-Southeast Asian chains or at a modest storefront grocery/take-out place like this one – I hadn’t enjoyed it. Too dense, soggy, muddled, oily, and/or boring, with too much sourness or, if not that, then either overly sweet or salty.

Kusina Pilipina is none of the above. Dishes with clear, clean flavors and uncharacteristically light textures shine in what seems more like Filipino home cooking than restaurant fare or fast-casual take-out. In fact, proprietor Maria T. Morales (known as Mae) uses recipes she learned growing up on the island province of Cebu, where her parents had a small eatery.

Maria T. Morales, Kusina Pilipina

Maria T. Morales, Kusina Pilipina

Her inexpensive noodle, bbq, and stewed dishes are made fresh on site each day, from quality ingredients (especially noticeable in the meat and vegetables). They are light and nuanced when called for, earthy and full-bodied other times. Nothing I sampled was overly salty or sweet. Even these skewers of sticky boneless bbq pork (I literally smacked my lips over it) and brown sugar-coated plantains (a must if you like plantains) didn’t cross the sweetness barrier:

Kusina Pilipina

Kusina Pilipina

As for sour and salty, it mostly comes on the side, as in the tiny cup of shrimp paste, below, that accompanies an order of kare kare (extreme right). Kare kare is the signature Filipino stew of oxtail and tripe in peanut sauce, here also made with bok choy, eggplant, and green beans:

Pancit & kare kare, Kusina Pilipina

Pancit & kare kare, Kusina Pilipina

At top left is the Philippine’s famous stir-fried noodle dish, pancit, here light and fluffy and without any trace of oiliness. In case you can’t make it out due to my dubious photographic skills, it contains two kinds of noodles: cellophane & vermicelli. I also brought home a container of stew made from boneless chicken, bitter melon, and strands of beaten egg which, like the kare kare, is meant to be spooned over white rice. Since it is not especially photogenic I’ll spare you my sad attempt to capture it. Ditto for an excellent dessert: turon, a crunchy, deep-fried (but greaseless) spring roll filled with slices of plantain and jackfruit cooked almost to a custard and sweetened with brown sugar.

In the year that it’s been open, Kusina Pilipina’s takeout fare and catering options have amassed a well-deserved following among both Filipinos and the larger community. The downside is that its website is still under construction, but Ms. Morales promises it will soon be fully functional.

Central NJ Gets a New Farmers Market

Forrestal Village farmers market flyerTo be honest (again?! as if the above confession weren’t enough!) I really thought that by this time the Princeton area had enough seasonal outdoor farmers markets. But once I reviewed the specifics about the Princeton Forrestal Village Farmers Market, which debuts on Friday, June 6, I reconsidered.

First off, it’s held on Fridays, from 11 am to 2 pm. That means it won’t compete with my other favorites – West Windsor on Saturday; downtown Princeton on Thursday. Second, among its 6 farms are a couple you don’t find participating elsewhere ’round these parts: Rolling Hills (“beyond organic”) and Double Brook (the folks behind Brick Farm Market in Hopewell.) Third, among its non-farm offerings are the award-winning wines of Unionville Vineyards, the incomparable baked goods of Jen Carson of Lillipies (perhaps you’ve enjoyed them at Small World Coffee), and the unique condiments of Herb n Zest (caramelized apple champagne mustard, anyone?).

To recap: the Princeton Forrestal Village Farmers Market runs on Fridays from June 6th through September 26 (except for July 4th), between 11 am and 2 pm.

And now, your moment of zen (with apologies to John Stewart)

Bowman's Hill

Bowman’s Hill

Nothing food-related…nothing anything-related except that it reflects my continuing amazement at what a great area we are privileged to live in. Last Saturday I walked the wildflower trails at Bowman’s Hill outside of New Hope, PA. A smattering of the wonders I encountered is pictured to the right and below, thanks to my guide and friend, wildlife expert Carolyn Edelmann, whose blog is njwildbeauty.

 

 

Flame azalea

Flame azalea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Honeysuckle

Honeysuckle

 

 

 

Jack in the pulpit

Jack in the pulpit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lady slipper

Lady slipper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pinxter

Pinxter

 

Prickly pear

Prickly pear

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Damage from Sandy

Damage from Sandy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rare yellow trillium

Rare yellow trillium

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The end

The end

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meet Dan Richer of Razza; My Review of LP Steak; Montclair’s Food & Wine Fest; Switchel Goes Mainstream

“True Italian mentality says that your location dictates your ingredients.” – Dan Richer of Razza

Dan Richer of Razza

Dan Richer of Razza

For a veteran journalist I made a rookie mistake when I interviewed Dan Richer of Razza Pizza Artigianale, a James Beard Rising Star semi-finalist whose output made Thrillist’s list of tops in the US. That mistake? I fell so in love with my subject I completely blew the word allotment my editor had stipulated. See if you’re not captivated, too, here in the Summer 2014 issue of Edible Jersey (The story starts on page 42.)

Edible Jersey cover summer 14

Luke Palladino turns his hand to steak

Having attained accolades for his Italian fare at the Atlantic City area restaurants that bear his name, Palladino has turned his small Northfield location into a hipster steakhouse. Read my review here, in the June issue of New Jersey Monthly.

NJ Monthly June 2014

2014 Montclair Food & Wine Festival: Big names, big doings next weekend

Montclair Food Wine Festival logo

Each year this 3-day celebration gets bigger and better, helping to justify its claim that Montclair is NJ’s food capital. Here’s a snapshot of this year’s activities:

Saturday, May 31: The Grand Tasting takes over the Montclair Art Museum, with food from 30 area restaurants (including the Ryland Inn) and wines provided by Gary’s Wine & Marketplace.

Sunday, June 1: Seminars on pasta, NJ oysters & clams, Latin tapas, and foie gras. For that last, two experts – Ariane Daguin of D’Artagnan and Ariane Duarte of Culinariane – will debunk myths surrounding that beloved but controversial delicacy.

Monday, June 2: Gala Dinner at The Manor, with wines provided by Amanti Vino. Among the 6 accomplished chefs each doing a course is Floyd Cardoz, a Verona resident and winner of Top Chef Masters who first came to prominence at NYC’s Tabla. (Read my very personal interview with this talented chef and super-nice guy. We spoke in 2012, shortly before he started at Danny Meyer’s North End Grill, which he has since left. Click here to read the post.)

Chef Floyd Cardoz

Chef Floyd Cardoz

Get complete details and ticket information on next weekend’s festivities at montclairfoodandwinefestival.org.

Who knew? Switchel goes mainstream

I realized I was onto something when I encountered a switchel cocktail a couple of years ago at Jose Andres’ original incarnation of his America Eats Tavern. First, my post about it – complete with recipe – has accrued more hits on Dine With Pat than all posts save one (that one for orange soda bbq sauce, of all things). Then, in Wednesday’s NY Times dining section, Florence Fabricant spotlighted a switchel mixer made in Vermont. With or without alcohol, it makes a great summer cooler.

Asbury Park’s Pascal & Sabine: The Restaurant – and My Review – Are Hot

I was captivated by this brasserie in the same way I had been decades ago by the young boy and girl after whom it is named: Pascal & Sabine, protagonists of the classic French short film, The Red Balloon.

 

The Red Balloon DVD cover (wikipedia)

The Red Balloon DVD cover (wikipedia)

My 3-star review of Asbury Park’s own Pascal & Sabine is here in the June issue of New Jersey Monthly. The online review was shared 500 times within 18 hours!

NJ Monthly June 2014

 

My Cookie Wedding Favors; More from Frank Bruni; Riedel Warehouse Sale

My primary contribution to my daughter’s recent wedding was, not surprisingly, food related. Each of 153 guests received a clear, beribboned and be-tagged box containing Mexican wedding cookies I had baked.

My Wedding Cookie Favors

My Wedding Cookie Favors

For inspiration and recipes I turned to two experts: Martha Stewart and Nick Malgieri. I chronicle the ups and downs, ins and outs of pulling this project together here, in the May issue of the Princeton Packet Magazine, which is devoted in its entirety to weddings. (Scroll down to “Good Taste” for my cookie story.)

More of my interview with Frank Bruni, including the reading list for his food writing class @ Princeton

frank bruniI’ve previously linked to my interview with the former NY Times restaurant critic in the May issue of NJ Monthly. Here’s more of our conversation about the food writing course he’s teaching at Princeton University this semester, and why he’s doing it.

Tell me about the sixteen lucky undergrads in your class…
Most of them are upperclassmen. Right now it’s eleven young women and five young men. Forty-eight students applied. They all had to write a letter saying, here’s why I’d like to be in your class. I tried, without over-thinking it, to respect the gender breakdown of the letters.

They also had to submit a sample of their writing, right? So what drew you to these particular students?
A couple of them had taken a foreign affairs writing class last semester with my colleague at the Times [Carol Giacomo]. She brought her class up to The Times Center and had a number of us come talk to them. Some of the kids who applied to this class had been in that session and that was the reason they wanted to take the class. So I let a few of them in on the theory they know what they’re getting. You want everyone to be happy: they had met me, their feeling was positive. Others, it was just the amount of enthusiasm in their letters. Also, some of it was that I didn’t want a class entirely of people who are deep in the weeds of food, entirely of people who cultivate their own organic gardens. I wanted a mix of people who are incredibly food obsessed and people who are really just interested in being better writers and who find the subject of food suitably engaging. That kind of diversity.

Your syllabus lists three books other than your own Born Round: Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals and Nora Ephron’s Heartburn. Why these?
They’re so different from one another. Michael Pollan’s work is such classic kind of expository journalism, written in a very elegant style. Foer’s Eating Animals is written in a completely different and much more gonzo style and it’s about a very particular thing, which is the ethics of eating. And Nora Ephron, again, a completely different style.
It’s just to get different voices in their head. I want them to read a lot. I really think that the easiest way to be a good writer, the best thing is to read. Even at my age I feel that if I’m not reading a lot I’m writing a lot worse. I feel like to make a writing course just writing and writing and writing, it’s a little bit like putting the cart before the horse. It’s one of the concerns I always have about people in high school and college taking a whole bunch of writing courses. So I want to make sure that over the course of the semester they’re also reading.

Born Round coverHow do you plan on using Born Round in the course?
I think it would be hard to teach a food writing course and not have a food memoir in there. There were many I considered. The reason I put my own in there was not to sell sixteen copies – I don’t know if they even had to buy any [of these books]. I could have assigned, say, Gabrielle Hamilton’s Blood, Bones & Butter and because she’s a local person I might be able to get her to come to talk to the class for an hour. But if I’m going to assign a food memoir, why not give them something that as they’re reading it if they have questions about why this approach, why is it done this way, or if they have questions about structure or anything, they have unfettered access to the author. It just made sense.

Will you bring in guest speakers?
Absolutely! For the first half of my next class Melissa Clark, who’s a friend and a good Times food writer, is going to be there. I’ll probably have my friend Kate Krader who’s the restaurant editor for Food & Wine magazine come down. And I’m also going to bring the kids up to the Times to interact with my colleagues.

What made you want to take this on, with all your other responsibilities?
A new experience! You know, when you’ve been in the business as long as I have and you’ve written on deadline as much as I have and you’ve filed as many articles of various kinds, well, if you can find ways to build something novel into your weeks and months, it’s great. And in a corny way I like the idea of teaching. I’m one of those people at work whose friends often ask for advice or to read stuff and I think I’m not horrible at explaining things and critiquing things. I hoped I might actually be useful.
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Riedel Warehouse Sale Now through Saturday, in Edison

If you’re a fan of Riedel wine glasses and decanters (count me in), you’ll want to head over to Edison, where their wares are discounted from between 45% and 75% for the next few days.  Details here. A shout out to June Jacobs of Feastivals who alerted me to this event. If you go, I’d love to get a report. btw: The sale includes items from Spiegelau and Nachtmann, too.