Moonshine Goes Legit; Food Writers Speak; A Farmers Market Shows Heart

Are You Ready for Some Moonshine?

I knew that moonshine had gone mainstream, but was nonetheless surprised to find an entire shelf dedicated to more brands than I could easily count when I toured the newest Gary’s Wine & Marketplace, which opened on Route 206 in Hillsborough in June.

Tim Smith, Climax Moonshine

Tim Smith, Climax Moonshine

Moonshine will be in the spotlight at that store and at the Gary’s in Wayne on Saturday, August 29th, when Tim Smith of the Discovery Channel’s “Moonshiners” (shown above – NOT at Gary’s!) will be on hand to sign bottles of his Climax Moonshine, which Huff Post named the best-tasting legal version out there.

Smith will be in Hillsborough from 1 to 3 pm; Wayne from 4 to 6 pm.

I’m told moonshine averages 150 proof; Climax is 90 proof. As for how to drink it, BuzzFeed offers these 19 moonshine concoctions.

And if wine is more your thing, know that Gary’s offers free tastings of at least 8 bottles every day at all of his stores.

Gary's Wine Tasting Dispenser

Gary’s Wine Bar Dispenser

 

Gary's Shelf Tag

Gary’s Shelf Tag

Second Annual Food Writers & Photographers Panel at West Windsor Farmers Market

West Windsor Farmers Market

West Windsor Farmers Market

This event also takes place on Saturday, August 29th, at 11 am (so you can squeeze in both Gary’s & this). I am honored to be a panelist once again. Come out to the market and ask us everything you ever wanted to know about food writing, blogging, and photography. (On that last subject, I’ll be looking for pointers myself.) Here are my impressive fellow panelists:

Justine Ma Justine Ma is a NY Food Editor who has eaten her way around the world. She has cooked alongside top chefs in the James Beard Foundation kitchen and shares local food experiences on her lifestyle blog LittleMissLocal.com.

Katie Parla is a NJ native and Rome-based food and beverage journalist and educator. She is the author of the blog Parla Food parlafood.com and website katieparla.com, the apps Katie Parla’s Rome and Katie Parla’s Istanbul parlafoodltd.com and the Ebook Eating & Drinking in Rome. Her forthcoming cookbook, Tasting Rome, co-authored with Kristina Gill, will be published by Clarkson Potter in early 2016 and is available for pre-order.

Linda Prospero divides her time as a board member for Princeton’s Italian cultural institution, Dorothea’s House, writing her blog, Ciao Chow Linda ciaochowlinda.blogspot.com, co-teaching a memoir-writing workshop, Italy in Other Words and travels to and from Italy.

Clay Williams is a photographer and blogger based in Brooklyn. He has shot assignments for the New York TimesFood Republic and the EdibleCommunities titles, among other publications. Follow his work at ultraclay.com/wordpress.

A Visit to Greenwood Ave. Farmers Market, Trenton

Isles Urban Farmers Sign at Greenwood Ave. Market

Isles Urban Farmers Sign at Greenwood Ave. Market

Sure, Trenton has the venerable Trenton Farmers Market and there’s the Capital City market on Thursdays, but I recently stopped by the fledgling Greenwood Avenue Market because it is doing important work for the local community. Not only does it have terrific produce dispensed by friendly folk, like these from Isles’ non-profit Urban Farmers:

Isles Table at Greenwood Ave. Market

Isles Table at Greenwood Ave. Market

And also bounty from Hillsborough’s Norz Hill Farm (including grass-fed ground beef at $3.99/lb):

Norz Hill Farm Table at Greenwood Ave. Market

Norz Hill Farm Table at Greenwood Ave. Market

but it also provides important services to the local community. It accepts SNAP and WIC vouchers, offers on-site health screenings and physical activities, and dispenses nutritional info, advice, and samples – like these zucchini pasta samples courtesy of Michelle Brill of Rutgers:

Michelle Brill, Rutgers' Family & Community Health Services

Michelle Brill, Rutgers’ Family & Community Health Services

The market is catty-corner to the Trenton train station (you can see the parking deck in the background of the first photo above) and is open Mondays from 2:30 to 6:30 pm. Make it a point to stop by some Monday between now and the end of October to show your support for this important effort.

Greenwood Avenue Farmers Market Sign

Greenwood Avenue Farmers Market Sign

Breaking News: First Report on the New Elements in Princeton

Scott Anderson’s newly relocated restaurant opens to the public on Tuesday, August 11, but for the last few days he, Chef Mike Ryan, and staff have been testing out on invited guests the new space, new menu, and especially the new, unorthodox style of service. That service? The five cooks, including Anderson, themselves deliver the dishes each has prepared. (A service charge of 20% is added to the bill. If you need to get caught up on the what/where/why/and how behind the move, check out my story here in the July issue of The Princeton Echo.)

I was lucky enough to be among the preview guests and since I will not officially be reviewing this restaurant, I and my husband, Bill, were excited to give it a go. Herewith my report.

GUESTS ENTER via a dedicated door on Witherspoon Street and come upon a podium and hostess, technically located inside Mistral Bar. Guests are whisked upstairs via elevator. When the doors open, the first sensation is the wonderful scent of wood smoke, from the open kitchen’s open hearth.

Elements Dining Room 2015

Elements Dining Room 2015

THE DINING ROOM is reminiscent of, yet different from, the original restaurant. Earth tones of gray and beige, the same oversize painting (not shown), the tables and chairs – all are reprised. As you can see, the kitchen is visible from the dining area. Happily, the cooking heat is contained and the cooks work virtually soundlessly. The room is softened with gray, subtly patterned carpeting, with slate covering the floor directly in front of the open kitchen and down a hallway that leads to restrooms and to two private dining rooms.  The dining room features a vaulted, peaked ceiling that’s crisscrossed by roughhewn wood trusses and beams, all beautifully lit.

Greenscapes at Elements, Princeton 2015

Greenscapes at Elements, Princeton 2015

Greenscapes of succulents and moss dot the room, while luminescent marble candle holders add to the ambiance after dark.

Shirohana Bean Flower Amuse, Elements

Shirohana Bean Flower Amuse, Elements

The 12-DISH CHEF’S TASTING MENU started off with 3 amuses. Above is the first one, shown alongside my choice of cocktail: a shrub featuring oloroso sherry. The unadulterated flower tasted of fresh, early-spring bean plucked right off the vine. Its bright, refreshing flavor put Bill in mind of uncooked sugar snap peas. The blossoms were presented on the first of what would be an amazing array of earthenware plates and bowls by potter John Shedd of Rocky Hill.

Wood Ear Mushroom Amuse, Elements

Wood Ear Mushroom Amuse, Elements

For the Wood Ear Mushroom amuse, a forest setting in a box held 1 glistening, pleasantly gelatinous, umami-packed mushroom per person. I’m told my eyes became saucers when I popped mine into my mouth – so much unexpected flavor!

Cuban Oregano Amuse, Elements Princeton

Cuban Oregano Amuse, Elements Princeton

This held all the ingredients of the namesake sandwich in one big bite. Instead of bread, the genius vehicle is a single crisp-fried, light-as-air oregano leaf. I personally didn’t know oregano leaves could grow to that size, but was told these come from David Zaback’s Z Food Farm in Lawrenceville. This Cuban is light as air, and the oregano flavor is subtle, not overpowering.

Elements Bread & Butter

Elements Bread & Butter

Scott Anderson spent some of the 13 months since the original Elements closed for business perfecting his bread-making technique.  Here is his whole wheat, which has a thin, crunchy crust and tender yet flavorful crumb. The bright yellow butter includes the same herbs grazed upon by the cows who produced the milk it’s made from. (Anderson also makes sourdough.)

Elements' Night Shades

Elements’ Night Shades

The salad course consisted of this bowl labeled on the menu as Roasted, Raw, and Sundried Night Shades – aka tomatoes. They’re lush and luscious, but what elevates the dish are cubes of what I termed jellied smoke (or what in the old days would have been called aspic).

Two seafood dishes were up next.

Elements' Big Eye Tuna from The Canyon

Elements’ Bigeye Tuna from The Canyon

For this first one, Scott Anderson caught the fish himself the week before, while fishing in the Hudson Canyon off the Jersey Coast. Since it weighed in at 240 pounds (!), he needed help reeling it in. Accompanying the pristine fish is a puree of charred false-alarm jalapenos (all the flavor, little of the heat), achiote, and the smallest, creamiest cowpeas I’ve ever encountered.

Elements' Ocean Trout

Elements’ Ocean Trout

“Kasuzuke Ocean Trout: Smoked, Roe, Broth” – thus reads the menu. Smoky broth was poured into the thick-walled cup and saucer (note the jaunty squid- or octopus-like handle) that had been heated, and which retained the heat nicely. The frilly white piece is crunchy fried trout skin. We were told that kasuzuke refers to the Japanese method of pickling and fermenting fish (or vegetables) in sake.

A NOTE ON SERVICE: As each dish is set on the table, the cook who made it provides a short, clipped explanation with no fanfare. If you ask for details, they are provided.

Nightshades & Corail, Elements Princeton

Nightshades & Corail, Elements Princeton

A NOTE ON WINES: Carl Rohrbach is Elements’ wine director. We started off with a style of wine new to me: Corail, a blend of three red grapes and two whites. (This one was from the Jura, Chateau D’Arlay.) Neither red nor white nor traditional rose, its unique color and taste went nicely with all of the preceding dishes. Starting with the eggplant dish, below, we switched over to a bone-dry Austrian Riesling from J.B. Becker. The wine list is interesting and surprisingly extensive. Each category has at least one moderately priced bottle (i.e. $42 to $65), and heads upwards from there. Our final wine, once we moved on to meat dishes, was a tasty Carema Nebbiolo (2009; bottled in 2014).

Eggplant with Chicken Jus, Elements Princeton

Eggplant with Chicken Jus, Elements Princeton

So if the folks at Elements ever do retail, I’ll be first in line for any bottled broth, jus, or pistou. The chicken jus in this dish plumbed depths I didn’t know existed, helped along by nutty sesame and vadouvan. And you can’t even see the world’s tiniest Malabar spinach leaves. The star – eggplant – came in two forms:  a crisp, thin chip and a tender, meaty “log.” Immensely satisfying.

Elements' Bison Tartare

Elements’ Bison Tartare

Elements Bison Tartare

Admittedly, the 2 photos above are likely to be the best food shots I’ll ever take. But the super-gorgeous bowl holds our favorite dish of the evening: rich, silky bison tartare with tender, sweet Tropea onion, 2 forms of kohlrabi (chip and teensy leaf), and an underpinning of cream-colored jujube puree, which to me tasted like a cross between apple and quince.

A NOTE ON PORTION SIZE:  This dish is so rich that a small taste (as above) suffices. Other dishes in the 12-course tasting menu were so abundant in complex flavors and interesting textures that small is sufficient. This is one of very few tasting menus of this length that I have come away from without feeling overly stuffed or having palate fatigue.

Elements' Fennel with Housemade Prosciutto

Elements’ Fennel with House-made Prosciutto

The house-made prosciutto was two years in the making, Anderson told us. Simultaneously delicate and full-flavored, it was wrapped around stalks of small fennel stewed to the point of melting in kale pistou.

Elements' Waygu with Buckwheat & Nasturtium

Elements’ Wagyu with Buckwheat & Nasturtium

OK, so maybe by this point I had enjoyed too much nebbiolo. I have no other explanation for why this photo is so fuzzy. But I distinctly recall enjoying the rich meat, the tiny nubs of nutty buckwheat, the deep green puree (is that where the menu’s mention of miso came in?), the finely chopped walnut, the piece of tiny brown enoki, and the peppery fried nasturtium lid.

Kittatiny Goat Cheese, Elements Princeton

Kittatiny Goat Cheese, Elements Princeton

I nominate this Kittatiny Goat Cheese dish to replace all heavy-handed cheese courses on menus everywhere. The rich, creamy cheese (from Cranberry Creek Farm in PA) was sweetened by  tiny bits of stewed peach, a touch of honey, and basil.

Chocolate with Strawberry, Hazelnut, & Anise Hyssop, Elements Princeton

Chocolate with Strawberry, Hazelnut, & Anise Hyssop, Elements Princeton

The rich, soft dark-chocolate shell seemed to have a wonderful hint black pepper, although I could be mistaken. If you look really hard, you’ll see the almost microscopic anise hyssop blossoms.

Pouring Tea at Elements Princeton

Pouring Tea at Elements Princeton

While my husband opted for a rich pour-over of Costa Rica decaf, I couldn’t resist this so-called Wild Tea, with its balsam fir, clover, fleabane, firewood (whatever that is), and rice. Fia Berisha, Elements’ new GM, insisted I let the second round of tea steep for a long time, to experience how the flavors changed/developed over time. The graininess of rice was forward in the initial pouring, while the balsam came forward for the second. The final taste of the evening was a confection called Mountain Mint. My husband called it the best Peppermint Pattie ever.

In sum, the newly reconstituted Elements is off to a fine start. To view the opening menus – which include a weeknight four-course prix fixe – visit elementsprinceton.com.

 

 

 

Peacock Inn’s New Chef is AlreadyGone; Corkscrew Wine Shop Expands; Lillipies on the Move; More

Sam Byrne Summarily Departs Peacock; Lillipies Moving into Princeton Shopping Center; Turning Point Opens 11th Eatery at Mercer Mall

Details here, in my August Food for Thought column in The Princeton Echo

Princeton Corkscrew Wine Shop Expands

Princeton Corkscrew, Courtesy The Princeton Echo

Princeton Corkscrew, Courtesy The Princeton Echo

Owner Laurent Chapuis tells which marketplace demands he responded to by adding more showroom space to his shop, which has been on Hulfish Street since 1997. My interview, here, also from the August issue of The Echo.

 

Salsa Slam Winners; Elements Sets Opening Date; Freebie @ WildFlour

11 Princeton Eateries Vie for Salsa Bragging Rights

I don’t know what it is about salsa that brings out the best in people, but for the 4th year in a row the Princeton Public Library’s salsa contest drew a fun-loving crowd (estimated at 200), a passel of uncommonly cheerful salsa-dispensing volunteers, 5 downright giddy judges (me among them), and 11 amazing anonymous entries.

The Contenders

The Contenders

Congrats to these winners:

First Place: Olives, for its Tropical Mango Salsa (which also contains green tomatoes, avocado, pineapple, jalapeno, red onion, lime, cilantro, and olive oil)

Crowd at Salsa Slam 2015

Crowd at Salsa Slam 2015

Second Place (Judges’ Choice) and Second Place People’s Choice: Nassau Inn, for its Watermelon Salsa (including red onion, lime, cukes, jalapeno, cilantro, mint, and honey)

My fellow judges (l to r): Arlene Reyes, Elisa Neira, Sue Gordon, Gab Carbone

My fellow judges (l to r): Arlene Reyes; Elisa NeiraSue Gordon, Gab Carbone

Third Place: Jammin’ Crepes, with Local Summer Harvest Salsa, a tasty combo of peaches, cukes, red peppers, red onions, jalapeno, pickles, cilantro, lime juice, and garlic.

People’s Choice: Tie: Jammin’ Crepes & Tortuga’s Mexican Village (Classic Pico de Gallo: tomato, onions, cilantro)

Steven Fitch, Sous Chef, Nassau Inn & Creator of People's Choice Winner

Steven Fitch, Sous Chef, Nassau Inn & Creator of 2nd Place Winner

Elements Sets Opening Date & Menu

Scott Anderson, The Princeton Echo, July 2015

Scott Anderson of Elements, Courtesy of The Princeton Echo, July 2015

The date: August 11. The menu: first iteration here (reservations as well).

Attention Cyclists: WildFlour Bakery in Lawrenceville Has an Offer You Can’t Refuse

If you enjoy bicycling and haven’t yet discovered the recently opened Lawrenceville Hopewell Trail, you’re in for a treat. A double treat, in fact. Because WildFlour, the gluten-free bakery and cafe on Main Street (Route 206) in the village, has this extra incentive for you to hop on your bike:

Simply download the coupon here, on the WildFlour website.

 

Fine Dining in Point Pleasant; Big Doings @ Great Road Farm; Join Me @ Salsa Slam 2015

Fine-Dining in Point Pleasant Beach

There comes a time when even the most devoted sun worshiper or boardwalk fan relishes a chef-made meal in a civilized, air-conditioned setting. In the High Summer issue of Edible Jersey I profile three possibilities:

Edible Jersey high summer 2015Daniel’s BistroThe Picard family resurrected their popular restaurant after it and their home were devastated by Superstorm Sandy
Poached Pear. This first solo restaurant of Scott Giordano (last of Whispers in Spring Lake) was just this week named among the top 25 restaurants in the state by New Jersey Monthly
Shipwreck Point. Readers of NJ Monthly designated it the best steakhouse in South Jersey

Great Road Farm: Big Plans Underway for the Farm that Feeds Agricola

Tomlinson Family. Photo courtesy US 1 Newspaper

Tomlinson Family. Photo courtesy US 1 Newspaper

I sat down with Farmer Steve Tomlinson and Jim Nawn, owner of both Great Road Farm in Skillman farm and Agricola, the Princeton restaurant it supplies, to talk about their latest plans and accomplishments. Foremost among them is the Food Barn project, well underway, that will feature its own kitchen and chef and will be the site of on-farm dinners, demos, and other events. I spill the beans here in the July 8 issue of US 1.

Judging Salsa (the Condiment) in Princeton

As I have for the past three years, I will be on the panel of judges in the Princeton Library‘s annual fun event, which crowns the local eatery with the best salsa. There’s a People’s Choice winner, too, so come on down this Wednesday night to sample the salsas and vote for your favorite. While you’re there, stop by the judge’s table to say hello – and not just to me, but to the star judge: Gab Carbone of the Bent Spoon, who won the first Salsa Slam.

Salsa Slam 2015 Flyer

This Food Writer Got Invited to the United Nations!

Most people tell me they envy me my job because I get paid to eat. And I still pinch myself that I do. But the truth is, that’s not the best part. I feel most privileged when I receive unanticipated – and often undeserved – invitations to important, exciting world events. (One early example: being the guest of Slow Food at the Salone del Gusto in Torino, Italy back in 2000 because at that time I had written more stories about Slow Food than anyone in the US.)

United Nations Secretariat Building, Wikipedia

United Nations Secretariat Building, Wikipedia

On July 8th I was honored to be an invited guest to a conference at the United Nations. The subject: Developing local, sustainable entrepreneurial enterprises in developing countries, including among women, the poor, and the vulnerable. (To use the official terminology: I was invited to “a side event on the margins of the ECOCSOC High-level Political Forum.”) Moderators were the UN ambassador-representatives from the Netherlands and Armenia.

His Excellency UN Ambassador Zohrab Mnatsakakanyan of the Republic of Armenia (in glasses)

His Excellency UN Ambassador Zohrab Mnatsakanyan of the Republic of Armenia (in glasses)

I was there as press, having received the invitation from one of the meeting’s organizers and key speakers, Sylvia Tirakian. Before I try (feebly) to summarize the proceedings, allow me to gush about being AN INVITED GUEST TO THE UNITED NATIONS!

Outside the United Nations' Conference Building

Outside the United Nations Conference Building

Like any tourist, I took pics of the surroundings. The sculpture above is in the courtyard leading into the Conference Building where the event took place. Last time I had been to the UN was a class trip in 8th grade. I refuse to say how many decades ago that was. (Let’s just say it was post-Dag Hammarskjold.) Here’s a view of my space in the conference room, complete with headphones, mic, and multi-language board. (Cue Audrey Hepburn in Charade):

My space at the conference

My space at the conference

On to serious business.

Sylvia Tirakian (second from right)

Sylvia Tirakian (second from right)

I had met Ms. Tirakian through her business, Harvest Song Ventures, which sells artisan preserves made from fruit grown in her native Armenia. Her apricot preserves – all natural, made in small batches from hand-harvested fruit (processed, I believe, in Carlstadt, NJ) – won an award at the Fancy Food Show in 2006.  More importantly, her business allows small farms in the Ararat valley to thrive, post-Soviet Union.

Representatives from various UN initiatives spoke of the many impressive public-private sustainable partnerships underway in countries like Liberia, Malawi, South Africa, Laos, and Cambodia. But it was Ms. Tirakian who electrified the room, which was full to brimming, when she shared her “in the trenches” experiences. Born in Soviet Armenia, her family emigrated to Beirut in the 1970s. That was the first time she encountered marketing of any kind. “Laughing Cow cheese was the first advertisement I ever saw,” she said, confessing to a soft spot even now for that product. She went on to earn a degree in engineering and enjoyed a successful career in the corporate world. “If you had told me I would be making fruit jams in Armenia I would have said you were crazy!” she shared. But she considers her entrepreneurial role in helping farmers and traditional artisans thrive “the best form of diplomacy.”

This sentiment was echoed by another Armenian speaker, Vahe Keushguerian of Karas Wines. Just this year Karas began exporting wines, some of which are made with indigenous grapes such as Kangun and Voskehat.

But it must be said that women stole the spotlight.  Two among those in the audience who raised important issues were:

Nora Armani (linkedin)

Nora Armani (linkedin)

Nora Armani, award-winning actress and the founding artistic director of New York’s Socially Relevant Film Festival. Born in Giza, Egypt of Armenian parents, she was educated and trained as an actor in England. She urged the officials on the panel to go beyond lofty goals and deal at the very basic level with issues particular to each environment, among them embedded civic corruption.

Maria Bernardis, Greekalicious

Maria Bernardis, Greekalicious

Maria Bernardis, an award-winning cookbook author and founder of Greekalicious. Ms. Benardis’ Greek family emigrated to Australia, where she grew up while spending summers with grandparents on the Greek island of Psara. Ms. Bernardis recently relocated to New York. A former Aussie tax specialist, she urged the group to develop strategies for dealing with tax problems encountered by small business entrepreneurs in the targeted countries.

The session was inspiring on many levels, and I am honored to have sat in on it. If you’d like to learn more, the entire proceedings were captured on this UN Web TV video.

 

Drink It In: NJ’s Newest Brewery; Mistral Bar’s Mixologist; Rome’s (Literal) Food as Fashion Exhibition

Conclave Brewing Opens in Hunterdon County

Carl Alfaro of Conclave Brewing

Carl Alfaro of Conclave Brewing

My story at njmonthly.com  has the scoop on the brews (espresso milk stout; farmhouse ale, e.g.) and the buds (Carl Alfaro; Tim Bouton) behind Conclave, which opens its tap room on July 11 in Raritan Township/Flemington.

Jamie Dodge Mixes Up Magic at Mistral Bar

Jamie Dodge, courtesy Elements Princeton

Jamie Dodge, courtesy Elements Princeton

This longtime favorite behind the bar at Elements in Princeton has moved over to its newest sibling, Mistral Bar, which opened in June. The Witherspoon Street bar is adjacent to Mistral the restaurant and downstairs from the soon-to-reopen Elements. I interviewed Dodge about his plans and potions for the July issue of The Princeton Echo. Here’s the story:

It’s two weeks into the June opening of Mistral Bar and bar manager/master mixologist Jamie Dodge is playing with flowers. Not just any flowers, and not as garnishes for the inventive craft cocktails he gained a following for when he was behind the bar at Elements, sibling restaurant to Mistral before it closed for relocation. And decidedly not as table decoration. No, he is playing with ten garbage bags full of black locust tree blossoms, which he has personally collected. (They are said to taste like fresh sweet peas and, like peas, are available only for a short time each spring.) “I made black locust syrup three weeks ago and can’t wait to play around with it,” he says, excitement palpable in his voice. “It may go into one of the kambuchas I’m currently making.”

Dodge, 31, is known for incorporating hyper-seasonal ingredients into the infusions, tonics, tinctures, and bitters he concocts that find their way into his creations. This bigger stage – the old Elements bar seated 10, this space 38 – has earned him some perks: a freezer for such things as large ice cubes (“I don’t have to go downstairs!”), a dishwasher, extra storage space, two mirror-image work stations, and a self-proclaimed “beautiful” bar back. He characterizes his opening menu of nine specialty cocktails as streamlined. “The first couple of weeks I wanted to ease into things,” he explains. “It was kind of an interesting way to introduce folks to a new bar. The focus was on getting the bar itself up and running.”

Dodge has already tweaked that menu, but one cocktail that remains is the Damn Son, which he characterizes as “very refreshing and on the lighter side – citrusy and spicy.” It’s concocted of Averell Damson Plum gin, Velvet Falernum (“notes of clove”), fresh lime juice, and Tiki bitters, which has primary flavors of cinnamon and allspice. Another is the Gibstress, comprising Hayman’s Old Tom gin into which Dodge has infused saffron, Dolin Blanc vermouth, and housemade chamomile bitters. Instead of a cocktail onion as garnish, he uses pickled ramp bulb. “I went out and gathered bulbs in the spring and pickled enough of them to use as my version of a cocktail onion the rest of the year,” he says. He likes to instruct guests to first take a sip of the cocktail, then bite into the bulb, then take another sip. “They’re totally different experiences – totally different flavor profiles,” says this cocktail wonk.

Mistral Bar has its own 672-square-foot-space adjacent to Mistral, and is downstairs from the new Elements, which is scheduled to open within weeks. The flattened-by-the-Mistral-wind tree sculpture has been moved over from the restaurant and fits well with the beautiful bar top – a highly polished slab of dark, dramatically grained wood. The natural stone, wood ceiling beams, and muted colors that characterize Mistral’s rustic-modern vibe are carried over here.

Dodge is also in charge of the bar’s selection of craft beers (NJ & PA are well represented), which are available on draft, bottled, and in cans, while Element’s wine director, Carl Rohrbach, has curated a short but interesting wine list. Those who dine at the u-shaped bar’s 16 seats or at the hi-tops and regular tables surrounding it, which accommodate another 22, can choose from a menu of a dozen bar bites – some of which Mistral’s chef, Ben Nerenhausen, has created for the bar alone – and a selection of some of Mistral’s small plates and other specialties, including the Mistral burger.

Dodge no longer has duties at Elements per se. Says that restaurant’s executive chef, Scott Anderson, “What I hope for every one of Elements’ guests is that they come in, get a drink downstairs to try what Jamie has to offer, and then move upstairs and sit down to a tasting menu and see the vision I’ve been building. Other than that, there’s no overlap. I mean, we’re one company and I would like to think that everybody has the same vision and ideas, but they’re different experiences. What I find fascinating is watching each person’s creative process. And it all works together.” Anderson says he purposely “does not get in the way” of Dodge or Nerenhausen and has enjoyed “watching Jamie grow over the years.”

What does Jamie Dodge drink in his free time? “Personally I love gin,” he says. “My favorite right now is Barr Hill from Vermont and my favorite gin drinks are martinis and Negronis. I also like rye, and I’m a big beer guy.” And in the dead heat of summer, he might opt for something as simple as a glass of rose or “even a margarita.”

Fashion Made of Food

italyamonews.com

italyamonews.com

My thanks to Mary Ann Fusco for bringing to my attention an exhibition at Mercati di Traiano in Rome through November 1 that examines how food has served as muse to fashion designers. You don’t need to understand English to admire, as Mary Ann advises, the spaghetti necklace and licorice root and bread dresses depicted in this story in Italyamonews.

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?