Alain Allegretti is one of several high-profile chefs brought in by Revel Resorts in Atlantic City to amp up the dining scene. So why do I allot his restaurant only two stars? Here’s my review from NJ Monthly.
Speaking of Revel, I wholeheartedly recommend Amada. Jose Garces has replicated the incomparable Spanish small (and large) plates from his flagship Philly restaurant. I stopped by for a cocktail and am still dreaming about my Broken Hugs, made with grapefruit, tequila, and agave. Other marquee names at Revel are Michel Richard, Marc Forgione, and Robert Wiedmaier.
Top Chef Winner Kevin Sbraga is Back in Jersey
No, he’s not abandoning his acclaimed 60-seat restaurant, Sbraga in Philly,
where he offers 4-course dinners for $49 – including desserts by his pastry chef/wife, Jesmary. He is, however, returning to our fair state for one day, as a guest chef at this year’s Epicurean Palette fundraiser on September 30 at Grounds For Sculpture. Sbraga was executive chef at Rat’s restaurant there during the time he was a contestant on the Bravo TV show. I had a chance to catch up with him recently, and here’s what he has to say about life and work post-Top Chef.
Me: With so many demands on your time and requests for your participation in good causes, what was it that made you agree to come back for the Epicurean Palette?
Sbraga: It’s going to be a great time and a lot of fun for me. And I’m not one to forget where I came from.
Me: Speaking of that, I know that as a Jersey boy you tried but failed to find a suitable space for your restaurant in South Jersey, near Willingboro, where you grew up and where you had returned to live with your wife and two young children during your stint at Rat’s. With a restaurant in Philly, where are you living these days?
Sbraga: Not only do I still live in Willingboro, I still live in the same house!
Me: Friends of mine who dined recently at Sbraga raved not only about the meal, but were particularly impressed that you stopped by their table to chat, as you did with just about everyone in the room.
Sbraga: I do try to visit every table. The restaurant’s small size and open kitchen help [to keep me in contact]. But it’s hard. Sometimes I’ll visit a table just as, say, their fish is coming out and I don’t want to interrupt [the flow of their meal], or I get called back to the kitchen. So, it’s hard. People can and do come up to the open kitchen, of course.
Me: Other than the prize money and the clout it gave you to open your own restaurant, what was the best thing about winning Top Chef?
Sbraga: The creative freedom. That’s what I’ve always wanted. I get to make the calls.
Me: In what other ways has the win impacted your life?
Sbraga: Almost every aspect of my life has changed! The travel! Getting to cook for so many amazing people! The coolest thing I’ve done was for Apple. They had a huge event that I cooked for. It was hosted by Warner Brothers. I had never seen such a huge production!
Me: What will you be serving up at Epicurean Palette?
Sbraga: I’m making salmon sashimi with frozen yogurt and pineapple jicama salad.
If Kevin Sbraga’s Back in Jersey, then I’m Back on the Radio
For those of you who remember my years as the host of Dining Today before WHWH changed formats, I regret to say I do not have a new radio show lined up. But, just like Kevin Sbraga coming back to Jersey for a day, I’m going to put in a one-time guest appearance on a radio show called Stepping Stones. My host will be Walt Haake and we’ll be talking live about food, drink, restaurants, farms – you name it – and we’ll be taking callers. The show airs from 5 to 6 pm this Tuesday, September 18, over WDVR, which is based in Sergeantsville and broadcasts throughout the Delaware Valley. That’s 89.7 FM in Hunterdon and Bucks, and 91.9 FM in Mercer County. You can also stream it live at the station’s website.
A Different Set of Rosh HaShanah Foods
We’re all familiar with symbolic foods like challah dipped in honey to welcome in a sweet new year, but for American Jews of Syrian heritage, the traditions take on a Middle Eastern twist. One of the most delightful of these, I discovered, is eating black-eyed peas at the new year, just as folks in the American South do on January 1st. Below are Syrian Rosh HaShanah recipes for leek fritters, veal and black-eyed pea stew, and Swiss chard stew in my September 14 column in The Princeton Packet.
Below are recipes for a Syrian Rosh HaShanah. According to Joan Nathan, the black-eyed pea stew serves eight, but that seems high to me for a dish containing only a half pound of meat. Both it and the Swiss chard stew are terrific served over rice.
LEEK FRITTERS (EJJEH)
www.thekosherfoodies.com (slightly adapted)
2 to 3 large leeks, or 4 to 5 small leeks, washed well and chopped
1/2 cup breadcrumbs or matzo meal
Egg white from 1 egg, optional
Salt and pepper
Vegetable oil, for frying
Prepare oil for frying: pour about 1/2 inch of oil into a high-walled pan. Place on burner over medium heat. Combine leeks, eggs, and breadcrumbs. Check consistency. If it’s too dry, add the egg white. If too wet, add more bread crumbs. The batter should be loose but be able to come together into a ball if squeezed. Add salt and pepper. Using a tablespoon measure, scoop out batter into balls. Test the frying oil with a tiny amount of batter. Make sure it sizzles but doesn’t burn. Line a plate or tray with paper towels to drain the patties after frying. Using a slotted spoon, drop a few of the tablespoons of batter, one at a time, into the oil, flattening into patties as you drop them. (Don’t overcrowd, because you don’t want the temperature to drop too much, which will make the patties soggy.) After one minute, they should be brown. Flip the patties. Fry on the other side for a minute. Remove from oil with slotted spoon and place on draining plate. Repeat until all are fried. Sprinkle with salt when still warm.
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 pound veal stew meat, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 cups water
1 cup dried black-eyed peas, soaked overnight in water to cover
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons tomato paste
In a heavy skillet sauté the onions and garlic lightly in the oil. Add the cubed veal and brown briefly. Add 1-1/2 cups of the water, cover, and simmer slowly for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, drain and simmer the black-eyed peas in water to cover for 20 minutes. Drain and add the peas, salt, pepper, spices, tomato paste, and the remaining 1/2 cup water to the veal mixture. Cover and cook over low heat for 1 hour or until the peas and veal are tender. If the stew dries out, add a little more water.
SYRIAN SWISS CHARD STEW
www.culinarykosher.com (posted by rm and slightly adapted)
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 cups cleaned and chopped Swiss chard leaves and stems
1 pound ground beef
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2 cup water
Heat vegetable oil in a large pan and add onion and garlic. When the onions are translucent but now brown, add the Swiss chard. Cook, stirring frequently, until chard is wilted and tender (at least 10 minutes). Remove vegetable mixture from the pan and add the ground beef, stirring and breaking up pieces until browned. Pour off any excess oil and add the cinnamon, allspice, and salt to the pan. Add the vegetable mixture back in and stir well. Add the 1/2 cup water and simmer over very low heat for 15 to 20 minutes.