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.

 

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