- Katie Parla’s NJ Roots; More PJ’s Pancake Houses; Trenton’s New NOLA-Style Breakfast Spot; More
- See You on the Radio;NOFA-NJ Winter Conference; Tiffin Service; Drunk History; Italian Dried Pasta Recommendation
- Catching Up: Fresh Local Pasta; Fresh Local Rice; Chefs with Non-Culinary Sidelines; New BBQ in Lambertville; Foodie Gift Idea for New Parents; More
Months and months ago an editor from Travel+Leisure emailed me asking for my opinion of the best farm-to-table restaurant (yeah, I know) in NJ. I sent her back my opinion, thinking she would use it as deep background/research for one of several from several food writers across the state. Instead, my recommendation is the single NJ entry in their “50 best” in the US. and I am quoted directly. http://www.travelandleisure.com/food-drink/restaurants/best-eco-friendly-restaurants-united-states
I turn the spotlight on the following underrepresented cuisines for my cover story in US 1’s 2016 Spring Dining issue:
- Puerto Rican- the rarest of the Hispanic/Caribbean cuisines in the state
- Polish – traditional, but with a light touch
- Taiwanese – inside the area’s only ramen house, so you find two hard-to-come-by genres in one spot
- Ethiopian – it’s in New Brunswick but it’s not Makeda, which closed down over a year ago
- Indian Chinese – not Indian and Chinese, but rather a terrific mashup that’s trending: Chinese restaurant dishes modified to fit Indian tastes.
Not pictured: Dashen, New Brunswick & Rozmaryn, Trenton. They’re all sit-down, full-service BYOBs. Details & interviews with the owners here in the April 27 issue.
Nina’s Waffles Coming to Princeton; Highly Recommended: Nektar in New Hope; Babeth’s Feast Frozen Gourmet
Nina’s Authentic Liege Waffles & Housemade Ice Cream: in New Hope, Doylestown, Sergeantsville and now Princeton
If you’re a fan of Liege waffles – made from yeasted dough instead of non-yeasted batter and caramelized with pearl sugar – you know they’re hard to come by. When Nina’s Waffles & Ice Cream opens its doors on Nassau Street come mid-April, these delicacies will become available to Princetonians. Along with a rotating roster of 130 housemade ice creams will be a menu of savory options, all created by Nina’s co-owner and chef, Shawn Lawson. If that names rings a bell, find out why, here in my interview in the April issue of The Princeton Echo.
Nektar in New Hope
I’m just going to come right out and say it: there are a lot of mediocre restaurants in New Hope. So when Nektar on West Mechanic Street was recommended by a trustworthy acquaintance, I jumped on the chance to try this modern, Mediterranean-influenced bistro that focuses particularly on pairing its small plates (in reality, mostly medium plates) with a smart selection of wine, beer, and whiskeys.
My friend did not lead me astray. I was doubly lucky in that my dinner coincided both with Lambertville-New Hope restaurant week and a 24-hour long taste of late spring weather (in March!), that allowed us to dine on the patio, right alongside the river and across from the Bucks County Playhouse.
There were three of us, so we got to try every dish but one on the $25, 3-course special menu. (There was also a $35 option, and both came with optional $20 wine pairings.) Each dish was tasty, interesting, and beautiful, and went well with our chosen bottle: Il Cacciatore di Sogni “Rosso Conero” DOC montepulciano for $32. Here are the delicious details.
Course 1: Pre-appetizers? (If so, pretty hearty and sizeable)
Course 2: Appetizers?
Course 3: More substantial small plates?
We also had a timbale of baked pasta and finished off our meal by adding on a big goblet of decadent chocolate pudding with whipped cream. I should also mention that our server, Jessica, was delightful, responsive, and very well informed. To repeat myself: Nektar Wine, Beer, & Whiskey Bar is highly recommended.
Babeth’s Feast, NJ Sea Salt, Blue Point Grill Expansion
Frozen gourmet that’s not an oxymoron? Sea salt harvested off Barnegat Light that rivals Maldon?? An expansion of a popular Nassau Street restaurant in a space that seemingly can’t hold any more???
Morgan Library & Museum, a Treasure Anytime, Offering Free Visits & Events in April
Back in the ’70s I worked just steps from what was then called the Morgan Library: the Gilded Age brownstone of industrialist Pierpont Morgan at Madison & 36th. I knew it was open to the public and that it held treasures, but I never stopped in. It took me until this past summer to rectify that major oversight, and I was simply blown away.
What finally nudged me into action was a particular exhibition (Alice in Wonderland, now past) and taking advantage of Restaurant Week to dine in what had been the Pierpont family dining room. Details on that visit follow below, but what you should know is that in celebration of the 10th anniversary of a highly successful modern expansion that has doubled its annual attendance, the Morgan – now the Morgan Library & Museum – is opening its doors for a free weekend mid-April.
Normally $18 for adults and $12 for children, seniors, and students (and well worth it), everyone enters free from 7 pm on Friday, April 15 through 5:30 pm closing on Sunday, April 17. In addition to 4 exhibitions on view (including one on Warhol and another on Richard Wagner’s “Ring”), there will be live classical and jazz music and a Spring Family Fair on Sunday. For me, though, the brownstone itself is the masterpiece.
The Morgan has 2 dining options: this cafe in the Renzo Piano-designed space, now 10 years old:
(Sadly, the striking colored squares shown were a temporary installation.)
The other option is the dining room, where I ate, which is open for lunch and brunch and for which reservations are necessary. The menu changes seasonally, and for the April free weekend will offer special cocktails and dishes inspired by the current exhibitions and anniversary. Here are highlights of the Restaurant Week meal I and a friend enjoyed last August:
For a complete list of anniversary weekend activities, check out this press release at www.themorgan.org. If crowds are not your thing, I encourage you to visit this hidden-in-plain-sight NYC masterpiece anytime.
Waldorf School Gardening Class, Past & Present
In the spring 2016 issue of Edible Jersey I write about the experiences of my own children and their classmates at the Princeton Waldorf school back in the 1980s and 90s – including a landmark visit by Alice Waters – and interview the school’s current gardening teacher, Suzanne Cunningham to see what has changed. (In a nutshell: a lot! No more handing full-sized scythes to third graders and letting them loose in a field.) Story starts on page 19.
Please take a moment to read it, and then come back here to make sense of this, my very personal post-script:
I find it interesting that the design and building of the sitting garden is Lemmo’s fondest memory. He went on to earn a degree in architecture from Rice University, and recently founded his own firm, LA-N-D (Lemmo Architecture and Design) in Austin, TX. He may or may not see a correlation there, but I do. Likewise with Elizabeth, whose imagination once had her thinking she was working with magic potions. After earning a Ph.D. in genetics from Stanford University, she is conducting postdoctoral work in virology at the Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco, with a goal of developing vaccines for rapidly evolving pathogens such as HIV. Alice, who has arguably fewer happy memories of Waldorf gardening, nevertheless finds herself digging these days, as director of sales operations for Clarabridge, a data-mining consultant firm in Virginia.
Instragramming = More Yum?
My friend Joel Burkam, a psychologist, recently sent me an article that concludes: “The act of taking a picture before eating — including all of the natural-light seeking and angle tweaking that goes into it — can actually make food taste better.”
What the heck?? Get the scientifically proven facts, here in The Scientific Case for Instagramming Your Food, from NY Magazine‘s column, “The Science of Us.”
Burkam explained it to me thus: “It’s simple Pavlovian conditioning! The visual representation provokes autonomic responses within the body associated with the previous memories/tastes attached to the item. Perceived as desire/passion, etc.which winds up enhancing the taste.”
Hightstown’s 12 Farms Restaurant Donating Pay-What-You-Will Benefit Dinner
I love when two personal favorites join together for a good cause. On Friday, March 18th my favorite Hightstown restaurant, 12 Farms, is preparing and donating a 3-course meal at One Table Cafe, a monthly pop-up run by the folks at Trinity Church in Princeton. (I’ve written about their annual St. Nicholas bazaar.) All are welcome to this “donate what you can” dinner, with net proceeds going to 4 causes: Mercer Street Friends, Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, Bread for the World, and Episcopal Relief & Development.
The dinner commences at 6:30 and in honor of Women’s History Month, will feature these guest speakers:
– Judith Donohue Hutton, CEO, YWCA Princeton
– Dr. Cecelia B. Hodges and the Witherspoon/People’s Verse Speaking Choir
Dress is casual, children are welcome, and reservations are a must and should be made by Tuesday, March 15. Phone 609.924.2277, ext. 352. For more info on the cafe, visit onetablecafe.org.
Nomad Pizza Opening in Princeton
If you who follow me on facebook and twitter you already know that owner Tom Grim is bringing his popular wood-fired pizza to the Princeton Shopping Center this spring. This will be the fourth Nomad, with two in Philly and the original in Hopewell. Get all the details in my interview with Grim in the March issue of the Princeton Echo.
Top NJ Taprooms; Princeton’s Largest Restaurant Dynasty (It’s Not Who You Think);Central NJ Food News Galore
NJ Monthly’s March Issue Devoted to Beer in the Garden State
Brickwall Tavern, Burlington. The folks behind Brickwall in Asbury Park (and Porta Pizza and Pascal & Sabine) have breathed new life into downtown Burlington. THIS JUST IN: Brickwall’s new downstairs dining room is having its unveiling this coming Wednesday, 3/9, at 5pm. Full raw bar, cask ale on tap, etc.
BLEND Bar & Bistro, Hamilton. From the same family behind the ever popular Brothers Pizza right next door, as well as the Central Jersey Beer Festival.
World of Beer, New Brunswick. Rapidly growing franchise (about to expand to Hoboken, btw), offering 50 drafts and 600 bottles.
Read the full descriptions of these and 35 other NJ taprooms here.
Princeton’s Largest Restaurant Dynasty? With 9 Eateries and Counting, it’s….
…not who you might expect. As I write in the March 2nd issue of US 1, “The Princeton area boasts its fair share of food and restaurant dynasties, among them Jack Morrison’s JM Group (Blue Point Grill, Witherspoon Grill, Nassau Street Seafood); Raoul and Carlo Momo’s Terra Momo (Mediterra, Eno Terra, Teresa Caffe, Terra Momo Bread, Terra Libri); and Jim Nawn’s Fenwick Hospitality Group, which in addition to Agricola and the acquisition last month of Main Street’s European Bistro & Bar and its cafe in its Kingston [see more in next entry], has partnered with Princeton University to develop a bar and a bistro in two former Dinky train station buildings as part of the university’s ongoing arts and transit project.”
Meet the team behind Gretalia, which has them all beat, here in my cover story for the March 2nd issue of US 1.
The Times They Sure Are A Changin’
In my latest “Food for Thought” column in the March Princeton Echo I report on: the acquisition of longtime Princeton fave Main Street by the folks behind Agricola; the details behind Bucks County high-end caterer Max Hansen developing a large, swanky catering venue in a farmhouse in Hopewell; and the imminent opening of a specialty grocery in the village of Lawrenceville.
With culinary fundraisers of every stripe happening all over the state this month, you and I have no excuse not to participate. If attending a gala isn’t your thing, there are many other fun and meaningful ways to support everything from cooking school scholarships to tackling a disease so rare it affects only 600 Americans – including a Princeton teen. Here’s the rundown.
(Update: It’s too late for this deal, but you can always contribute to the cause) February 28: Turning Point Restaurants’ Fundraiser for the Kortney Rose Foundation
What: From 8 am to 3 pm, donate a minimum of $25 to the Kortney Rose Foundation at any of the 11 restaurants in this privately owned group of casual breakfast, brunch, & lunch restaurants and receive a Turning Point gift card good for two entrees to be used anytime in the future.
Where: Brick, Cherry Hill, Hoboken, Holmdel, Little Silver, Long Branch, Manalapan, Marlton, Princeton, Sea Girt, Westfield
Why: Named in memory of a 9-year old Oceanport girl who died from a brain tumor in 2006, this foundation has donated more than $1,200,000 to the pediatric brain tumor research program at CHOP.
For more info: theturningpoint.biz; thekortneyrosefoundation.org
March 5 thru 13: Hopewell Valley Restaurant Week
What: Take advantage of specially priced 2- and 3-course menus at 21 popular eateries, including a $25 3-course special in the bar at super-hot Brick Farm Tavern. Plus similar deals at, for example, Blue Bottle and Brothers Moon – and that doesn’t even cover the “B’s” on the list!
Where: Hopewell Borough & Township and Pennington
Why: While enjoying your special restaurant week deals, you can leave a donation in envelopes for FISH, Hopewell Valley’s own meals on wheels program that’s subsidized and includes meals made by Pennington Quality Market.
For more info: eatinhopewell.com; hopewelltwsp.org/FISH.pdf
March 14 thru 20: Caffe Galleria in Lambertville Honoring the Memory of Founder Dawn Raia
What: 10% of all checks during this week will be donated to 3 organizations: Animal Alliance, Fisherman’s Mark, & Lambertville Animal Welfare
Where: Caffe Galleria
Why: Ms. Raia, a beloved local figure, passed away from cancer 2 years ago. This is a tribute to her spirit and the causes dear to her heart.
For more info: caffegalleria.com; animalalliancenj.org, fishermansmark.org, lambertvilleanimalwelfare.org
March 14: 3rd Annual Joe Romanowski Culinary Education Foundation (JOCEF) Gala
What: “Recipe for Success” Gala featuring tastings from 25+ Shore eateries, among them Drew’s Bayshore Bistro, Mumfords Culinary Center, & Sickle’s Market. Auction items include vacations, dinner for 8 at Salt Creek Grille in Rumson, and a $400 voucher for cocktails and limo service
Where: Navesink Country Club, Red Bank
Why: Funds raised are used for scholarships for students of the Culinary Education Center, a collaboration between Brookdale Community College and the Monmouth County Vocational School District. JOCEF was established in memory of Joseph Romanowski, chef/owner of acclaimed and fondly remembered restaurants Joe & Maggie’s and Bay Avenue Trattoria. In its first 2 years, the fund awarded more than $40,000 in scholarships.
For tickets, which start at $105, & more info: culinaryjoe.org
March 17: St. Patrick’s Day Celebration & Long Beard Contest
What: Irish fare, bagpiper, music and step dancing, plus the 36th edition of the for-charity beard contest. Prizes for the longest, handsomest, ugliest, and most innovative beards.
Where: Alchemist & Barrister, Princeton
Why: This year’s party will benefit Derek’s Dreams, named for Derek DeGregorio, a Princeton High senior who suffers from ataxia telangiectasia, to expand research on this very rare disease.
For more info: Fare & Irish libations available all day. Starting at 5 pm, a $5 entrance fee for the other festivities. The A&B has set up a GoFundMe page for direct contributions to Derek’s Dreams: gofundme.com/theaandb. Restaurant: theaandb.com
March 24: Atlantic Cape Community College Restaurant Gala
What: Tastings from about 40 Shore-area restaurants, a dessert “extravaganza,” dancing to live music, a 50/50 raffle, etc.
Where: Harrah’s Waterfront Conference Center, Atlantic City
Why: This annual event has raised $3 million since 1984 for student scholarships at the Academy of Culinary Arts, Atlantic Cape
For more info: Tickets, $225 per person, can be ordered via atlantic.edu/gala
Del Posto. Sometimes You Just Want to be Pampered
That was one reason I chose this Italian fine-dining collaboration between Mario Batali and Joe and Lidia Bastianch for a recent weekday lunch in NYC. And Del Posto really delivers on that front, with its over-the-top sumptuous setting and formal but friendly service. The photo below, from the Del Posto website, doesn’t begin to do justice to the room:
Grand white marble staircases leading both upstairs & down are bracketed with sensual curved balusters that evoke the Belle Époque, as do a generously proportioned black marble bar and the intricate floor you see in the photo. Windows that soar to impressively high ceilings are swathed in luxurious drapery and a grand piano is expertly played even during lunchtime. So is it any wonder that my companion likened the feel of the room to a grand luxury liner from another age? That extends to the feature I luxuriated in most: sinking into soft dining chairs of supple white leather with low, curved, wraparound backs and arms.
Another reason I chose Del Posto was because it offers a 3-course prix fixe lunch for $49, which seems reasonable – if not an outright bargain – for a restaurant with one Michelin star and a four-star rating from the NY Times. In the end, the tab turned out to be $82 per person all-inclusive. That included a voluntary $10 supplement, but it should also be noted that it was for a meal without wine or cocktails.
The pampering starts in earnest with the arrival of gifts from the kitchen. (If you don’t count the stool that is brought for your purse.) Clockwise from the bottom, above: triple-strength capon broth with polenta ball (think fluffy matzo ball), arancini, and puff pastry with pecorino. The broth was tasty but, as would be the case with several dishes to follow, salty. But the one-bite rounds of cheesy, buttery puff pastry shattered and melted beautifully on the tongue, putting me in mind of old-fashioned cheese straws.
Our server accurately described the above as a cross between a baguette and grissini. Almost worth the price of admission all by itself.
Course 1: Vitello Tonnato with olive crostone (the black crumbly bits, above), caper shoots, lime cells (!), and lemon basil. This classic cold dish is a tour de force – slices of tender veal enveloped in decadent mayo-like sauce flavored with excellent quality preserved tuna. The hits of lime and lemon basil balance the richness beautifully.
My companion chose to start with salad of slow roasted tubers, which notably includes black salsify and foglie di noce (pecorino wrapped in walnut leaves) among its merits.
For the prix fixe lunch, diners choose among 5 antipasti, 5 secondi, and 6 dolci (some with supplemental charges). What isn’t included is primi, aka pasta dishes. Who could dine at a Batali-Bastianich restaurant without having pasta?
We split a $20 portion of the above “bishop’s hats,” which luxuriate in sage brown butter and a sprinkling of hazelnuts. I relished the slightly crunchy pasta wrappers but found the filling of pureed sweet potato mixed with crumbs from those almond-flavored cookies called brutti ma buoni too sweet. (That’s my fault for ordering it, not the kitchen’s, which is under the direction of Mark Ladner.)
Course 2 (officially, at least): The menu reads, “Slow Roasted Abruzzese-Spiced Grilled Lamb/Carciofi alla Romana & Umbrian Lentils” – and I was thrilled when the above dish was placed before me. (When was the last time you encountered those paper frills to cover the bones?) The chop was perfection. I’m assuming that the puree it rests upon is the form that the carciofi (artichokes) took, although this is not typical. The heritage lentils, while cooked perfectly, were so salty that I couldn’t finish them. But wait! (as they say in infomercials) – there’s more. My server also laid down this crescent-shaped dish next to the chop:
The menu failed to mention a wonderful bonus of boned lamb neck, which happens to be one of my favorite cuts. Soft, beautifully fatty and almost muttony, it sat on more of what I am speculating is artichoke puree.
My companion’s choice was wild striped bass (from South Carolina) with radicchio tartivo, chestnut spuma, & Valpolicella and truffle sauce on the side. Her verdict: good, but a bit tame.
The same, and nothing more, could be said for both our dessert choices. Both failed to deliver the promise of their menu descriptions. And coffee, at $5 a cup, was surprisingly weak and tepid.
But we ended on an up note: Delicious sweet treats from the kitchen. They included dark chocolate pops filled with olive oil gelato, chocolate bonbons, Averna-flavored caramels in edible clear wrappers (!), and candied melon. Whimsically presented, as you can see, on and in a wooden box grater.
In sum, I would have considered even $82 an acceptable splurge for all this – if only the food had been four stars. Did I mention that as part of the pampering we were presented at the start with warm, moist, cloth finger towels, and that we were asked to relinquish our (thick, soft, linen) luncheon napkins after the main course so they could be replaced with fresh dessert napkins? The pampering here definitely rates four stars.
HomeFront’s Teaching Kitchen Helping Families Become Self-Sufficient;Yet More Restaurants Opening in Princeton; Making Perfect Porchetta
Long-time Princeton Caterer & Cooking Instructor Teaches Homeless Adults and Children in New State-of-the-Art Kitchen
Christina Crawford’s Wooden Spoon Catering Company was Princeton staple for 15 years. After that, she taught children and adults at the culinary center inside Princeton’s Whole Food. But now that she’s heading up HomeFront’s Teaching Kitchen in Ewing, she told me, “This job is a thousand times better than anything I could have thought about doing.” Find out why, here in my profile in the February issue of The Princeton Echo.
February Food for Thought: 3 More New Eateries Coming to Downtown Princeton; Dining Deal at the Peacock Inn; Mediterranean Farm-to-Table Dinners at Hopewell Valley Vineyards
Gosh, how I love having the central part of our state as my base of operations. One prime example: this February Echo column that’s chock-full of exciting developments. Details on: Jules Thin Crust Pizza, Marhaba, Kung Fu Tea & Noodle House, a new Osteria Procaccini outpost, $49 to dine at the Peacock Inn, $70 for a 5-course meal with wines in Hopewell. My, oh my.
Picture Perfect Porchetta
For some reason I got it into my head that I wanted to attempt porchetta for Christmas this past year. It turned out to be a showstopper (my family took to calling it the Meat Log), and it would make an impressive centerpiece for any winter dinner party.
Now, I’m not going to tell you that forming a jelly roll out of thick slabs of meat and fat is easy, but it’s worth the effort. I followed this Martha Stewart recipe and video for Porchetta with Salsa Verde, using wonderful boneless pork loin and pork belly from Double Brook Farm (which I had pre-ordered from butcher Cole Dougherty at Brick Farm Market).
The stuffing of fresh Mediterranean herbs and garlic featured exceptionally fragrant fennel pollen from Princeton’s Savory Spice Shop. And added bonus was that for days afterwards we enjoyed leftovers of porchetta sandwiches on Terra Momo Bread focaccia.