Tag Archives: CoolVines

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?

NJ Monthly’s Top 25 Restaurants & My Review of the (new) Saddle River Inn; Restaurant News & Events; Summer Reading

Whew! Lots jam-packed into this post: tacos, champagne & small plates, mind-blowing edible food packaging, and, of course, the NJ Monthly restaurant issue – including results of its annual readers’ poll, the top 25 critics’ picks, and my review of how the Saddle River Inn is faring under new ownership.

August 2013 NJ Monthly: The Restaurant Issue

NJ Monthly cover aug13

The Saddle River Inn has been one of the state’s most revered and beloved restaurants for decades. When I reviewed it a few years back, I thought it had lost its edge. Earlier this year it got new owners – one of whom is the chef. Here’s my review of the newly reborn Inn.

In this same issue: Top 25 NJ restaurants

In this same issue: Results of the 2013 Jersey Choice Restaurant Poll

Restaurant News & Events

 The Taco Truck: A new brick-and-mortar version is opening in August in Morristown. The first ‘brick’ location of this small but growing,sustainability-conscious group is in Hoboken, but Morristown will become the flagship. Get the scoop from this Morristown Patch post.

Mistral & CoolVines: You’ll have to hurry, but these two Princeton stars are teaming up on Wednesday, July 24 at 7 pm for a 3-course pairing of Champagnes and small plates at (normally byob) Mistral. $65 all-inclusive. Details and reservations (a must) here.

Elements: Scott Anderson will welcome super-hot chef Jason Yu of Oxheart in Houston to his flagship restaurant on Friday, August 9, for a collaborative dinner focusing on wild and cultivated local mushrooms. Joining them will be Alan Kaufman of Shibumi Farm. Details here.

 Smithsonian Magazine Does a Terrific Food Issue: Who Knew?

Smithsonian Mag June 2013

I am so glad I picked up this past June’s issue. In addition to stories by Ruth Reichl, Mimi Sheraton, and Roy Blount, Jr. I particularly got a kick out of these:

Burning Desire: The hottest chile pepper in the world – it’s not what you think it is – by the inimitable, offbeat science writer Mary Roach. (Her latest book, Gulp!, is beguiling and repulsive in equal measure. I highly recommend it.)

The Future in the Making: This short, back-page entry focuses on the WikiCell, a surprisingly attractive, futuristic edible food packaging concept. Designed by a Harvard bioengineer, it functions as both wrapper and box.

Breaking News: NJ Wines Go Head to Head with France’s Finest

…and you will not believe the results of what is being called the Judgment of Princeton. It was, to say the least a bold gambit: A restaging of what has come to be known in the wine world as the Judgment of Paris, a landmark blind tasting held in 1976 wherein Napa Valley wines beat out French wines. Only this time, New Jersey bottles would go head to head with those very same French wines.

A collage of several producers who competed in...

A collage of several producers who competed in the historic 1976 Judgement of Paris wine tasting event. From top left clockwise: Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars (California) Chateau Montelena (California) Chateau Haut Brion (Bordeaux) Chateau Mouton-Rothschild (Bordeaux) Chateau Montrose (Bordeaux) Chateau Leoville Las Cases (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The tasting was held and the results announced Friday afternoon at the annual conference of the American Association of Wine Economists, held at Princeton University. The tasting was mounted with the participation of none other than George Taber, who wrote famously about the game-changing Paris event which, he told the group, “showed for the first time that great wines could be made in places other than France.”

But does that, could that include New Jersey? Taber and the conference organizers had carefully structured the tasting to replicate the original as much as possible. The French wines – four whites and four reds – were the very same Chardonnays and Bordeaux blends as in Paris. (Different vintages, of course, and some different makers, but of the same caliber.) These were pitted against six each NJ whites and reds, since those were the original numbers. Prestigious judges in both tastings included a winemaker, a restaurateur, wine critics and journalists, and wine scholars. Both times, French wine experts were among them. The nine judges at the Princeton event also included two Jerseyans: John Foy, wine writer for The Star-Ledger and Francis Schott of New Brunswick’s Stage Left and Catherine Lombardi restaurants.

The results, you ask? New Jersey whites took the numbers two, three, and four slots, scoring higher than, for example, Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet 2009. Among the reds, New Jersey’s Heritage 2010 Brix came in at third place, ahead of Chateau Montrose 2004 and Grand Vin de Leoville-Las Cases 2004. As if these results are not astounding enough, it was pointed out by conference attendee Dr. Gary Pavlis of Rutgers University, considered the leading authority on New Jersey wines, that “the French wines are about a factor of ten times more expensive” than their Jersey counterparts.



J. Drouhin Beaune Clos de Mouches 2009

Jean Latour Labille Meursault-Charmes 1er Cru 2009

Domaine Marc-Antonin Blain Batard-Montrachet Grand Cru 2009

Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet 2009

New Jersey:

Heritage 2010 Chardonnay

Bellview 2010 Chardonnay

Amalthea 2008 Chardonnay

Silver Decoy 2010 Black Feather Chardonnay

Ventimiglia 2010 Chardonnay

Unionville 2010 Pheasant Hill Single Vineyard Chardonnay (block 1A Row 1-12)

THE CONTENDERS: REDS (Bordeaux & Bordeaux varietals)


Chateau Montrose 2004

Grand Vin de Leoville – Las Cases 2004

Chateau Haut-Brion 2004

Chateau Mouton Rothschild 2004

New Jersey:

Heritage 2010 Brix

Bellview 2010 Lumiere

Tomasello 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Oak Reserve

Almathea 2008 Europa VI

Silver Decoy 2008 Cabernet Franc

4 JGs 2008 Cabernet Franc



  1. Clos de Mouche
  2. Unionville
  3. Heritage
  4. Silver Decoy
  5. Puligny-Montrachet
  6. Tie: Bellview & Batard-Montrachet
  7. Tie: Bellview & Batard-Montrachet
  8. Amalthea
  9. Ventimiglia
  10. Meursault-Charmes


  1. Mouton Rothschild
  2. Haut-Brion
  3. Heritage
  4. Chateau Montrose
  5. Tomasello
  6. Leoville- Las Cases
  7. Bellview
  8. Silver Decoy
  9. Amalthea
  10. 4 JGs

About 100 bottles had been submitted by NJ wineries. The whites had to be 100% chardonnay; the reds, any of the Bordeaux blend grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot. The grapes had to be grown in New Jersey, and only one red and one white wine from each winery would be allowed. A tasting panel of association members selected those that would become part of the Judgment of Princeton, and Mark Censits of CoolVines wine shops in Princeton and Westfield obtained the French wines.

The wines were scored using a widely-accepted 20-point scale developed at UC-Davis. The tallied scores were converted to rankings, from one to ten. The results were further analyzed for statistical significance by two prominent members of the Wine Economists, Orley Ashenfelter and Richard Quandt – both professors of economics at Princeton and both of whom had analyzed the results of the Judgment of Paris along with George Taber in 1976. In his remarks to the group, Taber himself said, “Clearly, a lot of very good wines are made in New Jersey.”

We can all drink to that!