Tag Archives: elements princeton

I’m on a Roll! 3 National Publications in the Last 3 Weeks

Latest honor: A story I wrote for Edible Jersey is nominated for an EDDY – the annual awards of 90 Edible Communities magazines!

A profile from last spring of the First Ladies of the Chalfonte in Cape May is one of 5 nominees in the Best Chef Profile category. I would be so honored if you would vote for it! You can vote once a day every day through June 8th. Read the stories and vote by clicking HERE.

Dot Thompson & Lucille Burton. Photo by Aleksey Moryakov

Dot Thompson & Lucille Burton. Photo by Aleksey Moryakov

I am so grateful to Nancy Painter and the folks at EJ for submitting the story, and to the EDDY Award judges who nominated it. There are nearly 90 Edible publications across the U.S. and Canada. Over 50 of them entered more than 600 pieces of editorial work into 21 categories this year, and, Painter tells me, the chefs category had one of the largest # of entries! Industry judges narrowed the field down to the 5 final nominees.

Another Edible Jersey story has been picked up by another North American publication & entity

Suzanne Cunningham & Kindergartners, Princeton Waldorf School

Suzanne Cunningham & kindergarteners, Princeton Waldorf School

My story-memoir about the gardening curriculum past and present at the Waldorf School of Princeton that appeared earlier this year is included here in “Waldorf Today,” a weekly continental newsletter. (Scroll down for it.) AWSNA – the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America – also picked it up and shared on social media.

Then there is my contribution to Travel + Leisure…

Elements' Bison Tartare

Elements’ Bison Tartare

…about the best farm-to-table restaurants in NJ. In case you missed it, I named Elements in Princeton tops among several. You can check it out here.

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

NJ Boasts 4 JamesBeard Semifinalists!; Martha Stewart Coming to Bridgewater; Mauritian Fish Curry

2015 James Beard Award Semi-Finalists Announced

These Garden State culinary luminaries are nominees this year – including in two national categories:

For Outstanding Chef (in the U.S.): Maricel Presilla, Cucharamama, Hoboken

For Outstanding Baker (in the U.S.): Marie Jackson, The Flaky Tart, Atlantic Highlands

For Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic: Both Scott Anderson, Elements, Princeton and Joey Baldino, Zeppoli, Collingswood

Congrats & best wishes to them all!
Finalists will be announced on March 24 and the winners named on May 4.
Here’s the complete 2015 list of semifinalists in all categories.

Heads Up Martha Stewart Fans

clean-slate-cover_sq

She’ll be signing copies of her latest book, Clean Slate, on Thursday, February 26 at the Costco in Bridgewater. Ms. S. will be there at 2 pm but only for one hour, so good luck! For event info phone 732.584.1003.

Homemade Fish Curry from the Island of Mauritius (via Northern VA)

Do I hear you saying, “from where?” I explain the where, why, who, what and how below. (This post is excerpted from my In the Kitchen column in the 2/6/15 issue of the Princeton Packet.)

Of the many important things in life that we have little or no control over, our children’s choice of mate has to rank right up there. So my husband Bill and I counted ourselves among the fortunate in this regard when our elder daughter, Alice, married Chris Le last year. He is all anyone could hope for in a son-in-law. But the bonus for me, a food writer, is that Chris hails from a food-obsessed family with an interesting and unusual cultural background.

Alice & Chris Le

Alice & Chris Le

Chris’s father, Thanh Le, emigrated to the U.S. from Vietnam after the war. In Northern Virginia he met his future wife, Marie-Ange So Ting Fong, who was born and raised on the island of Mauritius, which is known as the Pearl of the Indian Ocean. Situated off the coast of Madagascar, Mauritius is the only place on earth where the dodo lived. In 2010, the New York Times lauded the island’s “perfect year-round climate, talcum-soft sands, [and] crystalline waters.” This tropical paradise is multi-ethnic and multi-lingual. Languages spoken there include Mauritian Creole, French, and English, as well as several Asian tongues.

Chris and his two brothers were raised on dishes that span the Vietnamese, Chinese, and Mauritian repertoire. While his father, Thanh, likes to grill and barbecue, the bulk of the cooking is done by his mother, Marie-Ange, and her mother, Josephine So Ting Fong, who lives with the family part of the year. This past Christmas Eve the Les graciously invited me and Bill to join their extended family for what turned out to be a veritable feast.

Le Family Christmas Eve 2014

Le Family Christmas Eve 2014

I lost count after 15 dishes had hit the table, among them dumplings, egg rolls, Vietnamese grilled beef skewers, noodle dishes, abalone, and pickled eggs. All were terrific, but there was one dish that I couldn’t stop eating: Mauritian fish curry. This turns out to be a deceptively straightforward combination of fried fish with onions, a couple of spices, and a splash of vinegar. It’s a curry in the broader Southeast Asian sense of something having been cooked in spices, which may or may not include curry.

Mauritian Fish Curry

Mauritian Fish Curry

Of course, the first thing I did when I got home was to google recipes for Mauritian fish curry. But the images and recipes that popped up were quite different from what I had enjoyed. The apparently more common version turns out to be a “wet” curry, with the fried fish bathed in sauce, often tomato based. The Les’ is a “dry” curry, its moisture derived mainly from the oil that the fish is fried in. So I asked Ms. Le and her mother for their recipe, which they kindly supplied. (As is typical in recipes handed down in families, no one had ever measured ingredients, let alone recorded it on paper.) The only constants among theirs and the other recipes are onions, garlic, and fish (usually white-fleshed) fried in vegetable or seed oil. Many include – besides the aforementioned tomatoes – fresh ginger, cilantro, and thyme. Some use curry leaves or curry powder, as well as cumin or garam masala.

The Le family recipe contains none of these. Instead, spoonfuls of saffron and mustard seed provide color and flavor. Ms. Le cautions, “I would suggest that you test the recipe and adjust the amounts according to your taste.” She also suggests using your personal favorite fish. For her, that’s thick fillets of boneless tilapia, although her mother prefers tilapia (or other fish) with bones intact, and her husband favors salmon.

The recipe below is straight from the Le family, with one deviation. Marie-Ange Le and her mother allow the uncooked fish, sprinkled heavily with salt, to sit at room temperature for four hours. (Other Mauritian recipes stipulate one hour.) This helps the fish to crisp up nicely and not fall apart in the pan. But food safety experts advise never to let raw seafood sit out at room temperature, so you can skip that step and either coat the fillets lightly with flour just before frying or simply follow your normal routine for frying fish fillets. The results won’t be the same, but still good.

Elizabeth & Ryan

Elizabeth & Ryan

By the way: There’s another Tanner family wedding approaching. In October our other child, Elizabeth, will marry Ryan Ritterson. Bill and I can hardly believe that we’ve lucked out here, too. Ryan, like Chris, is all we could ask for to ensure our daughter’s happiness. His ancestry, though, is far less exotic. He’s from solid Midwestern stock. I promise not to hold that against him.

LE FAMILY MAURITIAN FISH CURRY
Serves 8 to 10

3 pounds thick fish fillets, such as tilapia or salmon, cut into large pieces
Salt to taste
Oil for deep frying, such as peanut, soybean, or canola (not olive oil)
6 cloves chopped garlic
1 teaspoon powdered saffron, or 12 strands (1 gram) saffron, crumbled
1-1/2 tablespoons mustard seed
3 tablespoons white vinegar
2 white onions cut in quarters (or eighths, if large) and the slices pulled apart

  1. Wash and pat dry the fish. Salt the fish on both sides, to taste, and deep-fry the fish in oil as you normally do. Remove the fish and set aside, reserving the oil.
  2. In a small bowl mix the saffron with a little warm water.
  3. Heat one cup of the reserved oil and stir-fry the onions and garlic until the onions are soft and translucent but not brown. Add the saffron mixture, the vinegar, and a pinch of salt. Combine and turn off the heat.
  4. Immediately add the mustard seed, then the fried fish and gently combine. Turn the heat back to medium-low and cook only until the mixture is just heated through. (Make sure that you do not overheat the mixture at the end, or the mustard seed will turn bitter.)
  5. If the fish curry is too dry, add more of the reserved frying oil.

Elements Chefs’ Farmstand Pop-up; Stockton in the Fall; Review: Due in Ridgewood

Free Food & Drink! Scott Anderson & Elements Staff @ Z Food Farm

Diners sampling Elements' ever-changing spread at Z Food Farm

Diners sampling Elements’ ever-changing spread at Z Food Farm

That’s right: from 4 to 7 pm on Friday, September 26, chefs from Princeton’s acclaimed Elements restaurant will be cooking and grilling seasonal vegetables and other goodies at Lawrenceville’s organic Z Food Farm. I stopped by the first such pop-up in August – as did, oh, about 150 others – for this fabulous, fun, free event. Here’s a photo recap:

Scott Anderson of Elements at Z Food Farm

Scott Anderson of Elements at Z Food Farm

Chefs Scott Anderson and Mike Ryan dished up an amazing spread for sampling. On my short visit these included (among other things) fennel and Tropea onion salad with chrysanthemum; smoked, grilled tomato crostini with marigold vinaigrette; pizza with eggplant puree and Swiss chard; & watermelon with fresh cilantro.

The crew had jerry-rigged a cement-block grill, from which they also brought forth this yellow tomato and Swiss chard pizza:

Elements' pizza at Z Food Farm

Elements pizza at Z Food Farm

Meantime, Elements’ mixologist Jamie Dodge was shaking up impromptu libations using the farm’s herbs and fruits, including one that combined 2 kinds of watermelon, black lotus flower (!), ginger, and citrus juices.

Jamie Dodge, Elements mixologist, at Z Food Farm

Jamie Dodge at Z Food Farm

Anderson, Ryan, and Dodge kept pulling fresh produce from the farmstand bins. Ryan told me, “The product is so fresh, we just basically add extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, and a splash of Champagne vinegar.” Anderson added, “I believe in this farmer. With this produce, we do the minimum – and it’s at its prime right now.”

“This farmer” would be Dave Zaback. Here he is, with parents Alan & Lynn in the background:

Dave Zaback, Z Food Farm

Dave Zaback, Z Food Farm

I made a new veggie acquaintance that day: Mexican gherkins. Dave Zaback described their taste as “almost like pre-pickled cukes.” These marble-sized beauties are as crisp as fresh cukes, but do indeed have a hint of brine.

Mexican gherkins, Z Food Farm

Mexican gherkins, Z Food Farm

Elements is on hiatus while its new digs on Hulfish Street are being readied for an early 2015 reopening. For directions to the 9/26 tasting, visit the Z Food Farm website.

Z Food Farm

Z Food Farm

NJ Monthly’s (and My) Picks for Fantastic Fall Getaways

Reflections of the Past: Strolling the D&R Canal at the restored Prallsville Mills. Photo by Steve Greer, Courtesy of NJ Monthly

Reflections of the Past: Strolling the D&R Canal at the restored Prallsville Mills.
Photo by Steve Greer, Courtesy of NJ Monthly

In NJ Monthly’s October issue I turn the spotlight on the many charms of tiny Stockton, while others tempt you to Chester, Cape May, Crystal Springs Resort, and golfing at Renault Winery Resort.

Due (as in the Italian Number Two) in Ridgefield: My Review

And in that same issue read my 3-star review of Ridgefield’s Due restaurant, where Bergen County favorite-son chef Adam Weiss has teamed up with owner Chris Tarta. Weiss’s modern twists on Italian classics have been dubbed “Itali-Adam” by another accomplished Bergen County chef, Christine Nunn. (A new iteration Picnic, her terrific former Fair Lawn restaurant, is expected to open in October in Ridgewood, just a few doors down from Due.)

Scott Anderson @ Beard House; 2 NJ Slow Food Winter Markets; “Somm” the Movie

Elements & Mistral’s  “Elements of Extraordinary” Dinner

Scott AndersonAfter being named James Beard Award semifinalist in 2013, Scott Anderson is following up with a dinner at the Beard House in Greenwich Village on February 20th at 7 pm.

Among 5 passed hors d’oeuvre  – served with Szigeti Gruner Veltiner Brut NV – will be caramelized onion-bone marrow cromesquis. Yeah, I had to look that one up, too: “A small ball of ground meat which differs from a croquette in that a croquette is dipped in egg and breadcrumbs rather than batter or caul fat.” To paraphrase Homer Simpson: mmm…..caul fat.

A 6-course dinner with matched wines follows. The full menu is here, but to get your taste buds going think Long Island surf clam, Scottish trout, salsify, smoke, squab, preserved persimmons, and NJ grains.

Element's Chicken & Waffle

Element’s Chicken & Waffle

Although the price to non-members is a hefty $170, I can tell you that every dinner I’ve attended at the Beard House over the years has been cheap at the price, since chefs invariably put their best foot (and food) forward – and the wine flows all night long. For info and reservations, click here.

It’s That Time Again: Slow Food Winter Farmers Markets

Slow Food Central SnailSaturday, January 11: From 11 am to 3 pm at Tre Piani restaurant, Forrestal Village, Princeton. Vendors: BeechTree Farm, Birds & Bees Farm Honey, Cherry Grove Farm, Chickadee Creek Farm, Davidson’s Exotic Mushrooms, Donna & Company Chocolates, Elijah’s Promise Bakery, Happy Wanderer Bakery, Judith’s Desserts, Nice & Sharp Knife Sharpening Service, Rocky Brook Farm, Shibumi Mushroom Farm, Trappers Honey, Valley Shepherd Creamery, WoodsEdge Wools Farm. Directions at trepiani.com ($2 suggested donation)

Slow Food SnailSunday, January 19: From noon to 4 pm at Frelinghuysen Arboretum, Morristown. Vendors: Appleridge Farm, Good Fields Farm, Bobolink Dairy & Bakehouse, Griggstown Quail Farm, Churutabis Farm, Plaid Piper Farm, Flint Hill Farm, Valley Shepherd Creamery, Tassot Apiary, Rogowski Farm, Donna & Company Chocolates, Best Fruit Farm, Degage Gardens, Lazy Susan GranolaZen Bakers, Lickt Gelato. Directions to arboretum here. ($3 entrance fee supports Slow Food NNJ’s school vegetable garden programs)

Recommended Viewing: Somm, a Jason Wise Documentary

Somm logoApparently food-and-wine biz folks didn’t care much for this 2013 film about 4 young sommeliers preparing for and taking the mysterious Master Sommelier exam, which has awarded only 170 diplomas over the last 40 years. But I rented it over the Christmas break and highly found it captivating. Take a peak at the official trailer and see if you don’t think it’s worth a look.

Too Many Fall Events; Dining in San Francisco (part ii)

I know summer is really and truly over when…

…my inbox overflows with food & wine events. Here are some that captured my attention for one reason or another – like for being good deals; having big-time names associated with them; generously aiding important non-profits; or all of the above. See if you agree. btw: My good buddy Rosie Saferstein maintains a complete, definitive list of upcoming statewide events on Table Hopping with Rosie at www.njmonthly.com.

champagne wikipediaStarting Wednesday, 9/18 Elements in Princeton is featuring Sparkling Wednesdays. Ladies will be offered a different complimentary sparkling wine or sparkling cocktail. I am so there!

Sunday, 9/20, 7:30 pm: Slow Food Northern NJ is screening “La Cosecha” (“The Harvest”), a documentary about the estimated 300,000 children who work in American fields harvesting 20% of the foods you and I eat. Shameful and important. At the Ethical Culture Society, Maplewood. Suggested donation is $5. RSVP (by 9/18?!) to slowfoodnnj@yahoo.com.

Grape ExpectationsSaturday, 9/28, 6:30 to 11 pm: NY Times wine critic Eric Asimov will headline “Great Expectations,” a fundraiser for the Montclair Public Library Foundation, along with Montclair’s leading chefs and Sharon Sevrens of Amanti Vino Wines. There are 2 events and 2 prices. Details here.

Sunday, 9/29, 1 to 4 pm: The 13th annual Epicurean Palette at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton. VIP tickets have already sold out, but you can still sample the 40 restaurants (from NJ & PA) and 25 wine, beer, and spirits wineries/vendors/importers on the stunning grounds of this 42-acre sculpture park.  Details here.

Shane Cash of Rat's, Epicurean Palette 2012

Shane Cash of Rat’s, Epicurean Palette 2012

Monday, 10/7, 7 pm and/or Friday, 10/13, 6 pm: How fun is this? On 10/7, chef Anthony Bucco of the Ryland Inn will take over the reins of Fascino in Montclair from Ryan DePersio for 1 night. Then, on the 13th, the tables (and stoves) will turn, when chef DePersio takes over the Ryland for the night. Each will offer a prix fixe 5-course meal for $75. Call Fascino at 973.233.0350 for reservations for the 10/7 dinner and the Ryland Inn at 908.534.4011 for reservations for 10/13.

Shoot It Eat ItTuesday, 10/8, 6:3o to 9:30 pm: Admit it: like me, you’d jump at the chance to get professional help with taking food pics. Here’s your chance – while enjoying a terrific 3-course meal. Eno Terra in Kingston and professional photog Frank Veronsky of Princeton Photo Workshop are teaming up for “Shoot It, Eat It.” Each course will be specially plated and lighted so you can learn the tricks of the trade before devouring your salad, 3 main dishes (served family style), glass of wine, and dessert. Cost: $159 includes photography lesson, shooting, dining, tax and gratuity. $75 for your dining-only guest(s). To register click here.

Nopa: Restaurant Envy in San Francisco

NopaHere are just a few of the thoughts running through my head as I enjoyed dinner at Nopa (shorthand for NOrth of the PAnhandle), which last year the New York Times termed “a cult favorite” in a city full of cult restaurants:

“Any restaurant in New Jersey would kill for Monday night business like this!”
All of its 110 seats were filled early on – and people were lined 2-deep at the very long bar.

“Why can’t restaurants back home offer food of this caliber at these prices?”
Nopa’s contemporary “rustic California” cuisine embraces organic, farm-to-table, wood-fired and Mediterranean elements. The food, drink, and setting are exciting but not stuffy; painstaking but not precious. Here are some of the “bargains:” $14 for the best hamburger of my life. And it was grass-fed and came with pickled onions and fries. $9 for a starter of baked duck egg, romesco sauce, summer squash, and shaved pantaleo (a hard goat cheese from Sardinia by way of Cowgirl Creamery). Likewise, wood-baked butter beans, feta, oregano pesto, and breadcrumbs.

“Why can’t restaurants back home offer cocktails and wines of this caliber at these prices?”
Interesting, well-concocted cocktails made from premium and housemade ingredients, all at $9 and $10, like the Summit: St. George Terroir gin, grapefruit, lime, and honey. And a nicely curated international wine list plus reasonably priced by-the-glass options like Daniele Ricci “El Matt” 2010 Bonarda, $9.

“How can I get NJ restaurants to adopt Nopa’s “Monday Magnums” program?”
Every Monday they crack open a different magnum-format wine and offer it by the glass. On my visit it was a 2009 Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Domaine Monpertuis for $16.

“How lucky am I to have found myself here?”
It wasn’t by virtue of my own research, or the recommendation of any of my food-world friends, or serendipity. It was through my brilliant future son-in-law, Ryan, who lived in NoPa when the restaurant opened, knew a good thing when he saw it, and watched it bring about the transformation of this neighborhood.

Reservations are hard to come by at Nopa, which currently has 3,291 reviews on Yelp, but if you find yourself without one, know that the bar (and communal table) open at 5 pm and serve snacks til 6.
Nopa on Urbanspoon

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.