Tag Archives: Frank Caponi

Chefs Team Up with Griggstown Farm; Mistral Opens in King of Prussia; Where to Dine on Excellent Ramen & Breast of Veal, Finding Nectar on a Human Scale

Talk about a mixed bag! Today’s post runs the gamut from coq au vin and crispy pork riblets to authentic ramen and hard-to-come-by Italian-style breast of veal. Oh yes: and how you can experience collecting nectar like a bee.

Inaugural Video of Griggstown Farm Chicken Channel Features Chef Chris Albrecht of the Ryland Inn

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Coq au Vin, Griggstown Chicken Channel

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Chris Albrecht & George Rude, Sr., Griggstown Chicken Channel

 

 

 

 

 

The folks who raise Griggstown’s chickens and other premium, all-natural birds have launched a YouTube channel that has New Jersey’s top chefs demonstrating how to put those birds to excellent use, and pairs each video with related special offers. I sat in on the first taping and got the behind-the-scenes scoop while Albrecht demonstrated making coq au vin. My full report here, in the March issue of The Princeton Echo.

A Second Mistral Opens in Newly Expanded King of Prussia Mall

The folks behind Princeton’s popular Elements and Mistral restaurants – Steve Distler & Scott Anderson – opened their second Mistral on March 1st, across the river in Pennsylvania. As I reported a  few months back, chef de cuisine for this newly constructed space is Craig Polignano, who left the Ryland Inn (and moved to Conshohoken) to take the post.

The bright and airy restaurant is larger than its older sibling – 111 seats inside and  48 outside – but just as stylish, although with a different aesthetic, dominated by pale, whitewashed wood tones accented with bright azure.

Below are highlights from my first meal there. Three of us shared seven dishes, each so impressive that it was hard to pick favorites. The menu structure is mostly small plates (like its Princeton forebear), but the selections are unique to KOP. If you go: locating the restaurant is tricky. It’s next to Nieman Marcus. Look for the sign for Grand Lux Cafe – Mistral is below.

Maitake

Pork Riblets w/scallion pancake, shiitake, English cucumber – Mistral KOP

Cavatelli

Ricotta Cavatelli w/roasted squash, capers, pecorino tartufo, & yolk – Mistral KOP

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Salmon

Olive Oil-Poached Organic Salmon w/onion, baby beet, mustard, buttermilk – Mistral KOP

 

 

 

 

 

 

Food for Thought logo

My Food for Thought column in March’s Princeton Echo is chock-full of happy finds, including:
A don’t-miss, 3-course ramen meal prepared by an expert is coming up for one night only inside Princeton’s Nomad Pizza restaurant. Here are pics from a previous one:

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Frank Caponi’s Mushroom Ramen

 

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Frank Caponi’s Chasu Ramen

 

 

 

 

 


A Central Jersey Italian restaurant offering roast breast of veal that beats my own mother’s version. Here’s a pic from the meal that won me over:

breast-of-veal-2

Breast of Veal, Chick & Nello’s Homestead Inn

Think you know all about how bees gather nectar? I guarantee you’ll be gobsmacked by what you didn’t know at this small but captivating display in Ewing at The College of New Jersey.

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Jessica Rath, Resonant Nest, Photo by Brian Forest

All details here.

 

Gary’s Wine Opens in Hillsborough; Finding Love in Restaurant Kitchens; Baumkuchen

Gary Fisch  on Why & How He’s Added a 4th Gary’s Wine & Marketplace to his Stable

Gary Fisch, Gary's Wine & Marketplace

Gary Fisch, Gary’s Wine & Marketplace

Fisch, who was named 2014 Retailer of the Year by Market Watch, has planted a flag at the Nelson’s Corner shopping center on Route 206 at Amwell Road. For now it’s a pop-up, while a new 9,000-square-foot space is being readied. I met him there to get the scoop on what he has in mind for the Hillsborough store and his $50 million business. Here’s my story in the December 10 issue of US 1. Oh yes: the interview also includes a wine tasting. Garys 001

Couples who Live, Love, & Work Together in the Food Biz

For my final 2014 “In the Kitchen” column, in the December 12 issue of the Princeton Packet I asked 4 couples who toil in Princeton area eateries to open up on what it takes to keep the spark going when you both live together and work side-by-side in the crazy world of food and dining. Their candid responses far exceeded my expectations. A big thank you goes out to the first 2 couples I spotlight:

Rory & Aaron Philipson of Blue Bottle Cafe in Hopewell:

Rory & Aaron Philipson, courtesy Double Brook Farm

Rory & Aaron Philipson, courtesy Double Brook Farm

Lauren Sabogal & Frank Caponi, she the owner/chef of Buttons Creperie and he sous chef at Teresa Caffe in Princeton:

Frank Caponi & Lauren Sabogal, courtesy Great Heights Photography

Frank Caponi & Lauren Sabogal, courtesy Great Heights Photography

Baumkuchen: It’s new to me!

Baumkuchen (dinewithpat.com)

Baumkuchen
(dinewithpat.com)

Are you familiar with this German Christmas tradition, which translates as “tree cake”? The cake is made on a spit (!) and takes its name from the appearance of the resulting layers, which do indeed resemble the concentric rings of a tree:

Baumkuchen interior  (dinewithpat.com)

Baumkuchen interior
(dinewithpat.com)

I was introduced to the baumkuchen pictured above when a friend from Hamburg hand-carried some over direct from her hometown to share at a recent brunch in Princeton. I was smitten by its appearance, taste, unique preparation, and history. (Apparently it was popular at weddings in Frankfurt and Nuremberg as far back as the 15th century.)

In an incredibly labor-intensive process, the layers are built up one by one, as the baker applies a thin coat of batter with a brush, and lets it bake just enough so that the next layer of batter will adhere to it. Historically, baumkuchen was made on a special rotating, wood-fired spit, as some still are today. Each layer is so so thin that by comparison those of a dobos torte seem positively gargantuan.

Dobos cake (Gerbeaud Confectionery, Budapest, Hungary)

Dobos cake (Gerbeaud Confectionery, Budapest, Hungary)

When the baumkuchen is finished baking, it’s removed from the spit (hence it has a hole in the middle) and is often covered with chocolate couverture, as this one was. The cake tasted like it had almond paste or marzipan in the batter, which is also traditional. The resulting layers were rich and dense, yet still so light that I couldn’t stop eating it.

I came up short on finding a bakery in NJ that sells German-style baumkuchen, although, amazingly, there’s a Japanese iteration (“baum roll”) sold at Mitsuwa Marketplace in Edgewater. This reflects just another part of the cake’s fascinating history.

Mistral’s Ben Nerenhausen; Upcoming Sit-down Dinner @ Trenton Farmers Market; Lunch @ Estia Taverna

We Have Applebee’s to Thank for Chef Ben Nerenhausen

Edible Jersey Fall 2014

Edible Jersey Fall 2014

These days he’s garnering accolades for his creative, globe-trotting small plates at Mistral in Princeton – like the chicken liver spread with charred strawberry, celery, and peanut with toast, pictured above. Yet despite a childhood spent mostly in Pakistan and Egypt, this Wisconsin boy points to a college job at Applebee’s for sparking his chef fire. Read my full interview in the Fall 2014 issue of Edible Jersey. (It starts on page 36.)

Buttons Creperie + Trenton Farmers Market + Teresa Caffe + HomeFront = Farm-to-Table for a Good Cause

From last year's Button's Creperie fundraiser. Frank Caponi & Lauren Sabogal, center

From last year’s Buttons Creperie fundraiser. Frank Caponi & Lauren Sabogal, center (All photos courtesy of Andrew Barrack of Great Heights Media)

I’m going on Sunday, September 21 to a special fundraiser that brings together some of my favorite people and establishments to benefit one of the most effective nonprofits around. Here’s why I hope you’ll join me there:

Courtesy Buttons Creperie

Courtesy Buttons Creperie

  • I’m partial to the made-to-order sweet and savory crepes and other fare that Lauren Sabogal, Buttons‘ young owner/chef, and her crew cook up at both the Trenton Farmers Market and the Stockton Market.
  • She’s teamed up with another local chef on the 5-course seasonal dinner that’s planned: Frank Caponi of Princeton’s Teresa Caffe. Caponi, a graduate of Mercer County College’s culinary program, is also Sabogal’s fiance.
Trenton Farmers Market, courtesy Button's Creperie

Trenton Farmers Market, courtesy Buttons Creperie

  • The dinner is being held inside the historic, wonderfully ungentrified Trenton Farmers Market, which has been around since 1948.
  • Best of all, a portion of the proceeds goes to HomeFront, which helps families in the Trenton area break the cycle of poverty.
Button's Creperie Tablescape

Buttons Creperie Tablescape

Other draws: The dinner utilizes the harvest of many area farms, is limited to 50 guests, includes live music, and, as in years past, features a lovely sit-down setting that Sabogal creates just for the event. Here’s this year’s menu:

Courtesy Button's Creperie

Courtesy Buttons Creperie

Appetizer: Three crepe chips with different toppings: roasted corn and tomato salsa, marinated Shibumi Farm mushrooms with goat cheese, and end-of-summer salsa verde and eggplant.

Salad: Terhune Orchards butter head Bibb, carrot puree, toasted almonds, agrodolce (i.e. sweet and sour) carrots, warm shallot-fennel vinaigrette.

Soup: Shibumi Farm mushroom soup with Oak Grove cornmeal dumpling.

Entrée: Lima Farm braised short ribs with Terhune apple cider reduction, new potatoes, Brussels sprouts, whole grain mustard, and roasted fennel. (A vegetarian and gluten-free option will also be available.)

Dessert: Seasonal fruit trifle.

Buttons Creperie’s Third Annual Farm-to-Table Fundraiser takes place on Sunday, September 21, from 5 pm to 8 pm at the Trenton Farmers Market, 960 Spruce Street, Lawrence Township. Tickets cost $45 and must be purchased in advance at Button’s Creperie. For information phone (609) 865-5063 or visit buttonscreperie.com.

Lucky Marlton Gets Sister Restaurant to Philly’s Popular Estia

Entrance to Estia Taverna, Marlton

Entrance to Estia Taverna, Marlton

Be honest: Couldn’t you be convinced the above photo is of a tiny roadside taverna on a Greek isle, or maybe one tucked away in Athen’s ancient Plaka district? In truth, I carefully cropped my photo of the entrance to Estia Taverna to evoke just that – in particular memories of a glorious day I spent years ago on Aegina, a small island that’s a half-hour boat ride from Athens. (If you could pan out, instead of a shack along the waterfront on that charming island, you’d see the stucco facade of a rather sizable restaurant located on busy Route 70 in South Jersey.)

Display at Estia Taverna, Marlton

Display at Estia Taverna, Marlton

But the lunch of traditional Greek fare that I and a guest were treated to recently at Estia Taverna in Marlton (there’s another one in Radnor, PA) really did evoke that long-ago meal because of its emphasis on fresh, simply prepared seafood, its generous handfuls of fresh herbs and greens, and its lighter-than-customary hand with even hearty staples like this moussaka ($16):

Moussaka, Estia Taverna, Marlton

Moussaka, Estia Taverna, Marlton

Not only is it more photogenic than most, but that beautifully bruleed bechamel is made with kefalograviera cheese. Other pluses include very fresh tasting pomodoro sauce and the merest wisp of cinnamon.

The signature starter here is Estia chips ($14), this dramatic presentation of paper-thin slices of zucchini and eggplant, lightly fried and served with tzatziki:

Estia Chips

Estia Chips

That same tzatziki – rich, fluffy, and thankfully not too heavy on the garlic – features in the platter of 3 Mediterranean spreads ($9). From a choice 5 we chose that, plus eggplant (nicely smoky) and tarama (carp roe) that my companion termed “like a cloud.”

Mediterranean Spreads, Estia, Marlton

Mediterranean Spreads, Estia, Marlton

My single favorite dish, though, is charcoal-grilled octopus over fava (the Greek term for yellow split-pea puree):

Charcoal-grilled Octopus, Estia, Marlton

Charcoal-grilled Octopus, Estia, Marlton

Fish of the day was succulent broiled dorade ($14), classically enhanced by a drizzle of fine Greek olive oil, fresh herbs, and a squeeze of lemon. (The mushy, one-note ratatouille-like vegetable mix with it didn’t do it justice, though.)

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Sweet, generous desserts include baklava (of course) and ekmek, which has thin layers of toasted pistachios and egg custard smeared between shredded phyllo and whipped cream:

Ekmek & Baklava, Estia, Marlton

Ekmek & Baklava, Estia, Marlton

Estia Taverna also boasts a handsome setting, Greek-themed cocktails, a beer list that includes 3 Greek beers as well as local craft beers, and a global wine list that puts the spotlight on Greece, too.