New Restaurants from Familiar Names & Faces in Union, Asbury Park, & King of Prussia Mall
Here in my June “Food for Thought” column in the Princeton Echo I have the scoop on the latest projects & whereabouts of folks like Jamie Dodge (formerly of Elements & Mistral), Derek Brousseau (One53 & Mistral), David Viana (Kitchen @ Grove Station & Battello), Carlo & Raoul Momo (Terra Momo Restaurant Group), and Scott Anderson & Steve Distler (Elements & Mistral).
Jen Carson Shares Plans for the June Opening of Lillipies, Her Bakery-Cafe on North Harrison Street
Besides the sweet and savory baked goods that have earned her a large following, Carson’s first brick-and-mortar spot will offer scratch-made soups, sandwiches, coffee, ice cream, and live entertainment. Details here, in my June feature story in the Echo.
There’s still time to vote for my EDDY-nominated story, “The First Ladies of Cape May!”
As I mentioned in my previous post, I am honored that my story from Edible Jersey is 1 of 5 nominees in the Chef Feature category of the EDDYs: the national writing awards of the 90 Edible Communities magazines. You can cast one vote a day every day from now through Wednesday, June 8th by clicking here. (As of this writing, my story had accumulated 66% of the votes!!!)
Kusina Pilipina: Filipino Home Cooking on Route 27
Route 27 stretching from Kendall Park through North Brunswick has been home to a continuously evolving string of modest ethnic eateries for as long as I can remember (which is several decades, going back to the well-remembered A-Kitchen and Sitar). The newest ethnic group to be represented is Filipino. Last week when I drove by the sign announcing Kusina Pilipina – located behind the Dunkin Donuts near Beekman Road in Franklin Park – I knew I had to check it out. In part, because I was consumed with guilt.
As a restaurant critic, I am often asked if there’s any particular cuisine I dislike. I always answer no, that if it’s authentic and capably prepared, all of the world’s cooking is delicious. But in my head I had to admit that the few times I had sampled Filipino food – always at pan-Southeast Asian chains or at a modest storefront grocery/take-out place like this one – I hadn’t enjoyed it. Too dense, soggy, muddled, oily, and/or boring, with too much sourness or, if not that, then either overly sweet or salty.
Kusina Pilipina is none of the above. Dishes with clear, clean flavors and uncharacteristically light textures shine in what seems more like Filipino home cooking than restaurant fare or fast-casual take-out. In fact, proprietor Maria T. Morales (known as Mae) uses recipes she learned growing up on the island province of Cebu, where her parents had a small eatery.
Her inexpensive noodle, bbq, and stewed dishes are made fresh on site each day, from quality ingredients (especially noticeable in the meat and vegetables). They are light and nuanced when called for, earthy and full-bodied other times. Nothing I sampled was overly salty or sweet. Even these skewers of sticky boneless bbq pork (I literally smacked my lips over it) and brown sugar-coated plantains (a must if you like plantains) didn’t cross the sweetness barrier:
As for sour and salty, it mostly comes on the side, as in the tiny cup of shrimp paste, below, that accompanies an order of kare kare (extreme right). Kare kare is the signature Filipino stew of oxtail and tripe in peanut sauce, here also made with bok choy, eggplant, and green beans:
At top left is the Philippine’s famous stir-fried noodle dish, pancit, here light and fluffy and without any trace of oiliness. In case you can’t make it out due to my dubious photographic skills, it contains two kinds of noodles: cellophane & vermicelli. I also brought home a container of stew made from boneless chicken, bitter melon, and strands of beaten egg which, like the kare kare, is meant to be spooned over white rice. Since it is not especially photogenic I’ll spare you my sad attempt to capture it. Ditto for an excellent dessert: turon, a crunchy, deep-fried (but greaseless) spring roll filled with slices of plantain and jackfruit cooked almost to a custard and sweetened with brown sugar.
In the year that it’s been open, Kusina Pilipina’s takeout fare and catering options have amassed a well-deserved following among both Filipinos and the larger community. The downside is that its website is still under construction, but Ms. Morales promises it will soon be fully functional.
Central NJ Gets a New Farmers Market
To be honest (again?! as if the above confession weren’t enough!) I really thought that by this time the Princeton area had enough seasonal outdoor farmers markets. But once I reviewed the specifics about the Princeton Forrestal Village Farmers Market, which debuts on Friday, June 6, I reconsidered.
First off, it’s held on Fridays, from 11 am to 2 pm. That means it won’t compete with my other favorites – West Windsor on Saturday; downtown Princeton on Thursday. Second, among its 6 farms are a couple you don’t find participating elsewhere ’round these parts: Rolling Hills (“beyond organic”) and Double Brook (the folks behind Brick Farm Market in Hopewell.) Third, among its non-farm offerings are the award-winning wines of Unionville Vineyards, the incomparable baked goods of Jen Carson of Lillipies (perhaps you’ve enjoyed them at Small World Coffee), and the unique condiments of Herb n Zest (caramelized apple champagne mustard, anyone?).
To recap: the Princeton Forrestal Village Farmers Market runs on Fridays from June 6th through September 26 (except for July 4th), between 11 am and 2 pm.
And now, your moment of zen (with apologies to John Stewart)
Nothing food-related…nothing anything-related except that it reflects my continuing amazement at what a great area we are privileged to live in. Last Saturday I walked the wildflower trails at Bowman’s Hill outside of New Hope, PA. A smattering of the wonders I encountered is pictured to the right and below, thanks to my guide and friend, wildlife expert Carolyn Edelmann, whose blog is njwildbeauty.
Because my final Princeton Packet column of 2013 ran on December 21st, I decided to ask Princeton-area chefs and food pros what they would choose to eat and drink for their last meal, and who they would want to share it with.
Their responses are as diverse and diverting as their culinary output. Here’s who participated: Chris Albrecht of Eno Terra, Scott Anderson and Mike Ryan of elements, Josh Thomsen of the highly anticipated Agricola, Beth Feehan of NJ Farm to School Network, master baker Jen Carson, Gab Carbone and Matt Errico of The Bent Spoon, and Mark Valenza of Za. (Valenza even managed to bring Rachael Ray and Anthony Bourdain to the table.)
Here’s what each had to say:
Chris Albrecht of Eno Terra, Kingston. My last meal of 2012 would be cheese fondue, one of my favorite winter dishes, especially in front of a fire with some good vodka and great company. I mean classic traditional fondue, made with emmental and gruyere – although the Rosedale from Cherry Grove might make it in there, too. Plus good, crusty bread and vegetables like fried artichokes and broccoli rabe. Apples and Asian pears, mushrooms too. Riesling would have to be a part (in addition to the vodka). This meal may not seem too crazy, but after all the craziness leading up to New Year’s, I’d just as soon have my most comfortable meal. As for who would be there, it would definitely include my daughters and a few other good friends, but once the kids were in bed, the storytelling and reminiscing would be the life of the evening.
Mike Ryan of elements, Princeton. A good bottle of burgundy, sourdough bread, and epoisses. Great mustard and pickles. Scott Anderson of elements, Princeton. A great talk about metaphysics with Thich Nhat Hahn, while eating mushroom-laden macaroni and cheese. [Thich Nhat Hahn is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, teacher, poet, peace activist, and author of more than 100 books.]
Beth Feehan of the NJ Farm to School Network. For my last meal, I’d wish for my mother’s osso bucco. Her version was to grind up onions, carrots, and celery in a food processor and slow-cook them with lots of garlic. She’d braise the veal shanks with a dusting of flour, salt, and pepper and when browned, add them to the vegetable mixture along with wine and canned tomatoes. Basil, bay leaves, and eventually lemon gremolata rounded it out for one of the most succulent dishes I ever loved, cooked in the oven for hours. It is my favorite meal of all time and if I have to go, this is what I’m asking for to ferry me out.
Josh Thomsen of Agricola Eatery, opening in Princeton in early 2013. My last meal on earth would have to be a family-style feast prepared by the people who created the favorite dishes of my life and have meant so much. Since this is the grand finale, I’d want to slow down and taste every morsel. I tend to get excited and eat too quickly, as chefs learn to do out of necessity. The toast before the meal given by Professor Jacques; Bitton Hog Island oysters opened by owner Terry Sawyer; tuna croquettes by Jessica (you know who you are); “steak & eggs” vegan style by Chef Sean Baker; grilled branzino by Chef Geno Bernardo; spaghetti carbonara cooked by my dad; potato latkes cooked by my mom; steak cooked by Italian butcher Dario Checcini; Tres Sabores wine poured by winemaker Julie Johnson; anything Chef Jeff Jake wants to bring (his presence would be enough for me); any dessert by Chef Ed Moro (but I would hope it would be something with chocolate). Everyone would cook and then sit down to enjoy.
Jen Carson, Baker, Double Brook Farm & forthcoming Brick Farm Market, Hopewell. For my last meal I would have all of my family – I’m talking siblings, parents, in-laws, cousins, nieces, nephews, second cousins- EVERYONE – come over to cook together. We’d make homemade ravioli, which is one of the first dishes I remember preparing with my great-grandmother, grandmother, and mom as a little girl. It is the BEST meal to prepare with people you love because it is so tedious. Bear with me here. It is so tedious and repetitive that funny stories, memories, and laughter will ultimately ensue. Most of the family stories I remember hearing as a kid were told to me while making ravioli. So, ravioli-prep (and a nice glass of wine) with family… that would be perfect. Actually eating the ravioli together with everyone would be the “icing on the cake.”
Gab Carbone and Matt Errico of The Bent Spoon, Princeton. In thinking about what would be our last meal it’s easy to fall into a whirlwind of gluttony. Courses and courses of rare tastes, perhaps? Indulgent sauces, exotic ingredients? Things we haven’t yet tried? All the while chasing – no, hunting – for culinary perfection. While understandable that many might yearn for a bacchanal feast or think of a goose-bump inducing, seemingly never-ending tasting menu from the likes of Thomas Keller, we submit that for our last meal we’d take homemade comfort over goose livers. Nothing seems more satisfying, more fulfilling than the food of our families. The pure food itself, and in particular the food memories created by them is what sustains and nourishes us. It’s the stuff of life! So, we’ll pass on the uni, ortolan, and truffles for this final feast. At the end of it all we know nothing will make us happier than homemade pasta sauces from our Italian-American fathers and sharing with the people we love.
Mark Valenza of Za, Pennington. Last Meal Party Planner, since December 21, 2012 will be our last dinner together (according to the Mayans). I’ve been busy getting a jump on the end-of-days meal planning for quite some time now. Just what is appropriate for a Once and Only Occasion? Since money and basic accommodations are no object – it being the end and all – I’ve planned to fly in everybody I’ve ever known and loved…so we will be a party of eight. As for the meal itself, I plan a 21-course tasting menu in honor of The Day. I’ll be serving a 1985 Bollinger Brut Champagne, Grand Cru Classe from the Loire Valley, Languedoc-Roussillon, and Burgundy, and a Pomerol Bordeaux. I’ll enlist my Za servers to serve my guests under the threat that there may be a tomorrow (but I doubt it). I’ll start my dinner with a beautifully caramelized seared foie gras cut into the shape of California. As entertainment I will commission Anthony Bourdain to eat a brick and Rachael Ray to just sit quietly. My dinner will be a progression of culinary classics in miniature: an entire Thanksgiving dinner nestled into a Japanese soup spoon, a clay-oven pizza the size of a quarter served with a salt-rimmed test tube of pepperoni essence, and, for end-of-days expedience, I’ll produce the Christmas Eve seven-course fish dinner layered into one thin slice of multi-colored pate. I’ll amuse my guests with witty restaurant antidotes. “Did I ever tell you about the time Queen Latifah had to have two orders of my goat cheese gnocchi?” Anyway, aside from my scintillating stories, as a parting gift my guest will each receive a leopard Snuggie and a long birch stick. We’ll end it all just as my culinary career began many, many years ago – by toasting marshmallows in the fire. If not, Rachael, Anthony…I love you guys.