Tag Archives: Mistral Princeton

Let’s Go Crazy! Chefs’ Crazy New Year’s Stories & ‘Crazy for Cookbooks’ Event

Midnight Madness: NJ Chefs Share Zany New Year’s Tales

Most of us get a little nutty when New Year’s Eve rolls around. But chefs – who have a loony job every day of the year – seem to go to extremes more than most. Here in the holiday 2015 issue of Edible Jersey (starting on page 71) I poll chefs around the state for their most memorable December 31st. They live up to their profession’s reputation in spades.

Edible Jersey cover holiday 2015

My thanks to Juan Mercado (One53), Ben Nerenhausen (Mistral), Christine Nunn (Picnic on the Square), Larry Robinson (Ceriello Marketplace, Medford), Marilyn Schlossbach (Langosta Lounge & others), & Chris Siversen (Maritime Parc & BURG).

‘Crazy for Cookbooks’ Panel Discussion at Princeton Public Library. Join Me & Other Food Writers, Chefs, Cookbook Authors, & Publishers

I jumped at the chance to participate in this fun evening, coming up on Wednesday, December 2, at 7 p.m at the Princeton Library:

Cookbook Panel Flyer RevisedThe event is free and will be followed by the participating authors’ book sale and signing. Attendees are encouraged to bring along their own personal favorite cookbook because there will be a photo booth set up where they can be photographed with it in tow. The resulting pics will be shared by the library on social media.

Catching Up: Speed Reviews

You Know Speed Dating? Here are 9 Speed Reviews

In the closing months of 2014 I had several dining experiences that I never got a chance to write up, including at 2 new Princeton eateries. At this point you’ve likely heard and read about the major new places, such as Jockey Hollow. Nonetheless, allow me to weigh in with these quick hits:

Crab, red onion, & aioli on cornbread squares, Jockey Hollow

Crab, red onion, & aioli on cornbread squares, Jockey Hollow Preview Dinner

Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen Morristown’s Vail Mansion is the gorgeous Italianate-meets-the-21st century setting for acclaimed restaurateur Chris Cannon’s return to the dining scene. I was a huge fan of one of his first NYC restaurants, L’Impero, and the press dinner I attended at Jockey Hollow last fall was of the same caliber. I am skeptical of press dinners because they can exceed what paying customers will get to experience, so was delighted to read the raves about the food and drink in this New York Times review of February 7, 2015.

SweetGrass Last October chef/owner Sarah Gresko took over the space in Hopewell that had been Bell & Whistle, and the NY Times rewarded her with this glowing report. She kept the attractive setting featuring natural stones and woods, but brought her modern sensibility of Southern fare. I really enjoy her shrimp & grits (with a hush puppy and pickled okra) and textbook-perfect creme brulee, but I wish the menu displayed a little more excitement and that the prices were a tad gentler. Also, am I the only one who finds the room beautiful but cold (visually and temperature-wise)?

Sweet Grass Shrimp & Grits

Sweet Grass Shrimp & Grits

Mighty Quinn’s Barbecue I loved the barbecue when Mighty Quinn’s was at the Stockton Farm Market, touting it to everyone I encountered. I was devastated when it up and moved to NY, then delighted when it opened an outpost in Clifton. So imagine my shock when I and the five discriminating diners I dragged here were disappointed with everything we ordered, which encompassed pretty much the entire menu. This place is still garnering rave reviews, which baffles me.

Under the Moon Cafe This Bordentown restaurant isn’t new, but I hadn’t visited it since it moved several doors down to a larger space (in 2011) and expanded its Argentinean menu. OMG. The best empanadas ever, plus arborio rice balls stuffed with manchego, patatas bravas, albondigas in tomato sauce, etc. Every dish a winner.

Under the Moon, Bordentown

Under the Moon, Bordentown

La Costenita This authentic Mexican market, takeout shop, and casual eatery has flourished because of the from-scratch, homestyle cooking mandated by its cheerful owner, Alicia Arango, who hails from Oaxaca. Her tacos, tamales, flautas, and other specialties are special enough to have overcome a location in a set-back strip mall in Hillsborough and having debuted during the lowest point of the recent economic downturn. Pictured below, from front to back, are sopes (including one with beef tongue) on homemade tortillas, plantanos, and tacos.

La Costenita, Hillsborough

La Costenita, Hillsborough

Washington Crossing Inn Fans of the erstwhile Za in Pennington take note: chef Mark Valenza is plying his trade at this lovely historic property just across the river in Bucks County. He’s bringing some spark to the tradition-bound menu with signatures like Navajo fry bread and Tsukiji tuna & shrimp with bok choy & fermented black beans.

Navajo Fry Bread, Washington Crossing Inn

Navajo Fry Bread, Washington Crossing Inn

Mamoun’s Falafel, Princeton Given its wide and devoted following in NYC and elsewhere in NJ, I waited with bated breath for this one to open on my home turf. You know what? The falafel IS really good. Everything else? Meh.

30 Burgers, Princeton As much as I like to support Jersey-based businesses, I have little positive to say about this place, a branch of the smallish 25 Burgers chain with locations throughout the state. I’m happy to see it succeed, but my notes about its bacon cheeseburger include “flat, foodservice-grade pattie” (for the record, they use 100% Angus beef) and “gummy, salty orange-yellow cheese.”

Mistral There’s nothing really new or changed at this Princeton sibling to Elements – if you don’t count the gorgeous, recently enclosed patio or that it now has has a liquor license – but I include it because (a) I want to end on a positive note and (b) chef Ben Nerenhausen’s eclectic small plates just get better with every visit. The menu changes frequently, but let me share two wows from this past fall: Hen-of-the-woods mushrooms roasted in chicken fat with prunes, cockscomb jus, polenta and shaved black truffle; and roasted duck ramen with duck confit, autumn pumpkin, and scallions.

Whew! Speed reviewing is exhausting. As is speed dating, or so I imagine.

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.

 

 

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.

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.

Princeton Dining Scene Explodes; Hopewell Gets a Food Hall; Interesting Wine Dinner Benefit in Morristown

If you think the opening of Agricola is the only restaurant news coming out of downtown Princeton, think again. In the Spring Dining Issue of US 1 I profile these latest newcomers:

6-5 Cover Only(1).indd

Mistral  Meet chef Ben Nerenhausen, who Scott Anderson hired away from 3-Michelin-starred Restaurant at Meadowood in Napa for his small plates byob. Nerenhausen explains why the NJ dining scene reminds him of Northern California (!)

DeSpana  Find out why this popular SoHo tapas cafe and market chose Princeton for its first satellite location

North End Bistro An American comfort food eatery from the growing Central Jersey restaurant empire of the brothers behind the Osterias Procaccini

Cafe 44 Fusion After a long absence, soul food returns to Princeton as a restaurant-within-a-restaurant – and with an unexpected legacy that extends back to the 1970s

Ivy Inn Princeton’s favorite (only?) dive bar becomes family friendly and serves fresh, casual, bargain-priced fare curated by chef Jackie Baldassari who recently did a star turn on Fox’s Hell’s Kitchen.

A First look at Brick Farm Market in Hopewell

This – Double Brook Farm‘s retail market – may have been a long time coming, but has been thoroughly embraced by the community in the short time it’s been open. I had never been inside its home, the old Malek Chevrolet building on Broad Street, but had always admired its gorgeous patterned brick facade, which dates back to the 1930s.

I was surprised by the sheer size of the interior, transformed into a glowing, rustic-chic food hall on two levels.

Brick Farm Market 001

The upstairs gallery (on the left, above) holds “shops” (really, counters) and a long dining bar with stools for those who want to eat in. The butcher shop features Double Brook Farm’s own meats from its sustainably raised animals. The next counter is chock full of charcuterie made from the same raw materials but transformed into dried and cured goodies by NJ’s estimable Salumeria Biellese. A creamery features ice creams and yogurts made with milk from Double Brook cows and cheeses from all over, overseen by Michel Lemmerling, who many customers recognize from his days behind the cheese counter at Bon Appetit in Princeton. (Sister-in-law Deeann Lemmerling is the market’s manager.)

Michel Lemmerling, Brick Farm Market

Michel Lemmerling, Brick Farm Market

On the street level, customers can dine at cafe tables just inside the door or out on the sidewalk after making their selections at the prepared foods arrayed in a large case that spans the rear. In charge here is chef Chase Gerstenbacher, who I profiled in this previous post.

Chase Gerstenbacher, Brick Farm Market

Chase Gerstenbacher, Brick Farm Market

The menu includes breakfast items (till 11 am) like steel-cut oats and a breakfast croissant with bacon, chorizo, or country sausage; “snacks” like housemade herb & garlic kettle chips, country pate, and mac ‘n’ cheese; “specialties” like sausage flatbread and pulled pork; and sandwiches and panini like the ones below, accompanied by salad of the day (here, pasta and kale):

Brick Farm Market's Roast turkey, rhubarb compote, baby lettuce on rye

Brick Farm Market’s Roast turkey, rhubarb compote, baby lettuce on rye

Brick Farm Market's brie, apple, and honey on baguette

Brick Farm Market’s brie, apple, and honey on baguette

One long wall is lined with more “shops,” including a full bakery (presided over by Karen Child, of the erstwhile Village Bakery in Lawrenceville) and a juice and coffee bar pouring Small World coffee and pressing fresh fruit and veggie juices.

Also for sale on this floor are fresh herbs, produce, and flowers from the farm, which is nearby, and finely curated groceries.

Slow Food Northern NJ’s 5-Course Wine Dinner to Benefit School Gardens Program

Who: The chef is Andrea Lekberg, chef/owner of the boutique bakery, The
Artist Baker, in Morristown. Lekberg has worked with Pichet Ong, among others, and her bakery was profiled in the NY Times in 2011.

What: 5-course tasting menu of local foods sourced from Mosefund Farms, Salumeria Biellese, The Urban Farm at Lafayette, The Community Garden in Morristown, and Valley Shepherd Creamery paired with wines from Beneduce Vineyards, Unionville Vineyards, and Hopewell Valley Vineyards.

Where: The Artist Baker in Morristown

Why: The funds raised will benefit the Slow Food Northern
New Jersey School Garden Program

When: You’ll have to hurry! It’s Friday, June 7th, at 7:00 p.m.

How: Tickets cost $80 for Slow Food Members whose membership is current is and $85 for non-members. A vegan or vegetarian option is available upon request. Tickets can be purchased through Brown Paper Tickets:
http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/368818.

Breaking News: First Peek Inside Mistral in Princeton

Last week Scott Anderson took time out to escort me around Mistral, the smaller, more casual sibling to his acclaimed restaurant elements, that’s set to open later in April. Read my report at NJMonthly.com. Mistral-Logo

The Sorry State of Food TV; 2 NJ Slow Food Events; Craig Shelton’s New Gig; NJ & Beard Awards; Mistral Preview

This essay by Andy Greenwald on the state of Food TV is the best I’ve encountered. I was surprised to find myself agreeing with everything Greenwald writes – I thought I was the only one who felt this way! I was gratified in particular by this sentence about Emeril Lagasse‘s role as a Top Chef judge:

“Stripped of his catchphrases and his band, Emeril has revealed himself to be kind, patient and insightful, able to articulate the nuances of food we’ll never taste with expert, understated flair.”

Not only do I agree with that assessment as a viewer, but it reflects the conclusion I came to when Emeril was a guest on my radio show years ago. We did an entire hour show live from Marketfair mall in Princeton.

Pat & Emeril1

I expected lots of bam! and bluster, and instead I got a thoughtful, soft-spoken, gentle man who answered my questions with insight and modesty. It was only when a young boy in the audience shouted out, “Emeril, say Bam!” that he did – and talked about how great it was to have youngsters interested in cooking.

Slow Food Farmers Market (Central) & Expert Talk on GMOs (North)

Slow Food Central Snail

This Sunday, 2/24/13, will see the final Slow Food Central NJ winter farmers market of the season. This one is being held at Tre Piani restaurant in Forrestal Village along Route 1 in Princeton, from 11 am to 3 pm. There’ll be live music and you can sit down for food and drink at Tre Bar in between stocking up on meats, breads, mushrooms, cheeses, wines, baked goods, and sweets from these vendors:

Beech Tree Farm….Birds and Bees Farm…Bobolink Dairy and Bake House…Cherry Grove Farm…Davidson’s Exotic Mushrooms…Donna and Company…Fulper Dairy Farm…Funni Bonz Barbecue Sauce…Happy Wanderer Bakery…Hopewell Valley Vineyards…Judith’s Desserts…Jammin’ Crepes…Pure Indian Foods Ghee…Rocky Brook Farm…Shibumi Exotic Mushrooms…Valley Shepherd Creamery and Woods Edge Wools Farm.

For information, phone 609.577.5113.

Slow Food SnailThen next Sunday, March 3rd, attend an afternoon meeting of Slow Food Northern NJ at the DeHart Community Center in Maplewood that starts at 1 pm with a tasting of local foods and includes talks on school gardens and the impact of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) on our lives. Speaker for that will be Michael Hansen of Consumers Union, who will “describe what genetic engineering is, the lack of required safety testing, and why you should be concerned.” Click here for info and to purchase tickets ($8 for members; $10 for the public).

Craig Shelton, Consultant

Craig SheltonNew Jersey’s most well-known chef (check out the interview with him I posted here last December) is now consulting at Mediterra in Princeton. Laurent Chapuis, the proprietor of the Princeton Corkscrew wine shop just a few doors down, was impressed with a recent  lunch overseen by Shelton. If you know Monsieur Chapuis, you know he is one tough customer, so his praise bodes well for this match.

Mediterra’s general manager, Carmine DePasquale, says that Shelton will be at the restaurant four to five days a week, mainly during lunch service, for at least the next three months. He isn’t so much behind the stove tweaking dishes or changing the menu as he is, DePasquale says, “showing us a different hospitality factor, a new way of managing how guests perceive things.” He’s working hand-in-hand with Mediterra chef Terry Strong and his sous chefs, yes, but also servers and the management team as a whole. Shelton, DePasquale says, has set his task as observing, commenting on what’s being done correctly (or not), and addressing issues around hospitality and even marketing. “The beauty of Craig,” DePasquale says, “is that he holds himself up to the Relais and Chateaux guidelines, and it’s always good to strive for that with every single person who walks through our door.”

Congrats to 2013 James Beard Awards Semi-finalists Scott Anderson, Joey Baldino, and Thirty Acres

If you call yourself a New Jersey foodie, you’ve likely heard by now that the Garden State receive three nods on the first round of balloting announced this week. Both Scott Anderson of elements in Princeton and Vetri-alumnus Joey Baldino of Zeppoli (his Sicilian restaurant in Collingswood) are among 2o chefs vying to be one of 5 semi-finalists for Best Chef Mid-Atlantic. Thirty Acres in Jersey City is one of 29 hopefuls for Best New Restaurant in the USA.

Thirty Acres, Jersey City

Thirty Acres, Jersey City

Five finalists in each category will be announced on March 18, and the ultimate sole winners on May 6.

Sneak Peak of Mistral Menu at elements, Princeton

Mistral-Logo

Speaking of elements, the projected opening of Mistral, the second (and more casual) restaurant by the same team, is now set for April. Those of us who can’t wait for its small plates of interpreted Mediterranean classics can get a smattering at elements between now and then. Prices start at $7 for fennel salad with lemon basil, red onion, and orange and run to $12 for bronzino with potato puree, black olive, and caramelized red onion.

In between are house-cured lomo (Spanish-style dry-cured pork tenderloin) with trumpet royale mushrooms, pimentos, and garlic; pressure-cooked octopus with “papas bravas” (their quotation marks), and caper aioli; and dark meat chicken with yuzu and soy honey glaze.

Lahiere’s Site to Become ‘Agricola’ in the Fall

Princeton Patch just broke the first details on what the new restaurant taking over the space of the erstwhile Lahiere’s in downtown Princeton  will be. Here is the Agricola site, which divulges a few tantalizing details.

To fill in a bit more: the scuttlebutt (unverified) is that the fellow behind Agricola – and the farm that the site mentions – made his money as a franchiser of Panera Bread operations in Northern & Central NJ. Although the restaurant’s site says Agricola is opening this fall, that seems a tad ambitious. Last week when I checked on the progress at the Witherspoon Street space, it was still basically an excavation site. There remains the same charmingly dated facade – a jumble of dark-green wood panels and ancient glass window panes in the doors. And while work was definitely in progress, there was still pretty much nothing but daylight behind the windows. Here’s hoping…

Agricola is the second new restaurant scheduled to open this fall in downtown Princeton. As reported here previously, the team behind elements – including chef Scott Anderson – hopes to launch their second restaurant, Mistral, then, too.

Want to know how restaurants are managing your visit behind your back? Discover some charming (and not so charming) restaurant lingo, courtesy of the NY Times: here.

Fancy Food Show Report, Orange Soda BBQ Sauce Recipe, Breaking Restaurant News

My annual round-up of the best and the brightest at the Summer Fancy Food Show is out – check it out here in the July 3 issue of US 1 newspaper. Bonus: one additional find I don’t mention in my story:

Jansal Valley Basil Crystals, basically bits of shelf-stable fresh basil mixed with sugar. Interesting, to say the least, and the flavor of fresh basil really shines through. I came across it at the Sid Wainer booth, but it does not appear to be available online yet.

You Asked for It: Orange Soda BBQ Sauce Recipe Redux

I’ve been getting lots of requests for the recipe for Grilled Chicken with Orange Soda BBQ Sauce that was featured in my Princeton Packet column for Father’s Day. I linked to it in a previous post, but the article is no longer free at centraljersey.com so I’m reprinting it here – just in time for your Fourth of July cookout.

Don’t let the seemingly long list of ingredients fool you. It couldn’t be simpler: Basically, you combine all the dry rub ingredients in a bag and all the bbq sauce ingredients in a saucepan. That’s it. You could even omit the spicy rub and use only the sauce.

The recipe is the creation of Chef Jeremy Stahl,  who teaches for-credit and non-credit culinary classes at Mercer County College. This recipe is just one of several he’ll feature in the class he’ll conduct on July 21st called Great American Summer.

CHEF JEREMY STAHL’S GRILLED CHICKEN WITH ORANGE SODA BBQ SAUCE

Two 2-1/2 pound chickens, each cut into 8 pieces
For the BBQ rub:
1/4 cup paprika
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated garlic
3 tablespoons granulated onion
1/4 cup chili powder
1 tablespoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon ground ginger
For the orange soda BBQ sauce:
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup ketchup
One 12-ounce can orange soda
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup molasses
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons ground cumin
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon paprika

1. Make the BBQ rub by placing all ingredients in a bowl and mixing them together well. Store in a sealed plastic container until ready to use. (Can be made well in advance.)
2. Make the BBQ sauce by combining all ingredients in a medium saucepan and heating to just a simmer. Allow to cool, cover pan, and set aside or refrigerate.
3. The morning of the day you’ll be grilling, rub the chickens with the BBQ rub and place in the refrigerator until you’re ready to cook.
4. Preheat the grill to medium heat (325 to 350 degrees). Divide the BBQ sauce between two bowls.
5. Place the chicken on the grill rack as high above the flame as possible to minimize flare-ups and charring. Cook chicken with the lid down. Total cooking time should be between 30 and 35 minutes. During the final 10 minutes, brush the chicken with some of the BBQ sauce. The chicken is done when it reaches 165 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Serve chicken with the remaining bowl of BBQ sauce on the side.

Breaking News: Mistral in Princeton

Scott Anderson and Steve Distler, the fellows behind Elements in Princeton – one of the state’s top-rated restaurants – have announced that they have a new collaboration in the works. Mistral will open in Princeton this September, in  the space that for many years had been Ichiban.