Tag Archives: Mistral restaurant

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.

All-Princeton: Review of Scott Anderson’s Mistral; Savory Spice Shop Sweeps Salsa Slam

Mistral

So, was I blown away by Mistral, the self-proclaimed “breath of fresh air in Princeton?” Does it stack up to Elements, the first and highly acclaimed restaurant by the same team of Scott Anderson and Steve Distler? And can its chef, Napa Valley import Ben Nerenhausen, make it here on the East Coast? In Jersey? With Princetonians?  All and more are elucidated in the September issue of New Jersey Monthly. NJ Monthly Sept 13

Salsa Slam 2013


Salsa Contest 018
Salsa Contest 003

For the second year in a row, I was delighted to be a judge at the Princeton Library‘s Annual Salsa Slam, which involves both the condiment (that’s where I came in) and the dance. Congrats to first place winner Savory Spice shop, with its sweet-hot mix of Asian pear, mango, and chile pepper. Close behind were Masala Grill and Mediterra from a field of 10 Princeton-area businesses. Masala Grill’s pureed salsa containing green chiles, fenugreek, and cinnamon (as well as other ingredients) also took the People’s Choice Award. Fellow judge and food writer Sue Gordon writes it up and shares photos here in the Examiner.

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.