Tag Archives: NJ Monthly

PRINCETON, OFF THE BEATEN PATH; WINE EVENTS GALORE; A UNIQUE DINING CONCEPT

Think You Know Princeton? Think Again!

Cafe Vienna strudel

Cafe Vienna strudel

You’re probably familiar with the town’s bucolic campus, lively downtown centered around Palmer Square, and its legendary historic sites (cue the American Revolution & Albert Einstein). But scratch around the edges and you’ll discover (among other things): a new bike trail, entry to a locked cemetery, a dive bar, an authentic Viennese cafe, and a sit-in Frank Gehry sculpture inside a futuristic dining hall.

NJ Monthly cover october 2015That and more in my “Offbeat Princeton” story, here in the October issue of New Jersey Monthly.

All Wine (& Beer), All the Time

I could devote an entire month’s worth of posts to the many wine and/or beer tastings, dinners, and festivals happening around our fair state in the coming days and still not be done with it! In the interest of time and space, here are 3 that caught my special attention:

You’ll have to hurry, but I understand there are a few seats left for Agricola’s Frog’s Leap Wine Dinner on Monday, October 19, featuring founder & winemaker John Williams. If you don’t think this will be worth your time and $$$, I strongly suggest you (a) check out the hilarious annotated history of that legendary winery here and (b) take a gander at the evening’s menu here.

Gary’s Wine & Marketplace has expanded its annual fall fundraiser to a 3-day event, including a symposium moderated by Karen MacNeil, who is kicking offer her book tour for the 2nd edition of The Wine Bible. Plus, wine dinners with guest vintners at Jockey Hollow, the Ryland Inn, and the Bernards Inn. Plus the Grand Tasting event. Plus in-store wine tastings with vintners & winemakers in Madison, Bernardsville, Wayne, and Hillsborough.  All for 5 beneficiaries, and all happening on October 26, 27, & 28. Details here.

Amanti Vino’s Wine & Beer Throwdown with Skurnik Wines and Firestone Walker Brewery

Cru vs Brew 2015

Cru vs Brew 2015

I can’t think of a wine distributor/importer who I admire more than Michael Skurnik, nor a beer maker more than Garrett Brown, who is now with Firestone Walker. These two heavyweights have selected pairings that will go head-to-head on each course of a benefit dinner mounted by Montclair’s Amanti Vino wine shop that will be prepared by chefs from 5 of Northern NJ’s top chefs, including Ariane Duarte (Ariane Kitchen + Bar), Corey Heyer (Bernards Inn), and James Laird (Restaurant Serenade). This title match – Cru vs. Brew 2015 – takes place on Thursday, Oct. 22 in Upper Montclair. Menu & details here.

Think You’ve Seen Every Dining Concept Under the Sun? Think Again!

I thought I had seen it all, ad nauseum. But this new concept by 3-Michelin-star chef Corey Lee (of Benu fame) that’s slated to open this spring at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is truly innovative while at the same time proudly derivative.

Corey Lee, "Benu Cookbook," www.phaidon.com

Corey Lee, “Benu Cookbook,” www.phaidon.com

As this in-depth profile in the October issue of WSJ.Magazine explains, “For his new restaurant…Lee asked the world’s top chefs to reveal their culinary secrets so he could copy their signature dishes exactly. And they said yes.” In other words, his menu is literally curated – just like an art exhibit – with acclaimed masterpieces from the likes of Thomas Keller, Rene Redzepi, Daniel Boulud, and Wylie Dufresne. What do you think? Would you give it a try?

 

Lambertville, Princeton & NJ Monthly’s Best-Downtown Showdown; The Story Behind Shibumi Mushrooms; The Story Behind Rachel Weston’s “New Jersey Fresh”

NJ Monthly Turns the Spotlight on Our State’s Most Interesting Downtowns – and You Can Vote for Your Fave

NJ Monthly cover sept 2015

I contributed profiles of 2 downtowns that are dear to my heart: Lambertville & Princeton. They’re among 25 featured in the September issue of the magazine. Read them all, then vote for your favorites here, in the online showdown.

Ever Wonder About Those Beautiful, Delicious Shibumi Farm Mushrooms?

Shibumi Farm Mushrooms

Shibumi Farm Mushrooms

Where they come from and how they’re developed and grown? Me too. Up til now Shibumi’s owner, Alan Kaufman, has been tight-lipped about his business – both personal and professional. When I sat down with him for this in-depth interview in the September Princeton Echo , I knew it was going to be interesting. But he and his story turn out to be downright fascinating. Here’s just a sampling of what I learned:
– He started college at 15
– He has developed 28 strains of mushrooms to date
– Mushrooms are being used to remove Agent Orange from soil in Vietnam
– Shibumi mushroom customers range from Thomas Keller to Blue Apron
– Chicken-of-the-woods (not to be confused with hen-of-the-woods) taste like Chicken Francese all by themselves.

Take the full magical mystery tour here.

Then There’s Rachel Weston’s Story…

Rachel Weston Portrait

Rachel Weston Portrait

You’ve probably encountered Rachel either in print or in person in recent times. This “locavore provocateur,” as I dub her, has been crisscrossing the state doing cooking demos and signings since her book, New Jersey Fresh: Four Seasons from Farm to Table, came out in May.

I got the goods on this born-and-bred Jersey girl, here in the September 2nd issue of US 1. Among the things I discovered:
– She was for many years an award-winning night photo editor for The Star-Ledger family of newspapers
– She won a scholarship that allowed her to spend 10 days trailing and living with Nora Pouillon, whose Restaurant Nora in DC was the first certified organic restaurant in the U.S.
– How to make roux in the microwave.

 

Outstanding Italian Eats at the Shore & in San Francisco

I’ve had so many memorable meals in recent weeks – all around NJ, in NYC, and in the Bay Area – that it’s going to take several posts just to get caught up. I’m starting with 2 Italians: a real find at the Jersey Shore, and the San Francisco restaurant by James Beard award-winning chef Michael Tusk (of Quince fame) that inspired the design of Agricola in Princeton.

But first, your moment of zen:

Rib Tickler in vintage coupe, Chez Tanner

Rib Tickler in vintage coupe, Chez Tanner

This photo of a Rib Tickler cocktail was taken by my daughter Alice at my Memorial Day weekend cookout. My son-in-law-to-be, Ryan (via my other daughter, Elizabeth), is an excellent mixologist and expertly produced a pitcherful for me from this recipe on tastingtable.com.

Ingredients for Rib Tickler cocktails

Ingredients for Rib Tickler cocktails

I was attracted to it because it used something I hadn’t encountered before: Suze, which I found at CoolVines in Princeton. The cocktail was gorgeous, yes, but also delicious and a big hit.

NJ Monthly cover june15On to the restaurants. First up is Mossuto’s Market & Cafe in Wall Township. Surely you’re heading down the Shore this summer. If you’re anywhere in the vicinity of Belmar and Brielle, I strongly recommend you stop in for a terrific Italian meal (at minimum, a wood-fire pizza and Peroni) and/or to stock your Shore pantry with top-notch Italian comestibles from the market portion of this family-run restaurant, deli, butcher shop, & bakery. Here’s my review, in the June issue of New Jersey Monthly.

On to the City by the Bay.

Cotogna SF window

Cotogna SF window

With only 1 day in San Francisco on my latest trip to visit my daughter in Berkeley, CA, I chose Cotogna, the Northern Italian restaurant in the financial district that’s joined at the hip with sibling Quince. (Cotogna means “quince” in Italian.) Of particular interest was that Jim Nawn, owner of Agricola, had named Cotogna as an inspiration for the design of his Princeton popular eatery. To be exact, the window on Witherspoon Street that shows the cooks hard at work and a suspended wood-slat ceiling. Here’s Cotogna’s ceiling:

Wood slat ceiling at Cotogna, SF

Wood slat ceiling at Cotogna, SF

To be honest, I expected a fine rustic Italian lunch. But I didn’t expect the fireworks Cotogna delivered, nor that it is apparently a power lunch spot. Maybe it’s the bargain $28 3-course fixed price, or the wine list with all glasses at $12 and all bottles at $50. (I had an excellent Niklas lagrein from Alto Adige.) No matter, a decidedly stylish group of diners of all age groups turned up, some clearly on business, some purely social.

Pictorial highlights:

Calypso cocktail & arugula salad with stone fruit & almonds, CotognaSF

Calypso cocktail & arugula salad with stone fruit & almonds, CotognaSF

Cotogna country loaf, more than worth the $6 tab

Cotogna country loaf, more than worth the $6 tab

Super-rich agnolotti stuffed with sugo of 3 meats (1 of which is lamb): Cotogna, SF

Super-rich agnolotti with sugo of 3 meats (1 of which is rabbit): CotognaSF

Buttermilk budino with berries, Cotogna SF

Budino with berries, CotognaSF

Next post: an izakaya in Berkeley that serves anything but your run of the mill sushi, sashimi, and yakatori. Squid in salted squid guts, anyone?

Taiwanese Cuisine in Morristown; Ryan DePersio & Battello Profiled in Edible Jersey

Lin’s Palace, where those in the know ask for the Taiwanese menu

NJ Monthly cover may15This modest storefront (its name notwithstanding) has been dishing up de rigueur Chinese restaurant dishes, as well as sushi, on Speedwell Avenue for decades. But the smart money requests the separate Taiwanese menu. Mr. Lin’s wife, Alice – the head cook – reproduces the specialties of the island that is their birthplace, which for some reason are woefully underrepresented ’round these parts. Get ready for housemade Taiwanese sausage with a touch of sweetness, oyster omelet, shrimp spring rolls, and – if you dare – stinky tofu. My report in the May issue of New Jersey Monthly.

Fascino Chef DePersio Dishes on His Newest Restaurant

Edible Jersey cover summer 2015He made his “Italian without borders” chops with Fascino in Montclair. He rescued fine-dining at NJPAC. Now he’s taken on the red-hot Jersey City dining scene with Battello on the Newport Marina, his largest space yet. My interview on the who, what, why, and how here in the Summer 2015 issue of Edible Jersey (starting on page 40).

Brooklyn Comes to Princeton; Best Coffee Houses in NJ

Frankies Spuntino @ Whole Foods Princeton for a Good Cause

So how often do I make it to Brooklyn to dine? Try almost never. So when I heard that The Franks – Frank Falcinelli & Frank Castronovo – from Frankies Spuntino were cooking a meal at my local Whole Foods to raise funds for the Whole Planet Foundation, I jumped at the chance. I knew I was in for a great meal, and that happened. But the evening came with several unexpected bonuses.

Courtesy Whole Foods Princeton

Courtesy Whole Foods Princeton

Among the surprises? That the evening’s 5-course menu was Sicilian from top to bottom, that assisting The Franks was their director of operations who turned out to be a longtime chef at Princeton’s Nassau Inn (and an old friend), and that the 24 guests included luminaries from the current Princeton-area restaurant scene AND  a 13-year-old whom I predict will someday be a noted restaurant critic.

Frank Falcinelli & Frank Castronovo @ Whole Foods Princeton

Frank Falcinelli & Frank Castronovo @ Whole Foods Princeton

CrudoBeetThe Franks led off with these two light courses: fluke crudo with Sicilian sette anni peppers & pistachio, and blood orange segments with 1 sunburst of a golden beet topped with shards of caciocavallo. The unbilled star of both dishes was the zingy, deep green Sicilian extra virgin olive oil (made from nocellara del belice olives) that Frankies imports and which Whole Foods carries. The can made for a gorgeous centerpiece:

TulipsThese dishes were followed by a pasta course. Not just any pasta: fettuccine with jumbo lump crabmeat in ricci de mare sauce. For the uninitiated, that’s sea urchin. This dish had the evening’s 24 guests unabashedly going back for seconds.

Frankies Spuntino Pasta & Jumbo Lump Crabmeat, Ricci di Mare Sauce

Frankies Spuntino Pasta & Jumbo Lump Crabmeat, Ricci di Mare Sauce

Among those who named it as their favorite of the night was Shaun Orssaud, age 13, who came from Moorestown with his mother, Lisa.

Budding restaurant critic?

Budding restaurant critic?

Perhaps Mr. Orssaud owes his sophisticated palate  to the fact that he was born in France and lived there until he was 6.

Ribeye with Catanese Olivd Relish, Frankies 457 @ Whole Foods Princeton

Ribeye with Catanese Olive Relish, Frankies 457 @ Whole Foods Princeton

The centerpiece of the meal was this amazing slow-roasted ribeye. It was served with Ca’ Di Ponti Barbera, 1 of 3 wines poured.

Josh Thomsen, Chris Harkness, Jim Nawn

Josh Thomsen, Chris Harkness, Jim Nawn

Seated in this photo are Josh Thomsen, executive chef at Agricola in Princeton, and its owner Jim Nawn. (Sitting across from them, not pictured, were Lambertville’s famed Canal House duo, Christopher Hersheimer & Melissa Hamilton. As I said, even the guest list was star-studded!) Serving the 2 men is Chris Harkness, who I knew years ago when he was chef at the Nassau Inn, and who has been working with The Franks for years now. The photo below shows those 3 plus Scott Allshouse, president of Whole Foods’ Mid-Atlantic region.

??????????Proceeds from the dinner went to the Whole Planet Foundation. Maybe I’ve been under a rock, but up until now I’ve been oblivious to the good work this organization is doing. Through its mission to alleviate poverty by providing micro-loans, it has assisted 875,158 women entrepreneurs in 61 countries (89% go to women) with $62 million in credit. To talk about Whole Foods’ charity work was an unexpected star of the evening – Michelle Mac Arthur:

Michelle MacArthurMs. Mac Arthur has been a part-time cashier at the Princeton store for only six months, but during the last holiday season she single-handedly brought in $8,000 for another Whole Foods initiative, Feed4More. By asking customers to donate $10 (or any amount) at checkout, she alone beat out 13 other Whole Foods stores in the region! She’s standing in front of an end display featuring, among other things, Frankies olive oil and the Frankies Spuntino cookbook.

New Jersey Monthly Features Best Coffee Houses from High Point to Cape May

NJ Monthly cover April 2015See if your favorites made the cut in this April 2015 cover story. I contributed these 6 from Central NJ that the powers-that-be deemed among the best:

Buck’s Ice Cream & Espresso, Lambertville
Grovers Mill, West Windsor
Infini-T Cafe, Princeton
Lambertville Trading Co., Lambertville
Rojo’s Roastery, Lambertville & Princeton
Small World, Princeton

Clearly it was a tough assignment, drinking all those wonderful brews. But two in particular linger in my memory: the sidecar at Rojo’s espresso bar in Princeton, which are tandem, half-size espresso and cappuccino ($4) and a small pour-over of Crispy Hippie Dark Roast at Small World ($3.25).

 

 

 

 

 

Review: Christine Nunn’s Picnic on the Square

I can count on one hand the number of restaurants I’ve awarded three-and-a-half stars over the last (gulp) 19 years. Nunn, the award-winning Bergen County chef who’s also the author of The Preppy Chef, got me to do it a few years back with her first restaurant, named simply Picnic, in Westwood. What do I allot her latest, Picnic on the Square in Ridgewood? Check out my review in the February issue of New Jersey Monthly.

NJ Monthly cover feb15

And while I’m looking backward, I’ve only ever given four-star ratings to two NJ restaurants: Craig Shelton’s Ryland Inn and Nicholas Harary’s Restaurant Nicholas.

Review: Amuse, Westfield; Round-up: Hot Dogs in Central NJ

Engaged Couple, Alumni of Chez Catherine, Open Modern French Bistro Across Town

C.J. Reycraft and Julianne Hodges aim to entice regulars to dine at Amuse, their relaxed BYOB, once a week. Will they succeed? Here’s my take on their new Westfield restaurant in the July issue of NJ Monthly.

NJ Monthly cover July14

Just in Time for Summer! Where to Find the Best Franks from New Brunswick to New Hope

Admittedly, the central part of our state is not exactly a hot spot for hot dogs. (Jimmy Buff’s, why have you forsaken me?) Or is it? My recent survey of eateries specializing in this American icon turned up some delicious surprises, including:

– 2 stands that share a hot dog heritage dating back to the same beloved vendor and his 1950s cart

– a cool, full-service, bona fide, liquor-license-carrying restaurant in New Brunswick that specializes in every form of “encased meat.” So successful, its 2nd location is opening in Atlantic City this Fourth of July weekend. (Congrats to you, Destination Dogs.)

– several eateries that specialize in Trenton-style Italian hot dogs (I repeat: Jimmy Buff’s, why have you forsaken me?)

– Filipino-style dogs. A neon-red breakfast staple – and as beloved in the Philippines as they are here

– An open-air stand at a sleepy country crossroads that causes traffic mayhem on summer weekends

Relish all the details – complete with hotlinks to 7 hot-link emporia – here, in the July 2 issue of US 1.

 

 

NJ’s Best Farmers Markets & Specialty Food Shops; School Garden Contest & Workshop; Free Birthday Cake; Dandelion Dinner; More

The April issue of NJ Monthly is all about Fabulous NJ Food (Yay!).

NJ Monthly cover apr13I was pleased to contribute my picks for the best farmers markets and specialty food shops in the central part of the state.

Click here for the story on the cream of the crop of Garden State farmers markets.

Click here for the story on our most delicious specialty food shops.

Think Your Kid’s School Has the Best Garden in the State?

Then make sure it’s a contender for the NJ School Garden of the Year Award. Top prize is a cool $1500 – that’s a lot of lettuce! Entries are being accepted now through July 1st. The award, in its second year, is presented by Edible Jersey magazine and the NJ Farm to School NetworkClick here for details and entry form.

Riverside School Garden, Princeton

Riverside School Garden, Princeton

If you’re interested in creating or improving a school garden, the Farm to School Network is holding a workshop called Creating Sustainable School Gardens on Wednesday, April 3, from 8 am to 3 pm at Duke Farms in Hillsborough. Cost is $30. Click here for details and to register.

You say it’s your birthday? Well, happy birthday to you – at Za in Pennington

Cute cross-pollination idea from chef/owner Mark Valenza of Za, the quirky little byob on West Delaware Avenue. Just mention that you’re celebrating a birthday when you make a reservation and they’ll provide your table with a free ice cream cake from a shop located in the same shopping center where they are. Here’s the deal, in their own words:

birthday_cake_photo

“We’ll buy your table a delicious Uncle Ed’s Creamery chocolate and vanilla ice cream birthday cake! (serves 4) We’re not allowed to sing Happy Birthday, but we will deliver your free ice cream cake to the table with a birthday candle.”

Dandelion Dinner @ Enzo’s La Piccola Cucina

Wikipedia

Wikipedia

Another central NJ byob – Enzo’s in Lawrenceville (near the Trenton Farmers Market)- is welcoming spring with a 1-day, 5-course dinner devoted to that delightfully bitter green. If like me you grew up in an Italian-American family, you’ve developed a love of all things bitter, including the vitamin-rich dandelion. Here’s the menu that Anna Scozzari, the proprietor of this tiny, old-school establishment, has planned:

Batter-dipped Dandelion
Dandelion Salad
Dandelion & Cheese Manicotti
Balsamic & Fig Glazed Cornish Hen with Dandelion Risotto
Surprise Dessert

Sunday, April 7th is the date. Reservations are a must, and there are two seatings, at 1 pm and 6 pm. Cost, $59, includes tax and gratuity. For reservations phone 609-396-9868.

Congratulations to NJ Beard Nominees

I predicted that Maricel Presilla‘s masterful Gran C0cina Latina would show up on the major cookbook awards this year, and that has come to pass. It’s a finalist for two prestigious awards: James Beard and IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals). Gran Cocina Latina

Ditto for the latest output of Melissa Hamilton & Christopher Hersheimer: Canal House Cooks Every Day. (To read more about the duo, click here for my 2010 profile in NJ Monthly.) Happily, the two books are nominated in separate categories in each instance so they can both come away winners.

Speaking of Awards…

…a very kind subscriber has nominated DineWithPat for a Saveur Best Food Blog award! If you feel so inclined, I’d be very grateful for your vote.