Tag Archives: njspice

Ramen @Ajihei; Bar Food @Witherspoon Grill; Vegetarian in Frenchtown; Pierogies in Milford

Princeton’s Venerable Sushi Restaurant Adds Ramen

Koji Kitamura’s Ajihei has been known for two things since it opened on Chambers Street 15 years ago: exceptional sushi and quirky dining rules. Both remain – but the menu is full of changes, including the addition of three types of ramen. My interview with Mr. Kitamura in the May 2015 issue of the Princeton Echo.

Courtesy Princeton EchoKaoru Kitamura, Courtesy Princeton Echo

Witherspoon Grill Introduces New Bar Menu

Cocktail Hour Menu at Witherspoon Grill

Cocktail Hour Menu at Witherspoon Grill

In that same issue of the Echo, my Food for Thought column included this tasty tidbit:

“They’re labeling it ‘Cocktail Hour,’ singular, but the newly introduced food and drink offerings at the bar at Witherspoon Grill in Princeton can be had not just one, but three hours each weekday – from 3 to 6 pm. Chef Christian Graciano has developed a set of 6 enticing small plate options that range from $3 to $6. Here’s the lineup of flavor-forward noshes:

Duck fat potato with black garlic sour cream
Lamb lollipops with blackberry mint jam, mint yogurt, and feta
Shrimp ceviche corn tacos
Thick Nueske bacon with maple chipotle syrup
Infused-cheese spreads (pesto goat cheese and sun-dried tomato cream cheese) with French baguette
Warm pub pretzel with 2 whole grain mustards, 1 flavored with Irish whiskey & another with stout

Shrimp Ceviche Taco (gluten free), Witherspoon GrillShrimp Ceviche Taco (gluten free), Witherspoon Grill

To wash them down in style (but with a similar eye to budget-consciousness), drink specials include select draft beers for $3; select wines by the glass for $4; and select cocktails for $5. These last include mojitos and sangrias.”

To introduce the new offerings, the folks at Witherspoon Grill hosted a group of us food bloggers, and you can read my colleagues’ comments on Twitter at #eatwellprinceton.

Pulp Vegetarian Cafe & Juice Bar Opens in Frenchtown; Maria’s Homemade Pierogies Opens in Milford

Black Bean Burger, Pulp Vegetarian Cafe, Frenchtown

Black Bean Burger, Pulp, Frenchtown

I recently dined at both Pulp and Maria’s, in the company of two food-writing buddies: Susan Sprague Yeske (Trenton Times, etc.) and Faith Bahadurian (Princeton Packet,etc.). Here’s Faith’s excellent report on our outing, from her blog, NJSpice.

Menu, Maria's Homemade Pierogies, Milford

Menu, Maria’s Homemade Pierogies, Milford

 

First Look @ Better World Market; Gluten-free Pizza @ Wildflour; Wine & Jazz @ Hopewell Valley Vineyards

Elijah’s Promise’s Latest Project Spotlights Jersey’s Farms & Food Entrepreneurs

Better World Market & Cafe

Better World Market & Cafe

I paid a visit to the newly opened Better World Market & Cafe in Somerset, expecting to find lots of farm-fresh Jersey produce in an indoor setting, with proceeds going to the good works of this New Brunswick-based non-profit. I found that – plus many excellent surprises. My report, here at NJMonthly.com.

It’s Gluten-free, but is it Pizza?

Wildflour, the popular gluten-free bakery and café in the village of Lawrenceville, recently held evening hours to showcase its latest offering: gluten-free pizzas. Normally, owner Marilyn Besner’s charming spot is open for breakfast, lunch, and takeaway, closing at 5 pm on weekdays and 3 pm weekends.

Marilyn Besner of Wildflour Bakery & Cafe

Marilyn Besner of Wildflour Bakery & Cafe

But the cafe stayed open until 8 pm one night a few weeks back, and I and my food-writer pal Faith (NJSpice) Bahadurian were among the invited guests that stopped by to sample both this Margherita (basil, mozzarella, fresh-tasting tomato sauce, a hit of oregano):

Wildflour Margherita Pizza

Wildflour Margherita Pizza

And this vegetable version (eggplant, zucchini, red bell pepper, red onion, creamy ricotta, schmear of that same tomato sauce):

Wildflour Vegetable Pizza

Wildflour Vegetable Pizza

The quality of the toppings is impeccable – which made me wish there were a tad more of them on the Margherita.

As you can see, the crust is quite thick – more akin to focaccia than pizza dough. The interior is, I’m happy to report, the polar opposite of many gluten-free breads: it’s tender, has a light, pleasantly springy texture, and boasts subtle flavor.

If, like me, you prefer crisp thin-crust pizza, Wildflour’s gluten-free flatbread topped with shiitake “bacon” is hard to beat. This, in fact, was our favorite bite.

Wildflour Flatbread with Shiitake 'Bacon'

Wildflour Flatbread with Shiitake ‘Bacon’

The pizzas, which are available to eat-in or take-away, sell for $8 for 2 slices or $30 for a whole pie. (Phone ahead for availability.) A half-sheet of the plain, unadorned focaccia – always available for takeout – is $11.80 and makes a great base for adding your own toppings at home. Ditto for the crisp flatbread base: a bag of half a dozen of the cooked but unembellished rounds sells for $11.70.

Besner hopes to hold evening pizza parties once a month; check the Wildflour website for details. Down the line, she may add pasta nights, too.

You Could be Forgiven for Thinking You’re in Napa

I have always loved the setting of Hopewell Valley Vineyards, but never has the expansive view of the vines and the surrounding Delaware Valley countryside reminded me more of Northern California than it does this summer – now that we’re actually experiencing Napa’s balmy weather.

I took in the view on a recent Sunday afternoon as I and some friends made our way inside the winery for its weekly Jazzy Sunday. Specifically, to hear the Carol Heffler Trio, which did not disappoint.

Carol Heffler Trio @ Hopewell Valley Vineyards

Carol Heffler Trio @ Hopewell Valley Vineyards

Along with the music, we enjoyed the winery’s Barbera, and shared its cheese & salumi plate.

Hopewell Valley Vineyards Barbera & Cheese Plate

Hopewell Valley Vineyards Barbera & Cheese Plate

I always enjoy this wine ($17), but the cheese plate was merely OK. It can’t hold a candle to the winery’s own brick-oven pizza that’s served on Friday nights – evenings that also feature live music in several genres, including classic rock, acoustic pop & rock, and classic jazz. (Owner Sergio Neri, an accomplished pianist, has been known to take a turn.)

Details about tastings and events at www.hopewellvalleyvineyards.com.

 

New Chef (& Lunch) @Rat’s; Filipino Recipes; Halinka Polish Deli

Scott Swiderski Takes the Helm at Rat’s

View from Rat's restaurant @ Grounds for Sculpture

View from Rat’s restaurant @ Grounds for Sculpture

A couple of months ago the top toque at Grounds For Sculpture‘s marquee restaurant quietly changed hands. Shane Cash, who came aboard in late 2010, left Stephen Starr’s restaurant group (which manages Rat’s) to join the team of his TV buddy Robert (“Dinner Impossible”) Irvine. In his place is Scott Swiderski, whose resume includes having been opening chef for Starr’s Buddakan in Philly.

If the lunch I enjoyed at Rat’s in June is any indication, the kitchen is in very capable hands. For one thing, the menu itself is extremely appealing. I almost never bypass rabbit, especially if it, like here, it’s in ragout with tomato, bacon, and white wine over bucatini. But bypass I did because this rainbow trout, the fish of the day, was calling to me:

Rainbow Trout at Rat's, Grounds for Sculpture

Rainbow trout at Rat’s, Grounds for Sculpture

I love trout for itself, but top it with salmoriglio (the pungent chunky salsa from Southern Italy made with lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, oregano, and parsley), and it becomes irresistible. This particular salmoriglio is amped up with minced green olives and red bell pepper. Although you can’t see it, the accompanying frisee salad includes a few fingerling potatoes and haricot vert. Nice.

Turns out I would have been equally happy with my friend’s choice of spring vegetable risotto with asparagus, English peas, creme fraiche, and lemon oil:

Spring vegetable risotto at Rat's, Grounds for Sculpture

Spring vegetable risotto at Rat’s, Grounds for Sculpture

For dessert we shared this orange semifreddo with balsamic pearls, orange gelee, and blood orange supremes:

Orange semifreddo at Rat's, Grounds for Sculpture

Orange semifreddo at Rat’s, Grounds for Sculpture

We started off lunch with two refreshing cocktails, a lemongrass mojito and one made with Crop cucumber vodka and white grapes. Food, drink, and taxes came to $38 per person.

After lunch we wandered the grounds of the 42-acre sculpture park  (admission is $15 for adults), which has an astonishing number of new sculptures, foremost among them Seward Johnson’s 26-foot-tall Marilyn.

Seward Johnson's Marilyn, Grounds for Sculpture

Seward Johnson’s Forever Marilyn, Grounds for Sculpture

Recipes for Filipino Favorites:  Lumpiang (Spring Rolls) & Pancit Bam-I (Cebu-style Noodles w/Sausage & Shrimp)

Maria T. Morales, Kusina Pilipina

Maria T. Morales, Kusina Pilipina

In a previous post I extolled the virtues of the take-away fare of Kusina Pilipina in Franklin Park. Proprietor Mae Morales was subsequently kind enough to share two of her most popular recipes with me. These are excerpted from My story in the 20th issue of the Princeton Packet. (The story includes more background on Ms. Morales and her recipes.)

KUSINA PILIPINA’S FRIED LUMPIANG GULAY (VEGETABLE SPRING ROLLS)

Lumpia, Kusina Pilipina

Lumpia, Kusina Pilipina

Mae Morales doesn’t specify quantities, but you’ll need 1/4 cup of filling per spring roll.

Carrots, julienned
Yam, julienned
Green beans, sliced
Onions, chopped into small cubes
Mung bean sprouts
Vegetable oil for sautéing and deep frying
Firm tofu, cut into small cubes
Spring roll wrappers, such as Wei-Chuan
Dipping sauce of white vinegar seasoned with minced garlic and salt and pepper, for serving

Sauté the vegetables together in a small amount of vegetable oil in a wok or large skillet. When cooked halfway through, remove the vegetables and drain them well. Combine the cubed tofu and the vegetables and let the mixture cool. Place 1/4 cup of the mixture on a spring roll wrapper. Fold the bottom edge over the mixture, and then fold the two sides toward the center. Roll the wrapper tightly toward the top edge. (If desired, seal the top edge with a bit of juice drained from the vegetables.) To deep fry: heat enough vegetable oil to come halfway up the side of the spring rolls. Fry until golden brown and crisp. Drain the lumpiang well on paper towels. Serve with vinegar sauce on the side, for dipping.

KUSINA PILIPINA’S PANCIT BAM-I (Noodles with Sausage and Shrimp)

Pancit, Kusina Pilipina

Pancit, Kusina Pilipina

Onion, chopped
Garlic, chopped
Vegetable oil
1/8 pound boneless pork, julienned
2 pieces Chinese sausage, sliced diagonally
1/8 cup small shrimp, shelled and deveined
Fish sauce, such as Filipino patis
Ground black pepper
2 cups water
Carrots, julienned
Green beans, sliced
Celery, julienned
Mushrooms, such as shiitake, sliced (optional)
Cabbage, julienned
Cellophane noodles (bean thread vermicelli)
Canton pancit noodles (Chinese egg noodles)
Soy sauce

  1. Sauté the onion and garlic in a small amount of vegetable oil. When golden, add the pork. As soon as the pork is tender, add the sausage, shrimp, patis, and black pepper. Pour in 2 cups water and bring to a boil.
  2. Add the carrots, green beans, celery, and mushrooms (if using). Bring to a boil again and add the cabbage and cellophane noodles. When they are barely tender, add the canton pancit noodles and stir the mixture until it’s heated through. Let the mixture sit for a few minutes, and then add soy sauce to taste.

Terrific Find! Halinka Polish Deli in Hillsborough

Halinka Polish Deli platter: stuffed cabbage, potato pancake, cheese & potato pierogi

Halinka Polish Deli platter: stuffed cabbage, potato pancake, cheese & potato pierogi

I and my Central NJ food-writing buddy, Faith “NJSpice” Bahadurian, are on a roll! First, we checked out the homestyle Mexican fare at La Costenita in Hillsborough (full report to follow later). Then we chomped our way through Kusina Pilipina together. Our latest outing – and another winner – is the family-run Halinka Polish Deli in Hillsborough. It stocks a beguiling array of Polish and Eastern European groceries and features the excellent take-away fare and baked goods of owner Halina Herdzik. Hot meal combos like the one above are offered at the bargain price of $7.99. There are a few bare-bones tables at the rear of the space for eating in.

Halinka's blini, courtesy www.PolishDeliNJ.com

Halinka’s blini, courtesy www.PolishDeliNJ.com

We sampled a lot of dishes besides those in the lunch platter above, among them smoky kielbasa, sauerkraut and pork stew, and pork meatballs in creamy mushroom sauce. All are lighter and more delicate in texture than you’d expect, but pack a full complement of flavor. For the complete rundown of the food and experience, check out Faith’s report at NJSpice.net.