Tag Archives: Princeton Echo

New Supper Club Series; Fish Buying Conundrum; Restaurant News

SUPPER CLUB @ REFURBISHED CEDAR GARDENS TO HOLD BEARD HOUSE-STYLE DINNERS

The family behind Buy-Rite Wines & Liquor recently purchased and renovated the venerable Cedar Gardens in Hamilton, and they are mounting ongoing guest-chef dinners in one of the smaller, more intimate rooms. The first is happening this Thursday, May 12th, with guest chefs from Trenton Social, which suffered a devastating fire very recently. Check out the menu below, especially the first course which is an homage to pork roll/Taylor ham. Since time is of the essence – reservations are requested by noon on Monday, May 9th – I’m posting the press release just as I received it.

Cedar Gardens

Cedar Gardens

Trenton Social Brings ‘Road Show’ to Buy-Rite’s Supper Club at Cedar Gardens  

HAMILTON – Trenton Social’s owner T.C. Nelson, his chef Byron DeLeon and their staff will headline a special wine dinner starting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday evening, May 12, at Buy-Rite’s new Supper Club at Cedar Gardens, here.
Last Sunday morning, a car crashed into Trenton Social, causing extensive damage and temporarily shuttering the popular restaurant.  That hasn’t stopped Nelson and DeLeon’s culinary creativity, however.
With the acclaimed Loire Valley winemaker Clement Berthier coming to the area for one night, Nelson and the Buy-Rite team behind the Supper Club knocked heads and came up with a plan to both show support for the Trenton Social community and welcome, in proper style, one of the great vintners in France.
Nelson and DeLeon will present a four-course menu to pair with five of Berthier’s wines. The price, including all food, wines, taxes and tip, is $80 per person. The dinner is open to the public; seating is limited and reservations are required.

The Loire Meets the Delaware; Berthier Wines, Trenton Social Cuisine

1st course: Pork Roll Tribute: Pork Roll Spring Roll; Pork Roll ‘Nita
2015 Clement et Florian Berthier Sancerre Rose

2nd course: Crab Mousse with Caviar and English Cucumber
2014 Clement et Florian Berthier Coteaux du Giennois Blanc
2014 Clement et Florian Berthier Pouilly Fume

3rd course: Blackened Salmon with Mango-Roasted Red Pepper-Cucumber Salsa; Truffled-Sea Salt Fries and Seasonal Vegetables
2014 Clement et Florian Berthier Coteaux du Giennois Rouge
2014 Clement et Florian Berthier Coteaux du Giennois L’Inedit

4th course: Key Lime Tart

The Supper Club is located within the Buy-Rite/Cedar Gardens facility at 661 Route 33 in Hamilton.,Reservations must be made by noon Monday, May 9. To reserve, please call 609-931-9463 and ask for Chris, or visit www.squareup.com/store/cedargardensupperclub and link to Supper Club events.

BUYING FISH & SEAFOOD: SLIPPERY AS AN EEL

Saidur Rehman, McCaffrey's Lead Seafood Dept. Manager

Saidur Rehman, McCaffrey’s Lead Seafood Dept. Manager

I confess my personal struggles and report on others’ recommendations here, in the May issue of The Princeton Echo.

MORE RENOVATIONS AT THE ALCHEMIST & BARRISTER; HOAGIE HAVEN BOTTLES A CULT SAUCE; McCAFFREY’S MARKETS GROWS TO 6 STORES

Food for Thought logoThere are now 76 beer taps at the A&B in Princeton, plus improved open-air dining in its beloved rear pub. Hoagie Haven has its own cult followers (among them, Jon Stewart), and so does one of its proprietary sauces, now available bottled, online and in stores. Family-owned McCaffrey’s is expanding from 4 to 6 stores in central NJ & nearby PA. Get the details here, in my “Food for Thought” column in May’s Princeton Echo.

Nina’s Waffles Coming to Princeton; Highly Recommended: Nektar in New Hope; Babeth’s Feast Frozen Gourmet

Nina’s Authentic Liege Waffles & Housemade Ice Cream: in New Hope, Doylestown, Sergeantsville and now Princeton

If you’re a fan of Liege waffles – made from yeasted dough instead of non-yeasted batter and caramelized with pearl sugar – you know they’re hard to come by. When Nina’s Waffles & Ice Cream opens its doors on Nassau Street come mid-April, these delicacies will become available to Princetonians. Along with a rotating roster of 130 housemade ice creams will be a menu of savory options, all created by Nina’s co-owner and chef, Shawn Lawson. If that names rings a bell, find out why, here in my interview in the April issue of The Princeton Echo. 

Nektar in New Hope

I’m just going to come right out and say it: there are a lot of mediocre restaurants in New Hope. So when Nektar on West Mechanic Street was recommended by a trustworthy acquaintance, I jumped on the chance to try this modern, Mediterranean-influenced bistro that focuses particularly on pairing its small plates (in reality, mostly medium plates) with a smart selection of wine, beer, and whiskeys.

My friend did not lead me astray. I was doubly lucky in that my dinner coincided both with Lambertville-New Hope restaurant week and a 24-hour long taste of late spring weather (in March!), that allowed us to dine on the patio, right alongside the river and across from the Bucks County Playhouse.

There were three of us, so we got to try every dish but one on the $25, 3-course special menu. (There was also a $35 option, and both came with optional $20 wine pairings.) Each dish was tasty, interesting, and beautiful, and went well with our chosen bottle: Il Cacciatore di Sogni “Rosso Conero” DOC montepulciano for $32. Here are the delicious details.

Course 1: Pre-appetizers? (If so, pretty hearty and sizeable)

Goat cheese & potato croquettes with roasted red pepper sauce. Nektar, New Hope

Goat cheese & potato croquettes with roasted red pepper sauce. Nektar, New Hope

Meatball sliders with fonina & basil. Nektar, New Hope

Meatball sliders with fonina & basil. Nektar, New Hope

Avocado yogurt dip w/za'atar-spiced pita chips. Nektar, New Hope

Avocado yogurt dip w/za’atar-spiced pita chips. Nektar, New Hope

Course 2: Appetizers?

Warm goat cheese-potato parfait w/olive & arugula. Nektar, New Hope

Warm goat cheese-potato parfait w/olive & arugula. Nektar, New Hope

Bacon-wrapped dates w/almonds & roasted red pepper sauce. Nektar, New Hope

Bacon-wrapped dates w/almonds & roasted red pepper sauce. Nektar, New Hope

Italian grilled cheese (provolone, fontina, Parmesan) w/roasted tomato & pesto mayo. Nektar, New Hope

Italian grilled cheese (provolone, fontina, Parmesan) w/roasted tomato & pesto mayo. Nektar, New Hope

Course 3: More substantial small plates?

Chicken thigh (coq au vin style) w/pappardelle pasta. Nektar, New Hope

Chicken thigh (coq au vin style) w/pappardelle pasta. Nektar, New Hope

Spicy lamb merguez sausage w/pita, avocado tzatziki, onion, & tomato. Nektar, New Hope

Spicy lamb merguez sausage w/pita, avocado tzatziki, onion, & tomato. Nektar, New Hope

We also had a timbale of baked pasta and finished off our meal by adding on a big goblet of decadent chocolate pudding with whipped cream. I should also mention that our server, Jessica, was delightful, responsive, and very well informed. To repeat myself: Nektar Wine, Beer, & Whiskey Bar is highly recommended.

Babeth’s Feast, NJ Sea Salt, Blue Point Grill Expansion

Frozen gourmet that’s not an oxymoron? Sea salt harvested off Barnegat Light that rivals Maldon?? An expansion of a popular Nassau Street restaurant in a space that seemingly can’t hold any more???

All is explained here, in my “Food for Thought” column in the April issue of The Princeton Echo. 

Photographing Food Makes It Taste Better. Whaaa?; 12 Farms Benefit Dinner; Nomad Pizza in Princeton

Instragramming = More Yum?

Photo: Konstantin Trubavin/Corbis, on nymag.com

Photo: Konstantin Trubavin/Corbis, on nymag.com

My friend Joel Burkam, a psychologist, recently sent me an article that concludes: “The act of taking a picture before eating — including all of the natural-light seeking and angle tweaking that goes into it — can actually make food taste better.”

What the heck?? Get the scientifically proven facts, here in  The Scientific Case for Instagramming Your Food, from NY Magazine‘s column, “The Science of Us.”

Burkam explained it to me thus: “It’s simple Pavlovian conditioning! The visual representation provokes autonomic responses within the body associated with the previous memories/tastes attached to the item. Perceived as desire/passion, etc.which winds up enhancing the taste.”

Hightstown’s 12 Farms Restaurant Donating Pay-What-You-Will Benefit Dinner

12farms.com

12farms.com

I love when two personal favorites join together for a good cause. On Friday, March 18th my favorite Hightstown restaurant, 12 Farms, is preparing and donating a 3-course meal at One Table Cafe, a monthly pop-up run by the folks at Trinity Church in Princeton. (I’ve written about their annual St. Nicholas bazaar.) All are welcome to this “donate what you can” dinner, with net proceeds going to 4 causes: Mercer Street Friends, Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, Bread for the World, and Episcopal Relief & Development.

The dinner commences at 6:30 and in honor of Women’s History Month, will feature these guest speakers:
– Judith Donohue Hutton, CEO, YWCA Princeton
– Dr. Cecelia B. Hodges and the Witherspoon/People’s Verse Speaking Choir

Dress is casual, children are welcome, and reservations are a must and should be made by Tuesday, March 15. Phone 609.924.2277, ext. 352. For more info on the cafe, visit onetablecafe.org.

Nomad Pizza Opening in Princeton

If you who follow me on facebook and twitter you already know that owner Tom Grim is bringing his popular wood-fired pizza to the Princeton Shopping Center this spring. This will be the fourth Nomad, with two in Philly and the original in Hopewell. Get all the details in my interview with Grim in the March issue of the Princeton Echo.  

Top NJ Taprooms; Princeton’s Largest Restaurant Dynasty (It’s Not Who You Think);Central NJ Food News Galore

NJ Monthly’s March Issue Devoted to Beer in the Garden State

NJ Monthly cover Mar16
Among its finds are 15 hot new taprooms. In it, I turn the spotlight on:

Brickwall Tavern, Burlington. The folks behind Brickwall in Asbury Park (and Porta Pizza and Pascal & Sabine) have breathed new life into downtown Burlington. THIS JUST IN: Brickwall’s new downstairs dining room is having its unveiling this coming Wednesday, 3/9, at 5pm. Full raw bar, cask ale on tap, etc.
BLEND Bar & Bistro, Hamilton. From the same family behind the ever popular Brothers Pizza right next door, as well as the Central Jersey Beer Festival.
World of Beer, New Brunswick. Rapidly growing franchise (about to expand to Hoboken, btw), offering 50 drafts and 600 bottles.

Read the full descriptions of these and 35 other NJ taprooms here.

Princeton’s Largest Restaurant Dynasty? With 9 Eateries and Counting, it’s….

3-2 Cover & Front (1-7).indd
…not who you might expect. As I write in the March 2nd issue of US 1, “The Princeton area boasts its fair share of food and restaurant dynasties, among them Jack Morrison’s JM Group (Blue Point Grill, Witherspoon Grill, Nassau Street Seafood); Raoul and Carlo Momo’s Terra Momo (Mediterra, Eno Terra, Teresa Caffe, Terra Momo Bread, Terra Libri); and Jim Nawn’s Fenwick Hospitality Group, which in addition to Agricola and the acquisition last month of Main Street’s European Bistro & Bar and its cafe in its Kingston [see more in next entry], has partnered with Princeton University to develop a bar and a bistro in two former Dinky train station buildings as part of the university’s ongoing arts and transit project.”

Meet the team behind Gretalia, which has them all beat, here in my cover story for the March 2nd issue of US 1.

The Times They Sure Are A Changin’

Echo March 2016 Cover

In my latest “Food for Thought” column in the March Princeton Echo I report on: the acquisition of longtime Princeton fave Main Street by the folks behind Agricola; the details behind Bucks County high-end caterer Max Hansen developing a large, swanky catering venue in a farmhouse in Hopewell; and the imminent opening of a specialty grocery in the village of Lawrenceville.

 

HomeFront’s Teaching Kitchen Helping Families Become Self-Sufficient;Yet More Restaurants Opening in Princeton; Making Perfect Porchetta

Long-time Princeton Caterer & Cooking Instructor Teaches Homeless Adults and Children in New State-of-the-Art Kitchen

Christina Crawford’s Wooden Spoon Catering Company was Princeton staple for 15 years. After that, she taught children and adults at the culinary center inside Princeton’s Whole Food. But now that she’s heading up HomeFront’s Teaching Kitchen in Ewing, she told me, “This job is a thousand times better than anything I could have thought about doing.” Find out why, here in my profile in the February issue of The Princeton Echo.

Christina Crawford & Students

Christina Crawford & Students

February Food for Thought: 3 More New Eateries Coming to Downtown Princeton; Dining Deal at the Peacock Inn; Mediterranean Farm-to-Table Dinners at Hopewell Valley Vineyards

Hopewell Valley Vineyards Chef Nikiforos Vaimakis, courtesy Infini-T Cafe Princeton

Hopewell Valley Vineyards Chef Nikiforos Vaimakis (courtesy Infini-T Cafe Princeton)

Gosh, how I love having the central part of our state as my base of operations. One prime example: this February Echo column that’s chock-full of exciting developments. Details on: Jules Thin Crust Pizza, Marhaba, Kung Fu Tea & Noodle House, a new Osteria Procaccini outpost, $49 to dine at the Peacock Inn, $70 for a 5-course meal with wines in Hopewell. My, oh my.

Picture Perfect Porchetta

For some reason I got it into my head that I wanted to attempt porchetta for Christmas this past year. It turned out to be a showstopper (my family took to calling it the Meat Log), and it would make an impressive centerpiece for any winter dinner party.

My porchetta

My porchetta

Now, I’m not going to tell you that forming a jelly roll out of thick slabs of meat and fat is easy, but it’s worth the effort. I followed this Martha Stewart recipe and video for Porchetta with Salsa Verde, using wonderful boneless pork loin and pork belly from Double Brook Farm (which I had pre-ordered from butcher Cole Dougherty at Brick Farm Market).

You know you're onto something when your canine guest plants himself outside the kitchen

You know you’re onto something when your canine guest plants himself outside the kitchen and won’t budge

The stuffing of fresh Mediterranean herbs and garlic featured exceptionally fragrant fennel pollen from Princeton’s Savory Spice Shop. And added bonus was that for days afterwards we enjoyed leftovers of porchetta sandwiches on Terra Momo Bread focaccia.

Holiday Edition: Lunch at the Ryland Inn, Coolest Gingerbread House Ever, Giving Back

Ryland Inn Now Offering Lunch – Including a Fixed-Price Bargain

When this legendary Whitehouse restaurant reopened in 2012 I praised the new incarnation for capturing the essence of what it had felt like to dine there – what I termed “a sense of easy grace” in a refined-rustic setting – while allowing the fare to move headlong into the 21st century under its talented opening chef, Anthony Bucco.

Ryland Inn Opening Event 2012

Ryland Inn Opening Event 2012

In mid-2014 Bucco moved on (he’s now at Restaurant Latour at Crystal Springs) and the Ryland kitchen was turned over to his sous chef and longtime collaborator, Craig Polignano. I hadn’t been back, so I jumped at the restaurant’s offer to have me sample the recently added lunch menu.

Ryland Inn lunch PolignanoOne reason I was keen to do this is because the current menus – dinner, brunch, and now lunch – appeared, at least to me, to be less cutting-edge, less exciting than previously. Gone, for example, was the tuna crudo I had adored, an appetizer with pickled watermelon, Asian pear, miso vinaigrette, and truffle, garnished with black sesame seeds and sesame powder. The current dinner menu sports an entree of seared tuna with sweet potato, trumpet mushrooms, bok choy, and spiced granola. It sounds perfectly fine, but see what I mean?

Well, you shouldn’t! Because, as my lunch progressed I learned that mere descriptions on a menu can be misleading. I purposely chose what sounded like the most mundane offering: the 3-course prix fixe lunch for $36. Even within that, I made choices that sounded boring. I started with Roasted Pumpkin Soup (the other option was Mixed Market Greens) and followed up that with Grilled Organic Salmon (instead of Griggstown Chicken Paillard “Nicoise”). The prix-fixe mandated dessert is Peanut Butter Mousse. Well, it takes an awful lot to make me relish a peanut butter dessert.

Ryland Inn pumpkin soupOver the years I have eaten more than my share of boring squash and pumpkin soups. Chef Polignano’s resembles them in no way. For one thing, he uses kabocha squash (my favorite member of the family), whipped into the silkiest puree. Vaduvan spices provide a subtle hint of curry, mascarpone adds richness, and diced Granny Smith apple and toasted pumpkin seeds, crunch. A jolt of salinity comes courtesy of capers.

Ryland Inn Grilled Organic Salmon

Ryland Inn Grilled Organic Salmon

The interest level of the salmon dish – a portion generous enough to be dinner – is sparked by freekeh, which adds a smoky nuttiness, and by freekeh’s perfect foil: tart, snappy pomegranate seeds. Nicely executed beets and Brussels sprouts alongside the buttery, full-flavored fish make this an ideal cold-weather choice.

Ryland Inn Reuben

Ryland Inn Reuben

I soon learned that I was wrong about even the most plebian offerings on the menu, like the Reuben. Instead of using brisket, Polignano sous vides beef short ribs with signature corned beef spices. The result is as flavorful as the original but without the grease or fattiness. The tender meat gets piled on slices of excellent house-made dark rye that’s slathered with “Route 28” dressing (the Ryland’s own take on Thousand Island dressing, named for its location) and topped with sauerkraut and melted cheddar.

Ryland Inn Peanut Butter Mousse

Ryland Inn Peanut Butter Mousse

Modernist technique applied to modest-sounding dishes is, in fact, the calling card here. The Ryland burger features house-smoked bacon jam and the Wagyu beef tartare includes puffed beef tendon. And that peanut butter mousse that I had little hope for? Under its chocolate cloak is a fluffy, sophisticated mousse with a touch of tamarind. As you can see from the photo, it comes with bruleed bananas and banana ice cream. (What you can’t see that the ice cream is extraordinary.) Nestled under the quenelle is a bed of peanut powder – the direct descendant of that high-tech sesame powder I so enjoyed in the Ryland’s early days.

These dishes and more represent the refined-rustic style that Polignano says is his aim. In some ways, it is better suited to the setting than what came before. In addition, several of the more precious or pretentious aspects that the Ryland sported upon opening have been eliminated. Gone, for example, is the selection of 7 (!) French-press coffees. Instead, guests can simply enjoy the excellent house blend from Coffee Afficionado in Morganville.

Ryland Inn rose

Ryland Inn rose

I’m told that lunch is now a permanent offering, but that the 3-course fixed-price option may or may not be continued beyond the holiday season. My advice: get this $36 steal before its gone. If that’s not in the cards, be sure schedule a visit early in the new year to check out Polignano’s handiwork at what can be called the new, new Ryland Inn.

And Now for Your Moment of Christmas Zen

…I offer up this gingerbread version of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water, the creation of culinary artist Melodie Dearden.

Melodie Dearden's Falling Water Gingerbread House

Melodie Dearden’s Falling Water Gingerbread House

Tis the Season for Giving Back

Yes We CAN volunteers mercerspace.com

Yes We CAN volunteers
mercerspace.com

I believe in eating local and shopping local not only when it comes to food, but also in donating to charitable organizations. Which is why I was delighted to feature here in the December issue of the Princeton Echo the story behind Yes We CAN! which collects funds and food – both canned and, importantly, farm fresh – for clients of the Crisis Ministry of Mercer County.

If that’s too local for you, I have another suggestion. Uncharacteristically for me this Lawrenceville-based organization, the United Front Against Riverblindness, doesn’t have anything to do with food or combating hunger and yet I consider it one of the most effective and satisfying contributions I make.

A donation of $10 keeps 6 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo from going blind for one year. A $250 donation provides medication for an entire village! Here’s a previous post I wrote about their work.

First Report: Dining at Brick Farm Tavern’s Bar

By the time Brick Farm Tavern opened for business last Thursday (11/19/15), the reservation book at this long-awaited Hopewell restaurant, brought to you by the folks behind Double Brook Farm and Brick Farm Market, was already full for the next several weeks.

Chef's table at Brick Farm Tavern

Chef’s table at Brick Farm Tavern

But the bar there, which has its own menu, operates on a first-come, first-serve basis, and so two nights later I and my husband, Bill, headed over. I was careful to make it there at opening time – 5 p.m. – in order to be assured a perch at the 12-seat bar. By 5:20, every seat was taken, both at the bar and at the hi-tops in the adjoining lounge. Ten minutes after that, the barroom was SRO. Joshua, our server, told us that the restaurant’s been slammed like this from the start.

Brick Farm Tavern's executive chef, Greg Vassos

Brick Farm Tavern’s executive chef, Greg Vassos

I can see why. In October, when I interviewed Chef Greg Vassos and GM Mike Lykens for this preview in the Princeton Echo, they hoped to achieve a marriage of fine dining with “unpretentious, comfortable service.” Mission accomplished, at least in terms of Joshua (who, btw, is in the background below, and who also works at Agricola in Princeton). He was the personification of grace under pressure.

La Manzana cocktail, Brick Farm Tavern

La Manzana cocktail, Brick Farm Tavern

Vassos and Lykens also promised that the restaurant would put to use of every kind of meat, egg, fruit, vegetable, herb, etc. produced at Double Brook Farm, supplemented with that of nearby farms. So I went local with my cocktail, of which the bar features 5 house creations, each $12. I chose La Manzana, a refreshing, balanced blend of Espolon reposada tequila and Lillet with Terhune apple cider, lime, and house-made hay salt. When I inquired about that last, Joshua took the time to describe how it’s made and to give us a sample taste. (It is fleur de sel, smoked ’til black, over hay.)

The wood for the bar, btw, was reclaimed from the nearby estate of Charles Lindbergh, and newly crafted. (A fuller description of this American farm-to-table restaurant, including its owners and the handsome, circa-1812 farmhouse that is its home is included in the above link to my Echo story.)

Detail of bar beverage menu, Brick Farm Tavern

Detail of bar beverage menu, Brick Farm Tavern

I’m impressed with the wine-by-the-glass selections, which lead off with interesting and unexpected choices, including Arneis from Piemonte, Kerner (a cross between Trollinger & Riesling) from Alto Adige, Prieto Picudo from Castilla y Leon, and my husband’s choice, Giel Pinot Noir from Reinhessen.

Bar food menu, Brick Farm Tavern

Bar food menu, Brick Farm Tavern

The bar’s food menu is short, smart, and appealing, as you can see. As is the trend, it lists ingredients only – giving equal billing to each, with zero descriptors about preparation. Instead, servers are tasked with sharing helpful but painfully detailed explanations.

Tuscan fries, Brick Farm Tavern

Tuscan fries, Brick Farm Tavern

Word to the wise: Tuscan-fries-showered-with-pecorino. Cut thin and short, brined, fried in plenty of oil, salty, and addictive. If I had one wish, it would be that they were sprinkled with Pecorino throughout, not just on top. The smoky housemade ketchup is a match made in heaven.

Brick Farm Tavern burger

Brick Farm Tavern burger

It’s possible that just about every ingredient in the Double Brook burger – save the compte cheese and salt – is from the restaurant’s farm or, like the bun, made at Brick Farm Market. This helps explain its $18 price tag. But the burger’s so decadently good that it renders both provenance and price moot. Even though the menu says it’s accompanied by pomme frites, those Tuscan fries showed up. No complaint here.

Lamb Bolognese at Brick Farm Tavern

Lamb Bolognese at Brick Farm Tavern

When the Lamb Bolognese arrived, I thought the portion looked skimpy. But the dish is so rich and satisfying, and so loaded with thick coins of lamb merguez sausage, that it suffices. The short, thick, ribbed tubular pasta appeared to be fresh and housemade, and was cooked more al dente than customary. (I prefer it that way, but I suspect others may not.) I can’t say I detected distinct flavor from the strands of calendula (a type of marigold), and although the sausage itself suffered from too much salt, it wasn’t enough to deter me from finishing the dish with gusto.

Pumpkin dessert at Brick Farm Tavern

Pumpkin dessert at Brick Farm Tavern

Meanwhile, the folks next to me raved about their chicken wings and the Brick Farm charcuterie – a gorgeous, generous platter and a bargain at $14. For dessert Bill & I shared pumpkin mousse on praline shortbread. It’s topped with maple ice cream and hay salt foam and garnished with stewed and geleed cranberries. All the flavors were quite muted, though, so we wished we had opted instead for the only other choice: the pecan dessert, which Joshua had earlier informed us was the staff’s favorite. (Lesson: Always listen to a server you trust.)

One of Brick Farm Tavern's several small, cozy dining rooms

One of Brick Farm Tavern’s several small, cozy dining rooms

By the time I was sipping a perfect espresso, the crowd at our backs had grown even larger (and hungrier) and Bill & I fantasized about how much we could make if we auctioned off our seats to the highest bidder. That, alas, would run counter to the friendly, comfy-yet-refined vibe here.

View into the open kitchen from the chef's table, Brick Farm Tavern

View into the open kitchen from the chef’s table, Brick Farm Tavern

It’s something akin to magic when a restaurant is in total alignment with what the surrounding community craves and supports. Although it’s still early days, that seems to be exactly what I witnessed throughout the restaurant’s warren of charming dining rooms.  This, despite the many fine establishments right within tiny Hopewell (The Blue Bottle and Brothers Moon, to name just two) and in nearby Princeton (Agricola, Elements, Mistral, etc.) As I overheard one returning (returning!) customer remark to Joshua, “We are glad you’re here.”

‘More’ Everything: More News about Agricola; More is the Name of a New Cafe; More Italian Food & Drink Than Ever at Tre Piani

Agricola Changes Chefs & May Spawn a New Restaurant or Two

Seems like just yesterday that I profiled Crawford Koeniger, the young chef who stepped into Josh Thomsen’s shoes when that opening chef departed the Witherspoon Street eatery for Florida. Now comes word from Agricola’s owner, Jim Nawn, that Koeniger, too, is gone. Nawn is searching for a new executive chef, whom he hopes to have in place by the new year. “Meantime,” he says, “Agricola is in the hands of my sous-chef team who have been with me from the outset.”

But wait! There’s, um, more. In the November issue of The Princeton Echo, my “Food for Thought” column included this tidbit regarding Nawn and his Fenwick Hospitality Group:

Agricola, university to develop ‘Dinky’ station eateries

Last January, Princeton University and the Terra Momo Restaurant Group disclosed that they had discontinued previously announced plans for that group, owned by brothers Carlo and Raoul Momo, to run a restaurant and café in the old “Dinky” train station buildings. Now word on the street is that an announcement is forthcoming detailing an agreement between the University and Jim Nawn, owner of Agricola on Witherspoon Street and Great Road Farm in Skillman. The two buildings involved are part of the University’s $330 million arts and transit project.

Meanwhile, Further Down Witherspoon Street…

…friends Mark Han & Sean Luan recently opened their bright, casual More Cafe. Just steps away from Small World Coffee, Holsome Tea, and Infini-T Cafe, you’d think there wouldn’t be room for one, um, more. But you’d be wrong, as I explain here in that same November “Food for Thought” column.

Benefit Gala at Tre Piani Features More Italian Food than You Can Shake a Stick at

I love that phrase “…shake a stick at” in part because its etymology is unknown. What the heck could have spawned it?

But I digress…only to digress further. Having lived in Princeton for decades, and the Princeton area for even more decades, I thought I was aware of all the wonderful service organizations in town.

Senior Care Ministry program 002So when I received an invitation to “A Taste of Italy,” a gala celebrating 30 years of community service by the Senior Care Ministry of Princeton I was taken aback. How could it be that this group – which pioneered the ‘aging in place’ movement and whose mission is to help people remain safely in the comfort of their own homes as long as possible – had escaped my attention up til now?

Turns out that the “Taste of Italy” gala/fundraiser was their first public event ever. Whew. As board member Catherine Vanderpool told the group of 90-plus people who had paid $125 to attend the gala, “the ministry depends on the kindness of volunteers. It’s a grassroots effort that was born out of a need perceived by a nun, Sister Mary Ancilla of the Sisters of Mercy, and assisted by the Princeton Knights of Columbus.” (Sister Mary, btw, wasn’t able to attend. This year she is celebrating the 75th anniversary (!) of entering into her commitment to the Church & Sisters of Mercy.)

Tre Piani owner/chef Jim Weaver went all out for the occasion, covering the entire Italian peninsula’s pantheon of food and drink. The evening began with antipasti and passed hors d’oeuvres, including this duck gallantine:

Courtesy of Jim Weaver, Tre Piani

Courtesy of Jim Weaver, Tre Piani

For the main meal, the Tre Piani staff had set up three stations of food and wine, each devoted to a region of Italy. Here are sample food & wine listings:

Northern Italy food selectionCentral & Southern WinesSince my grandparents hailed from Sicily I gravitated to the Central-South, and was introduced to Anthilia, a distinctive Sicilian white wine from Donnafugata.  To go with these wines, the Central/Southern menu comprised: mozzarella misto (Campania), mussels with blue cheese (Puglia), orrecchiette with brocoli rabe (Basilicata), involtini of swordfish stuffed with pignoli & raisins (Sicily), eggplant caponata (Sicily), and stromboli misti (Calabria).

If you’re interested in volunteering with the Senior Care Ministry, which provides supportive services such as transportation to health services, food shopping, and, as Vanderpool told the group “sometimes just a friendly visit to say hello,” free of charge to the homebound and elderly throughout the greater Princeton area. Better yet, if you’d like to establish a service like this in your town, contact them through their website.

Meet Brick Farm Tavern’s Chef & GM; Delectable Peruvian Dining in DC

Hopewell’s Brick Farm Tavern is Set to Debut on November 19. Here are Its Key Players

Greg Vassos, Mike Lykens, Jon McConaughy, & Robin McConaughy, Brick Farm Tavern

Greg Vassos, Mike Lykens, Jon McConaughy, & Robin McConaughy, Brick Farm Tavern (courtesy Princeton Echo)

The folks behind Double Brook Farm and Brick Farm Market, Robin & Jon McConaughy, have put their much anticipated farm-to-table restaurant, Brick Farm Tavern, into the hands of two alumni of The Broadmoor, the five-star luxury resort in Colorado Springs. Here in the November issue of the Princeton Echo I interview Executive Chef Greg Vassos and General Manager Mike Lykens about how they intend to carry out the McConaughys’ vision.

Brick Farm Tavern

Brick Farm Tavern

btw: Reservations are currently being accepted on OpenTable or by calling the restaurant at (609) 333-9200.

At China Chilcano, Jose Andres Takes on Peruvian Cuisine with Verve

I have yet to encounter a restaurant of DC-based chef Jose Andres that doesn’t bowl me over. It seems no matter what unlikely cuisine this Spanish-born master turns his hand to, he manages to honor and expand on it in a most delicious way. In the past I’ve raved about America Eats Tavern, for example, where he pays homage to historic American dishes while making them modern and desirable (e.g., Manhattan clam chowder, mutton with oysters, and America’s first mac ‘n’ cheese, which features vermicelli).

Andres works the same magic at China Chilcano, where the electric liveliness of the setting matches that of the vibrant food:

China Chilcano

China Chilcano

China Chilcano

China Chilcano

Below are highlights from wide-ranging dinner my table of 4 enjoyed, after cocktails from a list that includes 5 takes on pisco. The menu encompasses both indigenous Peruvian dishes like papas a la Huancaina (potatoes with spicy aji amarillo sauce) and the beloved hybrid rice and noodle dishes developed by the Chinese and Japanese immigrants who flocked to Peru during the late 19th century. (So did Italians, but they’re not represented here.) All photos by Chris Le.

Every gorgeous dish has the Andres touch – none more so than these 3 siu mai from the dim sum section of the menu.

Pork & jicama siu mai topped with gold-flecked egg. China Chilcano

Pork & shrimp siu mai topped with gold-flecked egg. China Chilcano

Scallop & pork siu mai with tobiko. China Chilcano

Scallop & pork siu mai with tobiko. China Chilcano

 

Chicken with aji amarillo siu mai. China Chilcano

Chicken with aji amarillo siu mai. China Chilcano

(Don’t know why that last photo insists on being upside down.) Another gold-flecked dim sum winner is this one of lamb pot stickers, hidden under crispy cumin-scented lace:

Pegao Norteno (lamb pot sticker). China Chilcano

Pegao Norteno (lamb pot stickers). China Chilcano

From the selection of ceviches and tiraditos (Peruvian crosses between sushi and ceviche), here’s the big eye tuna with soy-cured egg yolk, Nikkei leche de tigre (citrus marinade), puffed quinoa, avocado, mountain yam, red onion, and furikake seasoning:

Ceviche Nikkei. China Chilcano

Ceviche Nikkei. China Chilcano

Peru and Asia meet up perfectly in this lomo saltado of hanger steak, tomato, soy sauce, shishitos, ginger, shoestring potatoes, and rice:

Lomo Saltado with Egg. China Chilcano

Lomo Saltado with Egg. China Chilcano

While a classic aji de gallina is purely, and wonderfully, Peruvian:

Aji de gallina. China Chilcano

Aji de gallina. China Chilcano

I can’t decide which of these two desserts I enjoyed more, although the funky look of the suspiro Limena (“woman of Lima’s sigh”) still has me smiling:

Coconut "Birds Nest" Soup with Pink Grapefruit Sorbet. China Chilcano

Coconut “Birds Nest” Soup with Pink Grapefruit Sorbet. China Chilcano

Suspiro Limena: Sweetened Condensed Milk Custard with Meringue & Passion Fruit. China Chilcano

Suspiro Limena: Sweetened Condensed Milk Custard with Meringue & Passion Fruit. China Chilcano

China Chilcano is located on 7th St. NW in the Penn Quarter, very close to Andres’ signature restaurant, Jaleo.

Review of Anthony David’s; Italian Cocktails Having a Moment; Say Cheez in Princeton

Anthony Pino Updates His Hoboken Flagship

www.anthonydavids.com

Private Dining Room anthonydavids.com

No one can accuse Hoboken chef/restaurateur Pino and his wife, Liz, of standing still. Here, from the August issue of New Jersey Monthly, is my review of the latest iteration of Anthony David’s.
p.s. Pino, who also is behind Bin 14, will be opening a third restaurant any day now.

Italian Cocktails Past, Present, Future

I have always thanked my Italian heritage for my being partial to bitter flavors in food and drink, especially the herbaceous liqueurs like Campari, Fernet, and the amaro family. Until recently I have considered myself in the minority. But 3 area events – past and future – are telling me otherwise. (Why New Brunswick was and will be the setting for all three beats me.)

Negroni Sbagliato & Crostini with Anchovy-Chickpea Schmear, Clydz New Brunswick

Negroni Sbagliato & Crostini with Anchovy-Chickpea Schmear, Clydz New Brunswick

In August Katie Parla, the Rome-based food and beverage journalist who grew up in West Windsor, invited me to a fun Italian cocktail tasting at her father Mike’s restaurant, the venerable Clydz in New Brunswick. Eight selections ranged from classics such as the above Negroni Sbagliato (Campari, Vermouth Cinzano rosso, sparkling wine) to new inspirations from bartenders currently working in Rome. I particularly enjoyed Patrick Pistolesi‘s Cosa Nostra (Campari, Rabarbaro Zucca, Fernet Branca, Buffalo Trace bourbon, simple syrup).

I was sorry to have to miss the “Garden Tasting of Aperitifs and Digestifs” with Jeremy Fisher of the Frog & Peach on September 18. His tasting included all of my Italian faves, plus Spanish and French liqueurs and fortified wines, including 2 lesser knowns that I am partial to: Pineau de Charentes and Suze.

Due Mari, New Brunswick Courtesy duemarinj.com

Due Mari, New Brunswick
Courtesy duemarinj.com

I wouldn’t tease you about these past events if there weren’t another one on the horizon. On Saturday, September 26, the folks at Heirloom Kitchen are teaming up with those at Michael White’s Due Mari for a 3 pm Italian cocktail class at that New Brunswick restaurant. The session ($58) covers the classics as well as  the nouveau. Students take home recipes and a shaker, and Due Mari light fare, such as arancini and crostini, will be served. Details & sign up here.

A Take-out Shop Devoted to Grilled Cheese; Heirloom Beans; A New Addition to the Princeton Happy Hour Scene

The "Princeton" & Tiger Fries, Say Cheez Princeton

The “Princeton” & Tiger Fries, Say Cheez Princeton

Those are the subjects of my September “Food for Thought” column in the Princeton Echo. Read about Say Cheez, which I fully expected to loathe – and clearly did not – as well as why Rancho Gordo’s heirloom dried beans are worth seeking out (and where to find them), plus what the bartenders and chef at Agricola are bringing to the expanding Princeton happy hour scene.