Tag Archives: Rat’s restaurant

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.

New Eateries: Wildflour & Mallery’s; Marc Vetri on Stuttering; Notable Events

Lots to report. Dine gluten-free (plus vegetarian) in Lawrenceville and on Simply Grazin’ organic meats in Hillsborough. My radio encounter with Vetri and his lifelong stutter. Participate, please: March against Monsanto, cheffy benefit for one of my favorite NJ nonprofits, first ever Montclair food & wine fest.

Wildflour Bakery/Cafe

The space that had been the Lawrenceville Inn has morphed into an artisan bakery and daytime cafe featuring made-to-order savory and sweet crepes, breads and pastries – all gluten-free. The cafe menu  (you’ll need to click to enlarge) also offers housemade soups, salads, and smoothies (also gluten-free and vegetarian).

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The gal behind Wildflour is Marilyn Besner, shown here holding one of her exceptional coffee cakes.  Princeton-area foodies known her from Moonlight Bakers, her previous strudel-making venture. Besner used her training at The Natural Gourmet Institute and French Culinary Institute to develop her own blends of flours, using everything from amaranth to quinoa, which result in exceptionally light textures, even for cream puffs and pastry for fruit tarts.

On my first visit to Wildflour I couldn’t resist ordering two crepes. I started with a buckwheat crepe filled with sautéed spring greens (kale was one) and caramelized onions with goat cheese crumbled on top and red pepper muhammara on the side ($7.95). Big, hearty, and flavorful. If buckwheat is not to your taste, the alternative is a rice-lentil batter. For my dessert crepe I chose the “plain” batter, made from Marilyn’s own blend of rice, millet, and other flours, the result of which is a light, tasty, tender wrapper. Housemade lemon curd and ricotta was my chosen filler and even though 2 full-size crepes are really too much for one sitting, I gobbled it down. Below is my companion’s equally spectacular choice: Nutella with bent spoon ice cream on the side.

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Wildflour Bakery/Cafe is open for breakfast, lunch, and weekend brunch. Birthday cakes and full-size pies and tarts are available by special order.
Wildflour Bakery and Cafe on Urbanspoon

Mallery’s Eatery
UPDATE, AUGUST 2013: MALLERY’S EATERY IS CLOSED INDEFINITELY

Fans of Mark & Lynne Faille’s organically raised meats from their Simply Grazin’ Farm and Mallery’s Grazin’ Meats butcher shop – both in Skillman – have added a butcher shop/cafe in Hillsborough called Mallery’s Eatery. Executive chef is none other than Eric Martin, the opening and long-time chef at Rat’s Restaurant at Grounds for Sculpture.

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The lunch and take-out menu includes soups like his organic chicken orzo ($7); salads such as one of beets, granny smith apples, goat cheese, and arugula ($8); cold and hot sandwiches; panini; and “plates” of spaghetti and meatballs ($10) and meatloaf ($13). On a recent visit I was particularly impressed with this organic turkey chili (beef is also available) served with fresh corn tortillas and all the trimmings ($9.99):

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Mallery’s Eatery is open for breakfast and lunch, tucked away deep in the recesses of the Kingsbridge Shopping Center on South Branch Road.

Marc Vetri, Stuttering, and Me

Did you catch this touching HuffPost piece by Marc Vetri about life as a stutterer? It resonated with me partially because back in 2005, after being wowed by a fabulous meal at his namesake Philly restaurant, I emailed him asking if he would be a phone-in guest on my live, Saturday morning radio talk show. It was only after he accepted that I learned he was a stutterer. I was impressed once again with the man – he wasn’t going to let that stop him. The interview went well and got a good response. I have to admit it was stressful on my end – it was hard not to jump in when he was struggling to get a word out – but it was a lesson in restraint well worth learning.

Chef’s Night @ Palace at Somerset Park

New Brunswick-based nonprofit Elijah’s Promise (motto: “Food Changes Lives”) does so many important things so well it takes my breath away: soup kitchen, pay-what-you-can eatery, CSA, community garden, more social services than I can name. But one that’s particularly close to my heart is Promise Culinary School, an intensive, state-accredited program that prepares low-income adults to work in the dining industry.

Chefs Night PhotoChef’s Night, the school’s biggest fundraiser, with 35-plus restaurants participating, will take place on Monday, June 3rd from 6 to 9 pm at the rather grand Palace at Somerset Park. For menu, details, and tickets, click here.

I’m not often political in this space but…

March Against Monsanto logo

I am so distressed by the so-called Monsanto Protection Act that I’m breaking my unspoken rule. A worldwide March Against Monsanto has been called for Saturday, May 25th. Check out the list of participating continents, countries, states, and cities here. The official March against Monsanto Facebook page has so amassed more than 81,000 likes.

In NJ, 2 Marches are planned by NOFA-NJ and other organizations. Marches lead off at 2 pm, from downtown New Brunswick and Atlantic City.Here’s their rationale:

– Research studies have shown that Monsanto’s genetically-modified foods can lead to serious health conditions such as the development of cancer tumors, infertility and birth defects.

– In the United States, the FDA, the agency tasked with ensuring food safety for the population, is steered by ex-Monsanto executives, and we feel that’s a questionable conflict of interests and explains the lack of government-lead research on the long-term effects of GMO products.

– Recently, the U.S. Congress and president collectively passed the nicknamed “Monsanto Protection Act” that, among other things, bans courts from halting the sale of Monsanto’s genetically-modified seeds.

– For too long, Monsanto has been the benefactor of corporate subsidies and political favoritism. Organic and small farmers suffer losses while Monsanto continues to forge its monopoly over the world’s food supply, including exclusive patenting rights over seeds and genetic makeup.

Montclair Food & Wine Festival: A 2-day Feast for a Good Cause
Participating Chef Ariane Duarte of CulinAriane

Participating Chef Ariane Duarte of CulinAriane

This is the inaugural event showcasing leading chefs from Montclair’s long list of terrific restaurants (and a couple of high-profile outliers from neighboring towns). It takes place on Saturday, June 1st and Sunday, June 2nd. A portion of the proceeds will go to the St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital Center for Feeding and Swallowing and to Partners for Health Foundation. For the complete line-up, details on the Grand Tasting and Gala Dinner, and tickets, click here.

Cafe Blue Moose; Epicurean Palette Highlights & Recipe; Got Goat?

“The nation’s only completely youth-run restaurant” proclaims the website of Cafe Blue Moose located on Mechanic Street in New Hope, PA. Owner/chef Skylar Bird began his professional culinary journey at the age of 14, when he formed a supper club in his parents’ home. Then it was on to culinary school and France, and now, at the ripe old age of 20, his sweet byob

employs only high school and college students – so expect to uncork your wine yourself. And then dig into Bird’s home-style fare. $20 gets you 2 courses – your choice of starter and main, or main and dessert, or starter and dessert. Another $5 and you’re good for 3 courses at this cash-or-check-only spot.

The menu changes frequently, but on a recent weeknight I and a friend enjoyed starters of butternut squash soup and a salad of mixed greens, goat cheese, apples, and walnuts:

Each table is hand-painted with a different free-form design that includes a blue moose. Freebies (freebies! even at these prices!) include hot buttered popcorn and soft country-style bread. On the way out we picked up homemade cookies – another lagniappe. Before that we had enjoyed housemade fettuccine with sausage and sweet corn, and short ribs with squash puree. We skipped dessert, although this description of Moose Tracks tempted: “Our signature chocolate sherry whipped cream cake.”
Cafe Blue Moose on Urbanspoon

Epicurean Palette 2012

About 1,000 people strolled Grounds for Sculpture last Sunday for what many agree was the best iteration yet of this food, wine, and beer gala that’s the sculpture park’s major annual fundraiser. Let’s start with the home team, Rat’s restaurant.

Here’s executive chef Shane Cash (he’s a distant relative of Johnny Cash, although he doesn’t tout it) tending the star ingredient of his Moroccan lamb with harissa oil. He cooked the lamb in a China box, usually used for barbecuing whole pigs.

Over at the Eno Terra table, Chris Albrecht and crew are clearly enjoying themselves dishing up hand-rolled garganelli pasta with pecorino Sarde and baby eggplant:

While Manuel Perez and the folks at Princeton’s Peacock Inn wow guests with ricotta gnocchi, which somehow I neglected to take a sample of!

Meantime, a typically intense Scott Anderson of elements forms countless quenelles of spicy short rib tartare. Short rib tartare? As meltingly tender – but more flavorful – than tartare made with high-end cuts. What sorcery is this?

At left, Scott Snyder (right) of Boulevard Five72 plates lobster roulade, while below, Nina & Jonathan White stand behind their Bobolink cheeses, literally and figuratively.

The Epicurean Palette would not be complete without two signatures: the chocolate rats produced by, well, Rat’s and the chocolate pots de creme of Brothers Moon. I devoured the chocolate rat bonbon before thinking to take a pic, but here is Brothers Moon owner/chef Will Mooney (on the right) and his assistant, Nicolas Angelus. Even better, here’s the recipe:

CHOCOLATE ESPRESSO POT DE CREME FOR A CROWD
(
20 six-ounce portions)

3 tablespoons espresso powder
6 cups whole milk
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons cocoa powder
1-1/2 pounds semi-sweet chocolate, chopped small
16 ounces egg yolks (approximately 24 eggs)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

In a large heavy-bottom pot combine espresso powder, milk, sugar, and cocoa powder and heat until hot and all sugar is melted. Combine chopped chocolate pieces and egg yolks in a large bowl. Drizzle milk mixture slowly into the chocolate and yolks and then add the vanilla. Divide mixture among ramekins. Bake in a water bath in a preheated 300-degree oven for 30 minutes, or until set. Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate, covered, overnight. If desired, serve with fresh berries, cookies, and/or whipped cream.

Sourcing Goat Meat: No Goat Left Behind

Did you know that goat is the most widely consumed meat in the world? Whenever I encounter it on a menu (thankfully more common than in the past) I never pass it up. I’ve cooked it at home, too, although I have to confess that, before the days of local, grassfed farms, I was always wary about its origins. Even now, fresh, local goat meat isn’t always easy to come by. So I welcome Heritage Food USA’s celebration of Goatober, which offers three different cuts and 2-day shipping. Now I just have to decide how to cook it: Italian, Jamaican, Indian….?