Tag Archives: Restaurant Nicholas

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.

NJ’s Career Waiter; Best Lunch Buy in Midtown Manhattan?

One of my favorite assignments in recent times came via Jared Flesher, the new editor of Edible Jersey. My mandate was to locate and interview a career waiter – someone for whom serving in restaurants is a lifetime passion and profession. I was delighted to find Bill Meyer, a captain at Restaurant Nicholas in Red Bank. He’s been plying his trade in NJ restaurants for 40-plus years and counts Frank Sinatra and Phil Rizzuto among his past regulars. Not to mention the goodfella who held a knife to his throat when lunch didn’t arrive fast enough.

Edible Jersey Summer 2013

You’ll find the complete story starting on page 59 of this digital version of the Summer 2013 issue of Edible Jersey. (If you’re pressed for time, I suggest starting at the back of the issue and flipping forward.)

Border Crossing: Bargain Lunch @ Estiatorio Milos

After snagging a ticket to a matinee performance at City Center on West 55th Street, I decided at the last minute to have lunch first. I chose Estiatorio Milos, the Greek restaurant with branches in Athens, Montreal, Las Vegas, and Miami, mostly because it was so darn convenient – just steps away. But also because it offers a 3-course lunch for only $25.

I also liked the look of the place. Plus, I could dine at the white marble bar, where the floor-to-ceiling corner windows allow a view of the street scene. (In good weather, there’s sidewalk seating out there.)

The fare is traditional in the best sense: authentic, simple, made with fresh, first-rate ingredients. I was tempted to start with two grilled scallops with an orange and mint salad, but chose instead the Mediterranean meze platter, which includes above-average versions of the usual spreads (hummus, tzatziki, taramosalata) and a 2-bite spinach pie. While waiting for the platter, I sipped a glass of Greek rose (Biblia, $14) and made good use of a basket of country bread and saucer of excellent Greek olive oil that had appeared.

For my main course I feasted on grilled, expertly filleted loup de mer (this particular sea bass hailing from the island of Kephalonia) drizzled with ladolemono (olive oil and lemon sauce). It was moist, tender, and delicate. Other choices that beckoned: charbroiled lamb chop and shrimp Saganaki with couscous, tomato, and feta.


Fish Market, http://www.milos.ca

At dessert I bypassed the simple fresh fruit and sorbet options and went straight for karidopita: an ample wedge of moist, rich, dense walnut cake served with honey-lavender ice cream.

Let me remind you: This meal cost $25. In midtown Manhattan. At a stylish restaurant. With prompt, courteous, professional service. I rest my case.
Estiatorio Milos on Urbanspoon

Brick Farm Market’s Pulled Pork; Beard’s Top Mid-Atlantic Chef; DC Dining; More

Brick Farm Market & Chef Chase G. Make Their Debut

Chef Chase Gerstenbacher Courtesy of the Princeton Packet

Chef Chase Gerstenbacher Courtesy of the Princeton Packet

Chase Gerstenbacher, executive chef of Brick Farm Market, may have been born and raised in Philadelphia, but his ties to the Princeton area run long and deep. The group’s Hopewell projects include Double Brook Farm, Brick Farm Market – the much anticipated and soon to open retail store in Hopewell Borough – and, perhaps next year, Brick Farm Tavern. The market will feature mainly products grown or raised at Double Brook Farm and will include a butcher, a cheese maker, a produce section, bakery, and prepared foods. It will open its doors, temporarily, for Cruise Night on May 10th, and expects to be in business permanently soon thereafter.

Since he came aboard in February, Gerstenbacher has been working closely with the group’s butcher. “It has been good to get this time to see how everything runs,” he says. “I’ve been getting in practice and a feel for the products coming from the farm, especially the beef. It’s kind of amazing: as a chef I was used to ordering a case of filets. Here, we start with a 1,500 pound steer!”

Gerstenbacher has been making sausage using a recipe he developed while working with a chef familiar to Princeton-area restaurant patrons: Larry Robinson, who was the opening and longtime chef at Mediterra. The two men worked together there and then reunited at Robinson’s current business, Ceriello Marketplace in Medford, where they worked side by side for almost two years. It was, in fact, Robinson who put Gerstenbacher in touch with Double Brook Farm’s owners, Jon and Robin McConaughy. “Larry is very supportive,” Gerstenbacher says of his former boss, who taught him the art of butchering as well.

“Larry told me of a really big project up this way. I wasn’t familiar with Hopewell; I had only driven through it one time. So, I set my GPS for the center of town. When I got here, I asked around on the street if anyone knew where Double Brook Farm was,” he says, laughing. After the local postman gave him directions, he showed up unannounced at the farm. “As luck would have it, the staff was having a meeting, so I just passed around my resume.”

Gerstenbacher, 37, graduated in 1995 from the Philadelphia School, after which he worked at the famed Rittenhouse Hotel. After that, he led kitchens in Boca Raton and Las Vegas, returning to the Philadelphia area after the birth of his two sons, now ten and seven. He subsequently divorced, and just recently bought a home in Lawrenceville with his fiancée. The couple is planning to marry next May.

During his second stint in Philadelphia, Gerstenbacher worked with star chef Jose Garces at the groundbreaking Alma de Cuba. “As a chef you’re trying to push the limits. But at a market [like Brick Farm] you want people to come in every day,” he says. So his prepared foods will be “hyper-seasonal, changing daily.”  He mentions as an example the windfall of asparagus the farm is currently producing. “A ton is coming in everyday. If we were open, I’d be offering it five or six different ways!”

In addition to dishes featuring the many vegetables that Double  Brook  grows, he plans on featuring grain-based salads using quinoa, farro, and barley and will make his own scrapple and that Jersey classic, pork roll. There will, of course, be “standard dishes” that will be available day in and day out. Among those he mentions are chicken potpie, rotisserie chicken, chicken soup, and meatballs. “Accessibility is the focus,” Gerstenbacher says, “and food that is fun, easy, and exciting.”

Chase Gerstenbacher, Executive Chef, Brick Farm Group

“This salad can be eaten as is or you can toss this combination over your favorite lettuce. Use the liquid from the beets combined with a little olive oil to create the dressing.” – CG

4 medium red beets
1-1/4 cups distilled white vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
2 cloves
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
1 Staymen-Winesap apple
5 or 6 French Breakfast radishes, quartered
1 medium red onion, sliced thin

  1. Wash, then roast the beets in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 1 1/2 hours or until tender. Let cool, then peel the skin with a paring knife. Cut into large dice.
  2. In a large pan bring the vinegar, sugar, water and spices to a boil and simmer for 5 min. Keep hot.
  3. Core and cut the apple into large dice, leaving the skin on.
  4. Toss the beets, apple, radishes, and onion in a large bowl. Pour the hot liquid over them and let cool.
    Serves 4 to 6.

Chase Gerstenbacher, Executive Chef, Brick Farm Group

4 pounds boneless pork shoulder
3 tablespoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons paprika
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
Olive oil
For the bourbon glaze:
1 cup whiskey, bourbon or Wild Turkey
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup brown sugar
Pinch cayenne pepper

  1. Make the glaze: Combine ingredients in a pan and cook them until they’re reduced to a glaze. Cover and set aside.
  2. Combine the salt, paprika, garlic, pepper, and thyme in a small mixing bowl and add just enough olive oil to create a paste.
  3. Split the pork shoulder in half lengthwise and rub both halves completely with the spice paste. Let stand at room temperature for about one hour.
  4. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Wrap each of the pork shoulders in aluminum foil so that they are completely covered. Bake for about 4-1/2 hours. Remove the aluminum foil and place the cooked pork on a large rimmed platter or in a large bowl. Using two forks, pull the pork into large shreds. Pour the glaze on the pork and serve.
    Serves 4 to 6.

Edible Jersey’s Summer 2013 Issue

Edible Jersey Summer 2013

It’s just out, it’s free, and it includes fantastic stories. Including one of my favorite interview subjects of all time:  the inimitable Bill Meyer (“The Professional”), who is in his fifth decade as a server in NJ restaurants. Currently a captain at Restaurant Nicholas, Meyer reminisces about past regulars like Frank Sinatra and Phil Rizzuto and the time a goodfella held a knife to his throat when lunch wasn’t coming fast enough. Click here for where to pick up a copy.

Beard Awards: Since a NJ Chef Wasn’t in the Running…

I am pleased that Johnny Monis, my favorite DC chef, took the award as best chef in the Mid-Atlantic region at the 2013 James Beard Awards. He won for Komi, his modern Greek/Mediterranean restaurant that I first wrote about (read: waxed poetic about) in 2007. My visit last year to his latest effort, Little Serow, for his interpretation of Thai food only sealed the deal, as I wrote in a previous blog.

King Salmon at Little Serow

King Salmon at Little Serow

While We’re on the Subject of DC Dining…

My latest foray there yielded up 2 winners: Bandolero in Georgetown and Pure Pasty Co., a short car ride away in Vienna VA.

Bandolero‘s modern interpretations of Mexican fare are the work of Jersey boy Mike Isabella, the Top Chef contestant who built his reputation at Graffiato, his Italian spot. My skepticism about whether he could pull off Mexican was quickly dispatched by these tuna taquitos with ginger, sesame, and sweet potato in shells made of malanga:


and these sopes with lamb picadillo, pickled jalapeno, and crema:


Not to mention the libations in the background, nor the unforgettable guacamole with masa chips and chicharrones and the lobster quesadilla. The restaurant is apparently embroiled in legal disputes – although not involving Isabella. Whatever.  The food is so good that even murky legal shenanigans and the restaurant’s dark, macho decor and vibe are not enough to keep me away.

Mike Isabella

Mike Isabella

btw: Isabella is planning to shortly open a Jersey-style sandwich shop/eatery in Edison, called G Grab and Go, which will feature his own pork roll.
Bandolero on Urbanspoon

Be honest now: Have you ever eaten a Cornish pasty in this country that didn’t have too-thick, dry, leaden pastry and/or flavorless filling? I hadn’t – although I hear Rocky’s in Wharton and Montclair’s The Pie Store are worth checking out.

Traditional Pasties at Pure Pasty, Vienna VA

Traditional Pasties at Pure Pasty, Vienna VA

Meantime, I’ve fallen for those at Pure Pasty, a small, sweet shop in the DC suburb of Vienna, run by English expat Michael Burgess. His are authentic, yet somehow the pastry is light, flaky, and flavorful and you can taste every lip-smacking ingredient in the pitch-perfect fillings.

You don’t have to take my word for how good these pasties are. Accompanying me was an actual Brit, who raved even more than I did about not only the pasties but also the authentic sausage roll. Partly what accounts for their deliciosity are high quality ingredients – often organically grown and locally sourced – and an American chef who worked at Jose Andres’ erstwhile Cafe Atlantico. Here’s the cutaway view of the above (note the elderflower soda in the background):


Here’s the standard menu, which is augmented by daily specials. The soup the day I visited was Scotch broth:


The shop offers 2-day mail order delivery of frozen pies, and also carries shelves of groceries only a Brit could love, like these tins of mushy peas:


Pure Pasty Co. on Urbanspoon

Anyone Else Remember The A Kitchen Chinese Restaurant in South Brunswick?

If, like me, you lived in Central NJ in the 1970s you dined at – and worshiped – the Chinese restaurant, A Kitchen which, by the time I discovered it, had relocated from a gas station on Route 1 to a modest space on Route 27. Until now, I never knew that the NY Times had anything to do with its popularity. And, I regret to say, I completely forgot about the existence of the man who brought it to light, Raymond Sokolov, who had the misfortune to follow Craig Claiborne as restaurant critic. Here’s the excerpt from Sokolov’s new book, Steal the Menu, that talks about A Kitchen.  

Olive Oil Scandals; Best Meal for the Price in NJ;

Think you’ve heard and read everything you need to about being ripped off by extra virgin olive oils? So did I until…

My true education about extra virgin olive oil began in December 2011, when two seemingly unrelated things came my way. The first was the publication of Tom Mueller’s book, Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Extra Virginity CoverOil (Norton). The second was a Christmas gift from my daughter, who had “adopted” an Italian olive tree (for one year) in my name. That meant that over the next twelve months I would receive two packages of extra-virgin olive oils from Nudo, a collaboration of small-scale artisanal olive oil producers in the Italian Apennines. (Nudo has since modified its adoption program to include four shipments a year.)

The company was founded in 2005 by an English couple, Jason Gibb and Cathy Rogers, who had bought a place of their own with an olive grove. The oils I received from the olive groves under their umbrella in Liguria and Le Marche were, in a word, delicious. costa chica etc 004

If I hadn’t read Mueller’s book, “deliciousness” would have been the only criteria I would have asked of these extra virgins. Sure, I had heard about the global olive oil scandal – especially the Italian side of it. But my thinking went something like this: Hey, if I like the taste of a particular olive oil and it’s priced right, what do I care if some of the claims on the label aren’t accurate. Maybe not all the olives (or maybe none) are from Italy, or maybe it’s not cold-pressed or first-pressed. Until I read the book for myself, all the reviews and interviews I chanced upon harped only on these shortcomings.

To be sure, these are serious shortcomings and a total rip-off, but what changed my thinking was that these low-quality, adulterated oils are not just frauds, they are often harmful to your health. It’s not just that they don’t meet some obscure scientific criteria, like 0.08% acidity, or some “expert” taste test, it’s that they at best lack the healthful qualities that give the scientific basis to their role in the Mediterranean Diet and at worst contain levels of substances that impair health, like free radicals and peroxides. Some are adulterated with machine-grade olive oil. (Who knew there even was such a thing?)

Near the end of the book, Mueller provides an exhaustive list of resources for quality extra virgin olive oil. I was happy to see among them Zingerman’s, the reputable Ann Arbor specialty food store with an extensive mail-order business. The number of companies reliably offering single-estate olive oils, like Nudo, is growing. Italities also offers verifiable, traceable estate olive oils from Italy via the Internet. The Doylestown-based business was founded by Roberto Cetrullo, who had been in the pharmaceutical/nutrition industry for decades, after he read the widely reported 2010 study by the University of California, Davis that found that 69% of imported olive oil and 10% of California olive oil did not meet the international or U.S. standards for “extra virgin.”

Olives on tree

Olives on tree (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

California companies, too, are offering their own estate-grown extra virgins, often sustainably grown, milled on-site, and award winning. Worth checking out are Olivina, Da Vero, and Dry Creek Olive Company.

Here are two recipes that make use of good-quality olive oil. The first is an easy, can’t miss pasta dish from Jason Gibb of Nudo. The second is a rarity: a Bundt cake that replaces butter with olive oil and is dairy free to boot. It comes straight from the folks at about.com.

Jason Gibb, Nudo

(Slightly adapted from the Nudo website version)

1 large or 2 medium whole heads garlic
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1 tablespoon butter, softened
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling on garlic
Salt & fresh ground pepper to taste
1/4 to 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
12 ounces tagliatelle
Freshly ground pepper to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut off the tops of the garlic heads so you can see the flesh peeking out. Place them on a square of tin foil, drizzle them with olive oil, and loosely wrap the garlic so its sides aren’t touching the foil. Roast in the oven for about 50 minutes, until the garlic is soft.
  2. When garlic is cool, squeeze out cloves and combine in a blender with the peas, butter, 2 teaspoons olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Blend into a smooth paste then mix in the grated Parmesan.
  3. Cook the tagliatelle according to the instructions on the package. Drain and mix in the pesto. Serve immediately.
    Serves 4.

Ashley Adams: dairy free cooking on about.com 

1/2 cup vanilla soy milk
1/3 cup lemon juice plus 1 tablespoon lemon juice, divided
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
6 large eggs
1 cup olive oil
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lightly oil and flour a 12-cup Bundt pan. In a small cup or bowl, combine the soy milk and 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice, mixing until just combined. Set aside.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, and nutmeg. Set aside.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, use an electric hand mixer on medium speed to beat together the sugar, eggs, and olive oil. Beat continuously for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the mixture is pale yellow in color. Add the remaining 1/3 cup lemon juice and beat until combined.
  4. In several additions, alternately add the flour mixture and the soy milk-lemon juice mixture to the wet ingredients, starting and ending with the flour mixture and beating well between additions. Mix until just incorporated. Carefully pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake emerges clean. Allow cake to cool for 30 minutes in the pan on a wire rack, then carefully turn out the cake onto the cooling rack to cool completely. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve at room temperature or cold.

Talk about Bang for the Buck! $29 3-Course Dinner at Bar N

I had been meaning to dine at the bar at Restaurant Nicholas literally for years, but didn’t get a chance until earlier this week. I truly cannot think of another instance in which the price/quality ratio was better. Here’s what it consisted of that particular evening:

  • Pickled heirloom baby beets, olive oil mascarpone, Meyer lemon, spinach puree
  • Bourbon braised suckling pig, Parisienne apples, toasted pecans, maple jus
  • Dark chocolate ganache, coconut sorbet, white chocolate powder
Coffee Service at Restaurant Nicholas

Coffee Service at Restaurant Nicholas

It’s worth noting that the suckling pig is this top-rated NJ restaurant’s signature dish, and that there’s a different menu each evening. I was pleased to discover that even after all these years Nicholas remains on top of its game. Oh yes: I sprung for the extra $20 to get generous pours of these matching wines:

  • 2011 Entre Deux Mers, Chateau Turcaud (Semillon & Sauvignon Blanc)
  • 2011 Argentina, Malbec, Fabre Montmayou
  • 2010 Maury, Mas Amiel (Grenache dessert wine from Languedoc-Roussillon)

I do have a couple of complaints. One, ever since dining there I feel as though I’m not getting my money’s worth anywhere else. Two, I have to drive well over an hour to reach this Red Bank restaurant. Clearly, it belongs in my neighborhood.

Groundbreaking NY Times Review; Truffle Season at NJ Restaurants

Am I the only one who thinks it’s a huge deal that NY Times restaurant critic Pete Wells crossed the Hudson for his review of Thirty Acres in Jersey City in last Wednesday’s Dining section? Maybe not as huge as George Washington crossing the Delaware, but still…

English: Washington Crossing the Delaware 1856...

English: Washington Crossing the Delaware 1856-71 George Caleb Bingham oil on canvas, 93 x 146 cm, Chrysler Museum of Art (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I admire Wells for being open-minded, and more importantly I think he is the best Times reviewer since Ruth Reichl, both for his culinary insights and his skilled prose. Do you agree or disagree? btw: Wells’ review was a rave. Here’s the link to the restaurant Thirty Acres. Congrats to everyone there!

Truffle Menus at Avenue & Nicholas

Have these restaurants snagged some kind of special deal on black truffles, despite the Perigord beauties going for record prices? I don’t know and I don’t care. All I know is they’re offering some pretty super-sounding menus that also appear to be fantastic bargains. (Everything being relative, of course).

Avenue, Pier Village, Long Branch

French-born executive chef Dominique Filoni has two distinct truffle menus on tap for January, each at $50 for 3 courses.

From now through the 15th:Avenue Truffle Scrambled Duck Egg
Scrambled Duck Eggs Infused with Truffles

Truffle Risotto with Celeriac, Pine Nuts, and Truffle Espuma

Valrhona Chocolate Truffles
(Pictured above: Avenue’s scrambled duck eggs infused with truffles. Eggs are sealed in a container for a couple of weeks to absorb the aroma, with truffle shavings added during final prep.)

Then, at Avenue from January 15th through the end of the month:

Sea Scallop and Truffle Carpaccio
Trio of Braised Beef Tongue, Oxtail, and Tripe with Truffle Brunoise
House-made Truffle Ice Cream

Chef Filoni is also offering to add shaved truffle to any dish for $15, and will point to which dishes are paired best with truffles.

Nicholas, Red Bank

Black Perigord Truffle, wikipedia.org

Black Perigord Truffle, wikipedia.org

Starting Thursday, January 10th until “the supply of fresh truffles runs out,” here’s what Nicholas Harary and crew are featuring at NJ’s top-rated restaurant, for $125:

Amuse: Black Truffle and Foie Gras Macaroon
First Course:Wild Mushroom, Celery Root Puree, Coconut and Black Truffle
Second Course: Lobster, Black Truffle Dashi, Tokyo Turnip, Red Wine
Third Course: Duck Egg, Parmigiano Reggiano, Tagliatelle, Black Truffle    Fourth Course: Duck Confit and Black Truffle Pot Pie
Dessert: Strawberry, Black Truffle, Sabayon

A Very Personal Hurricane Benefit Dinner

I hadn’t planned on posting anything this week. I didn’t want to distract attention from hurricane relief efforts (not to mention the election). But I just can’t let the following poignant notice from Nicholas Harary go unnoted. If you have ever enjoyed a meal at the hands of these folks, please support them now.

5-Course Dinner to Benefit Hurricane Sandy Victims

“Along with the rest of the Jersey Shore community, our hearts go out to everyone who has been impacted by the wrath of Hurricane Sandy. Our home and restaurant came out of the storm unscathed. Four members of our Restaurant Nicholas family were not as fortunate. Our Chef de Cuisine Nicholas Wilkins, Pastry Chef Kelly Kennedy, Captain Dominic Aviles and Food Runner Jay Bitner lost everything in the storm. Their homes, clothes, belongings…everything. I’m a firm believer that charity begins at home. That’s why this year, instead of our annual anniversary dinner, we will be holding a 5-course dinner with wine pairings to benefit these four individuals and their families. Our food purveyors and staff are donating their resources and time and 100% of the proceeds will be donated to Wilkins, Kelly, Dominic and Jay. FEMA and The Red Cross do amazing things, but these four need immediate relief. This money will not change their lives, but it will go a long way to help them take the first steps of their new journey. We hope you will join us.”

Monday, November 26th
$200 per person
Reservations: 732.345.9977
Special Menu to Follow 


Too Much Restaurant News! Ryland, Nicholas, Brian’s, Rat’s, Eno Terra

Here are pics from a sneak-peak party held on Monday night at the Ryland Inn, which should be open for business in a few weeks. Stay tuned.

This quintessential horse country scene greeted guests

A highlight of the cocktails-and-canapes offerings was a porchetta slider

Brian’s in Lambertville

The first special dinner held last week at this red-hot restaurant (read my 3-star review here) sold out within hours. Here are pics from Brian Held’s 20-course (!) Tour de France. Next up is a more reasonable 10-course tour of Sardinia. I expect it will sell out just as fast, so act fast if you’re interested (details follow below).

The Menu. Courtesy of Fred Ehmann

Boudin. Courtesy of Fred Ehmann

Beef Cheeks. Courtesy of Fred Ehmann

Courtesy of Fred Ehmann

Here’s the scoop on the Sardinian dinner straight from the restaurant: “Monday ~ September 24 ~ 6:30 pm. Think spit-roasted meats like suckling pig, homemade breads and cheeses, briny gifts of the sea like fish, spiny lobsters, or sea urchin, and much more. One seating—10 courses—$70/person. Call now and reserve a spot; the available tables vanished in no time for the last tour. And please—arrive hungry. 609.460.4148″

Restaurant Nicholas: NJ’s top-ranked chef/restaurateur Nicholas Harary was so impressed with the dozen eggs he was given while touring the farm at Impact OASIS in Middletown that is hosting a walk-around wine tasting/buying benefit there on September 9, from 4 to 6 pm.  A former employee of Restaurant Nicholas is involved with the non-profit Impact OASIS (Ongoing Autistic Success in Society), which led to the visit by Harary and now to this benefit, which includes a copy of Restaurant Nicholas: The Cookbook. For event details, click here.

Rat’s: New Restaurants for 12th Annual Epicurean Palette at Grounds for Sculpture

The nature and architecture of the park

The nature and architecture of the park (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On September 30th, regulars among the 1,000 folks who attend this prestigious food and wine benefit will notice some new faces and foods, among them Kevin Sbraga, who was chef at the host restaurant, Rat’s, until his Top Chef win and the opening of his eponymous restaurant in Philly. Other first-timers include The Orange Squirrel (Bloomfield), Daryl Wine Bar (New Brunswick), Kuzina by Sofia (Cherry Hill), and The Peacock Inn (Princeton). For the full line-up and event details click here.

Eno Terra’s Canal Farm in Kingston has a bumper crop…

…and you can buy the surplus. Here’s the info from the folks there: “We offer you box shares. This is a limited offer which will last while our farm’s supplies last. Each week we will choose the best, ripest produce, add our chefs’ recipes and pack them for you. Selection will vary upon what’s ripe and bountiful but you’ll most likely enjoy heirloom tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and greens. The boxes will be available for pickup at Eno Terra on Tuesdays between 4:30 – 6:30 pm. Upon pickup you may also enjoy complementary stuzzichinni (snacks) in the Enoteca. Price: $25 per box; including vegetables and chefs’ recipes. This price will cover our farm costs. We are also looking for volunteers to harvest produce which we will donate to the Crisis Ministry.” You must reserve boxes in advance each week. To register, phone Nirit Yadin at Eno Terra at 609.497.1777.

Restaurants Galore: Brian’s Review, Bernards Inn, Nicholas, Ryland Inn; Plus Win a Trip to Portugal

My 3-star review of Brian’s – chef/owner Brian Held‘s French/Italian bistro in Lambertville that opened earlier this year in the space on Kline’s Court that had been No. 9 – is in the August issue of New Jersey Monthly. Check out the online version here.

NJ Seafood is Having Its Moment


seafood (Photo credit: kiszka king)

I don’t know if it’s just coincidence or what, but this summer the state’s top-tier chefs are showcasing fish and seafood from local waters like never before. Just a few of the most exciting examples:

The Bernards Inn: For the Garden State Bounty dinner he’ll be cooking at the Beard House on August 9, executive chef Corey Heyer will combine NJ seafood with ingredients from the Inn’s own garden. In a nutshell (or perhaps sea shell):

Hors d’oeuvre of smoked blue fish, Cape May salt oysters, clams (in the form of a shooter), blue crab, and lobster (in the form of a summer roll).

Four courses featuring fluke, Barnegat Inlet scallops, skate, and striped bass.

Dessert is fish-less, and rightly so: Jersey peach tart Tatin with local honey and lavender ice cream.

Bernards Inn wine director Terri Baldwin has selected wines for each course. For the full menu and to make reservations for the Beard House ($130 -$170) click here.

Nicholas: On August 23, Nicholas Harary will feature a one-night-only Tastes of the Sea menu at his top-rated Red Bank restaurant. Cape May salts, NJ Canyon bluefin tuna, Jersey blue crab (joined by sea urchin – not a NJ creature, but oh my!), Barnegat Light scallops, and lobster. $125, or $175 with wine pairings. For the full menu, details, and reservations, click here.

Ryland Inn: No, Ryland 2.0 in Whitehouse is not open yet, but I hear tell it will be soon. Meanwhile, I had a chance to preview the kinds of things executive chef Anthony Bucco has up his chef-jacket sleeve when he guest cheffed at the Stone House in Warren one evening in June. NJ seafood starred in several courses of a memorable meal, among them a perfectly nuanced crudo of yellowfin and yellowtail with baby herbs and Jersey strawberries, and steamed black bass with hen-of-the-woods mushrooms and a puree of English peas and mint that was the embodiment of spring in a bowl.

btw: If you haven’t read Tammy La Gorce’s excellent story in the August issue of  NJ Monthly about the Ryland’s new owners, Jeanne & Frank Cretella of Landmark Hospitality, read it here.

Win a Trip to Portugal!

Portuguese wine center of Oporto along the Dou...

Portuguese wine center of Oporto along the Douro river. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The trade association ViniPortugal has launched a U.S. Facebook contest with a grand prize of a five-day trip to Portugal.  The contest runs between now and September 25th, with the winner announced on September 28. I have to admit I haven’t read the rules, but you might want to. Just click here.

A Blind Tasting of NJ Wines & Results of My Llama Meat Experiment


The March issue of NJ Monthly is all about wine. As part of it I was invited to be a judge in and to chronicle a blind tasting of NJ wines. The heady group of experts I was thrown in with were:

*Sue Guerra, marketing director, Gary’s Wine & Marketplace

*Nicholas Harary, chef/co-owner, Restaurant Nicholas (and, btw, former sommelier at Jean Georges)

*Brian Hider, wine director, The Pluckemin Inn

*Tim Hirsch, wine consultant, The Wine Library

*Dr. Gary Pavlis, NJ wine expert & specialist, Rutgers University

*Sharon Sevrens, proprietor, Amanti Vino

*George Staikos, wine consultant, educator & proprietor of The Educated Grape

Click here to find out how we rated 50-plus white, red, and fruit wines submitted by 25 wineries from every corner of the state. The good, the bad, the ugly. And feel free comment here with your own opinion on the state of our state’s wines. Salute!

 As I reported in a previous post, I recently purchased two pounds of ground llama meat from WoodsEdge Wools Farm in Stockton. I cooked it three different ways over three nights, the upshot being that while some experiments worked better than others, I’m happy to make llama meat a part of my life. Why, you ask?

Well, it’s a tasty, lean red meat. As Jim Weaver of Tre Piani had told me, it does indeed resemble pork in texture. But it has its own unique flavor – pronounced but not overpowering, simultaneously tangy and sweet. The first night I made two versions of pan-fried burgers, one with only truffle salt and pepper. It was OK, but when I topped it with First Field Jersey Ketchup, the flavor rounded out beautifully. For the other version I smeared a plain burger (regular salt & pepper) with some herb butter I had left over from a salmon dish the night before. When the butter melted into the cooked burger, it was a match made in heaven.

The next night I created a quick-and-dirty Stroganoff of the llama, sauteed onions and sliced portobello mushrooms, and sour cream. The richness of the sour cream proved a perfect foil; I will never use ground beef for this weeknight go-to dish again.

With the remaining llama I made mini-meat loaves in muffin cups, adding bread crumbs, fresh herbs, minced red onion, an egg, a squirt of lemon juice, and (I’m a bit embarrassed to admit) one finely diced mozzarella stick. This was my least successful dish – bland and a bit dry – although more of that Jersey ketchup helped.

In the end, I realized that any recipe I now have for pork can be substituted with the same cut of llama. (I’m particularly keen to try stew.) Since llama has tons more flavor than most pork, while being leaner, I think it’s a win-win. And here’s a scoop: Plans are in the works at WoodsEdge for offering yak meat by the end of March.