Tag Archives: Ryland Inn

Catching Up: Fresh Local Pasta; Fresh Local Rice; Chefs with Non-Culinary Sidelines; New BBQ in Lambertville; Foodie Gift Idea for New Parents; More

t has been 2 months since I last posted here. One reason for this lapse is personal: lots of wonderful major life events, including welcoming my first grandchild and gaining a second wonderful son-in-law. The other is global: trying to regain my balance since the election, which I consider an unmitigated disaster. (This is a blog about food and dining, not politics. But I won’t be offended if you want to stop following it because of the preceding statement. In fact, if you voted for the incoming administration, I wish you would unfollow me.)

Here are the stories – some among my all-time favorites to write – that appeared in the interim:

edible-jersey-holiday-2016
1. My profile of the Zeck brothers and their fresh, inventive, all-natural LoRe pastas made with local ingredients – including grains. This story made the cover of the current (i.e. holiday 2016) issue of Edible Jersey

2. My interview with Jim Lyons about the rice varieties he grows on his Pennington farm, Blue Moon Acres, which was my November feature story in the Princeton Echo

3. I followed that up in the December Echo by having 3 Princeton-area chefs tell, in their own words, about the passions they enjoy outside the kitchen: Crawford Koeniger (auto engine rebuilding), Dennis Foy (well-respected fine artist), and  Max Hansen (hand-turned wooden spoons and spatulas; photo below).

max-hansen-princeton-echo

Max Hansen, courtesy the Princeton Echo

Food for Thought logoAmong the tidbits in my “Food For Thought” column over the last months:

  • More Than Q, the popular outlet for Texas-style barbecue, closed up shop at the Stockton Market and opened up in Lambertville
  • NJ resident and blogger Leena Saini has produced a beautiful and eminently useful book for introducing babies to a world of flavors. Read all about Around the World in 80 Purees here. (Scroll down)
  • New ventures for Shibumi Mushrooms, and musical chefs’ chairs: Chris Albrecht takes over the kitchen at the Ryland Inn, while Craig Polignano leaves that post to become the opening chef at the forthcoming Mistral II in King of Prussia, PA. Details on both here.

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.

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.

2 Must See’s: My Interview with Judy Wicks & “I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti” @ George St. Playhouse

Judy Wicks of the Legendary White Dog Cafe to Speak at Duke Farms This Sunday

GoodMorning Beautiful Business

Wicks, local foods pioneer and a nationally recognized leader in the socially responsible business movement, is the keynote speaker at Slow Food Northern NJ’s event this Sunday, March 23rd, from 1 to 3:30 pm. Last week I spoke with Wicks about her upcoming appearance and her memoir, Good Morning, Beautiful Business. Read the conversation at www.njmonthly.com, then click the link at the end for tickets to the event, which cost $18 and include a lunch of local foods prepared by two of NJ’s finest chefs: Anthony Bucco of the Ryland Inn and Dan Richer of Razza and Arturo’s. The barn at Duke Farms in Hillsborough is the location.

Eat Your Heart Out at Charming, Hilarious One-Woman Tour de Force @ George St. Playhouse

Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Photo by T. Charles Erickson

I must admit it was with some trepidation that I attended the opening night in New Brunswick of I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti, the adaptation of Giulia Melucci’s best-selling memoir about her romantic misadventures and how she cooked her way through them.

First off, like both Ms. Melucci and the actress who plays her onstage, Antoinette LaVecchia, I am an Italian-American girl with an East Coast accent who grew up eating my way through joys and sorrows while making Sunday gravy. Usually, this means my radar for authenticity gets in the way of my enjoyment of artistic representations of such. (Sorry, Cher, but this includes your performance in Moonstruck.)

Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Second, the action involves Ms. LaVecchia preparing a 3-course meal onstage and serving it to a small number of audience members over the course of the performance. Antipasto, salad, and fresh pasta with Bolognese. So even my radar for authentic cooking would be on overdrive.

Third, the play itself or the acting could have fallen short, especially since it is a one-character play, and that character speaks directly to the audience. (High potential squirm factor.)

Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Obviously, I Loved, I Lost… cleared all these hurdles. And then some. The set, simple but effective, is a working kitchen island and Ms. LaVecchia really does use it to make from-scratch Bolognese sauce (a can of Cento tomatoes included) and fresh pasta dough that she runs through a pasta maker and boils before our eyes. I had my doubts as to whether the results would taste good, until aromas began to waft over the theater in the third act. (For insurance, afterwards I approached some of the 10 diners who were perched at bistro tables on stage during the play, and who ate and drank wine – poured by Ms. LaVecchia – throughout. They confirmed that the sauce was terrific and the pasta perfetto.)

Lest you think this play is all gimmick, let me clarify. The character, Giulia, is smart, funny, earthy, real, and heartbreaking. (Someone characterized the book, correctly, as “Sex and the City meets Big Night.”) Ms. LaVecchia engages the audience from beginning to end. She’s so good at it and so relatable that when she asked, “Now where was I, what was I saying?” after a snafu with sound equipment had temporarily halted the performance, someone in the front row blurted out, “You were telling us why you broke up with Ethan.” Just as if a friend had asked during a tete-a-tete.

One cool side note: Catherine Lombardi restaurant, next door to the playhouse, is donating the ingredients needed for the production.

I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti runs through April 11. Tickets and info at www.georgestreetplayhouse.org or call the box office at 732.246.7717.

Edible Jersey Holiday 2013; NJ’s Own Black Forest; Noteworthy Food Events

The newest edition of Edible Jersey – holiday 2013 – is out. In it you’ll find my story about the 3 generations of the Aichem family behind the venerable Black Forest Inn in Stanhope (on the border of Morris and Sussex counties). In the kitchen alone, 4 of the Aichem men work side by side – and 3 of them are named Heinrich! Included are recipes for ham in bread dough and red cabbage with apples.

Edible Jersey Holiday 2013 004

The digital edition is online (click here). Flip to page 35 for my story. You can find copies of this free magazine at farmers markets, Whole Foods markets, restaurants, and specialty food shops throughout the state. For the exhaustive list click here. (A word to the wise: in my neck of the woods, copies of Edible Jersey disappear faster than you can say Schwarzwald.)

Speaking of the Black Forest Inn…

I decided to stay for lunch after interviewing the Aichems. I haven’t been to Germany in decades, but the refined German cuisine at this old-school restaurant brought me back there in the best possible way. When it comes to food, “refined” and “German” aren’t always joined at the hip, but they are here.

I didn’t have my camera, so below is the only photo I could dig up of something I actually ate during that glorious meal: maultaschen, the German version of ravioli ($7.75 as a starter; $13.75 as entrée).

Inside these tender pasta wrappers – which are neither too thick nor thin – is a layer of silky, subtle ground veal and spinach that conjures a fine terrine. As you can see, the envelopes are ladled with jus (caraway, and darned flavorful) and strewn with thin strands of fried onions.

I had begun with a fillet of house smoked trout ($9.75), which was expertly boned and delicately smoked. Classic accompaniments include creamy horseradish sauce, capers, and minute strands of red onion. Completing the plate were these beauties: fresh mache, carrot shavings, one endive leaf filled with chow-chow, a cornichon, and a tiny pickled onion. Clearly, presentation counts for something here.

I also indulged in cucumber dill salad ($4.75) – a simple-sounding dish that isn’t so simple to get right. Here it was perfection, its paper-thin slices of crunchy, in-season cukes tossed in a tamed-down white vinegar dressing with handfuls of fresh snipped dill thrown in.

My final treat was a big slice of something I normally have an aversion to: Black Forest cake ($5.75). This one’s a specialty of Heinrich, the grandson of founder Heinrich (dubbed “Heinz” in the kitchen to avoid confusion), and it’s a revelation. For one thing, it has a thin, buttery, pie-dough bottom crust. Above that, three layers of midnight-black but light-textured chocolate cake. In between are marinated whole cherries (fat, winey, and not too sweet) and dollops of chocolate mousse. The whole thing is covered with supremely fresh whipped cream that’s plastered with thin-sliced almonds. Wowee.

Black Forest Inn exteriorSure, you can get wursts and pretzels and kraut and beers at the Black Forest Inn. And its throwback gemutlichkeit setting isn’t unique. What is hard to come by is the increasingly rare treat of encountering classic haute-German fare.
Black Forest Inn on Urbanspoon

Tis the Season to Dine Well and Do Good

holly sprig clipartLike you, I’m inundated every holiday season with invitations to food and wine events that benefit good causes. With our calendars bulging with seasonal chores, events, and obligations, it’s as hard to choose among them as it is to find the time to attend. Here are some worthy candidates for spending your precious holiday capital:

Thursday, 11/21, Princeton: The 3rd annual Fall Collaborative Feast at elements restaurant. Two things in particular recommend it: it’s turning the spotlight onto those unsung heroes of restaurant kitchens everywhere – the sous chefs – and raising money for D&R Greenway Land Trust. The sous (the plural can’t be souses, that just doesn’t seem right) come from leading NJ restaurants, among them the Ryland Inn, 90 Acres, and elements itself. Details here.

Thursday, 12/5, Red Bank: The culinary coalition Red Bank Flavour is hosting their 2nd annual Holiday Flavour at the Molly Pitcher Inn. 20+ local restaurants are participating in this event, which benefits 3 local nonprofits and includes a chance to win a special multi-course tasting dinner for 2 curated by Tom Colicchio at his Colicchio & Sons restaurant. Details here.

Anytime, Newark: For both of the above events, a portion of the proceeds will go to very worthwhile organizations. But if you want 100% of your largesse to directly benefit those most in need, I urge you to donate to Bring Home Dinner, a simple, successful, hyper-local collaboration each November that aids the families of Newark’s Camden Street School, where more than 90% fall below the poverty line, and where nearly 50% of the children are special needs. Funds raised in November provide each family with $50 worth of local supermarket gift cards to feed their family for the week. For details and to donate, click here.

And Finally: Help for Making it through the Season

Saturday, 11/30: For the 3rd year, American Express is sponsoring Small Business Saturday across the nation. Check your local papers and social media for special deals and events in your area. In Princeton, for example, Catch a Rising Star comedy club is sponsoring an afternoon of holiday shopping, visiting with Santa, and watching a magic show at Forrestal Village. For those who stay for dinner, Tre Piani restaurant is offering one free kid’s meal with the purchase of each adult meal. Details here.

Sunday, 12/8: Slow Food Central NJ’s 9th season (!) of winter farmers markets kicks off at Cherry Grove Farm in Lawrenceville, from 10 am to 2 pm. A full list of vendors will be posted soon at www.slowfoodcentralnj.org.

Thru 12/31: If you find yourself needing a restorative lunch after a day of holiday shopping in the New Brunswick area, you can’t do better than taking advantage of the 20% discount on lunch (as well as on selected beers and wines by the glass) at the Frog & the Peach. If you doubt me, check out their amazing lunch menu.

Too Many Fall Events; Dining in San Francisco (part ii)

I know summer is really and truly over when…

…my inbox overflows with food & wine events. Here are some that captured my attention for one reason or another – like for being good deals; having big-time names associated with them; generously aiding important non-profits; or all of the above. See if you agree. btw: My good buddy Rosie Saferstein maintains a complete, definitive list of upcoming statewide events on Table Hopping with Rosie at www.njmonthly.com.

champagne wikipediaStarting Wednesday, 9/18 Elements in Princeton is featuring Sparkling Wednesdays. Ladies will be offered a different complimentary sparkling wine or sparkling cocktail. I am so there!

Sunday, 9/20, 7:30 pm: Slow Food Northern NJ is screening “La Cosecha” (“The Harvest”), a documentary about the estimated 300,000 children who work in American fields harvesting 20% of the foods you and I eat. Shameful and important. At the Ethical Culture Society, Maplewood. Suggested donation is $5. RSVP (by 9/18?!) to slowfoodnnj@yahoo.com.

Grape ExpectationsSaturday, 9/28, 6:30 to 11 pm: NY Times wine critic Eric Asimov will headline “Great Expectations,” a fundraiser for the Montclair Public Library Foundation, along with Montclair’s leading chefs and Sharon Sevrens of Amanti Vino Wines. There are 2 events and 2 prices. Details here.

Sunday, 9/29, 1 to 4 pm: The 13th annual Epicurean Palette at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton. VIP tickets have already sold out, but you can still sample the 40 restaurants (from NJ & PA) and 25 wine, beer, and spirits wineries/vendors/importers on the stunning grounds of this 42-acre sculpture park.  Details here.

Shane Cash of Rat's, Epicurean Palette 2012

Shane Cash of Rat’s, Epicurean Palette 2012

Monday, 10/7, 7 pm and/or Friday, 10/13, 6 pm: How fun is this? On 10/7, chef Anthony Bucco of the Ryland Inn will take over the reins of Fascino in Montclair from Ryan DePersio for 1 night. Then, on the 13th, the tables (and stoves) will turn, when chef DePersio takes over the Ryland for the night. Each will offer a prix fixe 5-course meal for $75. Call Fascino at 973.233.0350 for reservations for the 10/7 dinner and the Ryland Inn at 908.534.4011 for reservations for 10/13.

Shoot It Eat ItTuesday, 10/8, 6:3o to 9:30 pm: Admit it: like me, you’d jump at the chance to get professional help with taking food pics. Here’s your chance – while enjoying a terrific 3-course meal. Eno Terra in Kingston and professional photog Frank Veronsky of Princeton Photo Workshop are teaming up for “Shoot It, Eat It.” Each course will be specially plated and lighted so you can learn the tricks of the trade before devouring your salad, 3 main dishes (served family style), glass of wine, and dessert. Cost: $159 includes photography lesson, shooting, dining, tax and gratuity. $75 for your dining-only guest(s). To register click here.

Nopa: Restaurant Envy in San Francisco

NopaHere are just a few of the thoughts running through my head as I enjoyed dinner at Nopa (shorthand for NOrth of the PAnhandle), which last year the New York Times termed “a cult favorite” in a city full of cult restaurants:

“Any restaurant in New Jersey would kill for Monday night business like this!”
All of its 110 seats were filled early on – and people were lined 2-deep at the very long bar.

“Why can’t restaurants back home offer food of this caliber at these prices?”
Nopa’s contemporary “rustic California” cuisine embraces organic, farm-to-table, wood-fired and Mediterranean elements. The food, drink, and setting are exciting but not stuffy; painstaking but not precious. Here are some of the “bargains:” $14 for the best hamburger of my life. And it was grass-fed and came with pickled onions and fries. $9 for a starter of baked duck egg, romesco sauce, summer squash, and shaved pantaleo (a hard goat cheese from Sardinia by way of Cowgirl Creamery). Likewise, wood-baked butter beans, feta, oregano pesto, and breadcrumbs.

“Why can’t restaurants back home offer cocktails and wines of this caliber at these prices?”
Interesting, well-concocted cocktails made from premium and housemade ingredients, all at $9 and $10, like the Summit: St. George Terroir gin, grapefruit, lime, and honey. And a nicely curated international wine list plus reasonably priced by-the-glass options like Daniele Ricci “El Matt” 2010 Bonarda, $9.

“How can I get NJ restaurants to adopt Nopa’s “Monday Magnums” program?”
Every Monday they crack open a different magnum-format wine and offer it by the glass. On my visit it was a 2009 Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Domaine Monpertuis for $16.

“How lucky am I to have found myself here?”
It wasn’t by virtue of my own research, or the recommendation of any of my food-world friends, or serendipity. It was through my brilliant future son-in-law, Ryan, who lived in NoPa when the restaurant opened, knew a good thing when he saw it, and watched it bring about the transformation of this neighborhood.

Reservations are hard to come by at Nopa, which currently has 3,291 reviews on Yelp, but if you find yourself without one, know that the bar (and communal table) open at 5 pm and serve snacks til 6.
Nopa on Urbanspoon

Ryland Inn in Edible Jersey; 5 NYTimes Restaurant Critics Discuss the Process; You (and Your Kid) Can Be an Archaeologist for a Day; Judy Wicks in Stockton

My Interview with Chef Anthony Bucco & Owner Jeanne Cretella of the Ryland Inn

In the just-out Fall 2013 issue of Edible Jersey I ask these key players: Can this legendary restaurant really be reborn and, if so, what’s their strategy and how’s it going. Here’s the link to the digital edition. The story starts on page 66.

Edible jersey cover fall 13

Times’ Reviewers Dish on the Art of Restaurant Reviewing

In case this somehow got by you, here’s a terrific video featuring Pete Wells, Ruth Reichl, et al on subjects close to my heart, such as assigning stars, going incognito, overused adjectives, what they won’t eat, etc. Someday, when I’m done reviewing NJ restaurants, I promise to spill my own beans on all of the above subjects – and more.

The Following has Nothing to do with Food or Dining but…

Morven archaeology

… at one time I worked for the American School of Classical Studies at Athens and have always been fascinated by archeology. If you have, too, this Saturday (9/14) you – and a child, if you so choose – can participate in a dig at Morven, the 18th century former NJ Governor’s mansion in Princeton. Click here for details. It’s free and open to the public. Oddly, the Morven website doesn’t give enrollment info. To reserve a spot, phone (609) 924-8144 x106 or email Michelle Sheridan at msheridan@morven.org.

Legendary White Dog Cafe Restaurateur @ Stockton Farm Market

Judy Wicks book

Interesting slate of events for September at the Stockton Farmers Market, beginning this Sunday (9/15) with legendary restaurateur Judy Wicks:

Sunday, September 15 Judy Wicks will be signing her recently published memoir Good Morning, Beautiful Business at the market on Sunday September 15th for a discussion of her book which is about her life as a girl coming of age in the sixties, living a year in an Eskimo village, co-founding the Free People’s store, her accidental entry into the restaurant business, the creation of the White Dog Cafe in Philly and her eventual role as a pioneer in the localization movement. She’ll talk about how entrepreneurs, as well as consumers, can follow both mind and heart to build a more compassionate economy that will bring us greater security, and happiness. Join her Sunday, September 15th from 10am-1pm.

Uproot Review; Irish Julep Recipe; Agricola Opens; ‘Outstanding in the Field’ Comes to NJ; Edible Jersey Names Local Heroes

That’s a lot packed inside here – and yet there’s more. This post marks my 100th at dinewithpat! Thank you, thank you, thank you for the support and encouragement you’ve given me over the last 99. I’d be so grateful if you would help me celebrate by getting another food-loving friend to subscribe, or by following me on Twitter and Facebook. Yay me!

Uproot 2.0

This restaurant in Warren changed its focus and uprooted its menu (sorry; couldn’t resist) after its opening chef, Anthony Bucco, moved on to the Ryland Inn. Here’s my NJ Monthly review of the “new” Uproot, from the March issue. (Beer lovers will want to check out the cover stories as well.)

NJ Monthly cover mar13

For St. Patrick’s Day: No Green Beer Here!clipart shamrock

This year the folks at Salt Creek Grill in Princeton are saving us from that particular alcoholic monstrosity. Their alternative – the Irish Julep – is inspired. It’s made, predictably, with Jameson – but also with a particularly intriguing twist: Amaro Averna from Sicily. Here’s the recipe:

Salt Creek Grill's Irish Julep

Salt Creek Grill’s Irish Julep

Salt Creek Grill’s Irish Julep

1.5 ounces Jameson Irish Whiskey
¼ ounce Averna Amaro
½ ounce simple syrup
6 mint leaves
1 mint sprig
1/2 ounce water
Crushed Ice

Muddle mint leaves, simple syrup, and water in a highball glass.
Add crushed ice and Jameson Irish Whiskey.
Float Averna Amaro on top and garnish with mint sprig.

Breaking News on My Previous Breaking News: Agricola is Open

Agricola opening date

In my last post I reported that this long-awaited Princeton restaurant would open sometime in March. Well, that sometime is here: Sunday, March 10. Check out the opening menus at the Agricola website.

2 NJ Dates for ‘Outstanding in the Field’ Dinners

Last season, this company that mounts chef/farmer dinners around the country (and the world) in the middle of farm fields, on ranches, etc. did not hold an event in our fair state. This coming season, there are two of what they term “roving culinary adventures.” Tickets go on sale at the Outstanding the Field website on March 20th and, even at $200 a head, they sell out fast. Here’s a heads-up on the NJ dinners:

9/15 at Great Road Farm, Skillman (owned by Jim Nawn of Agricola). Chef is Josh Thomsen (Agricola) and farmer is Steve Tomlinson.

9/17 at Stonybrook Meadows, Hopewell (an equine and sustainable meats & produce farm). Chef is Laura Del Campo (an alum of elements in Princeton) and farmers is Anne Del Campo (her mom).

Congratulations to Edible Jersey’s 2013 ‘Local Heroes’

Here are this year’s award winners, selected by Edible Jersey magazine’s readers.  Well done & well deserved all. Cheers!

Sometimes you just gotta pop some Champagne.

Sometimes you just gotta pop some Champagne. (Photo credit: ganesha.isis)

River Horse Brewing Company, Lambertville (Beverage Artisan)
Matthew Gregg, Forty North Oyster Farms, Mantoloking (Farm/Farmer)
First Field, Princeton (Food Artisan)
Marilyn Schlossbach, Langosta Lounge, Asbury Park (Chef/Restaurant)
Basil Bandwagon and Natural Market, Flemington (Food Shop)
Hunterdon Land Trust, Flemington (Nonprofit)

Interview with Craig Shelton; Slow Food Winter Farmers Market; LA Times’ Devilish Quiz

Coffee & Conversation With Craig Shelton

When I read in an interview in Inside Jersey that Craig Shelton – historically New Jersey’s most renowned chef for his groundbreaking restaurant, the Ryland Inn – had moved to Princeton, my home town, I invited him to conversation over coffee at a local shop.Craig Shelton I wanted to know why and how he had landed in Princeton after a stint in Texas, and what was on his horizon. As always, Shelton was gentlemanly, thoughtful, and unpredictable. I can’t think of any other chef whose responses to restaurant-related questions would encompass: artists ranging from John Singer Sargent to Basquiat, the differences between the British and German banking systems (a discussion that was, frankly, over my head and so is not included here), and the nature of man and the universe.

Me: Why Princeton?
Shelton: The reasons were several-fold. First and foremost, the children. My son, William, is 14 and in middle school. My littlest, Juliette, is at Community Park elementary. (Olivia, my oldest, is soon to be 23. She’s finishing up at Villanova. Her major is pre-med and communications.) Princeton is one of very few locations where you can have an extremely high-value quality of life without needing much money. I lived for many years in nice places that required a nice income. Have you been to the university art museum? I was blown away. I’ve always been a bookish guy. It’s nice to be in a community where you’re not an oddity. Well, I’m still an oddity. I’m probably the only guy in town that’s right-of-center politically.

Me: How has your family coped with the recent changes?
Shelton: My wife fell in love with Texas. We went down without expectations – the rolling hills and horse farms reminded us of Far Hills. People were so lovely, I can’t begin to tell you. We found the area singularly beautiful, quiet, whole, and wholesome. I didn’t see the level of spiritual emptiness that is worldwide. My wife was a shy person, but they embraced her. It affected her in a most beautiful way.

Me: I know you’re consulting with Constantine Katsifis, owner of the Skylark Diner in Edison and other ambitious diners around the state. What else are you involved in these days?
Shelton: Constantine uses me as a kind of Special Ops guy on serious issues. I go in for 90 days, do triage, implement fixes, take a look at finances, marketing – whatever his needs are. I even consult on issues outside his restaurants. But my highest aspiration is to be a bridge between the worlds of finance the restaurant arts. The Ryland was like the canary in the coal mine: it was not in a big city – it was exurban – and it had no big financial backers. It was ten to fifteen years ahead of the others in having to face the current financial and global issues. We have created a sort of Frankensteinish monetary code in the US – very injurious to the working and middle classes –  that makes any kind of traditional business [harder]. Finance and banking trump all other aspects of business, and the government is failing to resolve current issues of financial trust. There’s an unprecedented need for balance sheet work to be done!

Me: Where is the dining world headed?
Shelton: It’s easier to figure out than you think. Like all the plastic arts, it is constantly evolving. But of all the arts it has the greatest latency factor. Just look at any other art form, what you see on the plate will have come out of that. Sculpture, architecture, music – you can map alongside the resulting aesthetic changes in cuisine. What creates beauty? The mind creates beauty based, I think, on the nature of the universe – god and man. Beauty deals with these things on some level. If you take an art history class you’ll see the changes from, say, William Merritt Chase and Singer Sargent to Basquiat and beyond. You see Rothko on the plate today: a smear painted with a brush. Chefs don’t create ex nihilo, they’re a product of their environment. The current worldview is that we have rejected painterly painting, that you see the effect of modernism everywhere. You see evidences of the changes, not just in painting but in advertising, packaging, signage, etc. But I think you’re going to see a psychological need to draw support from traditional beauty with more frequency.

Me: What does it take to have a successful restaurant these days?
Shelton: The guys who have followed me have done so at a nearly impossible moment in time. Their range of choices is driven by economics, as it has been for 25 years. Like when Jean Georges began to use the secondary cuts of meat – really, it was the only economic choice at the time. Why do you think people are into foraging now? The range of options keeps shrinking. A lot of restaurants are going to go under – 20% or more. Of course, there will always be a few geniuses and a factor of luck, like finding the right business partner. A dining room of ten seats can work; anything more than that may be a liability these days.
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Slow Food Winter Market @ Cherry Grove Farm on Saturday

Cheeses from Cherry Grove Farm, Lawrenceville

Cheeses from Cherry Grove Farm, Lawrenceville

At this special holiday market you can, of course, pick up outstanding meats, eggs, fruits, vegetables, and other foodstuffs from these participating farms: Cherry Grove, Cherry Grove Organic, and North Slope. But you can also put a serious dent in your holiday gift list. Personally, these are what I plan to cross off my own:

There will be much more: Organic ghee from Pure Indian Foods, fresh mozzarella and ricotta from Fulper Farms, alpaca wool products from WoodsEdge, Jersey Jams and Jellies, Artisan Tree handmade natural soaps. Plus live music by Bo Child & Anita Harding.

Shibumi Farm Mushrooms

Shibumi Farm Mushrooms

I’ll also be purchasing exotic mushrooms from Shibumi Farm to make wild mushroom mac ‘n’ cheese for a holiday dinner party I’m hosting. If you haven’t encountered the spectacular fungi of Alan Kaufman and company, like the lemon oysters, pioppinos, and king oysters show here, you’re missing out on something special.

The Central NJ Slow Food Winter Market runs from 11 am to 3 pm on Saturday, December 15 at Cherry Grove Farm on Route 206 in Lawrenceville. For directions and a full line-up of vendors, click here.

Jonathan Gold’s Cooking Weights & Measures Quiz

I am not going to tell you what I scored on this clever multiple-choice test; it’s embarrassing. Hopefully you’ll do better.

Ryland Inn Earns 4 Stars; Last-Minute Thanksgiving Side Dishes from NJ Chefs

It’s one stop shopping for both the review and the side dishes at NJMonthly.com! The Ryland review – by my sometime-boss and tough cookie Eric Levin – represents the first “extraordinary” rating bestowed by the magazine in a decade. I dare you to not laugh out loud at Levin’s reporting on being imprisoned in the men’s room.

While you’re at the magazine’s website, take a gander at the collection of holiday side dishes I’ve glombed from chefs and cookbook authors around the state. Among these jewels:


Tuscan Kale with Pine Nuts & Golden Raisins
from Chef Matt Sytsema of Griggstown Quail Farm

Orange Ginger Carrot Puree from Aaron Philipson of Blue Bottle Cafe

Cranberry Acorn Squash from Carol Byrd-Bredbenner’s Fresh Tastes from the Garden State

Potato Turnip Bake from me.

btw: These sides work equally well with ham, so keep them in mind if that’s your Christmas dinner centerpiece.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!