Tag Archives: Scott Anderson

Chefs Team Up with Griggstown Farm; Mistral Opens in King of Prussia; Where to Dine on Excellent Ramen & Breast of Veal, Finding Nectar on a Human Scale

Talk about a mixed bag! Today’s post runs the gamut from coq au vin and crispy pork riblets to authentic ramen and hard-to-come-by Italian-style breast of veal. Oh yes: and how you can experience collecting nectar like a bee.

Inaugural Video of Griggstown Farm Chicken Channel Features Chef Chris Albrecht of the Ryland Inn

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Coq au Vin, Griggstown Chicken Channel

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Chris Albrecht & George Rude, Sr., Griggstown Chicken Channel

 

 

 

 

 

The folks who raise Griggstown’s chickens and other premium, all-natural birds have launched a YouTube channel that has New Jersey’s top chefs demonstrating how to put those birds to excellent use, and pairs each video with related special offers. I sat in on the first taping and got the behind-the-scenes scoop while Albrecht demonstrated making coq au vin. My full report here, in the March issue of The Princeton Echo.

A Second Mistral Opens in Newly Expanded King of Prussia Mall

The folks behind Princeton’s popular Elements and Mistral restaurants – Steve Distler & Scott Anderson – opened their second Mistral on March 1st, across the river in Pennsylvania. As I reported a  few months back, chef de cuisine for this newly constructed space is Craig Polignano, who left the Ryland Inn (and moved to Conshohoken) to take the post.

The bright and airy restaurant is larger than its older sibling – 111 seats inside and  48 outside – but just as stylish, although with a different aesthetic, dominated by pale, whitewashed wood tones accented with bright azure.

Below are highlights from my first meal there. Three of us shared seven dishes, each so impressive that it was hard to pick favorites. The menu structure is mostly small plates (like its Princeton forebear), but the selections are unique to KOP. If you go: locating the restaurant is tricky. It’s next to Nieman Marcus. Look for the sign for Grand Lux Cafe – Mistral is below.

Maitake

Pork Riblets w/scallion pancake, shiitake, English cucumber – Mistral KOP

Cavatelli

Ricotta Cavatelli w/roasted squash, capers, pecorino tartufo, & yolk – Mistral KOP

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Salmon

Olive Oil-Poached Organic Salmon w/onion, baby beet, mustard, buttermilk – Mistral KOP

 

 

 

 

 

 

Food for Thought logo

My Food for Thought column in March’s Princeton Echo is chock-full of happy finds, including:
A don’t-miss, 3-course ramen meal prepared by an expert is coming up for one night only inside Princeton’s Nomad Pizza restaurant. Here are pics from a previous one:

ramen-mushroom

Frank Caponi’s Mushroom Ramen

 

ramen-chasu

Frank Caponi’s Chasu Ramen

 

 

 

 

 


A Central Jersey Italian restaurant offering roast breast of veal that beats my own mother’s version. Here’s a pic from the meal that won me over:

breast-of-veal-2

Breast of Veal, Chick & Nello’s Homestead Inn

Think you know all about how bees gather nectar? I guarantee you’ll be gobsmacked by what you didn’t know at this small but captivating display in Ewing at The College of New Jersey.

resonent-nest-tcnj

Jessica Rath, Resonant Nest, Photo by Brian Forest

All details here.

 

Princeton Restaurant Veterans Spread Their Wings; Lillipies Opening @ Princeton Shopping Center; Update on EDDY Awards Voting

New Restaurants from Familiar Names & Faces in Union, Asbury Park, & King of Prussia Mall

Jamie Dodge, Beverage Manager at Barrio Costero puts a finishing touch on his Hotel Nacional cocktail

Jamie Dodge, Beverage Manager at Barrio Costero, puts a finishing touch on his Hotel Nacional cocktail

Here in my June “Food for Thought” column in the Princeton Echo I have the scoop on the latest projects & whereabouts of folks like Jamie Dodge (formerly of Elements & Mistral), Derek Brousseau (One53 & Mistral), David Viana (Kitchen @ Grove Station & Battello), Carlo & Raoul Momo (Terra Momo Restaurant Group), and Scott Anderson & Steve Distler (Elements & Mistral).

Jen Carson Shares Plans for the June Opening of Lillipies, Her Bakery-Cafe on North Harrison Street

Jen Carson, Lillipies, courtesy The Princeton Echo

Jen Carson, Lillipies, courtesy The Princeton Echo

Besides the sweet and savory baked goods that have earned her a large following, Carson’s first brick-and-mortar spot will offer scratch-made soups, sandwiches, coffee, ice cream, and live entertainment. Details here, in my June feature story in the Echo.

There’s still time to vote for my EDDY-nominated story, “The First Ladies of Cape May!”

Dot Thompson & Lucille Burton. Photo by Aleksey Moryakov

Dot Thompson & Lucille Burton. Photo by Aleksey Moryakov

As I mentioned in my previous post, I am honored that my story from Edible Jersey is 1 of 5 nominees in the Chef Feature category of the EDDYs: the national writing awards of the 90 Edible Communities magazines. You can cast one vote a day every day from now through Wednesday, June 8th by clicking here. (As of this writing, my story had accumulated 66% of the votes!!!)

Breaking News: First Report on the New Elements in Princeton

Scott Anderson’s newly relocated restaurant opens to the public on Tuesday, August 11, but for the last few days he, Chef Mike Ryan, and staff have been testing out on invited guests the new space, new menu, and especially the new, unorthodox style of service. That service? The five cooks, including Anderson, themselves deliver the dishes each has prepared. (A service charge of 20% is added to the bill. If you need to get caught up on the what/where/why/and how behind the move, check out my story here in the July issue of The Princeton Echo.)

I was lucky enough to be among the preview guests and since I will not officially be reviewing this restaurant, I and my husband, Bill, were excited to give it a go. Herewith my report.

GUESTS ENTER via a dedicated door on Witherspoon Street and come upon a podium and hostess, technically located inside Mistral Bar. Guests are whisked upstairs via elevator. When the doors open, the first sensation is the wonderful scent of wood smoke, from the open kitchen’s open hearth.

Elements Dining Room 2015

Elements Dining Room 2015

THE DINING ROOM is reminiscent of, yet different from, the original restaurant. Earth tones of gray and beige, the same oversize painting (not shown), the tables and chairs – all are reprised. As you can see, the kitchen is visible from the dining area. Happily, the cooking heat is contained and the cooks work virtually soundlessly. The room is softened with gray, subtly patterned carpeting, with slate covering the floor directly in front of the open kitchen and down a hallway that leads to restrooms and to two private dining rooms.  The dining room features a vaulted, peaked ceiling that’s crisscrossed by roughhewn wood trusses and beams, all beautifully lit.

Greenscapes at Elements, Princeton 2015

Greenscapes at Elements, Princeton 2015

Greenscapes of succulents and moss dot the room, while luminescent marble candle holders add to the ambiance after dark.

Shirohana Bean Flower Amuse, Elements

Shirohana Bean Flower Amuse, Elements

The 12-DISH CHEF’S TASTING MENU started off with 3 amuses. Above is the first one, shown alongside my choice of cocktail: a shrub featuring oloroso sherry. The unadulterated flower tasted of fresh, early-spring bean plucked right off the vine. Its bright, refreshing flavor put Bill in mind of uncooked sugar snap peas. The blossoms were presented on the first of what would be an amazing array of earthenware plates and bowls by potter John Shedd of Rocky Hill.

Wood Ear Mushroom Amuse, Elements

Wood Ear Mushroom Amuse, Elements

For the Wood Ear Mushroom amuse, a forest setting in a box held 1 glistening, pleasantly gelatinous, umami-packed mushroom per person. I’m told my eyes became saucers when I popped mine into my mouth – so much unexpected flavor!

Cuban Oregano Amuse, Elements Princeton

Cuban Oregano Amuse, Elements Princeton

This held all the ingredients of the namesake sandwich in one big bite. Instead of bread, the genius vehicle is a single crisp-fried, light-as-air oregano leaf. I personally didn’t know oregano leaves could grow to that size, but was told these come from David Zaback’s Z Food Farm in Lawrenceville. This Cuban is light as air, and the oregano flavor is subtle, not overpowering.

Elements Bread & Butter

Elements Bread & Butter

Scott Anderson spent some of the 13 months since the original Elements closed for business perfecting his bread-making technique.  Here is his whole wheat, which has a thin, crunchy crust and tender yet flavorful crumb. The bright yellow butter includes the same herbs grazed upon by the cows who produced the milk it’s made from. (Anderson also makes sourdough.)

Elements' Night Shades

Elements’ Night Shades

The salad course consisted of this bowl labeled on the menu as Roasted, Raw, and Sundried Night Shades – aka tomatoes. They’re lush and luscious, but what elevates the dish are cubes of what I termed jellied smoke (or what in the old days would have been called aspic).

Two seafood dishes were up next.

Elements' Big Eye Tuna from The Canyon

Elements’ Bigeye Tuna from The Canyon

For this first one, Scott Anderson caught the fish himself the week before, while fishing in the Hudson Canyon off the Jersey Coast. Since it weighed in at 240 pounds (!), he needed help reeling it in. Accompanying the pristine fish is a puree of charred false-alarm jalapenos (all the flavor, little of the heat), achiote, and the smallest, creamiest cowpeas I’ve ever encountered.

Elements' Ocean Trout

Elements’ Ocean Trout

“Kasuzuke Ocean Trout: Smoked, Roe, Broth” – thus reads the menu. Smoky broth was poured into the thick-walled cup and saucer (note the jaunty squid- or octopus-like handle) that had been heated, and which retained the heat nicely. The frilly white piece is crunchy fried trout skin. We were told that kasuzuke refers to the Japanese method of pickling and fermenting fish (or vegetables) in sake.

A NOTE ON SERVICE: As each dish is set on the table, the cook who made it provides a short, clipped explanation with no fanfare. If you ask for details, they are provided.

Nightshades & Corail, Elements Princeton

Nightshades & Corail, Elements Princeton

A NOTE ON WINES: Carl Rohrbach is Elements’ wine director. We started off with a style of wine new to me: Corail, a blend of three red grapes and two whites. (This one was from the Jura, Chateau D’Arlay.) Neither red nor white nor traditional rose, its unique color and taste went nicely with all of the preceding dishes. Starting with the eggplant dish, below, we switched over to a bone-dry Austrian Riesling from J.B. Becker. The wine list is interesting and surprisingly extensive. Each category has at least one moderately priced bottle (i.e. $42 to $65), and heads upwards from there. Our final wine, once we moved on to meat dishes, was a tasty Carema Nebbiolo (2009; bottled in 2014).

Eggplant with Chicken Jus, Elements Princeton

Eggplant with Chicken Jus, Elements Princeton

So if the folks at Elements ever do retail, I’ll be first in line for any bottled broth, jus, or pistou. The chicken jus in this dish plumbed depths I didn’t know existed, helped along by nutty sesame and vadouvan. And you can’t even see the world’s tiniest Malabar spinach leaves. The star – eggplant – came in two forms:  a crisp, thin chip and a tender, meaty “log.” Immensely satisfying.

Elements' Bison Tartare

Elements’ Bison Tartare

Elements Bison Tartare

Admittedly, the 2 photos above are likely to be the best food shots I’ll ever take. But the super-gorgeous bowl holds our favorite dish of the evening: rich, silky bison tartare with tender, sweet Tropea onion, 2 forms of kohlrabi (chip and teensy leaf), and an underpinning of cream-colored jujube puree, which to me tasted like a cross between apple and quince.

A NOTE ON PORTION SIZE:  This dish is so rich that a small taste (as above) suffices. Other dishes in the 12-course tasting menu were so abundant in complex flavors and interesting textures that small is sufficient. This is one of very few tasting menus of this length that I have come away from without feeling overly stuffed or having palate fatigue.

Elements' Fennel with Housemade Prosciutto

Elements’ Fennel with House-made Prosciutto

The house-made prosciutto was two years in the making, Anderson told us. Simultaneously delicate and full-flavored, it was wrapped around stalks of small fennel stewed to the point of melting in kale pistou.

Elements' Waygu with Buckwheat & Nasturtium

Elements’ Wagyu with Buckwheat & Nasturtium

OK, so maybe by this point I had enjoyed too much nebbiolo. I have no other explanation for why this photo is so fuzzy. But I distinctly recall enjoying the rich meat, the tiny nubs of nutty buckwheat, the deep green puree (is that where the menu’s mention of miso came in?), the finely chopped walnut, the piece of tiny brown enoki, and the peppery fried nasturtium lid.

Kittatiny Goat Cheese, Elements Princeton

Kittatiny Goat Cheese, Elements Princeton

I nominate this Kittatiny Goat Cheese dish to replace all heavy-handed cheese courses on menus everywhere. The rich, creamy cheese (from Cranberry Creek Farm in PA) was sweetened by  tiny bits of stewed peach, a touch of honey, and basil.

Chocolate with Strawberry, Hazelnut, & Anise Hyssop, Elements Princeton

Chocolate with Strawberry, Hazelnut, & Anise Hyssop, Elements Princeton

The rich, soft dark-chocolate shell seemed to have a wonderful hint black pepper, although I could be mistaken. If you look really hard, you’ll see the almost microscopic anise hyssop blossoms.

Pouring Tea at Elements Princeton

Pouring Tea at Elements Princeton

While my husband opted for a rich pour-over of Costa Rica decaf, I couldn’t resist this so-called Wild Tea, with its balsam fir, clover, fleabane, firewood (whatever that is), and rice. Fia Berisha, Elements’ new GM, insisted I let the second round of tea steep for a long time, to experience how the flavors changed/developed over time. The graininess of rice was forward in the initial pouring, while the balsam came forward for the second. The final taste of the evening was a confection called Mountain Mint. My husband called it the best Peppermint Pattie ever.

In sum, the newly reconstituted Elements is off to a fine start. To view the opening menus – which include a weeknight four-course prix fixe – visit elementsprinceton.com.

 

 

 

Drink It In: NJ’s Newest Brewery; Mistral Bar’s Mixologist; Rome’s (Literal) Food as Fashion Exhibition

Conclave Brewing Opens in Hunterdon County

Carl Alfaro of Conclave Brewing

Carl Alfaro of Conclave Brewing

My story at njmonthly.com  has the scoop on the brews (espresso milk stout; farmhouse ale, e.g.) and the buds (Carl Alfaro; Tim Bouton) behind Conclave, which opens its tap room on July 11 in Raritan Township/Flemington.

Jamie Dodge Mixes Up Magic at Mistral Bar

Jamie Dodge, courtesy Elements Princeton

Jamie Dodge, courtesy Elements Princeton

This longtime favorite behind the bar at Elements in Princeton has moved over to its newest sibling, Mistral Bar, which opened in June. The Witherspoon Street bar is adjacent to Mistral the restaurant and downstairs from the soon-to-reopen Elements. I interviewed Dodge about his plans and potions for the July issue of The Princeton Echo. Here’s the story:

It’s two weeks into the June opening of Mistral Bar and bar manager/master mixologist Jamie Dodge is playing with flowers. Not just any flowers, and not as garnishes for the inventive craft cocktails he gained a following for when he was behind the bar at Elements, sibling restaurant to Mistral before it closed for relocation. And decidedly not as table decoration. No, he is playing with ten garbage bags full of black locust tree blossoms, which he has personally collected. (They are said to taste like fresh sweet peas and, like peas, are available only for a short time each spring.) “I made black locust syrup three weeks ago and can’t wait to play around with it,” he says, excitement palpable in his voice. “It may go into one of the kambuchas I’m currently making.”

Dodge, 31, is known for incorporating hyper-seasonal ingredients into the infusions, tonics, tinctures, and bitters he concocts that find their way into his creations. This bigger stage – the old Elements bar seated 10, this space 38 – has earned him some perks: a freezer for such things as large ice cubes (“I don’t have to go downstairs!”), a dishwasher, extra storage space, two mirror-image work stations, and a self-proclaimed “beautiful” bar back. He characterizes his opening menu of nine specialty cocktails as streamlined. “The first couple of weeks I wanted to ease into things,” he explains. “It was kind of an interesting way to introduce folks to a new bar. The focus was on getting the bar itself up and running.”

Dodge has already tweaked that menu, but one cocktail that remains is the Damn Son, which he characterizes as “very refreshing and on the lighter side – citrusy and spicy.” It’s concocted of Averell Damson Plum gin, Velvet Falernum (“notes of clove”), fresh lime juice, and Tiki bitters, which has primary flavors of cinnamon and allspice. Another is the Gibstress, comprising Hayman’s Old Tom gin into which Dodge has infused saffron, Dolin Blanc vermouth, and housemade chamomile bitters. Instead of a cocktail onion as garnish, he uses pickled ramp bulb. “I went out and gathered bulbs in the spring and pickled enough of them to use as my version of a cocktail onion the rest of the year,” he says. He likes to instruct guests to first take a sip of the cocktail, then bite into the bulb, then take another sip. “They’re totally different experiences – totally different flavor profiles,” says this cocktail wonk.

Mistral Bar has its own 672-square-foot-space adjacent to Mistral, and is downstairs from the new Elements, which is scheduled to open within weeks. The flattened-by-the-Mistral-wind tree sculpture has been moved over from the restaurant and fits well with the beautiful bar top – a highly polished slab of dark, dramatically grained wood. The natural stone, wood ceiling beams, and muted colors that characterize Mistral’s rustic-modern vibe are carried over here.

Dodge is also in charge of the bar’s selection of craft beers (NJ & PA are well represented), which are available on draft, bottled, and in cans, while Element’s wine director, Carl Rohrbach, has curated a short but interesting wine list. Those who dine at the u-shaped bar’s 16 seats or at the hi-tops and regular tables surrounding it, which accommodate another 22, can choose from a menu of a dozen bar bites – some of which Mistral’s chef, Ben Nerenhausen, has created for the bar alone – and a selection of some of Mistral’s small plates and other specialties, including the Mistral burger.

Dodge no longer has duties at Elements per se. Says that restaurant’s executive chef, Scott Anderson, “What I hope for every one of Elements’ guests is that they come in, get a drink downstairs to try what Jamie has to offer, and then move upstairs and sit down to a tasting menu and see the vision I’ve been building. Other than that, there’s no overlap. I mean, we’re one company and I would like to think that everybody has the same vision and ideas, but they’re different experiences. What I find fascinating is watching each person’s creative process. And it all works together.” Anderson says he purposely “does not get in the way” of Dodge or Nerenhausen and has enjoyed “watching Jamie grow over the years.”

What does Jamie Dodge drink in his free time? “Personally I love gin,” he says. “My favorite right now is Barr Hill from Vermont and my favorite gin drinks are martinis and Negronis. I also like rye, and I’m a big beer guy.” And in the dead heat of summer, he might opt for something as simple as a glass of rose or “even a margarita.”

Fashion Made of Food

italyamonews.com

italyamonews.com

My thanks to Mary Ann Fusco for bringing to my attention an exhibition at Mercati di Traiano in Rome through November 1 that examines how food has served as muse to fashion designers. You don’t need to understand English to admire, as Mary Ann advises, the spaghetti necklace and licorice root and bread dresses depicted in this story in Italyamonews.

NJ Boasts 4 JamesBeard Semifinalists!; Martha Stewart Coming to Bridgewater; Mauritian Fish Curry

2015 James Beard Award Semi-Finalists Announced

These Garden State culinary luminaries are nominees this year – including in two national categories:

For Outstanding Chef (in the U.S.): Maricel Presilla, Cucharamama, Hoboken

For Outstanding Baker (in the U.S.): Marie Jackson, The Flaky Tart, Atlantic Highlands

For Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic: Both Scott Anderson, Elements, Princeton and Joey Baldino, Zeppoli, Collingswood

Congrats & best wishes to them all!
Finalists will be announced on March 24 and the winners named on May 4.
Here’s the complete 2015 list of semifinalists in all categories.

Heads Up Martha Stewart Fans

clean-slate-cover_sq

She’ll be signing copies of her latest book, Clean Slate, on Thursday, February 26 at the Costco in Bridgewater. Ms. S. will be there at 2 pm but only for one hour, so good luck! For event info phone 732.584.1003.

Homemade Fish Curry from the Island of Mauritius (via Northern VA)

Do I hear you saying, “from where?” I explain the where, why, who, what and how below. (This post is excerpted from my In the Kitchen column in the 2/6/15 issue of the Princeton Packet.)

Of the many important things in life that we have little or no control over, our children’s choice of mate has to rank right up there. So my husband Bill and I counted ourselves among the fortunate in this regard when our elder daughter, Alice, married Chris Le last year. He is all anyone could hope for in a son-in-law. But the bonus for me, a food writer, is that Chris hails from a food-obsessed family with an interesting and unusual cultural background.

Alice & Chris Le

Alice & Chris Le

Chris’s father, Thanh Le, emigrated to the U.S. from Vietnam after the war. In Northern Virginia he met his future wife, Marie-Ange So Ting Fong, who was born and raised on the island of Mauritius, which is known as the Pearl of the Indian Ocean. Situated off the coast of Madagascar, Mauritius is the only place on earth where the dodo lived. In 2010, the New York Times lauded the island’s “perfect year-round climate, talcum-soft sands, [and] crystalline waters.” This tropical paradise is multi-ethnic and multi-lingual. Languages spoken there include Mauritian Creole, French, and English, as well as several Asian tongues.

Chris and his two brothers were raised on dishes that span the Vietnamese, Chinese, and Mauritian repertoire. While his father, Thanh, likes to grill and barbecue, the bulk of the cooking is done by his mother, Marie-Ange, and her mother, Josephine So Ting Fong, who lives with the family part of the year. This past Christmas Eve the Les graciously invited me and Bill to join their extended family for what turned out to be a veritable feast.

Le Family Christmas Eve 2014

Le Family Christmas Eve 2014

I lost count after 15 dishes had hit the table, among them dumplings, egg rolls, Vietnamese grilled beef skewers, noodle dishes, abalone, and pickled eggs. All were terrific, but there was one dish that I couldn’t stop eating: Mauritian fish curry. This turns out to be a deceptively straightforward combination of fried fish with onions, a couple of spices, and a splash of vinegar. It’s a curry in the broader Southeast Asian sense of something having been cooked in spices, which may or may not include curry.

Mauritian Fish Curry

Mauritian Fish Curry

Of course, the first thing I did when I got home was to google recipes for Mauritian fish curry. But the images and recipes that popped up were quite different from what I had enjoyed. The apparently more common version turns out to be a “wet” curry, with the fried fish bathed in sauce, often tomato based. The Les’ is a “dry” curry, its moisture derived mainly from the oil that the fish is fried in. So I asked Ms. Le and her mother for their recipe, which they kindly supplied. (As is typical in recipes handed down in families, no one had ever measured ingredients, let alone recorded it on paper.) The only constants among theirs and the other recipes are onions, garlic, and fish (usually white-fleshed) fried in vegetable or seed oil. Many include – besides the aforementioned tomatoes – fresh ginger, cilantro, and thyme. Some use curry leaves or curry powder, as well as cumin or garam masala.

The Le family recipe contains none of these. Instead, spoonfuls of saffron and mustard seed provide color and flavor. Ms. Le cautions, “I would suggest that you test the recipe and adjust the amounts according to your taste.” She also suggests using your personal favorite fish. For her, that’s thick fillets of boneless tilapia, although her mother prefers tilapia (or other fish) with bones intact, and her husband favors salmon.

The recipe below is straight from the Le family, with one deviation. Marie-Ange Le and her mother allow the uncooked fish, sprinkled heavily with salt, to sit at room temperature for four hours. (Other Mauritian recipes stipulate one hour.) This helps the fish to crisp up nicely and not fall apart in the pan. But food safety experts advise never to let raw seafood sit out at room temperature, so you can skip that step and either coat the fillets lightly with flour just before frying or simply follow your normal routine for frying fish fillets. The results won’t be the same, but still good.

Elizabeth & Ryan

Elizabeth & Ryan

By the way: There’s another Tanner family wedding approaching. In October our other child, Elizabeth, will marry Ryan Ritterson. Bill and I can hardly believe that we’ve lucked out here, too. Ryan, like Chris, is all we could ask for to ensure our daughter’s happiness. His ancestry, though, is far less exotic. He’s from solid Midwestern stock. I promise not to hold that against him.

LE FAMILY MAURITIAN FISH CURRY
Serves 8 to 10

3 pounds thick fish fillets, such as tilapia or salmon, cut into large pieces
Salt to taste
Oil for deep frying, such as peanut, soybean, or canola (not olive oil)
6 cloves chopped garlic
1 teaspoon powdered saffron, or 12 strands (1 gram) saffron, crumbled
1-1/2 tablespoons mustard seed
3 tablespoons white vinegar
2 white onions cut in quarters (or eighths, if large) and the slices pulled apart

  1. Wash and pat dry the fish. Salt the fish on both sides, to taste, and deep-fry the fish in oil as you normally do. Remove the fish and set aside, reserving the oil.
  2. In a small bowl mix the saffron with a little warm water.
  3. Heat one cup of the reserved oil and stir-fry the onions and garlic until the onions are soft and translucent but not brown. Add the saffron mixture, the vinegar, and a pinch of salt. Combine and turn off the heat.
  4. Immediately add the mustard seed, then the fried fish and gently combine. Turn the heat back to medium-low and cook only until the mixture is just heated through. (Make sure that you do not overheat the mixture at the end, or the mustard seed will turn bitter.)
  5. If the fish curry is too dry, add more of the reserved frying oil.

Elements Chefs’ Farmstand Pop-up; Stockton in the Fall; Review: Due in Ridgewood

Free Food & Drink! Scott Anderson & Elements Staff @ Z Food Farm

Diners sampling Elements' ever-changing spread at Z Food Farm

Diners sampling Elements’ ever-changing spread at Z Food Farm

That’s right: from 4 to 7 pm on Friday, September 26, chefs from Princeton’s acclaimed Elements restaurant will be cooking and grilling seasonal vegetables and other goodies at Lawrenceville’s organic Z Food Farm. I stopped by the first such pop-up in August – as did, oh, about 150 others – for this fabulous, fun, free event. Here’s a photo recap:

Scott Anderson of Elements at Z Food Farm

Scott Anderson of Elements at Z Food Farm

Chefs Scott Anderson and Mike Ryan dished up an amazing spread for sampling. On my short visit these included (among other things) fennel and Tropea onion salad with chrysanthemum; smoked, grilled tomato crostini with marigold vinaigrette; pizza with eggplant puree and Swiss chard; & watermelon with fresh cilantro.

The crew had jerry-rigged a cement-block grill, from which they also brought forth this yellow tomato and Swiss chard pizza:

Elements' pizza at Z Food Farm

Elements pizza at Z Food Farm

Meantime, Elements’ mixologist Jamie Dodge was shaking up impromptu libations using the farm’s herbs and fruits, including one that combined 2 kinds of watermelon, black lotus flower (!), ginger, and citrus juices.

Jamie Dodge, Elements mixologist, at Z Food Farm

Jamie Dodge at Z Food Farm

Anderson, Ryan, and Dodge kept pulling fresh produce from the farmstand bins. Ryan told me, “The product is so fresh, we just basically add extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, and a splash of Champagne vinegar.” Anderson added, “I believe in this farmer. With this produce, we do the minimum – and it’s at its prime right now.”

“This farmer” would be Dave Zaback. Here he is, with parents Alan & Lynn in the background:

Dave Zaback, Z Food Farm

Dave Zaback, Z Food Farm

I made a new veggie acquaintance that day: Mexican gherkins. Dave Zaback described their taste as “almost like pre-pickled cukes.” These marble-sized beauties are as crisp as fresh cukes, but do indeed have a hint of brine.

Mexican gherkins, Z Food Farm

Mexican gherkins, Z Food Farm

Elements is on hiatus while its new digs on Hulfish Street are being readied for an early 2015 reopening. For directions to the 9/26 tasting, visit the Z Food Farm website.

Z Food Farm

Z Food Farm

NJ Monthly’s (and My) Picks for Fantastic Fall Getaways

Reflections of the Past: Strolling the D&R Canal at the restored Prallsville Mills. Photo by Steve Greer, Courtesy of NJ Monthly

Reflections of the Past: Strolling the D&R Canal at the restored Prallsville Mills.
Photo by Steve Greer, Courtesy of NJ Monthly

In NJ Monthly’s October issue I turn the spotlight on the many charms of tiny Stockton, while others tempt you to Chester, Cape May, Crystal Springs Resort, and golfing at Renault Winery Resort.

Due (as in the Italian Number Two) in Ridgefield: My Review

And in that same issue read my 3-star review of Ridgefield’s Due restaurant, where Bergen County favorite-son chef Adam Weiss has teamed up with owner Chris Tarta. Weiss’s modern twists on Italian classics have been dubbed “Itali-Adam” by another accomplished Bergen County chef, Christine Nunn. (A new iteration Picnic, her terrific former Fair Lawn restaurant, is expected to open in October in Ridgewood, just a few doors down from Due.)

Beard Awards: Big-time Semi-finalists from NJ; Food Photography Lesson; Marvelous Meyer Lemons

Jersey Chefs Up for National & Regional Awards

I was thrilled to see 3 Garden Staters on the national lists and another 3 up for Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic among the semi-finalists for the 2014 James Beard Awards, which were announced earlier this week.

Maricel Presilla

Maricel Presilla

Marc Vetri

Marc Vetri

Congrats to Maricel Presilla and Marc Vetri for their nominations as Outstanding Chef in the U.S. – Presilla for Cucharamama in Hoboken and Vetri for Vetri in Philadelphia. But because he crossed river this year with Osteria in Moorestown Mall, I’m claiming him for NJ! I can’t stop myself from including another name here: Gabrielle Hamilton, who’s nominated for her work at her NY restaurant, Prune. But since she was raised in Lambertville, I’m labeling her NJ, too.

Ben Nerenhausen & Scott Anderson. Courtesy PrincetonInfo.com

Ben Nerenhausen & Scott Anderson. Courtesy PrincetonInfo.com

Congrats also to Ben Nerenhausen of Mistral in Princeton, who is nominated for Rising Star Chef in the U.S.

Congrats, finally, to these 3 who are among the 20 nominees for Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic region: Scott Anderson, Elements; Joey Baldino, Zeppoli; Lucas Manteca, The Red Store. What’s particularly gratifying to me is that all 3 restaurants are in the southern half of the state – Princeton, Collingswood, and Cape May, respectively – which has long played second fiddle to the more populous metropolitan areas up north.

A dandy showing! Good luck to all.

Want to improve your food photography?

Lord knows I need to! We’ll get the chance on Sunday, March 9th when professional photographer Frank Veronsky of Princeton Photo Workshop presents “Shoot It & Eat It” at Tre Piani in Forrestal Village. During the 3-hour class, guests will first photograph and then down a 3-course dinner. Click here for details and to register.

My Meyer Lemon Madness (with recipes)

(Adapted from my “In the Kitchen” column in the Princeton Packet of 2/28/14)

Meyer lemons 006

A few years ago I fell hard for sweet, floral Meyer lemons at San Francisco’s Ferry Building Farmers Market. At the time they weren’t regularly available around these parts, so my San Fran-based daughter, witness to my infatuation, thoughtfully gave me a dwarf Meyer lemon tree for Christmas. My sapling arrived months later, complete with excellent instructions for potting and growing, from Four Winds Growers based in Winters, CA.

Meyer Lemon brochure 002Here in Zone 7 the tree must winter indoors. It took three growing seasons, but this past summer mine produced 5 big beauties (pictured above) that ripened just before the first frost. (A 6th was still small and green; more on that later). I was so excited, I planned an entire dinner party for 4 guests around those 5 lemons.  For inspiration I turned to this L.A. Times article: “100 Things to Do with a Meyer Lemon.”

Here’s my menu:

Meyer lemon feast 013Nibbles & drinks: Marcona almonds; hefeweizen beer with slices of Meyer lemon
Main: Roasted monkfish with Meyer lemon salsa; basmati rice; zucchini and sliced Meyer lemons
Dessert: Meyer lemon-almond cake with Meyer lemon Chantilly cream

As you can tell, I stretched my quintet as far as it could go. I even used the lemon leaves for table decor. ??????????

Amazingly, the dinner did not result in Meyer lemon overload and, with one exception, was wildly successful. Beer and Meyer lemon is a match made in heaven, although it takes a few minutes for the lemon to assert itself. I chose monkfish for its dense, meaty, snow-white flesh, but found the salsa, which contained shallots and olives as well as the fruit, bitter and overpowering. Next time I’ll substitute the compound butter I’ve included in the recipe below. On the other hand, the combination of thin rounds of zucchini and even thinner ones of lemon sautéed together in olive oil was a revelation! I may never make zucchini without lemon again.

??????????Without a doubt, though, the Meyer lemon-almond cake, a variation on one of Claudia Roden’s, stole the show. It has the texture of a tea cake and is as simple to make. It’s good on its own, and its flavor even deepens overnight, but I felt compelled to gild the lily by adding Chantilly cream flavored with Meyer lemon.

??????????

As to the fate of that last green fruit left on the tree: It continued to grow indoors, albeit at a greatly reduced pace. Just as it became full, ripe, and ready for plucking, this recipe from Bobby Flay for Meyer lemon potatoes the New York Times. It turned out to be the perfect coda to my Meyer lemon season.

ROASTED MONKFISH WITH MEYER LEMON COMPOUND BUTTER
Serves 4.

1-1/4 pounds monkfish, in one piece (tuna can be substituted)
Extra virgin olive oil
1 to 2 cloves garlic, sliced very thin
Salt & pepper, to taste
For the Meyer lemon compound butter:
1/2 stick butter, softened to room temperature
Zest of 1 Meyer lemon
1-1/2 teaspoons flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon fresh thyme, leaves only
Salt & pepper to taste

  1. Make the compound butter: Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Mash and stir until well blended. Set aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat an oven-safe baking dish with oil.
  3. Make a series of small incisions on both sides of the fish, and insert a sliver of garlic into each cut. Rub or brush fish with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  4. Place fish in prepared dish and roast in preheated oven for about 15 minutes, or until just opaque and cooked through. Slice fish into thick, diagonal slices and serve with compound butter at room temperature.
    Serves 4.

Scott Anderson @ Beard House; 2 NJ Slow Food Winter Markets; “Somm” the Movie

Elements & Mistral’s  “Elements of Extraordinary” Dinner

Scott AndersonAfter being named James Beard Award semifinalist in 2013, Scott Anderson is following up with a dinner at the Beard House in Greenwich Village on February 20th at 7 pm.

Among 5 passed hors d’oeuvre  – served with Szigeti Gruner Veltiner Brut NV – will be caramelized onion-bone marrow cromesquis. Yeah, I had to look that one up, too: “A small ball of ground meat which differs from a croquette in that a croquette is dipped in egg and breadcrumbs rather than batter or caul fat.” To paraphrase Homer Simpson: mmm…..caul fat.

A 6-course dinner with matched wines follows. The full menu is here, but to get your taste buds going think Long Island surf clam, Scottish trout, salsify, smoke, squab, preserved persimmons, and NJ grains.

Element's Chicken & Waffle

Element’s Chicken & Waffle

Although the price to non-members is a hefty $170, I can tell you that every dinner I’ve attended at the Beard House over the years has been cheap at the price, since chefs invariably put their best foot (and food) forward – and the wine flows all night long. For info and reservations, click here.

It’s That Time Again: Slow Food Winter Farmers Markets

Slow Food Central SnailSaturday, January 11: From 11 am to 3 pm at Tre Piani restaurant, Forrestal Village, Princeton. Vendors: BeechTree Farm, Birds & Bees Farm Honey, Cherry Grove Farm, Chickadee Creek Farm, Davidson’s Exotic Mushrooms, Donna & Company Chocolates, Elijah’s Promise Bakery, Happy Wanderer Bakery, Judith’s Desserts, Nice & Sharp Knife Sharpening Service, Rocky Brook Farm, Shibumi Mushroom Farm, Trappers Honey, Valley Shepherd Creamery, WoodsEdge Wools Farm. Directions at trepiani.com ($2 suggested donation)

Slow Food SnailSunday, January 19: From noon to 4 pm at Frelinghuysen Arboretum, Morristown. Vendors: Appleridge Farm, Good Fields Farm, Bobolink Dairy & Bakehouse, Griggstown Quail Farm, Churutabis Farm, Plaid Piper Farm, Flint Hill Farm, Valley Shepherd Creamery, Tassot Apiary, Rogowski Farm, Donna & Company Chocolates, Best Fruit Farm, Degage Gardens, Lazy Susan GranolaZen Bakers, Lickt Gelato. Directions to arboretum here. ($3 entrance fee supports Slow Food NNJ’s school vegetable garden programs)

Recommended Viewing: Somm, a Jason Wise Documentary

Somm logoApparently food-and-wine biz folks didn’t care much for this 2013 film about 4 young sommeliers preparing for and taking the mysterious Master Sommelier exam, which has awarded only 170 diplomas over the last 40 years. But I rented it over the Christmas break and highly found it captivating. Take a peak at the official trailer and see if you don’t think it’s worth a look.

All-Princeton: Review of Scott Anderson’s Mistral; Savory Spice Shop Sweeps Salsa Slam

Mistral

So, was I blown away by Mistral, the self-proclaimed “breath of fresh air in Princeton?” Does it stack up to Elements, the first and highly acclaimed restaurant by the same team of Scott Anderson and Steve Distler? And can its chef, Napa Valley import Ben Nerenhausen, make it here on the East Coast? In Jersey? With Princetonians?  All and more are elucidated in the September issue of New Jersey Monthly. NJ Monthly Sept 13

Salsa Slam 2013


Salsa Contest 018
Salsa Contest 003

For the second year in a row, I was delighted to be a judge at the Princeton Library‘s Annual Salsa Slam, which involves both the condiment (that’s where I came in) and the dance. Congrats to first place winner Savory Spice shop, with its sweet-hot mix of Asian pear, mango, and chile pepper. Close behind were Masala Grill and Mediterra from a field of 10 Princeton-area businesses. Masala Grill’s pureed salsa containing green chiles, fenugreek, and cinnamon (as well as other ingredients) also took the People’s Choice Award. Fellow judge and food writer Sue Gordon writes it up and shares photos here in the Examiner.

NJ Monthly’s Top 25 Restaurants & My Review of the (new) Saddle River Inn; Restaurant News & Events; Summer Reading

Whew! Lots jam-packed into this post: tacos, champagne & small plates, mind-blowing edible food packaging, and, of course, the NJ Monthly restaurant issue – including results of its annual readers’ poll, the top 25 critics’ picks, and my review of how the Saddle River Inn is faring under new ownership.

August 2013 NJ Monthly: The Restaurant Issue

NJ Monthly cover aug13

The Saddle River Inn has been one of the state’s most revered and beloved restaurants for decades. When I reviewed it a few years back, I thought it had lost its edge. Earlier this year it got new owners – one of whom is the chef. Here’s my review of the newly reborn Inn.

In this same issue: Top 25 NJ restaurants

In this same issue: Results of the 2013 Jersey Choice Restaurant Poll

Restaurant News & Events

 The Taco Truck: A new brick-and-mortar version is opening in August in Morristown. The first ‘brick’ location of this small but growing,sustainability-conscious group is in Hoboken, but Morristown will become the flagship. Get the scoop from this Morristown Patch post.

Mistral & CoolVines: You’ll have to hurry, but these two Princeton stars are teaming up on Wednesday, July 24 at 7 pm for a 3-course pairing of Champagnes and small plates at (normally byob) Mistral. $65 all-inclusive. Details and reservations (a must) here.

Elements: Scott Anderson will welcome super-hot chef Jason Yu of Oxheart in Houston to his flagship restaurant on Friday, August 9, for a collaborative dinner focusing on wild and cultivated local mushrooms. Joining them will be Alan Kaufman of Shibumi Farm. Details here.

 Smithsonian Magazine Does a Terrific Food Issue: Who Knew?

Smithsonian Mag June 2013

I am so glad I picked up this past June’s issue. In addition to stories by Ruth Reichl, Mimi Sheraton, and Roy Blount, Jr. I particularly got a kick out of these:

Burning Desire: The hottest chile pepper in the world – it’s not what you think it is – by the inimitable, offbeat science writer Mary Roach. (Her latest book, Gulp!, is beguiling and repulsive in equal measure. I highly recommend it.)

The Future in the Making: This short, back-page entry focuses on the WikiCell, a surprisingly attractive, futuristic edible food packaging concept. Designed by a Harvard bioengineer, it functions as both wrapper and box.