Tag Archives: Small World Coffee

Brooklyn Comes to Princeton; Best Coffee Houses in NJ

Frankies Spuntino @ Whole Foods Princeton for a Good Cause

So how often do I make it to Brooklyn to dine? Try almost never. So when I heard that The Franks – Frank Falcinelli & Frank Castronovo – from Frankies Spuntino were cooking a meal at my local Whole Foods to raise funds for the Whole Planet Foundation, I jumped at the chance. I knew I was in for a great meal, and that happened. But the evening came with several unexpected bonuses.

Courtesy Whole Foods Princeton

Courtesy Whole Foods Princeton

Among the surprises? That the evening’s 5-course menu was Sicilian from top to bottom, that assisting The Franks was their director of operations who turned out to be a longtime chef at Princeton’s Nassau Inn (and an old friend), and that the 24 guests included luminaries from the current Princeton-area restaurant scene AND  a 13-year-old whom I predict will someday be a noted restaurant critic.

Frank Falcinelli & Frank Castronovo @ Whole Foods Princeton

Frank Falcinelli & Frank Castronovo @ Whole Foods Princeton

CrudoBeetThe Franks led off with these two light courses: fluke crudo with Sicilian sette anni peppers & pistachio, and blood orange segments with 1 sunburst of a golden beet topped with shards of caciocavallo. The unbilled star of both dishes was the zingy, deep green Sicilian extra virgin olive oil (made from nocellara del belice olives) that Frankies imports and which Whole Foods carries. The can made for a gorgeous centerpiece:

TulipsThese dishes were followed by a pasta course. Not just any pasta: fettuccine with jumbo lump crabmeat in ricci de mare sauce. For the uninitiated, that’s sea urchin. This dish had the evening’s 24 guests unabashedly going back for seconds.

Frankies Spuntino Pasta & Jumbo Lump Crabmeat, Ricci di Mare Sauce

Frankies Spuntino Pasta & Jumbo Lump Crabmeat, Ricci di Mare Sauce

Among those who named it as their favorite of the night was Shaun Orssaud, age 13, who came from Moorestown with his mother, Lisa.

Budding restaurant critic?

Budding restaurant critic?

Perhaps Mr. Orssaud owes his sophisticated palate  to the fact that he was born in France and lived there until he was 6.

Ribeye with Catanese Olivd Relish, Frankies 457 @ Whole Foods Princeton

Ribeye with Catanese Olive Relish, Frankies 457 @ Whole Foods Princeton

The centerpiece of the meal was this amazing slow-roasted ribeye. It was served with Ca’ Di Ponti Barbera, 1 of 3 wines poured.

Josh Thomsen, Chris Harkness, Jim Nawn

Josh Thomsen, Chris Harkness, Jim Nawn

Seated in this photo are Josh Thomsen, executive chef at Agricola in Princeton, and its owner Jim Nawn. (Sitting across from them, not pictured, were Lambertville’s famed Canal House duo, Christopher Hersheimer & Melissa Hamilton. As I said, even the guest list was star-studded!) Serving the 2 men is Chris Harkness, who I knew years ago when he was chef at the Nassau Inn, and who has been working with The Franks for years now. The photo below shows those 3 plus Scott Allshouse, president of Whole Foods’ Mid-Atlantic region.

??????????Proceeds from the dinner went to the Whole Planet Foundation. Maybe I’ve been under a rock, but up until now I’ve been oblivious to the good work this organization is doing. Through its mission to alleviate poverty by providing micro-loans, it has assisted 875,158 women entrepreneurs in 61 countries (89% go to women) with $62 million in credit. To talk about Whole Foods’ charity work was an unexpected star of the evening – Michelle Mac Arthur:

Michelle MacArthurMs. Mac Arthur has been a part-time cashier at the Princeton store for only six months, but during the last holiday season she single-handedly brought in $8,000 for another Whole Foods initiative, Feed4More. By asking customers to donate $10 (or any amount) at checkout, she alone beat out 13 other Whole Foods stores in the region! She’s standing in front of an end display featuring, among other things, Frankies olive oil and the Frankies Spuntino cookbook.

New Jersey Monthly Features Best Coffee Houses from High Point to Cape May

NJ Monthly cover April 2015See if your favorites made the cut in this April 2015 cover story. I contributed these 6 from Central NJ that the powers-that-be deemed among the best:

Buck’s Ice Cream & Espresso, Lambertville
Grovers Mill, West Windsor
Infini-T Cafe, Princeton
Lambertville Trading Co., Lambertville
Rojo’s Roastery, Lambertville & Princeton
Small World, Princeton

Clearly it was a tough assignment, drinking all those wonderful brews. But two in particular linger in my memory: the sidecar at Rojo’s espresso bar in Princeton, which are tandem, half-size espresso and cappuccino ($4) and a small pour-over of Crispy Hippie Dark Roast at Small World ($3.25).

 

 

 

 

 

Chefs’ 1st & Best Food Memories; 2 Reviews: Montclair & Bernardsville

Happy New Year and, if you’re on the Eastern Seaboard, Happy Snow Day!  A good occasion for cozy reading by the cyber fireside – especially the following recollections by luminaries of the Princeton food scene about their earliest food influences.

From Disney World to Lahore, Pakistan: What Food Experiences Made Big Impressions on Future Foodies

(Adapted from my column in the December 16, 2013 issue of the Princeton Packet)

Each year my final In the Kitchen column is a compilation of answers to a question I pose to a different group of Princeton-area chefs and restaurateurs. The theme is always personal and often lighthearted, such as “My Craziest New Years Eve Ever.” (I just may have to reprise that 2005 gem next year.) This time around I asked two veterans of and two newcomers to the dining scene for their first and/or best food memories.

Newcomers are Ben Nerenhausen, chef at the critically acclaimed Mistral, which opened in May, and Lisa Shao. Shao has owned Hamilton’s Szechuan House for three years, but just weeks ago debuted Peony Pavilion, her Japanese and Asian fusion restaurant on Farber Road (in the space where Sunny Garden reigned for years). The vets are Jim Weaver and Jessica Durrie. Weaver’s restaurant, Tre Piani, celebrated its 15th year at Forrestal Village earlier this year, while Durrie’s Small World Coffee kicked off its 20th anniversary celebration in December. Below, in their own words, are this quartet’s reflections.

Mistral-Logo

Ben Nerenhausen, Mistral, Princeton: While I’m not sure if it’s my best childhood memory, I sure know it’s one of my most memorable.  It happened while we were living in Lahore, Pakistan. I must have been around eight or nine years old at the time, and we had some local friends of ours who invited us out to one of their favorite places for lunch.

We arrived in the neighborhood, which was in one of the poorer areas of town and parked our car. We met our friends who told us from here we would continue on foot. They proceeded to guide us through the maze of side streets and back alley ways, all of which seemed to get smaller, shorter, and dirtier. We finally arrived at our destination. My family and I looked around quizzically. “Where’s the door?” my father asked.  Our friends pointed to a dark staircase that disappeared through an archway. “It’s upstairs” they replied. So our journey continued… After about three rickety flights we finally arrived.

There were no lights. There was no electricity. The soda placed in my hand was warm. Around us were maybe four or five dusky tables set with silverware, napkins, and bowls. In the corner of the room bubbled an enormous vat which smelled of fragrant spices and chilies. We sat down, and immediately warm naan and chapati were laid on the table. The “chef” – or at least the guy standing over the cauldron – began ladling the contents into our bowls. “What was it?” I thought. In my bowl was what appeared to be a boiled hoof surrounded by a bright red broth, thick with gelatin. “Goat” our friends announced emphatically.

Now, over the years I have come to love goat; it’s one of my favorite meats to work with. But for my eight-year-old self, the hoof sticking out of that bowl was a bit of a shock. I picked at the meat. The jelly and collagen stretched and melted away. A wave of panic and disappointment washed over me. I was hungry! I hadn’t eaten breakfast! In my desperation, my eyes fell on the broth. “Aha! There’s no sticky, melty goo in there,” I thought. I cautiously dipped a piece of bread into the savory jus and took a bite. It was amazing! The flavors from all that cooking, the richness of the broth, the complexity of flavors!  I was ravenous, and I quickly sopped up all of the broth in my bowl. To this day I have a fond nostalgia for the flavors and food of this part of the world, and experiences like this one have helped to shape me into the chef I am today. A little more adventurous, a little more appreciative, and a lot more happy.

Peony Pavilion Chilean Sea Bass

Peony Pavilion Chilean Sea Bass

Lisa Shao, Peony Pavilion, West Windsor & Szechuan House, Hamilton: One of my fondest childhood memories of food is a home-cooked dish that my mother used to make for me. It was simple goodness, was satisfying, and always cheered me up. It was fresh farm eggs scrambled with ripe, juicy red tomatoes, a splash of soy sauce and topped with bits of green onions that looked like confetti.

All the ingredients came from local farms in Szechuan Province – an agricultural-rich region – and purchased that day from the market by my mother. I loved the sound of my mom cracking and scrambling the eggs, their mouth-watering fragrance, and finally the beautiful colors presented to me on my plate.

This is my first recollection of when my passion for art, culture, and food began to blossom. Music and dance followed soon thereafter and whenever I heard music I would start to dance, at home or in front of crowds. I still dance today and I also serve my son my favorite dish from my childhood days. I have found that owning restaurants has enabled me to express my love for the arts in a much broader sense to many more people every day. (It is why I have included over 200 photos of the famous 16th century Chinese opera into the interior design of Peony Pavilion.) Being surrounded by and sharing great food, art, and music makes me very happy.

locavore_adventuresJim Weaver, Tre Piani, Forrestal Village: My childhood food experiences were pretty vanilla, but we did get a few fun things from time to time. My earliest memories are of cooking with my grandmothers and learning how to make such masterpieces as scrambled eggs, mashed potatoes, and chocolate milk!

I can say I was ruined for life when it came to a couple of items that I did enjoy very much, but I was more like eight or ten years of age. In my town one of my best friends had apple, pear, and peach trees. Eating those crisp, tart apples off the tree was amazing. Come to think of it, when I was even younger we were at Disney World and my father walked me into an orange grove and picked a couple of the fruits. They were like eating candy! Today, I cannot enjoy most of the fruit that you find at the supermarkets or out of season. (If you read the chapter on tomatoes in my book, Locavore Adventures, you’ll learn that fruits have been engineered purposefully to not have the “bite” like they were meant to have because most people prefer bland! UGGGGGGH!!!)

My other experiences were eating super-fresh seafood on Cape Cod where we spent summers. Fishing in either freshwater ponds for bullhead catfish or pickerel, cleaning them in the backyard, and frying them up with cornmeal at my grandfathers side was always a treat. We also went clamming and then enjoyed them within an hour of harvest. Saltwater fishing was also typical and we used to catch ridiculous amounts of wild striped bass – some over 60 pounds each!  Incredible fish, still illegal to buy or sell in NJ due to dated laws and the [lobbying of] recreational fishermen. I was privy to Wellfleet oysters long before they were in vogue and today when it comes to oysters – which I adore and would eat raw long before I could summon the courage to eat a tomato – I cannot eat them unless they are super fresh. Even a few days out of the water and my palate can taste it. Ruined for life!!

Small World Coffee Cafes

Small World Coffee Cafes

Jessica Durrie, Small World Coffee, Princeton: My Dad’s job [he worked for General Motors] took us to Italy in 1969 when I was three-and-a-half years old. We moved into an old farmhouse outside of Rome with eleven acres of vineyards, orchards, vegetable gardens, rabbits and chickens. It was all taken care of by an old farmer, Carlos. During the summer those trees and vines were bursting with fruit. We ran free on this property, and had a big bell to ring so we would know when to come home for meals. I remember the smells of the fields, especially the wild fennel.

One of my favorite activities was collecting pinecones and picking out the seeds, which I would crack with a rock so that I could extract the delicious kernel, a pignole. I’m sure my older siblings showed me how to do this! I also remember the local neighborhood store where we could buy bread smeared with slices of gianduja. I remember afternoons at our babysitter’s house, where the smell of cooking in the kitchen was a constant: tomato sauce, pesto, homemade pasta, pine nut brittle.

As much as all of these memories are so strong and wonderful, I also have to say that when we would go back to the States for “home leave,” my siblings and I would rush to the 7-Eleven, near our beach rental at Stinson Beach in California, and binge on American candy and a Slurpee!

Reviews: Escape in Montclair & Bistro Seven.Three in Bernardsville

Sometimes a restaurant critic just gets lucky. These two are winners.

Escape, Bryan Gregg’s modern takes on Southern food, opened in Montclair earlier this year. Here’s my review, from the December issue of New Jersey Monthly.

That same issue includes my review of Bistro Seven.Three, the latest Mediterranean restaurant from a team of seasoned Bernardsville restaurateurs.

Princeton Dining Scene Explodes; Hopewell Gets a Food Hall; Interesting Wine Dinner Benefit in Morristown

If you think the opening of Agricola is the only restaurant news coming out of downtown Princeton, think again. In the Spring Dining Issue of US 1 I profile these latest newcomers:

6-5 Cover Only(1).indd

Mistral  Meet chef Ben Nerenhausen, who Scott Anderson hired away from 3-Michelin-starred Restaurant at Meadowood in Napa for his small plates byob. Nerenhausen explains why the NJ dining scene reminds him of Northern California (!)

DeSpana  Find out why this popular SoHo tapas cafe and market chose Princeton for its first satellite location

North End Bistro An American comfort food eatery from the growing Central Jersey restaurant empire of the brothers behind the Osterias Procaccini

Cafe 44 Fusion After a long absence, soul food returns to Princeton as a restaurant-within-a-restaurant – and with an unexpected legacy that extends back to the 1970s

Ivy Inn Princeton’s favorite (only?) dive bar becomes family friendly and serves fresh, casual, bargain-priced fare curated by chef Jackie Baldassari who recently did a star turn on Fox’s Hell’s Kitchen.

A First look at Brick Farm Market in Hopewell

This – Double Brook Farm‘s retail market – may have been a long time coming, but has been thoroughly embraced by the community in the short time it’s been open. I had never been inside its home, the old Malek Chevrolet building on Broad Street, but had always admired its gorgeous patterned brick facade, which dates back to the 1930s.

I was surprised by the sheer size of the interior, transformed into a glowing, rustic-chic food hall on two levels.

Brick Farm Market 001

The upstairs gallery (on the left, above) holds “shops” (really, counters) and a long dining bar with stools for those who want to eat in. The butcher shop features Double Brook Farm’s own meats from its sustainably raised animals. The next counter is chock full of charcuterie made from the same raw materials but transformed into dried and cured goodies by NJ’s estimable Salumeria Biellese. A creamery features ice creams and yogurts made with milk from Double Brook cows and cheeses from all over, overseen by Michel Lemmerling, who many customers recognize from his days behind the cheese counter at Bon Appetit in Princeton. (Sister-in-law Deeann Lemmerling is the market’s manager.)

Michel Lemmerling, Brick Farm Market

Michel Lemmerling, Brick Farm Market

On the street level, customers can dine at cafe tables just inside the door or out on the sidewalk after making their selections at the prepared foods arrayed in a large case that spans the rear. In charge here is chef Chase Gerstenbacher, who I profiled in this previous post.

Chase Gerstenbacher, Brick Farm Market

Chase Gerstenbacher, Brick Farm Market

The menu includes breakfast items (till 11 am) like steel-cut oats and a breakfast croissant with bacon, chorizo, or country sausage; “snacks” like housemade herb & garlic kettle chips, country pate, and mac ‘n’ cheese; “specialties” like sausage flatbread and pulled pork; and sandwiches and panini like the ones below, accompanied by salad of the day (here, pasta and kale):

Brick Farm Market's Roast turkey, rhubarb compote, baby lettuce on rye

Brick Farm Market’s Roast turkey, rhubarb compote, baby lettuce on rye

Brick Farm Market's brie, apple, and honey on baguette

Brick Farm Market’s brie, apple, and honey on baguette

One long wall is lined with more “shops,” including a full bakery (presided over by Karen Child, of the erstwhile Village Bakery in Lawrenceville) and a juice and coffee bar pouring Small World coffee and pressing fresh fruit and veggie juices.

Also for sale on this floor are fresh herbs, produce, and flowers from the farm, which is nearby, and finely curated groceries.

Slow Food Northern NJ’s 5-Course Wine Dinner to Benefit School Gardens Program

Who: The chef is Andrea Lekberg, chef/owner of the boutique bakery, The
Artist Baker, in Morristown. Lekberg has worked with Pichet Ong, among others, and her bakery was profiled in the NY Times in 2011.

What: 5-course tasting menu of local foods sourced from Mosefund Farms, Salumeria Biellese, The Urban Farm at Lafayette, The Community Garden in Morristown, and Valley Shepherd Creamery paired with wines from Beneduce Vineyards, Unionville Vineyards, and Hopewell Valley Vineyards.

Where: The Artist Baker in Morristown

Why: The funds raised will benefit the Slow Food Northern
New Jersey School Garden Program

When: You’ll have to hurry! It’s Friday, June 7th, at 7:00 p.m.

How: Tickets cost $80 for Slow Food Members whose membership is current is and $85 for non-members. A vegan or vegetarian option is available upon request. Tickets can be purchased through Brown Paper Tickets:
http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/368818.

Interview w/Chris Young of ‘Modernist Cuisine;’ ‘Fresh!’ Pilot; Winter Farmers Market

“Modernist Cuisine” Alumni Create Free Online Culinary School

I recently sat down with Chris Young, the principal co-author with Nathan Myhrvold of the groundbreaking, award-winning Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking, when he was in Princeton. Chris YoungHe was here to consult with a major flavor and fragrance company as part of one of his new ventures, Delve Kitchen. But while sipping coffee at Small World on Witherspoon Street, we talked mainly about ChefSteps, the innovative free online culinary school that he and fellow Modernist Cuisine alums Grant Crilly and Ryan Matthew Smith have created.

You can (and should) read my main report about ChefSteps at njmonthly.com. Then follow the link back here for additional fascinating detail, below, on why Young and his collaborators left Nathan Myhrvold and the Modernist Cuisine team behind – he had no involvement, for example, with the follow-up book, Modernist Cuisine at Home, which was published on October 8 – as well as the high-profile geniuses that inspired ChefSteps.

Young on leaving Modernist Cuisine and finding the Gates Foundation and Johnson & Wales:
Modernist Cuisine turned out to be a bigger project than we imagined,” Young says as a bit of an understatement about the six volume, $625 encyclopedia. “The funny thing is that, at the start, Nathan warned me that it probably would not be a fulltime gig.” Myhrvold envisioned a 300-page book describing new cooking technologies like sous vide. “Who knew it would take six years, and thousands of pages? That last year was like the Bataan Death March! For five years that was my life, and they turned out to be even harder than my five years at the Fat Duck,” he says, referring to his work at Heston Blumenthal’s famed restaurant outside of London, where he ran the experimental kitchen. “Then, one year later most people assume you want to write another book. But, to me, I’ve done that. I’ve said almost everything I wanted to say. I needed to step out of the doughnut hole, see what was next.”

“I was offered to jump onto a Gates Foundation project having to do with improving the milk supply in sub-Saharan Africa. So Nathan said OK, you have a lot to offer. And I helped re-form the project. Oftentimes these kinds of projects apply a first-world solution to a third-world problem. They’re two very different worlds. The business model I developed is currently being implemented in field trials in Kenya, and I’m very hopeful that it can help break the poverty cycle.”

“Just as I came off that project last fall, I had started one overhauling the curriculum at Johnson & Wales, which I’m still doing. Many culinary schools are interested in incorporating Modernist Cuisine into their curriculum. I liked the Johnson & Wales model, which unlike others, is not to fly me in to teach an expensive class. We all realized that the only way to make this scalable is not to each students, but to train the faculty. So I basically ran a boot camp. I trained half the faculty (and interacted with 1,000 students). So here’s the Johnson & Wales faculty, some of whom had been chefs for thirty years, acting like kids again! It had an impact. But I’m thinking, culinary school training professional chefs is big, but it’s still a subset of an already small world. Most people do not want to become professional chefs and there are many working professional chefs who will never go to culinary school. How to make a broader impact?  I reasoned that rather than another big book, I wanted something more collaborative and engaging – like the way it is when you work in restaurants.”

“Grant Crilly had also left Nathan, and had participated with me in the Johnson & Wales project. Ryan Smith had left, too. He had established a very lucrative photography business. The three of us, we’re friends and in January of this year we found ourselves asking, what do we want to do? From January through March, we were scratching around. We had straightforward consulting contracts, and those provided our only cash flow. We had no wealthy individual behind us.”

Young on the conception of an online culinary school:
Young mentions as a model and inspiration Sebastian Thrun, a professor of artificial intelligence at Stanford and a Google vice president. “Two years ago, Thrun offered his a.i. class at Stanford free online. A couple thousand enrolled within a day! Eventually 125,000 enrolled, and 20 percent completed it all, taking the quizzes and tests. Stanford agreed to give them all a Stanford certificate of completion.” After that, Thun established his free online university, Udacity. “This was a huge influence. We thought that we ought to be able to do the same thing with cooking. You need a way of engaging, like Udacity. You still need step-by-step instructions and photos, but also video. Unlike with a book, if it takes 20 photos to show a step, that’s OK. If it needs a movie, OK, we can do that.”

One that’s free…
Another influence is Gabe Newell, the video game software genius. “We asked ourselves, how do you charge for this?” Newell has said that monetization is the root of all evil. In the video game world the most successful are those that switch to free-to-play, but with added value. Twenty percent of players will spend more on the value-added stuff than if you charged a fee to pay. So, free-to-play equals free-to-learn.” Young mentions the ill-fated attempt of the New York Times to charge for online content. “We figure if we charge, that’s wrong for two reasons: One, it doesn’t work. And two, you’re competing with [the free content on] YouTube. So fine, all the fundamentals are free. Our users will vote, will tell us what is of value to them, what recipes they want to see, what structure works best for them…”

…and someday soon, open-sourced and self-policing
Once the idea of a free online culinary school was validated, Young addressed the problem of keeping its integrity. He spoke about this problem with Matt Mullenweg of the open-sourced WordPress, whom he invited into the Delve Kitchen to help process a whole pig. “He had ideas on incentivizing and self-policing, and how that works.”

The future of ChefSteps
“What feels wonderful is that it’s truly a grassroots effort. It takes a lot of volunteers, a lot of support. A lot of new content is coming!” The team has lined up a number of guest presenters for the winter. “The point is it’s not just what we want to teach. For example, I am lucky to work with an amazing knife forger, who knows a huge amount. You’ll never see him on Food Network, and most likely you’ll never see a book from him. We can provide a platform for people like him, give him a voice. These people have been an unexpected bonus and a profound inspiration. A big part of our job is curating. Eventually, the hope is, if we can get ChefSteps to where, say, Wikipedia is, maybe someday some  phenomenal contributor can teach their own class.”

To read more about Chris Young’s work at Johnson & Wales University, click here.
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Watch the Pilot for Greener NJ’s ‘Fresh!’

Fresh PilotI was lucky enough to sit in on the dinner produced for and seen in this pilot, which features folks from Cherry Grove Farm, Terhune Orchards, Stults Farm, Chia-Sin Farms, the West Windsor Farmers Market, and Tre Piani restaurant. Check out the first episode here.


Slow Food Central New Jersey
’s Eighth Season of “Eat Slow” Winter Farmers Markets Kick off December 15 at Cherry Grove Farm

The Lawrenceville farm’s outdoor event barn will be the place to get the farm’s own famed cheeses as well as locally produced breads, baked goods, fresh produce, jams, wine, mushrooms, and more, from 11am-3pm. “Dress warm,” the organizers advise.