Tag Archives: United Front Against Riverblindness

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.

NJ Super Heroes Edition: Edible Jersey! New Culinary Scholarship! Fighting River Blindness! (includes a recipe)

Edible Jersey Names 2014 Local Heroes & I Profile of One of Them

Among this year’s six winners, chosen by the readers of the magazine, are Caron Wendell & Joe McLaughlin of Lucy’s Kitchen & Market in Princeton. (You may recognize this place under its original, long-time moniker: Lucy’s Ravioli Kitchen.) Read what sets apart Caron, Joe, and all these other Garden State greats in the Spring 2014 edition of Edible Jersey.

Edible Jersey cover spring14

Here’s the full list:

Food artisan: Michael Sirchio, The Arctic Market & Butcher, Point Pleasant Beach
Food shop: Lucy’s Kitchen & Market, Princeton
Beverage artisan: OQ Coffee Co., Highland Park
Farm/farmer: Jess Niederer, Chickadee Creek Farm, Pennington
Nonprofit organization: Franciscan Charities, Inc./St. Ann’s Soup Kitchen, Newark
Chef/restaurant: Aishling Stevens, Americana Diner, East Windsor

Dine Well & Do Good at the Joe Romanowski Culinary Education Foundation (JoCEF) Gala

JoCEF logo

Last year the Shore’s restaurant community was rocked by two back-to-back tragedies: first, the decimation of Superstorm Sandy and then the untimely death of one of its most admired and beloved chef/restaurateurs, Joe Romanowski. With his wife, Maggie, the couple’s restaurants, Bay Avenue Trattoria and before that Joe & Maggie’s, were legendary.

In Joe’s honor, a group of friends – among them Marie Jackson of the Flaky Tart in Atlantic Highlands and Andy Clurfeld, who for many years was restaurant critic for the Asbury Park Press – have founded JoCEF, the central focus of which is culinary scholarships for the Shore’s aspiring chefs. On Monday, March 31st, 30 of the Shore’s most talented chefs (e.g., Drew Araneo of Drew’s Bayshore Bistro) will help raise funds at a gala at the Navesink Country Club in Middletown, starting at 6:30 pm. For the full line-up and for tickets ($75), click here.

African Soiree Raises $16,000 to Fight River Blindness (& How You Can Help)

Photo by Robin Birkel

Photo by Robin Birkel

[Adapted from my In the Kitchen column in the March 14, 2014 edition of the Princeton Packet.]

A feast of authentic African food, the telling of lively African folktales, and a spirited live auction were joyous underpinnings to gala evening I attended earlier this month that raised funds for the United Front Against Riverblindness (UFAR). This Lawrenceville-based nonprofit works to control and eliminate that disease in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

About UFAR & River Blindness

More than one-third of the DRC’s 60 million people are at risk for river blindness, which is caused by a parasite and transmitted by black flies. A donation of $10 keeps 6 people from going blind for one year. The medicine, which prevents new cases and arrests the progress of existing ones, is provided free by the Merck Corporation, with UFAR arranging the distribution. UFAR treats more than two million people each year. Annual treatment for each person is required for ten years to eliminate the disease.

Christine Shungu, daughter of UFAR founder Dr. Daniel Shungu

Christine Shungu, daughter of UFAR founder Dr. Daniel Shungu

For more about the work of UFAR – including how your $250 tax deductible donation to their Adopt-a-Village program can spare a village of 500 people from river blindness – visit www.riverblindess.org, or phone 609.771.3674.

About the African Soiree

Much of the evening’s food was prepared by volunteer members and friends of the Princeton United Methodist Church and almost everything else was donated – including the space at the Princeton Theological Seminary and fare from two area restaurants: Makeda Ethiopian restaurant in New Brunswick and Palace of Asia in Lawrence.

Goat Stew a la Congolaise, Saltfish with Collards, Fufu

Goat Stew a la Congolaise, Saltfish with Collards, Fufu

Among the 20-plus church and UFAR volunteers who cooked for the event was Isabella Dougan, who made African banana fritters (recipe below).

They can be served plain or with hot sauce or dusted with confectioner’s sugar.

AKARA (Banana Fritters)
Isabella Dougan
Serves 4

3 ripe bananas, peeled
1 cup rice flour, plus more as needed
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup olive oil

  1. Mash the bananas in a bowl into a smooth paste. (Alternatively, use a food processor.)
  2. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, nutmeg, and salt in a bowl. Add the mashed bananas, mixing well. (Add additional flour if the mixture is too soft, or water, 1 tablespoon at a time, if the mixture is too stiff.)
  3. Heat oil in a skillet until medium hot. Scoop round tablespoons of the banana mixture into the oil and flatten slightly. Cook until underside is medium brown and flip over to fry the other side.
  4. Place cooked balls on paper towels to remove excess oil. Serve hot.