Category Archives: Uncategorized

Want the scoop on what it’s really like to be a restaurant critic?

Well here’s something I never imagined I’d be doing: Holding a lecture – twice, actually, plus a real-time restaurant field trip – on the art and science of restaurant reviewing. You can join me this fall at the Princeton Adult School for a no-holds-barred evening or two.

I will share the ins and outs of some of my reviews for NJ Monthly, the Princeton Packet, South Jersey magazine, and other publications (including letters to the editor that they elicited, as well as threats to my editors to pull advertising, and at least one threat of physical harm). In addition to answering students’ questions, I plan to address these topics:

  • The debate over the need for anonymity (as you may know, I eventually adopted a disguise)
  • The components of a useful, well-rounded review
  • Attracting and maintaining a readership and/or social media audience
  • Dealing with the unexpected on a review and afterwards (e.g., blown cover, food poisoning, rude staff, dealing with irate chefs and restaurateurs)

Sound like fun? It does to me! I hope to see you there. Get all the relevant details and sign up here. (For the record: that is NOT a photo of me next to the listings. But come to the lecture and I’ll show you a photo of me in disguise, and tell you the secret behind how I developed it. It was so good that even family members did not recognize me.)

Crazy For Cookbooks! December 2 at the Princeton Public Library

Source: Crazy For Cookbooks! December 2 at the Princeton Public Library

This just may be my favorite assignment ever

Second graders in Mr. Pinner’s class at the Wicoff School in West Windsor write restaurant reviews. Hilarity and perspicacity ensue. My report here.


A Quick Storm-Related Update: Canal House Event Postponed

In my previous post I told you about an event at the Canal House in Lambertville planned for Sunday, November 4th. For obvious reasons that is a no-go. But mark your calendars instead for Sunday, November 18 – same time, same place. Below is a reprise of the who, what, and why – and the new when. Let’s hope all of us will be safe, dry, and warm by then. We’ll certainly be in need of some free bubbly!


To celebrate the publication of what Melissa Hamilton & Christopher Hersheimer are calling their Big Red Book, they are opening their gorgeous second-story studio along the canal in Lambertville on Sunday, November 4 from noon to 4 pm. “Come by for a nibble and a liquid refreshment,
and buy a signed copy (or a pile of them as holiday gifts),” the invitation reads. The book, just out, is Canal House Cooks Every Day. Its 250 new recipes and 130 photographs have garnered accolades from everyone from Lidia Bastianich and Christopher Kimball to Jamie Lee Curtis.

The Canal House is at 6 Coryell Street, Studio B. If you think you might be able to make it, rsvp to so they can have plenty of bubbles on ice. Tell them Pat sent you.

Border Crossings: San Francisco Neighborhood Restaurant Finds

Customarily when I dine outside the boundaries of the Garden State it’s to cross either the Hudson or the Delaware. Recently, I trekked clear across the country.

The Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco, CA a...

The Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco, CA at sunset taken from the Marin Headlands (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nopalito & Izakaya Yuzuki: Delicious Food at Reasonable Prices


Nopalito on Urbanspoon

You know how it’s always the locals who know the best little neighborhood places in a big city? Well, imagine my delight when the “locals” in the know turn out to be one of my own daughters and her boyfriend. Nopalito – there are actually two locations because it’s just that popular – serves up simply the best straightforward Mexican food I have eaten outside of Mexico City.

There are two key factors that account for Nopalito’s success. First, many of the ingredients are organic, sustainable, and local. Masa, made from organic corn, is ground in-house and tortillas are hand-formed. Chorizo and queso fresco are made on the premises, too. Blue Bottle coffee is served. Key factor number two: the two chefs behind Nopalito, Jose Ramos and Gonzalo Guzman. They started out at Nopalito’s parent restaurant, the more formal Nopa (which serves Northern California cuisine), where as part of their cooking duties they were tasked with making the “family” meals for staff. These were so delicious, Nopa’s owners offered them their own spinoff.

Nopalito’s setting is casual in the extreme and its short menu covers the basics. Don’t let either of those factors fool you into thinking it’s run of the mill. Ceviche and carnitas are revelations. Tamales change with the season and should not be missed. (In July, I downed the Empipianado, with pork and two kinds of seeds. It’s now replaced with a summer squash, corn, and tomato version.) A pitcher of margaritas would not be amiss (Pueblo Viejo Blanco, Combier, agave nectar, and lime), for $33. Prices, for the quality, are ridiculously reasonable – like $15.50 for carnitas or carne asada and $4.50 for a beef gordita. Plus, the staff is friendly and although Nopalito doesn’t take reservations, you can call ahead when you’re on your way and get put on the list.

Izakaya Yuzuki

Izakaya Yuzuki on Urbanspoon

I learned about Izakaya Yuzuki, on the other hand, from Princetonian Fran McManus, longtime marketing director of that town’s Whole Earth Center. Yes, it’s Japanese – but it doesn’t serve sushi. Instead, it focuses on cooked dishes featuring “koji,” the fermenting agent used since ancient times to make many essential Japanese foods and ingredients, including (but not limited to) sake, miso, and soy sauce.

Vegetables 3 Ways

Vegetables 3 Ways (Photo credit: I am Jeffrey)

In the introduction to her menu, Izakaya Yuzuki‘s owner, Yuko Hayashi, explains that “the preparation of koji…demands much time and close attention. As a result, this beautiful and sophisticated tradition as been cast off for faster, cheaper methods” and mass production. Whatever – the food speaks for itself.

We happened to hit this small storefront restaurant in the Mission (near Tartine) at the tail-end of a weekday happy hour, when both food and sake were offered at prices we couldn’t resist. We loaded up with small plates (and by small I mean a couple of bites each) and a flight of 4 sakes (each in an amazingly different style). Among the many standouts was a combo dish of 3 vegetables of the day that featured smoky sautéed spinach and sweet potatoes with crisp skins and custardy insides.  Sweet clams and Japanese cucumbers in red miso also pleased, but what blew me away was – and I realize this sounds dreadful – squid cooked in its own liver. Couldn’t get enough.

Grilled Chicken Meat Ball

Grilled Chicken Meat Ball (Photo credit: I am Jeffrey)

Among the consistently excellent larger dishes (although still not exactly large) are Kobe beef tataki and whole, air-dried horse mackerel – crispy skinned and butterflied – with daikon ponzu sauce. More conventional but no less lip-smacking are grilled chicken wings and chicken meatballs on a skewer. As at Nopalito, many of the ingredients are fresh, organic, and from local and sustainable sources, and even the soy sauce and tofu are made in-house.

Izakaya Yuzuki offers 24 sakes, as well as beer, shochu, and a nicely curated list of European wines that are well matched to the fare. One final detail not to be missed: the restroom has a high-tech heated toilet seat.

Kale Ice Cream, Magic Mineral Broth, Winners of Giveaway

Yep, you read that right: kale ice cream. An explanation is in order.

My hometown is smack in the middle of a month-long celebration of that tasty green called Eat More Kale Princeton.

Lots of businesses and organizations – food-based and otherwise – have come up with fun and ingenious ways to promote kale, as you can read on the Facebook page. Granted, kale-flavored ice cream is particularly crazy. Crazy delicious that is. Ever on the forefront of all things zany, the folks at the bent spoon are featuring kale and organic kumquat ice cream.

Naturally, I had to try it. It’s electric green in color, with a wonderfully silky-creamy texture. If you had blindfolded me and asked me to identify the flavor I’m not sure I would have come up with either kale or kumquat – but who cares? The day I tried it the suggested pairing was salt & pepper chocolate ice cream. Which, of course, I went for. It was a nice match but personally I wish I had gone with a double scoop of the kale – it was just that good. (Once again, I have to acknowledge a sentence I never thought I’d write.)

If you’re in Princeton during March, give it a whirl.

Magic Mineral Broth: A Public Service

That’s how I think about this recipe from Rebecca Katz’s book, One Bite at a Time: Nourishing Recipes for People with Cancer, Survivors, and their Caregivers.  Sadly, too many of us have a dear one who’s going through or has gone through the rigors (not to say downright horrors) of cancer treatment. I pulled out this recipe recently to make it for a good friend in just that situation.

It turned out to be one of the very few things my friend would happily consume for the duration, especially since cancer therapy wreaks havoc with your taste buds. This somehow still tasted good, and the bonus is it’s jam-packed with, as Katz writes in the first edition of her book, “potassium and numerous trace minerals that are often depleted by cancer therapy.” She continues, “Sipping this nutrient-rich stock is like giving your body an internal spa treatment. Drink it like tea [as my friend did] or use it as a base for all your favorite soups and rice dishes. Don’t be daunted by the ingredient list. Simply chop the ingredients in chunks and throw them in the pot.”

I followed the recipe from the first edition, which differs slightly from the revised version on Katz’s website. Here, though, are a few of my own pointers:

*Use as many organic ingredients as you can.

*Be sure to use a stiff vegetable brush for scrubbing all the root vegetables so that they are as clean as can be without having to pare them. But if dirt is embedded, go ahead and peel it off.

*Trim off all the root ends and tops, but thoroughly wash the greens of 3 of the carrots and add them to the stockpot.

*Remove the outermost skins of the onions and garlic.

*Carefully remove all blemishes and defects, like wilted leaves and potato eyes.

*I consider Japanese yams and Garnet yams to be a must – substituting regular sweet potatoes results in a muddy, less flavorful broth. I found both yams at my local Whole Foods.


Congrats to the winners of the 2011/12 Zagat NJ Restaurant Guide giveaway, Rachel Wieranga and Rita Haake!

More Dining Around: Buds & Bowls; Artisan Bread

 Find out all about the latest incarnation of the Lawrenceville Inn in my latest column in the February 3rd issue of the Princeton Packet. That’s Betsy Hunt of Buds and Bowls pictured at left. And check out my story on artisan bread in Bergen Health & Life, which features an informative interview with breadmaker extraordinaire Nina White of Bobolink Dairy & Bakehouse. (That’s not Nina pictured below, although it could have been: she still looks like the ballet dancer she once was.)

And the Winner of the Cookbook Giveaway is…

…Carrie! She’ll receive a copy of these two books:

Congratulations, Carrie, and a big thank you to everyone who submitted entries.  This was fun!


True Random Number Generator: Result: 3

Need Some Post-Holiday Pick-Me-Ups?

If like me you’re having trouble settling back into your routine after the holiday break, I offer three diversions:

Think You’ve Done Something Stupid in the Kitchen? Well, you have nothing on my friends, acquaintances, and family members, who gamely shared their best (worst?) cooking mishaps with me for my last In the Kitchen column of 2011 in The Princeton Packet. I would love to hear about your best cooking catastrophes, too.

Hey, I’m a Chapter in a Book! That’s a sentence I never thought I’d write. But it’s true: I am the subject of Chapter 7 of Locavore Adventures: One Chef’s Slow Food Journey by Jim Weaver, chef/owner of Tre Piani in Princeton’s Forrestal Village.

It tells the story of his founding of Slow Food Central NJ back in 1999 and how the success of this chapter – one of the first in the US – convinced Carlo Petrini and Slow Food International to establish Slow Food USA. I am proud to say that I was a co-founder of that chapter. The book is due out from Rutgers Press in a few weeks, but you can read all about it in my interview with Weaver in the current (Winter 2012) issue of Edible JerseyVisit the EJ website to find out where to pick up a copy of this free publication, including at Whole Foods Markets.

Suffering from Farmers Market Withdrawal? Every year around this time I begin to mourn the loss of weekly interaction with my favorite farmers. This year, though, there are more winter farmers markets than ever to tide me and you over til spring. Here are those I know about; please add any others you’re aware of:English: The City of Rockville Maryland farmer...

Saturday, Jan. 14, from 10 am to 2 pm at D&R Greenway in Princeton. This is one of two markets mounted by (ahem) Slow Food Central NJ. For directions visit the Greenway site.

Sunday, Feb. 19, from 11 am to 3 pm at Tre Piani in Princeton. The second of the above markets.

The Flemington Farmers Market at Historic Dvoor Farm will be open from 11 am to 1 pm on the third Sunday of the month all winter. Among the vendors is Griggstown Farm. Dates are: Jan. 15, Feb. 19, March 18, & April 15.

The Princeton Farmers Market will be held on the second Thursday of each month from 11 am to 5 pm inside the Princeton Public Library. Dates are: Jan. 12, Feb. 9, March 8, & April 12.

Finally, if you haven’t yet discovered the superb Stockton Farmers Market, it’s a year-round indoor market that I’ll be profiling in full in an upcoming issue of US 1. Winter hours are: Fri. 3 to 7, Sat. 9 to 4, & Sun. 10 am to 4 pm. Vendors include The Painted Truffle, the chocolates I’ve featured in recent posts.