Tag Archives: Epicurean Palette

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

I know summer is really and truly over when…

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

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

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

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

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

Shane Cash of Rat's, Epicurean Palette 2012

Shane Cash of Rat’s, Epicurean Palette 2012

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

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

Nopa: Restaurant Envy in San Francisco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cafe Blue Moose; Epicurean Palette Highlights & Recipe; Got Goat?

“The nation’s only completely youth-run restaurant” proclaims the website of Cafe Blue Moose located on Mechanic Street in New Hope, PA. Owner/chef Skylar Bird began his professional culinary journey at the age of 14, when he formed a supper club in his parents’ home. Then it was on to culinary school and France, and now, at the ripe old age of 20, his sweet byob

employs only high school and college students – so expect to uncork your wine yourself. And then dig into Bird’s home-style fare. $20 gets you 2 courses – your choice of starter and main, or main and dessert, or starter and dessert. Another $5 and you’re good for 3 courses at this cash-or-check-only spot.

The menu changes frequently, but on a recent weeknight I and a friend enjoyed starters of butternut squash soup and a salad of mixed greens, goat cheese, apples, and walnuts:

Each table is hand-painted with a different free-form design that includes a blue moose. Freebies (freebies! even at these prices!) include hot buttered popcorn and soft country-style bread. On the way out we picked up homemade cookies – another lagniappe. Before that we had enjoyed housemade fettuccine with sausage and sweet corn, and short ribs with squash puree. We skipped dessert, although this description of Moose Tracks tempted: “Our signature chocolate sherry whipped cream cake.”
Cafe Blue Moose on Urbanspoon

Epicurean Palette 2012

About 1,000 people strolled Grounds for Sculpture last Sunday for what many agree was the best iteration yet of this food, wine, and beer gala that’s the sculpture park’s major annual fundraiser. Let’s start with the home team, Rat’s restaurant.

Here’s executive chef Shane Cash (he’s a distant relative of Johnny Cash, although he doesn’t tout it) tending the star ingredient of his Moroccan lamb with harissa oil. He cooked the lamb in a China box, usually used for barbecuing whole pigs.

Over at the Eno Terra table, Chris Albrecht and crew are clearly enjoying themselves dishing up hand-rolled garganelli pasta with pecorino Sarde and baby eggplant:

While Manuel Perez and the folks at Princeton’s Peacock Inn wow guests with ricotta gnocchi, which somehow I neglected to take a sample of!

Meantime, a typically intense Scott Anderson of elements forms countless quenelles of spicy short rib tartare. Short rib tartare? As meltingly tender – but more flavorful – than tartare made with high-end cuts. What sorcery is this?

At left, Scott Snyder (right) of Boulevard Five72 plates lobster roulade, while below, Nina & Jonathan White stand behind their Bobolink cheeses, literally and figuratively.

The Epicurean Palette would not be complete without two signatures: the chocolate rats produced by, well, Rat’s and the chocolate pots de creme of Brothers Moon. I devoured the chocolate rat bonbon before thinking to take a pic, but here is Brothers Moon owner/chef Will Mooney (on the right) and his assistant, Nicolas Angelus. Even better, here’s the recipe:

20 six-ounce portions)

3 tablespoons espresso powder
6 cups whole milk
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons cocoa powder
1-1/2 pounds semi-sweet chocolate, chopped small
16 ounces egg yolks (approximately 24 eggs)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

In a large heavy-bottom pot combine espresso powder, milk, sugar, and cocoa powder and heat until hot and all sugar is melted. Combine chopped chocolate pieces and egg yolks in a large bowl. Drizzle milk mixture slowly into the chocolate and yolks and then add the vanilla. Divide mixture among ramekins. Bake in a water bath in a preheated 300-degree oven for 30 minutes, or until set. Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate, covered, overnight. If desired, serve with fresh berries, cookies, and/or whipped cream.

Sourcing Goat Meat: No Goat Left Behind

Did you know that goat is the most widely consumed meat in the world? Whenever I encounter it on a menu (thankfully more common than in the past) I never pass it up. I’ve cooked it at home, too, although I have to confess that, before the days of local, grassfed farms, I was always wary about its origins. Even now, fresh, local goat meat isn’t always easy to come by. So I welcome Heritage Food USA’s celebration of Goatober, which offers three different cuts and 2-day shipping. Now I just have to decide how to cook it: Italian, Jamaican, Indian….?

Review of Azure @ Revel; Interview w/Kevin Sbraga; Me on the Radio; Rosh HaShanah Recipes

Alain Allegretti is one of several high-profile chefs brought in by Revel Resorts in Atlantic City to amp up the dining scene. So why do I allot his restaurant only two stars? Here’s my review  from NJ Monthly.

English: Revel in Atlantic City

English: Revel in Atlantic City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Speaking of Revel, I wholeheartedly recommend Amada. Jose Garces has replicated the incomparable Spanish small (and large) plates from his flagship Philly restaurant. I stopped by for a cocktail and am still dreaming about my Broken Hugs, made with grapefruit, tequila, and agave.  Other marquee names at Revel are Michel Richard, Marc Forgione, and Robert Wiedmaier.

Top Chef Winner Kevin Sbraga is Back in Jersey

No, he’s not abandoning his acclaimed 60-seat restaurant, Sbraga in Philly,

Photo credit: Jason Varney

where he offers 4-course dinners for $49 – including desserts by his pastry chef/wife, Jesmary. He is, however, returning to our fair state for one day, as a guest chef at this year’s Epicurean Palette fundraiser on September 30 at Grounds For Sculpture. Sbraga was executive chef at Rat’s restaurant there during the time he was a contestant on the Bravo TV show. I had a chance to catch up with him recently, and here’s what he has to say about life and work post-Top Chef.

Me: With so many demands on your time and requests for your participation in good causes, what was it that made you agree to come back for the Epicurean Palette?

Sbraga: It’s going to be a great time and a lot of fun for me. And I’m not one to forget where I came from.

Me: Speaking of that, I know that as a Jersey boy you tried but failed to find a suitable space for your restaurant in South Jersey, near Willingboro, where you grew up and where you had returned to live with your wife and two young children during your stint at Rat’s. With a restaurant in Philly, where are you living these days?

Sbraga:  Not only do I still live in Willingboro, I still live in the same house!

Me: Friends of mine who dined recently at Sbraga raved not only about the meal, but were particularly impressed that you stopped by their table to chat, as you did with just about everyone in the room.

Sbraga: I do try to visit every table. The restaurant’s small size and open kitchen help [to keep me in contact]. But it’s hard. Sometimes I’ll visit a table just as, say, their fish is coming out and I don’t want to interrupt [the flow of their meal], or I get called back to the kitchen. So, it’s hard. People can and do come up to the open kitchen, of course.

Me: Other than the prize money and the clout it gave you to open your own restaurant, what was the best thing about winning Top Chef?

Sbraga: The creative freedom. That’s what I’ve always wanted. I get to make the calls.

Me: In what other ways has the win impacted your life?

Sbraga: Almost every aspect of my life has changed! The travel! Getting to cook for so many amazing people! The coolest thing I’ve done was for Apple. They had a huge event that I cooked for. It was hosted by Warner Brothers. I had never seen such a huge production!

Me: What will you be serving up at Epicurean Palette?

Sbraga: I’m making salmon sashimi with frozen yogurt and pineapple jicama salad.

If Kevin Sbraga’s Back in Jersey, then I’m Back on the Radio

old fashioned

For those of you who remember my years as the host of Dining Today before WHWH changed formats, I regret to say I do not have a new radio show lined up. But, just like Kevin Sbraga coming back to Jersey for a day, I’m going to put in a one-time guest appearance on a radio show called Stepping Stones. My host will be Walt Haake and we’ll be talking live about food, drink, restaurants, farms – you name it – and we’ll be taking callers. The show airs from 5 to 6 pm this Tuesday, September 18, over WDVR, which is based in Sergeantsville and broadcasts throughout the Delaware Valley. That’s 89.7 FM in Hunterdon and Bucks, and 91.9 FM in Mercer County. You can also stream it live at the station’s website.

A Different Set of Rosh HaShanah Foods

A shofar made from a ram's horn is traditional...

A shofar made from a ram’s horn is traditionally blown in observance of Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the Jewish civic year. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We’re all familiar with symbolic foods like challah dipped in honey to welcome in a sweet new year, but for American Jews of Syrian heritage, the traditions take on a Middle Eastern twist. One of the most delightful of these, I discovered, is eating black-eyed peas at the new year, just as folks in the American South do on January 1st. Below are Syrian Rosh HaShanah recipes for leek fritters, veal and black-eyed pea stew, and Swiss chard stew in my September 14 column in The Princeton Packet.

Below are recipes for a Syrian Rosh HaShanah. According to Joan Nathan, the black-eyed pea stew serves eight, but that seems high to me for a dish containing only a half pound of meat. Both it and the Swiss chard stew are terrific served over rice.

www.thekosherfoodies.com (slightly adapted)

2 to 3 large leeks, or 4 to 5 small leeks, washed well and chopped
1/2 cup breadcrumbs or matzo meal
2 eggs
Egg white from 1 egg, optional
Salt and pepper
Vegetable oil, for frying

Prepare oil for frying: pour about 1/2 inch of oil into a high-walled pan. Place on burner over medium heat. Combine leeks, eggs, and breadcrumbs. Check consistency. If it’s too dry, add the egg white. If too wet, add more bread crumbs. The batter should be loose but be able to come together into a ball if squeezed. Add salt and pepper. Using a tablespoon measure, scoop out batter into balls. Test the frying oil with a tiny amount of batter. Make sure it sizzles but doesn’t burn. Line a plate or tray with paper towels to drain the patties after frying. Using a slotted spoon, drop a few of the tablespoons of batter, one at a time, into the oil, flattening into patties as you drop them. (Don’t overcrowd, because you don’t want the temperature to drop too much, which will make the patties soggy.) After one minute, they should be brown. Flip the patties. Fry on the other side for a minute. Remove from oil with slotted spoon and place on draining plate. Repeat until all are fried. Sprinkle with salt when still warm.

Jewish Cooking in America
, Joan Nathan (1998)

1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 pound veal stew meat, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 cups water
1 cup dried black-eyed peas, soaked overnight in water to cover
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons tomato paste

In a heavy skillet sauté the onions and garlic lightly in the oil. Add the cubed veal and brown briefly. Add 1-1/2 cups of the water, cover, and simmer slowly for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, drain and simmer the black-eyed peas in water to cover for 20 minutes. Drain and add the peas, salt, pepper, spices, tomato paste, and the remaining 1/2 cup water to the veal mixture. Cover and cook over low heat for 1 hour or until the peas and veal are tender. If the stew dries out, add a little more water.

www.culinarykosher.com (posted by rm and slightly adapted)

1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 cups cleaned and chopped Swiss chard leaves and stems
1 pound ground beef
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2 cup water

Heat vegetable oil in a large pan and add onion and garlic. When the onions are translucent but now brown, add the Swiss chard. Cook, stirring frequently, until chard is wilted and tender (at least 10 minutes). Remove vegetable mixture from the pan and add the ground beef, stirring and breaking up pieces until browned. Pour off any excess oil and add the cinnamon, allspice, and salt to the pan. Add the vegetable mixture back in and stir well. Add the 1/2 cup water and simmer over very low heat for 15 to 20 minutes.