Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Hush Hush I Smell It Calling My Name

Aumm Aumm means “Hush Hush” in the Neapolitan dialect. Well, I’m letting this secret out. I never find myself in North Bergen, but I’ll be visiting frequently now. A friend who works at the elite Le Bernardin – need I say more – had been posting photos of dishes from Aumm Aumm quite often in the last six months. I trust the culinary opinion of someone who is employed at a number one New York restaurant. So back in December, with no reservations accepted, a group of us tried this self-proclaimed “wine bar and pizzeria”…which neither descriptive piques my gustatory sense.

It’s name it was: Aumm Aumm the surprise. I dislike the name; I dislike the tagline. Neither of them provide the golden key to this restaurant – fresh food! Because we waited 20 minutes, our hunger was building. It was best to order a cold throw-together dish to share. The Tagliere is a chef’s selection of 20161216_201942imported cheeses, imported coldcuts, olives, nuts and fresh fruit. It’s the perfect traditional way to begin.

Another cold dish followed: the Insalata Aumm Aumm. A signature dish should be the popular one, and it was among us, as far as a salad can be. Baby arugula, endive, raddichio, artichokes, eggplant, cherry tomatoes, cacciocavallo cheese was all dressed with balsamic vinaigrette.20161216_201312

I’m not one to dine out and order pizza, but with a bunch of people sharing food, one is tempted to try it, since it’s claimed in the name and you sit facing the opening of the large brick oven stove. Choices 20161216_200701are red or white pizzas, round or the larger oblong. We went with a round, red one – the Cappriciosa. It was topped with tomato sauce, ham, mushrooms, Gaeta olives, artichokes and mozzarella. The flavors popped, but as is often with brick oven pizzas, the dough has that lovely charcoal crisp on the outside, but is soft and chewy on the top side. I am a crispy bread freak too, so I was a bit disappointed to get strips of pizza dough in our bread basket for starters.

They carry 150 types of wines. Several primi pasta dishes were ordered, and all were cooked al dente. On the first visit, we tried the Sciallatielli allo Scoglio with fresh pasta, baby clams, shrimp, octopus, PEI mussels, calamari and cherry tomatoes. The second time we went with their new frequent patron, my friend, and the same dish was twice as large and came out inside a pizza dough crust to absorb all the seafood flavors.IMG_3902

Seared pork chops, fish of the day, grilled octopus, among other second courses are worth exploring. Now that Aumm Aumm is no longer on the down low, they may need to change the name…please.

 

It’s not so offal when you add fruits and vegetables

In summer of 2015, I noticed a “farmer’s market” open up in Bergenfield where a large clothing store had been. I put the term in quotes because there seems to be a trend of these predominantly fruit-and-vegetable stores opening up in Bergen County.  To me, they are mini supermarkets focusing on produce. I envision a farmer’s market to be outdoors, such as the ones that pop up temporarily in the summer in Dumont, Fort Lee, Englewood, Paramus, Teaneck, Ramsey and many more.

I paid a visit quickly for fear it would disappear again. In addition to rows of fruits and vegetables, this new market has a deli counter and a butcher. From a distance, the meat looked fresh and appealing. As I came closer to the case, the appealing part turned to intriguing and a bit squeamish. But that’s just me because I’m not an offal person. Feel free to deduct points off of my foodie score card. I’m okay with it. Maybe I just can’t comprehend what a human would do with a cow’s tongue. It seems illegal. It feels dirty, but I don’t want to insult any cultures that revere it to be a delicacy. It must be tasty. I may have even had it once, sliced, at a Korean bbq restaurant in Palisades Park. I’m not telling. And in the case alongside the tongue are the other parts of the cow, neatly separated – the large heart, the feet, the intestines. This is an unusual place. Yes, you can get some of this at your local ShopRite, especially in Hispanic-populated neighborhoods, where I’m guessing a lot of nicely flavored broths are made with these components. I chose to move along to the fruits.

I was drawn to the inexpensive price of the avocados – Hass only 99 cents each. A package of red striated beans sat there, leaving me in wonder again.  This is the store you go to when you have that recipe with some nontraditional ingredients such as these beans, sour oranges,

prickly pears, dragon fruit and some unidentifiable tubers. Even the Red Delicious apples looked different..like they were on steroids for 79 cents/lb. It’s fresh food for the adventurous; it’s a delight for many Europeans, Asians and Africans wanting to cook dishes from “home”. Let’s see if offals become a new food craze in America as sushi did. Maybe we’re missing out.  I’m not ready to sing: “Something tells me I’m into something good.” Please explore the market for yourself though. If nothing else, you might find a less-expensive-than-anywhere can of wonderful Lavazza coffee or ….wait for

it….ten different flavors of SPAM! I choose to remain a SPAM virgin but will grab some Lavazza or Fair Trade Melitta coffee and a sampling of fruits and veggies.

Tasting Tapas with Garces

This is the fourth Food Network Iron Chef’s restaurant in which I was graced with the presence of the celebrity chef not long after opening a new establishment. That is the time to see them if you are a celebrity chef stalker. The first for me was Chef Emeril Lagasse at Emeril’s in New Orleans, where he was actually cooking. The second was Mario Batali at Babbo, where he was busy in the kitchen. The third was Bobby Flay a week after he opened Gato; he was visibly sweating on the line and poking his head out to scan the dining room. The fourth, and latest, is Jose Garces at the four-week-old Amada. None were planned to seek out these chefs specifically; I was just seekingchef jose garces quality food, and I found it this evening in Battery Park, NYC, even though Chef Garces was playing overseer from the outside of the kitchen looking in.

Andalusian tapas, traditional and modern, is what’s happening here. Naturally, one wants to taste everything, so the Spanish gastronomy began with Sopa De Esparagos – White Asparagus Soup, Mushroom, Duck Butifarra (described as a duck and garlic sausage), Pistachio. Something comes over me when I order dishes that sound so fluid in another language. Suddenly I speak proper Spanish with the right inflection and all. So I didn’t order it as the “asparagus soup”.

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Sopa de esparagos

While we were waiting for the train of dishes to pull in, a complementary garlic flatbread with a tuna and caper with black olive oil spread was delivered.

20160528_191704After a few spoonfuls of soup, the traditional PIQUILLOS RELLENOS – Crab Stuffed Peppers, Toasted Almonds, arrived, as well as the PULPO A LA GALLEGA – Spanish Octopus, Pureed Potato. The octopus was sliced into thick nickel-sized pieces. The flat top of each was pan seared I’m guessing to garner a crisp slight garlic and oil flavor. They sat sunken into a bed of velvety pureed potato. 20160528_192355

Then came a 10-minute welcomed digestion break. The remaining dishes were brought together: the BACALAO – Poached Black Cod, Sunflower-Chorizo Broth, Whipped Potato, dancing with complementary flavors and textures and was the star of the evening for me; the PERNIL ASADO – Roasted Pork, White Beans, Arugula & Orange, which was sold by the waiter after saying, “crispy top and juicy beneath”; and the COSTILLAS DE TERNERA – Spanish Flatbread, topped with Beef Short Ribs, Horseradish, Parmesan, Bacon, which flavor-wise was a surprisingly close second.

20160528_19573020160528_195300Not only was there no room for dessert, there were leftovers. The enjoya20160528_195318ble meal closed with me approaching Chef Garces and thanking him for putting me in a delightful food coma.

You’re a Shining Star, Batard

Every year, for the past five years, I select a Michelin two- or three-star NYC restaurant for my husband and me to celebrate our anniversary. It’s always a surprise to him, and I come off looking magnanimous and benefitting just the same. Having just returned from a California vacation, we needed to trim the expense this time, so I sought out a fine-dining establishment where we could experience high-quality, impressive dishes for maybe half of the cost.

Was this achievable? I was going to find out after securing a reservation at Batard in Tribeca. I had hope in that the restaurant received one Michelin star within its first year of business (opened May 2014). Additionally, Co-owner/Restaurateur Drew Nieporent has quite the resume in his Myriad Restaurant Group, including all the Nobus and Tribeca Grill. Chef and Partner Markus Glocker, of Austria, was most recently in the kitchen at Gordon Ramsay, which earned two Michelin stars during his time there. After doing my homework, I had comfortable expectations of the level of food we were going to consume. It was a different expectation than when we went to Jean Georges and Le Bernardin for example. With three stars, you walk in with one shining on you as the diner, who demands to get the best treatment, one on the server and one on the chef.

The menu at Batard posed some real first-world problems. We had to put a game plan in motion. First, there was the pre-fixe choices of two- ($55), three- ($69) or four-courses ($79)…now you see I’ve accomplished the price-cut challenge. We agreed to both do three courses, but now we had to decide which course..yes, you have a choice! After some algebraic equations, we figured the best combination would be if I ordered an appetizer, first course and entree and he ordered an appetizer and dessert. With this solution, we could share the first course and the dessert. After about 15 minutes – now you see why – we could rest our minds as two different warm, mini rolls were placed on our plates.image

I was torn between the pork belly and quail for an appetizer. When our waitress (is that a sign of a non-3 star?) answered, “No the pork is not crispy,” I was about to say “quail” until she said it was served cold. The pork belly was delectable! I would not have even known what I was eating. It was sliced like a paper-thin prosciutto with the center having a pressed cornbread and bits of blood sausage, happily draped over baby lentils. His OCTOPUS “PASTRAMI” had the appearance of head cheese without the gelatin. It was accompanied by bits of braised ham hock, pommery mustard and new potatoes.image

imageOur shared first course (are you keeping up with the plan?) was the scallops with leak confit, crispy potato strings, in a puddle of red wine sauce. During my first bite I felt both elated and guilty. I have always said my friend Rob Russo made the most tender and delicious scallops at the former Red Hen Bistro in NJ, but in that split second I felt bad to think these could even be a hair better. I absolved myself by believing it was imagejust because this was the more recent one. The “shared” course became 80% me, 20% him.

At a nice pace, and after a little time to process what we had, our entrees came. I was already completely convinced that this food was worth at least two Michelin stars in my book.

BRANDT BEEF SHORT RIB with grilled wagyu beef tongue, lovage polenta, pickled root vegetables. I had tongue only once before and in a Korean bbq style. I was a little nervous about rekindling that feeling of French-kissing a cow, but no; this tasted like a thin grilled steak. The short ribs barely required a knife.image

IMG_2059BRANZINO with roasted cauliflower, buerre noisette, and cannellini beans.

The fourth course rolled in with our shared dessert: DUCK EGG CRÈME BRÛLÉE spiced pineapple, verjus, yogurt sorbet. I’mIMG_2060 an extremely tough critic of desserts. It was good but not exquisite like every other dish. It wouldn’t have been my choice for dessert. I thank Batard for making a decent cup of coffee though…Your one star shines as bright as two!

Elvis Presley Movies… movies to dye for!

Elvis Presley Movies… movies to dye for!.

Fresh from the Farm

When your mother guides you toward healthy eating habits through your growing years, it’s only proper to take her to a fine dining establishment that promotes fresh, local foods. Even though I broke my own principle of not dining out exactly on Mother’s Day, I made the reservation at Blue Hill in New York City’s West Village because the four-course prix fixe menu is standard there, holiday or not. Ingredients come from nearby farms, including the Barbers’ family-owned Blue Hill Farm in Massachusetts. While the already over-used term “farm-to-table dining” makes many eyes roll at the pretentious tone, it still evokes a health-conscious-good feeling in advance of the meal.

A short walk across Washington Square Park, and three steps downward off the sidewalk, we entered a private hideaway that could easily have been missed. The dining room was ordinary with some brick wall and didn’t have an embracing décor. With two items to select from for each of the four courses, the best idea was to order opposite dishes so we could essentially MothersDay15 003try the whole menu. The food that was presented before our first course was simplistic yet exciting – farm cheese that still looked like curd in cloth, butter rolled in toasted grains, and crusty bread (I wish I had written down the description of) preceded the complimentary whole carrots with edible tops and radishes with boursin dip. They were served on slate and appeared to have been plucked from the ground that day – to which my mother proclaimed, “I hope they washed them.”MothersDay15 002

The first course consisted of my Rotation Risotto: twelve local grains, legumes and seeds, and her Roasted Asparagus with beet yogurt and stinging nettles. When I asked the waiter about the risotto, he explained it was the rotation of crops used to consistently feed the farm animals throughout the year. The chef played with that concept to turn them into a creamy risotto. My mother then whispered something about us being guinea pigs.

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MothersDay15 007The second course delivered my Maine Halibut with currants, pine nuts, apple, fennel and chickweed, along with her Farm Egg, fiddleheads, morels and ramps. Are you feeling the flood of vitamins yet?MothersDay15 006

The main course for me was Roast Chicken, curried carrots and fighter spinach. Don’t sigh at the boring thought of chicken. This bird did not taste like Perdue. It was something far more flavorful. Even more scrumptious was her Grass Fed Lamb with eight row flint corn, Jerusalem artichokes and pea shoots.

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We finished with poached Rhubarb, goat cheese, quinoa and blue hill milk sorbet plus a plate of Chocolate Bread Pudding, blue hill milk jam and cocoa nibs ice cream. We joked that the coffee would be disappointing after that wonderful meal. They should grow coffee beans because this coffee was watery and contradicted all that we consumed.

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Field of Food Festivals in NJ

There must have been one time that an adult reprimanded you for eating while walking or running around. We all know now that it was done in our best interest, so as not to choke on food and to simply develop proper eating habits by sitting at a table and acting civilized. But let’s admit, it’s not easy to remain seated with the grill fired up and a hamburger, watermelon or ear of corn in hand.

Now that spring is in full swing in New Jersey, there are a number of opportunities to combine food and the outdoors. Here are a few that I try not to miss, mostly because the food goes beyond zeppoles and hot dog carts.

While the Hoboken Arts & Music festival does not denote food, it is a major component. The combination of music and food awakens your auditory, olfactory and gustatory senses all at once. Now that’s a way to feel alive. Hoboken offers this in both the spring and fall, so if you’re reading this after May 4, 2014, you have another chance this year to attend. The music performances are some of the best FREE acts you can see in New Jersey, including a headliner of high merit. This year it is Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes, but in years past, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Joan Jett, Peter Noone, Mickey Dolenz, Roger McGuinn, Flo & Eddie, and John Eddie. Yes, I’ve been to a few. But before settling into the music, it is a priority to grab some lunch from some of the finer vendors or restaurants with stands. It is probably the only time I ever eat a gyro. Two of the most popular vendors are closest to the end stage: the crab cakes and the brisket and pulled-pork sandwiches. For those who prefer traditional fair food, there are plenty of fried oreos, cheese steaks, and potato chips on a stick to give an elephant arterial discomfort.

My absolute favorite festival, however, comes along in June. It is the Annual Seafood Festival in Belmar. For all of you crazy crustacean lovers, this is a weekend-long celebration of breaking legs and peeling shells. Many of the tents offer the same types of platters that can include a whole lobster, shrimp, clams and corn on the cob for a set price. Walk around the field and scout them all before you jump at the first claw reaching out to you. The lines tend to be long, and seating is sparse. I prefer to take a few steps across the street and sit cross-legged on the boardwalk, facing the ocean while dipping everything in a little clarified butter and lemon and making a mess on my hands. There’s the added benefit of a beer and wine tent for those who want to wind down with a cold one, but looking at the Atlantic Ocean is generally calming enough.

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Now begins the season of great New Jersey festivals. If your focus is food, there are plenty of others such as: Shad Fest in Lambertville, Michael Arnone’s Crawfish Festival in Augusta, Highlands Clamfest in Highlands, NJ Chili & Salsa Cookoff in Toms River, plus many more. Now is your chance to be that rebellious child – grab some food and eat while walking!