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Sunday Supper

  • Posted on July 24, 2011 at 9:48 pm

Dinner tonight was as simple as it can get. I picked up some peeled and cooked shrimp from the Amish market on Saturday. Took the tails off, stuck them in the mini chopper in two batches with some mayo and garlic salt. Added some horseradish afterwards. A little toasted pita and a sliced red pepper for me, some multigrain wheat thins for the Husband, a few olives for us both. Will have to keep this one in mind for the rest of the summer!

Dinner tomorrow will be home made tacos. I picked up some ground beef this weekend as well, and some different tortillas. That will cover Monday, considering I’ll also have to roast a chicken for our lunches. Tuesday I’ll bring home some take out Turkish from near my office and then we’ll figure out the rest of the week. Friday night elements is doing a special dinner with Kevin Sbraga who won Top Chef a year ago, so we’ll be going to that. The menu will certainly be interesting!

But how is it only Sunday and I’m already tired? Sigh. That does not bode well for this week.

Summer Supper

  • Posted on July 17, 2011 at 10:13 pm

So maybe it’s not your typical mid-summer supper, but it worked for us for tonight. Tacos with all natural ground beef I picked up from the Amish along with some shredded cheese, and some whole wheat tortillas from the supermarket. Next time maybe I’ll chop up some of the farmers market tomatoes instead of using the jarred salsa. Or maybe I’ll just remember to buy some better jarred salsa. This one was supposed to be on someone’s best of list, I think, which is why I bought it instead of what I usually buy. But I found it way too watery and it just made everything messy. Maybe if I drained the whole jar it might be useable but that’s just a hassle. Meh. But otherwise dinner was really yummy, and I think we’d do it again. Not too bad to make even in the heat of the summer.

Once that was done I roasted a quick chicken in the convection oven. I forgot the carrots today, I was in too much of a rush, but it will make chicken salad for lunch for the Husband for one day and lunch for me for one or two days during the week. Even though my work schedule is going to be messed up this week and odds are I didn’t need to make the chicken. Oh well. Maybe just take one day for me and make more chicken salad for him. We’ll see.

I just ordered a cold french press to make ice coffee concentrate. I don’t usually like hot coffee, except, weirdly, for a soy cappuccino at elements from time to time, and I think that’s mostly because they don’t do iced coffee beverages. Otherwise, year-round, my preference is for iced coffee or espresso drinks. But you can’t just throw hot coffee over ice for the most part, it just gets watery that way. You generally make a stronger coffee concentrate which you put over ice and with some soy milk and maybe a bit of flavoring. It’s part of the reason I don’t make it at home. But if I can put elements’ coffee blend into a concentrate over ice and have that most days of the week, in my nice reusable cup, yeah, I can take the effort once a week to do that. Besides, if I don’t have to go get a coffee, it’ll help keep me away from the pastries in the morning, even if I did choose carefully it was still no good even twice a week!

dinner at elements

  • Posted on April 24, 2010 at 11:42 pm

Work has been insane, more than 70 hours a week for me, ever since we got back from Florida.  The guys at elements have been blogging and Facebook-ing and posting pictures. First it was the local chicken liver pate. Then it was the first of the season morels. There was also the sour cherry dessert, but that may have been after I made the reservation. Somewhere in there Mattias had made a rhubarb cooler and posted in their bar blog. The picture of the morels did it for me, though, or more accurately I knew it would do it for the Husband and I’d been jonesing for a good dinner out.


“Yes, wife?”

“elements has first of the season morels….”

“when can we go?”

“I’ll call and ask.”

A day or so later I finally remembered to call and the young lady who answered was able to accommodate us at 5 pm on Friday in the Cube, which is their private room adjacent to the kitchen. The chef’s table in the kitchen was already booked so this was really just perfect for us. Score! It also meant I’d need to stop working at a reasonable hour to get dressed and ready to go because I really did want to try and relax and enjoy myself. To say it had been a hell of a week is an understatement.

We arrived a few minutes early and got to hang around with the staff out back behind the kitchen before service started. It was nice to be missed as much as we missed them. It seemed the NY Times review photographer was coming that night at 7 pm to take the pictures for the review they had just gotten. You’d think if it was just for pictures, they’d come at an easier time than Friday or Saturday night!  After being seated, we looked at the menu and realized we were in trouble- there were just too many amazing choices! This was definitely one of those menus where there were more things up the Husband’s alley and I had a harder time. We ended up sharing a number of different dishes and everything was just incredible from start to finish.

We’re bad foodie bloggers. We completely forgot to write down or photograph entire courses, so most of the descriptions will be straight from their menu.

Amuse was a trio of interesting tidbits. Beef tongue wrapped around sushi rice with pickled carrots (yum); house cured something sausage-like fresh not dried with a grain mustard (which I liked), and a third bit with piquillo peppers and tasted fishy.  This last one even the Husband liked!

chicken liver pate with pheasant egg, mushroom, leek with crispy toast points

What a way to start out the meal. I knew I had to have this first because if the Husband did I may have only found some mushrooms left! Seriously good.

short rib pierogi  caraway, potato, leek, sour cream

These were outrageous. The short rib pierogi had the most amazing texture and I would definitely order these again.

spaghetti carbonara  our bacon, peas, duck egg

I only had a bite of this but it was very good. How bad can it be with their own bacon and these fresh tiny peas?

sablefish  romesco, marcona almond, charred scallion spaetzle, shrimp

romesco sauce shmeared across the plate. scallion spaetzle with Laughing Bird shrimp and spinach. oh yum. and the fish was good too.

Columbia river sturgeon  local asparagus, osetra caviar, quail egg, garlic

We got two small portions of this, mostly so I could give the caviar to the Husband. This was outrageous. The fish was perfectly cooked. The asparagus was pureed into a soup or broth that we both sopped up with bread and a spoon. I don’t usually eat eggs but knew there was no way I was giving that one up to the Husband. Perfectly soft cooked,

local skate  split pea & ham, spring onion, morels, carrot

We haven’t had skate in a long time and this was a perfect version of it. My only issue with it was that to me it tasted strongly like caraway, which I don’t really like. But otherwise it was fabulous. Came apart easily with a fork. Just so so good.

tilefish  local morels, ramps, horseradish, spinach, quinoa, white asparagus

Yum, yum and yum. By this point I was getting full, and wanted to save room for dessert, so the Husband got most of it. This was just insanely good.

When we first looked at the menu I knew I was going to be in trouble with dessert. I have a weakness for anything cherry, and there happened to be two cherry desserts on the menu. So with a little encouragement from everyone we ordered both, plus the vanilla panna cotta for the Husband.

black forest cake. black cherry, chocolate, lambic granite, sponge

I’ve got to say, I’m often impressed and intrigued with the desserts and presentations that Joe and the team come up with here. I know enough never to get my heart set on an exact anything and have never been disappointed. Tonight was no exception. Black forest cake was almost like a devil dog without the chocolate coating, chocolate cake rolled with creamy frosting of some sort. Served with two griotes (I snagged the Husband’s), some tasty and really interesting chocolate sponge, and a bit of chocolate topped with the lambic granite, which the Husband loved. Next time, I would probably ask them to hold the granite but that’s just me.

vanilla panna cotta. shortbread, spring pea ice cream, peanut, bacon

Who would’ve thought pea ice cream? It was the most incredible shade of green and really tasted like spring peas! Not something I’d ever order at an ice cream shop but it really did work here. I wasn’t crazy about this dessert, as bacon so doesn’t do it for me, but the Husband was, and thought it was delicious.

sour cherry bar. nilla waffer ice cream, cookie crust, “cherries”

Yum. Nilla wafer ice cream. Sour cherry bar was outrageously good and the “cherries,” even the Husband’s eyes lit up when he ate one. I’m not quite sure what it was made out of but it sure tastes like sour cherry!

As always, our thanks to the staff for a fabulous meal, that was as much food for the Spirit and Soul as it was for the body. From Mattias hiding the bottle of sake from Joe and Scotty (sorry, guys!) so that it would be there for the Husband,  to reassuring us that we could do whatever we wanted to make our own tasting menu, they went over and above for us, particularly for a busy Friday night.  We kept saying to each other, “why has it been so long since we’ve been here?” From start to finish this was an extraordinary meal, and just what we needed.

Bring Me Food

  • Posted on February 6, 2010 at 4:13 pm

“Bring Me Food” is Ninety Acre’s version of a tasting menu, with a twist. Instead of a menu, patrons are presented with a list of ingredients from which the chef will make their dinner. They are simply asked to indicate which ones they would prefer not to eat. Additionally you are seated in the kitchen area instead on the main dining room. Wine pairings are available as well.

We were there last Tuesday, the first night they began doing this, and we were the only ones which meant we essentially had the kitchen space to ourselves. It was a bit hard to resist all the good food that was passing us by as we waited. We realized that they seem to have a separate bar menu, as we saw burgers or sliders and fries and various other tasty tidbits we had never seen on the regular menu. I meant to check it out before we left but completely forgot; hopefully I’ll remember the next time we go in.

We arrived a bit early for our reservation, which wasn’t a problem except the kitchen wasn’t -quite- ready with the cheesy cracker point with Parmesan and assiago cheese that they intend to serve just after folks get seated. After taking a look at the ingredients, the Husband opted for no mushrooms or tomatoes, and I said no to the fresh from the chicken eggs. I also now know to let them know that I don’t want a cheese course, either. But we’ll get there.

The first course for the Husband was an egg with bacon and parsnip mousse with, I believe, a vinegar essence, all served in the egg shell. The kitchen was kind enough to bring out two orders, just in case I wanted to try it. I did, and it was delicious, but bacon and eggs are not my thing. Instead they had sent out a beet and blood orange salad on an endive leaf which was tangy and tasty and delicious.

Next course was Barnagate scallops with Hawaiian gold pineapple, cilantro, and piquillo peppers, served cold in a broth that seemed to be essentially pineapple juice with ribbons of cilantro.  Generally the Husband doesn’t like scallops that are not seared but these were fantastic! Definitely not a combination I would have thought of, but it worked remarkably well. Although David is a huge proponent of farm-to-table, and locally sourced and sustainable, he said the pineapple was one of his few exceptions, and it was in peak season. He was right, this was an outstandingly fresh and clean tasking course.

Pan roasted tile fish came next, served with a Serrano ham and saffron broth with mezzaluna greens.  The skin was perfectly crisp and the parsnip puree it was served with was a creamy counterpoint. I didn’t have any issues with the texture of the fish, but the Husband’s was possibly a bit underdone for him. (For reference, he prefers his salmon cooked through as well, and we’ve learned to specify that.)

Griggstown pheasant with spinach gnocchi and black trumpet mushrooms. Swoon. Yum. I don’t know if either of us has had pheasant before but this was delicious. Skin on sliced breast, and then it seemed like some of the dark meat was cubed with the mushrooms. I gave the Husband gnocchi, he gave me mushrooms. It works.

Cheese course was Valley Shepherd nettlesome cheese served with quince. The quince was tasty. I had a nibble of the cheese and it wasn’t really too my liking but then again most cheeses are not.The Husband seemed to like it though.

Dessert was a cranberry orange napoleon with orange zabaglione, tuille, apple compote and candied cranberries. Wow. Just wow.  I want one now. One of my favorite desserts has always been a zabaglione and some fruit and a cookie. I used to get it at the Stage House in place of a cheese course and it was always something I looked forward to. The orange zabaglione was incredible.

Finally, there we were presented with two mini (but not too mini, mind you) ice cream sandwiches with vanilla ice cream and orange chocolate chip cookies.

David had messed up his back pretty badly the previous Friday, but managed to drag himself in for opening night. I almost felt badly that we were the only ones there; it hardly seemed worth it for him.  But he himself said they were still working some things out and was glad to be able to try it out on some friends first. We certainly couldn’t tell that they had issues to work out. Once we were back on schedule (we did show up 20 minutes early) things were quite smooth and nicely paced.

He’s quite justified in having the faith that he does in his staff, many of whom came with him from his previous kitchen. We had been there the Friday night he was injured, and had we not been told that he was not in the kitchen, there was no way to tell in comparison with our previous visits.  The quality of the food being turned out was just as high and, at least from our limited vantage, the kitchen seemed to run smoothly.

They start doing brunch in a couple of weeks, and we can’t wait for that as well. But we’ll definitely be back to the kitchen as soon as we can for more Bring Me Food.

second visit to ninety acres

  • Posted on December 20, 2009 at 11:43 am

We were finally able to get back to Ninety Acres tonight, though it certainly wasn’t for a lack of trying. Every time we’d called they could only get us in after 9, and I just can’t eat dinner that late. (Granted, I was usually calling the same day, or at most the day before.) For Friday, I was able to get us a table at 5:30 so I worked from home for the day. It was totally worth it, once again. The menu was fundamentally the same, which was not surprising since they’ve been open less than a month. As luck would have it, the same friend who joined us last time was able to join us again.

Our drink for the evening was once again the “Fall Back” and it was just as tasty as they had been the last time. At least the first round was; the third round was a little more potent, without the subtleties that the first had. Or maybe my tongue was drunk by then, a distinct possibility.

We shared the pumpkin and kale pizza again. It was a little more well done than it had been last time, which was not necessarily a bad thing- though I did manage to snag the least crispy slice when it was first put down. Tonight I needed to start with something hearty and substantive, but I wanted to try something other than the delicious soup which I got last time, so I got a half order of the wild boar pasta, with pine nuts and guanciale. For a half order, it was a rather substantial portion. Once again, David and the kitchen did an outstanding job. The pasta (not quite ziti) was of the perfect texture. It wasn’t a tomato sauce, it seemed to be just the meats and their juices, and some slivers of cheese it was topped with. Even the Husband, who’s never really big on pasta- or game meats- enjoyed it so much he finished my portion! We both went after the leftover sauce with some bread. The Husband was unable to resist the poached egg again, and once again returned a plate that looked like it had been licked clean.

For entrees, I had the duck breast which was just phenomenal, probably the best duck I’ve ever had. As the Husband commented in his blog, the texture was just perfect, without any of the chewiness that can often accompany duck. Or lamb, for that matter, which is what our friend had and it too was just outstanding. Again, perfectly cooked with magnificent texture. The Husband had the Chatham cod which was the lightest entree of the night and still delightful and perfectly executed.

For dessert, the gingerbread panna cotta was declared perfect and light, just the way to top off the meal. The “pie of the day” was a S’mores pie, graham cracker crust, chocolate mousse, marshmallow topping which seemed toasted to order as it came out smelling like the perfect toasted marshmallow. The Husband had the espresso donuts that I’d gotten last time. We also ordered their “assorted sweets and treats” to take home and will have that for a snack later today once the snow comes, I think. Once again we left absolutely stuffed, having eaten and drank ourselves deliciously silly.

As is unfortunately all too typical in our early visits to a restaurant, until we figure out which are the best seats for us, we had to change tables between the appetizers and entrees. The table at which we had been seated was in a row of two-tops fairly close together. Unfortunately, when they finally seated someone next to us, the lady was wearing a substantial amount of a rather pungent perfume. Dinner with a face mask is not really a fun option, so the Husband escaped to the front desk and was able to arrange with our gracious hosts to switch tables to a lovely four-top across the room.  Whew!

It’s certainly helpful that even at a new restaurant, we know much of the management for many years. They know if we are asking to move, that we’re not being difficult, that it’s a real need where otherwise we have to get everything wrapped up to go.

I wonder if they’ll let us make a standing reservation once they have the tables for “Bring Me Food” in the kitchen area. THAT would just rock.

So far they seem to be doing incredibly well and I hope they continue to do so.

Soon, the cooking school. I need to see what classes they’ve got scheduled there. I’m not sure I could handle a whole day in a kitchen like Scott’s doing at Elements, certainly not during the winter, but a class for a few hours, especially with chairs around, I can hack that.

ninety acres at Natirar

  • Posted on December 6, 2009 at 11:41 pm

Ninety acres is the name of the restaurant at Natirar, the new resort in Peapack-Gladstone being opened by Richard Branson. Ninety acres is also the new home for Chef David Felton, formerly of the Pluckemin Inn. It’s also the site of the newest Viking Cooking School locations. They opened this past Tuesday and we managed to get ourselves a reservation for Friday night. Once they open the spa there, I may never leave. I was home from work that day, and figured it would be the perfect opportunity, as we could get there early (and it sounded like a good reward for getting through two doctors appointments in one day). We invited a dear friend to join us and despite my running late, we managed to get out and find our way to the estate then wind our way up the road to the restaurant.  I imagine it must be breathtaking with the snow we got yesterday, as it was certainly magnificent when we were there.

The space is interesting. We were seated at a corner table at the back of the banquette near the kitchen. This was just fine for us, as it was as out of the way as it seemed you could get in that room. As it got more crowded the volume increased; it can get fairly loud. It’s also fairly dark in spots. Our table was just fine but the table next to us needed to use the candle to look at the wine list. The tables are fairly close together. It definitely does not have the same white tablecloth romantic ambiance as the Plucky does.

To start I had the butternut squash soup with roasted brussel sprouts. The Husband had both the hamachi and the poached egg appetizer with toast and bacon. Our friend had the butternut squash soup as well as the endive and arugula salad. For mains the Husband had the “farmer’s plate” of the day which was ale battered fish and chips. I love David’s french fries, they really are some of the best and most addictive I’ve ever had. I had scallops which were lightly seared and fabulous. I can’t recall what our friend had but it was meat and she said it was delicious and took home the leftovers. We also got a side of their mushrooms with polenta which were outstanding! For dessert they both got the ice cream sampler which was vanilla, egg nog and peppermint. I only tasted the peppermint but it was delicious with an amazingly creamy texture. I had the espresso donuts for dessert and this was probably the best chocolate dessert I’ve had in a long time. It was not too overwhelmingly sweet or chocolaty, but had just the perfect flavor. The chocolate sauce on the side was just enough to bring it over the top.

David also brought us a pizza (on the house) when they brought our first course- ricotta, pumpkin and kale and it was declared delicious by all of us and devoured, and I usually don’t like ricotta.

They offered house filtered water, either still or sparkling, for free which was a nice touch, and they left the carafe on the table. They had a short specialty cocktail list with all house infused or flavored items. Our drink for the evening was called the “Fall Back” and it was cider and rum and maple and oj and the thinnest strips of orange rind and it was really really good. I think I had three of them.The breadbasket is three different kinds of bread, olive, french baguette and something else as well as homemade crackers.

Needless to say by the time we were done, we were done. The bill was very reasonable for all that we got, and everything was just outstanding. Service was professional and friendly, knowledgeable and eager to please.

There are two things that we’re looking forward to. The first is brunch come spring time. The second is “bring me food,” David’s version of omakase or a tasting menu of indeterminate length. The idea is to start with five courses for a certain price and then expand from there. They’re also supposed to have outdoor seating come spring and even now have a couple of tremendous fire pits out back where you can sit. They also have space for the Viking Cooking School and will do other classes as well. Oh, lordy, this is gonna be fun!

Full disclosure: We know Chef David Felton from the Pluckeminn Inn as well as some of the staff, though not our waiter Jeff. Additionally, dining room manager Richard Spaulding we know from Restaurant David Drake as well as the Stage House before that. Considering it was their opening Friday night, we were just blown away when David came out with that pizza for us. They were having their first party in the downstairs kitchen that night and had just gotten the equipment delivered only a couple of hours before!

I can’t wait to go back. We’re already talking about booking the smallest private dining area for mother’s day this year.

Medical update behind the cut

dinner and a show

  • Posted on December 4, 2009 at 1:39 am

Tonight we went to see Manheim Steamroller at the Beacon Theater in NYC. We had front row orchestra seats on the aisle. It doesn’t really get much better than that. It was the Husband’s first time at the Beacon, and it was nice to see the venue through his eyes and really get to look around and appreciate it, instead of just rushing through to get to our seats. It’s a remarkable building.(Ok, so I looked at their website and it turns out they just underwent a $15 million restoration. And it shows.

We’d made dinner reservations at Ouest but canceled them because we didn’t think we’d make it in on time. Once we got into the city and parked we took a walk around and came across the Hummus Place and had dinner there. Wow. Just wow. I haven’t had humus with mushrooms like that since I was in Israel. Everything was just fabulous. They even had sangria so we had a bit. Ok, two carafes. They weren’t very strong but fruity and tasty. For dessert I got the baklava, which was actually three different kinds, and it was some of the best baklava I’ve ever had. Seriously. I would definitely go back there any time quite happily.

The show was really good. I’m not that big into Christmas music and really bought these tickets for the Husband but we had a good time. I’d see them again next year. I still think I liked TSO better (and we’re going to see them again next weekend) but that may have to do with how they have the story run through the first half of the show which to me makes it much more enjoyable than “just” Christmas music.

Oh, and Fairway. Drool. We stopped in at Fairway between dinner and the show. The Husband had never been and it’s been a looong time since I’d been to Fairway. It was as eye catching and drool worthy as I remember. He’s already suggested making a trip into the city to go again, to both Hummus Place and Fairway, and doing a -real- shopping there. I’d so love that. There was so much that we saw in just the brief few minutes we were there, I know it would be a small fortune of a shopping trip but so worth it.

Note to self: Paramus Fairway. May be an option on Sundays during the holiday season, when the rest of Paramus is closed. As much as I hate Paramus, it may be more viable than NYC.

Tomorrow, dinner at ninety acres, the new restaurant at Natirar. The chef is David Felton, formerly of the Pluckemin Inn. The restaurant manager is Richard I-always-forget-his-last-name, who used to work at David Drake and before that at The Stage House Inn. This should be a wonderful combination, and I don’t just mean that selfishly. We so, SO can’t wait for dinner tomorrow night!

dinner and a show and a party

  • Posted on November 1, 2009 at 11:31 pm

At some point months ago, I had gotten us tickets to see Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull at the Count Basie Theater in Red Bank. We had front row balcony seats on the aisle. I had made reservations at one restaurant which we ended up canceling at the last minute and getting another reservation at the restaurant literally down the block from the theater, Buona Sera. I was a little leary of the place, even though it got good reviews. You’re always worried that they get by on being so close to the venue and serving passable food. I have to say that though it was crowded and noisy, the service and the food were outstanding. The cocktails were rather potent, but tasty, though a little expensive at $12 each. I started with a half order of fried calamari. I never order it any more but I thought a half order couldn’t be too much of a disappointment. This was light and crispy, neither chewy nor greasy, served with a very simple and tasty marinara sauce. This was calamari made right. For my entree I had zuppa de pesce- shrimp, scallops, Lobster Tail, Mussels, Clams & Calamari. Again, the seafood was perfectly executed, with everything in a spicy sauce.  The Husband had goat cheese wrapped in prosciutto which he proclaimed some of the best he ever had. He then had a filet mignon (slightly closer to well than medium) topped with Gorgonzola, served with port wine demi glace as well as a crab cake. For dessert I had a carrot cake, individual servings, and the Husband had cheesecake. I think New York style.  Dinner was a tad expensive, but not unreasonably so for what we got. It was certainly an enjoyable meal and we’d both gladly go back.

The show was great, but the venue was crowded and incredibly warm, even for me, so we left at intermission.

The following afternoon my mother threw a surprise party for my step-father’s 75th birthday. We picked up the cakes that morning, both white cakes with whipped cream, one with cherries, one with chocolate pudding. Both were very tasty, at least for most people. She had it catered, it was lovely. And we got to bring leftovers home for dinner that night! The first of two weekends of family time…

Here piggy piggy…

  • Posted on August 22, 2009 at 5:07 pm

It’s kind of funny to me to be writing a complete post on pork. This is not just any pork, and I suspect this will not be just any post. I think in order for you to get a true appreciation of this, I need to go into a little background before I get to the food. And oh, lard-y, the food. (I think I also need to apologize in advance for the humor as well. Not to mention the lateness of this post.)

When the Husband and I got married four and a half years ago, the wedding was at our favorite restaurant at the time (which has since changed hands and chefs and we’ve barely been back, not even for an annual anniversary dinner, but no matter). The chef there was a lovely young man, and fabulous chef, named Michael Clampffer. We followed Michael after he left that restaurant to his next venture and then were thoroughly disappointed when he left there to became a private chef.

Fast forward to the Facebook age, where we were able to reconnect with Michael, though I had managed to catch glimpses of him in the media before that. Seems Michael was working for a gentleman who, among other things, owned Mosefund Farms where they were starting a new venture of raising Mangalitsa pigs. Mangalitsa pigs are also known as Hungarian wooly pigs, a heritage breed that fell out of favor in part due to its exceptionally high fat content. To some, the high fat makes it undesirable; to others, it make an tasty product with a texture that just can’t be beat. As it turned out, one of Michael’s first customers in NJ for the Mangalitsa was Scott Anderson, the Chef at elements in Princeton. And if you’ve read anything else on this blog, you’ve probably noticed that they are currently our favorite place.

Our next Sunday in we remark to Scott, “So we hear you’re getting a pig!” It turned out that Scott and staff we not getting one pig, but two- the first for charcuterie, the second for cooking, AND they were planning to do a special tasting dinner in its honor, one could say a “roast” of sorts. That was it, we had a reservation. On a Monday night in August, about 50 people gathered at elements for a 9 course tasting menu.

Oh my. We had both been a little leery of a 9 course pig dinner, since both of us have food quirks of sorts and there are all sorts of things we just don’t do. And we knew that this was an amazing opportunity for Scott and Joe and the elements staff (as well as Alex and Aki from Ideas in Food) to try out all sorts of pork preparations and we had no idea what would end up on our plates. Oh, and by the way, they were going to do this with community seating- large tables with other people. Considering we like to sit in the kitchen AWAY from other people, this was going to really be an adventuresome evening!

We get to elements separately, since I was coming from work, and the Husband from home. The first thing I notice when I walk in is that it’s hot. And I don’t mean kitchen-going-full-steam-all-burners-on-high hot. I mean A/C not working hot. SO not a good sign. We do not deal well with hot. We decided to try and make the most of it and go out into the car as needed and just do the best we can. (It turned out the A/C in the men’s room was working but the lights were not even working in the ladies room, so it was lit by candlelight which only made things warmer!) We staked out a table and then waited for the evening to begin. We chatted with some folks, some who sat at the other end of our table, some who we knew from The Plucky and were delighted when Michael came to sit with us for the evening!

There were passed hors d’oeuvres, some of which we got, some we did not. Fried green tomatoes with green goddess dressing- yummy, I wish those had come around again. Smoked lardo on crostini. I’m afraid that this, and “on kimchi chip” are the extent of my notes from the evening. From the pictures taken by Shola on the elements blog, I know that there were also radishes with lardo. Fried clams with a dipping sauce. Pulled pork on cracklings.

The first course was “mangalitsa and melon charcuterie.” A platter of assorted charcuterie, including pate, cured ham, sausage and what we were told was incredibly good head cheese, was just delicious. An assortment of mustards, pickles, bread slices as well as three different kinds of melon- canteloupe, honeydew and another canteloupe-like melon rounded out the course. Everything we tasted was terrific. We don’t have much of a basis for comparrison since those are not the types of meats we usually eat, but everyone seemed to enjoy it all and not a slice of melon went back to the kitchen from our table.

Next course was “Smoked uni, “hot & sour soup” gelee, tomato.” Smoked uni was a new one for both of us, and not something I have any need to eat again. It’s an interesting texture. The soup gelee was also an interesting texture. The tomatoes in the disk were incredibly good and I did love the taste of the soup and tomatoes but this was definitely our least favorite course.

“Green bean and beet salad, ham gribiche” was the third course. Yum. Served family style, the salad was brought out on a platter. Two different kinds of beans, yellow and green, were lightly dressed atop a pile of gribiche which I believe was just a fancy name for cracklings. On top of all that were diced beets and shaved truffle. Oh, yum! I’ve never been a big fan of beets but this was delicious and I even had a second helping. Sweet and tender, against the crunch of the beans and the gribiche which gave it some amazing flavor.

“Pork belly, stone fruit, tamale.” I wasn’t sure how we were going to like this course. Pork belly is really just crispy fat. In this case, really tender, meltingly creamy, fat, but fat none-the-less. I think it was Michael, though, who called it the fois gras of the pig. And he’s right. It’s a fairly similar texture, one that many people don’t like. But on the mangalitsa, the fat is something else entirely. The mangalitsa that elements was working with had a two-inch thick layer of fat. Think about that for a second. Two inches of just plain fat. And here they was sliced and seared it, served it with a stone fruit sauce to cut the sweetness, a small but oh-so-tasty corn tamale and a mole sauce that was just out of this world. I couldn’t finish my portion, it was just a touch too much for me, but it was absolutely remarkable when you consider what went into it.

“Italian sausage & peppers, garlic bread sauce” was the next course and with a garlic bread sauce, it made me wonder just what it would be. It was sausage stuffed into a pepper and served atop some tomato sauce with exactly that, a garlic bread flavored sauce. It made you want a piece of garlic bread to mop it up with but we made do with the ever abundant and delicious basket. They always have such tasty breads and that night was no exception.

“Preserved lemon cavatelli “carbonara”” was the pasta course. Served with sous vide egg yolk that was the most yellow and creamy. I almost want to buy one of those immersion circulator cooker thingys (and yes, that’s the technical term!) to make eggs like that! It was really a sensational dish, with all the flavors and textures coming together nicely.

“loin & leg, fixins” was how the next course was billed and it was here that we finally stuffed ourselves silly. Fixins was an understatment. Small cast iron pots were brought out, with each hiding a new delight. First some mushrooms. Then ratatouille. Some sweet corn. A platter of leg and loin meat. Some sauces, a salsa verde which was tangy and tasty. A cucumber shrimp slaw, which I don’t remember trying. But by that point I was so full it wouldn’t have mattered much.This was really where the taste of the meat itself shined through. It didn’t -need- any of the accompaniments. Just by itself it was probably the best pork loin I have ever had. But the fixins blew it over the top. The mushrooms were out of this world; the corn had to have been picked that day. Every element (no pun intended) worked on its own, and they all worked well together. I would have loved to have a doggy bag to have taken the leftovers home. It would’ve made a hell of a lunch!

The first dessert was “Bacon and Eggs” which is a traditional dessert at elements, usually served as part of the chef’s tasting menu. For tonight, though, Joe wasn’t content to just serve up a Mangalitsa version of their regular bacon and eggs, though I can imagine that would have been amazing. Instead we got bacon and eggs milkshake served in hollowed out eggshells with little mini straws with scoops on the end to ensure you could get every drop. I’m not big on bacon, but this was insanely good. Like seriously. Oh, and instead of a plate, they used a piece of the cardboard egg container.

The dessert itself was “honey glazed ham ice cream, pineapple, pork crackling “cracker jacks”” that seemed to be a riff on your typical baked ham dinner, cherry sauce included. Definitely not something I would order on a menu, but not something I would turn down if it was put in front of me. The ice cream really  tasted like sweet ham.  And the compressed pineapple and cherry sauce was just a terrific counterpoint. The crispy cracklins were a bit too porky for me, so I gave the last bit to the Husband as I settled into a near food coma.

It was an absolute pleasure to get to spend this evening with Michael and hear more about his pigs. They really are some of the tastiest meat I have ever had the pleasure to taste and the staff at elements and the folks at Ideas in Food came up with some great ways to showcase not only the flavors of the pig, but everything else they served with it. I usually don’t order pork when we go out to eat, but should I ever see Mangalitsa on the menu, I don’t think I could turn it down. It was truly an incredible evening.

At the end of the night I went over to Scott to thank him for the wonderful evening and suggested that they have Mangalitsa hash on the brunch menu the following Sunday. The Husband and I figured that it couldn’t hurt to ask, and Scott then seemed to think it was a good idea. That was some of the best freaking hash either of us has ever had. Holy wow.

I can’t wait till they’re back from vacation.

Some links:

to elements blog with pictures by Shola

Jay’s Strange Blog which I found while looking for pictures/posts to help fill in my memory.

Sette Cucina Italiana

  • Posted on August 1, 2009 at 8:04 pm

Sette Cucina Italiana in Bernardsville is where the Husband and I dined with two foodie friends this past Tuesday evening.

From the moment you walk in, this quaint BYOB evokes the spirit of Italy. There are only about 8 tables so even on a Tuesday night we were grateful to have reservations. I know, even as I begin to write this, that this may come off as a fairly negative review but it’s not. Everything was good, desserts were outstanding. I’d go back again, but would probably wait until the menu changes.

The menu on the website is the current one. There was one appetizer special of broccoli rabe stuffed with cheese and fried (no price was given when it was described to us). It was very tasty, but the portion, like the portions of all the appetizers, were fairly small and not really sized for sharing. We also got and shared a braised artichoke filled with ragusano cheese and a buffalo mozzarella and tomato. The artichokes were a little undercooked but tasty. The fresh mozzarella was really the standout, simple and fresh.

Bread service as a single sesame topped roll with an herbed dipping oil. We all agreed that there was too much crust and crunch and not enough bread-y goodness. No additional bread was offered after the first.

For mains, I had the Zuppa di Mare. The Husband and one friend had the pork loin rolled with fontina cheese and pancetta in a cream truffle sauce; our friend also had the cod wrapped in parchment. All three entrees also came with roasted potatoes and braised red cabbage. The seafood was all perfectly cooked but the broth was lacking some oomph. Usually you want to sop up all the sauce with some bread. Aside from the lack of bread to do so with, it just didn’t seem to be worth the calories. The pork loin wasn’t bad, by any means, it just wasn’t very interesting, either. It was also a touch overcooked, which made the texture a little less than perfect. The cod was also tasty, but again, nothing spectacular. I was told that the rosemary in the dish dominated the flavor profile. I didn’t try the potatoes or red cabbage but I did notice that everyone left some cabbage.

Desserts, all made in house, were a pleasant improvement over the mains and were absolutely delicious. We shared three for the table- Millefoglie Layered puff pastry with a lemon custard, orange Panna Cotta and Profiterol, cream puffs with chocolate sauce. Our friends were fondest of the profiterol, which I thought had just a bit too much chocolate sauce on top. The panna cotta was deemed outstanding by the Husband, and reason enough for him to return.The lemon custard in pastry was also delicious.

The desserts were impressive enough that we all said that we would give it at least another change but again probably not till the menu changes.

A note on the service. We’re not sticklers for white glove, five star service, but there is a basic requirement of being able to communicate well, if not clearly, with those who are staffing our table. For most of our meal, we were attended to by the owner/manager/executive chef/pastry chef. But when he was unavailable, the busser who assisted was not able to communicate well. Wine was almost poured when we asked for it to be chilled and we had a hard time getting his attention when we were ready to have it poured. He certainly tried to be helpful, but the language barrier was definitely present.

We had a delightful evening with lovely company, a good meal, ending on just the right, sweet note. Although we won’t be rushing back to Sette Cucina Italina, we could certainly recommend it for a satisfactory meal to anyone in the area.