The Duke and the Elephant

1979 Washington Valley Road

Martinsville, New Jersey

(732) 1717

www.thedukeandtheelephant.com

As of this writing, I’m reasonably certain that the New Jersey’s culinary cognoscenti are well aware of the story… After making a major splash on the Garden State’s dining scene with Montclair’s upscale Blu and more casual Next Door, chef Zod Arifai closed up both shops in 2015 to pursue other interests.

Duke & Elephant - InteriorFollowing a suitable period of mourning, devoted foodies have been champing at the bit, eagerly anticipating the next Zod sighting. Well, with the debut of The Duke and the Elephant in Martinsville, the wait has finally come to an end.

I freely confess that I have visited neither Blu nor Next Door (nor have I darkened the door of Chef Zod’s various other establishments (Juniper in Lyndhurst, Ten Square in Morristown, Crisci in Brooklyn), which, for reviewing purposes, I consider a distinct plus. For no matter how impressive a chef’s culinary curriculum vitae or his/her collection of rave reviews, each individual restaurant must be judged on the basis of its own merits and demerits rather than the chef’s previous successes or failures.

Which brings us, of course, to Chef Zod’s most recent venture, in partnership with restaurateur Benne Mavraj. Housed in the space formerly occupied by the Martinsville Taverna, The Duke and the Elephant is billed as “a neighborhood bar and grill,” a come-as-you-are eatery that is, at once, both pub and bistro. The remodeled interior, replete with rustic wood accents and vintage lighting, has a decidedly tavern-like feel. And the menu, like the ambiance, is meant to be as casual and appealing as the ambiance – whether it actually succeeds is, in my view, somewhat problematic.

Duke & Elephant - SalmonSeveral of the entrées, for example, suffer the deleterious effects of an eccentric assortment of traveling companions. Some of these combos work fairly well; others fall far short of the mark. Take the Salmon, for instance… It is beautifully pan seared, moist and meaty at the core. Unfortunately, it’s teamed up with a rather innocuous black bean purée and a downright weird onion & jalapeño relish. When it comes to matters piscatorial, in my opinion, the less gussied up the better.

Duke & Elephant - ScallopsThe Cod and Pan-Seared Scallops (a daily special, pictured) fared somewhat better. Once again, both items are extraordinarily well prepared and utterly delicious by themselves… I’m just not particularly thrilled with the choice of accompaniments. The former is companioned by wild mushrooms and a tiara of limp asparagus; the latter by mushrooms and cauliflower. For some reason, Chef Zod seems fixated on those embellishments that are prone to smother rather than gently caress the objects of their affection.

And this form of culinary overkill isn’t just related to seafood presentations. The Chicken Paillard, has its own unique problems. The scallops of chicken, which had been pounded thin and quickly sautéed, were slightly on the dry side and then smothered beneath a rather peculiar combo of gem lettuce, cauliflower and onion.  The real issue, however, was the marinade and and/or sauce, which had a faintly odd vinegary taste and aroma. The following evening, when the leftovers were reheated, the smell was so off-putting that the remainder of the dish had to be thrown out… Your guess is as good as mine.

When it comes to opening moves, my advice is to keep things as simple as possible. Go with items like the Meatballs garnished with ricotta, spicy tomato and grilled bread, or the Chicken Tacos replete with chipotle, cabbage, onions and cilantro. Mussels in Spicy Coconut Broth also makes a first-rate starter.

Duke & Elephant - Quinoa SaladWith the coming of warmer weather, salads assume a more prominent role as appetizers. My dining partner and I recently shared the Quinoa (pictured), which, despite the accompanying greenery, cucumber, fall squash, mint, and lemon, was neither a feast for the eye nor the palate. Other members of our party who tried the Kale and Arugula, respectively, reached the same conclusion… The plethoric variety of ingredients notwithstanding, “It needs something.”

Duke & Elephant - Peanut Butter SundaeAmong the desserts, the more straightforward, the greater your chances of success. For my money, that means either the Poached Pear with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce or the marvelously decadent Chocolate Truffle. The over-the-top Peanut Butter Sundae (pictured) – a dense dollop of peanut butter “ganache” (blending of peanut butter, caramel and heavy cream), caramel ice cream, peanut brittle, and chocolate & caramel sauces – is a nice try but proof positive that you can have too much of a good thing.

Duke & Elephant - Dirt CakeThe Dirt Cake, on the other hand, is something of a culinary anomaly – or is that culinary oxymoron? This is a dessert served in a terra cotta flowerpot replete with crumbled chocolate cookies to simulate dirt and a large plastic flower. One digs through the dirt… only to be disillusioned by the discovery of a creamy middle that sports the taste and texture of soggy cheesecake. Not the chef’s finest hour. This is one dessert that should have remained “buried” in the kitchen.

There is absolutely no question that Zod Arifai is an accomplished chef. That being said, however, I find the cuisine at his current enterprise somewhat baffling. Chef Zod “wanted to create a menu that would offer something for everyone along with a casual ambiance that would make people feel comfortable coming here more than once a week”; unfortunately, his culinary creations strike me as more eccentric than eclectic. And, except for the Burger and Mama’s Sicilian Pan Pizza, the items I’ve sampled don’t represent the kind of easy-going casual fare that are likely to keep diners coming back on a regular basis.

On the other hand… sporting happy hour specials, list of nifty contemporary cocktails, intriguing selection of wines by the glass, and yummy snacks like Fried Cauliflower and Made-to-Order Guacamole, the Duke’s comfortable, friendly bar is always worth a return visit.

Bon Appétit!

TAD

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Twelves Grill & Cafe

10 Exchange Place

West Grove, Pennsylvania

(610) 869-4020

www.twelvesgrill.com

Should you be spending the afternoon sampling wines at Va La Vineyards in Avondale (see my review) or taking in the flora and fauna at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Twelves Grill & Café, tucked away in the nearby tiny hamlet of West Grove, would make a superb stopover for either lunch or dinner.

Twelves - ExteriorMaking its debut in 2008, Twelves is domiciled in the venerable old Sovereign Bank building, which was originally constructed in 1883 to house the National Bank of West Grove. Co-owners chef Tim and Kristin Smith named their establishment in recognition of their birth dates, first date, and wedding, all of which took place on the 12th of the month.

Twelves - InteriorBecause of the building’s former incarnation, you might expect the restaurant’s interior to be rather cold and utilitarian; fortunately, this is not the case. Patricia Smith, the chef’s mother and an interior decorator, was instrumental in choosing the color scheme and overall décor. Soft gold and bronze hues predominate and blend in nicely with the bank’s high ceiling and tall, deep-set windows. The tone set here is cozy… calm… sedate. This is a serene, friendly, totally unstuffy welcoming space.

… And this fits in quite well with Mr. Smith’s laid-back culinary style. A graduate of the Art Institute of Philadelphia, his credentials include the Dilworthtown Inn, Farmhouse Restaurant, and the Back Burner Restaurant as the Executive Chef/General Manager. Although he brings a great deal of creativity to the kitchen, his approach is decidedly casual. His take on American bistro fare is comfortably innovative without being intrusive.

Twelves - Parm Crusted Chicken… And the delightful Crispy Parmesan Crusted Chicken is a marvelous example of his methodology. This is a relatively simple dish – pan-fried chicken breast companioned by smashed potatoes and sautéed spinach – that becomes sublime in its embellishment and presentation. For starters, the chicken is perfectly prepared with a crispy golden-brown crust yielding to a tender and succulent interior; the potatoes are perfectly seasoned with just a touch of garlic; and the spinach adds a splash of color as well as flavor & texture. But it’s the luscious lemon sauce and smattering of capers that provide the piquant pièce de résistance. For a variation on the theme, the Pan Roasted Veal Cutlets adorned with mushroom pan gravy, horseradish smashed potatoes and grilled asparagus are equally satisfying.

Twelves - Pocono Trout FiletOn the other hand, my dining partner’s Sticky Duck – cast iron roasted duck breast and duck leg confit – was a bit of a downer, suffering from a surfeit of fat and gristle… The accompanying duck fat rendered potatoes, however, were quite good. The Pocono Trout (pictured), sampled on another visit, was also something of a good news/bad news proposition. The trout was beautifully pan seared and nicely seasoned… but obviously improperly filleted, as there were bones aplenty. The sweet potato fries were deliciously addictive… but the greens and ramps that crowned the dish were so chewy as to be inedible.

Twelvs - Fettuccine w ShrimpThe Pasta du Jour, however, was right back in the plus column. In this case, it was fettuccine tossed with shrimp, tomatoes, and baby spinach… and all constituents were completely on target. The pasta was al dente, the shrimp delightfully crunchy and at the peak of good health, the tomatoes firm yet tender, and the baby spinach properly wilted. But it was the incomparable wild onion pesto that proved to be the culinary catalyst, propelling this dish into orbit. There was just enough zip to keep the taste buds standing at attention without overwhelming them. A sure winner.

The starters, it should be noted, are consistently first-rate. The local mushroom soup, for example, has a flair all its own. The consistency is creamy but not too rich, with a tiara of crabmeat and dash of truffle oil in strong supporting roles. Greenery offers a number of highly recommendable items, such as the recently sampled Baby Spinach Salad. Embellishments include julienne of crisp apples, candied walnuts, dried cranberries, buttermilk bleu cheese, and a dynamite roasted shallot Dijon dressing.

Twelves - Portobello FriesMy nod for favorite appetizer, however, clearly goes to the scrumptious Portobello Fries (pictured). Thick slices of portobello mushroom are rolled in seasoned breading, deep fried, and served up with a zippy sriracha aioli. This is a fabulously addictive starter… crunchy, meaty bites spruced up with just enough heat to keep you coming back for more.

The side dishes, which are served family style, are also worth checking out. The House-Cut Bistro Fries and Sautéed Local Mushrooms are quite good. The Bleu Cheese and Cabbage Slaw and the Sweet Potato Fries served with a sweet/slightly spicy maple Dijon, on the other hand, are downright irresistible.

Twelves - Caramel Apple Pound CakeDesserts alternate between in-house creations and items from Wilmington’s Sweet Somethings gourmet bakery. Mr. Smith’s luscious Cinnamon Ice Cream and Crème Brûlée are something of a must… ditto Sweet Somethings’ decadent Chocolate-Peanut Butter Mousse Cake. Recently sampled was an equally gratifying Caramel Glazed Pound Cake (pictured) garnished with apples and dollop of homemade vanilla ice cream.

Twelves Grill & Café isn’t perfect… I mean, what restaurant is? However, despite a few faux pas, I thoroughly enjoyed my dining experiences here. The atmosphere is pleasant, the service friendly, and the price is right. In addition, the fact that you may BYOB certainly reduces the strain on your pocketbook. There is a $5.00 corkage fee, which is waved should you tote along a vintage produced in either Pennsylvania or Delaware… So, be sure to pick up a bottle at nearby Va La Vineyards on your way over.

Bon Appétit!

TAD

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Va La Vineyards

8820 Gap Newport Pike (Route 41)

Avondale, Pennsylvania

(610) 268-2702

www.valavineyards.com

Va La Vineyards - EntranceIf you happen to be cruising south on Route 41 in Chester County, you might easily overlook the entrance to Va La Vineyards, a tiny island of vines surrounded by a sea of fungi. However, this is a case where size – if you’ll pardon the double entendre – really doesn’t matter.

VA La Vineyards - ExteriorAccording to the review American Winery Guide, Va La is quite possibly the best vineyard & winery in state of Pennsylvania and, arguably, the best on the east coast. It has also been listed in the “101 Best Wineries in America” published by The Daily Meal. Not bad, not bad at all… for a vineyard that is less than seven acres in size – 6.73 acres, to be precise – and has an annual production of less than 750 cases per year.

Va La Vineyards -Tasting Room SignAfter a ten-year stint as a script writer in the entertainment industry, Anthony Vietri and his wife, Karen, decided to return to the farm in Avondale that his family has owned since 1928. The first vines were planted in 1999; the grapes came in 2001; and the winery opened in 2002. Mr. Vietri definitely adopted an “Old World” approach to viticulture and enology by planting, growing, and producing “field blend” wines. The wines are made in the ancient methods of uvaggio, the piemonte tradition of growing and fermenting together northern Italian and French varieties, to create wines that are unique to this particular site.

Va La Vineyards - MahoganyMr. Vietri has continually experimented with dozens of grape varieties and clones to discover which grow best and produce the best fruit for winemaking in each part of his vineyard. The result is four primary wines, each a “field blend” or vin de terroir of various grapes grown in one of four vineyard subplots. His primary white wine, La Prima Donna (which is actually amber-hued), is produced from the stony soils in the southeast area of his vineyard and is a blend of Tocai, Malvasia Bianca, Fiano, Pinot Grigio and Petit Manseng. His primary red, Mahogany, comes from black mushroom soils at the center of the vineyard and is composed primarily of Malvasia Nera, Barbera, Sagrantino, Carmine, Lagrein, Charbono, Teroldego and Petit Verdot. In addition, there is also an unusual blend of five clones of Nebbiolo (Michet, Lampia) & Corvina Veronese called Cedar, as well as Silk, a dry, blended rosato (also known as rosé in French and rosado in Spanish).

Va La Vineyards - InteriorThe winery itself, domiciled in a century-plus old barn sandwiched between an odoriferous mushroom farm and a cement factory, doesn’t look like much. Once you cross the threshold, however, you know immediately that you’re in for a unique and rewarding experience. The tasting room on the main floor is simple and rustic with a comfortable bar that will accommodate 12 guests. In addition to the wines that may be tasted and/or purchased, there are also local artisan cheeses, chocolates, crafts and artwork for sale. The upstairs tasting room has a standing bar and several high-top tables, as well as access to a deck for warm-weather imbibing.

Va La Vineyards - Wine TastingThe wine tasting here is a marvelous experience and will cost you $20.00 per person. Many wineries refund the price of the tasting if you purchase wine. Va La does not. This may sound rather expensive, but a tasting here also includes other items that would be an additional charge elsewhere. The tasting includes four wines, each paired with a local artisan cheese, homemade focaccia bread, olive oil, plus a special dark chocolate truffle spiked with Va La Silk from Neuchatel Swiss Chocolates of Oxford, PA.

My wine tasting began with the vineyard’s primary white wine, the aforementioned amber-hued 2014 La Prima Donna, which was quite aromatic on the nose. One sniff and you assumed the wine would be slightly on the sweet side… but it was bone dry and quite complex on the palate. This was followed by the 2015 Castana, a hefty red wine that is only bottled in certain vintages, and the vineyard’s two signature reds, the 2015 Mahogany and the 2014 Cedar, the latter having just been released the weekend of my visit.

Va La Vineyards - CastanaI found the Castana, which is referred to as the vineyard’s “steak wine,” to be deep, dark, brooding, slightly on the smoky side and rather rough around the edges. The brochure suggests that the wine is at its best after 2-6 hours of decanting time. It certainly needs an extended period of time to soften up; and it will also benefit from several more years of bottle aging as well.

With the 2015 Mahogany and the 2014 Cedar, Mr. Vietri obviously feels that he has saved the best for last… and these were my favorites of the tasting as well. Both are age-worthy, the former expected to reach its peak of flavor in 5-10 years; the latter in 6-12 years. The Mahogany, in my view, was slightly astringent on the palate, still needing a few years to mellow out. The Cedar, on the other hand, was more approachable but would obviously be even more so a few years down the line.

I was also very much taken with the Silk. Though not part of the tasting, my companion and I thoroughly enjoyed sharing a glass in the upstairs tasting room. As mentioned above, this is a completely dry rosato (rosé). And, unlike many so-called “pink” wines, it possesses an unusually full body and delightfully elegant complex texture. A complete joy on a warm summer’s afternoon!

Va La Vineyards - Anthony Vietri, WinemakerDue to the small production, Mr. Vietri’s wines are available in limited quantities and often sell out at the speed of light. He does not ship his wines or use retail outlets (however, per the recent article in the Wine Enthusiast, “Top sommeliers from Philadelphia will even drive to his Chester County vineyard to carry back wines for their lists”). Sales are at the winery tasting room only with prices ranging from $32.00 – $52.00 per bottle. If you’re a serious oenophile, or just a wine lover in search of a delightfully unique and rewarding experience, be sure to make Va La Vineyards your next port of call.

Tasting Hours: Fridays: 12:00 noon – 5:30 p.m. (Last service @ 5:00 p.m.); Saturdays & Sundays: 12:00 noon – 6:00 p.m. (Last service @ 5:30 p.m.) In order to preserve the intimacy of the small farm, please be aware that the winery is unable to accommodate buses, limousines, or groups of over 6 persons.

Cheers!

TAD

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Gladstone Tavern - Allagash Beer DinnerOn Thursday, May 24, 2018, 7:00 p.m., the Gladstone Tavern, 273 Main Street, Gladstone, New Jersey, will host a special dinner paired with the distinctive beers of the Allagash Brewing Co. of Portland, Maine. The host of the evening will be Jared Ruocco, New Jersey territory manager for Allagash.

Allagash Beer Dinner Menu 2018…

Allagash White: Oyster Pan Roast, Maine “Flying Point” Oysters, Double Smoked Bacon, Kennebec Potato, Chive Cream

Hoppy Table: Local Strawberry Salad, Goat Cheese, Arugula, Pistachio, Poppy Seed Vinaigrette

Saison: Classic Maine Lobster Roll, Buttered Brioche, Lobster Salad, Old Bay Chips

Triple Ale: Ale Barbequed Duck Leg, Fava Bean Ragout, Toasted Corn Bread

Cruieux: Maine Blueberry Tart, Blueberry Custard, Toasted Coconut Meringue, Blueberry-Vanilla Bean Compote, Bourbon Anglaise

The price of the Allagash beer dinner is $75.00 per person (plus tax & gratuity). Seating is limited. For more information, or to make reservations, please call (908) 234-9055.

Bon Appétit!

TAD

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Pluckemin Inn - InteriorOn Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 13, 2018, the Pluckemin Inn, 10 Pluckemin Way, Bedminster Township, New Jersey, will be accepting reservations between 1:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. for their special three and four course menus…

APPETIZERS (Choice of) – Three Meadows Farm Baby Greens: Herbs, Verjus Vinaigrette… Gem Lettuce Salad: Haricots Verts, Baby Carrots, Herb Vinaigrette… Ricotta Gnocchi: Asparagus, Ramps, Taleggio, Egg Yolk, Arugula… Avocado Gazpacho: Radish, Lobster, Cucumber, Orange, Watercress… Sea Scallops: Leek Purée, Baby Romaine, Oregano, Sourdough… Acquerello Risotto: Local Zucchini, Morels, Parmesan, Fines HerbesBucatini: English Peas, Favas, Basil, Mint, Prosciutto, Pecorino

ENTRÉES (Choice of) – Fluke: Crushed Potato, Spring Vegetable Pistou, Spinach… Griggstown Chicken: Pommes Purée, Grilled Beans, Hen-of-the-Woods… Scottish Salmon: Zucchini, Crushed Fennel, Beluga Lentils, Almonds… Niman Ranch Pork: Organic Grains, Endive, Apple, Spring Onion… Monkfish: Fregola Sarda, Broccoli Rabe, Shellfish Broth, Black Olives… Angus Sirloin: Yukon Potatoes, Pearl Onion, Creamed Spinach

DESSERTS (Choice of) – Cinnamon & Panko Crusted Apple Strudel: Caramel, Clover Honey… Mimosa Bundt Cake: Orange, Mousse, Pistachio, Raspberry Champagne Sorbet… Banana Sundae: Banana-Caramel Ice Cream, Almond Pound Cake, Coconut… Peanut Butter Bombe: Chocolate Hazelnut Ganache, Stewed Strawberries

Three courses (appetizer, entrée, dessert) $69.00 per person; four courses (two appetizers, entrée, dessert) $79.00 per person (plus beverages, tax & gratuity).

Seating is limited. For more information, or to make Mother’s Day reservations, please call (908) 658-9292.

Bon Appétit!

TAD

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Mother's Day 2On Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 13, 2018, Chef Thomas Ciszak of Chakra Restaurant in Paramus, New Jersey, will be cooking up a special three-course menu of some of his favorite dishes from 12:00 noon – 8:00 p.m.

APPETIZER (Choice of) – Organic Mesclun Greens: White Balsamic Vinaigrette… Caesar Salad: Romaine Hearts, Lemon Confit, White Anchovies… Roasted Red & Golden Beets Salad: Walnuts, Pears, Confit Onions, Cavemen Blue Cheese… Fried Calamari: Crisp cherry Peppers, Aioli, Sofrito… Horseradish Crusted Crab Cake: Snow Pea Shoots, Mustard Seed Vinaigrette ($8.00 Supplement)… White Asparagus Soup: Citrus Cured Salmon, Pickled Mushroom, Amaretti Crumble… House-Made Radiatore “Primavera”: English Peas, Roasted Beets, Goat Cheese, Sorrel-Lemon Gremolata

ENTRÉE (Choice of) – Salmon Medallions: Spring Pea Butter, Belgium Asparagus, Morel Ravioli… Chili-Cinnamon Glazed Chilean Sea Bass: Potato Wrapped Shrimp, Baby Bok Choy, Lemongrass Nage ($12.00 Supplement)… Goffle Farm Chicken: Peruvian Potato Confit, Roasted Cauliflower, Pickled Ramp, Chicken JusFilet Mignon: Parsnip Purée, White & Green Asparagus, Pinot Noir Reduction ($13.00 Supplement)… Pork Tenderloin: Crispy Pork Belly, Heirloom Carrots, Sauerkraut Soubise, Stout JusTop Sirloin of Lamb: Yukon Potato Purée, Heirloom Carrots, English Peas, VerjusVegetarian Eggplant Tart: Sacred Chow Tofu, Tomato-Bell Pepper Coulis

DESSERT (Choice of) – Peanut Dacquoise: Caramelized Bananas, Jivara Milk Chocolate, Chantilly, Hawaiian Sea Salt… Valrhona Chocolate Brioche Bread Pudding: Macerated Berries, Vanilla Ice Cream… Goat’s Milk Cheesecake: Figs, Port Wine, Honey-Rosemary Ice Cream

The price of the three-course Mother’s Day menu is $49.00 per person (plus beverages, supplements, tax & gratuity). For more information, or to make reservations, please call (201) 556-1530.

Bon Appétit!

TAD

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Frog and Peach4On Sunday, May 13, 2018, the Frog and the Peach, 29 Dennis Street at Hiram Square, New Brunswick, New Jersey, will be celebrating Mother’s Day and Rutgers University graduation.

Mother’s Day Menu…

APPETIZERS (Choice of) – Local Hothouse Tomato Soup: White Cheddar Pimento Crostini… Gem Lettuce & Arugula Salad: Gaeta Olive, Pignoli, Sun-Dried Tomato powder, Ricotta Salata, Dijon Vinaigrette… Local Asparagus Salad: Goat Cheese Fonduta, Pickled Shallots, Puffed Amaranth… Stuffed Crimini Mushrooms: Snalls, Black Truffle, Wheat Beer Foam… Frog & peach House Smoked Salmon: Truffled Egg Salad, Cornichons, Pumpernickel, Mustard Oil… Cured Tuna Sashimi: Cucumber, Tobiko, Lemongrass Broth… Foie Gras Torchon: Roasted Strawberry, Pistachio, Potato Bread, Aged Balsamic Vinegar ($8.00 Supplement)… Castle Valley Mills Farrotto: County Ham, English Peas, Cured Egg Yolk

ENTRÉE (Choice of) – Open Faced Ravioli: Wild Mushrooms, Local Broccoli Rabe, Pecorino Romano, Massa de Pinentao… Seared Day Boat Sea Scallop: Sesame Peanut Noodle Sushi, Pickled Vegetable Salad, Miso Vinaigrette… Point Pleasant Mahi Mahi: Charred Ramps, Shaved Fennel, Fermented Tomato Tarragon Broth… Cornmeal Crusted Day Boat Cod: Snow Cap Beans, Maitake & Sea Bean “Slaw,” Smoked Pork, Herb Buttermilk… Pan Roasted Griggstown Chicken Breast: Mushroom Spelt Risotto, Shishito Peppers, Smoked Soy Molasses… 7oz. Center Cut Beef Tenderloin: Kale, Red Onion Confit, “Salt and Vinegar” Fingerling Potatoes, Chimichurri Sauce ($9.00 Supplement)… Pan Fried Berkshire Pork Chop: Pickled Greens, Polenta, BBQ Glaze

DESSERT (Choice of) – Meyer Lemon Bar: Berries, Lemon Thyme Buttermilk Ice Cream… Classic Crème Brûlée…  Champagne Semifreddo: Angel Food Cake, Grapefruit, Shortbread… Valrhona Chocolate Molten Cake: Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream… Three Cheese Board: Cracked Wheat Crostini, Garnishes ($6.00 Supplement)

The three-course Mother’s Day menu will be served from 12:00 noon – 8:00 p.m. The cost is $69.00 per person; $16.00 for children (plus beverages, tax & gratuity). For more information, or to make reservations, please call (732) 846-3216.

Bon Appétit!

TAD

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Gladstone1On Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 13, 2018, the Gladstone Tavern, 273 Main Street, Gladstone New Jersey, will be serving a special menu and complimentary flowers for all moms.

BEVERAGE – Mom-Mosa: Franco Amarosso Prosecco, Giffard Peach Liqueur, Orange Juice… Hibiscus Blossom: Hendricks Gin, St. Germaine, Hibiscus Cordial, Lemon… Château Aqueria: Tavel Rosé 2017 (France)… Beckman “Purisima Mountain” Syrah 2014: Ballard Canyon, California

FIRST COURSE – New Jersey Asparagus Soup: Poached Quail Egg, Tarragon Crème Fraiche, Chive Blossom… Tempura Soft Shell Crab: Asian Slaw, Wasabi Aioli… Local Strawberry & Spinach Salad: Candied Pecan, Red Spring Onion, Feta Cheese, White Balsamic Vinaigrette

SECOND COURSE –  Butter Poached Lobster: Whole Maine Lobster, Local Asparagus Risotto, Tarragon, Lobster Reduction… Seared New Jersey Scallop Linguine (Barnegat Lighthouse, NJ): Fresh pea, Mint, Parsley, Extra Virgin Olive Oil… Filet Mignon Oscar: Lump Crab, Hollandaise Sauce, Local Asparagus, Crisp Rosti Potato

SWEET COURSE – Chocolate Strawberry Tart: Fresh Strawberry, Chocolate Glaze, Vanilla Custard, Chocolate Crust, Strawberry Sorbet… Lemon Poppy Bundt Cake: Orange Blossom Glaze, Raspberry-Mascarpone Ice Cream, Sugar Cookie Crumb. Candied Lemon, Raspberry Coulis

On Mother’s Day, the Gladstone Tavern will begin serving at 12:00 noon. For more information, or to make reservations, please call (908) 234-9055.

Bon Appétit!

TAD

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Food & Wine Restaurants of the Year5 2018I recently received my May installment of Food & Wine magazine… “The 2018 Restaurants of the Year” issue. According to the byline, Restaurant Editor Jordana Rothman logged 37,000 miles in six months in search of 2018’s 10 most intriguing places to throw on the feedbag.

My condolences… and apologies, as all of Jordana’s hard work proved to be of only minor interest to me. On the other hand, it was Scott DeSimon’s prolegomena to Ms. Rothman’s lead article that succeeded in raising a red flag.

It began with At Your Service, informing readers of the partnership with Culinary Agents, a marketplace for talent in the hospitality business “… We asked the chefs and restaurateurs at the top of their game what restaurant guests can do to help make their nights out the best they can be – for everyone involved.” This was followed by On a Perfect Night at Canlis – a famous Seattle restaurant – by co-owner Brian Canlis: “We’re professionals trained to deliver an individually tailored experience. Be kind and empathetic, and we will fight to make sure you leave a raving fan.” Finally… The New Rules of Dining Out, 12 to be exact, replete with a pie chart of restaurants’ biggest pet peeves about diners and illustrations reminiscent of a third-rate ‘50s rag mag.

As a professional food & wine writer and restaurant critic, I find it difficult to believe that the vast majority of readers of Food & Wine, and magazines of similar ilk, would not be completely familiar with proper comportment in a fine dining establishment… So, why is Mr. DeSimon “preaching to the choir,” so to speak…? Perhaps, as the publication date drew near, the editors found themselves a few pages short and needed a quick fill-in? Perhaps… But The New Rules of Dining Out strikes me as nothing more than a propaganda piece specifically designed to extol the virtues of the restaurant industry while, at the same time, place the onus of the success or failure of a restaurant visit squarely on the shoulders of the diner. “If you have a bad restaurant experience, it’s your own damn fault” seems to be the not so subtle innuendo.

There is absolutely no question that dealing with the public – especially within a restaurant context – can be a difficult experience. And problems like parents who allow children to run amuck, reservation no-shows, patrons who overindulge in alcohol, and just plain “squirrelly” behavior are points well taken. But Mr. DeSimon tells only one side of the story… Just as there are good and bad patrons, so, as every knowledgeable and conscientious diner knows, there are also good and bad restaurants. And in my travels as a restaurant reviewer, I’ve seen more than my share of less than stellar happenings at less than stellar eateries.

Food & Wine - ServiceLike a host/hostess who is downright rude from the moment you walk through the door… or your server, who cops an attitude, letting you know he/she has more important engagements elsewhere… But let’s be more specific. Rule number 3: “Go with the Flow.” In other words, trust members of the restaurant staff to recommend your menu selections. “Leave yourself in the hands of the team,” notes one executive chef/co-owner… In many restaurants, however, servers are explicitly instructed to attempt to upsell diners. Not too long ago at a popular steakhouse, my dining partner and I had settled on our entrées… and our server immediately tried to point us toward two similar selections… each of which just happened to be $15.00 more expensive than our original choices. And the same goes for the wine list… In a number of upscale restaurants, the wine team actually has annual and monthly sales goals. And, if members of the staff happen to work on a tip pool, the higher the check, the higher the tip… and that means more money for everyone. So, it’s always in the restaurant’s best interest to upsell the customer.

Then there’s Rule Number 7: “Hands Off.” To quote the rule in full: “It’s sad this needs to be mentioned, but here goes: Do not flirt, hit on, or touch anyone working at a restaurant. Period.” On the other hand, the reverse is also true… in spades. Several years ago, when my wife and I were dining in a restaurant I intended to review, our male server, an older gentleman, put his hand on me on two separate occasions. While explaining the daily specials, he placed his hand on my back and actually began a gentle massage. Sometime later, when he returned to ask how we were enjoying our appetizers, he placed his hand on my arm and let it remain there for the entirety of the conversation. I said nothing at the time, but I damn well mentioned it in the review, quoting at length Jeff Weinstein, former restaurant critic of The Village Voice: “I knew when I set out to talk about this that I would risk sounding like a snob, that I would, in fact, have to convince you that being touched by a waiter was indeed a crime. Take my word for it: it is. Your mother or father may kiss your brow when serving giblets at Thanksgiving, your lover may nuzzle the back of your neck as he or she takes away your plate, but a waiter cannot even so much as place a finger on your person while you are at the restaurant’s table.” The moral of the story, I noted at the conclusion of the review: “Never fondle a food critic.”

Food & Wine - New RulesThe suggestions about how to voice complaints, Rule Number 6, with quotes from Danny Meyer’s Setting the Table, are particularly interesting and, for the most part, quite helpful. The biggest cause of misunderstandings, Mr. Meyer notes, is lack of communication. He wants to address the problem while it still may be fixed; i.e., like sending an item back to the kitchen if the diner is unhappy with his/her selection.

Mr. Meyer is, of course, speaking idealistically… Problem is, in the real restaurant world, situations are not always ideal. I remember, for example, attending a restaurant dinner party in which there were approximately a dozen people present, including two other food writers. My rack of lamb came out blood rare; so, I very quietly & politely asked the woman in charge if she could have the chef cook the lamb just a bit longer. She was very accommodating, whisking my plate away and returning it several minutes later. As she placed it in front of me, she whispered: “The chef is not happy.” Huh!?

The above episode, which took place very early in my food writing career was quite instructive. A restaurant owner, of course, may be all for making things right and keeping the customer happy; while the chef, on the other hand, for various reasons, including a massive ego, may not be so kindly disposed, and may take an item returned to the kitchen as a personal affront. In my various culinary travels, I have witnessed chefs come storming out of the kitchen and proceed to verbally abuse customers in the middle of a crowded dining room. I have also witnessed several, after a heated argument, in a fit of rage, ask customers to “get the hell out” of their restaurant. Mr. Meyer may consider these events anomalies; but they do occur. And, as I noted above… the real restaurant world can be far from ideal.

No question, sending a dish back can be an uncomfortable and tricky proposition; and, of course, the article gives readers a few guidelines: “Be honest, be specific, be confident… and the same goes for wine.” All well and good… But here’s the misleading zinger: “Be mindful: If you send back more than one dish, maybe the problem is you.” Well, not necessarily. There’s an old Yiddish proverb that cautions that the cure may be worse than the disease. And that also goes for sending back items in a restaurant. For while the chef may be correcting one problem – let’s say, cooking that filet more to your liking – the other items on the plate can be languishing under a heat lamp for an inordinate period of time, leaving the dish in a far worse shape than you originally found it. And, even though you would be totally justified in sending the dish back for a second time, such a decision would undoubtedly raise the chef’s ire to a fever pitch and label you as a troublemaker.

What this article doesn’t tell you, but should, is that, from the customer’s point of view, there are occasions when sending an item back to the kitchen can be more trouble than it’s worth – and not just for the reasons noted immediately above. Recently at a restaurant, for example, I ordered grilled pork medallions, which turned out to be overcooked and on the tough side. I knew that if I sent them back, the kitchen would have to prepare two new medallions, which would take a considerable amount of time, thus causing a major inconvenience to me and my dining partner. So, I elected to eat the tenderest pork portions and the other items on the plate rather than sending the item back to the kitchen. When the server cleared the entrées, noticing that I had left a considerable amount of pork on my plate, I told him that I had thoroughly enjoyed parts of the dish, but that he might mention to the chef that the pork had been rather dry and tough. When he returned, he indicated that $20.00 would be deducted from the check. This seemed to me a fair and equitable way to deal with the situation, while causing the least amount of hassle for all concerned.

When it comes to complaints, there is one thing restaurants definitely do not want diners to do: utilize the social media. “The worst-case scenario for restaurants is a guest saying, ‘Tonight just wasn’t good,’ whenBourdain, Anthony its too late to do anything about it. Even worse: hearing about it weeks later on Yelp.” And another chef/owner chimes in: “When someone complains online, the only person it serves is the one writing the review.” Well… not quite. That may be the restaurant industry’s view; but the truth is somewhat different. Misuses and abuses notwithstanding, the social media – Yelp, TripAdvisor, etc. – provide an invaluable source of information for the conscientious, knowledgeable diner. Not too long ago, if a diner received inferior cuisine or suffered bad service, it would take quite a while for the word to get around. Now, however, if something untoward takes place at a particular restaurant on a Friday evening, half the city could be aware of the situation by Saturday morning. And that makes restaurants very, very nervous.

What bothers me most about The New Rules of Dining Out is not only its one-sided simplicity, but also the incredible disservice that Food & Wine does to its readership through its downright patronizing “Just behave like good little diners and everything will be fine” attitude. The editors should know better… but, obviously they don’t. And that provides me with yet another reason for letting my subscription lapse.

Jay Jacobs 2For a glimpse at the other side of the restaurant world, the world that the editors of Food & Wine have chosen to studiously ignore, conscientious and thoughtful diners would do well to check out (or reread) Anthony’s Bourdain’s deliciously wicked Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly. And, although it was written in 1980, I would highly recommend Jay Jacob’s still relevant and hilariously informative Winning the Restaurant Game.

Bon Appétit!

TAD

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Davio's King of Prussia, PAOn Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 13, 2018, Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse, 200 Main Street, King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, will be serving brunch and dinner specials in addition to their regular menus…

Brunch Specials Served 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. in Addition to their Regular Brunch Menu – Brioche French Toast: Spring Berries, Maple Syrup, $15.00… Semolina Pancake: Local Honey Butter, Warm Amaretto Syrup, $15.00… Maine Lobster Omelet: Country Eggs, Lobster, Fontina, Brunch Potatoes, Lobster-Sherry Crema, $26.00… Tenderloin Benedict: Poached Eggs, Beef Tenderloin, Brunch Potatoes, Popover Béarnaise, $26.00… Smoked Salmon Pizza: Mascarpone, Arugula, Red Onions, Campari Tomatoes, $18.00

Dinner Specials Served 2:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. in Addition to their Regular Dinner Menu – Saffron Fiori, Gulf Shrimp: Wild Ramps, Flint Hill Farms Ricotta Salata, Lemon, Pink Peppercorn Crema, $17.00 Appetizer/$31 Entrée… Wild Striped Bass: Warm Spring Vegetable Salad, Crispy Capers, Lemon Olive Oil, $38.00

For more information, or to make Mother’s Day reservations, please call Davio’s, (610) 337-4810.

Bon Appétit!

TAD

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