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POP-UP DINNER: NEIGHBORHOOD RESTAURANT FEATURES NEW TALENT

On a Monday night when many restaurants are closed, Chef Anthony Ferrando’s Dish, a neighborhood gem of an eatery was taken over by Chef Dan Dalessio and Nicolas Estephan of FIG NJ Catering.

Posted on facebook, the mouthwatering menu options caught my eye, but it was the asterisk at the bottom of the page that sent  fingers flying on my phone to reserve a table. *everything is gluten-free! Intrigued to begin with, I didn’t have to do the “gluten-free math,” so to speak. The rearranging of a menu — where every person who has food allergies quietly crosses off all offensive items. The struggle is my reality and I sympathize with all who have to deal with this issue.

Not a large menu, but impressive choices  with provocative ingredients gave us plenty to chew on while we made our selections. Since there were 4 of us at the table we decided to order and share all of the small plate options from the menu.

Quail lollipops are just an adorable concept. These came out tender and juicy but I so wanted a perky dipping sauce to swoosh the tiny hand-held legs into.

Everyone at the table went wild for the Kentucky fried cauliflower. We would have happily plowed through a second order if not for the other items that were already before us. Delightfully crunchy outside with a soft interior and a hint of Piri Piri hot sauce it was a favorite of the night.

In a heartbeat we’d order the Manila clams again. Sprinkled with tiny bites of chorizo, the garlic and shallot infused broth was scrumptious.  It was the wafer-thin speck chips that had us all talking at once. Beautifully executed, we were impressed with this dish.

We also tried the tuna tartare. It was an unusual combination of charred and diced pineapple and tuna. I loved the addition of crispy rice noodles adding depth and texture.

Four of the five big plates also made it to our table. Wagyu hanger steak was the hands-down winner. Perfect medium-rare slices of beef in a madeira reduction were offset by a nice-big portion of curiously named Japanese potato au gratin. I’m not sure what the Asian part of the dish was but the potato, sweet potato and cheese layers are what we want to eat every week. Fattening? Maybe, but wow this was a memorable dish in every good way possible. I don’t care how sophisticated your taste buds are, this is comfort food with a capital C and we couldn’t get enough of it.

Magret duck seared to a nice rare finish was served over flat rice noodles in Udon-fashion (Udon noodles are made from wheat as a rule). The chipotle bone broth and braised shitake mushrooms were delicious.  I would have loved a bowl of the broth separate from the duck to catch every bit in a spoon. Put together, it was a little awkward to eat the slices of meat with the noodles and the broth became lost underneath.

A roasted organic chicken breast served with leek infused mashed potatoes and seasonal roasted asparagus was inhaled before I had a taste. Clearly, it was liked — a lot. Crunchy maitake mushrooms performed as an earthy base for a well seasoned if slightly dry piece of halibut. There’s a good chance that the fish came out of the kitchen with an absolutely faultless finish and it’s on us that in the time it took to photograph this gorgeous piece of fish it became a little dry.

Whispers of new plans for Dan and Nick are buzzing in the atmosphere right now. Any time these two chefs put their heads and knives together though, you can bet something good is on the horizon.

FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION: CHICKEN DINNER

In every cook’s repertoire there’s often a single recipe that is the go-to can’t-fail meal they turn to time and again. A signature dish, if you will. For me, that’s chardonnay chicken, a mixture of ingredients culled from favorite memories sprinkled liberally with thyme.

As a child, I’d watch my mother sauté in a mixture of oil and butter in her square electric fry pan, pieces of chicken. Hearing the sizzle and smelling aromas of garlic, onion and chicken fat wafting through the air, just the thought of it, to this day still get my salivary glands going. To that pan she’d add mushrooms and cooking wine. The fricassee’d chicken, was delicious but surprisingly not my favorite. It was her very basic roast chicken I’d award a blue ribbon. Coated in garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper and paprika, it always came out-of-the-oven with crispy spiced skin and tender meat.

Years later I came to realize that I was working hard to reproduce those flavor memories with mostly disappointing results until I changed the ingredients I was using. I started buying chickens that were free-range, organic, and farm-raised on natural feed. They taste and have the same texture of the chickens of my youth. Getting the right ingredients together, I came up with a recipe, perfected over the last twenty years that you just can’t mess up. It’s all of the flavors I love — coq au vin, fricassee, and roast inspired — coming from a single enormous dutch oven.

Ingredients: 1 large roasting chicken

1 bottle dry chardonnay

2 large onions

2 large Idaho potatoes

3 large carrots

2 parsnips

2 small turnips

1 small head of garlic

Olive oil

2 teaspoons dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried rosemary

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

 

Peel and chop potatoes, carrots, parsnips and turnips into large pieces and cut onions into thick slices. Break apart garlic and remove skin but leave the cloves whole.

In a deep, heavy oven-proof pan such as a Le Creuset, sautee in olive oil the garlic and onion until just barely translucent. Add all of the root vegetables to the pan and sprinkle with salt, pepper, thyme, and rosemary.

Rinse chicken inside and out and pat dry with a paper towel. Place chicken on top of the vegetables and pour ¾ bottle of chardonnay over the chicken and vegetables. Sprinkle liberally with salt, pepper, and paprika. Add water or chicken stock to just barely cover the vegetables and place in a oven heated to 400 degrees for about 1 1/2 hours or until chicken is cooked through. Some of the liquid in the bottom of the pan will cook out so about half way through cooking time check and if necessary add a little more water or wine.

Seasonally I’ll adjust the recipe and use fresh herbs from the garden in the summer. I’ve also added chopped zucchini and mushrooms about halfway through cooking time with excellent results.

 

 

SINK-ING FEELINGS

Standing in front of an — ancient by today’s standard — kitchen sink that will easily hold a baby elephant or your largest roasting pan, a brief but shocking memory comes to me.

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FLAVOR CHRONICLES FINDS AUTHENTIC PIZZA IN NEW HAVEN

Professional sales people, truck drivers, and those who find themselves in traffic much too often need a break every now and then. If you’re an adventurous eater, and maybe keep a list of culinary stops to make when-in-the-area, lunch might just be a high-note on an otherwise humdrum humpday.

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GIVING THANKS FOR: PUMPKINS

What isn’t pumpkin flavoring added to these days? I could easily write a Forrest Gump style list of all the squash related dishes that show up on menus and in cookbooks at this time of year but that would be annoying. Not to mention the beverages — alcoholic and caffeinated — supplemented with pumpkin intent. So I won’t.

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