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.
I’m writing this with the tune of David Bowie’s “ch-ch-ch-ch changes. Turn and face the strange,” running through my brain. This past year has been nothing but changes. Changes in what we’re cooking in the kitchen, changes in what kitchen we’re cooking in, changes in where we are working, and changes made to our lifestyle in general. If you’d told me a year ago — yesterday — that this is where we’d be now, I would have laughed my head off. If you’d told me that we would be happier, and better off for turning our lives upside down, I would not have believed you.
Annual events have a tendency to become stale and in time mundane. An exception is the happily titled Beer, Bourbon, BBQ, Year of the Chicken, a suburban, backyard food and drink extravaganza that sprang from the minds of Sissy and Rick Norman. That spark of an idea would become an epic conflagration — with the help of Dave Mayhew and his wife Jen — into the 2017 celebration of professional chefs, bartenders, beer brewers, and entertainers seen in the pictures below.
Tonight on Food Network, the TV show Chopped will feature two spectacular chefs.
Laercio Chamon Jr. aka Junior, executive chef at Zoe in Little Silver, NJ and Lauren Van Liew, chef and owner of Chef Covas Catering in Red Bank, NJ are just two of the contestants facing off over picnic baskets filled with who-knows-what ingredients.
Not a myth: Chefs tables really do exist. There are only a handful in all of New Jersey but bigger cities such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles seem to be teeming with them. Monmouth County has two restaurants with specifically designated tables open to or inside the kitchen and a few quasi chefs tables in the form of cooking schools.
Chefs table at Zoe in Little Silver, NJ.
A documentary series on Netflix delves into the lives and careers of half a dozen famous chefs. It’s interesting and entertaining, but not essentially about actual chefs tables.
The Red Bank area boasts two such atypical dining options, one can be found at Zoe in Little Silver and the other at Nicholas in Red Bank. There is a third option in Fair Haven where you can enjoy a meal while getting to know a chef better. Taste and Technique Cooking Studio has hosted many local celebrity chefs often managing to teach a trick or two while impressing a small crowd.
Salmon served over cheddar grits from Zoe in Little Silver.
Those who eat to live probably won’t appreciate the idea of eating a gourmet meal while getting to know the chef in a more intimate setting. But those who live to eat, who collect recipes and equate most of their life experiences to the meal consumed in the moment, who memorialize their lives bite by delectably important bite … these are the people who wind up paying the big bucks to sit at a chefs table.
Smoked habanero salt encrusted duck breast platter with potatoes au gratin and pickled vegetables from Zoe in Little Silver.
So let me break it down for you. A coveted reservation at the chefs table at Nicholas will run you $150.00 per person. Tax, gratuity and booze not withstanding. Pricey? Yes, but the bragging rights might make it worth the money.
Laercio Chamon, known to most as Junior, is owner and new executive chef at Zoe. He’s just getting his feet wet with organizing his chefs table. A few months into owning the place, he is changing things to meet his own desires and expectations which include locally sourced produce and meats. He tells me that he is willing to work with customers to accommodate a chefs table experience based on specific desires. Currently offering a chefs table meal of pasture raised suckling pig with all the accoutrements, the meal will set you back about $80.00 per person. Tax and gratuity again add to the price, however, this is a BYOB restaurant which gives you the option of pricing your wine and beer high or low.
Chefs Lauren Phillips and Claudette Herring, owners of Via 45 in Red Bank demonstrate to about a dozen at Taste and Technique in Fair Haven.
Taste and Technique Cooking Studio offer chef demonstrations that run about $75.00 per person. You will observe the preparation of a complete meal. Usually three or four courses. It is also a BYOB. Although the chef in this case doesn’t have the benefit of home court, every chef I’ve observed in this venue has not only taught me a thing or two, but has thrown together an awe inspiring meal.
A bowl of corn chowder embellished with whole lumpmeat crab cake was a memorable highlight at Taste and Technique prepared by a much missed chef, Joe Romanowski.
The take-away is an unforgettable experience as opposed to just another dinner out. Getting to know how the chef thinks and operates, the possibility of making a connection and being fed an outstanding meal. Life is all about the experiences that we stack up. A meal at a chefs table might just be every foodies dream-come-true. It is a step above the ordinary and worth every extra penny you spend. Book a reservation soon and let me know what you think.