Best of the Best: @elementsNJ



Like the world-famous Noma in Copenhagen, Elements takes the concept of an open kitchen beyond the norm. As at Noma, the food at Elements is advanced in technique yet rooted in tradition (pickling, fermenting, foraging, seasonality, etc.), and it is brought to the table from the kitchen (even more visible and open than at Noma) and presented, with a brief overview, by the chef or cook who prepared it. That would be mere show if the flavors, textures and contrasts in each dish were not so well-knitted, rewarding and often surprising.

Compared to the old location on the outskirts of town, the new dining room is smaller, more comfortable, and quieter—actually serene—a superb environment in which to immerse one’s senses in the delicacies and delights created by executive chef Scott Anderson, 41, chef de cuisine Mike Ryan, 36, and their three chefs de partie, Vanessa Hernandez-Avellan, Staci Lopez and Karen Ryfinski. There is no need to invest an entire evening and $185 in the roughly 18-course Grand Menu, though it’s quite an experience. The sweet spot, we think, is the weeknight $79 four-course menu, with four or five terrific choices in each course.

A recent meal included an ethereal scallop crudo showered with crisp rings of fried shallots and an insanely sybaritic plate of ricotta gnudi in hazelnut cream, with caramelized cipollini onions and strips of meltingly lush jamon ham. Read the November 2015 Review. 66 Witherspoon Street, 609-924-0078.

Three Princeton Restaurants are Tops at NJ Monthly


Congratulations to Agricola, Peacock Inn, and Mistral for their inclusion in this year’s New Jersey Monthy‘s annual list of the twenty-five best New Jersey restaurants.

From the article:

Agricola, Princeton
11 Witherspoon St., 609-921-2798

The products and produce of Great Road Farm—the handiwork of farmer Steve Tomlinson—fuel the imagination of executive chef Josh Thomsen and fulfill the furrow-to-fork vision of Jim Nawn, who owns the farm and the restaurant.

Depending on the season, Agricola, now a bustling one-year-old, might offer a beautifully deep orange-yellow egg salad. That color generally tells you the hens were free to peck around a pasture, eating an omnivorous diet. (Great Road supplements the birds’ foraging with corn, soy, oats and vitamins.) Equally seasonal would be a kale salad, its leaves glistening with the very popular toasted pumpkin-seed vinaigrette. A pork chop from Eden Farms in West Milford might come with braised Great Road collards and a chutney made from Terhune Orchards apples infused with beet juice and tossed with crushed, toasted pistachios, house-cured bacon and pomegranate syrup. The pickled and fermented vegetable plate is plucked from glass jars that decorate the bar. “They’re not just a pair of pretty legs,” deadpans Thomsen of the jars, packed with house-cured fiddlehead ferns, napa cabbage and the like.

There is a poignancy to seasonal menus. One ingredient comes on, another wanes. “Which one of your children do you love the most?” asks Thomsen. Earlier this summer he was making his own burrata, serving it with asparagus, English peas and local strawberries. Now it’s tomato prime time; thus his tomato menu. But a standard since day 1 has been the Shibumi Farm mushroom flatbread, a fresh-from-the-oven celebration of umami, with accents of oregano and Parmigiano-Reggiano.

In readying an Agricola cookbook, due this fall, Thomsen has been reading David Tanis, chef and author of A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes and Heart of the Artichoke and Other Kitchen Journeys, while simultaneously rolling out Agricola’s pickles, kimchi and kale salad dressing (with tasty toasted pumpkin seed) as products for sale.

Mistral, Princeton
66 Witherspoon St., 609-688-8808

Executive chef Ben Nerenhausen turns out beautiful, seasonal dishes multinational in concept and conversation stopping in deliciousness.

Nerenhausen, 31, is adept at juxtaposing flavors, colors and textures: a salad of cured beef carpaccio with marinated leeks and marrow; a fluke sashimi with tofu, asparagus and mint-like shiso leaves; roasted cauliflower on spicy house-made harissa dotted with house-made, sumac-flavored yogurt; and a unique, sweet buttermilk panna cotta with English peas, lemon curd and crumbled sablé (a French shortbread), all brightened by a pea-shell granita.

“We got whole pigs in, and we had some ears hanging around,” Nerenhausen relates. “So we did a crispy pig-ear salad with marinated tomatillos. We braise the ears, cut them in strips, toss them in Wondra flour and fry them. They get crispy outside and tender inside. I think they’re great, and it plays off Mexican flavors, so it makes sense in the whole spectrum of things.”

It went on the menu as a Crispy Pig Ear Salad, but the name must have been off-putting. When he changed it to Marinated Tomatillo Salad and, under the title, listed the components as jalapeños, crema and crispy pork, it took off. “We’ve had nothing but clean plates coming back to the kitchen,” Nerenhausen says. “When people ask what kind of pork, the servers are encouraged to describe it exactly. I would never hide things, but even though we’re in an area that wants new and different foods, you have to present things in a way people will accept.”

Mistral is the second culinary success of partners Stephen Distler and the talented chef Scott Anderson. Their more elegant (and equally delicious) Elements, about three-quarters of a mile away, will reopen in early 2015 in the same building as Mistral, enabling both to share the Elements liquor license.

Peacock Inn, Princeton
20 Bayard Lane, 609-924-1707

The cuisine of Manuel Perez and his wife, Cyndi Perez, matches the bird for which this restaurant and boutique hotel are named: exotic and extravagant, yet familiar. Think foie gras terrine with cured strawberries, rhubarb-ginger foam, reduced balsamic vinegar and pistachio shortbread; organic Scottish salmon with a white asparagus purée, pickled red onions and red wine reduction; roasted Maine lobster over pappardelle, chanterelles, zucchini and asparagus, sauced with truffled, sous-vide egg yolks; and warm sticky-toffee date cake with toffee sauce and vanilla-bean ice cream.

The two—he is executive chef, she is pastry chef—live and breathe food. When they’re not cooking at thePeacock, they are reading food magazines or food books. Or they’re taking culinary expeditions to Philadelphia and New York, exploring ethnic enclaves. More often than not, the trip home is productive. Recently they drove to Brooklyn, ate at four spots, and by the time they returned home, they had conceived a new dish inspired by the pillowy gnudi and the charcuterie they had shared.

“We’ve been working together four years now,” Manuel says. “She’s gotten very acclimated to my style. I can trust her completely; she knows my palate. Of course there’s some dissension—not every single detail works—but we have each other’s backs. We can be critical of a dish without it affecting us as a couple. It’s very good. It’s better than very good. If you could choose an ideal situation as a chef, and you’ve got your vision out there, and you’re cooking the food you want to cook and your personal life coincides, it’s as close to perfect as you can get.”

Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day & The Alchemist & Barrister’s 40th Anniversary-Legendary Party Aids Mercer St. Friends Food Bank

via Princeton Patch

shamrock hatIrish and awesome, The Alchemist & Barrister’s
34th Annual St. Patrick’s Day Party and LongBeard Benefit gets underway on Monday, March 17, 2014. This year, the landmark bar and restaurant has two reasons to celebrate. Throughout 2014, The A&B will mark its 40th anniversary with an array of special events, and fund raisers for its new charity, The Mercer Street Friends Food Bank.

From the first c0all of the bagpipes until the Parting Glass late that night, guests will enjoy Irish music, dancing, Irish fare by Executive Chef/Owner Arthur Kukoda and specialty cocktails, wine and beer. The winner of the Annual LongBeard Benefit will be announced with prizes for the Best Beard and other categories.

Traditionally, the contest and party benefit a local charity and this year, Mercer Street Friends will receive the funds raised. Since adopting the food bank as its permanent charity in October, 2013, the A&B has collected both canned goods and funds to support Mercer Street Friends’ Send Hunger Packing Program that provides fresh, nutritious food for school children in Mercer County.

The event starts at noon, and at 5 PM, a piper leads guests into the A&B for a rousing night of Irish dancers, music by The Laundrymen and great food and drink.

Don’t wait until the 17th – the A&B’s Celtic celebrations are starting right now with great cocktails served by guest bartenders and the Shamrock Fund Raiser for Mercer Street Friends Food Bank. Guests are invited to purchase a paper shamrock for $2 (3 for $5) that will be posted on the restaurant walls.

Guests are also asked to bring canned foods to donate to Mercer Street Friends Food Bank. Tuna, cereal, soup, are all good choices.

Princeton Chef Celebrates 2014 James Beard Nomination

scott andersonvia

Today the James Beard Foundation announced the semifinalists in the 2014 Restaurant and Chef Awards via livestream.

Princeton chef Scott Anderson of Elements, farm to table American cuisine,  has been nominated as “Best Mid-Atlantic Chef” by the 2014 James Beard award committee.

Finalists will be announced on Tuesday, March 18th. The winners will then be announced at the James Beard Foundation Awards on Monday, May 5th at Lincoln Center in New York City.