Unionville Grapevine

April 17, 2015

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Meet the Chefs ›


Meet the Chefs: Jack Yang of Gallop Asian Bistro

A SYMPHONY OF FLAVORS: GALLOP BISTRO, 793 U.S. 202 N., BRIDGEWATER, N.J.  (908) 210-9161.

Philip Glass is undeniably world-famous as the greatest composer of Minimalist and Classical music of the current period. A prodigy, Glass entered The University of Chicago at 15 years of age as a Mathematics and Philosophy major. Modernist music claimed him, and after a few years in Paris living a Bohemian life, he entered Juilliard to formally study composition. His output includes Operas, musical theatre pieces, 10 symphonies, 11 concertos, chamber music, sonatas, and film scores. It is, however, unknown if he enjoys Chinese Cuisine.

Entrance to Gallop Asian Bistro in Bridgewater NJWhat do Modernist Music, Philip Glass and the brilliant food and beautiful setting of Bridgewater’s “Gallop Asian Bistro” all have in common?  The proprietor and artist Jack Yang.

It was this great Modernist musician who brought Jack Yang to the United States.

 

Our friend Jack Yang is the principal owner of Gallop Asian Bistro in Bridgewater. To those of you who haven’t been, Gallop is the fabulously beautiful Asian-Fusion restaurant occupying what had been a pancake house on Northbound Rte. 202, two miles South of the Somerville circle.

I recently sat with Jack to try to come to grips with the connection between Philip Glass and this great restaurant.

Q: O.K. Jack, I give up – how did Philip Glass lead to Gallop?

A: Not in a straight line for certain. Growing up in China, my passion was music. I studied at a Classical Chinese Conservatory, was exposed to Glass’s music and became convinced that his was the way of the future and the musical current I needed to follow. Although I was a passionate devotee, I realized that it was not possible to pursue Contemporary Modernist music in China. I was fortunate enough to earn a grant from the Brooklyn Conservatory and came to the United States to pursue my dream. I naively assumed that because Glass was American, living in New York, that Modernist music must be huge here. I planned and dreamed to make my future in this great Country composing Contemporary music. Only after I was here did I realize there was only one Philip Glass and not even he profited from the most avant garde of his work. If I was going to prosper, I needed to readjust my perspective.

Q: But how did learning that Modernist Music was not your future lead to white tablecloth Classical Asian dining?

A: Again the path was not straight forward.  My cousin was a very successful businessman. Starting from a single location, he built the largest chain of Chinese restaurants in the country, Panda Express. You probably know, the concept is Chinese fast food with many locations in the food courts of regional shopping malls. One day my Cousin asked me if I was profiting. I confessed my failure to succeed and my doubts about my musical dreams. He urged me to come and work for him. I really didn’t know anything about business but determined to learn and succeed. I joined him. Within two years, I had obtained my own Panda Express franchise and was able to begin to succeed.

Q: But Panda Express is fast food, Gallop Asian Bistro is anything but fast food, how did this come to be?

A: You should realize that almost all Chinese men are taught to cook the classic dishes    of their region. Knowing what classical Chinese food is, and realizing that Americans were generally only being served a poor shadow of real cooking, I saw an opportunity.        You can probably visit a thousand Chinese restaurants in Central New Jersey. Invariably if you look closely you will see they are fast food places. The chefs are not educated in hygiene, not taught classic techniques, not schooled in consistency. The restaurants are most often in older strip malls with low rents, cracked linoleum floors, filthy in the back and the food dosed with MSG and other salts. My cousin’s genius in Panda Express was in remedying the hygiene issues and siting his restaurants in high-rent Malls. Then he focused Panda Express on consistency. But like the other fast food restaurants, he had to focus on simple dishes in an emotionally barren Mall landscape. It is not classical Chinese cooking, It is an American/Chinese stew. Good, but that concept leaves no room for truly great.

         When I first came to America, I first thought that Americans just must not like real Chinese food. I soon realized, that most Americans had just never experienced Classical Chinese cuisine

         I was convinced that there was a real potential to bring great cooking, and an upscale dining room to market. I conceived of Gallop Asian Bistro and with my partners, resolved to create a gourmet authentic Asian-Fusion restaurant with the highest standards. We insist of the freshest of ingredients. Each order is created at the time of dining. I try to personally see and approve each dish before it is served. I insist on the highest standards of hygiene. I oversee the continuing education of my chefs.

    Q: I understand your commitment to quality ingredients, fresh produce, classical techniques and flavors and consistency, but does all of that really require a setting as beautiful and comfortable as you have built here at Gallop?

    A: Yes. I needed to embrace Chinese culture to create authentic Chinese food. Authentic food requires patience in the kitchen. The food, the dishes are meant to be enjoyed intellectually as well as through the senses. Interior of Gallop Asian Bistro in Bridgewater NJA great Chinese meal, as is true of all great cuisines, is not just to fill the stomach. Great food, like great wine, is meant to be savored and discussed. The meal is when family and friends come together. When important issues are decided in China, it occurs around the table. When friendship and family values are shared, it occurs over meals. In America, life moves so quickly, it is difficult to capture the serenity and peace needed for fine dining. We can’t do that in a loud Mall or grimy strip center. We needed to create an oasis of peace. The environment of Gallop is designed to promote peace and tranquility even during meals cut short by the pace of life. I am careful with the background music as well as with the perfection of each dish. The culture of Gallop is the final differentiator with lesser Asian-themed restaurants. Our culture is authentic, beautiful and delicious.

    Q: You recently brought into Gallop a general manager, not Chinese, not trained in Classical Chinese Cuisine, who does not even speak Chinese, how does that advance the Gallop plan?

    A: (Laughing)…To answer that question you only need to look around. My clientele is almost 80% Asian. Part of that is their appreciation of the authentic nature of the cooking. Part of that is their embrace of patience- sharing food and time with friends and family. But we are in Central New Jersey. I always understood that my initial clientele would be significantly Asian, that was inevitable. But at the same time my concept was to reach out to Americans and to introduce them to the highest levels of Asian dining. I am now American. My children are American. I needed to sharpen my focus to reach and satisfy my American friends and clients. Hiring Ed Scott was the first step in reaching that native market.

    Q: How did you pick Ed?

    A: Ed Scott brings to Gallop exceptional skills and the attitude I require. He has been in the restaurant business for more than thirty years, as a Chef, a Wine Steward, a Server and as an entrepreneur. He may not be yet experienced with Asian Cuisine, but, more importantly, he knows great food, great service and the ins and outs of doing business in a high-end white tablecloth environment. More than these skills and experience, however, Ed Scott shares my enthusiasm to create something great and unique and ultimately lasting. Like any great Chef, Musician or other artist, he has the passion to be brilliant.

       

      [A Note from the Unionville Wine Impressario: When I first agreed to write about the great restaurants offering Unionville Wines, I made it clear that lacking restaurant and cooking experience, I would not be comfortable attempting to actually critique the food offered. This restraint is particularly true with Asian cuisine where, other than my experience with fast food Chinese and occasional Thai offerings, my experience is zero. I do, however, need to remark that although I lack standards with which to judge as ambitious an undertaking as is Gallop, this restaurant and the food are brilliant. The taste, the colors, the presentation, the ambiance of this restaurant is unlike anything else I have experienced. This is the type of restaurant wherein Unionville wines can really shine. Another word: although the food and ambiance are entirely worlds apart from most, the value, fair, even generous, pricing is also shocking. Visit soon.]

      Meet the Chefs: Jeff Stern & Luz Alderete of Dockside Market & Grill

      Fresh scallops at Dockside Market and Grill, NJ seafood restaurantsFirst, a confession: I love seafood. At least, I love fresh seafood. Be it Sashimi, Tartare, Ceviche, steamed, broiled or fried, I love fresh seafood. The genius of Dockside Market & Grill is that this is the freshest of seafood, and they serve it perfectly presented (the raw), perfectly spiced (the Latin dishes), and perfectly prepared (the steamed/broiled and fried).

      I sat down with the owner (local guy- Jeff Stern) and the chef (Chilean native- Luz Alderete) to explore the secret to their success and passion.

      Q: For me Jeff, the hardest thing to understand is how such a small place can provide not only the freshest of seafood but also the variety you always seem to have available and on display. How do you do it?

      A: Well, your question almost answers itself, the key is display. We are a great seafood restaurant, and we are small (46 seats) but what makes it work is that we are also a fish market. Our stock is available not only to our kitchen for Luz to work her magic, but also for sale to take home by our customers. This keeps our inventory constantly turning, and so, constantly fresh. We buy everyday, and we only buy that day's freshest fish. Even our stews, chowders and stocks are made with only the freshest fish, seasonings and supported by seasonally available produce. This was the concept from the beginning and is our mantra every day.

      Q: How did this concept emerge, had you done seafood before?

      A: I hadn’t done seafood previously, at least as the central focus, but since my first job as a busboy, though college and years in the industry, my focus has been fresh and healthy. I have always focused on active people seeking healthy dining alternatives. Probably that’s as much my personal preference, more than a marketing focus. I’m a runner, a cyclist, a part-time Spinning instructor and generally a fitness enthusiast. Healthy, fresh food supports those life-style choices. 

      Q: How else does this mantra, Fresh and Healthy, play out at Dockside?

      A: Well don’t get us wrong, Dockside is not only for fresh fish zealots. We love our occasional indulgences, our richer sauces and even desserts. But our core focus is “Pura Vida”, a good life. That’s a broad mandate. We serve dishes that are probably 60-65% gluten free. Probably 40-50% of our dishes can be prepared in a Vegetarian format. We want to be a place sophisticated enough for the “Gourmand” but also with appeal for all, even children. We agonized over our children’s menu. We wanted not only healthy dishes, but with taste, color and flavor for the most discriminating and demanding children.

      Q:How did those goals crystallize?

      A: A large part of that was serendipitous. Serendipity in that while I was thinking this concept through, I met Luz. Luz is Chilean by birth and upbringing, but really a citizen of the world and a student of all. She is probably the most broadly educated and a true “Renaissance” woman, I know. We met. We started talking, and I guess, being Chilean, fresh fish is in her DNA. That said, her cuisine is for flavor, not heat. She never seems to confuse “spice” with perspiration. Her cooking is passionate, creative and comforting. Sharing my thinking with Luz, bouncing it all through my wife who is also my partner, the concept took shape, and here we are.

      Q: Entering your second year of business, how is the concept playing out?

      A: We are in a funny location. The space is perfectly sized for the concept of a restaurant and market, but the restrictions on signage and that we are in the middle of Flemington Center (between Lowes and Walmart) sometimes makes it an adventure to find us. Over the past six months, we have introduced a series of specials. Every Tuesday is “Latin Night” where Luz can run wild and showcase specials focusing on dishes from her childhood and Chilean traditions. Wednesdays are “Salmon Madness”. There Luz will prepare special appetizers and Salmon entrees for all those seeking a “Omega-3 fix.” Thursdays are for Lobster. Lobster Bisque, Lobster rolls, appetizers and entrees all featuring Lobster. That’s a fun and popular weekly event. What we are offering is a new concept, a focus on fresh and healthy for all but maybe mostly for those living or aspiring to an active life. Its still an adventure for all of us.

        ~Phil Moran, Wine Impresario

        Marinated Eggplant Sandwich with Soppressata and Mozzarella

        This past summer, I had the opportunity to visit a friend in Italy. Everything about Italy was fantastic; the scenery, the wine, the food...and the sandwiches were the best. Freshly-baked bread layered with honest, real ingredients. 

        Marinated Eggplant Sandwich

        Often wrapped in butcher paper and served with a light drizzle of olive oil and vinegar - no soggy bread. These grab-and-go sandwiches became our staple lunch. 

        Marinated Eggplant Sandwich

        Reminiscing about picnic lunches in Italy, I decided to whip up a batch of these at home this weekend. They were simple and flavorful. The perfect combination. I can't wait for warmer weather and a blanket under a maple tree. 

        Marinated Eggplant Sandwich with Soppressata and Mozzarella

        Total Time: 30 minutes   Yield: 2 sandwiches  

        INGREDIENTS 

        • 1 tablespoons olive oil
        • 2 sandwich rolls or bread of your choice
        • 1 jar (8 oz) roasted red peppers, drained, patted dry, and halved
        • 1 jar (8 oz) marinated eggplant, drained, patted dry, and halved
        • 6 slices of fresh mozzarella
        • 4 ounces thinly sliced soppressata
        • 1 cup of arugula
        • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

        DIRECTIONS 

        1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Cut the rolls in half and lightly drizzle with olive oil. Bake until lightly toasted. Let bread cool.
        2. On one half of the roll, layer soppressata, mozzarella, eggplant, roasted red peppers, and arugula.
        3. Drizzle balsamic vinegar on the other half of the roll.
        4. Place sides together and cut roll in half. Enjoy!

        Green Bean and Tomato Salad with Tarragon Dressing

        I have a revolving front door. People come and go regularly. And when they come, they come hungry. To stay ahead of the game, I prepare a few salads that can either be eaten as a side dish or by themselves. 

        tarragon tomato salad with fields of fire

        Preparing a few easy salads in the beginning of the week, gives me versatility when it comes to feeding others as well as myself. As I dash around the house in the morning, it takes only a few additional moments to pack my lunch. 

        tarragon tomato salad with new jersey blush wine

        This salad utilizes tarragon, an herb that I rarely cook with. Tarragon tastes similar to anise or black licorice with the essence of sweetness. I enjoyed this for lunch and then decided to take it on a picnic - what a hit! 

        tarragon tomato salad with new jersey blush wine

        Green Bean and Tomato Salad with Tarragon Dressing

        total time: 30 minutes    yield: 4 servings 

        ingredients

        • 2 lbs green beans (mixed colors if you can) trimmed and cut diagonally into bite size pieces
        • ¼ cup olive oil
        • 2 medium shallots
        • 2 tbsp chopped tarragon
        • 1 pint cherry tomatoes
        • salt and pepper to taste
        • 2 tbsp lemon juice

         directions

        1. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the beans until just tender, about 4 minutes. Drain the beans and spread them on a large baking sheet to cool. Pat dry.
        2. In a small bowl, whisk the olive oil with the shallots and tarragon and season with salt and pepper. Place the beans and tomatoes in a large bowl, add the dressing and toss well. Transfer to a platter and serve.

        Potato Salad with Bacon and BBQ Sauce

        There are a few classic dishes that remind each of us of childhood, signature dishes in each family. Mine are my grandmother's salad dressing and my mother's potato salad. 
        Potato Salad with BBQ Sauce and Bacon
        After countless attempts and several tutorials, I still cannot recreate my mother's potato salad. I decided, therefore, to create my own recipe. 
         
        Potato Salad with BBQ Sauce and Bacon
        This salad takes all of the key elements and incorporates a few new ones: BBQ sauce and bacon. Yum! Make the salad ahead of time and bring it to your next neighborhood BBQ or pack it for the perfect spring picnic. 
        Potato Salad with BBQ Sauce and Bacon

        Potato Salad with Bacon and BBQ Sauce

        total time: 45 minutes      yield: 4 servings

        ingredients

        • 4 lbs small red potatoes
        • ½ lb bacon
        • ¾ cup mayo
        • ½ cup plain Greek yogurt
        • 2 tbsp mustard
        • 2 tbsp sherry vinegar
        • 1 tsp celery seeds
        • ½ cup diced pepper (orange, red, and yellow)
        • ½ diced scallions
        • 1 small red onion
        • ¼ cup bean sprouts for garnish
        • salt and pepper to taste
        • 2 tbsp BBQ sauce
        • ¼ cup chopped parsley
        • 1 tbsp chopped tarragon

        directions

        1. Quarter your potatoes into bite sized pieces. In a large pot, cover the potatoes with cold salted water and bring to a boil over moderately high heat. Cook until the potatoes are tender and can be pierced with a fork - about 15 minutes. 
        2. Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, cook the bacon slices over moderate heat until crisp, about 6 minutes. Drain on paper towels and coarsely crumble.
        3. In a large bowl, mix the mayonnaise with the BBQ sauce, yogurt, mustard and sherry vinegar. Fold the potatoes into the dressing while they are still warm. Let the potato salad stand, stirring a few times, until the potatoes have cooled and absorbed most of the dressing, about 20 minutes.
        4. Add the celery, red onion, peppers, parsley and tarragon to the potatoes and season with salt and pepper. Let stand for an additional 20 minutes, stirring a few times. Garnish with the bacon and sprouts, then serve.
      1.  

        Wine Pairing: Pork Loin Chop with Amwell Ridge Vineyard Counoise

         

        Pork loin chops with pomegrate reduction recipe

        I create meals that I would want to eat.

        All too often I will be discussing a recipe with a friend when she stops and says, “But I don’t like that.”

        “Well," I respond, "Let’s find a suitable substitute.”

        For this recipe, instead of running to the store to pick up all the necessary ingredients, experiment with a few substitutes. Since I cook the pork chop at a higher temperature for an extended period of time, I want a fat that will not break down. Coconut oil is the my first choice, but it can be substituted with olive oil or canola oil. Unless you lower the temperature, which you can do, avoid using butter. It will break down and burn. If you do not have pomegranate juice, you can substitute it for another tart acidic fruit such as cherry or cranberry, just make sure you use pure fruit juice without any added sugar. 

        Pork loin chops with pomegrate reduction recipe

        Experimenting with recipes that have opposing yet complementary tastes and textures is a lot of fun. I've found that many of these recipes are flexible and forgiving - I can always adapt them to my friends' preferences and allergies.

        Texture evokes nostalgia in a way that taste cannot. When I close my eyes and sip a creamy soup or dig into the crunchy breadcrumb layer on a homemade macaroni and cheese I am always transcended back into childhood.

        The more depth and opposing dynamics you build into a recipe the more interesting it becomes: balance a rich element, such as cream, with an acid like lemon juice. Round out a spicy dish with a pinch of brown sugar.

        Playing with complementary flavors is my artistic outlet and extends beyond the main recipe and into other components of the meal such as which wine to serve.

        Pork loin chops with pomegrate reduction recipe

        Tonight I am serving the 2013 Amwell Ridge Vineyard Counoise.

        Counoise is a red variety traditionally grown in the Rhone region of France and often blended with other red varieties. Unionville Vineyards is one of only a handful of wineries worldwide bottling this flavorful, fruit-forward wine as a single varietal. I am in love.

        The bright acidity of Counoise complements the richness of the pork loin and the pomegranate reduction. The broccoli pesto and wild rice bring out a more earthy side to the pork, balancing the white pepper notes in the Counoise. The pomegranate reduction rounds out the the fruit notes in this rare wine.

        There is nothing a cook enjoys more than new and interesting ingredients, especially ones you can enjoy in a glass with friends. What are some of the new ingredients you are experimenting with in the kitchen?

        Pork loin chops with pomegrate reduction recipe

         

        LOIN PORK ROAST WITH POMEGRANATE SAUCE AND BROCCOLI PESTO

        total time: ~45 minutes    yield: 4 

        ingredients

        • 4 pork loin chops, cut a ¼ inch thick
        • 1 tsp coriander seeds
        • 1 tsp cumin seeds
        • 1 tsp black peppercorns
        • ¾ tsp cinnamon
        • ¾ tsp salt
        • 1 tbsp coconut oil
        • 1 cup pomegranate juice
        • 1 tbsp cornstarch
        • 1 tbsp butter
        • Broccoli Pesto
        • 2 cups wild rice

        directions

        1. Use a mortar and pestle to grind the cumin, pepper, and coriander to a fine dust. Combine with salt and cinnamon. Rub onto loin chop and set aside
        2. Meanwhile prepare the broccoli pesto and wild rice, according to the package's instructions.
        3. Heat 1 tbsp of coconut oil over medium low heat in a pan - I prefer to use a cast iron pan
        4. Place the loin chops on the pan and cook, flipping occasionally, for approximately 20 minutes or until an internal thermometer reads 145F. Do not crowd the pork chops. This step may need to be done in batches.
        5. Once the pork chops are cooked, reduce heat to low and deglaze the pan with pomegranate juice by using a wooden spoon to scrape the pan. Reduce the juice to about half.
        6. Mix the cornstarch with a ¼ cup of warm water and whisk into sauce. Stir in butter until incorporated. Add Unionville’s Counoise to taste. Salt and pepper if needed.
        7. Slice the pork chop and serve with the pomegranate reduction, a spoonful of broccoli pesto, wild rice, and a glass of Counoise.

         

         

        March 06, 2015

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        Wine Talk ›


        3 Reasons We Like Counoise as a Single Varietal

        Counoise is a unique red wine grape variety, late-ripening and plump, with a thin skin. In the Rhone region of France, Counoise is typically used in red blends, for instance Chateauneuf-du-Pape. 

        We grow Counoise right here in Hunterdon County, New Jersey...right in your own backyard! At Unionville, we celebrate Counoise by bottling it as a varietal wine. (According to federal regulations, at least 75% of the grapes used to produce a wine with a varietal designation must be of that variety.) Like Pinot Noir, Counoise has big berries with thin skins. As our winemaker Cameron Stark likes to say, Counoise is like Pinot Noir...but with attitude.Rhone red wine Counoise from New Jersey

        Here are three reasons why we like Counoise as a single varietal:

        1. It's Unique

        Don't deny it. You've never heard of this variety before. Why should you have? It's a typically used in blends, never celebrated on its own. Unionville is one of only a handful of wineries in the world to produce a varietal. 

        2. It's Got Attitude

        Counoise, as a varietal, is a light-bodied red with good structure and bright acidity, making it very food-friendly. The acidity works wonders when paired with richer meats like duck. Good structure allows for graceful aging - our 2013 vintage will age well for 5 years and hold for another 3. 

        3. It's Flavorful

        Like Pinot Noir, Counoise is lighter in color, but don't be fooled. This wine has beautiful aromatics and is full of flavor. 

        Aromas of rose petals, violets, blackberries, and blueberries, all surrounded by a note of white pepper. Beautiful. On the palate, notes of blueberry and blackberry, hints of sweet vanilla, again with the white pepper surrounding. The finish is long with flavors of blueberry and a lasting white pepper glow. A very pretty wine.

         In short, it is a yummy wine and one of my favorite wines for picnic. Cheers!

        ~Stacy Brody, Operations Coordinator and former Cellar Rat

         

         

        February 27, 2015

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        Meet the Chefs ›


        Meet the Chefs: Todd Villani of Terre a Terre

        In this second installment of our Meet the Chefs series, Unionville's Phil Moran interviews chef Todd Villani of Terre a Terre in Carlstadt, NJ. Over the last year, this mid-sized (50 seat) restaurant and Unionville Vineyards partner, has earned more important rave reviews than any other Garden State restaurant.

        New Jersey wine at farm to table restaurant

        For the New York Times, Fran Schumer noted:

        In a tiny kitchen in Carlstadt, a town in southern Bergen County better known for its proximity to the Meadowlands than for farm-­to-­table restaurants, Todd Villani prepares some of the best locally sourced New American dishes in New Jersey. Lacking major investors, Mr. Villani found the largest space he could afford, and with the help of friends and local artists — even the décor is locally sourced — transformed a forlorn spot on a commercial street into Terre à Terre, which opened in October….

        Now, its two candlelit dining rooms truly do convey the warmth of a French country kitchen.

        You’re here, however, not for the décor or even for the fine recorded jazz playing softly in the background, but because on almost every plate is something wonderful.      

        *  *  *  *

        Before opening Terre à Terre, Mr. Villani worked under Marcus Samuelsson at Aquavit in Manhattan for three years and in kitchens in New Jersey and abroad. Now, in the first establishment that is his own, he has accomplished the almost impossible: opening a viable farm­-to-­table restaurant, off the beaten path, and issuing a stream of first­-rate dishes from its small and crowded kitchen.

        Read the entire article here. 

        The Star Ledger's focus was similar:

        Villani follows his farm-to-table philosophy religiously; ingredients must be local, and he puts a 300-mile limit on that. It was his grandmother who first pulled him into the garden, gathering dandelions at age 5. And who doesn't love a fresh garden ingredient, especially during the fall harvest, when Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes abound? But Villani’s restaurant, despite its country French décor and its tables covered in burlap and butcher paper, is not about rustic. The food is grand and sophisticated, an entirely unexpected opulence in a blue-collar, chicken Marsala town.

        It’s an opulence gained in part from Villani’s years with Marcus Samuelsson, of “Top Chef” and “Chopped,” a chef revered in the industry for his unique global approach to cuisine and a particular love of spices.

        Thus the opulence of the crab cakes ($15), a dish that is gorgeous and delicate, sweeping across the plate as if it were a ballet production, about to leap, gracefully. The dish comes with dried cranberries and pistachios, and a whimsical circle of radish. Each element is part of the movement of the dish, as carefully placed as jewels. Villani begins with a strong ratio of fresh lump crab, not even an egg to bind it, but a bit of chipotle aioli to add spark. The crab cakes, moist and perfectly crisped, are finished with a remoulade of charred leeks and capers, sort of a city cousin to tartar sauce. So it’s food you know, but entirely dressed up for the party.

        Polenta ($13) surprises more. You expect comfort; you receive duck confit, seductive and fatty rich, with the skin also crisped just so. And, on top, a fried egg, the yolk swirling as butter for even more richness. You’d forget the roasted garlic polenta entirely except that it’s damn good too, sturdy and shaped like a football. (It’s called a quenelle, and the shape is a time-consuming fine-dining trick; they don’t do quenelles at most farm-to-table restaurants. This fact is more impressive when you learn that it’s a two-man kitchen, six burners and a fryer in 75 square feet, and that Villani insists on plating each dish himself. )

        Short ribs ($28) are a signature; the fall version, well-marbled and tender, is glazed in maple and bourbon, with an inventive, and comfortingly addictive, butternut squash and goat cheese gratin. A harvest meal, better than Thanksgiving. Scallops with prosciutto ($28) is another pretty party dish, enlivened by the orange of a swirl of burnt butter sweet potato. The scallops alone are remarkable, dry and sweet, and the prosciutto superior.

        Find the entire article here

        New Jersey Monthly’s Review is equally praising:

        These days, every chef’s mantra is fresh, local, seasonal. Todd Villani learned what it meant when he was about four and growing up in Rutherford. “My grandmother Carmela,” he told me in a phone interview after my visits, “rounded me up to go looking for dandelion leaves and shoots. Everyone else considered dandelions weeds. But she was from Naples. To her, dandelions were delicate greens for tonight’s salad or tomorrow’s soup. That’s when I understood that food is something that grows, that is fresh and good for you. It doesn’t have to come in a package.” 

        It’s true that Villani obtains almost half his ingredients from the Garden State and virtually all but North Atlantic fish and lobster from within a range of 300 miles. But what makes Terre a Terre special is less its farm-to-table ethos than the all-important stop the ingredients make en route—in the kitchen. 

        Take, for example, his marvelous lamb spring rolls. The lamb comes from Elysian Farms in Pennsylvania. The sauce is a tangy reduction of sweetened soy, lemongrass, ginger and sesame oil. The magic is not in where the ingredients come from but in what the chef does with them. The spring roll is not fried; it’s served moist and cool. Villani forms a supple cylinder from braised pulled lamb, crushed peanuts and minced basil, scallion, bell pepper and carrot. These are wrapped in Swiss chard, then in velvety spring roll wrappers translucent from a short soak in cool water. Sprinkle with more crushed peanuts, and the result is an appetizer I am glad I don’t have to travel 300 miles for—though given everything else Villani and his sous chef, Brian McGackin, produce in their tiny kitchen, it just might be worth the trek.

        Equally notable are his crispy whole artichoke hearts, complete with edible stems and papery petals. The hearts are stuffed with a ruddy mix of ground chorizo from Nicolosi Fine Foods in Union City and chèvre from Flint Hill Farm in Pennsylvania. Every bite combines crunchy and creamy, meat and dairy flavors. Villani has been serving it in different places since 2007. “I want to get away from it,” he said, “but I can’t. People love it.”

        Villani, 41, lives in Carlstadt. The town, which looks both urban and suburban, has never been a dining destination. But Terre à Terre (French for “down to earth”) should give people looking for exciting food reason enough to go. 

        Fortunately for him, he landed a job with Marcus Samuelsson. .  .  .  .

        From the renowned Ethiopian-Swedish chef, Villani said he learned “refined technique applied to comfort food.” A toothsome example is Terre à Terre’s sumac-seasoned crispy chicken (from Goffle Road Farm in Wyckoff). The dish combines a lush confited leg and thigh with a crisply sautéed breast and seasonal accompaniments—recently, spiced couscous, haricots verts and tarragon jus.

        Under Samuelsson, Villani said, “I worked my way up from cook to executive sous chef. I soaked it up like a sponge. He’s demanding but fair, and it was a great experience.”

        Read the entire review here

        After reading these and other reviews, I had the opportunity to sit with Chef and both revisit his background and attempt to grasp how that background plays out in his kitchen.

        Q: Chef, what in your background led to this emphasis and commitment to “local”?
        A: I've worked in almost every position in a kitchen and restaurant, from bussing tables and washing dishes, to years as a waiter and managing the front of the House, and all of those experiences inform who I am and what I want. To me the key is comfort. I believe my responsibility is to leave every guest secure in my use of the very freshest, least processed ingredients. Comfort continues in the staff and their manner. I try to embody the concept of comfort, in the décor, the plating and most of all in the preparation of each dish. In the end, every guest should leave believing they have received our best efforts, great, and interesting food, caring and kind service, and great value. That’s what makes first time guests into regulars.           

        Q: When I think of “Comfort Food” I think of the traditional, the foods my Mother made. But when I look at your menu I see ingredients I’m sure my Mom never heard of and presentations unlike anything ever made in our kitchen. I mean you’ve got a Burger on your lunch menu, but it includes Duck Fat Bernaise, white truffles and sautéed chives. How is this comfort food in the traditional sense? 
        A: Comfort never excludes imagination and invention. We have to measure comfort by the results. I want my guests to be excited. I want my staff to be challenged. I want to challenge myself. But at the end of the meal, we all, staff and guest, need to be comfortable, satisfied and warm with the overall experience. If we end the workday with that shared result, we all leave comfortable.

        Q: You frequently mention all that you learned from Marcus Samuelsson, how does Terre a Terre reflect that experience?
        A: More than anything Marcus preaches and demonstrates the over-riding importance of the very best and very freshest ingredients.  That is always the only place to begin, but it’s not the ending. Chef Samuelsson insists on perfect preparation. Perfection like that requires effort, diligence and refined technique. It’s a philosophy. Kaizen* is our mantra.  The result must be consistent achievement of the highest order. In New York, we regularly produced 500 covers in a single evening. Consistency over 500 covers was mind boggling when I first started, but became second nature, had to become second nature, to satisfy Chef’s standards. We might do 60 covers at Terre a Terre, but I require the same level of attention and respect for the customer and the craft.
        * Kaizen: a Japanese business philosophy of continuous improvement of working practices, personal efficiency, etc

        New Jersey wine at farm to table restaurantQ: How does Terre a Terre and the dining experience here, differ from Chef Samuelsson’s model?
        A: Here, I personally plate every dish. That’s not possible over 500 covers. Nothing leaves the kitchen that I haven’t seen, approved, touched and finished. I spend far more time and effort on presentation than can a Chef in a larger kitchen. I have a truly excellent Sous Chef and team. But with 60 covers, everything can be expected to meet my standards. Beyond the food itself, I have the opportunity every night to go into the dining room and greet and interact with my guests. Having been a waiter both before and after Culinary School, I love that opportunity to meet and often learn from my customers. The feedback I receive has often led to a modification in a dish or recipe. That’s priceless to me.

        Q: What does the future hold for Terre a Terre and for you?
        A: We are not even two years old. We are not yet busy every night. I am confident of our direction, in fact, I am in the process of extending my lease. Carlstadt is my home. The only change I am currently planning is for both Terre a Terre and myself to grow better, busier and more satisfied in this business.

         

         

        Wine Pairing: Lamb Moussaka with Unionville Vineyard's 2012 Pheasant Hill Vineyard Syrah

        

        I have been feeling restless lately, a little stuck. In pursuit of a little personal development, I have been pushing myself outside of my comfort zone.  

        Once I let go of my expectations, I no longer felt parameters around what I had to do and I began to have fun.

        I learned a new knitting stitch, attended yoga, and increased my running speed. I signed up for ballet classes again, and I cooked a dish I love but have always been intimidated to prepare.

        Learning a new recipe often also means learning a few new culinary or food science tricks and tips. For this recipe I learned:

        1. If you add egg to a Mornay sauce* it allows the sauce to set, making it more like a custard. The trick here is patience. Once cooked, the custard must cool and set before you dig in. Trust me, it is worth the wait. Adding lemon zest brightens the cream or cheese sauce, the acidity balancing the richness.
          *Mornay sauce is a variation on Bechamel, with shredded or grated cheese.
        2. I also re-learned something I thought I knew. Oh knowledge is a funny thing. I thought the purpose behind salting eggplant was to simply extract the bitter water. I don’t mind this taste, so I never bother with this step. The science behind this never actually occurred to me. The extraction of water allows the eggplant to relax, preventing it from soaking up as much oil during cooking.  

        Being a newbie, I let science overshadow my culinary gut instinct and underestimated the amount of oil still needed to cook thin slices of un-breaded eggplant and prevent it from sticking to the pan.  Sticking can be prevented by being watchful and flipping it, something I neglected to do as I tried to multi-task.

        This recipe may look a bit intense and have a fair amount of ingredients. I promise you it is worth the work and the wait. Break it down into it’s three components and it becomes manageable. This is a lesson I take out of the kitchen. By breaking down new tasks into smaller pieces, I am able to  focus one step at a time.

        This rich dish can really go a long way. I serve it over white rice and either invite family over or prepare this in two smaller casserole dishes and freeze one. I get my lamb from a local, trusted farm in Hopewell, NJ: Beechtree Farm. The Pheasant Hill Vineyard Syrah pairs well with lamb dishes such as this. Enjoy a glass with friends and family as you dig in to this delicious dish.

        In what ways do you enjoy pushing yourself? Are there certain hobbies that you enjoy learning more about? Share below.


        (Local) Lamb Moussaka

        total time: ~2 hours       yield: 6 - 8

        ingredients

        Moussaka

        • 4 tbsp olive oil
        • 3 medium or 2 large eggplant, sliced
        • 1 large onion, finely chopped
        • 4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
        • 1.5 tsp cinnamon
        • 1.5 tsp ground ginger
        • 1 tsp cayenne
        • ½ tsp cardamom
        • 1 tsp fresh oregano/marjoram
        • 1 tsp fresh thyme
        • 1.5 lbs minced lamb (I found some great lamb at a neighboring farm in Hopewell, Beechtree Farm.)
        • 1 tbsp tomato purée
        • 1 16oz can of tomato puree
        • ½ cup Unionville Vineyards Syrah
        • Small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, chopped

        For the Mornay:

        • 16 oz milk
        • ½ cup butter
        • ½ cup plain flour
        • ½ cup pecorino cheese, grated
        • ¼ cup feta cheese
        • the zest of 1 lemon
        • 2 eggs and 1 egg yolk, beaten
        • ½ tsp grated nutmeg

        directions

        1. Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Cut the eggplant into quarter inch slices. Layer flat on a cookie sheet, salt each layer. Wait 30 minutes.
        2. Meanwhile, if you are using lamb stew meat, cut the pieces bite sized. Then salt and pepper lamb and coat with ¼ of flour. Set aside.
        3. Rinse the eggplant and place in a colander to dry.  
        4. Put eggplant slices on a well oiled baking sheet. Brush with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Watch and flip slices as needed. Bake for about 20 minutes or until soft, golden and floppy.
        5. Meanwhile, put 2 tbsp olive oil into a large frying pan over a medium high heat. Cook the onion and garlic until browned and wilted. Cook the lamb. Add the cinnamon and cook for 2 minutes. Return the meat to the pan. Stir in the tomato and wine, bring to a simmer, then turn the heat down low and cook for 30–40 minutes until most of the liquid has evaporated. Season and stir in the parsley, oregano and thyme.
        6. Meanwhile, make the Mornay sauce. Melt the butter in another saucepan. Whisk the flour into the butter and cook for a couple of minutes, then gradually whisk in the hot milk. Cook until you have a thick sauce, then stir in the cheese until melted. The feta cheese may take a little longer to melt. Turn the heat down low, and whisk vigorously every few minutes. This will prevent the sauce from burning and speed up the melting.  
        7. Take the sauce off the heat and allow to cool slightly, then beat in the eggs, salt, pepper, lemon zest and and nutmeg to taste.
        8. Arrange a third of the eggplant in the base of an oven dish, and top with half the meat. Repeat these layers, then finish off with a layer of eggplant, and top with the sauce. Bake for about 45 minutes until well browned, and then leave to cool for 30 minutes before serving.
        9. Serve with quinoa tabbouleh and a glass of Unionville Vineyards Syrah.

        Enjoy!

                     Tweet: I know what I'm making for dinner http://ctt.ec/ae8el+ @unionvillewines
        February 03, 2015

        1 Comment

        Wine Talk ›


        Wine and Chocolate Pairings

        Selecting Chocolates for the Wine and Chocolate Trail Weekend

        The Unionville Vineyards team went to great lengths to find the perfect wine and chocolate pairings for the upcoming trail weekends. We even went so far as to try our hands at making chocolates, but don’t worry - we’ll serve truffles made by the professionals...and we’ll stick with growing grapes and making wine.

        New Jersey winery team makes chocolates for pairing

        We learned quickly that, as in winemaking, there are no shortcuts in chocolate-making. Try taking a shortcut and you end up covered in chocolate. I suppose there are worse things in life.

        We also learned that, like winemaking, chocolate-making is both science and art. There is the science behind tempering, a process in which specific crystal structures form and which produces shiny, snappable chocolates.

        Yet, there is also art. As we treat our grapes differently based on variety and vineyard, so do chocolatiers treat their chocolates differently depending on cocoa content and origin.

        Unionville Vineyards will be offering chocolates from Carol’s Creative Chocolatez for the Chocolate and Wine Trail weekends because Carol just gets it. She knows where her chocolate comes from. She also knows how to turn raw product into something absolutely exquisite, while still showcasing its origin.New Jersey artisan chocolates

        We had a tough time deciding on our chocolate and wine pairings. And we ate a little bit too much chocolate (you thought there was no such thing). We tried solid pieces and filled truffles, we paired with our red wines and our white wines (gasp!). We worked very hard to find the perfect pairings for the trail.

        We hope you’ll visit us and celebrate two loves: wine and chocolate. With each extended tasting, enjoy selected chocolate pairings. Tastings are $10 per person and include a selection of 8 wines. Unionville is located near several other New Jersey wineries participating in the trail weekends. For full information, please visit: http://www.newjerseywines.com/events/category/trail-weekends/

        Who will you bring on the 2015 Wine and Chocolate Trail?