Archive for March, 2009

Dinner at CulinAriane part 2 – Montclair, NJ

Posted in Food on TV, New Jersey Restaurants with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 31, 2009 by restaurantouring
Outside CulinAriane, looking in

Outside CulinAriane, looking in

[For a more recent account of the food at CulinAriane, in Montclair, NJ please click here.]

I first ate at CulinAriane back in mid-November (read about it here). I went after seeing chef Ariane Duarte talk about her small Montclair restaurant on Bravo TV’s Top Chef. A quick search on Google told me that I lived a mere 15 minutes away, so I figured I had to go. It was for science!

And what a science it was! Dinner that night was nothing short of terrific — one of the best meals I’ve ever had in a New Jersey restaurant. I still salivate at the thought of the mushroom and goat cheese polenta and shed tears of grief when I realize that it is no longer on the menu. That’s serious grief, folks — onions hardly make me cry anymore (but that’s probably because I use a really sharp knife to cut onions).

Dinner was even better because I had the pleasure of meeting Michael Duarte. A CIA graduate himself, he is Ariane’s husband, co-owner of the restaurant, and pastry chef for CulinAriane. But enough recap and reminiscing. On with the blog!

I went back there for dinner with my room mate, one of my best friends, for his birthday back in mid-January. Meant to blog about it way sooner, but never got around to it. Here’s what we had:

Amuse bouche

Amuse bouche

Dinner started with an amuse bouche of sun-dried tomato with parmesan breadcrumbs — one large, tender, flavorful bite.

Wine

Wine

Next, my roommate decided we should have a bottle of wine. CulinAriane is a BYO type of place and we unfortunately did not B our O. Luckily, they work with a local wine merchant, who delivers for free. We chose a 2006 Boisson-Vadot Meursault Chevaliers from France.

Crab cakes

Crab cakes

Oysters

Oysters

Next, came our appetizers: My roommate got the jumbo lump crab cake with citrus caper remoulade, which was very tender, sweet, flavorful, and full of large chunks of crab meat. The tangy citrus caper remoulade worked beautifully with the sweetness of the crab. I only wished there was a bit more greenery on the plate, but that’s only because I like having a nice salad with my crab cakes. My friend, however, would never agree with that because he is morally opposed to eating vegetables.

I ordered the cornmeal-crusted oysters, with micro greens and horseradish cream. My only complaint is that I wanted three more platters of them, which isn’t really a complaint, I suppose. These oysters were simple, had a great, clean flavor, and had just enough horseradish in the sauce to elevate the dish from boring to wham bam thank you ma’am.

Rabbit Ragout with Gnocchi

Rabbit Ragout with Gnocchi

Ariane was then nice enough to give us this additional complimentary appetizer: a braised rabbit ragout, served with toasted gnocchi and shaved parmesan. The gnocchi were large, but nice and tender, flavorful, and offered a nice counterpoint to the gelatinous, unctuous, delicious braised rabbit.

Pekin duck breast

Pekin duck breast

Skate

Skate

We moved onto our entrees next: my friend got the Pekin duck breast with sweet potatoes, hash of duck confit and black garlic, duck jus, and fig balsamic drizzle. I ordered one of the specials of the night — a pan-seared skate wing with fried capers, new potatoes, and red chillis. This dish was very similar to the skate dish that Ariane made on Top Chef, and this was very well balanced in terms of buttery goodness, the sweetness of the fish, the heat from the chillis, and the acidity from the citrus.

Artisanal cheese plate

Artisanal cheese plate

Lemon Meringue Martini

Lemon Meringue Martini

Finally, we got our desserts: My roommate ordered a cup of Earl Grey and the artisanal cheese platter, while I had already decided that I would try the lemon meringue martini that caused Ariane so much grief on the show, early in the season.

The cheese plate came with toast and water crackers, with a candle stuck in what appeared to be cranberry sauce (because it was his birthday). The first cheese was a Sparkenhoe Red Leicester — a hard cow’s milk cheese. Next was the Prima Caciotta, a semi-hard cow’s milk cheese. Finally, there was the Humboldt Fog — a soft goat’s milk cheese.

I eagerly dug into the lemon meringue martini, with the cherry surprise and vanilla wafer on the bottom. Ironically (though, if you know me, not surprisingly), it was too sweet for me, but I’m not sure if that’s because of the fact that I dislike sweets or because it was actually too sweet. The birthday boy thought it was fine, so I defer to his judgment.

There you have it. Another meal at CulinAriane. I was supposed to eat there again (for my birthday this time) this past Saturday, but I had to cancel at the last minute. I rescheduled the reservation for this Thursday night, so I will let you know how things turn out!

Until next time, eat well and be happy!

– Conway

CulinAriane restaurant is located at 33 Walnut Street, Montclair, NJ 07042
Phone: 973-744-0533
Fax: 973-744-0733
Hours: Wed – Sat, 5:30 – 10:00
Reservations are highly suggested.

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Natasha Richardson Dies from Ski Accident

Posted in Food in the news with tags , , , , on March 19, 2009 by restaurantouring

Hi everyone,

Those of us who saw the Christmas episode (episode 6) of Top Chef  New York (season 5) may remember seeing the lovely Ms. Natasha Richardson on the show as host and representative of amfAR (the American Foundation for Aids Research).  If you’ve been keeping up with the news, Natasha was in a ski accident on Monday (March 16, 2009).  Tragically, she passed away yesterday at the young age of 45.  For more details, please read this article and keep her and her family in your thoughts and prayers.  Thank you.

Mournfully yours,

Conway

Creole Gumbo

Posted in Home cooking and more with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 11, 2009 by restaurantouring
Creole Gumbo

Creole Gumbo

The word “gumbo” comes from the African word for okra, kingombo, and in New Orleans, there’s no doubt that a cup of gumbo is king. Bad puns aside, here’s a recipe for some creole gumbo. Happy Mardi Gras, everyone:

Ingredients:

– 4 tbl butter

– 1 lb. smoked andouille sausage, sliced

– 1/2 cup of flour

– the trinity: ½ onion, chopped, 1 bell pepper, chopped, 2 stalks celery, chopped

– okra, sliced

– 2 medium tomatoes, chopped

– 4 cups, beef or chicken stock

– 4 cups, fish or shrimp broth

– 1 bay leaf

– ½ tsp. thyme

– salt and pepper

– hot sauce (optional)

– 12 to 18 shrimp

– 6 to 12 oysters, mussels, or clams

– 12 crawfish or 3 split crabs

– cooked long grain rice

– chopped parsley, to garnish

Directions:

Melt the butter in a large dutch oven or heavy pot. Sauté the andouille to render out some of the fat. Strain and reserve. Sauté the okra to prevent sliminess. Strain and reserve. Add flour to the fat to make a roux, adding more butter or oil as needed. Gently cook roux until it darkens to the color of chocolate. Add onions and cook until onions caramelize. Stir constantly to make sure nothing burns. Add the rest of the veggies and tomato and cook until soft. Pour in the stock with the okra, sausage, bay leaf, and thyme. Lightly season the gumbo with salt and pepper (the flavors and salt will concentrate after simmering for an hour to two hours). Add the seafood last, to ensure that it does not overcook – clams, oysters, or mussels first, followed by the crabs split in half, and finally, the shrimp). Divide soup into 6 bowls, making sure that every bowl gets a little bit of everything. Top with a mound of rice, and sprinkle with some of the chopped parsley. Serve very hot, with or without hot sauce.

Notes:

– Whenever you’re working with bivalves like clams and mussels, you want to be sure to use fresh product.  Also, be sure to soak them in several changes of cold water so that they won’t be too gritty or sandy.  Scrub the outsides of clams with a brush under cold running water.  Remove the beards of the mussels with a needle nosed plier.

– Be careful with the clams, since clams will add saltiness to the gumbo over time.  A perfectly seasoned gumbo may end up being far too salty the next day.  To help remedy this, remove the shells before storing your gumbo overnight.

– You may find that the gumbo is not thick enough to your liking.  You can remedy this in a number of ways.  You can add less liquid (remember that the seafood will give up some liquid, too.  This can thin out the gumbo), make a larger batch of roux, or fortify the gumbo with additional roux after you’ve simmered it for a while.  Okra helps.  File powder (ground, dried sassafras leaves, used as a thickener and flavoring agent in Cajun style gumbos) works too.  I’d stick with roux and okra for this version of gumbo, though — I think it’s more authentically Creole.