Saturday, December 17, 2011

Coltello Ristorante Italiano - Crosswicks, NJ

For the second year in a row, I have held my holiday party at Coltello Ristorante Italiano in Crosswicks, NJ, and based on tonight's performance, you bet we'll try to book Coltello again next year!

We had a party of 42 tonight, and Chef Dominic and the Coltello staff had us. set up at one HUGE table down the left hand side of the restaurant.  The setup was perfect, with 2 large round tables at either end, and rectangular tables joining the two down the middle.  The festivities started with the Commander making some a few statements, and then we were on our way to yet another one of Chef Dominic's incredible meals.

The first course of the evening was a Spedini alla Romana, a thin, pan fried mozzarella that is breaded, with an anchovy and caper sauce served family style.  Everyone LOVES fried mozz, and this was a great way to set the tone for tonight's meal.  The mozz was fresh, and fried to a crispy golden brown, and the anchovy sauce paired with the capers gave it some great flavor.  Everyone ranted and raved about this, and I am guessing that half of our people wouldn't have touched it had they known it was an anchovy sauce!  But what they don't know, won't kill them!  ;-)

The second course was a flatbread, topped with an aged cheddar cheese, prosciutto, and a sunny side up egg.  The flatbread itself had the perfect texture, with a nice crunch on the outside, with a soft chewy center.   I'm not sure if Chef Dominic makes the bread in house, but it sure tastes homemade!  The cheddar had great flavors, and the prosciutto was perfect...not too salty, and not bland at all.  This is the kind of prosciutto that I could snack on all day long.  I was a bit worried that people may not understand the sunny side up egg, but I found it to be an awesome element, and innovative.  The ones that didn't understand why the egg was on here just don't get it, but what a genius take this was for Chef Dom to come up with this.  This was absolutely awesome!

Needless to say, the appetizer plates were clean and crumb less, and and there was no shortage in portions.  Chef Dominic sent out a lot of food, and for the price what we paid for this party, I could not be any happier.  You just cannot get the quality of food at the price as we are tonight.

Next course was the salad course, with a fancy green salad of mixed greens and a house made balsamic vinaigrette. Again, served family style, and a huge helping of salad for the entire table.

From here, we went onto the pasta course, and Chef Dominic did not skimp once again, and pulled out all the stops.  I was actually walking around making sure all our personnel were enjoying themselves, and if it wasn't for the Commander filling my plate, I would have missed out as these giant bowls went fast.  This was a Rigatoni Carbonara, with pancetta and caramelized shallots with a Parmesan cream sauce that was to die for.  Again, delicious, and again, there were no leftovers here anywhere on the table.

For entrees tonight, Chef Dominic came up with 4 choices for us.  The first, and the entree that I could not pass up was a marinated flank steak with a jalapeno chimichurri sauce with grilled fingerling potatoes.  All I have to say about this is AWESOME!  The steak was cooked to a perfect medium rare/medium, and was juicy and tender.

This was so good in fact that many of us in the office were craving it the following morning, stating how good it would be with some eggs for breakfast.  This was perfectly seasoned, and the chimichurri added such great flavors, but this would have been good on it's own.  This is definitely an entree that I will order again, and I hope that Chef Dominic decides to leave this on the menu as it is such a great entree.

Some of the other entree selections tonight included a salmon dish with roasted corns and scallions.  I was actually hoping to get a bite of this from someone, but unfortunately, there was nobody near me who ordered it, and when I did finally make my way around there restaurant, there wasn't any left to be found.  From one person I talked to that had it, they said it was one of their favorite salmon preparations ever, and that the salmon was fresh and cooked perfectly.

We also had the option of a chicken marsala, with wild mushrooms, and a marsala wine demi-glace.  This is a staple in any Italian restaurant, and Chef Dominic does it right.   Again, everyone who had this enjoyed it, and enjoyed the freshness of the mushrooms, and the flavors in the sauce.

Finally, Chef Dominic also prepared a pork tenderloin, with wild mushrooms and a truffled demi-glace.  Again, the pork was flavorful and juicy, and once again, the plates were clean!

By this point of the evening, the rest of the restaurant had been turned over, and all the tables had been reset and filled.  In talking with my Squadron, everyone had been having an enjoyable evening, and there wasn't an empty stomach in the house.  The food was absolutely amazing, and everyone could not have been any happier...and many said that they will be back often.

I also brought plenty of wines to be shared with the table, and some of the selections went over very well.  Some wines to note that were enjoyed by many included a 2007 Stefania Haut Tubee, 2009 Congruence Zinfandel, 2009 Stefania Chardonnay Chaine D'Or, 2007 Curran Grenache Blanc, and a 2005 Stefania Uvas Creek cabernet sauvignon.  All of these showed very well, and even the non-wine drinkers enjoyed them.  That being said, how can you not absolutely LOVE the fact that Coltello Ristorante is BYOB friendly?

From here, HUGE helpings of cannoli's were brought out to the tables, along with coffee.  The shells of he cannoli's were crunchy, and the filling was sweet and creamy and delicious.  Though already stuffed, I forced myself to eat one, and it hit the spot.  It actually drank really nicely also with the zinfandel, so I was a happy camper.

At the end of the evening, I have no doubt in my mind that we threw the best holiday party within the Wing, and we were truly blessed to break bread with our Air Force family tonight.  Our squadron was lucky enough to be joined with our Wing Commander and Command Chief, and all had a great time.  People ranted and raved about the menu, the atmosphere, decor, etc.  We couldn't be happier, and we hope to have Chef Dominic and the crew at Coltello Ristorante host us again.

I have said it before, and I will say it again.  Coltello is hands down the best Italian restaurant in this part of New Jersey, and when I need a go to Italian restaurant, Coltello is the place!

On behalf of our entire Squadron, we cannot thank Chef Dominic, the entire staff at Coltello, and the Conti family for all of the support they show for the United States Air Force.  For what we paid per head for tonight's dinner, there is absolutely no way any restaurant could match the quality of cuisine that we had tonight, and we are all truly grateful!  Thanks a million for your support Coltello Ristorante, and we look forward to spending many more holidays with you!  Thank you for being such good friends, and know that your generosity is second to none!  Cheers!

Coltello Ristorante Italiano
460 Main Street
Crosswicks, NJ  08515
Phone:  (609)298-6128

Photos compliments of:
| r media photography and design | | rashad pleasant | phone:  202-642-6642 |



Saturday, December 3, 2011

Top 10 North American Wines

Though this is not my Top 10 list for 2011, I wanted to talk about my Top 10 Wines from the United States.  These wines are wines that I buy year in, year out, and with the current economy, I am not buying much at all.  That being said, here are the producers who's wines and mailing lists I will stay on.

I will however note though, that due to the staggering of releases now, there are 2 of these wines that I now buy locally, so I can pick them up when I have the funds, versus buying them off the mailer.  As much as I would rather buy winery direct, sometimes, I just cannot afford to do so with other mailing lists coming at the same time.

Here are my Top 10 Mailing Lists that I will continue to purchase from so long as funds are there:

Curran:  Let me say that Kris and Bruno are absolute gems, and they have some of the best sales ever!  I mainly buy their white wines, and these are usually our wines of summer.  This past year, they ran a great deal with $11 bottles of their Grenache Blanc, Gewurztraminer, and Rose.  This could not be passed up!  I will also note that Bruno's pinot noir is a house favorite as well! 

Rivers-Marie:  Is there really anything else that needs to be said about Thomas Rivers Brown?  Definitely one of my favorite winemakers the last 5 years plus, and I buy all the pinot noir and Cabernet sauvignon that I am offered.  From his $25 Sonoma Coast pinot noir to his $75 Cabernet(s), they are all winners in my book!  This is my number 2 producer by volume in my cellar.

Kosta Browne:  Here is a winery that I have been buying from since the 2004 vintage, and when I am in the mood for a high throttle, new world, fruit forward pinot noir, this is where I turn!  Sure, sometimes I have to be in the mood for this styled wine, but when I am, these hit my sweet spot, and I absolutely love them.  I cannot however deny the fact that I was quite surprised when Wine Spectator named their 2009 Sonoma Coast pinot noir their wine of the year.  Congrats to Dan an Michael for their outstanding accomplishments with this winery.

Stefania Wines:  Hands down the number one producer in my cellar.  If you have had a glass of wine at my house, you have drank something from Stefania.  In my opinion, these wines are a great representation of the Santa Cruz Mountain Region of California.  Their cabs are my favorites in the lineup, but the syrah, pinot noir, and "Haut Tubee" blend are nothing to bat an eye at as these are also delicious.  They have also released 2 vintages of chardonnay now, which have both been outstanding.  If you haven't heard of them, I highly recommend them, and I still think that their cabs are worth twice the price.  Tell them I sent you!

Lillian:  I know, I am always talking about Lillian and Maggie Harrison, but what can I say?  In my opinion, this is still the baby brother to Sine Qua Non, and you can just taste the Manfred influence in these wines.  They are big, they are bold, and they are delicious.  Hands down one of my favorite domestic syrah.

Unfortunately, do to budgeting constraints, I no longer purchase these winery direct, but I do however pick up 3-6 bottles per vintage from Grand Cru Wine Merchants in Lake Forest, IL.  Craig is a great guy, and I like throwing some business his way.  He can usually get me a few bottles of the coveted Blue Label as well.

Congruence:  Now here is a wine you will probably never see in a store, and it is such a shame.  This is actually a Crushpad project, but winemaker Steve Eisenhauer definitely has his hand in these heavy, spending numerous hours working on blends, etc.  For me, his Cabernet is the shining star in the lineup, and Steve and I must have very similar palates, as these are made in a style that I love!  But you can also not forget about his zinfandel!  This is not your typical jammy, over extracted, high alcohol zin.  It is however balanced and smooth, and worth the $30 price tag.  Check out this winery, and I think you will enjoy it!

Bedrock:  Morgan Twain-Peterson is another innovator in my opinion, making great wines.  I absolutely LOVE his rose, which to me is made in a Provence style (though many will disagree).  It's OK though, the rest of us "understand it!"  But let's not forget Morgan's syrah, zinfandel, pinot noir, and sauvignon blanc, as these are also delicious.  And yes, he makes some great white blends, a Cabernet, and Chardonnay from one of my favorite vineyards, Brosseau.  Check out his wines, and you will not be disappointed!

Antica Terra:  I know, Maggie Harrison again!  And no, it is not the fact that Maggie and I grew up in the same hometown, it is the fact that she found a gorgeous property, worthy of growing amazing fruit, in the hands of an amazing winemaker.  Antica Terra is hands down my favorite Oregon pinot noir producer, with a few wineries quite a few strides behind.  Sure, you know how much I love my Thomas pinot noir, but these are a class above in my opinion.  From the rose, to the Botanica, to the regular bottling, there isn't one that we haven't enjoyed.  And for the record, the '06's are really coming into their stride right now!  This is also another wine that I pick up annually now from Craig at Grand Cru Wine Merchants.  I also have a few of these stashed in my parents cellar in Barrington, IL for when I go home to visit.

Fiddlehead Cellars:  One of my favorite producers in the Santa Rita Hill of California, Kathy Joseph is making some great wines.  From her sauvignon blanc to her rose to her pinot noir, these are always appealing to me.  I will admit that I really love her pinot with 5-7 years at least on them, but when they hit that time, they are wonderful, floral, and elegant.  But don't get me wrong, these wines open up nicely even in their youth with an hour plus of air in the glass or decanter.  Her sauvignon blanc is crisp and refreshing, and again, a great summer sipper.

Match Vineyards
:  Last but not least, I have to mention Match Vineyards.  Randy Sloan at Match only makes 2 wines, both single vineyard bottlings from Butterdragon Hill (St. Helena) and Baconbrook (Spring Mountain).  Easily 2 of my favorite AVA's, and these wines are again made in a style that I love.  Nothing over the top about them, nothing in your face about them.  They are not over-oaked, over-extracted, or over done.  These are just classic Cabernet, and a pleasure to drink!  Check these out too!

So that being said, that is my current Top 10 for affordable wines, that I can still consider (for now) daily drinkers, or at least wines that I wouldn't be afraid to open for friends.  Most of these wines are accessible, though some of the mailing lists may not have wait lists.  In the current economy however, more and more mailing lists are opening up, so it could never hurt to sign up.

So now that I have mentioned my Top 10, let's hear yours!  Also, stay tuned for my next installment to include:  Top 10 California Cabernet, Top 10 California Cult Wines, Top 10 Bordeaux, Top 10 Whites, and my Top 10 of 2011, which should be unveiled on New Years Day!  Cheers!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Avenue Restaurant - Long Branch, NJ

Night 2 with my buddy John from Chicago, and tonight he wanted to stay local in Long Branch to I took a cruise out to see what kind of dinner we could get ourselves in to.

We ended up walking over to Avenue, just a short walk down the boardwalk from his hotel.  And I have to admit, though I used to work just minutes from Long Branch when stationed at Fort Monmouth, I have never actually stopped in this town.  I am happy I did though.

Avenue is located in Pier Village, which is a gorgeous area.  The restaurant itself looks gorgeous, with a lot of windows, right on the shore, and it is open and airy.  Places like this however always have me skeptical as being tourist traps, with high prices, and mediocre food.  Unfortunately, this kind of fit the bill here tonight, but I will say that the wine list is worth mentioning, at least for high end bottles.

Are high end wines worth the price off of a restaurant wine list?  If you can afford it, sure!  But God knows that I can not, but I am sure many in this area can.  Regardless, the offerings ranged from Trimbach "Clos Sainte Hune" Riesling to Chevalier-Montrachet (2007 I think) on the white wine side, to Chateau Petrus (I forget what vintage but it was an off vintage at $1500) to an '82 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild ($4200).  They also had a few other first growths, but again, when you have these wines in your cellar, why pay restaurant pricing for them?  I am not that deep pocked unfortunately.

Even so, I had a decent Cotes du Rhone at $9 pre dinner, and then a decent glass of Burgundy with dinner.  Neither were mind blowing by any means, but what do you want for the price?  I've said it before, and will say again that I have spoiled myself for far too long with such great access to BYO's in New Jersey!

We skipped appetizers and went straight to the entrees tonight.  John ordered the Sea Bass, and this was served over almost a soup or broth of sorts, with what looked like Bok Choy, mushrooms, and other vegetables.  This also looked like it was garnished with an oil of some sort, but I don't know what it was.  He said it was OK, but he wouldn't order it again.

For me, there were many options that I considered.  I really wanted to try their take on Boeuf Borguignon, but I figured it would be disappointing, so instead I opted for the Braised Shortrib Lollipop.  Sure, it was big, but it was actually a bit fatty and tough, almost as though it was undercooked.  Perhaps cooking this longer would have melted some of the fat, but I don't know.  The flavors were OK, though it was a bit dry, and a bit bland.  For me, the highlight of the dish was the celery puree that was served on the side.  There was also a green of some sort, possibly collared greens or kale, but they were over cooked and extremely soggy.

Overall, the food was boring and bland, but the service was friendly.  This restaurant is overpriced in my opinion, but even so, it's not a bad place to stop for a drink.  I am guessing this place is packed in the summer time.  If I go back, it will just be for drinks, or maybe an appetizer at the bar.  Nothing to write home about.  Cheers!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

20 Manning - Philadelphia, PA

When my good friend John from Chicago said that he was going to be in Philly tonight, and heading to 20 Manning Grill for dinner, I couldn't resist not meeting up with him.  First, he is an old pal, and second, I have heard great things about 20 Manning Grill.

That said, I arrived around 9PM and loved the vibe of this restaurant.  I ordered a glass of Bila Haut - Grenache Blanc from Languedoc, FranceI absolutely LOVE Grenache Blanc, but I will say that at $12 this didn't do a whole lot for me. 

By the time I finished my glass, John had arrived around 10PM, and we sat for dinner.  I was absolutely starving, and we both ended up ordering the Steak Frites.

Before our dinner arrived I ordered a glass of cabernet off the wine list, and it was a Trefethan from the Napa Valley.  This showed a lot better than the French Grenache Blanc, with typical Napa Valley nuances, and paired pefectly with the steak frites.

The steak frites was a thin sliced 14 ounce rib eye, and they listed the name of the farm it came from on the menu.  Unfortunately, I don't remember the name of the farm, but at $25, this was a nice piece of meat, cooked to a perfect medium, and served over a bed of fries.  The fries were golden and crispy, and worked just fine for what I was looking for.  There was also a side of aus jus, but to be honest with ya, I didn't even taste it, and put it off to the side as the rib eye was delicious and flavorful.

Overall, I LOVE the vibe and 20 Manning, and if you happen to be hungry and wandering Rittenhouse Square, I highly recommend it!  It's also a great place to grab a late dinner just in case you get hungry.  The kitchen stay open until 11PM.  Check it out!  Cheers!

20 Manning Grill
261 S 20th St
Philadelphia, PA  19103
Phone:  (215) 731-0900

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Chef Luis - New Canaan, CT

Today I took a drive to New Canaan, CT to halve lunch with an old friend from my pre USAF days, and we met at a new restaurant called Chef Luis. And what are the odds that the NY Times just did an article on Chef Luis that can be found HERE.

I arrived to New Canaan around 11:45, found the restaurant, and had no problem finding parking right across the street from the restaurant. With 15 minutes to kill, I took a walk down Elm Street, and I have to say that New Canaan is an absolutely charming town. The downtown reminds me a bit of Princeton, yet also reminds me a bit of Westfield, NJ. There were people out walking, the stores were buzzing, and the overall buzz around town was joyful. I could also make the assumption that most of the women in this town do not work, and spend their days around town shopping, dining with the girls, etc. Not a bad thing in the least, and from the looks of the shopping bags I saw in their hands, you would never know that we are in a recession. Not in New Canaan at least. <image borrowed>
I headed back to Chef Luis and met my old friend, and we were greeted by the friendly staff and sat at a great table outside. How many sunny and 70 degree days do you have in Connecticut on the 9th of November? I am guessing not many, so we took full advantage of it. At this point, it was just after Noon, and there were about 8 tables sat. Not a bad lunch crowdto say the least! <Image borrowed>

I looked at the wine list and was absolutely shocked to see one of my favorite pinot noir from Oregon on the menu, Antica Terra. Many of you have read my reviews of Antica Terra, and know my love for this wine. Winemaker Maggie Harrison grew up in my hometown, Barrington, IL, and she was then the assistant winemaker for one of my favorite wineries, Sine Qua Non. Needless to say, I love both of their wines, and it was nice to see on the menu. They even had the Botanica bottling! We ended up however ordering a 2006 Brunello that was opening up nicely, although very young.  If I had my way, I would have ordered the Antica Terra, but I wanted to keep Donnie happy!  ;-)

Chef Luis came over at this point and introduced himself, and I have to tell you, what a great guy! He gave us rockstar treatment from the get go, and was just a joy to talk to. Having a personality like this working the room at lunch time is genius! And it also goes to show that he has a great staff working in the kitchen that he can trust! In talking with Chef Luis, I had to mention the fact that I loved that he had Antica Terra's wines on his menu, and he told me that one of the partners at Antica Terra is also an investor in Chef Luis. What are the odds? Such a small world.

For appetizers, we started with the Calamares. Let me tell ya, this isn't your old school calamari, all breaded and deep fried so that all you taste is crunchy breading and grease. These are barely breaded, and if anything, very lightly dusted in flour perhaps and flash fried. These are then tossed in a tomato concasse with hot peppers and chorizo. The smoke from the chorizo adds an incredible element and flavor, and who would have thought this would work well? It most certainly does, and this has got to be a staple here at Chef Luis! What a great treat!

The next appetizer was the Quesadilla with shrimp and fresh Maine lobster. I don't even know that this was on the menu, but the flavors were succulent. Chef Luis said that he uses a blend of 4 cheese, and unfortunately, I didn't ask what they were, but they were very rich. The shrimp were cooked perfectly and tender, and what is there to say about some nice lobster from our good friends up in Maine. Sure, it's a quesadilla, but this isn't a quesadilla your kids would ask for. This has adult written all over it. Served on the side was some house made pico de gallo, along with guacamole, and these both screamed fresh! Great stuff!

Chef Luis came back to see how everything was, and we told him that it was fabulous! At this point, he told us we needed a big, juicy, cabernet sauvignon to have with our lunch entrée, and brought over a 2007 Signorello Cabernet Sauvignon Estate - Napa Valley. This was very nice, yet very young! As for the wine, here is my note from CellarTracker:
Popped and poured at Chef Luis in New Canaan, CT with a pal for lunch. Upon first opening, this was a bit tight. Nice nose of currants and cassis, with a bit of cigar box and spice. Some dark black fruits, mocha, and plum round out the nose. First pour the palate was tight but opened up nicely over the course of 2 hours or so.

The palate shows nice black cherry and plum, and didn't show any over the top jammy fruit forward ness. Don't get me wrong, I love fruit forward '07 cabs, but this is not an example of that. Even so, this is well made and well structured. Nice tannic element without being sweet and chewy, though the finish was a bit short. You can tell this is a blend, and the merlot and cab franc add some nice structure. I actually thought there may have been some petite verdot in there, but not the case.

By the end of the bottle, the tannins had softened, and this drank nicely. We actually finished the bottle at the bar alongside sportscaster Jim Nantz. What a great guy. Overall, a nice, well made cab at a good price point. This will only get better with time, and easily has a decade ahead of it if not 2. Cheers, 92 points.

And yes, this wine worked with our steak, which at this point, I was already full! But out came the Churrasco, and this is what it's all about! This is a grilled CAB skirt steak marinated and served with a rice pilaf with black beans, as well as a green salad. The steak was topped with a house made chimmichuri, and the flavors in the chimichurri were very nice, adding a nice element on top of the steak...nit that it needed it! The steak itself was cooked to a perfect medium, and was very tender. When cut across the grain, there was nothing tough about the steak, and the juices oozing out of the steak screamed deliciousness. You can also tell that the grill at Chef Luis is nicely seasoned, and had great flavors!

By this point, we are completely stuffed, with half a bottle of wine left, but there is no rush at all to get us out of here. It's after 2PM now, and the restaurant at packed! At 2PM? On a Wednesday? I think there were 2 tables not occupied in the entire restaurant, and that is a beautiful thing! Business has got to be good. Maybe it was the recent NY Times article?  Doubtful! I think it's because of the food and reputation.

Chef Luis came over and told us he wanted to introduce us to someone at the bar. We look over, and there is sportscaster Jim Nantz, hanging out at the bar with his executive assistant. I gotta say, the man could not have been any nicer, and we got to hang out and chat with him while we finished our cabernet.

At this point, out comes dessert, which we did not order by the way, but who could resist? This was a banana cheesecake, rolled in a fillo dough, and deep fried, served with a berry sorbert of sorts and fresh mint. Holy good Lord in heaven this was genius, and absolutely delicious! Who in their right mind doesn't absolutely love something like this? The flavors obviously worked well, and this had a delicious creamy and rich complexity.
Again, Chef Luis shows some innovation here, and this is just a great idea, and a delicious dessert! That said, next trip I will be sure to save some room so I can have this again!

Unfortunately, I am running a bit short on time today, and I have so many other great things to talk about here. A 3 hour drive to this place for lunch and well worth it! That said, I will get back to this entry as soon as I can. In the meantime, if you are in the area, check out Chef Luis at the address below! This place is up and coming, and could someday become a household name! Cheers! -F. Scott

Chef Luis
129 Elm Street
New Canaan, CT 06840
Phone: 203-972-5847
Fax: (203) 972-2444

Friday, September 16, 2011

Coltello Ristorante Italiano - Crosswicks, NJ

Tonight Zelda and I headed out with People Papers pioneers Bill & Marilee, and headed back to one of the best Italian restaurants in New Jersey, Coltello Italiano located in Crosswicks. 

For whatever reason, we haven't made it back to Coltello in the last 8 months, so tonight was a great night to do so.  And yes, that is Chef Mario Batali in the picture with Chef Dominic.  And let me tell ya, if it is good enough for Mario Batali, it's good enough for us!  But we know that long before "Molto Mario" showed up there!  ;-)

We have frequented Coltello quite a few times, and have always enjoyed the food and the service.  So much in fact that last year we hosted my holiday party there, with about 50 guests in attendance, and our group is begging to return!  That being said, we have already booked our December party for Coltello once again this year!

Tonight we were greeted and seated at a nice round table in the back right hand corner of the restaurant, and had plenty of room.  Coltello is BYOB, so our wine selection tonight included a 2006 Antica Terra pinot noir, as well as a 2008 Stefania Cabernet Sauvignon Santa Cruz Mountain, and a 2008 Stefania Cabernet Sauvignon Crimson Clover Vineyard.  Both of the cabs were decanted for 4 hours in the cellar prior to dinner.  Though they are young wines, they are very open for business with a nice decant, and all showed nicely.

Our server tonight was great as she came over and greeted us, and let us know that there were no special tonight as Chef Dominic was launching his new menu this evening.  Even so, the menu has plenty to offer, so who needs specials tonight anyway?  We certainly didn't, and with the care that Chef Dominic puts into each and every one of his dishes, they are all special.
We popped and poured the 2006 Antica Terra pinot noir as we ordered appetizers.  Our starters tonight included the Pane, which is actually no longer on the menu, but this is a delicious, fresh baked stuffed bread with fresh mozzarella, fresh garlic, and topped with caramelized onions.  I am so glad that they could do this as this is a Coltello staple in my mind, and absolutely delicious!  The bread had a nice crust, and the mozz, onion, and garlic were delectable.  Until you have had this, you just might never understand!

Our second appetizer tonight was the Pork and Figs, and what a perfect combination this was.  These were pork medallions and figs cooked nicely with a hazelnut glaze.  The pork was tender and delicious, and the glaze was sweet and savory.  This was one of those dishes that I could eat anytime!  I could probably even eat it for dessert!  It was fabulous.

Finally, we had the Seafood Trio, consisting of a butter poached lobster tail, Colossal lump crab meat, and jumbo shrimp!  I had some of each element of this dish, and if I had to pick a favorite, I would have to go with the crab!  I buy lump crab meat often, but more often than not it is pasteurized.  In all honesty, I have no idea if this was pasteurized or not, but if it was, I would never be able to tell.  The pieces were huge, and had just a slight mustard (?) sauce on them that was awesome!  The flavors were fresh, and it was the best crab meat I have had here in New Jersey.

The lobster was also nice and tender, and shouldn't be over shadowed by the crab meat.  The flavors were nice and simple, and it was just downright good.  But how can you not love lobster?  The shrimp were also fresh and flavorful, and this was just a great way to start a meal tonight.

Soups and salad followed, and as usual I ordered the salad with the house dressing.  The greens are always fresh, and the homemade dressing is always tasty.  This is always a winner, and a nice pre-dinner treat.

The entrees around the table varied tonight, but I can tell you that not a single one of us left anything on our plates, and everything was awesome!  Marilee ordered the pork chop, which wasn't on the menu tonight, but she had Chef Dominic do it up in a Cajun style with Cajun spices and it looked awesome!   She very much enjoyed it, and I am sure that I would have as well.  Bill had the Veal Carcofi (I think), with artichoke, tomato, mushrooms, lump crab, in a lemon white wine sauce.  I too thought about ordering this, and it too looked great!  I am sure that Bill enjoyed this as well.

Zelda ordered the house made gnocchi tonight, in a basil pesto, plum tomato, and whipped ricotta sauce.  If there is a gnocchi connoisseur, Zelda is definitely that person.  She truly enjoyed these, and from the taste that I heard, they were very flavorful.  The sauce was nice and fresh, and the homemade gnocchi were great.  We both liked the gnocchi so much that it has actually inspired us to make our own at home, which is something that I have never done.  I've made enough homemade pasta to stretch from Princeton to Hollywood, but we've never done gnocchi.

Zelda also had a side of creamed spinach, and even me, who is not a spinach fan LOVED this.  The spinach was cooked perfectly, and the cream based sauce was rich and flavorful.  If I could figure out how to make this, I would eat it constantly, and this is something that I would love to have the recipe for.  I guess I will have to do some searches and look for recipes!

I went the filet Mignon route as this would pair perfectly with the big, juicy, Santa Cruz Mountain cabernet, and I was indeed correct.  This was the 10 ounce filet served with a parsnip puree, fresh spring vegetables, and a citrus gremolata.  The last few years, I have been saying that Tastebuds in New Hope just might have the best steak in the area, however, I think that this may just take the cake.  The mean was tender, perfectly cooked and seasoned, and extremely delicious!  I can definitely say that Chef Dominic is acquiring good beef, and I would go back for this in a heartbeat.

At this point of the evening, nobody had room for desserts, but how could we come here and not order something?  Bill and Marilee both ordered chocolate based desserts.  Bill had an Oreo dessert of sort, and I think that Marilee had a mousse of sorts.  I forget what they were exactly, but I had a taste from both, and there we very rich, and definitely tasty!

I ordered the Italian custard, and I can't remember what it was called, but it was rich, fluffy, and elegant.  This screamed homemade, and is probably my favorite dessert so far this year.  This alone would be worth going back for, and just the kind of thing that I love as I am more into something like this than something with a lot of chocolate in it...unless of course I am craving chocolate.

Overall, it was a great evening at Coltello.  From the amazing dishes coming out of the kitchen, to the awesome service, to the well done, cozy decor, it was an evening to remember.  The restaurant is just done with such coziness and class, it makes it the kind of place where you could sit for hours.  The vibe in the restaurant is alive with joy, and you could see nothing but smiles and happiness as the customers enjoyed their dinners!

Hopeully we can get back before our holiday party in December, but if not, we will definitely enjoy our holiday event there.  Kudos to Chef Dominic and the Coltello team for one of the best dinners of the year!  If you are anywhere in the area, I highly recommend calling ahead and making a reservation!  You'll be glad you did!  Cheers!

Coltello Ristorante Italiano
460 Main St
Crosswicks, NJ 08515

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Otto Enoteca Pizzeria - New York City

It has been quite a few trips to the city since we have ventured over to Chelsea, so today was the perfect day to make a visit to Mario Batali's Otto
Enoteca. Today, as expected, the restaurant was pretty dead, and we walked in only to see 6 or 7 other tables seated, but it was also 3PM in the afternoon as well.

For whatever reason we were seated in the back of the restaurant all to ourselves with the exception of 1 other table next to us. What I really love about Otto is the fact that the entire menu is just one page, while the wine list is the 3 pages following the menu, in small print. LOL! You have to love it, and Mario has picked out some stellar Italian wines at good prices.

We started with cocktails and wine. Zelda ordered something called The Ruiz that was extremely floral and a bit offensive in my book, while I ordered a Pio Cesare Barbaresco that was young, but drinking very nicely as the bottle opened.

For appetizers this afternoon, we went the 5 cheese route as we always do,
and they were all delicious. We had a nice selection of Parmigiano Reggiano, Provolone Mandorone, Fontina, Percorini di Fossa, and a Taleggio.

These went nicely with the fresh bread, and the breadsticks that they brought to the table. They also brought out a peach or mango in a chili sauce of sort that was interesting, some cherries, and a delicious truffled honey that was awesome.

On the pie front, I think we ordered the same pizza's as the last time we were here. Zelda went the Margherita D.O.P. route with tomato, bufala mozzarella, and basil, and as always, this was great. I really liked the sauce on this pie, as well as the cheese. The sauce has a nice freshness to it, while the cheese was creamy melted goodness.

I ordered the pepperoni with tomato, spicy salami, cacio, and mozzarella, and just like last time, it was delicious. While I am not a huge fan of salt, the salt that this pizza has from the salami is perfect, to the point where you almost crave it as crazy as that sounds. There is just something about it, and something about the flavors.

Both pies are absolutely thin, and I have to imagine that they use a machine to get these crusts as this as they do. Whatever it is, it works for them, and I enjoy it.

All in all, it was a very special day to visit New York City, and I am glad we made the trek! The dservice was good as usual, and the atmosphere is nice. While there are many restaurants in NY we love, Otto is always nice when we don't have a reservation and just want some comfort food! I hope it
doesn't take us a year (or 3) to get back again.  Cheers!

Otto Enotecca
1 Fifth Avenue at 8th Street
New York, NY 10003
Phone: (212)995-9559