On Sunday, I had the pleasure of attending the Epicurean Palette at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, NJ. This renowned, annual fundraiser benefits the events and educational programs that GFS hosts for the public throughout the year. While strolling the park’s sprawling grounds (complimentary wine glass in hand!), Epicurean Palette guests were treated to food, wine, and spirits from some of the region’s top chefs and beverage purveyors (more than fifty in total). The park’s eclectic array of contemporary sculpture, interwoven with musicians and live artist demonstrations, set a wonderful stage for an afternoon of tasting, learning, and culinary camaraderie amongst patrons and presenters alike.
I sampled so many delicious dishes that I couldn’t possibly begin to cover all of them here, though I can say without question that everything I tasted from this year’s featured chefs was creative and inspired. I’ve selected ten tastes of the day to share with all of you, ranging from restaurants that I’m well-acquainted with to new finds that I’ll be sure to frequent in the future. From the notes that follow, I’m sure you’ll agree that the afternoon was nothing short of a food enthusiast paradise!
The Peacock Inn: Rarely does a visit to the Peacock Inn pass without my ordering their signature Ricotta Gnocchi as one of my courses. You can imagine my excitement when I rounded the corner into the park upon arrival and saw Chef plating a seasonal preparation of my favorite dish. The ethereally-soft ricotta dumplings were paired with sweet Kabocha squash, charred brussels sprouts, and pumpkin seeds (a nice textural contrast on the palate). A luscious aged Pecorino sauce was the perfect finishing touch, dressing the gnocchi without weighing them down. The Peacock Inn is a boutique hotel, award-winning fine dining restaurant, and bar serving New American Cuisine in downtown Princeton, New Jersey. The food is exquisite, the service impeccable, and the ambiance upscale, yet comfortable. A Princeton landmark not to be missed. www.peacockinn.com
Cafè Serai at the Rubin Museum: It was such a pleasure to meet Executive Chef Ali Loukazada from Cafè Serai in Manhattan, who presented one of the most unique dishes of the afternoon: Buffalo Chicken Samosas with Burnt Onion Ranch. What a creative fusion of cuisines! The chicken filling had just the right level of spice to warm the palate without being overly assertive, both complemented and cooled by the creamy, lightly-smoky Burnt-Onion Ranch. (Could I cast a vote for Chef to bottle the Ranch? I’d purchase a lifetime supply. It was outstanding.) Cafe Serai is located at the Rubin Museum in Chelsea. I’ll definitely be planning a visit on one of my next trips into the city to sample Chef Loukazada’s inventive menu. http://rubinmuseum.org
Salt Creek Grille: Executive Chef Luis Estrada treated guests to succulent Short Rib and Brisket Meatballs enrobed in a luxurious Port Wine Demi-Glace. The meatballs had a wonderful depth of flavor, awakened by the sweet, subtle tang of balsamic onions for a rounded finish. A perfect bite to accompany a glass of wine. Located in Princeton Forrestal Village, Salt Creek Grille is a popular American restaurant known for its signature mesquite grill, farm-to-table menu, and extensive wine list, served in a casual, yet sophisticated craftsman-style setting (with several fireplaces, so cozy as we approach the cooler weather!). www.saltcreekgrilleprinceton.com/
Caffè Storico at the New York Historical Society Museum: As we head into Fall, seasonal preparations trend toward heavier textures and flavors. I loved that Executive Chef Ed Crochet chose to demonstrate the delightfully lighter side of early-autumnal produce in his Epicurean Palette presentation. Chef paired creamy Burrata cheese with cherry tomatoes, fermented Grenada chilis, and charred corn for a fresh, seasonal bite that brightened the palate. At Caffè Storico, Chef Crochet offers a menu of Venetian cuisine, accompanied by an exclusively-Italian wine list (including a varied selection of wines by the glass). I will, without question, be visiting for dinner! http://nyhistory.org/dine
King George II Inn: Executive Chef Fabian Quiros presented an artfully-plated 14-hour Texas Brisket. (I saw a photo of the brisket teased on Chef’s Instagram during the cooking process the night prior, so I knew I would be in for a treat!) The beef was meltingly tender, served with a zesty Roasted Red Pepper Tortilla Sauce that contrasted the richness of the meat well, but did not overpower. A touch of creamy avocado mousse provided a lovely balance of texture, while crisp micro cilantro punctuated the dish with a bright finish. A+! Chef Quiros offers a menu of seasonally-inspired Contemporary American cuisine at the historic waterfront restaurant in Bristol, Pennsylvania, with five dining rooms, a tavern, and a patio for al fresco dining. http://kginn.com
The Ship Inn Restaurant and Brewery: Tucked into the Acer Courtyard, guests found themselves strolling around a charming Beer Garden with samples from some of the region’s top craft breweries. My favorite sip of the afternoon was the Scattergood from the Ship Inn in Milford, New Jersey. With a floral aroma and a crisp finish, this pale ale featuring notes of coriander seed, lemon, and orange peel, provided a refreshing accompaniment to the courtyard’s culinary presentations (or, simply on its own!). The Ship Inn Restaurant and Brewery serves British and American pub fare alongside their cask-conditioned ales, porters, and stouts, as well as imported ales and ciders. Can’t wait to visit! www.shipinn.com
The Yardley Inn: As I made my way around the winding paths of the Palette, I kept hearing talk about the “incredible” and “awesome” fried chicken being served on the Giverny Terrace. I arrived at the Terrace on a fried chicken mission, and Executive Chef Eben Copple did not disappoint! Tossed in a robust Honey-Chili Glaze, the light, crisp exterior revealed perfectly tender and juicy thigh meat. A bed of Field Pea Salad added a fresh, clean pop of brightness for a plate that was certainly worthy of the buzz around the park. The Yardley Inn presents Contemporary American Cuisine with an emphasis on fresh, locally-grown ingredients against the beautiful backdrop of the Delaware River in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. http://yardleyinn.com
The Ryland Inn: If you’re a food nerd, walking into a room and being greeted by a table filled with small plates of Duck Confit is something along the lines of hitting the lottery. Topped with a sesame cracker, Chef Craig Polignano expertly paired the rich confit with a Pickled Plum Purée for a beautiful contrast of tart-sweetness. The Ryland Inn offers a creative, seasonal, farm-to-table menu with a focus on local and sustainable ingredients at its landmark location in Whitehouse Station, New Jersey. (My family and I have dined at Ryland Inn many times over the years, but I haven’t yet had the opportunity to visit with Chef Polignano at the helm; I’ll be making it a point to visit soon.) http://rylandinnnj.com
Via 45: I was impressed not only with Via 45’s hearty Grilled Sausage and White Bean Ragu with Grilled Naan, but also their willingness to adjust their dish for gluten-free, vegetarian, or vegan guests in attendance. In chatting with Chef and Owner Lauren Phillips, I learned that this spirit of in-the-moment cooking speaks to the heart of their Red Bank, NJ restaurant. She and fellow Chef/Owner Claudette Herring offer a fresh, rustic Italian menu at Via 45 that changes daily, with all dishes made to order. Via 45 is a restaurant that I was not familiar with before this year’s Epicurean Palette, and one that I will be sure to visit the next time I’m in Red Bank. www.via45.com
Thomas Sweet Chocolates: No culinary event would be complete without dessert, and Thomas Sweet hit the mark with their delicious, handcrafted chocolates. Finding it impossible to choose from the beautiful display, I asked the ladies at the station to select their favorites for me. Their choices of Chambord (L) and Kahlúa (R) truffles were a wonderful sweet treat against the savory dishes I’d tasted all day. The chocolates were creamy, well-flavored with an excellent depth of flavor, and not at all cloying on the sweetness scale. Thomas Sweet has been a Princeton mainstay for 30 years, featuring an array of chocolates including truffles, hand dipped pretzels, fruits, and cookies. www.thomassweet.com
For more information on Grounds for Sculpture or the Epicurean Palette, visit groundsforsculpture.org. GFS Memberships are available at a variety of levels (I’m proud to be a member!), with a variety of classes, performances, workshops, lectures, and social events offered at the 42-acre sculpture park throughout the year. A worthwhile investment for family members of all ages.