Monday, July 20, 2009

Eating great food near and far

I enjoyed two great meals over the weekend -- dinner at Green Door Cafe in Tenafly and a sumptuous five-course affair with organic French wines served under a tent at Griggstown Quail Farm in Princeton, where the poultry is free range.

"Your doorway to real food" is the motto at the Tenafly bistro, which serves poultry and meat free of antibiotics and growth hormones and organic or locally farmed produce. My kind of place. I usually eat wild seafood when I dine out, but the entrees Saturday night included only what appeared to be farmed salmon from Scotland described as organic, though there are no standards for organic fish.

So I went with the roasted organic half-chicken, mashed potatoes and root vegetables. The chicken was well-seasoned and unlike chicken served in most restaurants, the white meat, my least favorite, was juicy. I cleaned my plate, leaving only a pile of bones. I started the meal with a thick, deep-red, cold soup of pureed beets and a slice of Eli's bread.

The meal at the farm for about 100 people benefited Slow Food Northern New Jersey programs and turned out to be a belly-buster. All of the food came from Garden State farms, but too much was served and I was pleasantly full after the second course. Still, I pressed on and it was one of the best meals I have ever eaten. I can't believe I ate the whole thing (almost).

The first course was a delicious chilled cucumber soup filled with whole peas and a mint-and-yogurt sorbet from The Bent Spoon in Princeton. The oregano-and-honey marinated Griggstown quail came next. Served rare over a cold salad of yellow beans and radicchio in a black olive vinaigrette, this was the tastiest course for me. After checking that the man next to me knew the Heimlich maneuver, I ate the small bird bones and all. Delish.

Roasted and braised Griggstown chicken was the third course, but either the burnt but still moist Frenched breast or the drumstick and thigh would have been enough. Japanese eggplant and squash were served on the side. The fourth course was my second favorite, three cheeses from Bobolink Dairy in Vernon served with bread and perfectly ripe Jersey peaches (I had two). I usually don't eat dessert, but managed to finish one of the two crepes filled with lemon verbana curd and and topped with red raspberries. I didn't touch the honey-lemon thyme ice cream. All the food was served on plates made from fallen palm leaves.

We were entertained by a jazz duo. The chefs were David Felton, formerly of the Pluckemin Inn, and Christopher Albrecht of Eno Terra. They did their magic under a tent not far from ours. The red wines that were served had lots of unpleasant tannins. I'm not sure why they weren't opened ahead of time to allow them to breathe. And I could have done without the flies. (This post was revised.)

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