Thursday, November 5, 2015

Loosening our belts for a filling meal, exploring jazz greats from N.J.

An entree of Seared Salmon with Mix Roasted Squash, Lollipop Kale and Roasted Tomato at Nico Kitchen + Bar in Newark.

A starter of Seared Tuna with Black Garlic Soy, Compressed Cucumber and Micro Wasabi.


You've got to love a performing arts center where you can park once, enjoy a terrific dinner and then stroll to your seat for a great jazz concert.

That's what we did on Wednesday night, celebrating my birthday with a big dinner at Nico Kitchen + Bar, a fine-dining restaurant inside the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark.

Then, we were wowed by the best big band around, the 15-piece Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, performing the music of James Moody and other jazz greats from New Jersey.

My wife's entree: Crispy Bronzino with Rosemary Potato Gratin, Fried Capers and Preserved Lemon Buerre Blanc.

She started with Mixed Greens in a Meyer Lemon Emulsion with Pickled Grapes, Red Onion and Root Vegetables.

Prix Fixe Menu

On show nights, Nico Kitchen + Bar serves only a price-fixed three-course menu for $42 per person, including lemonade, iced tea or soda.

But there was plenty of variety, including seafood dishes, and a nice list of wines by the glass.

I started with rare tuna and moved onto a salmon fillet cooked medium that was moist and delicious, even though I'm not sure it was wild caught, as our server said.

Everything on the plate was terrific: mixed roasted squash, crunchy lollipop kale (a cross between kale and Brussels sprouts), and a chunky sauce of comforting roasted tomatoes.

My wife started with mixed greens and then tackled a rich preparation of crispy bronzino fillets with a potato gratin, all swimming in a butter sauce.

Nico Kitchen + Bar gets points for being one of the few restaurants to offer a fixed-price menu with a fruit plate as an alternative to artery clogging desserts.

We had three glasses of red wine with dinner ($9 each).

This dining room is one of two at Nico Kitchen + Bar, but tables for two are too small.
We welcomed the choice of a fruit plate for dessert, but the melon slices were cold, hard and far from ripe. After eating the berries, my wife took the rest of the fruit home, where I used it today to make a smoothie.

House-made lemonade was included.

Tenor saxophonist Walter Blanding, standing, is only one of the great musicians in the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. Leader Wynton Marsalis sits in the trumpet section, where he announces each song and takes his own solos.

James Moody Jazz Festival

Wednesday was the first night of the 12-day James Moody Jazz Festival, and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra celebrated the life and music of the tenor saxophonist, who was raised in Newark.

The highlight was "Moody's Mood for Love," which Moody recorded in Sweden in 1949.

Singer Eddie Jefferson and later King Pleasure added words.

On Wednesday night, the piece began with an incredible alto-saxophone solo by Ted Nash.

That was followed by vocalese from two trombone players, Vincent R. Gardner singing as King Pleasure and Chris Crenshaw doing a falsetto as Blossom Dearie.

The band also played music associated with Dizzy Gillespie, the trumpet player who lived in Englewood; Count Basie, the orchestra leader from Red Bank, and others.


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