Best Dishes 2016

My job had me on the road more than not in 2016 and while I’ve had many, many unforgettable meals this past year, I’ve tried to narrow down the 15 best dishes I enjoyed during the past year. Here’s the list in restaurant name alphabetical order.

Ai Fiori – New York, NY. Eating at this Chef Michael White restaurant is a luxurious treat and lobster seems to be an appropriate ingredient to have in the beautiful dining room. The Lobster with Asparagus and Morels was one of the best lobster dishes I’ve had.

Buca Yorkville – Toronto, ON. Branzino is my favorite fish and at Buca, the Cyprian sea bass is expertly-carved tableside in its pure raw state and topped with Prosecco, olive oil and lemon.

Escape – Montclair, NJ. The seafood grits with a giant portion of sea urchin was just a fabulous dish at the now defunct Escape.

FLX Table – Geneva, NY. Very cool dining experience at Chef/Master Sommelier Christopher Bates’ new chef’s table restaurant in the Finger Lakes. The multi-course dinner showcases locally-sourced ingredients and the dish I thought stood up among the winning lineup was the Uber B.L.T. consisting of tomato, sweet summer corn and lamb bacon. The presentation was glorious with a pool of tomato water in the bowl of the plate and beautifully-arranged raw and dried tomatoes, the bacon and corn then avocado and Thai basil.

Grace – Chicago, IL. I treated myself to Grace this year and wasn’t sorry for the splurge. The Alaskan King Crab dish was gorgeous, light yet flavorful. It’s served artfully with char roe, cucumber, floral cream and tangerine lace. The king crab salad is positioned at the bottom of a v-shaped glass filled with herbs and flowers then a flavor-neutral tuile seals the salad. Crack the tuile with a spoon and the crunchy bits add an unexpected texture to the delicate crab.

Heirloom Kitchen – Old Bride, NJ. Chef David Viana cooked up perhaps the best duck I’ve had. The masterly-seared duck breast is served with sherry herbed barley, granola, parsnip, date purée, maitake mushroom and duck jus. The earthiness of the roasted maitake and the sweet/savory date purée compliment the rich duck perfectly.

Hot & Soul – Ft Lauderdale, FL. My year-end best dishes compilation wouldn’t be the same without an entry from my favorite Ft Lauderdale restaurant. The Mushroom Manchego Toast is a must to start off a meal at Hot and Soul. The shareable dish with its creamy sherry sauce is a winner.

Kalofagas – my home in NJ. Toronto-based chef and cookbook author Peter Minaki prepared a dish of spaghetti with uni (sea urchin) sauce at my home this year that was simply outstanding. Briny uni-tomato sauce coated the al dente pasta perfectly.

Lorena’s – Maplewood, NJ. Meals at Lorena’s are never less than stellar and this year, my favorite dish at the popular restaurant was the Cavatelli Carbonara. Instead of the eggs being incorporated in the sauce in a traditional way, Chef Campos serves it poached with a runny yolk to coat the pasta.

Razza Pizza Artigianale – Jersey City, NJ. While it’s best known for its outstanding pizza, my favorite dish at Razza is the Bread and Butter service featuring house made butter that has the right funky flavor and crusty, pizza oven-baked bread.

Redux – Madison, NJ. Chef Ubhaus serves up delicious, comforting food and calling out Disco Fries as my top dish at his restaurant undersells his culinary talents. Having said that, this dish is pure decadence with SLABS of St Andre cheese over properly-made fries and rich veal gravy.

Square Root – New Orleans, LA. The meal I had at Square Root was one of the finest I enjoyed this year. The Red Fish with Horseradish Bubbles was THE dish in the long list of dishes we were served. The red fish was properly-cooked and bubbles made from horseradish were blown in the open kitchen, right in front of us.

Stages at One Washington – Dover, NH. Yes, two of my favorite dishes were enjoyed at Stages this year: Lomo and Egg and Cabrales-Stuffed Raspberries. Chef Evan Hennessey is simply brilliant and raspberries and blue cheese are now a favorite.

The Bachelor Farmer – Minneapolis, MN. Pork Meatballs, Spätzle in Lobster Broth was one of the several outstanding dishes I had at this Minneapolis gem. Pork and lobster? Yes, it totally works.

I’m looking forward to 2017 and the food adventures I’ll enjoy.

Happy New Year!!


Show Some Like to Chef Bryan Gregg

Show Some Like to Chef Bryan Gregg

Chef Bryan Gregg

Chef Bryan Gregg

My friend, Chef Bryan Gregg of Escape Montclair, is trying to get to the Chefs Taste Challenge competition in ‪#‎NOLA on Aug. 19. He was one of over 50 chefs to apply for a chance at this competition and he’s now one of 16 chefs remaining.

The final step in the process to get him to be one of 10 chefs is by having his fans (or friends of fans) “Like” and “Share” his photo card, located on the Chefs Taste Challenge Facebook page – simple, right!?

Click the following link to “like” and “share” and please ask your friens and family to also:

Voting ends Thursday, May 26 and the final tally will be taken from his photo card.

Thanks in advance for the 5 seconds this will take you!


Terre à Terre Leap Year Dinner – February 29

Terre à Terre Leap Year Dinner – February 29

PrintOn Monday February 29th at 7PM, Chefs Bryan Gregg of Escape Montclair and Robert Ubhaus of Redux will join Terre à Terre Chef Todd Villani for a six-course dinner celebrating “leap year day”.

Menu details:

1st Course

Sautéed (make it hop) scallops / crispy prosciutto / Brussels / miso mushroom purée (Chef Villani)

2nd Course

“Spring” lamb carpaccio / pickled celery root / smoked apple vinaigrette (Chef Gregg)

3rd Course

Crisp frogs legs / parsley mousseline / black garlic chips / lemon powder (Chef Ubhaus)

4th Course

Rabbit confit vol-au-vent / prunes / root vegetables / grain mustard (Chef Villani)

5th Course

Pavé of “29th” day aged beef / trumpet mushrooms / parsnip purée / Bordelaise (Chef Ubhaus)

6th Course

Sweet corn bread pudding / caramel corn / popcorn ice cream (Chef Gregg)

The cost of the dinner is $92 plus tax and gratuity. Reservations can be made by calling 201-507-0500.



Gregg and Ryan Chefs Collaboration Dinner at Escape Montclair

Gregg and Ryan Chefs Collaboration Dinner at Escape Montclair

Chefs Bryan Gregg and Ehren Ryan of Common Lot, opening in February 2016 in Millburn, will collaborate at Escape Montclair on a five-course dinner on Wednesday January 13 at 7PM.

The menu is as follows:

1st Course

Hirame / puffed rye / smoked apple – Chef Gregg

2nd Course

Celery root / chicken skin / pickled celery – Chef Ryan

3rd Course

Hapuka / sunchoke / mustard seeds / fish jus – Chef Ryan

4th Course

Venison / ash cooked beets / buttermilk bleu – Chef Gregg

5th Course

Sorghum spiced financier / malted vanilla ice cream / oat streusel crumbs – Chefs collaboration

The cost of the dinner is $59 per person plus tax and gratuity and is BYO to allow guests to bring special bottles.

Seating for this event is very limited and guests should reserve online to secure seats via Eventbrite.

Italian Beer Dinner at Escape Montclair

Italian Beer Dinner at Escape Montclair

On Wednesday night, I attended an Italian beer dinner at Escape Montclair that was the first in a series of beer dinners to be held at the popular farm-to-table restaurant.

Chef Bryan Gregg partnered with Amanti Vino for this exclusive dining experience featuring the award-winning beers of Italy’s Birrificio Maeilla, Birrificio Rurale and Retorto Birrificio Artigianale.

While I consider myself somewhat well-versed when it comes to beers, I’d never sampled these fab brews prior to the dinner. The small-batch beers are crafted in Italy using unconventional methods and ingredients….the results – incredible flavors and food-friendliness.

These were the food and beer pairing:

First Course

Marinated fluke, citrus, garlic scapes

Paired with Rurale Scarliga

Second Course

Shellfish, giardiniera, chilies

Paired with Birrificio Maiella

Third Course

Duck “coppa style” puffed barley, broccoli blossoms

Paired with Retorto Morning Glory

Fourth Course

Lamb roast, orange peel, gnocchi

Paired with Maiella Matthias

Dessert Course

Raw cow’s milk “pot cheese” honeycomb, chestnuts cookies

Paired with Rurale Oasi

The tanginess of the marinated garlic scapes was a perfect match to the ultra-fresh fluke and kicked the evening on a very positive note. The shellfish and house-made picked vegetable “salad” was likely my favorite dish of the evening – rich yet balanced beautifully by the zip of the veggies and the bit of heat from the chilies. The duck was cooked properly with the fat rendered, skin crispy and the flesh juicy and tender. The lamb was fork-tender and served with pillowy orange-scented gnocchi. The dessert was the perfect ending to that great meal with ingredients not too sweet – chestnut “cookies/crackers” paired with light-as-a-feather cheese and not cloyingly-sweet honey – a super pairing with the slightly malty beer laced with honey notes. I’ll be reviewing the beers in a future post.

The beers we enjoyed by Birrificio Maeilla, Birrificio Rurale and Retorto Birrificio Artigianale are available for sale at Amanti Vino.

Something new that Escape is also doing is offering discounts to New Jersey Craft Beer Club members – 25% off on Mondays and 10% off any other day (excluding prix fixe dinners).

I’m already looking forward to the next beer dinner at Escape and hope the pairings are as wonderful as the ones we were presented with.



Escape Montclair Multi-Chef Old/New World French Charity Dinner

Escape LogoChef Bryan Gregg hosts a French-inspired dinner with some of New Jersey’s top chefs to benefit the Carol G. Simon Cancer Center of NJ.

Chef Gregg will be joined by:

  • Chef Manuel Perez of Peacock Inn
  • Chef Robert Ubhaus of Redux
  • Chef Anthony Bucco of Restaurant Latour
  • Chef Thomas Ciszak of Chakra and Blue Morel.

The cost of the dinner will be $89/person and is BYO. Complete details and menu at



Escape to Greece Dinner with Chef Peter Minaki

Chef Peter Minaki Photo Credit: Kalofagas

Chef Peter Minaki
Photo Credit: Kalofagas

For those of you who didn’t attend last year’s Greek restaurant takeover with Toronto-based Chef Peter Minaki of Kalofagas – Greek Food & Beyond, you’re in luck! Chef Minaki will return to Escape for another memorable meal on Sunday May 17th at 6PM.

Here’s what’s in store for the evening:

Amuse: Santorini tomato fritters with Feta yogurt sauce

1st Course: Smoked mussels Saganaki

2nd Course: Seared Halloumi, grape, orange salad with arugula

Bonus Course by Escape: Sausage of duck, buckwheat blini, cured duck yolk

4th Course: Rack of lamb, Greek chimichurri, boulangère potatoes

Dessert: Phyllo cigar filled with Bougatsa custard

Wine pairing suggestions can be provided upon request.

The cost of the dinner is $68 excluding taxes and gratuities.

There aren’t many seats left so call (973) 744-0712 today to secure a seat.

In the meatime, visit Chef Minaki’s drool-friendly website to get an idea of the tasty dishes he’s known for.



Domaine Vincent Latour Dinner at Escape

Domaine Vincent Latour Dinner at Escape

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the Domaine Vincent Latour dinner at Escape in Montclair. In the Escape kitchen, Chef Bryan Gregg and his team assembled a five-course menu that paired beautifully with the fabulous white Burgundy wines of Domaine Vincent Latour as hand-picked by Sharon Sevrens of Montclair’s Amanti Vino.

Here’s the menu and the wines we enjoyed:

Reception wine: Parigot Cremant de Bourgogne

First Course: Oyster, smoked rice milk, seaweed powder. Paired with 2012 Domaine Vincent Latour Bourgogne Blanc

Second Course: Scallops, asparagus, creamed morels. Paired with 2012 Domaine Vincent Latour Meursault Cuvée St Jean

Third Course: Pheasant terrine, apple, warm pheasant juice. Paired with 2012 Domaine Vincent Latour St Aubin Cuvée Thomas

Fourth Course: Halibut, lardo, early peas, spring onion. Paired with 2012 Domaine Vincent Latour Meursault 1er Cru Perrieres

Dessert: Rhubarb cake, sweet yogurt, honey pollen

I’ll review the wines in an upcoming post, but they were wonderful and hearing, in French, from winemaker Vincent Latour about the complexity of the vintages we tasted and the inside story on them was delightful (yes, there was a translator for my fellow diners who aren’t francophone).

Escape and Amanti Vino partner on wine dinners periodically, so to stay abreast of future events, follow Escape on Facebook or keep an eye out for future events on the Escape website events page.



Escape Charity Dinner Featuring Chef David Viana

Escape Charity Dinner Featuring Chef David Viana

Escape LogoEscape Montclair Chef Bryan Gregg Holds a Charity Dining Experience with Acclaimed Chef David Viana of The Kitchen at Grove Station in Jersey City.

When: Wednesday, January 28, 2015 at 7PM. 

Cost: $68 per person plus taxes and gratuity.

What: The Charity Dinner Featuring Chef David Viana, of The Kitchen at Grove Station, menu will feature:

Amuse Bouche

Cornmeal oyster, apple pie vinaigrette – Chef Viana

1st Course

Barbecued local eel, borage, charred pear – Chef Gregg

2nd Course

Warm carrot salad, carrot cumin vinaigrette, quinoa, beet ketchup – Chef Viana

3rd Course

Roasted cod, smoked pork brandade, pickled clam – Chef Gregg

4th Course

Mod cup braised short rib, crispy pesto potatoes, duck fat fried sunchokes – Chef Viana

5th Course

Semolina, whipped goats milk, moro, almond nougat – Chef Gregg

The five-course dinner will allow diners to bring their own wines to pair up with the courses. The cost of the dinner will be $68 per person with 50% of the proceeds being donated to the Carol G. Simon Cancer Center of NJ.

Seating for this event is very limited, please call (973) 744-0712 to reserve. 

Escape – 345 Bloomfield Avenue, Montclair, NJ 07042.




My Top Dishes of 2014

My Top Dishes of 2014

The Bazaar Uni Steamed Buns

The Bazaar Uni Steamed Buns

My job had me on the road more than not in 2014 and while I’ve had many, many unforgettable meals in 2014, I’ve tried to narrow down the 10 best dishes I enjoyed during the past year. Here’s the list in restaurant name alphabetical order.

Hushpuppy – Atera

Chef Matthew Lightner’s take on hushpuppies is simply brilliant. The fried exterior encased a smoked egg yolk and pickled corn. While innocent in appearance, the hushpuppy with its smoked yolk is mind-altering.

Oysters with Three Caviars – Cosmos at Loews Minneapolis

Chef Tim Fischer tops the freshest of oysters with a scrumptious sabayon then three caviars. Creamy, briny and texturally-perfect.

Escape Lobster Knuckle

Escape Lobster Knuckle

Charred Octopus with Boudin Noir Ravioli – Chakra Restaurant

I attended an Emilio Moro wine dinner at Chakra where Chef Thomas Cizsak served this fabulous dish as a first course. The octopus was of the utmost tenderness with a perfect amount of char and the boudin noir ravioli was outstanding.

Lobster Knuckle, Matsutake, Foie, Foie Juice – Escape Montclair

Chef Bryan Gregg outdid himself with this stellar dish. Sweet lobster, earthy mushroom, slab of seared foie gras with foie juice – spectacular dish served during a cancer charity dinner.

Boudin Noir – Joe Beef

Moist, flavorful bound noir paired with pork belly, pears and pierogis in foie broth – need I say more?

Sfixio Pasta

Sfixio Pasta

Octopus with Mediterranean Chickpea Salad – MP Taverna Astoria

Chef Michael Psilakis likely makes my favorite grilled octopus and this version in the form of a salad with chickpeas, fresh herbs and fantastic olive oil.

Sfixio Pasta – Sfixio Beverly Hills

Chef Massimo Denaro’s pasta special knocked my stilettos off. Perfectly-cooked spaghetti with truffle and caviar in a light cream sauce. The truffle aroma was intoxicating and the briny caviar paired exquisitely with the light sauce.

Corn Crème Brulée – Terre à Terre

At a tasting dinner I attended, Chef Todd Villani pleased my guests with his corn crème brulée served in an egg shell. The accompanying corn gelato was both refreshing and satisfying.

Joe Beef Boudin

Joe Beef Boudin

Uni Steamed Buns – The Bazaar by Jose Andres

Yes, I’m a little obsessed with uni and this dish satisfied me completely. The steamed buns were pillowy and a perfect nest for the avocado and sea urchin.

Deconstructed Bouillabaisse – Triomphe

With his modern take on the classic bouillabaisse, Chef Florian Wehrli showcases the freshest seafood and fish: clams, squid, striped bass and shrimp in a flavorful saffron broth.

Let me know if you’ve tried any of these dishes and what some of your favorite 2014 dishes were.

Happy New Year!