Friday, January 20, 2012

Cotton Candy for Breakfast! David Burke's Fromagerie

I ate cotton candy for breakfast.


Having enjoyed an over-the-top delicious, whimsical luncheon for the second time during the holiday season at chef David Burke’s Garden state restaurant, Fromagerie, there was just a wee bit too much of the happy desserts.  

So the sweet, sparkly, spun sugar confection was coming home with me.   The cotton candy looks just like sweet tutus.  They are eye candy: fun and flirty. Like schoolgirls, we giggle every time the wispy, pastel-colored melt-in-your-mouth magic pirouettes onto the dining table.
And there was no way I was not taking some home.  

Truth is, every one of Chef David’s restaurants I’ve dined at possess his inimitable style and stamped with his unmistakable personality.  
It’s that alchemy of élan, spunk, and theater that makes eating there a remarkable theatrical culinary experience.   

Chef David Burke manages a portfolio of award-winning restaurants and food service enterprises that delight and surprise and elicit more than a fair share of oohs and ohh wonder at the food creations and presentations to bring out the sophisticated gourmand – and the kid – in all of us. (

Fromagerie is chef David’s fairytale, hometown homage restaurant.
It’s a venerable gastronomic icon that adorns a diminutive, size-0 intersection in Rumson. 
Long acknowledged as more of an auberge – fashionably snuggled and operated within its own oasis of a French countryside, Fromagerie, was and remains a culinary transgression – an act of love and respect on chef David’s part, having taken it over in 2006.
He grew up here, established his chef roots before taking flight and becoming one of the culinary world’s most imaginative, creative, entrepreneurs to shine in the culinary constellation.
I know his fizzy, irreverent and hard-working biography intimately; chef David is a special part of my New York Homegrown cookbook.

In addition, I interviewed him when he opened David Burke Kitchen and DB Garden.  I Love that concept: chefs and their gardens!

Townhouse has long been a favorite and classy place to dine and meet friends for cocktails.

The culinary world knows him from Top Chef, The Today Show and his cookbooks, products, cooking techniques and creations. 
Hello, bubble gum whip cream and gourmet cheesecake lollipop tree! pretzel encrusted crab, and restaurants: eight and counting.

The Garden State locals know and love chef David from his early days.  He hasn’t forgotten them either. 
The siren song of the Two Rivers’ beauty and charm continues to seduce other homegrown luminaries including Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi and Kevin Smith, to name a few. 

The day of our very special holiday luncheon, hosted by my garden design muse and fairy godmother, Maria, joined by my mother.  

We three were surprised and elated to meet David’s father.  

We didn’t know the pedigree of the craftsman hard at work, determined to fix a railing by the front steps.
Truthfully, the drilling buzz was a bit intense for the place and time of day and when we asked if the work could wait, we were met by an apology and later, after the bill floated onto the table by our friendly and professional waiter, we learned of the complimentary cappuccinos, courtesy of chef David’s father: David!   

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree it seems. 
The elder David is charming too.

We were delighted to chat it up a bit with him. 
In turn, he treated us to a respectful and family-fueled pride about chef David’s early foray into cooking.

David the elder’s eyes sparkled and he laughed while telling us of his son’s determined, early efforts to break into the world of cooking.
“He told me he wanted to be a chef,” he sighed.   
“All I could think of was a McDonalds cook and well…“  

We could sense he was fondly retelling a timeworn family tale of an awkward discussion that is now the first chapter in a successful, star-studded career.

We learned it was soon after his aspirational culinary wannabee confession that David the younger, told a perspective employer he could cook.  
That David charm and confidence fueled his earliest ambitions and not surprisingly, he got the job.
But he really needed some fast, hands-on training!  See, he didn’t really yet “know” how to cook. That would come later.
His father told us David asked the nearby restaurant to show him how to cook a steak.  
David is and was a fast trick.  
He inculcated his new-found knowledge of cooking steak to his new job.  

Still laughing at the memory of what is clearly a long-standing family legend, we learn about David taking the steak out of the oven only to have tilted the dish a bit too much -- so that it hit the corner of his head and the steak went flying off, landing on the floor.

Not to be deterred, David recovered his confidence – and the steak. Further he worked hard, attended culinary school and learned from the great European chefs while living and studying there. 

His homegrown and innate talent accelerated David’s fast lane meteoric rise to celebrity chef. His ability to balance culinary creativity and down-to-his-roots, never-forget-where-you-came from humility and common sense is what keeps chef David grounded and motivated.
David’s dad and our table agreed.

Fast forward to our winter luncheon.
Dining at one of David’s restaurants is not unlike going down the rabbit hole. 
Things are not always what they seem to be.

For starters, (or for no “starters!”) there is no menu heading of “Appetizer.”
There is, however, the word JARS taking top billing. 
After twice ordering the JARS, I can confirm what it is. 
JARS is genius.  

JARS are delicious; small old-fashioned mini bottles filled with flavors and textures.
Twice, I ordered the maple syrup ricotta, ginger and autumn squash JAR. 
It’s almost too cute to eat. 
Diners pick it up and look at the creamy, golden brown layers before affirming they can mix it up and spread it on the toast points.  Wow. 

The other JARS offerings are bouillabaisse saffron, rouille and a foie gras, cassis gelee. 
All three are innovative, memorable and a tasty overture to the meal that follows.  Oh, and the amuse bouche was downright delightful too.

At this luncheon, our host Maria suggested we had to try the short rib grilled cheese sandwich.
We were richly rewarded. 
Bite-sized, home-made bread slices embrace finely shredded, robust pork, hugged by caramelized onions and fontina cheese.  

The pretzel-crusted crab is outstanding.

A head-slapping why-didn’t someone-think-of-this sooner favorite.
The salty, crunchy pretzel is a balance to a sweet meaty crab packed “brick” with grilled shrimp that is surrounded by a Lego-log of pretzel sticks coating, kissed with avocado, tomato, frisee and pimenton remoulade.

The Montauk Lobster roll was a winning favorite on both luncheon outings.  Thick, sweet, lobster overflows and oozes into the soft bread roll so that every bite or forkful is full of salty, meaty, fresh lobster salad. 

As an important aside, The Mad Men Lunch of  “Angry Lobster,” Ribeye with two classic martinis has our name on it – but for another day. We did have the pleasure of witnessing two VERY happy women extolling the joys of that particular menu choice on our first luncheon visit.  I love that dining exuberance.

The oysters were crisp and fresh and briny and local: just perfect.

The dessert though, topped it all.

The towering pops and the cotton candy and the toffee confection.  

This is entirely too much fun with food as art and theater for one afternoon. 
Pure indulgence.

Oh, and be sure to stop and admire the Dale Chihuly red glass sculpture art as outsized red-twigged dogwood stalks in garden pots that frame the red canopy doorway.   

If they eyes eat first as the French claim, the entrance, the restaurant design and the food presentation are spot on.


Change The Way You Eat

On Saturday, January 21, the second TEDxManhattan “Changing the Way We Eat” – an independently organized event, licensed by TED – will be held at the Times Center in New York City. TEDxManhattan will explore the issues, the impacts and the innovations happening as we shift to a more sustainable way of eating and farming and help to create connections and unite different areas of the food movement. And while not everyone may be able to attend the local event, anyone around the world can share in this exciting day by watching the live webcast at from 10:30am – 5:15pm est on Saturday, January 21st.
WHY watch? This is a wonderful opportunity for people around the world to connect online with each other and the sustainable food movement. While the talks revolve around the speakers in NYC, individuals watching the webcast can join Livestream on January 21st:

Livestream chat –
Follow the Twitter feed at (@TEDxManhattan #TEDxMan).
There’s a world-class line-up of speakers that is sure to inspire you, including [for a complete list, visit the TEDxManhattan website]:
Laurie David (Host), Environmental Activist, Producer, Author
Fred Kirschenmann, Farmer, Distinguished Fellow at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, and President of the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in NY
Mitchell Davis, Executive Vice President, the James Beard Foundation, cookbook author and food journalist
Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch
Gary Oppenheimer, Founder/Executive Director of, CNN Hero, Master Gardener,  Huffington Post 2011 Game Changer, winner of the 2011 Glynwood Wave of the Future Harvest Award
Dr. Robert S. Lawrence, Center for a Livable Future/Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Wayne Pacelle, President and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States
Dr. David Wallinga, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
Urvashi Rangan, Consumer Reports

Photo courtesy of TEDx 

Photo courtesy of TEDx
In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like* experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.  
Photo courtesy of TEDx
TED is a nonprofit organization devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. Started as a four-day conference in California 25 years ago, TED has grown to support those world-changing ideas with multiple initiatives. For more information about TED and TEDx, please visit
TED is a nonprofit organization devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. Started as a four-day conference in California 25 years ago, TED has grown to support those world-changing ideas with multiple initiatives. The annual TED Conference invites the world’s leading thinkers and doers to speak for 18 minutes. Their talks are then made available, free, at TED speakers have included Bill Gates, Al Gore, Jane Goodall, Elizabeth Gilbert, Sir Richard Branson, Nandan Nilekani, Philippe Starck, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Isabel Allende and UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
Follow TED on Twitter at, or on Facebook at
The Glynwood Institute for Sustainable Food and Farming is the lead sponsor for TEDxManhattan 2012.
For more information about TEDxManhattan, visit

Thursday, January 5, 2012

New Years Dinner at Ama Restaurant is Love

With our Garden State country home renovations in full swing – so still no kitchen -- and a magnum of family and friends’ holiday parties under our belt, we were thinking New Years Eve needed to be dining out, outstanding/good food was to be paramount, of course, with an emphasis on locally-sourced food ingredients. 

Ama Ristorante, in our village by-the-shore-marina boasted a dining cache that could fulfill our culinary checklist for the evening’s celebration. 
Plus, the restaurant is within walking distance. Extra credit. So check, check and check!

It now seems incredulous that we had not yet dined at this three-year old restaurant.  Especially since we’d heard good things about the food and respected foodie advocates, including Bob Sickles ( had recommended the restaurant…

Truth be told, it is because more often than not we cook at home when at our country house whereas we dine out when in Gotham (all the great restaurants in town to take advantage of.)

The Brooklyn brownstone-sized dining room seats about 38-plus customers in the brick lined intimate embrace of the main dining room with its elegantly maintained tin ceiling.  In the warm weather the sliver of a garden terrace seats an overflow and alfresco dining enthusiast. 

A mid afternoon call to Ama on December 31st for reservations was delightful – like phoning an extended family member. No drama. No pretense of  “Let me check the reservations to see what I have” while the seconds and time pockets suck the air out of the exchange as is done at far too may Manhattan restaurants -- all the while we all know there are plenty of seats and no need to pull the velvet rope act.  To whit, Del Posto offered prime seating for dinner with a same-day phone call to reservations…And honestly, food nirvana doesn’t get all that much better there and what better place to so easily puddle up into foodie arrogance.

Chef Joe
Turns out, Laura Borawski is the hands-on partner and co-owner of Ama with Joe Trama, the chef.  
Laura Borawski

How cute are these foodie restaurant owners?!

Laura and I struck up a quick and easygoing chat about chef Joe’s work at TriBeCa Grill, Coco Pazzo, the iconic River Café and Della Femina in East Hampton – more six degrees of separation, as Della Femina, then a Drew Nieporent established restaurant – now East Hampton Grill, is featured restaurant in this reporter’s book, “Hamptons and Long Island Homegrown Cookbook,”  

It was delightful to exchange mutual food friends and Gotham neighborhood eateries and to discover the pedigree of both Laura and Joe. 
The conversation and exchange was a bit like a very good appetizer in anticipation of a good meal ahead -- a tickler or amuse bouche for what was to come.

Ama restaurant is a BYOB and cash only restaurant.  That just seems to add to the fierce charm and independence and keeps the focus on the food. 
An 8:30 pm seating allowed us to enjoy cocktails at home.
Later, Laura told us many customers go next door to the Wine Bar for cocktails, après Ama. 
We brought our champagne and wine for dinner, allowing for our choice and an affordable drink alternative. We enjoyed an aperitif of Prosecco with the appetizers and a choice of BV Chardonnay and Silverado 2004 with dinner entrees.

The room was calibrated buzz, with good-looking patrons enjoying the dining experience.  

Victoria, our waitress, described the evening’s offerings. 

While the restaurant’s reviews report its focus on locavore ingredients, the menu was decidedly more Italian mainstream with an emphasis on chef’s Tuscan roots.  Nightly Specials include the Misto di Terra, Pasta, and Pesce, along with Fromagi di Artisanal including Formaggio Capra, Piave, Robiola, Pecorino.  Entrees range from endive and arugula and radicchio salad with a vinegarette dressing to Cozze de Pappa al Pomodoro (hand cultivated mussels in tomato sauce) But there is Brooklyn bread!

Our evening’s emphasis was lots of appetizers. 

Miso di Terra
The Misto di Terra, seasonal products of the earth, was a very tasty composition of eggplant roasted in olive oil, asparagus, sweet braised endive, caramelized onions, cherry tomatoes and cheese with just the right amount of sea salt.   

The Insalata di Carciofi Crudo con Limone e Parmesan – the shaved baby artichoke was a joyful treat.  The extra virgin olive oil, flirted with the Parmesan Reggiano and lemon juice to dance lightly on the flavorful chokes.

Shaved Baby Artichoke

Extraordinary Calamari
The Calamari alla Fritto was the hands-down best dish of the evening.  It was lightly battered and salted and the lemon was zesty and just the right balance. The fish was sweet and light too. Big chunky rings were topped with mint. All together the dish was downright addictive.  We’ll be back for plates of this with a good bottle of wine!  

Another winner was the shredded crab – it was a hillock of tender, sweet meat, with a bit of Parmesan and extra virgin olive oil, with just the right amount of red onions to give it a hint of spice without overwhelming or overpowering.
Crazy Crab treat 

The entrée favorite was the fish of the day: branzino. One of my all time favorites was kept simple with spinach and pine nuts, seasoned so that the natural flavor stood out in the thick, meaty fish. It was delicious. 

The baked scallops were a bit over seasoned, but good – especially the roasted fennel dressing. 

The battered veal was a bit thin, covered in radicchio and cheese but nevertheless, my husband ate the entire dish.  

Pistachio Gelato with Mint
Dessert was a bit of heaven. The Cia Bella pistachio gelato was so creamy and eye-rolling good.  

The pannacotta too, was a happy discovery with a raspberry sauce and mint.

Ama Ristorante Tuscana is located at 41 First Avenue, Atlantic Highlands, NJ 07716 732-872-4674 

Hosted by dedicated and experienced food lovers, Pat and Laura, Ama is a welcome addition to the local food scene and is a place where foodies can enjoy a dining cadence that is friendly, interesting and tasty. 

Ama Ristorante is readily accessible from Monmouth County, New Jersey and just like all the New York/Gotham financial services professionals that go back and forth every day as daily commuters and weekend enthusiasts, Food lovers can just hop on the Seastreak ferry to god’s country as easy and fast as a subway ride.  You can’t use your Metrocard but you will get to Ama Risorante fast and you can enjoy food and a walk on the water…

For easy access to ferry schedules: