What 4 local chefs are cooking up for the holidays

Written for MyCentralJersey.com on 12/14/16

The holidays are for spending time with family and friends, giving to those we love, and sharing thanks for what we have received.

And for those with a constant appetite for all that’s salty, sweet, tangy and crispy, the holidays are also a time for one more thing — eating.

For the holiday season, Central Jersey restaurateurs are hard at work hand-picking staple dishes, ingredients and menus.

Ninety Acres, an upscale new American restaurant situated on the Natirar estate in Peapack-Gladstone, changes its menu each year to evolve with changing food trends.

Executive Chef David Felton said that he has noticed that people are looking for less fussy foods with big flavors, and his menu reflects that with a blend of luxury and approachability.

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“I think truffles and caviar will be popular this holiday season, as they’re perfect for people looking for a little escape from reality,” he said. “Plus, the holiday menu reflects the weather and what we have available at our farm, such as potatoes, shallots and various herbs.”

On the restaurant’s holiday menu, which will be available every night through December except for Christmas Day, some of the staple dishes will be crème frache flan served in its shell with sustainable caviar and crispy potatoes; Alba white truffles, organic risotto, porcini mushrooms, fried shallots and parmesan; and ocean trout with red cabbage, trevisio, brown butter and apple cider.

The special seven-course holiday menu will tentatively cost $175, the three-course savory menu costs $75 and the seven-course “Bring Me Food” menu costs $105, which includes an open kitchen setup.

At Limani Seafood Grill in Westfield, owner and chef George Vastardis tries to offer unique dishes alongside traditional winter season favorites during the holiday season; new this year is nduja, a spicy cured salumi spread and smoked salmon infused with vodka and dill.

The ocean trout being served on Ninety Acres' holiday menu.  ~Courtesy of Ninety Acres

The ocean trout being served on Ninety Acres’ holiday menu. ~Courtesy of Ninety Acres

Other new items on the holiday menu this year will be an Alaskan halibut with black truffle sauce for $34, roasted butternut squash soap spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, honey, brown sugar and sweet butter for $8 and a crostini platter with vodka dill infused salmon and topped with olive tapenade, cream cheese, horseradish and cucumber as an appetizer for $12.

“The one dish that will be the most popular on our holiday menu judging from the current diner response is the halibut with the black truffle sauce,” Vastardis said. “Here, you have one of the most popular fish combined with ingredients that make this dish a winner on the menu.”

At the Portuguese Fisherman in South River, owner Mike Silva and Chef Manuel Alves designed the holiday items with a true cultural experience in mind.

“Our chef’s cooking style is the closest thing to a Portuguese grandmother’s home-style cooking that you can find,” Silva said. “South River and the surrounding towns have a Portuguese community that needs their fix during the holidays.”

Smoked Salmon infused with vodka and dill being served on Limani's holiday menu.  ~Courtesy of Limani

Smoked Salmon infused with vodka and dill being served on Limani’s holiday menu. ~Courtesy of Limani

The Portuguese community satisfies their cravings at the Portuguese Fisherman each year with their traditional menu featuring items such as bacalhau, or Portuguese salt cod ranging from $20 to $27, which is shredded in cream sauce and potatoes, grilled with peppers and onions or shredded with potatoes and egg octopus, all of which is offered throughout the year but is especially popular during the holidays.

“A Portuguese home without at least one bacalhau dish on Christmas Eve is a rarity,” said Silva.

Available for advance order, as the Fisherman is open until 5 p.m. Christmas Eve and is closed Christmas Day, is a suckling pig roasted for over four hours with black pepper garlic stuffing and extra crispy for $18 to $22 per dish or $180 for a whole suckling or $90 for half of a suckling. Baby goat braised for hours in wine and herbs is also available at the Portuguese Fisherman for take-out orders, which range from $18 to $25 for an individual dish. These items are specials on most weekends throughout the year, but similar to bacalhau, they are also especially popular during the holiday season.

Suckling pig also will be a holiday staple at The Frog and the Peach in New Brunswick, for $80 per person in a three-course dinner. Plus, the gourmet American restaurant known for its seasonal cuisine will also offer Guinness-braised merino lamb shank, also for $80 per person, served with a Brussels sprouts gratin and a warm chanterelle mushroom and sunchoke salad with pomegranates.

Guiness-braised lamb shank with Brussel sprouts gratin, chanterelles and black trumpets at The Frog and the Peach.  ~Courtesy of The Frog and the Peach

Guiness-braised lamb shank with Brussel sprouts gratin, chanterelles and black trumpets at The Frog and the Peach. ~Courtesy of The Frog and the Peach

“Our dishes include many local ingredients and are hearty enough for the season while still being healthy,” said Executive Chef Bruce Lefebvre. “We love playing around with seasonal ingredients that you can’t find all the time. We also look to our local food providers, local farms and growers for what they are offering so we can get creative using those ingredients.”

The Frog and the Peach also offers a family-style/large format dinner which features a local meat or fish that Lefebvre then creates a meal around with the host or hostess’s input for $55 to $80 per person. Sommelier Jim Mullen can then create a beverage pairing for the party for an additional cost, beginning with a unique cocktail or sparkling wine and then a beer or wine to match each dish.

“Around the holidays, we really keep things festive and fun for groups,” Lefebvre said. “This is a special time in our restaurant where families, old friends and colleagues come together to enjoy each other’s company around the holiday over a delicious meal.”

HOLIDAY DINING IN CENTRAL JERSEY

Limani is at 235 N. Avenue W in Westfield and can be reached at 908-233-0052 or limaniseafood.com.

The Frog and the Peach is at 29 Dennis St. in New Brunswick and can be reached at 732-846-3216 or frogandpeach.com.

The Portuguese Fisherman is at 11 Jackson St. in South River and can be reached at 732-238-5188 or portuguesefisherman.com.

Ninety Acres is at 2 Main St. in Peapack-Gladstone and can be reached at 908-901-9500 or natirar.com/ninety_acres

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