I had an eventful November, including a very nice Thanksgiving dinner with family at the new Seasons 52 at MarketFair. My “official” review of this new hotspot comes out in a few weeks, I’ve been three times now (counting an early media dinner), and have yet to be disappointed. Others apparently agree, the place was packed by the time I left there one Friday night, with an hour or more wait to be seated, from what I overheard. You wonder where all these people went before, especially those in their very commodious bar with lots of comfy seating.
I am a November birthday girl (Scorpios unite!), and a friend took me to Sunday brunch at Mistral. I hadn’t been in a while, and they’ve only gotten better it seems to me. I can’t remember all that I had since I refused to make notes; I was wearing my birthday hat, not my food-writer hat – and the menu’s changed since then of course. A photo of one of our dishes is in the gallery below, and it was all excellent, including my friend’s brown butter cake for dessert, I somehow restrained myself to just a bite of that.
Later in the month, three of us with November birthdays headed south to Marlton to have lunch at Estia Greek Taverna in Marlton. Friend Carolyn had been earlier with Pat Tanner, and was eager to return. We had a fantastic lunch! This place could pack ’em in around here, I’m convinced, but they’re based in PA so the south Jersey location makes sense for them (sob!). Carolyn and Betty had fish, which is probably one of the best things they do, and they have a lovely seafood display on ice. But I couldn’t resist the moussaka, and it was a very good version, although mixed lamb and beef, rather than the all-lamb my family favored. At first I thought it might have too much cinnamon (not my favorite spice), but after the second bite, it seemed to mute itself as other scents and flavors came forward. I loved the round shape of it, so different from the usual compact square cut from a huge casserole dish, and the very light béchamel/custard on top.
My friends shared an assorted appetizer platter with three spreads – wonderful tarama (carp roe) – but I went for the grilled octopus and it was stellar. There was plenty of octopus, but also a lot of other little goodies in there, and it all sat on a bed of fava bean purée. Heaven, especially with their very good bread for the juices!
I also took home an order of stuffed grape leaves and those were delicious too – like my father, they put pine nuts and currants in with the rice, so I got a heavy dose of nostalgia there. Most versions of this dish fall far, far short of my ideal, but not Estia’s. I highly recommend a trip to visit them; and you can get nearly all the menu at lunch, too, including on weekends. You just shoot down 295 and get off at Route 70 and head east a couple of miles. Lots of traffic on that road, but a very direct route. Years ago, I used to head down to Marlton to visit Zagara’s gourmet natural food store (anyone remember them?) and Trader Joe’s, before we had our own.
You’ll also see various photos of my home cooking projects during November. Homemade baked beans, my own roasted turkey though on a bed of stuffing (I always make that after my restaurant TG dinner), and various take-out “peccadillos.” That Ultimate White Cake from Wegmans (the mini version)? They were out of the coconut one I love so much, so I sprinkled flaked baking coconut over the white cake. Theirs is the only white cake I’ve ever enjoyed, usually I prefer chocolate (but theirs is too sweet).
The two photos of sugar plums are from my Packet Magazine Good Taste column on the same subject that came out yesterday. I notice that they’ve started publishing the whole issue online using the “issuu” format – pretty fancy guys!
Have you noticed pimento cheese is in vogue again? Lucy’s Kitchen & Market makes a great one, and I broiled some on sliced bread for lunch one day, enjoyed with sliced pear. And notice that First Field apple butter, which I scored from Whole Earth Center last winter and only recently opened. It was quite a coup apparently, they weren’t sure they would make any this year. If you need any little gifts for Hanukkah or Christmas, I recommend buying some of the great local products at a place like Whole Earth Center or many of the local farm markets. You’d be surprised at how many producers are based in Mercer County and nearby now.
I found some Polish Oplatki (Christmas wafers) online at the Polish Arts Center, and ordered them for my sister-in-law who had mentioned wishing she had them for Christmas dinners. While I was at it I ordered a couple of sheets of beautiful wrapping paper for myself and Christmas and Easter cards for my parents’ one-time housekeeper who moved back to Poland many years ago. I included an individual Oplatek in her card, too, I’ll be she’ll be surprised!
I made some good Chicken Wild Rice Mushroom soup (yes, with a little cream) in November, and as I stood over the stove stirring found it oddly soothing. So I got out my smartphone and took a little video.
(Click on any photo below to start a slideshow.)