Lowell and I did not hesitate to say “yes,” when we were recently invited to a seven-course collaboration “Quattro Mani” (four hands) dinner with executive chef Josh Bernstein of Spuntino Wine Bar & Italian Tapas in Clifton and guest chef, Maria Cicorella, of the Michelin rated Pasha Ristorante in Puglia, Italy. Wines were from Botromagno winery in Puglia. Chef Bernstein, a graduate of the CIA who has also presented at the Beard House in NYC, produced some creative dishes, when he participated in the Chef Central Ultimate Chef of NJ contest in 2016 in which I judged. We knew we were in for a delicious evening.
The following menu inspired by traditional Pugliese cuisine was served:
HORS D’ OEUVRES: French breakfast radish with a coating of truffle butter and sea salt; Blue Point oyster with a mignonette of green apple and horseradish; and candied baby carrot with pistachio and tarragon oil were colorfully plated.
(Gravina Bianco DOP 2013)
BEANS & CHICORY “PASHA”: A fava-bean paste served as the base for a piece of country bread, which was formed into a cup that held creamy chicory topped with fried onion rings; a beautiful presentation. We ate the greens and snapped off pieces of the crusty bread and used them as a cracker for the bean paste.
(Poggio al Bosco Gravina DOP 2011)
HOMEMADE ORECCHIETTE: These orecchiette, called little ears, were big ears and came with a lamb ragu with finely chopped asparagus, mushrooms and carrots in a caciocavallo cheese fondue. Black truffles topped the pasta. The large shaped pasta cup made it easy to scoop up the lamb ragu and sauce.
(Nero di Troia Murgia Rosso IGP 2013)
OCTOPUS IN UMIDO: Tender octopus was served with fingerling potatoes and cherry tomatoes in a tomato red-wine sauce.
(Primitivo Murgia Rosso IGP 2014)
VEAL CHEEK: A delicate and tender veal cheek, which reminded us of osso buco, had a wine sauce made from the wine paired with this course. Lemon potatoes, baby carrot, fennel and Brussels sprout filled out the dish.
(Pier delle Vigne Murgia IGT 2011)
WARM ALMOND BOCCONOTTO: Raspberries and edible bits of flowers were scattered on a bitter chocolate sauce that held a warm, orange bocconotto the size of a cupcake topped with slivered almonds.
(Gravisano Passito di Malvasia Murgia IGT 2008)
Spuntino Wine Bar & Italian Tapas specializes in small plates with a modern twist on Italian classics and fine wines from around the world. There are over 50 wines by the glass, over 150 by the bottle, four wines on tap, and three wine flights offered daily. Fresh, local and seasonal ingredients are used and the menu changes four times a year. The restaurant is open daily from 11:30 AM.
Photos courtesy of Lowell Saferstein.
Spuntino Wine Bar & Italian Tapas
70 Kingsland Road
Clifton Commons on Route 3 East
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