Chef Chat: Randy Forrester, Osteria Radici in Allentown

Forrester talks seafood, and what's coming up on the spring menu.

Randy Forrester is talking about the kingfish out of Point Pleasant that he’s getting from Local 130, talking about the way the “smoked” elements—yellow beets, French breakfast radishes, whole green onions—are working with the fish he sees as richly delicious as mackerel. He’s got a smoked pork brodo playing the sauce role, whole black peppercorns and coriander giving quick pops of warming spice, and crisped skin offering textural crunch.

We serve it with a spoon,” says the chef-owner of Osteria Radici, a diminutive-in-size-only restaurant in the borough of Allentown. “It’s the perfect winter dish—and we do all the smoking for it with hickory chips.”

Radici, newly christened as one of NJM’s 25 Best New Restaurants, is all about local. In fact, says Forrester, “My biggest local purveyor is Local 130,” the seafood company that’s been bringing chefs and home cooks through its retail shop in Asbury Park and selling the catches of New Jersey fishermen at cooperatives  and farmers markets statewide along the East Coast.

That’s not all Forrester is featuring on his winter menu. Listen in as Table Hopping chats with the chef.

Table Hopping: Who’s your farmer?

Randy Forrester: We’re sourcing from a bunch of places, in addition to Local 130. We get great Korean pears from Evergreen Orchards (in Hamilton Township) and apples from Russo’s in Cream Ridge. I find some of these places on my drives—Russo’s during the season had great tomatoes and pumpkins, too. Farmer Frank Hom is in Millstone, and he drops off Asian vegetables on his way to farmers’ markets in New York. I’m a cabbage freak! I also use certain varieties from Shibumi (the mushroom farm in Princeton). I grew up in Hopewell—Blue Moon Acres is around the corner from where my parents still live.

TH: No shortage of good stuff, even at this time of year, huh?

RF: There’s great produce out there. But my passion is the sea and we’re now getting at least 70 percent of our seafood from Local 130. They understand how “local” works with the modern chef. They are the most impressive company I’ve ever worked with—and the most impressive thing about Local 130 is their relationships with local fishermen.

TH: What’s on the menu now? Both seafood and otherwise?

RF: We’re doing a fluke crudo, using Point Pleasant fluke. We’re doing spaghetti with spreadable sausage from Calabria, with local Napa cabbage. We do a pasta with Calabrian chilies and lemon—lemon zest, actually—that uses components that are always with us. The way that the lemon and the Calabrian chile work with the anchovy is just perfect. … Mostly when we conceptualize a dish, we [focus] on the seasonal things, the foods of the moment.

TH: Radici takes a different approach to Italian—much more like what’s served in a ristorante in Italy. How are diners taking to what you do?

RF: Italian is the most widely appreciated food here, but also misunderstood. There’s so much diversity over in Italy right now. We’ve been happy at the response—and sometimes surprised at the quality of wines our diners bring in. (Radici is BYO.) They’re at a high level. We’re going to move into spring doing the same kind of seasonal food: There’ll be ramps and baby artichokes; favas are huge for us; we’ll introduce black summer truffles.

TH: Spring is right around the corner.

RF: But first we’re going to Umbria—Ally (Forrester’s wife and the co-owner of Radici) and me and our daughter. She’s 21 months old; her name is Giada. It’ll be her first trip to Italy. She is why we do this.

TH: No! Radici is going to be closed?

RF: From March 4 to March 15, we’ll be closed, yes. But we’ll be back and open on March 16.

With some Umbrian-inspired dishes, no doubt.

Osteria Radici is located at 4 South Main Street in Allentown. It’s open daily for dinners, except for Sunday and Monday. 609-223-2395; osteriaradici.com.

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