Chef Chat: Reinventing Val Day

Bruce Lefebvre, chef/owner of the Frog and the Peach in New Brunswick, comes right out with it:

Valentine’s is often called Amateur Night by chefs,” Lefebvre says, referring to the public’s desire for familiar culinary classics. Thanksgiving, he notes, is a holiday that presents chefs with the same conundrum.

For Valentine’s Day, Lefebvre says, “We [at Frog and Peach] decided we would do special dishes, experiment and offer some dishes we’re working on for our new spring menu.”

For example? “A lamb terrine, with shredded lamb shank and lamb merguez sausage.”

As his lovebirds dine out front, Lefebvre and his crew will be laughing as they cook. On Spotify, in addition to music, “We listen to lots of comedy–Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Eddie Murphy,” he says. “We make it fun.”


Over in Hoboken, at Halifax, the eight-month-old restaurant in the modernist W Hotel, chef Seadon Shouse is preparing to reorganize the space to accommodate Valentine’s couples: tables for two.

It’s all two-tops,” Seadon says. “We plan a menu of four courses, with two choices for each course.” That helps keep the super-busy night running smoothly and allows him to showcase his “coastal cuisine” that uses ingredients from the Mid-Atlantic north to Canada.

I’m getting Asian pears from New Jersey, an aged Cheddar from Nova Scotia,” he says. “I use a great broker who works with 45 local farms.”

I’m looking forward to it,” Seadon says, pausing. “Of course, I might not have the same opinion after Tuesday night.”


At Piccola Italia in the Oakhurst section of Ocean Township, chef-owner Brian Gualtieri agrees with Lefebvre that Valentine’s is more “a night for the masses than a night when regulars interested in serious food and wine come in. It’s a Hallmark holiday. But we’re going to give ’em more than they expect.”

One thing won’t change on Val Day at Piccola, a local favorite serving what Gualtieri calls “innovative Italian” cooking.

Namely, there will be roses, chocolates and Champagne–the trio that represents romance.

Like other chefs, Gualtieri keeps the holiday dinner manageable with a fixed-price menu.

He picked that up, as well as the commitment to quality, from his mentor and friend, the late, great chef Joe Romanowski, who piloted Joe & Maggie’s Bistro on Broadway in Long Branch and Bay Avenue Trattoria in Highlands. “Joe Romo did it that way, and he was right. Always do it nice.”

The Frog and the Peach, 29 Dennis Street, New Brunswick. 732-846-3216.

Halifax, 225 River Street, in the W Hotel, Hoboken. 201-253-2500.

Piccola Italia, 837 West Park Avenue, Ocean Township. 732-493-3090.


Tonight at Piccola Italia: A Chance For Romance

Haven’t yet booked a table for you and your Valentine? Hmm. Dinner eservations are tight, not just for Valentine’s Day, but for the days leading up to ir. If you can turn on a dime and go out tonight, Brian Gualtieri might have just the ticket.

Tonight – Friday, February 10 – the Piccola Italia chef is offering “An Evening in Paris,” from 5 to 10 pm. A three-course classic French menu (think duck confit salad, escargot, pan-seared skate, cassoulet, apple tart Tatin) for $59 per person, plus tax and tip. Ca c’est bon, oui? Reservations, 732-493-3090.

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