Restaurant News

This week Rosie writes about La Vega food market in Santiago, Chile, which she visited during a recent trip, Seventy Seven Walnut in Montclair, the Atlantic Cape Community College Restaurant Gala, Pi Day in Princeton, and much more news about NJ restaurants.

One of the food highlights of our recent trip to Chile and Argentina was the visit to La Vega Central Market in Santiago. Just getting there was an adventure as our guide led us over the murky Mapocho River where lovers, to signify their commitment to each other, fastened padlocks on the bridge. We are not sure what happens to the lock when the relationship is over. As we approached this local food market, we saw men on the street carrying cases of berries to sell to passing cars, stray dogs (which are very common in the areas that we visited throughout Santiago, Patagonia and Buenos Aires), animals for sale, such as baby chicks or ducks, and a marvelous variety of vegetables, fruits, meats, fish and flowers. The market, a maze of narrow corridors filled with stalls and hawking purveyors, was chaotic, dirty, and fascinating. There was much to see and eat.

La Vega Vegetables

La Vega Corn

At lunchtime, La Vega fills up with laborers and colorfully dressed locals eating cazuela, a steaming stew/soup made with a variety of vegetables and chicken or meat; sopaipillas (fried bread); plates of roast chicken; sweet juices, corn pudding filled with chicken or beef; and humitas, which is what we had for lunch. Our guide brought us to one of the hundreds of small luncheonettes (some of which have only one table) to watch a woman making humitas, a Native American dish from pre-Hispanic times. Freshly ground corn was placed into corn leaves, wrapped, tied together with string and steamed. Ours, which reminded us of polenta, were flavored with basil and served with a tomato-onion salad. They were delicious and very cheap; about $2 for three people including two bottles of water. By the way, they peel the tomatoes in Santiago and when I asked our guide if they put an X on the bottom of the tomato and plunge it in boiling water for a minute to loosen the skin, I was told ”No, that would change the taste of the tomato.”

La Vega aisles and restaurants.

Cooked humitas and corn pudding

Humitas and salad

While the humitas were cooking we walked through the tangle of passages, eyeing corn that looked like it was on steroids, squashes in an assortment of shapes and colors, varieties of potatoes and an amazing hodge-podge of other foods. If you are ever in Santiago, go here, as it is an authentic Latin-American experience.

A delivery of pigs.

Seaweed being dried and ropes of garlic. We were surprised that this was seaweed because of the shapes and it was brown, not green.

Photos courtesy of Lowell Saferstein

TO BE CONTINUED next week when I will tell you about the lamb and barbecues in Patagonia.
The newly opened Seventy Seven Walnut in Montclair is a gem. A beautiful bouquet of flowers greeted us upon entering, as did manager Frank Foti, a most delightful man. Ask him about some of the old photos and artwork that decorate this restaurant and you’ll hear entertaining stories about his family. Eye the leather panel hanging on the wall, which is from the classic New York restaurant, Sign of the Dove, where both he and his brother executive chef Daniel Foti worked. Wood floors, pastel-hued walls, white tablecloths and napkins with silver rings, interesting modern silverware, as well as flowers on each table, all add to the relaxing ambiance. We were enthralled with this place.

The menu changes seasonally and features Mediterranean cuisine. We started with an A-plus lobster pan roast consisting of chunks of lobster cooked with scallions, fennel and tomato oil served over house-made garlic croutons. This was such a captivating dish that it should also be offered in an entrée portion. The croutons also found there way into a French onion soup that topped with melted Emmenthaler cheese. It was an absolute knockout with an abundance of silky onions, rich broth and savory cheese. Pork was on the menu, so as you can guess, Lowell ordered it. Livened up with five-spice powder, this juicy, tender, perfectly cooked, medium-rare (as ordered) pork chop was accompanied by sweet-and-sour cabbage, lardons and creamy potato gratin, all creating a very well-balanced offering. Fresh herbs in a Sicilian olive oil broth enhanced a lightly breaded oven-roasted Atlantic cod served on a bed of spinach. Lowell and I kept exchanging plates, as both dishes were incredibly luscious. On our next visit, we will have two desserts as we were sparring for the last spoon of an exceptional coconut crème brulee.

Seventy Seven Walnut is open daily, except Tuesdays, so keep it in mind if you are looking for a place to dine on a Monday night. The ambiance, service and food will have us returning to this exceptional establishment.

Lobster pan roast.

Pork chop.
Photos courtesy of Lowell Saferstein

Seventy Seven Walnut
77 Walnut St

On March 9, a meatball-eating contest will be held at Millie’s Old World Meatballs & Pizza, 60 South St, Morristown, in honor of National Meatball Day. Winners photos will be displayed on the wall. Each will receive a $25 Millie’s gift card, and a special pie, created to their specifications, will be named in their honor. The pie will stay on the menu for one year. Contestants can register for the 12:30 PM or 4:30 PM contest and receive more information by e-mailing [email protected].

On Thursday March 13, the 31st annual Atlantic Cape Community College Restaurant Gala will take place at Bally’s Atlantic City Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City with the theme, “The Greatest Gala on Earth.” This fundraiser to benefit student scholarships at the Academy of Culinary Arts at Atlantic Cape Community College and Atlantic Cape Foundation will feature a vintage carnival environment. Hors d’oeuvres will be prepared by students in the Academy of Culinary Arts and specialties of 40 of the region’s restaurants will be showcased. The gala includes live music and an elegant dessert reception co-organized by chef Deborah Pellegrino of Caesars Entertainment and chef Tree McCann of the Academy of Culinary Arts. For more information on the 2014 Gala, contact Torrina Bennett-Michael at (609) 463-4672 or [email protected].


Since Albert Einstein, was born on 3/14 which is the numeric equivalent of Pi, Pi Day will be celebrated in Princeton on March 14 and 15, where he lived for over 20 years, with a variety of activities.

On Saturday, March 15 participants can win bragging rights at a Pie Eating Contest at McCaffrey’s, 301 Harrison St, which starts at 9 AM. Interested parties should show up at 8:45 AM and sign in on the second floor.

A pie judging contest will be held at the Yankee Doodle Tap Room, Nassau Inn, 10 Palmer Square E, at 2:45 PM. Judges will be the first 50 guests who arrive. Prize is bragging rights.

Donate to 101, a non-profit volunteer organization that helps Princeton High School graduates in need of financial assistance at 3:14 PM at a pie throwing event that will be held at the Palmer Square Green. Each pie costs $1.

For more information, visit the Pi Day Princeton website..

From Tuesdays through Fridays in March, a two-course, prix-fixe lunch ($20) and three-course dinner from 5 to 7 PM ($39) is being offered at Rat’s Restaurant, Grounds for Sculpture, 16 Fairgrounds Road, Hamilton. Half-priced wine list will also be available. Reservations 609-584-7800.

Atlantic City Restaurant Week will be through March 8 with more than 80 restaurants offering three-course menus priced at $15.14 at lunch and $33.14 at dinner excluding beverages, tax and gratuity. For information, visit the event website.


Congratulations to chef Adam Weiss, who won the Ultimate Chef of Bergen County held at Chef Central, Paramus. This was the second win for chef Weiss who was the Ultimate Chef Bergen County in 2013. He went up against chef Chris Boyce of Café Matisse in Rutherford, who was the winner of Round 1 and Round 3. The secret ingredient was eggs, so we saw them in all forms from quail, duck, and caviar as well as incorporated into each course. All of the dishes were exceptional, however my favorites were: saddle and leg confit of rabbit, charred apple, toasted pecan, celery-root puree, braised rainbow Swiss chard, fried quail egg, maple-truffle reduction and pistachio dust prepared by chef Boyce and the classic Australian Pavlova meringue tart with duck egg-passion fruit ice cream, fresh kiwi, red berries, Chantilly cream and framboise sabayon created by chef Weiss.

Congratulations to the following 2014 Restaurant and Chef Award Semifinalists from NJ that have been nominated by the James Beard Foundation.

Rising Star Chef US: Ben Nerenhausen, Mistral, Princeton

Outstanding Chef US: Maricel Presilla, Cucharamama, Hoboken

Best Chef Mid-Atlantic: Scott Anderson, Elements, Princeton; Joey Baldino, Zeppoli, Collingswood; and Lucas Manteca, Red Store, Cape May.

The final nominations will be announced on Wednesday, March 19.

Tops Diner, 500 Passaic Ave, East Newark for being listed as one of the best diners in America by Food and Wine magazine.

Bellview Winery
for their four wines winning the 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, one of the biggest competitions in the country. There were 1,500 wineries, with close to 5,500 entries, representing 25 different states in this competition. Winning wines were the Bellview’s 2012 Blaufränkisch, a dry red varietal for the Gold Medal in the “Other Red Varietals” category; a Silver Medal for Centennio; the 2010 Port and 2012 Petit Verdot also took home Bronze.

Please send press releases and restaurant news, including information on staff changes, wine tastings, and cooking classes to [email protected].

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