A Taste of NICO Kitchen + Bar

Newark, NJ

NICO Kitchen & Bar is an hidden Italian gem nestled in the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) in Newark, NJ. The restaurant is owned and operated by Culinaire and its acclaimed Executive Chef is Ryan DePersio.

Once you enter NICO Kitchen & Bar, you instantly feel a shift in the atmosphere as the decor exudes a restaurant in Midtown Manhattan. Although the restaurant is spacious with many tables and a tall ceiling, you still get an intimate feel from the dim lights and warm colors that bounce off the walls.

A friend and I were sat in a comfy, leather bonded booth with a spacious table just ready to be filled with delectable plates of food. The waitress explained the menu to us, as she was very knowledgeable about the menu and made several suggestions.

We ordered an array of several dishes coursed throughout our meal experience. For the first course, we ordered Pomegranate Chili Wings, Lamb Meatballs, and Polenta Fries.

The flavors of the wings with creamy gorgonzola fonduta served my palette well with the  tartness of gorgonzola, light sweetness of pomegranate, and a hint of chili spice. The succulent lamb meatballs was served in a savory tomato sauce with roasted red peppers and crumbled feta cheese. Lastly, the toasted polenta fries was golden and crisp with a creamy interior.

NICO Kitchen & Bar has a brick oven and as noted by the server that the pizza dough was a family recipe often tested and perfected so I had to try to it. So we ordered the Magherita, a classic favorite with fresh ingredients.

For our third course we ordered PEI Mussels, Grilled Lamb Chops, and Buttermilk Baked Chicken. As the entrees arrived, the aromas were so inviting. The mussels were pan roasted in spicy shellfish broth with Sardinian fregola, fresh herbs, and served with a char grilled bread to dredge up the rest. The chicken was sous-vided then baked with a black truffle pesto, accompanied with broccolini and whipped potatoes. The grilled soy-paprika lamb chops were my absolute favorite, the textures of eggplant puree, wilted spinach, and sauteed turnips served as mouthwatering adventure.

Lastly, after eating all of this delicious food I was determined to make room for dessert. We ordered the chocolate sour cream cake and sundae. I must say that I’ve been to several restaurants and pretty much always have an idea of what the dessert is going to look like but not this time. The plate presentation was both surprising and appealing. Pure genius!

Come check out NICO Kitchen & Bar for both lunch and dinner. It is ideal for large functions, after-work cocktails, or an intimate date. Great food for fair prices.

NICO Kitchen + Bar
New Jersey Performing Arts Center
One Center St., Newark, NJ
973-642-1226
nicokitchenbar.com
Reservations accepted  by-phone or opentable.com  
Free Parking with Validation
Lunch Hours: Mon.-Fri.: 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; Bar Menu available 3-5 p.m.
Dinner Hours: Mon.-Thurs.: 5-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat.: 5-11 p.m.

– Isaiah Kelsey


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Soul Flavors with Chopped Champion Wayne

Jersey City, NJ

A sunny afternoon I decided to take a walk down Grove Street in Jersey City and noticed a sign that read “TV’s Food Network Chopped Champion Chef Wayne” in bright colors right outside the window. Above it the awning read, Soul Flavors and it sparked the interest my friend and I to walk over to check out the restaurant.

As we proceeded to walk into the intimate 35-seat restaurant, we were warmly greeted by the Floor Manager, Willy who sat my guest and I promptly with a menu. As we reviewed the menu, it was apparent that it would be Soul Food but also had Caribbean dishes. The menu offered a large variety of appetizers, entrees, desserts, and even a $33 combo which seemed cost-efficeient as well as plentiful. The $33 combo included an appetizer, entree, side, and dessert. It is also noted that some entrees will take 25 minutes because they are made to order, which I could understand and appreciate.

Willy also served as our waiter who was ready to take our order. I decided on “Half & Half” [house made cornbread/biscuits]  as an appetizer, and for entree the Buttermilk Marinated Fried Chicken with sides Braised Collard Greens and Roasted Sweet Potatoes. My guest decided on the Buttermilk Marinated Chicken & Waffles [served with a maple cream reduction].

As we waited on my food, we were informed that it was a BYOB restaurant and that the nearest wine store was just across the street. I knew that the entrees that were ordered would take at least 25 minutes to be ready, as earlier noted. I ventured across the street to purchase a bottle of Relax Riesling and once returned the first course had just arrived.

The “Half & Half” was served warm with softened butter. Once I had taken my first bite of the biscuit it simply melted in my mouth with buttery and countless layers of flakiness. The cornbread, as I hoped favored a light yet dense pound cake with vibrant corn kernels nestled though out. It reminded me of great childhood memory, I was enticed and salivating for my entree.

       Once the entrees had arrived, I was awe by just the aromas and sight of succulent fried chicken, sweet smelling Belgian waffle, and mouth-watering side dishes. The chicken stared me down waiting for me to make the first move and I went in! Although I had eaten the chicken, I felt defeated because the moist, well-seasoned, crispy bird had brought me to its surrender. The BEST Fried Chicken I had ever had, so great it would make your mother jealous! As I tried the waffle it was  everything I ever wanted, sweet and moist inside yet crispy on the outside. The maple cream reduction complimented both the chicken and waffle so well. If that wasn’t enough both the collard greens and roasted sweet potatoes were great accompaniments to this well-orchestrated dish.

 I will frequently return to Soul Flavors for great food and genuine hospitality. It is recommended to make reservations at Soul Flavors via phone, fax, and their website, soulflavors.com as it attracts a wide demographic of all ages and races. It has caught the eye of Rapper Kanye West, where he hosted his own intimate birthday party and has listed Soul Flavors as his favorite New Jersey restaurant.

About The Chef:

Chef Wayne Lyons was featured on Food Network’s Chopped in 2010. Before his acclaimed fame, Queens native, had come from a rough lifestyle. He sparked his first interest in cooking as a child with making crepes and reading several cookbooks and magazines. From a young age to his adulthood he faced the worldly demons of drugs and alcohol, that almost took over his life. Once Wayne’s first child was born, he decided that it was time to turn his life around and “become a positive force in his son’s life”.

After Wayne got in himself back in order, luckily enough through his rough times he earned an architectural degree so he proceeded to continue doing that. After awhile, he grew uninterested and a family friend who worked with the Marriott Corporation introduced him to the culinary world. Wayne worked hard from bottom up to Executive Chef, eventually branching off into his catering business, Melange Caterers. He became very successful with his catering business, making great contacts. In 2007, he moved from Queens to Jersey City to open Soul Flavors, which started off rough because of the economy but as a result of him winning Chopped, it brought more business, great publicity, and a loyal customer base.

For more information about Wayne Lyons or Soul Flavors, visit soulfavors.com or come to the restaurant at 354 Grove Street Jersey City, NJ 07302. Call For Reservations at 201.217.3004 . Also follow him on Twitter @SoulChefWayne .

Thank You For Reading,

-Isaiah [@Urban_Foodie14]

Beyond The Apron: Rising Chef Vaughn Crenshaw

I recently spoke with my old colleague, Vaughn Crenshaw from Johnson & Wales University and he mentioned that he would be on Chopped, so of course I was excited for him. I decided to write about his story because not only do I believe in him but, to know him is to know his story.

Vaughn Crenshaw grew up in the city of Paterson, NJ, which others may consider “the hood,” he called it home. At the age of 9, culinary arts first sparked his interest when he saw Emeril Lagasse on Emeril Live. He thought “Who’s this BAM Guy! I want to do that.” So Vaughn decided that this might be something he might want to do as a career and something to make his family proud.

His family was surprised that he would be interested in cooking, since he experienced such a traumatic accident at the age of 4. Vaughn and his brother was in the kitchen one evening while his mother was frying chicken, one thing led to another and the pan flipped over on the two of them. Seventy percent of Vaughn’s body was third degree burned, it was miracle that they survived, according to the doctors whom didn’t think they would make it. The scars are very much visible and serves as a constant reminder from where he was then and where he’s going now.

At the age of 13, Vaughn’s mother kicked him out the house, leaving him to fend for himself on the streets of Paterson. He found an abandoned car where he laid his head nightly and would go to his friends for food and moral support. One evening while Vaughn was at his friend’s house, their mother had a fresh fish and he wanted an opportunity to cook a bit. From his memory of Emeril Live, he remembered how Emeril coated the fish with cornmeal but at that house they only had grits. So Vaughn got creative and coated the fish with grits, fried it, and came out with a great dish.

After months of living on the streets, he got in contact with his God parents who lived just across town in Hackensack, NJ where life was a lot better. Once Vaughn moved to this area it was a complete culture shock for him, especially once he was exposed to open biracial relationships. With Vaughn being socially deprived in his mind, it was almost unheard of.

As Vaughn adjusted at Hackensack High School, his friend suggested for him to join the football team. He was reluctant at first, but decided to try it. Vaughn ended up excelling in the game which seemed great but the power behind the tackle was built up anger from his past. In his mind it was a way to re-channel his negative energy and he also learned about teamwork.

Graduation was near and Vaughn received six full-ride football scholarships to several universities but in Vaughn’s mind he still wanted to cook. Unfortunately, those universities didn’t offer any culinary programs so he was bit stuck until Johnson & Wales University came to his high school. The college recruiter spoke about the university’s high culinary accolades and mentioned Emeril attended the university which immediately caught Vaughn’s attention. His grades weren’t greatest and his SATs weren’t the highest but, luckily for him at the time the university didn’t require SAT scores. Eventually, he applied, got accepted, and received financial aid from the state.

Once he started at Johnson & Wales, he hit the ground running with much passion. Vaughn moved forward to get his associate’s degree in Culinary Arts but then decided that he would stay at the university for another two years to receive his bachelor’s degree in Food Service Management. He learned a lot and made many great friends. Luckily for Vaughn, before graduation he had a job lined up back in Hackensack at Stony Hill Inn, where he worked at during breaks.

Vaughn returned to Stony Hill Inn, as the Asst. Banquet Chef making a lot more money than your average post grad. As a 22-year-old, he blew his money quickly on bottles, shopping, clothes, etc. Like most things it all came to an end when Vaughn was laid off during the economic recession, like many others. He was unemployed for about six months, until he got a Head Chef position at a local soul food spot, Jacksonville in Paterson. Vaughn didn’t stay there too long because of the indifferent relationship that he had with the restaurant owner.

After moving through several positions in different restaurants, eventually Vaughn learned much about himself,  experienced many learning curves and was provided with tools of knowledge on how to become a successful Executive Chef. After cooking for celebrities such Rap Legends, MC Lyte, Ice Tea, and Queen Latifah to name a few, Vaughn thought it would be time to take it to TV. So he decided to apply for Chopped on Food Network and after several weeks he was called by the selection committee to be on the show.

Check out Vaughn tonight on Food Network’s Chopped! At 10pm. See some of his culinary creations!

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Chef Vaughn Crenshaw is now the Executive Chef at Seafood Gourmet in Maywood, NJ. When he’s not working he enjoys coaching Track & Field at his former high school as well as giving back to the Charities of Paterson. For more information about my friend, Vaughn follow him @ChefCrenshaw.

Enjoy!

– Isaiah

President’s Day at The Chew : Featuring Carla Hall Interview

What better place to be on President’s Day than to be on The Chew. I had the opportunity to come across some tickets to attend this particular episode and I took it. They asked the crowd to wear our American colors and I was ready!

As I awaited in the Audience Holding Room to go on set I was handpicked to be present on the Tasting Table, I was honored and definitely took the producer up on the offer. We were brought onto the set and I so was excited by the energy that filled the room from the friendly production crew and set decor. I was then taken to my designated seat with plate setting. Bright lights, cameras, producers, and of course the infamous Chew Hosts, Mario Batali, Michael Symon, Daphne Oz, Carla Hall, and Clinton Kelly were preparing for the show. The hosts were dressed as past presidents and Carla was dressed as an African American poet, to represent for Black History Month.

Time had flew and we had 10 seconds before we went live! I was filled with excitement, anticipation, and a bit nervous. Self thoughts began to chime in, was I ready, did I look alright, this can’t really be happening I thought? Action! *Long Round Of Applause* I seen the recording red light beaming towards me and I knew I was on national TV.

As the show went on, I began to relax and enjoy the show with everyone else. Between breaks, I really got to see how it all happens and I was pleasantly surprised to see how well the co-hosts interacted with one another. It was as if they had been friends forever and having a gathering at one of their homes.

Michael and Mario prepared a sweet potato and ham casserole, which in turn was brought out to us to eat. As many of my friends, family, and some of my readers know that I don’t eat pork for religious reasons. Once it given to me, I ate around it for the sake of the video shot agreement I made before the show started.

Joan and Melissa Rivers guest starred on the show and prepared dessert alongside Carla Hall. Joan Rivers was hilarious! Before you knew the show was over. The chefs came over to greet us at the tasting table which I thought was very personable.

After the show I was given the opportunity to speak with Carla Hall and ask her few questions;

Carla Hall is best known from BRAVO’s Top Chef and although she had to “pack her knives and go” she was later named Top Chef All-Stars Fan Favorite.

Starting out as a chef, who was your mentor and what inspired you to leave the world of fashion to pursue culinary arts?

“My grandmother was probably my greatest mentor.  I was a late bloomer when it came to cooking, and she gave me my first rolling pin…at 24.  Fashion wasn’t a necessarily a destination for me, but a transition from Accounting to what would hopefully be a career that I would still love at 40.  It was a series of Sunday brunches in Paris with a bunch of models when I discovered a desire to prepare food as much as I enjoyed eating it.”

As so many other great African American women make history, what influence would you like to have on other aspiring female chefs?

“I would tell them to respect and honor the power that you have when making someone’s food.  Also, as women we tend to be very agreeable and accommodating, to this I would say “Delegate the work, not the vision.”

How did Top Chef elevate you to the next level?

“Top Chef gave me the platform to challenge myself well beyond anything I thought I could ever do.  I now have the confidence to try things that I would have never thought possible.  It’s an incredible gift that keeps on giving.  On a completely different note, the increasing popularity of TC has made many of the chef’testants household names, which has been beneficial in opening many doors for me.”

What other aspirations to do hope you to achieve in the near future?

“My first cookbook is being released on November 6th this year and another one next year.  I hope to grow my petite cookie company, Alchemy by Carla Hall, tenfold in the next 5-7 years, which would include additional product lines.  This means finding a partnering manufacturing and distribution company.  I would like to do something really fun like community theater.”

It was a pleasure to chat with her, as most fans might wonder is she as nice in person as she is on TV. Carla Hall’s personality is amazing, she’s bubbly, knowledgeable, and exudes a humble spirit. It was great to be in the presence of all the chefs and I have definitely become a greater fan after meeting them in person!

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To catch this particular President’s Day episode, watch at 1pm today on ABC! If you happen to have missed it, click on this link to view; http://beta.abc.go.com/shows/the-chew/episodes

Enjoy!

Isaiah

 Photo Credits: ABC Studios, Isaiah Kelsey

Go Big Blue! Weekend Tips & Recipes

 

It is a great weekend here in New York City, as the New York Giants face off against the New England Patriots in Indianopolis, IN. I’ve included some NY Giants Bars, Super Bowl Parties Tips & Recipes!

Every bar in the Tri-State Area will have the Superbowl LIVE on every flat-screen with surround sound booming. If you are looking for a bar, that paints the only color that matters, RED, WHITE, & BLUE, check them out! The owners and staff are DIE HARD fans and GIANTS memorabilia is covered all over!

  • The East End Bar & Grill:  1664 1st Ave.
  • The Hill: 416 3rd Ave.
  • Tonic East: 411 3rd Ave.
  • The Bull Pen: 1678 1st Ave.

If you are planning to host your own Super Bowl party, check out CBSNews‘  Do’s and Dont’s on a successful Super Bowl party!

  • DO-Adjust your TV before your guests arrive. Make sure the colors are at their optimum and that the team colors really shine. Make sure, if you have it, that the HD channel for the game is cued up, and if you have a format you want them to watch on, say letterbox or widescreen, make sure you are already good to go.
  • DODVR the game. You can’t rely on the announcers to cue up all of the replays you are going to want to watch. So if there is a flag on the play and you want to rewatch the moment, you can. Have a Super Bowl ad that has left you speechless? Rewind it.
  • DON’T-Leave valuables and furniture around the living or TV room where you are going to be watching. You want people to feel comfortable jumping around, and making noise. That means that obstacles have to be removed from the couch to the television. And if people are going to be making a fuss, you probably want to put away those valuable family heirlooms that might be important.
  • DO-Decorate! Get some NY Giants flags, helmets, bobble headed dolls, jerseys, footballs. Break out that silly sombrero chip and dip bowl, paper napkins in team colors. However you want to focus your decoration, make it fun, go crazy and make it football.
  • DO-Have EVERY guest turn their keys over to a big bowl as they walk in. That way everyone’s keys are in one place in case one car is blocking another and someone has to leave early. It also allows you to keep an eye on who has over-indulged as the guests leave. Know who is sober at your party, that way you can use them to give rides. Also have a cab phone number at the ready in case you have a tipsy friend who can’t get a ride.

 

Also Check out Food Network Stars, Pat & Gina Neelys‘ Super Bowl Recipes!

 

BE RESPONSIBLE: Don’t Drive & Drive.

FACT: Researchers say that Domestic Violence increases on Super Bowl Sunday. Remember Guys, It’s Only A Game.

Enjoy This Weekend & Hilarious Commercials!

– Isaiah [@Urban_Foodie14]

Recipes Courtesy of The Neelys’ For more recipes, check out their new cookbook, The Neelys’ Celebration Cookbook

Do’s & Dont’s Courtesy of CBS News

 

Beyond The Apron: Catchin’ Up with Thiago Silva


One morning when I was reading the New York Post, I saw the article “Taking The Cake” with Thiago Silva painted across the page with his cake creations. It completely caught my eye and I was intrigued to learn about this up and coming pastry chef. I was able to set an interview and tasting with him at Catch Restaurant in West Village.

As I arrived that sunny afternoon, I was intrigued of the dimensions of this tri-level  seafood restaurant. Thiago took me on a short tour of the restaurant, the first level has a broad dining room set for private dinner parties as well as regular dining patrons. As we traveled to the second level, I amazed of the sight the wide-range open kitchen, which allows guests to view the food being prepared and lastly the top-level was a lounge served for after-work drinks and special VIP parties. Recently, Rapper Nas hosted his 38th Birthday there with celebrity friends such as Jay-Z and Common.

 

The Beginning

Thiago discovered his passion at the age of 13, when his mother decided to take a cake decorating class and she brought him along to translate for her. While in class, the instructor would give direction to his mother and he would translate for her but after a while he literally took it into his own hands. He realized he was actually pretty good at cake decorating, so he continued going to classes with his mother and she eventually enrolled him into the class as a student.

Since then he began making cakes at home. His family was no stranger to the cooking, his father was also a cook, who worked tremendously hard and mother was a housekeeper with part-time catering business. Thiago was motivated and intrigued by his parents’ demeanor and passion towards culinary arts and decided that he would do the same.

Later, Thiago attended Long Island City High School in Queens, NY which offered a culinary arts program for students. He wanted to learn more about culinary arts, rather than pastry at the time. As he went through high school he competed in culinary competitions, but towards graduation he didn’t receive many scholarships because his grades weren’t the highest. His teacher and mentor, Richard Grossman offered to assist him in getting some job opportunities and Thiago was appreciative but stressed that he was looking for a “savory position”. After several phone calls, Olives Restaurant had a position available but it was in the bakery as a Pastry Cook. Thiago was indecisive about taking the position, because of the early hours of 5am that most bakers come into work and the extensive mass production. He was looking for a more complex job but decided to give it a try.

Hitting The Ground…Baking!

After he began working with Exec. Pastry Chef Alfred Stephens, he quickly changed his mind about the world of baking. Thiago enjoyed working with the chef and learned that it was a big difference between working in bakery and in a restaurant. He says ” It’s not just a piece of cake on the plate but so many more elements.” The job was challenge for him and he enjoyed being challenged daily.

Once he realized that he wanted to become a Pastry Chef, he also wanted to attend a culinary school like most aspiring chefs and bakers. His mentor and chef Alfred, convinced him that if he stayed working under his mentorship that he would teach him everything he needed to know. So Thiago contemplated for a bit and decided to stay at Olives with Chef Alfred for three years. After time had past, he did just that and credits his mentor for the skills and techniques he’s attained today.

What’s The Catch?

After Olives, Thiago assisted in opening Abe & Arthur Restaurant as a pastry cook. The restaurant is owned by The EMM Group, who was recently named  “The New Kings of New York Nightlife”, who specializes in restaurant and nightlife operations, event production, marketing, promotions and lifestyle management. Thiago was in great company and after two years of hard work and dedication, he is now the Executive Pastry Chef at Catch Restaurant.

As he continuously worked many hours at Catch Restaurant, he still continued to make cakes at home for special occasions. Just as it began to weigh on him, he was given the opportunity to make a cake for his boss’s father who had a birthday party. Once they saw what he could do, they were highly impressed and encouraged Thiago to make his cakes at work which worked in his favor.

Top Tier

Once he started making cakes at work, he started to receive more challenging cakes such a champagne bottle cake, which requires sugar work. Thiago made the cake and from there the challenges elevated. The EMM Group’s PR company decided that when they book parties, that they would offer Thiago’s cakes as an addition.

The EMM Group is known to have several star-studded events which gave Thiago the opportunity to make cakes for celebrities such as Actress Sofia Vergana [Modern Family], NY Knicks Basketball Star Carmelo Anthony,  Amare Stoudemire and Rapper Fabolous to name a few.

 

As of recently, Thiago continues to get several bookings from celebrities as well as making cakes for other special occasions. He looks forward to continue growing with the company and is excited for the EMM Group’s newest project, The Bakery which will open up in the fall.

The Tasting

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For more information about Chef Thiago Silva, check out his website, T-agoscakes.com, “Like” his Facebook Fan Page, or you can follow him Twitter, @tagoscakes . To try some of Thiago’s desserts, stop pass Catch Restaurant, located 21 9th Avenue  New York, NY 10014

Photo Credits: Isaiah Kelsey, T-agosCakes.com

Thank You Reading!

– Isaiah [@Urban_Foodie14]

All Star Holiday Recipes: 5th Course with BRAVOstar Baker Kiku

Lastly we are going to end our meal with BRAVOstar Baker Kiku. Kiku is best known from New BRAVO Series Chef Roble & Co., as the crafty, unique, and as I like to say “swagged out” baker that has ever been on television. She has been baking since as she quotes “before she could walk”, learning alongside with her mother, grandmother, and aunts. She credits the sweet potato filling of highly popular “Sweet Potato Pecan Pie” to her family.

Kiku started her first small business as a child called Kiku’s Cookies, where she baked chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies with self decorated brown paper bags.  Her clientele were her mother’s co-workers at Duarte, California City of Commerce.  After working at several boring office jobs as an adult, Kiku decided to reinvest in herself and start her own business with her best friend Natalaie Testamark, called Sweet Virgo Desserts. After several years of entrepenuership, she was approached by Chef Roble to join his team, and anxiously accepted. She is California bred and Brooklyn trained!

There are not many recipes by Kiku on the web, so we should feel so lucky that she has shared her Holiday Spice Rum Truffles with me. Enjoy!

“Holiday Spice Rum Truffles”

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, thoroughly mix all the dry ingredients. Add corn syrup then when it’s fully incorporated. Add rum. Mix thoroughly and form into 1 1/2 inch wide balls. Let them sit in the fridge for about an hour or so (You can also make these the night before a party and let them sit overnight in a tightly covered container) Before serving roll in cinnamon sugar mixture.

“It’s easy because there’s no baking involved, so they can be made on the fly and they’re great for entertaining because you can do what I do at my holiday parties and make them mini sized and place them in little candy dishes around the room. Another reason I really like this recipe is because it can be mixed and matched. If you wanna do a chocolate version, you can switch to chocolate wafer cookies and macadamia nuts, add some sweet coconut flakes and roll them in granulated sugar. Get creative!”

To see more of Kiku, check her out every Sunday at 10pm on BRAVO’s Chef Roble & Co. Also follow her on Twitter @juscallmekiku and her tumblr page  http://gritsnsoysauce.tumblr.com

Enjoy the 5-Course Meal Recipes that my favorite chefs have provided! Happy Holidays!

– Isaiah [@Urban_Foodie14]