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
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


Mother’s Day Out With Three Special Brunches

New York, NY —

Because let’s face it–you owe her. Everything. Why not start this Sunday morning off right by dining in style with my top picks for elegant brunches that range from the relatively affordable to a little splurge.

359 Columbus Ave
(between 76th St & 77th St)
Price Range: $11-30

If you’re looking for a brunching gem in the Upper West Side, Isabella’s by the Natural History Museum is offering a special menu dedicated to the lovely ladies. Pair a glass of rose with an appetizer of grilled jumbo shrimp or strawberry salad. For the main course choose between pan-roasted sea bass or chicken “milanese,” and top it all off with a decadent chocolate raspberry velvet tart. Besides being in a beautiful atmosphere, this is one of the more affordable brunch/lunch options in the city this coming Sunday.

100 W Houston St
(between Laguardia Pl & Thompson)
Price Range: $11-30

Make sure you get a reservation but even if your wait is over an hour long, it really might be worth it. Seeing as you can get a free cocktail with your order–how could you go wrong? Your delectable meal begins right away with their free bread and creamy strawberry butter. The definite classic standards here are the vanilla french toast and the Benedict Johnny, an amazing egg dish that is sweet yet incredibly savory with their tender corn fritters, excellent maple sausage patties and poached eggs covered in roasted tomato hollandaise.

2 Lexington Ave
(between 22nd St & N Gramercy Park)
Price Range: $31-60

For a beautiful and fine dining experience, Mom will be floored with the Maialino experience. With exotic and whimsical twists on classic egg dishes like the frittata bianca, coppa romana and trippa they also offer an array of beautifully baked goods that range from chocolate croissants to toffee glazed brioche. If you do a dinner instead, you can indulge in their $55 pasta tasting menu only offered on Sunday nights.




Diana Tsuchida

Happy Mother’s Day All!

Comedian Ralph Harris Dishes Up A Preview of “My Momma Throws Down” Premiere

Photo Credit: Praise 98FM

New York, NY

From the producers of the popular cooking show, Iron Chef America brings us “My Momma Throws Down”. The show is about two mothers going head and head for the title of Queen of Cuisine. The show is hosted by Actor and Comedian, Ralph Harris (Dreamgirls, Last Comic Standing, etc.) where he draws us in minute by minute of this competition with a bit of comic relief to add more entertainment. Tonight’s judges include actresses Malinda Williams, Nicole Ari Parker, and Vanessa A. Williams of the past beloved tv show series, Soul Food.

Photo Credit: Rolling Out

I got the opportunity to chat with Ralph Harris a bit about the the show and what we can look forward to this season.

Isaiah Kelsey: What qualifies you to host this cooking show?

RH: I’m an amateur (home kitchen) chef and I enjoy cooking when I have a chance. Sometime road food can get boring so, I can’t wait to have some off time to cook a meal from a recipe I’ve found somewhere or something I picked up from a tv show.

As a food lover, I can appreciate the care that the “mommas” put into their cooking and I do my best to help the audience taste the food through the screen.

IK: How does this show differ from so many other cooking competitions? 

RH: “My Momma Throws Down” celebrates the love that these mothers put into their food. It’s not about who has perfect knife skills or the craziest flavor combinations, but about the pride that the moms take in creating delicious food for their families.

Other cooking shows tend to have a bunch of very experienced chefs, who have had major time in front of a camera, but these mom’s don’t try to be anything but themselves.

IK: How can other “mommas” become apart of this show as well as audience members? 

RH: Interested “mommas” should check out TVOne.TV for casting updates for the next season. There’s also a page on facebook that was created for the show [http://www.facebook.com/pages/My-Momma-Throws-Down/283601711700423 ] , and any questions regarding the show, typically get answered in a day or so.

IK: What does your “momma” cook best? 

RH: My mom used to make the baddest sweet potato pie in Philly [Philadelphia, PA]. Then after years of trying to figure out how to get four grown kids out her house, she just stopped like Forrest Gump. Now, my siblings and I are always checking on her to make sure she’s eating.

I think she has a private food stash somewhere!

IK: Where is this show filmed? 

RH:We shot the show in Atlanta, at Turner Studios.

Check out “My Momma Throws Down” tonight on the  TVOne Channel at 8pm EST. Check your cable provider for additional times and channels. Follow Ralph Harris on Twitter @RalphHarris to chat with him about the show!

Momma Let’s Get Cooking!
Isaiah Kelsey

Sakuras in Springtime


Brooklyn, NY

The Brooklyn Botanical Garden was the ideal spot for the spring Japanese festival or Sakura Matsuri. The beautiful cherry blossoms are in full bloom and no event marks the occasion better than the two days of festivities that celebrate Japanese dance, music, food and cultural rituals. It was quite overwhelming trying to bounce from activity to activity in the Gardens, but if you can immerse yourself in a few interests and watch some key performances, it’s a wonderful exposure to a plethora of Japanese culture. Even if you weren’t able to make it out to Brooklyn for the event, you can still admire the sakura blossoms overflowing from the trees all around the city.

If you’re ever craving the infectious beats of (literal) drum and bass, the Taiko drummers of Soh Daiko were an incredible display of athleticism, musical talent and entertainment as their team of talented drummers awed audiences and brought the house down. Following up the drumming feat was a haunting display of traditional Japanese forms of dance called Nihon Buyo and Ryukyu Buyo–both from mainland Japan and the island of Okinawa. The dances embody and symbolize the history of Japan that can still find its forms in kabuki theater and other various performance settings. Truly a special art that requires dedication, intense practice and understanding of the historical practices that came before, these dances are special treats that highlight the unique gifts from Japan.

For those who excel in their arts and crafts and wish to get some hands on experience, there were several booths dedicated to Ikebana (flower arranging), creating intricate hair ornaments and watching woodblock printing demonstrations. If you brought (or will bring next year) the little ones, this is an extremely family-friendly event with plenty of activities for kids like making an origami samurai helmet, a matchbox haiku workshop and even a magician.

An event to be experienced at least once in the city, make sure to stop and smell the flowers to mark this burgeoning spring.

Diana Tsuchida                                                                                                                           U.F.P Contributor

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.


– Isaiah

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


All Star Holiday Recipes: 4th Course with Cake Designer Margo Lewis

Today is all about dessert! Margo Lewis of Cake Bliss has provided me with two great holiday recipes. Margo, known as the “Couture Cake Designer” is a self-taught cake designer who initially started her career in PR with an expertise in Event Design and Production. Margo’s company, Cake Bliss is considered as the “insiders” cake company of choice. She is regularly featured in magazines such as Brides, Jet, Essence, and The New York Times. Her clients includes Director Spike Lee and major companies such as Williams-Sonoma, Macy’s, Swarovski, to name a few.

Margo Lewis was gracious enough to share one of her signature cakes, “Valentino Red Velvet Cake Snatched In The Jaws of Chocolate Bliss”. This cake is called “Snatch” for short and was designed for philanthropist Reginald Van Lee. It combines alternate layers of these two popular cakes!

“Valentino Red Velvet Cake”

Preheat oven to 350F [Reduce to 275F when you are ready to put cakes in oven- “Low & Slow”]. Grease and flour two 9” pans. Combine sugar and oil and beat for 5 min. Add sifted ingredients and add wet ingredients in thirds into the batter. Divide into two 9” pans and bake at 275F for 30min.

“Chocolate Bliss Cake”

  • 2 c Granulated Sugar
  • 1 3/4 c Flour
  • 3/4 c Cocoa powder [Dutch processed or dark cocoa preferably]
  • 1 1/2 tsp Baking Powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp Baking Soda
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 c Milk
  • 1/2 c Vegetable Oil
  • 2 tsp Vanilla Extract

Preheat oven to 350F and grease two 9” cake pans. Sift all dry ingredients together. In a seperate bowl combine all wet ingredients and whisk into the dry ingredients in thirds. Make there are no lumps and scrape the bottom of the bowl to ensure all ingredients are mixed. Divide equally into cake pans and bake for about 30 minutes.

If that wasn’t rich enough for you, Margo also gave me her secret “Egg Nog” recipe for your holiday party!

“Margo’s Top Secret Egg Nog”

Yield- 50 Servings

  • 24 Eggs, seperated
  • 2 c Granulated Sugar
  • 2 qt Whole Milk
  • 4 c Bourbon
  • 1 c Rum
  • 2 qt Heavy Cream
  • Freshly grated Nutmeg

Beat yolks together with sugar until thick and creamy. Add whole milk, bourbon and rum. Stir well. Just before serving, whip both whip cream and egg whites to soft peaks separately. Fold both into yolk mixture. Serve in a large punch bowl and sprinkle the nutmeg on top and serve.

To find out more about Margo Lewis, visit her website www.cakebliss.com, you can also see her in this month’s issue of Essence Magazine. Follow her company on Twitter @Spin7Events.

Lastly, we are going to end our evening with ChefRobleCo. co-star, Pastry Chef Kiku —> http://wp.me/p1jfSV-hd