Sunday, July 31, 2011

Strip House, Livingston, NJ

Strip House Strip Steak
The Cook's Tour was recently invited to a media dinner at Strip House.  Think what you will of the name, as it conjures up all types of associations, however, the food, service, and ambience were all top drawer.

The restaurant is part of the Glazier Group which owns Strip House along with Twenty Four Fifth and Bridgewaters in Manhattan, and also offers full-service catering for all events and meetings at the Westminster Hotel.

The Westminster has recently undergone extensive renovations, including the upgraded business center, an outdoor Zen garden, a spa/fitness center, and free Wi-fi throughout the space. The hotel offers 15,000 square feet of state-of-the-art meeting and event space.
Westminster Hotel Lobby
I have been to the Westminster several times for corporate functions, however, I didn't know that the hotel is a AAA Four Diamond award winner for seven consecutive years, nor did I know that only 2% of all hotels in the US have that distinction (and only 5 in NJ). Quite impressive!
Every one of the hotel's 183 guest rooms features Hollandia sleep systems, bamboo-based linens and towels, and luxurious natural toiletries. 

All that touring made me hungry so the next stop was Strip House. Decorated in retro dark red, the restaurant has a seductive feel to it. 
Strip House Dining Room
Chef Bill Zucosky
There are currently six restaurants throughout the country, and the Livingston location is overseen by Executive Chef Bill Zucosky, who had the privilege of opening the restaurant and is still there eight years later. A New Jersey native, Bill brings a low-key confidence to the property. Previous experience includes stints at the famed Frog and the Peach in New Brunswick, and the Hamilton Park Hotel in Florham Park. Bill developed his passion for food and cooking at a young age. When he was a boy scout in the Linden troop, he won the cooking contest and just kept on going from there.  He graduated from the New York Restaurant School, but uses his Italian/Lithiuanian heritage to instill a homey feel to Strip House.

Everything at the restaurant is fresh, nothing is pre-processed. Their prime beef is all corn-fed and hand-picked from Nebraska to give the customer a melt in your mouth steak. The fish comes from the Fulton Fish Market in NY fresh each day.

So what did we eat? Well, obviously, steak was on the table. A 20 oz bone-in strip cooked to a perfect rare temperature and served very simply with a head of roast garlic on the side was sublime.

Crab Cake
Thick-cut Bacon
But to begin our meal, the Strip House Crab Cake with a Cajun remoulade bursting with fresh crab was in order.  And, as you know, bacon is on everybody's short list these days and Strip House is not to be outdone.  

Their thick-cut Bacon with Arugula and Russian Dressing was just the right mix of crunch and salt and pork. And I loved how it played against the slightly peppery arugula and the creamy dressing.

One of my dining companions raved about the simply grilled, sashimi grade, farm-raised Atlantic Salmon.  
Like many classic steak houses, Strip House, offers many items on the side. We enjoyed their Ripped Potatoes, made by taking baked potatoes, "ripped" into bite sized chunks. The ripped potatoes are then crispy fried and tossed with grana padano cheese, chopped fresh parsley, and coarse sea salt. De-lish!

Plentiful sides!
Chocolate Cake!
The fried onions, sauteed mushrooms, and goose-fat potatoes were my faves.  I am not a creamed spinach fan, but the rest of the table loved them.

And if you're thinking we could not possibly have dessert after this feast, guess again!  Chef Bill sent out their signature Chocolate Cake, which seemed to be about 15 layers high of dark, rich moist  chocolate cake and frosting.  But did we stop there? No! 

Being the cheesecake fiend that I am, I had to taste their version. And it did not disappoint. 
Light and luscious, made with a combination of mascarpone and cream cheese, with a lovely hint of lemon. 

But wait, there's more!  We also loved the Apple Pie with Streusel Crumbs and Cinnamon Ice Cream, drizzled with caramel; and finally, the Brownie with vanilla ice cream.
Apple Streusel Crumb

If you are in the NJ/NY area, and feel the need for a classic steakhouse experience, make plans to visit Strip House. In fact, after a meal like this, you might not want to spoil that warm, satisfied feeling and deal with the stress of driving home. Lucky for you, there's a hotel attached to this steakhouse.  That's something other steakhouses can't boast.

Strip House
at Westminster Hotel
550 West Mt Pleasant Avenue
Livingston, NJ

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Recipe Flash

I'm introducing a new component to The Cook's Tour:  Recipe Flash.  There are many times when I have an unbelievably good recipe that I want to share with you, but it doesn't  necessarily warrant a "story" to go with it.  It's the foodie version of "just the facts, ma'am." So here's the first installment!

Blueberry-Lemon Streusel Squares 
(let me reiterate: unbelievably good!)

Recipe courtesy of Fine Cooking

8 oz. (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened; more for the pan 
13-1/2 oz. (3 cups) all-purpose flour 
1-1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick oats) 
1-1/3 cups packed light brown sugar 
1 tsp. table salt 
1 tsp. baking powder 
1 large egg, separated 
14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk 
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice 
2 tsp. grated lemon zest 

2-1/2 cups room-temperature blueberries (about 13 oz.), 
washed and drained on paper towels

Sunday, July 10, 2011

My Dinner with Chef George

Apple-Strawberry Sangria
Regular readers to this blog will remember that yours truly was the Grand Prize winner of the FoodBuzz/ConAgra Super Bowl promotion last January. After creating an appetizer that we called Southwest Super Bowl Baskets, our entry was chosen as the winner! The prize was a dinner cooked for us and 10 friends by Chef George Duran (Hunt's Tomato Sauce spokesperson and host of TLC's Ultimate Cake Off). And what a feast it was!

"Volunteer" Prep Chefs
After months of planning and countless e-mails, Chef George delivered the menu and shopping list. Since it was summer, we wanted an outdoor, grill-centric party. 

Chef George arrived promptly at noon, and soon after, our "volunteer" prep chefs joined us.  He immediately put everybody to work - chopping, peeling, mixing, eating, drinking, and laughing. 
Tomato Basil Bruschetta

Ready to go when the guests arrived were platters of Tomato Basil Bruschetta, Mushroom Goat Cheese Bruschetta, and Apple Strawberry Sangria.
Mushroom Goat Cheese Bruschetta
For dinner, we enjoyed Short Rib Kebabs, Grilled Jumbo Shrimp with Pineapple, Spicy Grilled Broccolini, Guasacaca Sauce (a Venezuelan specialty), and for dessert, Grilled Peaches with Honey-Mascarpone Sauce.  Is your mouth watering yet?! Most of these fabulous recipes are in George's cookbook, "Taste this Dish and Twist It."
Shrimp on the Grill
Short Rib Kebabs Ready for the Grill

What a treat it was to have a professional chef in our kitchen! Chef George was an absolute pleasure. Not at all stuffy or uptight, as you might imagine a pro chef being when confronted with a team of "civilian" chefs. Besides being a fun day, we learned alot from him. It was a terrific day - delicious food and fabulous friends, what more could one ask for?!
Chef George 
Grilled Peaches with Honey-Mascarpone Sauce
I can't thank Chef George, the people at FoodBuzz and ConAgra enough for this special day!  But most of all, thank you to our friends for sharing this culinary feast with us!