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The Chef’s Perspective: Happiness is the meals we enjoy while life happens around us

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By Murray Schulman

The year has kicked off with a bang for us. January turned out to be a month that was exciting, at times scary with lots of realizations hitting us all at once. First, Liz’s birthday arrived on New Year’s Eve. Shortly after that, it was time to move all the information from our 2018 calendar to the new 2019 calendar. This is a funny and at times terrifying project. Liz does the real work as we can actually read her handwriting. I sit there lending support and more often than not a touch of wit and sarcasm just to make it interesting.

As Liz enters each birthday on the calendar, she moans loudly as she announces that each of our grown children is reaching their mid- 40s. Along with that, all of the grandchildren in this area are entering their teens with one having just turned 21. Thankfully, we have two grandchildren on the West Coast who are below the 10-year-old mark.

January also marked our wedding anniversary. This was followed by my 67th, birthday, which will coincide closely with you reading this piece. While all of these events were taking place, Liz and I participated in our first race. This was aptly named Sakima Country Club 0.5K Slug Run. Liz registered in the “Just for Fun” division. I registered in the “Slug” division. I am happy to let all of you know that we both completed the race and did not come in dead last.

Amidst all of this activity, we did have a chance to go out to dinner twice since the start of the year. Of course, both dining experiences were at Italian restaurants.

The first was dinner at Il Giardino Sul Mare in Forked River, New Jersey. We were a party of six that evening. Both the food and the service were excellent overall. Let me get the one disappointment out of the way. I ordered the grilled baby octopus served on a bed of field greens with a white balsamic dressing. Unfortunately, the pieces of octopus were literally cooked to death and lost in among the greens.

The rest of the meal redeemed the chef in a big way. Liz ordered the lobster ravioli with shrimp and crabmeat served with a blush cream sauce. The handmade ravioli bulged with lobster. There was plenty of crab and jumbo shrimp. The blush cream sauce was light and a perfect balance to the seafood. The portion was hot, hearty and well presented. I ordered the rack of lamb special. It was served with broccoli rabe and I ordered a side of horseradish mashed potatoes. The lamb was perfectly cooked. Served with a portabella mushroom demi, the lamb was delicious and tender. It was a real treat that I seldom get to enjoy. The broccoli rabe was just the way I like it — not overcooked with just a hint of garlic and good olive oil. I could have lived without the horseradish mashed potatoes. They were average and did little to complement the dish. I paired my dish with the house Chianti. It stood up well to the lamb and was easily drinkable. All in all, Il Giardino can be considered a respectable restaurant for the area.

Our second dining experience this month was to Di Paolo’s Ristorante, our all- around favorite restaurant. This restaurant is in Penns Grove, New Jersey. The service was excellent, as always. Every customer, new or a regular, gets treated like close family. You feel great just walking in the door. The meal automatically starts with house-made bread, flavored olive oil and the house antipasto. The antipasto consists of roasted and fried vegetables, a variety of cured meats and the best aged provolone cheese. This is accompanied by a variety of cured olives. Liz chose the shrimp, scallops and crab served over linguine with a white wine cream sauce. The portion was huge with mountains of seafood. She thoroughly enjoyed the dish and had plenty to bring home. I made my selection from the special menu. My eye was immediately drawn to the seldom-seen Veal Osso Bucco. This was offered on the menu served with risotto. Instead, I requested and was served the house-made pappardelle.

The dish was a traditional presentation of the huge veal shank. It was fall-off- the-bone tender with the marrow perfectly finished for color, texture and flavor. The Osso Bucco was served smothered in a pan sauce with tomatoes, mushrooms and deep red wine. Sitting atop a cloud of perfectly cooked pappardelle, this dish was nothing short of spectacular. Yes, I ate it all. I accompanied my meal with a couple of glasses of Banfi Chianti Riserva. Just a perfect meal.

For dessert, Liz and I shared a dish of their tiramisu with a double espresso. The owner completed the experience by treating us to a round of his house-made limoncello. He makes a frothy whipped style of limoncello that is absolutely delicious. As I sipped this creamy concoction, I sat back thinking that this is what life is all about. While working hard and being busy with all that life throws at us, it is so important to grab just a bit of fun and enjoyment. For me, a great meal, family and good friends is a recipe for enjoyment and happy memories. Look for the opportunities and make them count.

jmcbride
Author: jmcbride

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