This story was originally published in the March 2017 Princeton Echo.
Frank Caponi has long been a sous chef for the Terra Momo restaurant group, including at Eno Terra (Kingston) and the recently shuttered Enoteca Ursino (Union). But his not-so-secret passion is ramen. For the last eight-plus years he has pursued the study of it, including in Japan with its most skilled ramen makers.
Lauren Caponi’s day job is general manager at Nomad Pizza in the Princeton Shopping Center. But you may have encountered her when she was Lauren Sabogal, before she and Frank married last year. She was chef/owner of Button Creperie, which had stalls at two area farmers markets before it, too, shuttered.
Over the last several months, the pursuits of both Caponis have come together when, on the occasional the Monday night, Nomad Princeton transforms into an authentic ramen house. (Up until now, Nomad has been closed on Mondays and owner Tom Grimm has graciously turned over the space to the Caponis. This spring Nomad will expand its hours to include Mondays.) On ramen nights, Frank Caponi and staff offer a three-course menu, with two choices of appetizer and ramen, plus dessert, for $30.
I attended the November event and, simply put, it was by far the best ramen I’ve had in New Jersey. The next ramen fest is scheduled for Monday, March 20. The menu won’t be exactly the same, but here’s what my guest and I enjoyed last fall. To start: playful, crunchy ramen “tots” with a dab of miso aioli and sprinkled with bonito flakes, and a salad of local, in-season tomatoes, radishes, and mixed greens in a light dressing of rice vinegar, toasted sesame oil, and sea salt.
For the main event Caponi featured local meats, eggs, mushrooms, and vegetables. They were perfectly prepared, but it was the depth of flavor in each of the broths that set his work apart. Each preparation had a different noodle that perfectly complemented the particular combination. Tonkotsu Ramen consisted of pork chashu made with meat from Brick Farm Market, a soft-cooked egg, scallions, ginger, nori, and garlic.
For Shibumi Ramen, the broth made with the eponymous mushrooms was the star, ably assisted by spring onion oil, wood-roasted mushrooms, garlic puree, egg, and toasted sesame seeds. The finale was Bent Spoon Soft Serve: a swirl of ginger and green tea ice creams adorned with a zingy ginger-miso cookie.
The next ramen night is scheduled for Monday, March 20, from 5:30 to 10 p.m., at Nomad Pizza, Princeton Shopping Center, 301 North Harrison Street, Princeton. Cash only; reservations required. For reservations phone (609) 216-5112.
Not into ramen? Try the veal at Chick & Nello’s
If you’re like me, you’ll ravish them both. I’ve been meaning to return to Chick & Nello’s in Trenton specifically for its roast breast of veal — a lunch and dinner special every Wednesday — since I first reviewed this old-school Italian restaurant for the Princeton Packet in 2000.
It took until now, and at the urging of Faith Bahadurian, the Packet’s current restaurant reviewer, to fulfill that quest. Man oh man, was it ever worth the wait! Not too many folks are familiar with breast of veal, although both Bahadurian and I share fond memories of it being in regular rotation in the Italian-American households of our youth. Back then, the breast (with ribs attached) was an inexpensive cut, for which your local butcher would slice a horizontal pocket in one end; these days it’s hard to find at any price.
At the restaurant, a small amount of a potent mixture of fresh herbs and garlic is stuffed into the pocket of what is in essence a big, thick slab of meat and bone laminated with plenty of fat and cartilage. Potatoes are added to the pan and the roast is braised for hours until completely tender and moist, and flavorful pan juices have formed. A huge portion is a bargain at $18.
Chick & Nello’s Homestead Inn, 800 Kuser Road, Hamilton. (609) 890-9851.
Sweet but potent exhibit at College of New Jersey
It’s not a large exhibit — three main components plus photos and watercolors — but Jessica Rath’s “A Better Nectar” packs an impressive multisensory punch that hits that sweet spot at the intersection of science and art. Rath, an artist based in Los Angeles, translates how bees experience their world by scaling it to human proportions in sculptures, and two of them are on view on the Ewing campus of the College of New Jersey.
The centerpiece is “Resonant Nest,” a large acoustic sculpture from which emanate eerie, compelling sounds — more than pulsations and mere hums but, to my untrained ear, unlike any other music — that Rath created after collaborating with bee science researchers and musicians. (In fact, the eerily alluring sounds are indeed music, complete with a score performed by a chamber choir.) Coolest feature: the music shifts with changes to the local weather. “A Better Nectar” is on view until April 9.
The exhibition is small and doesn’t take long to view in its entirety, so once you’re at TCNJ you might consider walking across campus to the Sarnoff Collection, which found a permanent home there after it was moved from the site of the former Sarnoff Corporation (itself the former RCA Labs) in West Windsor. On view are 80 objects that reflect the technological advancements Sarnoff pioneered in telecommunications, including radio, phonograph, black-and-white television, color television, electron microscopy, computing, integrated circuits, home video, and flat-panel displays. Details on both exhibitions at tcnj.edu.
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