When you are invited to a restaurant media dinner, you expect that the restaurant will pull out all the stops to impress you. You are there to experience the restaurant at its finest. And as a lover of food, you ardently hope that it will live up to the hype that accompanies all new restaurant ventures.
Blue Morel, safely ensconced in the warm confines of the Westin Governor Morris, fully exceeded any expectations I might have had. OK, I gave away the story ending right here in the second paragraph, but read on as I detail the delights of the evening.
Under the very capable direction of Culinary Director/Chef Thomas Ciszak, Blue Morel’s menu provides a wide variety of starters for your dinner. We were treated to a fabulous array of sushi (some of the finest I have ever had), followed by Beef Tartare accented with mustard, crème fraiche, fried shallots, egg yolk, and salt and vinegar fingerling chips. A delicious and unique offering was Chef Ciszak’s homemade pickles that arrived in a small Mason jar with carrots and watermelon rind – a nice accompaniment to the warm bread and rolls.
The second course was an heirloom tomato salad served with cantaloupe, mint, and plum wine cocktail. The cantaloupe and mint added a bright note to the perfectly ripe tomato. The accompanying wine was a crisp Albarino from Spain.
A meaty, luscious roasted Barnegat scallop served with succotash, zucchini, smoked tomato, and hen of the woods was presented for the next course. The scallop tasted as if it had just been hoisted up from the sea. A lush Grgich Hills 2008 Chardonnay completed this course.
The third course, although not my favorite, was certainly well done. Grilled octopus served with a roasted red pepper basquaise, dried chorizo, blistered shishito pepper, and arugula definitely caught your attention. The octopus had just the right amount of bite, but the rest of the dish did not add up for me. In a menu of perfect notes, this dish just didn’t seem to sing.
Ah, but the fourth course had me crooning. Twice-cooked beef short rib (braised and grilled), served with a parsnip puree, a coddled Engblom egg, a divine oxtail ragu, shaved salsify, and pickled carrot was the be all and end all. Short ribs, when cooked well, are the antidote to a weary world – warm and falling apart, sopped up with the hearty ragu, it can make everything OK. But this was more than just OK. This was, perhaps, the best short ribs of beef I’ve enjoyed. But I must tell you about the egg! Poached in its shell at 143 degrees for more than 40 minutes, resulting in an egg so creamy that you almost think you are eating an egg custard. Fabulous!
Not to be outdone, the Pastry Chef, Ernie Rich, sent a parade of delicious desserts our way. As a passionate baker, the dessert course is always the highlight of my dinner, and these offerings were sublime. A Jersey Peach Torte, served with a Vanilla Schlag, was my favorite. But for pure fun, the Blueberry Trifle with Sweet Corn Ice Cream was the winner. Any dessert with popped corn spilling out of the serving jar captures the flag. Of course, it tasted good, too! Bringing up the rear of the dessert parade, but in no way lesser options, were a Warm Flourless Chocolate Cake with White Peach Ice Cream and Sautéed Red Plums, a Caramel and Roasted Banana Pot de Crème with a Malted Milk Shooter, and finally, Angel Food Cake with Roasted Plums and Crème Fraiche Ice Cream. All heavenly.
Chef Ciszak hails from Germany, where he attended the top schools. In the US, he worked in some of the finest kitchens, including The Manor in West Orange. In 2005, he launched Copeland at the Westin Governor Morris, ushering in a new level of dining to the area. Chef Ciszak is also in command of the kitchen at Chakra in Paramus, which has earned rave reviews.
Running the kitchen on a daily basis at Blue Morel is Executive Chef Kevin Takafuji. Originally from Hawaii, Chef Takafuji graduated from the French Culinary Institute and has worked at the Pluckemin Inn in Bedminster, along with Le Bernardin and Café Boulud in New York City.
As I mentioned early on, Blue Morel exceeded my expectations on every level. Warm, gracious service; delectable, unique food; and a concerted effort to utilize the local bounties available in the Garden State. If you, like me, get excited about the prospect of an extraordinary meal, take yourself and a dining companion worthy of it, to Blue Morel.
Terry Krongold is a life-long passionate baker. In addition to a full-time job in the pharmaceutical industry, Terry has been involved with food for many years, including co-ownership of a dessert catering company in the late eighties called I Love Cheesecake, specializing in fine cheesecake and unique desserts. Terry is the author of The Cook’s Tour, a blog focused on food, baking, and travel. When not working, writing, or baking, she spends time planning vacations around restaurants to visit. She can be reached at [email protected]