It's good to have Chef Anthony Lo Pinto back doing what he does best: cooking fantastic, seasonally-driven food.
This time, you get to watch him while he does it, as he'll be doing it all in front of you, acting as your host, Chef, and educator.
I've been following Chef LoPinto for over a decade now. I first experienced his cooking and hospitality at the now-shuttered Fortunato in Lyndhurst, NJ, where he came out to the bar to meet my friend and me, and, if I recall correctly, took it upon himself to cook for us. No ordering, just sitting back and having the chef prepare a meal, serve it, talk about it, pour carefully paired wines, and making a connection with his guests. And that's exactly the experience you can have at Anthony Lo Pinto's Chef Table at Marcello's.
We were recently invited by Chef Lo Pinto to what I would call a friends-and-family night at his Chef's table, and were more than thrilled to take him up on the offer. The "official" kick-off, I believe, will be sometime in early September, when the Chef's table will be serving food a few nights a week, with a three course meal Wednesday and Thursday, and a five course meal Friday and Saturday nights, available by reservation.
We were greeted by a huge smile and hug, as you are by every Chef, right? The table, which surrounds the stove, was set with bottles wine and a tasting of four olive oils (from Marcello's Italian foods import business). Excellent bread from a local bakery was served. Game on.
When all of the guests arrived, Lo Pinto kicked off the night with a toast, and then went on explain his philosophies on hospitality, seasonal food, and cooking, and sharing in his excitement for this way of cooking for guests. And the first course was in play...
An arugula salad that screamed late summer: arugula, watermelon, corn, basil, avocado, with a tarragon vinaigrette. The citrus-packed and herb-smacked dressing was cleaned off of my plate by a piece of bread (and finger--I'm a savage). This salad was an immediate reminder of why I love LoPinto's cooking: he understands textural contrast, he understands the importance of acid, and how it makes your mouth water, which makes the food taste that much better, he understands seasonal ingredients. I've made salads very similar to this, but none have hit so many notes with such grace. Mine typically end up as an abrasive and aggressive (like me) cacophony of flavors. Here, the flavors and textures all had their place. Herbs, seeds, acid, BOOM! Brilliant.
Paired with was a falanghina, which is perhaps one of my favorite white varieties. The tropical notes and acid paired wonderfully with the salad.
Speaking of wine, you'll likely have Marcello's sommelier, Lloyd, assisting Chef, explaining the wine and pairings. A gracious, knowledgeable fellow. Skills very rare in the local restaurant scene, and a stand-out to my mind. Watch out for this pairing of Anthony and Lloyd. Great things are going to happen.
A red wine risotto was served with braised dark meat chicken, in a super rich (in a good way) reduction. Topped with fried shallot. Specked with fresh herbs, and surrounded by a pea broth, to brighten it all up. Balance.
For dessert, fresh berries were warmed up in an intense Nero d'Avola reduction, with a fistful of fresh mint and basil (there's summer again!), topped with vanilla ice cream. Served with prosecco. Oh man. Serve this to your guests and they'll be blown away. Hint: you'll need a lot of Nero d'Avola.
Chef Lo Pinto's Chef table is a great opportunity to turn off FoodTV and actually go experience a great chef at work. I couldn't help but be reminded of the "kitchen table" craze of the 90s, when restaurants started putting a dining table in their kitchens, so a public increasingly interested in chefs and cooking and the restaurant world could see the action (this was before open kitchens were the norm--I'm that old). LoPinto at Marcello's takes it all to the next level. You're a guest of the Chef, and the Chef is your host, 100%, in real-time. A better Chef and host you'd be hard-pressed to find.
Anthony Lo Pinto Chef Table at Marcello's of Suffern : 21 Lafayette Ave : Suffern, NY : 845.357.9108
Note: As anyone who follows this blog knows, I remain anonymous for the purposes of having a blog that often promotes local businesses and restaurants (and because people in general are bat-shit crazy and I don't need them to know anything about me other than what I like to eat). I never accept invitations to "soft openings," "friends and family" events, and for the love of all that is holy, you'll never find me at a [puke] "special media event." I don't want any special treatment. I don't want free stuff. I don't like when people kiss my ass because they think they should or will get something out of it. Heck I don't even like people. In this case, however, I've known Chef Lo Pinto, and admired his food and hospitality since before this blog existed. He knows me already, could no doubt pick me out in a line-up, and we've remained in contact over the years. I paid for this meal and, as always, my opinions are principled and untarnished by ego and horseshit.